Ivan came to pick us up for the movie marathon at his place and we were in his car driving up to this huge ass metal gate. He opened it with a key card and we drove through a forest path, lit up by lamp posts, up the hill.
“So… Should I call you my Lord from now?” I asked as I gawked out the window.
Ivan chuckled, “You may do as you wish, lovely maiden.”
“Don’t do that T, his head is already three sizes too big. He’ll start floating like a balloon. The privileged ass.” Mina laughed.
“But you love my privileged ass,” Ivan smirked, winking at her.
“Many love that ass. I, for instance, just love, love your pool.” She winked back, making Ivan narrow his eyes at her and pout.
He looked adorable.
“Have I hurt your little feelings?” Mina said in a baby voice, pinching his cheek, making him cringe. “Good, your head might deflate.” Patting his reddened cheek, she turned in her seat and looked up front.
“You wraith,” Ivan mumbled.
“Wraith?” I asked.
He turned in his seat to face me. “Yeah, the soulless creature.” Mina slapped him on the shoulder playfully.
“Watch where you drive! Eyes up front!” she said, and he straightened in his seat.
We pulled over in front of a big house. No, wait, too big for a house. It was a freaking mansion. Freshly trimmed lawn, cobblestone path lit by in-ground lights, leading to a staircase of a big wooden porch. The two-story rustic house had a big terrace on the second floor, lights coming from the inside through rows of enormous windows. It was beautiful, like an over-sized mountain cabin.
“You two, go in. I’ll bring the groceries.” Ivan said, opening the trunk of the car.
“Oh, no I’ll help!” I peeled my gaze away from the house and scampered over to him.
“I’ll warm our seats,” Mina said and waltzed inside.
“Lazy ass!” Ivan hollered, but a smirk played on his lips.
Picking up the grocery bags, we entered a well-lit, wide foyer, and I caught a scent of fragrant red freesia flowers that sat on a small table at the center. A cast-iron chandelier hung from the weathered timbre ceiling arch, and my eyes skimmed down over the stone walls lined with lamps and artwork in intricately carved wooden frames. Some of which were portraits of, I presumed, distinguished family members.
There was one particular piece that caught my attention.
A lone, pale, slender-looking, four-armed figure stood on a snow-covered field. Barren black trees surrounded her, their shadows stretching like black veins as her bare feet balanced on a pile of bones. Clad in a black flowing dress, a veil covering most of her pale face, leaving only her red lips visible. Two vertical red lines ran over her chin, down the sides of her neck, and pairs of arms.
One pair of hands clutched a frozen heart, the other held a big hunting bow and an arrow, cocked and ready to fire. Perched atop her slim shoulder was a huge black hawk. Its eyes red as blood seemed to follow the movements of my head as I tilted it from side to side. Inescapable. Unavoidable.
It wasn’t terror, exactly, that I felt looking at the painting, but more like awe.
“Ah, that. My mother has a bit of a peculiar taste in art.” Ivan’s voice rang next to me, almost making me jump as it pulled my attention away from the painting.
“I see,” was all I uttered. He was super close, so that jumbled my brain a bit.
Turning away from the painting, I saw a staircase behind the center table. It had carved railings leading up to a small landing, branching on each side leading to the upper floor. What caught my attention was the giant shield propped on the wall over the landing. It was an honest to God medieval shield. Over it were massive buck antlers that had beaded strings with feathers draped over them.
The shield was almond-shaped. The edges had a texture on them resembling ice flowers, the ones you can find on your windows when it’s freezing as a witch’s tit outside and you are warm and cozy in your home. Etched on it was a large bird skull surrounded by chrysanthemum flowers with two frozen arrows crossed behind it. The design looked vaguely familiar. Then I remembered Ivan had a similar tattoo on his arm.
“What does it mean? I saw you have a tattoo.” I asked Ivan, who had an uncomfortable look on his face.
“Ah, yes. I should have warned you about our interior design. It’s tacky, I know, but Mom loves it. Also, that over there is our family crest. We came from a long line of hunters. Which is kinda funny, considering none of us now know how to hunt. I don’t even know how to hold a gun.” Ivan huffed out a laugh. It came out a bit forced, and the smile he plastered on his face didn’t reach his eyes. It was too tight.
He placed his one free hand on my upper back and gently guided me through an archway left of the staircase through a narrow hallway leading to the open plan living room.
Both the exterior and interior of the house breathed opulence. Gaudy taste aside, I could almost smell and hear the crinkling of old money.
Heading to the back of a spacious room, where the kitchen was, we passed the big leather sofa in the sitting area, on which Mina lounged like a cat, waving at us.
We put the bags on the kitchen aisle and started unpacking.
The house was ours for the night. Ivan’s parents went on a business trip overseas. His older sister married last year, so she didn’t live in Blackwood anymore, and his older brother had a night shift at work. Ivan said he was a police officer.
“Ivan, can you show me where everything is? I’ll start on the pasta.” I said.
“Sure, just say what you need.”
I rattled off the list. He opened the drawers and cabinets and handed me things.
“Uh, I’ll help you cook!” Mina sauntered into the kitchen, finally deciding to peel her ass off the couch.
“NO!” Ivan and I yelled in unison, and looked at each other with sympathy.
“You too?” I asked, commiserating.
“I hugged the toilet for an entire week. Her lasagna almost killed me.” His eyes stared off into the distance and he shuddered. “You?”
“Four days, and it was a Cesar salad...” My voice drifted off for a dramatic effect. Ivan tapped me on my back, nodding in an understanding of my pain.
“We’ll never be able to marry her off.” He said.
Mina blew a raspberry. “Shut it, you two! It’s not that bad! And I don’t need to know how to cook to get me a man!”
“You don’t, but it’s a sure way to a man’s heart,” Ivan said matter-of-factually.
Mina huffed. “I’ll just dance my way into his heart!” she said, doing a little twirl.
“Is there a pole involved in that scenario? Some money being tucked in...” Ivan teased, wiggling his brows at her. Mina slapped him on the back of his head. I laughed.
“You could marry a vampire. They don’t eat food, you couldn’t possibly kill them with your cooking. That would be an achievement, though! You could put it in your CV!” I suggested.
“Nah, I’m over the Vamp hype.”
I gasped. “You overcame your Twilight obsession?” Mina shrugged.
“What team were you on?” Ivan asked me, leaning on the aisle.
“Jacob. I’m a wolf girl.” I smiled.
“That’s my girl! Wolves rule!” Ivan said, giving me a high five, pointing that crooked smile of his at me and my heart hiccuped in my chest.
After I made us some pasta carbonara, we sat in the living room, turning the movie on. We were watching Harry Potter. Mina and I huddled, covered by a plushy blanket, while Ivan lay down on the other side of the sofa, propping his head on a pile of pillows.
Through the duration of the first movie, we commented about the differences between the movie and the book, made jokes, occasionally not paying attention to the screen.
In the middle of the second movie, Mina’s phone pinged, and she jumped like someone spilled hot water on her and dived for the coffee table to reach it.
Her fingers, lighting fast as she typed the message. It pinged again, and she giggled.
“Who are you texting?” Ivan asked.
“No one, just some guy. I have a date tomorrow.” She replied, not taking her eyes off her phone. I think I saw Ivan’s expression darkened for a second, but could have been the light from the screen playing tricks on me. I already knew about the date. Mina had been very excited all morning about it. It was a guy she texted with, the one that gave her whiplash. The “pretty eyes”.
“Where did you meet him?” Ivan turned his face back to the screen, his tone flat.
“Um, we have a class together,” Mina answered, still typing.
“Do I know him?”
“I don’t think so. What’s with the questioning Gestapo?!” There was a slight edge in her voice, even though she huffed a laugh.
Ivan’s jaw ticked, and I saw his Adam’s apple bob up and down, swallowing hard.
“Just looking out for you. That’s what friends do, right?” Something in the way he said the word friends stuck out to me, like it tasted bad on his tongue.
“What if he is a serial killer and plans to bury you in the forest somewhere, hmm?” Ivan cocked a brow, turning to face Mina, propping his head on the palm of his hand.
Mina rolled her eyes. “He’s nice. I saw him making googly eyes at me since the beginning of the year, thought he was cute. We exchanged numbers, been texting for a few weeks, and tomorrow we are going on an official date. There. I gave you all the info, satisfied?”
“Ok, ok, no need to get all pissy, Missy. If he’s a freak, I’ll beat him up for you.”
“Thanks, but I can do that myself.” she smiled and blew him a kiss.
He caught the imaginary kiss, pretended to tuck it into a pocket of his shirt, smiling back at her, and turned once again to face the screen. But I recognized that smile. It was the same uneasy one he gave me in the foyer. Hmm?
We continued to watch the movie in silence.
But the whole time I thought I could feel an immense amount of negative energy on Ivan’s side of the room, even though he lay there peacefully, expressionless, watching TV. But, the darkness in now dimmed light in the living room seemed thicker around him. Was it my imagination?
Mina also acted weird, fidgeting, clearing her throat, glancing around, poking at her phone. Yep, there was definitely tension in the air. We didn’t comment on the movie anymore. It was awkward as hell.
“You know guys, how about we do a random dance challenge?” I suggested after the credits on the second movie rolled.
Never in a million years would I have thought to deliberately expose someone to my skills but, my dancing disability might have been an excellent tool to lighten the sullen atmosphere.
And boy did it work. They were rolling on the floor before you knew it, tears streaming down their cheeks. And I was dancing, twirling, flailing my limbs around like they were independent of my body. It was a talent, really, to butcher someone’s choreography, making them look like they were on some heavy shit while making it.
Dancing around like a hamster on crack, Mina’s description, not mine, I silently gave a eulogy to my pride and buried it. What I do for friends…
After a while, they made me stop, vowing to let no one make me dance in public. My work here is done.
“Wanna do a guessing game?” Mina asked after they collected themselves. I looked at Ivan’s still red face from laughing too hard, and we both nodded.
The rest of the night, we spent playing more games of the same variety, laughing at each other’s stupidity, and at some point, we simply crashed in the living room.
Somewhere around dawn, I woke up feeling parched. Mina was snoring softly next to me on the sofa and I almost jumped out of my skin as I glimpsed a pale face in the darkness. I squinted my eyes and saw Ivan tapping on a phone.
“What are you doing up?” I asked him, throat dry, voice coarse from sleep.
The phone flew from his hand, and he scrambled to catch it like a cartoon character.
“Geez! You scared me T!” he breathed out in relief, holding the phone close to his chest.
“Why you up?” he asked.
“Wait a sec.” he got up and brought me a glass of water.
“Hey,“ he started while I was downing my water, “Wanna hang out downtown tomorrow? We could walk around, catch a movie or something?” he asked, and I almost choked.
“Tomorrow? Just the two of us?” I asked, wiping a bit of water that spilled on my chin, heart pounding in my ears.
“Yeah, we don’t always have to go in threes Baby Sloth.” he chuckled.
“Sure… Cool.” I smiled, burying my face in the pillow.
“Night T.” he whispered.
I had a hard time falling asleep again. My stomach did some weird flippy things. It was very distracting, and I could hear Ivan moving restlessly on his side of the sofa.