All disclaimers in Chapter
I wandered around the library,
taking my time scanning the titles, hoping he'd get bored and leave. He did seem
to get bored, but didn't leave. No, he pulled out a photo album and sat down on
the sofa with it. A few seconds later, he chuckled to himself, which I presumed
was supposed to make me curious. It did, of course, but I didn't rush over to
him to see what was so amusing, as I believed he wanted me to.
"Princess, come over here.
Let me show you something."
Reluctantly, I ambled over; it
appeared I was stuck here for the duration. Might as well make the best of
it. He showed me an old snapshot of my mother and father; obviously clowning
around: she had her eyes crossed and he had his fingers in his mouth, pulling
the sides apart in a grotesque manner. I had never seen any pictures from this
time period in their lives. All of their photos or snapshots were made after they
left Shady Grove. And by then my mother was three years older and pregnant with
We spent quite a long time looking
at one photograph album after another. There were lots of pictures of my mother
in the first two. Some of which appeared to have been taken without her knowledge.
Or at least, she wasn't looking at the camera. I could only guess at who the photographer
There were no pictures of Ashley
or Vivian. But in one album, there were several sheets of blank pages. He explained
that he found it too painful and difficult to look at their pictures, so he'd
There were also pictures of my
ancestors, at least those who had lived after the invention of the camera. Brandon
named off each and everyone, putting names to some of the faces I had seen in
the attic, as well as, offering a short narrative on each. I learned from this,
that there were some members of the family -down the line- who had moved away,
which meant I had other distant relatives in various places. It also seemed that
the family, especially our particular branch, which had stayed with the old homestead,
had a knack for dying, by various means, before the age of fifty. To which, Brandon
added that he must be doing something right, because he was fifty-two already.
I also learned something else
no one had made mention of: Brandon and my father had different mothers. He showed
me the only picture he had of his biological mother, which was a very faded snapshot.
Then he explained how she had died during childbirth. The latter seemingly being
something he felt a tinge of guilt over; for, he moved on rather quickly, showing
me my grandmother, who was the only mother he had ever truly known. And
of course, my grandfather, which he resembled a lot, as did my own father. It
appeared the Neilson genes were strong and very dominant. Except when they
tangled with my mother's, I thought.
When he came to a picture of Jason,
he started bragging and repeating the plans he had for his son's education and
Then without preamble, he closed the last album and looked up at me. "As
soon as you have your surgery, I'll arrange a sitting with the best photographer
and the best artist, so that your beauty can be preserved for future generations."
I offered no objections, because I knew it would be futile. Besides, all I could
think to say was, I don't wanna be preserved like a jar of peaches. And
I didn't think that would go over well. When he started on my future, however,
talking about changing my major to business and extending my class
load from two thirds of a day to a full one -which had been my choice, so that
I could work and help pay for my miscellaneous expenses, instead of my parents
shelling out for everything- I had to say something.
"I think that should be my decision," I asserted.
"Oh, of course, of course.
I was merely suggesting this because... a lot of things have changed for you."
"Indeed," I agreed.
"And speaking of change... I know you mean well and... I don't propose to
handle all my inheritance, at least not my father's share of the business,
but... I'd like to handle my own finances from now on."
He merely stared down at his hands,
intertwined on top of the photo album.
"I appreciate all you've
done for me, I continued, but... I've depended on you far too long.
I can get around better now and I think I should start taking on more responsibility."
I was trying to ease into saying what I wanted, in terms he would understand and
offer little objection to. "As you've pointed out, I am a Neilson and I have
the same pride you do. I'd like to be... more independent. You can understand
that, can't you?"
He sighed heavily and slowly got
up from the sofa. He then turned to me and smiled slyly. "Yes, you are a
Neilson, through and through. Your father taught you well. Raymond always told
us never to depend on anyone but ourselves. So, yes, I do understand." He
shoved his hands in his pockets, as he walked over to the fireplace.
"Your inheritance from your
father has been placed in a savings account and a small checking account for you.
It hasn't been touched. I... I was waiting for you to... inquire about it. I didn't
realize it would be so soon, however. But, as you say, you have your pride. And
I can sure see that. I'll... I'll bring your passbook and checkbook up tonight,
if you like. Just promise me one thing?"
"That depends on what the
"That's your mother talking,"
he said, as he turned to face me. "She was always careful about what kind
of promises she made. You're quite a unique combination of the two." He smiled
and his voice softened. "Promise me... that you won't spend it on trivial
"What's trivial to you?"
"Perhaps you could handle
business affairs," he commented, with a wry smile. "Don't agree to anything,
until you have all the facts, right?" I nodded. "Well, trivial is expensive
clothes you don't need. Lending to people you don't know and
some you do.
And buying an outrageously expensive car, for its looks."
"Just... don't throw the
money away. My advice is to invest it. Let it work for you."
"Well, I can tell you now
that I won't be buying a lot of expensive things, because I want what little there
is to last. And I assume from what you said that my allowance came from you, not
from my own money, but why?"
"It was all left to you in
his will, I couldn't touch it."
"Oh, well then... I'll reimburse
you for my allowance and then I'll pay you back in installments for all the other
expenses you had to incur because of me." He chuckled, as if I had said something
quite funny. I didn't get it. "I'm sorry if paying in installments seems
funny to you, but I'd like to keep some for a rainy day. I mean, I know there's
not much, but...."
"Oh quite the contrary,"
he said, interrupting me. "Your father was more cunning than either of us
realized. There's over a hundred thousand dollars in your savings account and
a few thousand in checking. Plus, your father invested in stocks. Computer stocks.
All total, including life insurance policies, excluding the house of course, your
inheritance was over two hundred and fifty thousand dollars."
"Yes, Princess, your father
was rather successful with his writing. Although, he shunned the limelight, and
why, I'll never understand. He had the most beautiful woman in the world to share
it with," he remarked, as he turned back to the fire. "He had everything
and yet, he chose to live in that small town in Tennessee."
"He probably had his reasons,"
I said, thinking of how he labored over each novel.
Perhaps that small town was
his inspiration, I thought. Its quiet streets and friendly people; a place
he could retreat to and let his imagination run wild. Although he wrote adventure
novels, I knew he penned these from his heart, as well as the lives of some of
the people around him. Many times had I watched, as he listened to some of the
old men in town, while they told about some of the adventures they'd had and some
they would like to have had. This, compiled with his imagination, would turn into
a novel. He created worlds for those who craved adventure to escape into for a
while. A tear came to my eye, as I thought about him and his wonderful talent
that so many people would surely miss.
"'Scuse me, sir," said
Celia, interrupting my quiet thoughts. "Dinner is served. Will ya be dining
at the table, 'mum or shall
"Yes," Brandon answered,
before Celia even finished her question, which had not been directed at him.
I didn't object to eating with
him, though; for, I hoped he'd eventually become bored with me. Yet, this didn't
happen until around ten o'clock. And then I knew a glass of milk would soon bring
him back. I undressed and got ready for bed, then waited for the good night ritual.
He returned a while later with the milk, my passbook and checkbook. Then he gave
me a lingering kiss on the cheek, telling me how much like my mother I was, in
a rather soft sensual voice.
After he left, I lay in bed pondering
the question of how I was going to get Sara to talk to me. I didn't want to force
the issue by blundering around the house looking for her. At least not yet. I
knew it could prove fruitless and might make her presence known to the rest of
the household. No, I had to be subtle and cunning and lure her to me. But how?
She was no moth and I certainly wasn't a flame. But, somehow I had to let her
know that I knew she was here and I wanted to talk to her.
I stared up at the ceiling wondering
where she was at this moment? Was she sitting on her makeshift bed up there? Or
was she close by... in the closet, perhaps? My eyes strayed over to the secret
door and I longed to go over there and throw it open. But, that wouldn't be wise.
I then remembered the apple I had left inside and was quite curious at to whether
it was still there. But, alas, that could wait until morning. If she was there,
she obviously didn't want me to know about it.
"Goodnight, Sara," I
said aloud, as I turned off the lamp. I wished more than anything at that moment
I would hear a response.
The first thing I did the next
morning -after cutting off the alarm on my recently purchased bedside clock- was
open the secret door. The apple was there, just as I had left it. I sadly closed
the door and went into the bathroom.
Celia brought me breakfast, as
usual, eyeing me rather curiously, as if inquiring as to whether I'd had contact
with Sara. "She's a stubborn woman," I finally said.
Celia quickly glanced back at
me. "Persistence has its rewards, 'mum."
"Perhaps, but... I don't
think so in this case. I don't think she came back because of me. I think I'm
what's keeping her hidden."
"Begging pardon, 'mum, but
I disagree," she said, pushing the table over to the bed.
"Why is that?"
"I... I didn't know ya wuz
in the library yesterday, so... I came up here, 'cuz I'd forgotten ta ask if ya
had any request for dinner and
"You saw her?" I inquired,
She glanced down at the floor,
as she backed away. "Yes, 'mum, that I did."
"Where was she? In here?
What was she doing?"
"She wuz... standing 'bout
here and..." She paused, as she moved over to the end of the bed.
She shook her head. "Just...
looking, 'mum," she replied, as if a bit embarrassed.
"Looking at what?" She
had me on pins and needles now. What had Sara been looking at?
She dropped her eyes. "At
"I don't understand. Why
do you act embarrassed about this?" I inquired. I couldn't understand the
big deal about looking at the bed.
"I... I felt I wuz... watching
a private moment, 'mum," she replied, her cheeks flushing red.
"Oh... oh, I see. Um... thank
you... thanks for everything, Celia."
"Yes, 'mum," she said,
as she turned and exited the room.
So, according to Celia, Sara must
still feel something. But, Celia also could have been mistaken about the reason
she was looking at the bed. Was she remembering with longing? Or with regret?
Then again, I couldn't take the chance that the former wasn't so. There had to
be someway to get to her.
I sighed heavily and turned on
the stereo via the remote, setting it to Tuner and the radio station
that played easy listening music. As I nibbled on my breakfast of sausage, eggs,
toast, juice and grits, the morning disc jockey joked with his cohort and I pondered
what I should do. Several ideas ran through my head, but none seemed plausible.
Either that, or I ran the risk of exposing her.
A few seconds later, the chatter
of the disc jockeys ended and a slow love song -one she and I had liked- began
to play. "Oh great," I said aloud. "Just what I need to start the
day off right. Tears in my grits."
I picked up the remote to change
the station when I heard a faint bump overhead. I looked up at the ceiling. Not
rats, this time, I thought. Then it suddenly hit me that if I could hear her,
she could hear me. Well, perhaps not me, but something I wanted her to hear, something
to bait my trap with. At least I hoped and prayed it would be bait and not a repellent.
Instead of changing stations,
I turned up the volume. Having yet another flash of inspiration, I turned on the
CD player, knowing there was a soundtrack album from a movie inside. I'd seen
the video for the song and wanted to see the movie, which Sara had promised to
rent for me, as soon as it came out. In the meantime, however, she had bought
the CD and I had fallen in love with two of the songs. I programmed these two
into the CD player, set it to "repeat disc" and as soon as the song
ended on the radio, I flicked to the CD.
The two songs I had chosen -the
first in essence said, without you in my life, I have nothing to live for,
and the other about the woman's desire to run into her lover's arms, and asking
the question, if she did would her lover run away- repeated three times before
Brandon showed up.
He didn't knock, or if he did,
I didn't hear him. He came in, with an angry look on his face and went straight
to the stereo. "Princess, why is this so loud?" he shouted, as he turned
the volume down. "I can hear this downstairs."
"Sorry," I apologized.
"I didn't realize."
He looked at me curiously. "Are
you alright? You aren't even dressed yet."
"I'm fine," I replied.
I was just miffed at his intrusion. "I was about to do just that. So, if
you'll excuse me."
"Of course. Then, we'll take
our morning walk," he said, glancing down at his watch. "Shall we say
I glanced over at the clock. "Fine,"
I answered. Anything to get rid of him.
From eleven fifteen onwards, however,
I could not get rid of him. He stuck to me like glue, following me around and
lavishing me with attention, as if he were a suitor. Or at least, I felt like
the pursued. His caresses made me quite nervous and I was constantly forced to
shy away from him, as best I could.
After dinner that evening I suggested putting a puzzle together, thinking this
would surely bore him. But, no, he stayed until after ten. And as usual, he was
back a few minutes later, with a glass of milk. Then as he bent down to kiss me
goodnight, his lips touched so close to my own, I nearly gasped. He merely pulled
back, smiled and turned to exit the room, as if nothing was amiss. I tried to
pass it off as just a mistake. Perhaps I had flinched and caused this? But I didn't
These thoughts were soon relegated to the back burner; for, I had more important
things to think about. Namely Sara. The next day was Monday, so Brandon would
go back to work, or at least I hoped he wouldn't take any unscheduled time off.
In the morning I would bait my trap once again and if she didn't take it this
time, I was going to flush her out, personally!
I played the CD from the day before, over and over again the next morning, until
I was sick and tired of hearing it. After lunch I was on my way to the attic.
As I slipped inside the door, I glanced back to make sure no one was nearby
Brandon hired an outside maid to come in and clean the unused rooms once a month
and I couldn't remember when they were due. I nearly tripped over the flashlight
I'd left here on my last visit. I reached down, picked it up before it fell over,
then turned it on, and as quietly as I could, ascended the stairs.
Once I made it to the rear section
of the west wing, I proceeded down the small path slowly, trying to make as little
noise as possible, just in case anyone was below. Along the way, I kept the flashlight
trained ahead of me, on my destination of the dresser where I suspected she was
surely hidden. As I neared it, my heartbeat increased, drowning out any other
sounds. I swung the flashlight over behind the dresser, spotlighting the mattress.
To my utter dismay it was empty.
"Damn, Sara," I said,
quietly, as I leaned up against the dresser.
"You shouldn't be here,"
said a voice from behind me. Naturally, I gasped and quickly swung the flashlight
around, the beam of light catching Sara in the face. She put her hand up to shield
her eyes. "Please, Faith."
I swiftly lowered it, holding
it by my side while perusing her attire. I had half expected her to be disheveled
and dirty, after hiding up here for at least two days, but she was neither. Wearing
a clean white sweatshirt and a pair of tight blue jeans, her hair recently brushed,
she smelled wonderful.
"Go back to your room, Faith,"
she said, as she turned to walk away.
"No, Sara. You can't get
rid of me that easily." I reached out and grabbed her arm.
"Faith, don't... please,"
she muttered, looking down at my hand on her arm. "Go back downstairs, you
shouldn't be up here."
"Why are you here?"
I obligingly let go of her. "Don't tell me you didn't want me to find you.
You provided this flashlight."
"I didn't want you to find
me, but... I couldn't have you blundering around up here in the dark, now could
I? Because I know you woulda."
It had been a guess that she'd
provided the flashlight, since Celia didn't seem to know anything about it. "What
are you doing here?" I scrutinized.
"Looking for answers, I suppose.
Someone put this..." She paused, as she reached over to one of the dresser
drawers and opened it, withdrawing a book with a flowered cover, "
with my things. I found it when I got back that day." She was obviously referring
to the Saturday when my curiosity caused all this misery.
"What is it?"
"Ashley's... My diary,"
she corrected herself.
what did it say
that brought you back, because obviously you didn't come back because of me?"
I braced myself against the dresser, feeling disappointed.
She lowered her eyes and stared
at the diary in her hands. "I don't really know. It's odd. I'm writing about
things that make no sense. Trees
animals with ugly faces. I
don't know what it's about. I came back hoping I'd remember something."
I bit my lip. She had ignored
my reference about her obviously not coming back for me. I could only conclude
it was a true statement -her silence signifying agreement. "How long
have you been here?" I asked, trying not to let my damaged feelings show.
"Several days," she
replied, as she glanced up at me.
"You've obviously been doing
well for yourself," I remarked, looking her up and down.
She nodded. "I found some
clothes. And... I got into one of the bedrooms. I'm afraid I used some of your
soap and... shampoo."
Who gives a shit about soap
and shampoo? I thought. "Why didn't you come to me? Maybe I can help."
I sighed heavily, knowing she'd turn me down.
"I... No, it
She glanced up at me and her eyes held that oh so soft expression I had come to
love. "No, I need to do this alone." She looked away.
This expression suggested Celia
had been right. Sara was trying to hide her feelings, just as she'd been trying
to hide her presence. I was onto her now. I took a step forward. "I don't
care if we are cousins, Sara."
"I do, Faith," she said,
quickly, as she held up the index finger of her right hand and backed away. "Don't
do this to me. I feel dirty and... and disgusting."
"I don't. I don't know why
I don't, but I don't. Perhaps because I don't believe we are cousins, Sara. At
least not by blood."
"It's Ashley," she corrected.
"No," I said, taking
another step forward. "You will always be Sara to me. Ashley died
in that car crash five years ago. You are Sara."
"No, Faith. Sara Bennington
died the day after her car crash."
"How did you...?"
"The detective. He checked out the hospital where she was admitted,
she explained. I was listed as a transfer at the last hospital I was in.
Transferred from a smaller place north of Atlanta, where I'd been listed as a
'Jane Doe', apparent victim of a 'hit and run'. Brought in by a Good Samaritan,
who conveniently vanished in the E.R. I vaguely remember regaining consciousness
in the other hospital and not knowing who I was or what had happened. She
let that sink in before continuing, Once stabilized, I was moved to a larger
hospital, with better facilities for reconstructive surgery and physical therapy.
That's when Tom showed up, claiming to be my father and
that I was Sara.
She scratched her head and sighed heavily. I still don't know how he pulled
it all off. I suppose the hospital was just glad someone showed up to foot the
bill. The detective's still checking on the police reports about the 'hit and
run'. There's no telling what cock and bull story he fed them. I'm sure it wasn't
the same story he spoon-fed me.
We both fell silent. There could be no more denial. She was Ashley.
I'm Brandon's daughter, Faith and we both know it," she stated, finally
breaking the silence.
"If so, then why did Tom
do all that? Why leave you everything in his will?"
"He was probably crazy. Who
"I don't think so. What if
you are Tom's daughter? It's possible ya know."
"But, there's no proof, Faith.
No proof at all. The only person who could've answered that question died over
fourteen years ago, she said, referring to Vivian. At best it would
be wishful thinking. And, I'd never be sure
I'd always have that doubt."
So, she was admitting she still
cared. The only thing standing in her way was the thought that we were cousins.
"If we could prove you're Tom's daughter...." I paused, as I took another
step forward. "
would you come back to me?"
"Don't do this to me, Faith,"
she uttered, turning away.
"Alright, I won't pressure
you." I stepped back. "Ya know
I half expected to come up here
and find... you missed me as much as I missed you. And then I'd
it didn't matter to me and... we'd ride off into the sunset together."
"I'm sorry, this ain't a
movie," she responded, ruefully. "But, even in the movies, sweetheart,
the princess doesn't ride off into the sunset with the female heroine."
"In this one she will. Just
as soon as we can prove you're not my cousin. Which I hope we'll do soon. Because
I don't know how much longer I can stay here."
"Why?" she inquired.
"Brandon knows. He read your
"Oh, good God!" she
hissed and ran her fingers through her hair. "What did he say?"
"What didn't he say is more
like it? And... he's acting strange."
"How?" She sounded concerned
I told her an edited version of
the incident in the pool, while making myself at home on the mattress. Then I
passed on Celia's warning to be careful, and even what she'd claimed happened
to her sister. When I finished Sara came closer and propped herself up on the
dresser. She stared into the darkness of the attic, seemingly contemplating all
this new information.
"Perhaps it would
be better if you left," she said calmly. "I've never trusted him, wholly,
where you're concerned. And don't ask me why because
I don't know. I just
believe... you should leave."
She didn't know how bad these
words wounded me. Still I managed to say, "Not until you come with me."
"I can't, Faith. I have to
find out who I am. I have to remember. This book was given to me for a reason."
"I can only imagine who'd
do that. She glanced up at me. Celia knows who you are and she's the
one who sent me up here to begin with."
"She knows everything?"
"Yes. And... I think she
knows more than she's letting on about all this stuff. You know how she is
never comes out and directly tells you anything, just offers vague hints. But,
I don't believe you're Brandon's daughter, because I asked her and she said she
'couldn't rightly say'. She did admit Tom and Vivian were close."
"That still doesn't prove..."
"Yes, but Sara he must've
thought you were his. He left you everything he had in this world. He has a stable
named the Vivian Leigh, not after a movie star, but after your mother. And what
was the other one
she said, slowly, as if considering this could possibly be named after her: Ashley
Marie. "But, why lie to me? Why not tell me the truth?"
"That... I don't know. Perhaps
he was afraid you'd wanna come back here and... he'd lose you or something, I
dunno. Seems he sure went to a helluva lot of trouble to give you another identity.
You're sure he didn't leave you anything in writing?"
"If he did, it wasn't where
I would find it, right off. I did find some more old photographs of a little girl
on horseback, like the other one. But, it could be anyone
a niece... a neighbor's
"Or you," I interrupted.
"You were a cute little girl. Who grew into a beautiful woman.
She shook her head and turned
away, nibbling at her lip. "I think he wanted to get even with Brandon for
firing him, by taking his daughter away or... maybe he just needed an heir to
leave his things to, instead of letting the state get it. Ah, who the hell knows."
She ran her fingers through her hair again in apparent exasperation.
"Pretty expensive and complicated
revenge, wouldn't you say? As for an heir
there was always the possibility
you'd regain your memory. Besides if he wanted revenge against Brandon, why leave
everything he had to Brandon's daughter?" She glanced over at me and
continued nibbling on her bottom lip. Her eyes said she knew what the truth was,
she was just afraid to accept it. "If you really believe you're Brandon's
daughter, why not tell him who you are instead of hiding up here?"
"I dunno, I just
know." She ran her fingers through her hair. "He... he gives me the
creeps to be honest, she said at length. When he's around, I... I
feel trapped. I wanna get away from him before I
suffocate or somethin'."
I wanted to ask: So why come
back to his house? Yet, listening to her and seeing the look in her eyes,
I thought she might be on the verge of remembering something. Something that obviously
wasn't pleasant. And she was fighting it, because she didn't want to know.
I could only hope the answer to my unvoiced question would have been: because
I wanted to be near you.
Not wanting to risk pouring salt
in my own open wound, however, I changed the subject. "Let me see the book,"
I said, afraid she'd soon ask me to leave again and this time, I'd feel obligated
She hesitantly handed it to me.
It was not a cheap diary, but one of the expensive kind you find in bookstores:
unlined pages, gilded around the edges. I opened it and began reading. The handwriting
on the first couple of pages was far from neat. In places nearly illegible. Yet,
I could make out that the rather short story recorded here was about a baby bird:
one who had been orphaned by its mother's death. A death the baby bird felt responsible
for, because its mother was trying to remove it from harms way, when she was attacked,
herself. In the baby bird's panic, it somehow caused itself and its mother to
be thrown from the nest. After sensing the mother's death, the unnamed attacker
then flew away. The baby bird was left alone in a hostile environment she knew
nothing about. She wandered aimlessly through the dark, silent forest. Unable
to fly, she knew she was easy prey for other animals like the unnamed attacker.
The next entry was in a different
handwriting, much more legible and neater in appearance, as if written by someone
older. The passage started with a bricklayer and a structure he was building.
He labored carefully on the walls, laying each brick cautiously and with great
care, so it would be impenetrable. He wanted to be sure the walls would stand
up against the storm he knew would soon come. He worried whether it would hold
back the torrential winds he foresaw with this storm. Finally, when he was finished,
he sat back and marveled at his magnificent accomplishment. It was a fine structure
that he knew would stand up against any onslaught.
When the storm finally came, however,
and the rain began to fall, he realized he'd forgotten one important part of his
structure: a roof. He'd been so concerned with his walls surviving the wind he
had overlooked the factor of rain. Now, it was too late. The rain was pouring
into his structure. Another fatal mistake soon made itself apparent: he'd left
himself no means of escape, except climbing over the walls. And yet, as he tried
to scale them, he fell back down; his walls were so neatly and carefully arranged
that there was no purchase, by which to ascend them. They had become slippery
as ice in the rain. He was now trapped in a prison of his own making. His structure
against the coming storm was a double-edged sword. Not only did it keep things
out, it kept things in. His safe haven had become his tomb.
After reading this, I got the
impression this wasn't just a story she had made up. It was much more than that.
"You don't understand any of this?" I asked, as I closed the book.
"No. Why would I write about
making walls? It's just stories. I don't understand why Celia
put it with my things. Maybe
she grabbed the wrong book or something."
"They're stories for your
eyes only, I offered. You wrote these, I assume, in case anyone else
found the book, so they wouldn't understand what you were saying."
"Well, I did a good job,
because I sure don't understand it."
"I'm assuming you wrote them
as metaphors, so to speak."
"Metaphors? Whaddaya mean?"
"Okay, for instance, let's
say I wanted to write about... what happened yesterday in the pool. But, I was
afraid of someone else finding it. I would disguise the characters in the real
drama, so that only I knew what it meant." She frowned. "Hmm, well,
perhaps I'd use an... Octopus say, to represent Brandon, and... a crab to represent
me, ya following me?" She nodded. "Alright, let's see... I might write
the little crab felt defenseless and helpless within the
octopus's strong grasp."
Her eyes narrowed. I'd forgotten
I hadn't told her about him grabbing me around the waist and holding me. I'd merely
told her what he'd said and that he followed me around the pool. "He had
his arms around you?" she questioned. "You didn't mention that before."
I didn't feel,
well... it was nothing."
"The crab felt helpless and
defenseless... sounds like something to me," she said, dropping to her haunches
in front of me. "He didn't... try anything, did he, Faith?"
"Oh, of course not,"
I answered. "He... Well, you know how I am. You had to hold me down to get
me to listen." The words had just slipped out, I couldn't take them back,
so I held my breath waiting for her reaction.
"Yes, I... I remember that
well," she said softly, as she reached out towards me. Oh, how I had been
waiting for this moment. I reached up towards her face and she pulled back. "No,
Faith, don't... I... I only wanted the book," she explained.
My heart sank to my toes. I quickly
lowered my eyes and then handed over the book. I turned away and bit my lower
lip. I wanted to feel her touch so badly and she was turning me away again.
"I'm sorry," she muttered,
as she got to her feet. "I... You should be getting back. And..." She
paused, extending her hand to me. I gazed up at her, tears welling up in my eyes.
She stared down at me for several moments. I slowly offered her my hand. She swallowed
audibly and shut her eyes, releasing a heavy sigh. "You should leave here,
Faith," she added, grasping my hand and pulling me to my feet.
"I'm not leaving without
Her eyes darted back and forth
searching mine. "Don't come here again. It's... it's too dangerous for you."
"The world is a dangerous
place, Sara. I held onto her hand, not letting her pull away. For
their mothers and
even those who think themselves
hidden away and protected from all of life's storms."
"Damn you, Faith. Why can't
you just... just do as I say?" She made a rather lame attempt to pull away
"Because I love you too damn
I don't wanna lose you." I took a step forward, which put
me mere inches from her face. "I... I set you free, Sara, like the saying:
Set something free and if it comes back it's yours forever. If it doesn't,
it never was to begin with or
something like that. She
looked at me. Well... you did come back. Of course she'd made it plain
she hadn't come back for me, but I didn't want to think about that, right now.
And... I know you love me, I babbled on, knowing I was throwing caution
to the wind, yet feeling this was the truth. I can see it in your eyes.
I still held her gaze. That was a good sign. It's written all over your
beautiful face, right this very moment."
she said, turning away.
"I love you, Sara,"
I whispered, as I let go and started by her.
She touched my arm and then cleared
her throat. "I'll... see you safely down the stairs."
I started to object, but feeling
the warmth of her touch caused me to rethink this and swallow my pride. "Thank
you," I said, instead.
We walked slowly over to the stairs
as quietly as possible. Then she went down the first couple and motioned for me
to follow. I started down them, with her watching each step I took. She even steadied
me once, by putting her hands on my behind. No one, not even Sara, herself, could
make me believe this woman did not care for me. I felt it would only be a matter
of time before she came back around to her old self again. And no matter which
name she chose to go by, she'd always be Sara to me.
When we got to the bottom, she
stepped back against the stairwell so I could get past her. We stared at each
other for a moment and then she motioned with her head. "Go on, Faith,"
"I'll go back to my room,
Sara, but I'm not going anywhere without you."
She ran her fingers through her
hair. "Why do you have to make this so difficult?" she grumbled.
I reached out and touched her
face this time, for she couldn't run from me any longer; she was trapped between
my body and the stairs. I wanted to kiss her so badly I could almost taste her
sweet lips against mine. I quelled this urge, however, and merely brushed her
hair out of her eyes. Then I turned and exited the stairwell quietly.
The afternoon was dreary and cool;
the temperature dropping rapidly towards evening, or so I surmised from my seat
by the window. The puzzle, on the table before me, was filling in at an excruciatingly
slow pace. My mind wandered off at every opportunity. Until time for Brandon to
come home I held out hope that she would show up, saying she'd had a change of
heart, change of mind. Disappointment seeped into my bones like a damp chill.
After dinner I was forced to break out sweat pants, sweat shirt and fuzzy booties.
Winter was definitely just around the corner.
Needless to say, Brandon was not
impressed with my cozy, warm attire. He didn't say this, but his expressions told
the tale. I could have cared less, however. Despite being an eye sore to his impeccable
sensibilities, he sat with me, searching for piece after piece in the quest to
solve the picture puzzle. He left only long enough to bring me a special
treat: hot cocoa.
I never had been especially fond of hot chocolate -or cocoa as he
corrected me- but I was not so ungrateful as to refuse his special treat.
Besides, it was tasty, quite sweet, and most of all hot. It seemed to warm my
emotional and weather chilled insides. At times like these, it was all too easy
to feel an almost fatherly affection towards him. I had to remind myself this
was the same man who had held me and rubbed himself against me in the pool, not
so long ago. Remembering Celia's warning about men and their egos, I found myself
wondering if I had somehow prompted that sort of behavior from him just
by virtue of my preferences alone, much less saying so to his face.
It had always seemed somehow easier when making an attempt at forgiveness, if
I shared at least some of the blame.
Soon, I was too sleepy to concentrate on the puzzle. And obviously sensing my
somnolent condition, Brandon called it an evening, kissed me goodnight and graciously
left without hesitation. I could only assume the hot chocolate had an effect on
him, as well.
My last thought before my head
touched the pillow was of Sara: Tomorrow
she'll come to me. I just know
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