Behind His Mask

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Chapter 19 - Brown Book, Blue Book

The following Tuesday, I babysat Paisley again. Evander’s family had gone back to Vancouver, but he was nowhere to be found. Emi was her usual self when she said goodbye to me. It honestly felt like the conversation we had in her room hadn’t happened. Even though she didn’t do anything out of the ordinary, as soon as the door shut behind her, my brain became completely contaminated.

Contaminated? How so?

A little gremlin inside my head wanted to find a complete copy of Evander’s blue paperback. Emi had given me a copy, but she had cut off the whole story of Light Face, Dark Face. I didn’t want to go against what Emi said, but the gremlin in my head wouldn’t shut up.

“You want it, don’t you?” it said.

I turned my head and pretended I didn’t hear it.

But it surfaced from the depths of my brain a second time. I could hear its creaking voice sputter, “You want to know how to get rid of Darach and find your happily-ever-after with Loring, don’t you? There’s a whole box of those books somewhere around here. No one would notice if you took just one.”

“I can’t look,” I said out loud. “Emi said it would ruin the test.”

At that moment, I looked at Paisley. She was crawling and she had found her way to a shelving unit that contained a collection of wicker baskets. She grabbed onto the second shelf and pulled herself into a standing position. Then she took hold of one of the baskets and tugged it out of its place. To my possible undoing, the basket was filled to the brim with copies of Evander’s blue book.

I grabbed Paisley and shoved the basket back into its place. Paisley didn’t like being picked up once she found something she wanted to play with so she started to cry. Over the sound of her yowling, I could hear the gremlin. “Now you don’t even have to look. They’re right there. You don’t even have to take one home with you. You could just read the important parts here and put it back when you’re finished. No one will ever know.”

I didn’t acknowledge it. Instead, I said to Paisley, “How about some apple sauce? It’s almost time for your supper anyway and… I need a distraction.”

I took her into the kitchen and sat her in her high chair. Actually, for as long as I needed to feed her, I was quite distracted. It was when I started scraping the bottom of the bowl that I started wondering what I would do when she was finished. She would play for another hour before bed, but what would I do after she went to sleep? I was about to root around in Emi’s movie collection when I heard someone at the front door.

It was Evander. He came in with a smile and a couple of brown paper bags. He looked terrific wearing a black and gray striped toque with a black brim on it. Little blond curls peeked out from underneath. His smile was so broad, he gave himself a dimple on one side.

“Have you eaten yet?” he asked cheerfully.

“No.”

“Great. I brought you dinner. Are you hungry?”

“Starving!”

He put down the bags on the table and pulled out hamburgers and fries from a drive-through. He went to the cupboard and got plates and glasses. He poured each of us a glass of pop from the fridge. Then I bore witness to him doing the strangest thing. He unwrapped his hamburger and put it on the plate. Then he opened the bun and took out a handful of shredded lettuce and two thin slices of tomato. I looked at his plate. His leftovers looked exactly like the ones Darach brought me in the story. Why?

“Do you normally do that to your hamburger?” I asked.

“Always. Why? Is it weird?”

I shook my head, but I felt a little queasy.

“So, how is your project coming along?” he asked pleasantly.

I swallowed uncomfortably. “Not very well right now. I’m at a crossroad and I don’t know what to do.”

“And you don’t want to tell me about it?”

“No.”

“Is it about your sister?”

I frowned. Actually, I hadn’t even thought about Carly. When it came to her, my stance flip-flopped between being willing to die for her and wanting to let her dig her own grave. Ever since I found out about her and Reg, I realized I just didn’t have the brain room to deal with Carly’s problems, so I couldn’t even think about her. It wasn’t like she was going to listen to me. I was just her stupid little sister who was just going to high school and doing all the pointless normal things she refused to do.

I shook my head. “It’s not that.”

His mouth became a set line. “Got another guy on the brain?”

“As if. You’re complicated enough. My brain is completely taken over by you. Who told you that you were allowed to drive me crazy?”

“What did I do?” He laughed.

I might not be able to read the original story in his book, but maybe I could pump him for information. “You’re not talking enough. You should tell me more,” I said.

“More about what?”

“A-about everything,” I stuttered. “You’re tortured. Can’t you tell me what’s bothering you with your dad?”

Evander shook his head like I was asking him to cut off his arm. Then he got up and disappeared into the living room. I felt like he had just slammed a door in my face, when suddenly he came back, holding one of the forbidden blue books.

“Why don’t you take this and give it a read?”

“What is it?” I asked, dumbfounded. He was giving it to me?

“It’s a book I wrote to try to work out some of my mental problems. Once I thought I’d like to get it published, so Emi went ahead and printed it for me without my permission. You just can’t say no to that lady. So, here’s a copy, unsold and rotting. You might as well take it and see what I have to say about my dad. This is how I feel. I think I express myself incredibly well—especially in the last section.”

I took it and flipped over the front cover, pretending I’d never seen it before. “You wrote this? Why are you going to school to be an architect? You should be a novelist.”

“Hardly. Read it, though I don’t think you’ll like it. Emi didn’t like it much.”

“She must have if she had it printed.”

“It’s frustrating when you don’t have anyone impartial to share your work with. It’s not the book she loves, it’s me, and so that’s how she acts. It’s hard to forgive her for feeling like that, but impossible not to.”

“Thanks. I’ll read it.”

“You probably won’t like it,” he reiterated.

“Nah.” I smiled, got up, and gave him a hug. “It’s a wonderful present. I’ll read it right away and I’ll probably fall in love with you over and over again.”

He kissed me. It was a cute little kiss that could have been measured in fractions of a second, so brief it was. But I couldn’t get the last thing Darach said out of my mind. It was one thing to hear something like ‘what guys say and what they think are two different things’ from some uninvolved third-party, but it was entirely another thing to hear Evander say that himself. What exactly did he mean? What exactly was he feeling? Was he secretly a seething furnace of lust? It couldn’t be as simple as it seemed. It was never simple with him.

I ate with him. Then I put Paisley to bed and made up an excuse to leave. Except that it wasn’t much of an excuse since I was telling the truth. I told him that I wanted to go home to read his book. He didn’t complain. He seemed eager to hear what I thought of it and I walked home alone in the cold November night.

When I got there, the apartment was empty. The rooms were dark. I left the light on in the entryway and wandered into the living room to look out the windows. There was that sky—orange and pink. The scene could be enjoyed so much better from inside, looking out at the weather from heated rooms. But the snow was beautiful whether I looked at it inside or outside. It was only that inside, my nose didn’t drip.

I shrugged off my winter coat and pulled Evander’s book from my bag. I had his real book with the hidden section. He’d given it to me. I didn’t steal it. Would that affect the magic?

I struggled with it. The decision wasn’t easy. Of course, I wanted to pass the test within the confines of the story, and getting hints as to how to do that would make me less anxious for my personal safety. If I cheated, I’d come out of the book all right, but would I still win Evander? I didn’t know.

I got up and paced. Finally, I threw the book across the room and heard it bang against the wall. Then I snatched up the brown hardcover book and took the high road. Flipping open the pages, I started the next chapter.

Serena turned over and over between her sheets before she finally awoke in the bedroom taken over by shadow. Before that moment, silence permeated the manor house. The only sounds she had heard were the voices of the two men she’d met. In the dark side of the house, there were multiple footsteps, clanking, and words said into the walls. Some of them were muffled and she couldn’t hear what they were. Some of them were loud and she could understand them easily through the walls. “You’ve got to be joking!” a woman shrieked.

Then I heard the voice for myself. The words were ringing through the house. “You’ve got to be joking! I hate you! I hate you!”

I sat up in bed, in the bedroom in Thistle Comb. The scream belonged to a woman. Was there another woman in the house? I jumped out of bed and raced toward the door that led to Darach. I reached for the handle when I suddenly realized I was still wearing that ridiculous black nightgown and wrap. I had to put on different clothes.

The charcoal suit and the pencil skirt I had worn before were gone. Instead, I was left with a pair of black tights and a dark red sweater dress. When I first picked it up, I was afraid that it would be reminiscent of the red dress I wore in The Witch and the Fool, but it was quite different. For starters, it was very modest. It had a band of animal fur that ran around my chest and arms almost like an off-the-shoulder dress. It had very tight sleeves, but they were long and covered my knuckles. It also came all the way down to my knees and flared slightly. I liked it. It was warm and I needed something warm. After all, I was about to explore a haunted house. I put the entire outfit on with ease.

There were no mirrors, so I could only run my fingers through my hair before I opened the door that led into shadow.

It didn’t feel like morning as I entered the room where I met Darach the night before. The fire still crackled in the grate and only night could be seen through the windows. The same ambiance hung in the air, like no time had passed since I left.

I walked around the room slowly. Without Darach filling the room to its maximum with his overwhelming presence, I could take a minute to look around. Unlike the other side of the house, the room was decorated. There were pictures on the walls. The first painting I noticed was of the moon. It was full and beautiful and then with a jolt, I realized it was the same moon I had seen through the ceiling of Serissa’s shack when I slept there with Kalavan. Someone may as well have used my eyes as a camera and painted the picture. It was the same.

The next picture was of the sea. It was the view from the window in the guest room when I stayed in the castle in The Lord of the Capricorns.

I walked along and pondered the meaning of the pictures. They were all things that had happened to me in the book. One was of Murmur’s boat going down. Another was my foot stepping into the burning pyre. The next one was an underwater view of a capricorn with a blackberry tart in the foreground. Then there was one of Kalavan’s bleeding fingers as he tried to pick a rose.

All of the pictures made sense in their places until I saw the last one. It was of me sitting alone on a bus. My eyes were pointed forward and my chin was resting in my palm. Evander was standing on the curb outside, looking at me. His expression entranced me. It seemed like he was looking at me longingly. How was that possible? Wasn’t I the one suffering from a one-sided love for him, and not the other way around?

Before I saw that painting, I thought the pictures made sense. It was easy to understand. They were memories, but what about the last picture? It couldn’t be a memory. Evander hadn’t liked me… had he?

I sat down and thought about it, but my head hurt.

That was when Darach made his entry. He looked surprised to see me. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be sitting down to victuals with the lord of the manor right about now,” he mocked. “Why are you here?”

My stomach growled at his mention of food. “Speaking of which, do you have anything to eat?”

He rubbed his slightly scruffy chin. “I don’t think there’s anything fancier than what I offered you yesterday. Do you want that?”

“No.” I stuck my tongue out in disgust, thinking of day-old hamburger scraps. “What did you eat?”

He chuckled. “That’s in the past. I can live off food eaten a year ago—five years ago. It’s strange to me that you always want to eat.”

His dialogue was too cryptic for me. I got up and left the room. The first thing I did was head outside onto the front steps. Out there the world looked exactly the same as it had the night before—orange and foggy.

“Is it night or day?” I asked Darach as I came back into the house.

“I guess it depends on how you remember it.”

“This doesn’t make any sense.” I rubbed my temple where a headache was growing. “This house doesn’t make any sense. You don’t make any sense.”

“I’m like any other man,” he said, pushing tobacco into a black pipe and looking at me suggestively.

It was really unnerving to see Evander act like that. Was there really a part of his personality that seethed with desire? Where exactly in the depths of him was it lurking? Because whenever I was with Evander, I didn’t see it. I didn’t feel it. He didn’t set off any virginal self-protection instincts in me. Whenever I was with the real Evander, I felt completely safe. Darach’s similarity to Reg made my skin crawl.

He made his way over to me. “So, would you like a tour of the dark side of the house?”

My eyebrows went up. “Yes.”

“Great,” he said, putting his hot arm around my shoulder. “Let’s start with upstairs.”

I allowed myself to be led to the bottom of the staircase, but I brushed off his arm, which didn’t last. In the next second, he had an arm around my waist.

“Let go of me,” I whined. “I can’t walk straight with you pulling on me like that.”

He let go. “Would you rather I—”

“Don’t you dare touch my butt!” I suddenly snapped. My instincts had kicked in.

“I wasn’t going to,” he said, but his hand hovered dangerously as he lingered a few steps behind me.

At the top of the stairs, a long corridor stretched out ahead of us. There was one door on the left side of the hallway and many doors on the right side. The first door on the right was labeled with the roman numeral VII—seven. The numbers counted down to one. I walked down the corridor and looked at the different doors. Some of them looked like they belonged in the house, but others were strange. The fourth room door was made of metal and had windows like it was the outside door to a house. Doors numbered one, two, three, and six all looked the same, except six looked a little worse for wear. They were all stained dark wood, but five was dingy gray and seven was sparkling white. It was weird.

“Where do these doors lead?” I asked.

“Into rooms,” he answered sardonically.

I sighed. “Can’t you be a little more helpful?”

“Don’t bother with those. Come into this room,” he offered, pointing with his chin toward the only door on the left-hand side.

“Is that your room?”

“It’s the demon’s room.”

“And these rooms belong to the ghosts?”

He smirked. “Or something like that. Come here. I want to show you inside the demon’s room.”

I withdrew. “I don’t want to.”

“You have to see this room first. That way you will know not to waste your time with those ghosts.” He had a lustful look in his eyes. Except I didn’t feel that way in return. I felt scared, the same way I felt when the King had come looking for Serissa. I hid then and everything had worked out. I had to do it again.

I backed up against the door marked one like I saw something frightening. I looked behind Darach, pointed, and screamed, “It’s a demon!”

He turned for a second and in that second, I turned the doorknob to room one, made my escape, and slammed it behind me. I turned the knob tight and locked it. With the door locked, all sound from the hallway was completely blocked out. If Darach was having a king-sized tantrum on the other side, I couldn’t hear him. It was silent in the room for a moment. Then I heard a sound, something quiet, but it made my skin crawl like marching ants. Someone behind me was singing.

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Author's Notes: Thanks for coming to read! I cannot believe how much support I've had here, especially for my novel 'Whenever You Want'. Thank you so much!

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