Behind His Mask

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Chapter 8 - My Big Mouth

The next day, the doctor signed my release papers around three in the afternoon. They ran all the tests they could think of, but none of them could explain why my leg wouldn’t work. In the end, the doctor gave me a crutch and sent me on my way with a strict reminder that I needed to make an appointment to see my family doctor as soon as possible.

I closed my curtains, undid my hospital gown, and got dressed. Hopping around the room, I got my things together into the white plastic bag they gave me. There was just one problem. I couldn’t find Evander’s iPod anywhere. I looked everywhere—with a vengeance—but in the end, I had to conclude gravely that it had been stolen. Someone must have taken it while I was out of the room having my tests done.

I rang the call button. When the nurse came in, I told her, my iPod was missing.

She looked up from her clipboard long enough to point her pen at a sign posted on the wall that read; “The hospital is not responsible for lost or damaged property. Please send valuables home during your stay. Thank you!”

I felt like dying.

Hobbling to the front desk, I signed the discharge forms and talked to the nurse there about my stolen iPod. She gave me a lost item report form to fill out, but she didn’t look hopeful it would be found.

Afterward, I went to the courtesy phone to call my mom to come get me. Someone was using it. A woman who looked like she was ninety was making arrangements for her own funeral—literally. I didn’t wait for her to finish. After all, it sounded like she was expecting the procession to the graveyard to begin once she finished with the phone. I turned on my crutch and left her to her business.

I got out of the hospital and made my slow, sloppy way to the bus stop. What was I going to do about Evander’s lost iPod? First off, I had to tell him it had been stolen. That would be unspeakably embarrassing. Whatever he said, I had to replace it. That would cost an arm and a leg. Luckily, I had a not-so-useful limb to spare, but still! The whole thing was too awkward for words. The guy talked to me once and BOOM! Misfortune strikes him! Expensive misfortune at that.

When I got home, Rachel was there with my mom. While my mother was cutting up vegetables for supper, Rachel sat on the couch and read her highlights from Evander’s book. I heard her nasal voice as soon as I came in the door.

“’He was so pleased, just looking at her,’” Rachel quoted. Then she heard me coming in. “Sarah’s back.”

My mom glanced up at me and my walking stick. “If it ended up like this, then why didn’t you call me?”

“Not even a quarter to my name and the courtesy phone was backed up. Don’t worry about it. I’m young and sprightly. Besides, the bus is cheaper than a taxi.”

Rachel put her shaved head around the corner and asked, “So, did they figure out what was wrong with your leg?”

I showed her my crutch. “Not really, but I’ll be okay.”

“Great. Come on in and listen. I just know we’re almost at the good part.” She started quoting his book again, “’He sighed. He felt weak more often than not. Glancing at Sarafina, he felt sorry. He wanted to acquaint her with his reality.’” Rachel squealed. “This is what the guy you like wrote? He sounds super fun. When do I get to meet him?”

“Never,” I said as I seized the book.

“Aw!” she bawled, half pretending to cry. “His writing isn’t that corny. He’s pretty romantic. Did he write it for you?”

I nearly choked on some saliva that somehow got lodged in my throat. “For me? That’s rich,” I fumed. “What makes you think it’s for me?”

“The heroine’s name is Sarafina. Your name is Sarah. Surely you noticed the similarity.”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t mean anything.”

“Really? The girl in the second part’s name is Serissa. Still think it’s a coincidence?”

“Evander never thought anything about me. He barely talks to me.”

“Still waters run deep,” Rachel countered.

I turned to my mom who was still chopping away at a cutting board scattered with vegetable carcasses. “Mom, what do you think of all this?”

She eyed me carefully and began speaking in a level tone. “Well, I think Sarah is a fairly common name. He probably knows half a dozen girls called the same thing. Normally, no, I wouldn’t think his writing had anything to do with you, but from what Rachel read, it doesn’t sound like just anyone. It sounds like you.” She started laughing jovially. “And let me tell you, baby girl, he’s really got you figured out.”

I stormed out of the room. “Idiots!” I yelled back at the women. It wasn’t written like that because Evander liked me. The book recorded the time I spent inside just the way I made it happen.

But why didn’t Rachel get sucked into the book the same way I did?

***

For the rest of that week, I didn’t read Evander’s book for two reasons. The first reason was because I didn’t have time. The second reason was directly related to the first reason. I would have had time if I hadn’t been hobbling around on a leg that wouldn’t work. It began bending on command again by Saturday, so I could resume my babysitting jobs—much to the relief of the single moms I worked for.

By Saturday night I was beat. I wandered into the apartment, looked at the black sky out the kitchen window, and opened the fridge. I should have known what would happen. It was the usual cycle. My mom got all homey and cooked for an entire day. Rachel realized there was food and somehow, before I could eat my fill, every last scrap of my mom’s cooking was gone. All that was left in the fridge was one pathetic looking carrot, a box of baking soda, and a collection of nondescript salad dressings that probably should have been thrown out.

I was about to take my measly twenty-five bucks to the grocery store to replenish the kitchen when the phone rang. I was feeling spunky, so I didn’t look at the caller ID and with no preliminaries said into the receiver, “Can I ask you something?”

“Okay,” said a male voice.

Who the heck could be calling us? But I didn’t back down. “How do you call a girl and ask her out on a date?”

The voice on the line said, “Uh, I’m not sure.”

“Bad! Call me back and try again.” I clicked the end button. Thirty seconds later the phone rang again and I picked it up. “Hello,” I said cheerfully.

“Uh, hi, this is Evander.”

And my face turned the color of fake blood running down the drain in a slasher flick. “Yeah. Sorry about that. It’s… uh…”

“I was calling to tell you Emi doesn’t need you to babysit this Tuesday—“

“And you want your iPod back,” I interrupted.

“Not really. I was wondering if you wanted to go to the movies with me instead of babysitting. Interested?”

I stared around my kitchen stupidly. I had no idea Evander could be that smooth. He didn’t even sound embarrassed.

“Unless you were expecting a call from one of your other boyfriends,” he added.

“I don’t have any boyfriends.” I paused. “Sure,” I finally stuttered.

“Okay. Can you meet me at the city library at, say, five o’clock on Tuesday?”

“Sounds perfect.”

“Then, I’ll see you there. And by the way, that little prank of yours was cute. Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.”

We both hung up and I fell into a happy puddle on the floor before I remembered that I still had to tell him about his stolen iPod.

***

After school on Monday, I popped into an electronic boutique before heading home and looked at the MP3 players. I wanted to curl up into a hole and die! Not only was an iPod going to set me back three Saturday’s worth of babysitting jobs, but the one he had lent me was too old to be for sale. I snagged one of the store employees and asked him if they had any of the last generation. No such luck! So, I had to buy him the newest one in orange, which was the closest I could find to his gold one.

Then on my way home, I felt even sicker because I realized that as a modern woman (even though I was only sixteen) I was going to have to pay for my movie ticket and my share of snacks.

I slouched and shuffled my feet. There was no way I could afford to be anyone’s girlfriend; let alone Evander’s. He probably had expensive taste in other things besides electronics.

The next day, I went to the city library to meet him. My spirits hadn’t risen. More than anything, that was the fault of my outfit. When I went through my closet that morning, I didn’t have anything to wear that I hadn’t already worn to babysit at Evander’s and I didn’t have time to ask Rachel to help me. Besides, she didn’t have anything to wear other than clubwear or second-hand, safety-pinned, punk clothes. It was hopeless. In the end, I had to wear what I normally would have worn. I looked really drab.

I was sitting at the front when Evander came in. He wore a couple of hoodies, layered. The top one had thick, green horizontal stripes and his backpack was yellow and orange. He waved to me and sat down in the chair across from mine.

“Hi,” he said.

“Hi.” I gave him my most lady-like smile. “I should tell you something.”

“Shoot.”

“At the hospital, you were so kind as to lend me your iPod and stupidly, I left it in the room when I was out getting some tests—”

“And it got stolen,” he supplied. It was strange. He didn’t look remotely mad. “Don’t worry about it.”

“No. I got you this,” I said as I handed him the bag. “I know I lost all your data. Sorry, I can’t replace that. I really enjoyed the songs on it though.”

Evander looked confused as he took the bag from me and emptied it. The receipt came out too and he picked that up and examined it. “There must be some mistake.”

“I know. It’s the wrong one. I… uh… couldn’t get you the same one that you lent me. It was too old.” I scratched the back of my head, flustered. “And they only had orange.”

“No,” he said. “That’s not what’s wrong. The iPod I lent you at the hospital wasn’t mine.” He pulled a green one out of his pocket that looked exactly the same as the one I had lost. “I picked that one up at a pawn shop a week ago. I loaded it up with songs, and I was giving it to you as a present.”

“Why?”

“Because I’ve never seen you with headphones on, and I don’t know… you seemed like you wanted some. I saw an iPod for cheap and thought of you. I didn’t explain the situation very well back at the hospital, but it was my plan to give it to you the night you were supposed to babysit. When you didn’t show up and I heard you were in the hospital… I decided to bring it to you there… I didn’t actually give it to you because of your hospital stay.”

I stared. That explanation didn’t seem normal. Real-life Evander was talking to me and he sounded so much like Tremor my heart was skipping. “But why did you tell me it was on loan if it was a gift?”

He frowned. “I was planning on using it as an excuse to talk to you. You know… like my ridiculous phone call on Saturday, that you stopped from being ridiculous. But you know this iPod is a lot nicer than the one I got you. Want me to load it up with songs for you?”

“No!” I said, snatching the whole bag from him—receipt and all. “That’s okay.”

His jaw hardened as he watched me stow it away in my backpack. “You’re going to take it back to the store, aren’t you?”

“Ah, yeah. I gotta think about college tuition. I can’t skim off the top if my savings are going to amount to anything. Thank you though for the lovely gift. I had no idea you were thinking about me. You’re really wonderful. I’ve been sick to my stomach that I lost it,” I said, starting to tear up.

For a second, it felt like he was glaring at me. Then he seemed to pick himself up. “Want to go?”

“Sure.”

He took me down the block to the mall. Edmonton was weird. There was the mall, city hall, library, art gallery, courthouse, and all within a block of each other.

“There’s a pub on the top floor next to the theaters. Why don’t we stop there and have a bite to eat?”

“I’m underage,” I protested.

“Don’t worry about that. It’s really more like a restaurant and I won’t order any drinks.”

And it was. I’d passed it before on my way to the movies, but I’d never sat on their little pretend patio eating before. I just about squealed with delight when the hostess put us at one of those tables.

As we sat scanning the menu, a group of college kids walked past. I didn’t take much notice until one of them did a double-take and turned around to talk to Evander. “Hey, it’s Cheney,” the guy said, looking straight at Evander. “Is that your sister?”

“No,” Evander said levelly without elaborating.

The guy looked over at me. “Ick. You’re right. Sweetie,” he said, flipping his hands in mock effeminate style. “That hair color is all wrong. Streaks! Streaks!” He snapped his fingers in front of my face. “Or have you never heard of them?”

“Cut it out, Rick,” Evander said without even looking up.

“And when was the last time you plucked your eyebrows, love?” The fake British accent made him sound more disdainful than ever.

And I couldn’t think of anything to say back to him. I just sat there and looked at him like he was a slimy toad—which he seemed to be with all that gunk in his hair. It wasn’t even shiny. Then I thought of it. “And you, Vaseline is not a hair care product.”

He stepped back and said in a normal voice, “It’s hair wax.”

“Looks like Vaseline.”

It looked like Rick was scrambling for a comeback.

“Stop it,” Evander said, still not looking up. “Isn’t someone waiting for you?”

“Yeah, well, see you around Cheney.” He strutted back to his friends.

“Is he your friend?” I asked Evander.

“Not really. I do know him though, so I can’t pretend I don’t. What would you like to eat?”

I pursed my lips and didn’t answer him. Instead, I brought up something that was bothering me. “He’s right, you know.”

Evander gazed at me over his menu, finally looking up. “How could that guy be right about anything?”

“I’m a mess. My hair does need to be dyed. I have no idea how to shape my eyebrows. My clothes are ugly, and I can’t afford an iPod.”

“He didn’t say your clothes were ugly and they’re not. They’re just clothes. I didn’t think you’d be so hung up on that stuff.”

After that, I felt too ashamed to say anything else. I ordered the cheapest thing on the menu—a soup. Evander and I didn’t talk. We ate. He paid the bill.

At the movie theater, he offered to buy me popcorn at the concession, which I refused. He didn’t get anything either. The movie was a thriller I didn’t find particularly thrilling. In the darkness of the theater, I studied him more than the movie. It was a miracle he didn’t notice. When the movie was over he took me home.

At the door, I said, “Do you want to come inside?”

He gave me a half-smile and said with more honesty than most people can take, “Haven’t we already had enough fun?”

“No. I really want you to come inside. There’s no way you can understand why my sensitive side ruined tonight while you’re standing out here.”

He looked dubious.

“I won’t make you stay longer than ten minutes. I just want to show you my apartment.”

Evander shrugged his shoulders. “All right.”

We went in.

“What’s that?” he asked as we passed the bloodstain.

“Blood. Someone was stabbed there.”

“Seriously?” he questioned—aghast.

“It was on the news.”

Then we passed the pee stain. “Do I want to know?”

I stopped and looked at it. “A homeless person peed in the hall. No one has cleaned that up either.”

“You’ve got to be kidding!”

“Come on.” I took him down the hall and into my apartment. I opened the door and we stood on the entryway rug. “This is the kitchen. This is the living room and there’s the dining room. That’s the storage room and down the hall is the bathroom. And that last room is the one I share with my mom.”

He jerked his head toward me. “You share a room with your mom?”

“She’s at work right now.” I dropped my school bag on the floor and took off my shoes. I could have shown him the whole place without him making him step off the entryway rug. I hung my coat in the closet and went into the kitchen to start on the dishes.

“Don’t you have a dishwasher?” His voice was softer.

“You’re looking at her.” There was a pause before I went on. “You don’t have to stay. I just wanted to show you why I was so sensitive before. If I thought there was any hope of hiding where I lived, I’d try, but you’ve already been to the building half a dozen times. I understand if you don’t—“

“It’s okay, Sarah. I get it. Just so you know; my father is not as rich as Vincent. This doesn’t scare me off. I’ll see you on Thursday.” He smiled at me and his eyes had that same kind quality that always made me fall for him.

“Yeah. I’ll see you on Thursday.”

He left but I felt kind of cozy inside, even after he was gone.

_______________

Author's notes: Thanks for reading. I had some trouble with Inkitt not uploading my chapters, so chapter dump today. Two more coming!

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