Behind His Mask

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Chapter 15 - One Place Setting Too Many

Evander and I spent our date in the emergency room. It wasn’t as awful as I was expecting. For starters, he explained to the nurse what happened, sparing me the trouble. She gave him a funny look, but that was all before putting me on the fast track to see a doctor. It did take forever, as visits to the emergency room always do in a city on a Saturday night, but Evander made it the most pleasant ER stay I have ever had. He bought me snacks and let me play with his smartphone. The visit ended with the nurse putting ointment on the bottom of my feet and bandaging them.

By then, Evander had abandoned the idea of going out on a date, and instead, we watched a movie back at my apartment on our old tube TV. He was still there when my mom got home from work. She was intrigued to see him but made no comment before she got in the shower.

When the movie was over, he turned to me and asked if I was hungry.

I sat up. “Say, that reminds me. Did you know Emi asked me over to your place to look after Paisley on Remembrance Day?”

He did a double-take. “Really?”

“Does it bother you?”

“No,” he said flatly.

“That’s a relief. I was worried you might be uncomfortable.”

“It wouldn’t be you that would make me uncomfortable,” he said, turning his face away from me. “Actually, I should go home. You probably want to go to bed early or something.” He turned around and kissed the top of my head. “Goodnight.”

I peered curiously at the forced smile he gave me before leaving.

***

Emi had me show up several hours before the dinner was set to begin. Luckily, my burns were much better by then, so I walked over. As soon as I arrived, I perched on a kitchen chair and fed Paisley with a spoon while Emi worked in the kitchen. I had never seen anyone so ambitious. She made pie crust from scratch, diced tomatoes, peeled sweet potatoes, and all the while the turkey roasted in the oven.

The most surprising thing was the fact that no one was helping her. Was she really doing all that on her own? Two minutes later, I realized she wasn’t doing it completely by herself. There was a man helping her. I recognized him from the pictures. It was Vincent.

He came into the kitchen with two giant bags of ice and noticed me immediately. “I’m back,” he said. Then turning to me he said politely, “You must be Sarah. Great job with…” I expected him to say ‘Paisley’ after he paused to put the ice in the freezer, but he finished with, “Evander. I thought we’d never get him out of his room. Come over anytime. I give you exclusive rights to pry him from his cage whenever you want.”

“Thanks,” I said, completely unable to keep my flush in check.

A minute later, Vincent was followed by another man. He looked about a decade older, but nothing could trick my eyes. He was the king from The Witch and the Fool. He looked exactly the same minus the beard. So he really was Evander’s dad!

Emi introduced him. “Sarah, this is Reg Cheney.”

I smiled and nodded, but it was all phony. Actually, I was so repelled and scared I could hardly keep my face from showing it. My brain blocked out everything I knew and I was left with only the memory of his voice hissing the name ‘Serissa’ in the dark. The skin on the back of my neck crawled. I was so flustered I dropped a spoonful of apple sauce on the floor. Vincent got a cloth and cleaned it up for me. I thanked him and got a new spoon.

A minute later, the blonde Queen from the second story wandered into the kitchen. Reg was the spitting image of the King, but the woman looked worse for wear compared to the story. Her hair was weak and faded and her skin gray and sickly, I wondered if she really were dying.

“This is Sarah,” Emi said sweetly as she placed her pie crust in the pan. “Sarah, this is Laurie.”

I knew better than to think she was Evander’s mother. From the way the story went, it was his step-mother, but where was his real mother? Was she really dead?

Laurie acknowledged me but didn’t pay any more attention. Instead, she moved beside Emi and examined the counter like she was interested in what Emi was doing. “This looks delicious. I’m sorry I can’t be much help to you,” she apologized. “My head has been aching since we landed yesterday. It must be jet lag.”

“It could be a migraine,” Vincent cut in. “Does the light bother you?”

“I think so,” Laurie said blankly as she looked at the wintery light filtering through the window.

“Why don’t you go lie down?” Reg suggested unpleasantly, as he took a seat at the kitchen table across from me.

She agreed and plodded from the room.

Just then Reg’s cell phone rang. He slid from his seat and went into the living room to take the call.

“Jet lag my foot,” Vincent hooted.

Emi gave him a dirty look and refused to comment.

“Sarah,” she said to me, “when Paisley’s done eating, why don’t you put her down for her nap and go see Evander downstairs? His family came all this way to see him. Do you think you could convince him to eat with us?”

“He won’t even come up to eat?” I exclaimed.

“Well, he might not want to. He and Reg had a little fight last night and well… Why don’t you go see how he’s doing?”

“Okay,” I said.

“He should suck it up,” Vincent interjected. “It’ll be less than an hour.”

Emi sighed and went about her work.

I didn’t say anything either and went on feeding Paisley until the apple sauce was gone. Then I placed her in her crib and pulled the door shut with a click.

At that moment, I passed by the living room, I heard Reg talking on the phone. The conversation was one-sided and hushed, but it sounded like his side went something like, “I can’t get away right now. I probably won’t be able to see you until late tonight. Yeah, I know. This visit was the reason you came back here, but I can’t disappoint my brother.” There was a pause. “She says she has a headache. I can come up with an excuse.” Then he noticed me standing stupidly in the doorway. “I’ll call you later,” he said into the receiver and then slipped the phone into his pocket.

Caught in the act, I pretended I hadn’t heard anything and turned to go down the hall.

“Sarah,” he called, but to my ears, it sounded exactly like the way his voice had said ‘Serissa’ in the book. I kept walking and luckily, he didn’t follow me.

I went down the stairs.

In the family room downstairs, I saw two boys watching a football game on TV. I knew they were Evander’s half-brothers. I was stunned to see that the older boy was Valance and the younger boy was Murmur.

I wasn’t usually bold, but I couldn’t hold back. “Hi,” I said, preparing to introduce myself.

I was cut off. “He’s in his room,” the older one said briskly.

“I know,” I stammered. “I…”

“Don’t be rude, boys,” Vincent said, coming from the storage room with a bag of frozen cranberries under his arm. “This is Sebastian.” Vincent pointed to the older boy. “That’s Brody. This is Sarah. Be nice to her.”

I stared at them. In Evander’s stories, he had allowed Brody to be eaten alive by monsters and he had stabbed Sebastian through the ankle himself with no hesitation.

I looked at them intently, but neither of them bothered more than a glance in my direction. They were absorbed in the TV or themselves and didn’t look away from the glowing panel.

I turned my back on them and went to Evander’s room. I knocked on the door twice, but there was no answer. I went in anyway.

Evander’s room was nothing like what I expected. It was in the basement, so there were two windows rather high up on the north side. They didn’t let in much light. The walls were painted a dark color, but with not much light to go on, I couldn’t tell if they were blue, or black, or gray, or green. The bed was in the corner and completely disheveled. Evander was stretched out on it with a book tented over his face.

He didn’t even move when I came into the room. Clothes littered the floor between us. On one side of the room there was a computer desk and on the other side, was a mural that covered the whole wall. It was a re-creation of a mural that was painted on the side of a pawn shop downtown. It was called The Mos-eye-ic. The wall was broken down into a grid and in each square was painted an eye in a different style by a different artist, but none of the eyes painted by Evander were exact copies of the ones on the mural downtown. Each painting was entirely original.

I stopped to look more closely. Some of them were beautiful. Some of them were hideous and crude. Some of them probably took weeks to paint and it looked like others had only taken a moment. I got caught up in Evander’s work the same way I got caught up in the original community painting. Which one was my favorite?

I didn’t realize it, but I had ventured quite far into the room seeking the answer to my question when suddenly Evander’s hand shot out and he grabbed my wrist.

I jumped, but I didn’t pull my arm back.

“Did you meet them?” he asked quietly, resting his book on his chest.

“Yes.”

“What did you think of them?”

I didn’t know how to answer. “I saw them.”

“But you should know something,” he persisted. “First impressions and all that. What did you think of them?”

“I think the same thing you think of them,” I said, realizing I was completely blinded by the perspective given in his stories.

“And how do you know what I think of them?”

I sat down on his bed and he let go of my wrist. “I think your father is unfaithful.”

“Even a blind woman could see that,” he scoffed. “What do you think of the others?”

“Your step-mother seems disenchanted with her bargain. From my perspective, it’s hard to tell what else is lurking there. Sebastian seemed like he was the type to scratch you just for fun and Brody seemed just as spiteful.”

Evander’s chest deflated as he let out all his air. “Do you know everything about me?”

“Huh?”

“Did you come here to save me?”

I stared and swallowed the lump in my throat.

“Even if you didn’t, you have to find a way,” he breathed, looking into my eyes intently. “There is no one else in my life, but you. There is no one else I can picture in my stories now.”

It was new for me, having this sort of moment with a man, but I kept looking into his eyes—his brown eyes. I couldn’t find the words. I slid my hand into his. He felt cold, like the room. “Have you ever held hands with a girl before?”

“No. I was too busy being depressed. Have you ever held a guy’s hand before?”

“Yeah, but it didn’t feel like this. I didn’t like that guy the way I like you. I really like you.”

“Want to be my girlfriend?”

“Aren’t I already?” I whispered, turning a little pink.

He sat up and his arms came around me. His hands had been cold, but his body felt warm. Then he kissed my temple. I felt like I was going to have a heart attack. My nerves needed a lot of steadying, but I managed to force my way forward. I kissed his cheek. Then he kissed my mouth. It was breathy and fleeting, but it was real.

It was real.

***

Dinner was a hellish experience. Laurie acted like she was on the brink of death, just to get out of helping with the dishes. It only seemed that way because she kept apologizing to Emi for being unable to help. Sebastian and Brody had their own private discussion about football that was either above my head or beneath my radar. I couldn’t figure out which. I fed Paisley again. It was a mushy cereal she didn’t like and spat up repeatedly. Emi looked like a queen. I didn’t know how she managed it. Besides all the work she had done on the meal itself, she had also decorated the table like a page out of a housekeeping magazine and dressed herself like a knitting edition of Vogue. Vincent and Reg talked. Being brothers, they seemed to have a lot of things to say to keep the conversation going. Mostly, Evander and I were completely ignored, until his father finally sought him out.

“So, Evan, you haven’t told me much about your classes. What are your grades like?”

Sebastian and Brody quieted down to listen. They seemed to expect drama. Laurie also perked up.

“They’re fine. Good even,” Evander answered briefly.

“Great. If you’ve got that under control, then maybe you can spare a little time for yourself. For instance, when are you planning to get your own apartment? You can’t stay here with Vincent and Emi forever. After all, they have a baby!” He said the word ‘baby’ like babies were repellent things, like mice or bed bugs.

Emi spoke up. “He can stay here forever if he wants to.”

Reg glared at her. “I suppose you don’t mind a freeloader then.”

She wasn’t deflated. “Are you kidding? I love Evander. He helps me keep the best babysitter in the city to myself. Besides, I like a full house.”

“Does that mean you’re planning on having ten children?” Reg asked mockingly.

“Maybe even eleven. What do you think, darling?” she sweetly asked Vincent.

He smiled. “We can fill the house up to the rafters if you want.”

“Whatever,” Reg snarled. “You can do whatever you want, Emi, but please don’t stop my son from growing up. He needs to get a place of his own.”

“I’m waiting for an apartment to open up in Sarah’s building,” Evander suddenly spoke up before Emi had the chance to get mad again. “It seems like a nice place to live.”

I remembered the blood and pee stains in the hallway of my building. He had to be joking.

His dad glanced at me and for a second I thought his expression matched that of the King in The Witch and the Fool. He was thinking about what fun Evander would have, living in the same building as me and having easy access. I felt sick. “It’s fine with me if you want to live there,” he finally said. “What about a job? Have you got any idea of what you want to do for money?”

“Whatever is open,” Evander said crossly.

“Do you plan to come back to Vancouver for the summer?” Laurie asked, trying to be tactful.

“No.”

“Why not?” she asked, sounding much less evil than I expected. “You can have free rent at our house as well as here.”

Evander cleared his throat. “You’re pulling in the opposite direction as dad. Do you want me to freeload off you instead of Vincent and Emi or do you want me to get my own place?”

“But you could get a place of your own in Vancouver,” Laurie suggested.

“Nah, I like it here better.”

“Why? It’s bloody freezing,” Reg injected.

Laurie ignored him. “What about Christmas then? Will you come home for Christmas?”

“Once again, you’re pulling in the opposite direction as dad. He wants me to get a job. If I’m going to get one, wouldn’t it be better to work here during the holidays?”

Laurie stopped talking to Evander and suddenly directed her conversation toward me. “So, Sarah, what are you taking at the college?”

I was obligated to answer truthfully. “I’m still in high school.”

Laurie looked distinctly uncomfortable like she had been happy Evander was with me until she heard that. “Really? What grade are you in?”

“Eleven.” I had just made it worse. She wanted to hear twelve.

“So you’re seventeen?”

“Sixteen. My birthday is in December.” I just kept digging the hole deeper.

After hearing that, Laurie lost interest in me completely. Like she recognized that I was only going to be a temporary installment in Evander’s life, so it wasn’t worth the trouble to learn about me. She focused on her plate.

Something bothered me. Every time I looked at Reg, I kept seeing Carly sitting on his lap in the story. Actually, I hadn’t seen Carly since she got back. She was avoiding my mother, so consequently, that meant me too. Regardless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that something was wrong and I couldn’t help wondering if it had been Carly that he had been talking to on the phone. I was about to be eaten alive by curiosity, so when I got up to rinse off Paisley’s plate, I got up the nerve to ask. “You know Mr. Cheney…”

“Call me Reg. I’m not your school teacher.”

“Right. So, Reg. One of my older sisters was living in Vancouver until recently and I wondered if you had met her.”

“Why would I?”

“I don’t know. Her name is Carly Reagan. Does that ring any bells?”

His face looked like granite, but Laurie suddenly looked like she really did want to die—and quickly. He answered without skipping a beat. “No. I didn’t meet her. It’s a big city.”

“Of course,” I said, letting his lie slide.

Emi, Vincent, and the boys seemed oblivious, but the pieces lined up perfectly. Rachel told me Carly was seeing a married man. Rachel was able to convince her to come back to the city because Reg told her he was coming to Edmonton soon. And the girl he had been talking to on the phone was her. She wanted to meet him tonight. Even Laurie knew about it, which probably accounted for why she looked so sick.

I took Paisley down from her chair and took a seat at the table next to Evander so I could eat. He took her from me immediately and with his free hand, he even started to dish up my plate.

Emi tolerated the situation for about two bites before she broke down and took Paisley from Evander and excused herself from the table.

Then Vincent took charge of the conversation and got Sebastian and Brody to talk about their lives—as charming as they were. They both sounded like bullies as they retold stories of how they set different people straight when they didn’t see things their way.

Before the meal was done, Brody was begging Laurie to take them to the mall and Sebastian wasn’t far behind them. “It won’t be closed early. It’s not a really important holiday. It’s just Remembrance Day. Come on! Can we go?”

“Go ahead and take them,” Reg advised. “I have somewhere to go, too.”

Laurie glared at him. Then she turned to the boys and said brightly. “Go get your stuff, I’ll take you.” Once they left the room she turned to Reg and fumed, “You know, you’re not fooling anybody.”

Then she disappeared into the hallway. Reg followed her, calling, “Laurie, don’t be like this. I’ll keep my promise.”

“Sure, you will,” she bellowed back.

Then they were gone.

Vincent shrugged his shoulders and put down his napkin. “Sorry about all this, Sarah. In my family, we try to love each other even though we know we’re screwed up. We also fight in public if we feel like it. Hiding what’s really going on is nearly impossible for us. Sorry for putting you in an uncomfortable situation.”

“I could say the same thing,” I said quietly, thinking about what I said about Carly. “Thanks for having me, but if it’s all the same, I’d like to go home now.”

“Sure,” Vincent said kindly.

I finished the last thing on my plate and went to get my coat on. Evander went downstairs and Vincent started clearing the dishes. I was standing in the entryway putting on my shoes when I saw a box sitting on the end table by the couch. It was a box full of books. What caught my attention was that they all seemed to be the same book. I flipped open the box flaps and saw what it was.

It was a blue, soft-covered book with black lettering and a picture of a melancholy young man sitting on a castle turret on the cover. The title read Three Fairy Tales by Evander Chaney. I opened the cover. The first one was The Lord of the Capricorns. The second one was The Witch and the Fool, and the last one was Light Face, Dark Face. Why was the main title different? I opened the flap and started reading, but as I got along, I saw that the story didn’t unfold the way it had when I read it.

A second later, I walked around the corner and back into the kitchen. I held the book out to Vincent. “What’s this?” I asked.

“It’s Evander’s book.” Vincent looked around and then he whispered secretively, “Didn’t Emi give you a copy?”

“Yeah, but the copy she gave me was a hardcover.”

He looked at me strangely. “There weren’t any hardcovers printed.”

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Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who reads and adds my books to their reading lists. There was quite a lot of that when I opened my computer up this morning. Thank you! I feel so loved!

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