Behind His Mask

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Chapter 16 - The Way the Spell Works

“There weren’t any hardcovers printed,” Vincent repeated as he turned his back to me. “You must be mistaken.”

I went back to the entryway and slid off my shoes. Where was Emi? I stalked through the house to the baby’s room. The nursery door was open a crack and she was standing with her back to the door. I stared at her. A moment later she must have felt my burning intent and turned around to face me. I showed her the book. She put Paisley down and tiptoed out of the room.

She beckoned for me to follow her. She took me up a half flight of stairs and into her bedroom. A tall, arching ceiling paneled in real cedar greeted me, and unless I was mistaken—it was bigger and grander than the living room. The woodwork of the furniture was exquisite, especially on the headboard of the bed. The pillows were made of purple satin. The crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling was extremely clean, so the sunlight hit the prisms and cast tiny rainbows everywhere.

Emi sat down on a tiny gilded chair and rubbed one of her feet through her gossamer-thin stockings. She beckoned for me to sit on the chair opposite hers. Her voice was pleasant and frank when she spoke. “Honestly, I expected you to talk to me after you were dragged into the book the first time. After a while, I began to think you didn’t really like Evander and weren’t reading his book at all. Imagine my surprise when you ended up in the Emergency Room.”

“Not just once, but twice,” I growled and Emi regarded me with her huge, dark eyes. Of course, she was right. I should have come to her about it. “Can you tell me what’s going on now? Where did the book come from?”

“I made it,” she answered without hesitation. “A long time ago, I belonged to a coven of witches.”

I gasped, but it made sense. She looked the part and acted like the Good Witch of the North. She always looked like a spindle of black lace with raspberry lips and butterfly eyes. Besides, I had already experienced her magic within the pages of Evander’s book, so it was impossible not to believe.

She sighed and carried on. “I can’t go into detail about my past with the witches, except to say I broke away from them to be with Vincent. Ever since I was expelled from the order, I’ve been bound to silence and I have refused to practice magic. In the life I lead now, I don’t really need it. But, for Evander, I broke the rules of my old coven and the rules I made myself and created the book for you.”

“Will you be punished?” I asked quietly.

“I don’t know. Try not to think about it. Even if I am, I regret nothing. Evander needed help and it wasn’t a kind I could give him. Even with my magic, by myself, I am not enough. I needed another person to help and as soon as I saw you, I knew you were the one.”

“Why?”

“You’ll understand. I want to explain some things. I met Autiny, Evander’s mother, when I was still a teenager. Vincent and I were already an established couple. That was eight years ago. Autiny and Reg were still together. Back then, it seemed like nothing was wrong. They were a happy family with one child. She’s where Evander gets his strange, blond, curly hair. There’s nothing like that in Vincent’s family.” She took a breath. “The happy family thing ended the next year. I wasn’t aware of what was going on during those years, but Reg had stopped being faithful to Autiny immediately after their wedding. He may have even been cheating on her before they got married, which was probably why she didn’t notice a difference in his behavior after the vows were made.”

“What a creep!” I shrieked, a heartbeat away from confessing what I suspected was going on with Carly.

“I don’t know how many women there were, but I do know he fathered at least two children prior to the split up. After all, you’ve met them. They were here for dinner. I also don’t know how long he kept Laurie as his mistress before he got her pregnant with Sebastian.”

Her saying that deflated me.

“It’s been said in the family, Reg never would have left Autiny, if it wasn’t for Sebastian. You see, Reg was living a double life; one with Autiny and Evander and one with Laurie, Sebastian, and eventually Brody. Even though Reg doesn’t possess a soft spot for a woman’s feelings, he couldn’t stand to see Sebastian cry. You’ve seen Sebastian. He looks shockingly like Reg—much more than Evander ever did. He felt he had a connection with Sebastian that he had never experienced, like Sebastian was the son he never had, forgetting all about Evander. I heard that Sebastian had to beg his daddy not to leave for a hundred days before Reg had heard enough and left Autiny and Evander.

“Of course it was impossible to hide the truth,” Emi continued. “When Autiny discovered the depth of Reg’s betrayal, she was sick for months. She lost her job. And Evander… realized his father loved Sebastian and Brody much better than he loved him. Autiny took Evander and went home to live with her mother, which was good because a year later it was discovered she had stomach cancer.”

“What?” I gasped.

“When she died, Evander was sixteen. He lived with his grandmother for as long as he could, but eventually, her health wasn’t good enough to maintain a household, so he had to move back to the house his mother abandoned. For you see, Reg moved his new family into the exact same house Autiny had fled. Evander was given the same room he had when he was an infant, with all the memories of a life gone wrong that came with it. By the time I saw Evander at his high school graduation, he was like a corpse. I have never seen anyone with nothing wrong with them so unhealthy. So, I brought him here. No one approves. I don’t care. He needs help. Anyway, I had to agree to let those people come for this little visit if I was going to get him away from them. Make sense?”

“Yes.”

She took a deep breath and took the blue book out of my hand. “Now for the matter of the book. Evander did write a book and I did get it published. This is it. If you read it, you’ll see the scenarios are the same as the book you’ve been experiencing. The differences are in the characters you play. Sarafina and Serissa behave much differently than you do. They behave in the only way Evander could imagine a girl behaving. Maybe it’s because of the similarity in your name, but when I read it, I kept getting angry. I kept thinking, ‘Sarah wouldn’t act like this. She wouldn’t do this.’ So, I decided to make the book to prove to him that if you were in those situations, you wouldn’t do what he predetermined. As you go through the stories and make more positive decisions than his original characters, you are not only making his outlook less gloomy, but actually earning his love.”

“How? Is he living the story through his role, too?”

She shook her head. “Not exactly. Instead, the possibility of more loyal behavior on the part of a woman enters his head. He didn’t tell me, but I know what happened last Saturday. He was editing the last chapter of The Witch and the Fool and he suddenly got the idea you would have gone into the fire with him. Then he got a terrible premonition and went to you immediately to see if you were okay. The whole thing still doesn’t make sense to him.”

“I get that, but why does he have a grudge against girls if the person who betrayed him was his father?”

“He doesn’t trust anyone. He believes his family would skin him alive if they had the chance. After all, when your own family will double-cross you, who is left to trust? But you are so close to finishing what I started, Sarah. I’m really sorry about what happened with your leg and later when you burned your feet, but the reality of those consequences is what is winning him. Just one more story and he’s yours… if you can make it.”

“You don’t think I can?”

“It’s not that I don’t think you can. It’s that I think the last story is a more difficult challenge. I mean, in the first two stories, you had to choose between Evander and someone that was completely repellent. This will be harder.”

I clicked my heels together like Dorothy, but I didn’t go home and nothing felt better. “Can I read that book?”

“Absolutely,” she said, suddenly pulling out a pair of scissors from a sewing box on the floor. “I really shouldn’t do this.” She found the page in the book where The Witch and the Fool ended and cut the book right down the spine. Then she handed me the first half. “That was so bad for a pair of fabric scissors. I’ve probably ruined them. Oh well.”

“Why can’t I have that half?”

“Because that would be cheating. If you read the last story the way Evander wrote it, you would know how to avoid his traps and void the experience. Good luck, Sarah.”

***

I went home and set up camp in my bed. With nothing to hold me back, I finished all of Evander’s original versions of The Lord of the Capricorns and The Witch and the Fool before it was time to go to bed. At first, I was pleased with myself for missing the traps Evander had set, but after a while, my feelings changed to indignation. He really had disgusting notions of female behavior. I watched Sarafina dump Tremor for Murmur long before Murmur kidnapped her and put her on the boat. She was set on leaving Tremor after the dead capricorn incident, her fear quenched completely by her greed. She even flirted with Murmur when she met him at the farewell party, which her mother specifically warned her not to do. She was such an opportunist. Well, that all would have been fine and I wouldn’t have suffered too much, but in the story, Tremor falls madly in love with her and does everything he conceivably can before she runs off with his younger brother regardless. I was in agony. In the end, he was all alone and expected to remain alone for the rest of his life.

The Witch and the Fool was worse. In that one, Kalavan sought to take a less prominent role in Serissa’s life. He just wanted to protect her, but her behavior was sickening. Instead of choosing his brother, she chooses to have an affair with his father. That girl didn’t hide on top of her bed. She expected the King to come to her room and she welcomed him. In the end, Kalavan tried to stop Valance from murdering her in a fit of rage. He was victorious, but only temporarily as Valance had her successfully tried for witchcraft. She didn’t burn though—Kalavan was burned in her place. The story ends with her alternating between King’s bed and Valance’s as a regular thing. It was so messy.

I tapped the halved book on my recovering foot and thought about what Evander was trying to say with his stories. In the first story, he was a monster. In the second story, he was a fool. And Emi had said the third story would be harder than for me to finish. I had already been voluntarily burnt at the stake. How much worse could it get?

I picked up the hardcover version and opened the pages at my bookmark. I looked at the section heading. The words were all alone on a single page: Light Face, Dark Face.

I curled my toes. They still hurt a bit.

Half of me wanted to start reading right away, but I couldn’t make myself flip the page over. The other half was in charge. I closed the book and put it on the floor. It would keep until the next night. It had to. I had to rest my aching feet and prepare myself for whatever Evander needed me to do.

I picked up the phone and dialed Emi’s house. She picked up. “Hi, Emi, can I talk to Evander?”

“Of course,” came the sound of her never-ruffled voice.

After the sound of Emi’s bumping down the stairs came the sound of a knock at the door. “Sarah’s on the phone for you.”

For the first time in my life, I heard the sound of a man tripping over himself to get to the phone… for me. But when he answered it, his voice sounded cool. “Hey, Sarah.”

“Hi,” I said, but for some reason, I couldn’t make myself say more than that. After a few seconds had passed, I said it again, “Hi.”

“Hi,” he said, waiting.

“I hope you don’t mind. I just called because… I wanted to hear your voice.”

“You can do that any time you want. After all, this is the first time you’ve called me.”

“I know. I’ve been kind of wrapped up with a project.”

“What project?”

I struggled. I was desperately tempted to reveal what it was I had been doing, but Emi had warned me not to tell him, so I bit my tongue and feigned. “I think I’ll be able to talk about it more after it’s finished.”

“Is it an art project?”

By that point, I’d sort of figured out he was big on art, symmetry, and expression. “Sort of, but maybe it’s more like an Olympic sport. It’s hard to say.”

“Sounds interesting.”

“Has your family left yet?”

“No. They’re flying out tomorrow afternoon. I wish it were sooner.”

“Evander, did you know my sister is having an affair with your dad?” I whispered.

“Sorry Sarah, I didn’t know it was your sister, but I did know he was meeting some girl who was about my age. I didn’t think it would last this long.”

“Why does Laurie put up with it?”

“I don’t know. Why does your sister? She knows he’s married.” The way he said it made it sound like he knew exactly why.

“Did you ever meet her?” I suddenly wanted to know. Was that the reason I saw her on the King’s lap? Did Evander know her well enough to base a character on her?

“She came to the house once. I answered the door, so I saw her, but I didn’t talk to her. My dad pushed me back into the house and shut the door on me before I could blink. That was all.”

I was unconvinced. “Did you think she was pretty?”

He sounded affronted. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“She’s a nineteen-year-old girl with clear skin and an infectious smile. Did you think she was pretty?”

“Sarah, she wasn’t smiling. If she had clear skin, it wasn’t showing. She had mascara running all the way down to her chin. How was I supposed to tell whether she was pretty or not? And why are you feeling threatened by her? She had an affair with my father. Why the hell would I be interested in her? I’m interested in you.”

I couldn’t answer. He took my breath away.

“Why? Are you anything like your sister? Is this fair warning?”

“No!” I screamed, finding my voice. “Honestly, this is bad behavior… even for her. I don’t know how it happened.”

“Really? I do.”

“Then how?”

“How it happens with every woman he meets. The creep goes to the bar and picks up women. He’s married and he still does that. Every game night, whether it’s the Canucks or the Lions playing, it doesn’t matter. He goes out and does whatever he wants claiming he’s going to see the game. If he wants to see a woman more than once, he starts paying for things. You should be able to guess: dinners, fancy hotel rooms, presents. I told you my dad’s house isn’t that nice, right? That’s because he spends his bucks elsewhere.”

“And you hate him?”

“More than that. I hate every woman who can’t see through his sickening facade. Why can’t they tell he’s a liar? Why can’t they tell he’s a cheater who will play them the wrong way? Why do they give themselves to a man who can hardly get his pants on before finding someone new?”

That was it. That was what his problem was (at least one of them). He couldn’t find it within himself to trust a woman who was the same as the ones who would pair themselves up with his dad. He didn’t want to live his life alone, so he needed reassurance that the woman he chose was different.

“I’m not like that, and I’m going to prove it to you,” I said firmly.

“Huh?” he breathed, breaking out of his tirade.

“You heard me.”

“Sarah, I’m not accusing you of being the same as his girlfriends.”

“I know, but still—I know you need proof. And I’m going to give it to you.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“You’ll figure it out. I’ll see you on Tuesday. I love you. I’m hanging up now,” I said in a rush.

“Okay. Goodnight. Wait! You love me?” he said, sounding anxious.

Then I hung up. I was ready to read.

_______________

Author's Notes: Thanks to everyone who added my book 'Whenever You Want' to a reading list this week. The alerts have been astounding. I'm very grateful. Thank you!

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