...and the truth shall set you free.
|You’re no creature, sweetheart…
Ask her and there will be no party tonight, Alexandra, the rational voice in me warned, but like always, the other voice was stronger, louder and aggressive – too aggressive that instead of me dressing up, I had been pacing in my room for the last 20 minutes.
With the early morning sun bright and sunny, it was a typical Saturday in Ashbourne, and on regular Saturdays, my boyfriend Channing and I spent the early mornings in the prominent grounds of Ashbourne Tennis Courts, playing tennis. Of course, that had to be after the mandatory mother and daughter breakfast outside in my mother’s Japanese styled 3-acre garden.
Today I intended to bring about that forbidden question again and so in fear of infecting the morning, my legs chose to pace nowhere further than my bedroom door.
A quick glance from my balcony and I could see her already at the breakfast table by the patio. In the silk dressing gown, I got for her birthday last September, she had her back relaxed on one of the six cushioned, wicker chairs, the sun bright on her face, and a newspaper on the table in front of her next to a selection of her favourite breakfast essentials - drip brewed coffee, scones with clotted cream and strawberries.
I dreaded spoiling this beautiful morning by bringing up the forbidden topic, but it was time I asked again, I had to know one day.
“You’re late,” she said as I kissed her cheeks. “Your cappuccino now cold, perhaps if you add some ice, whipped cream and strawberries you’ll be able to endure it.”
“Instant Frappuccino?” I coughed a laugh. “Very funny, Doc.”
We smiled amusingly at each other as I sat opposite her – my back to the sun. She passed the bowl of strawberries, and I picked one and took a bite.
“You could ask Marie to make you another if you want,” she said as I stared at my cold cappuccino.
I shook my head. “No, I’m good.”
Marie was our housekeeper, late thirties in age, tall and slender in built with dark hair and brown eyes. She had been with us since I was a young girl, and only worked on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
“You’re not dressed for the match or is Chan not coming today?” My mother asked.
“He is,” I quickly answered. “I’m just chasing time, that’s all.”
“Hurry up and eat, then,” she urged.
I forced a smile, poured some orange juice and drank it all at once, but it wasn’t enough to calm my nerves. Silently I turned back to the strawberries again, eating them one after the other, my mind rehearsing different ways to begin the subject of my life.
What’s the worst that could happen if you ask? She will get angry and yell, but that won’t kill you, Alexandra, I heard that powerful voice again.
“Ma, don’t you think it’s time I know?” There, I said it, now all I had to do was break it down, gently.
“Time you know what, honey,” she grimaced.
“Who or what am I?” That came out fainter than I intended.
Her jaws clenched, head leaning to the side while her right hand fiddled with the pearl stud earring on her ear. “What’s going on, Lexie? Where is this coming from?”
“Nothing,” I shrugged. “I just think I’m grown up now, and I deserve to know what creature am I or-,”
“You’re no creature, sweetheart…,” she almost yelled. “It’s just too risky for you to know now; I promise to tell you when the time is right.”
She had been saying that for the past… actually, from the day I discovered I was more than human. I was nine when I accidentally burnt my hand, and after a moment of pain, the wound healed quickly before eyes and afterwards there was no sign of any injuries or pain. She and her father, Grandpa Henry had explained to me that I was unique - a different kind of human being, they said, but when I asked what I was, precisely, they refused to say, stating that it was best if I didn’t know.
“You don’t think I’m more vulnerable not knowing? I mean at least, I should know who to trust as a friend or to keep away,” I asked.
She started at me quietly and then sighed. “I just want a normal life for you, honey.”
I almost rolled my eyes; she was singing that ‘normal’ song again. “Wanting a normal life for me does not make me normal, mother, besides, I’m 18 now; I’m not a child anymore.”
“What you want to know will give you misery,” her voice had begun to rise now, “sleepless nights, and I don’t-”
“Ma, I don’t care,” I grumbled. “I don’t want sleep-full nights anymore; I’m in love with misery now, so tell me… please.”
She shook her head. “Knowledge is not always a pleasant thing, sweetheart. You will learn that when you get a bit older,” she said, and without waiting for my answer, she turned back to read the paper; shutting me off again.
“If I get older, “I mumbled.
Instantly, she flipped the paper aside again and reached out for my hand on the table. “Of course, you will get older; you’ll live for ever – that’s the kind you’re sweetheart.”
“And who said I wanna live forever?” I grunted.
At that very moment, the intercom rang, followed by Marie coming out to call me. “Charming Chan, Miss W,” she sang.
“Let him in, I’m not ready yet,” I sighed, staring at my mother who had now covered her face with the paper she, I thought, pretended to read.
Standing in by the mirror in my stylish bedroom, a moment later, I examined myself once more, my eyes carefully hunting for abnormal features, but all I saw was a tall, graceful girl, with an oval shaped face, high cheekbones, full lips, an average noise, or perhaps too sharp, and of course, she had a beautiful smile. Not forgetting the eyes, I had grey eyes. Most people thought them beautiful, but I hated them … No, hate is a too strong a word; I was too conscious of their distinctive colour. The one thing I adored most about my physical self, however, was my long, dark caramel hair, full of volume, wavy and extremely delicate. There, there was nothing unusual, nothing different in the way I looked, nothing to at least define what I was.
I have something to tell you…
Hearing Channing laughing outside with my mother brought that statement to mind again and while I dressed in my tennis whites, I unleashed my mind to let it run wild a little; allowing million assumptions flew through. Assumptions on what ‘I have something to tell you’ would mean coming from Channing. Two minutes later and still, I couldn’t think of anything - nothing came to mind. That was the problem with Chan, you see; I could never tell what was in his mind, even though he could almost read me like an open book, just as I did with everyone else. If I had to guess what anyone would want to tell me, it would be as easy as taking a walk in my mother’s perfectly manicured garden. Emily, Grandpa Henry and my mother, the three significant people in my life, and with those, I could almost read their thoughts.
For instant, coming from my best friend Emily, I have something to tell you would most certainly mean the latest gossip she couldn’t wait to tell. Gossip about the next lavish party in town, the recent break or make ups, the new boy in town and most often than not, the arrogant Zachary Van-Bailey.
From Grandpa Henry, it would be the announcement of the next family secret that yet again he and my mother had decided I was still too young to understand – talk of forever young.
From my mother, the words would mean hope for me; hope that maybe she had lied, years back when she told me that my father died a few months after I was born. Hope that perhaps with all the success and wealth that she had worked hard to achieve, she had finally stopped working and decided to stay at home, in our modest dwellings, doing nothing else but being my mother. Yeah, you could consider me selfish, but being that I was an only child and not only that, but also an odd one, I couldn’t help, but feel lonely at times. Aside from Emily, I didn’t have any other close friends. I feared if they were to come closer, they would eventually see the endless painkillers I took, how I healed too fast that I never needed to visit the doctor; not that I ever would since my mother was one; Maryanne Mia Watson, M.D.
Living in Ashbourne meant that society viewed us as upper class; we lived in the same town as the supercilious Van-Baileys.(Same town agreed, but not alike; our home and that of the Van-Baileys was like 10 miles apart, besides, they lived in the highly respected area, the supreme Van-Bailey Stills.) That said, most of the residents of Ashbourne were not just upper class, but upper, upper class – society’s finest, not just wealthy, but powerful too, which I could hardly say for my mother and I; Ashbourne was not for us. I had always said we lived in the wrong town - a prominent town with houses without numbers, but names.
Elizabeth, Vine Lane was our home, spacious 5-bedroomed home with large reception rooms, spacious living room with soaring ceilings, grand marble staircases, gourmet kitchen and everything else that a house in Ashbourne was expected to have, including an enormous landscaped garden with waterfall, ponds, and high security.
According to my mother, we had been fortunate enough that my father before he died had bought a beautiful Georgian inspired home for us – Elizabeth, Vine Lane. Of course, those were the sentimental feelings that made her hold on to the house, refusing to sell it as I had suggested. We could hardly keep up with the fast and luxurious life of the rich and famous in Ashbourne. I had to school in Milbourne, the next town after Ashbourne, at Madeline High Private School. They had the same high standards as Ashbourne Stills High, only they were more affordable, and that’s where I met Channing – at Madeline High. Blue eyed handsome boy with the most delicate eyes ever. He was…
“Jo!” Chan called.
“Coming!” I shouted through the balcony. He called me by my second name Joanne; that’s what how he liked it, and I didn’t mind.
Through the open windows of my fancy closet, I could hear him and my mother mumbling and laughing, outside. I’m sure she had offered him ice tea, and as usual, they would chat and chat more as if they were mother and son, than anything else.
Out of my bedroom, I hurried, and there, I heard my heart. After a year with him, you would have thought my heart would have gotten used to his presence, but, no, he still gave me the butterflies; he still made me shiver. He was just like that, you see. On top of his calm nature, his delicate blue eyes and the lustrous, smooth brown hair that rarely appeared out of place, Channing’s appearance and behaviour reflected a true gentlemen; calm – very calm, charming, honest, and always punctual – and I mean ridiculously on time that I thought him super human most times.
From the gym down the stairs, I grabbed my racket bag and shut the door behind me, making my way out to Chan. We met in the hallway, and I guessed he was coming over to drag me out.
“Hey you,” he smiled amusingly.
“Ace,” I breathed and then skipped to hug him.
He pulled me closer, sniffing my hair and for a moment, I wondered what it was that I did to deserve him.
“Your smell is utterly seductive,” he pulled off, pecking my cheeks before pressing his lips on mine. “See you later Doc,” he called aloud so my mother, still outside, could hear.
“So long, Charming Chan,” she answered.
We smiled, waved to Marie and made our way out to the door heading for the driveway, and then I realised.
“You’re not dressed up for the match?” I asked, staring at his all blue outfit; pair of jeans and blue causal shirt.
“I thought today we could do something more… intriguing,” he offered hands now on my waist.
“Intriguing?” I tilted my head incredulously. “Now what could be more intriguing than my usual straight sets, hmm?”
He grinned. “How about we spend the day at my place; taking turns yelling at each other.”
“Hmm, let me see…,” I breathed. “A glass of wine by the fireplace with you telling me how you’ve never met anyone like me, and thereafter you take me to bed?”
He laughed profoundly. “That’s a little passé, don’t you think? I was thinking of you in my bed all day, with me at your service.”
"What's the catch?"
"No catch," he smiled opening the car door for me. "Just me, giving myself to you, and I guarantee you 100% kisses back if you’re not satisfied."
I bit my lip, staring at him suspiciously, and then I got inside to sit by the passenger seat. I was pulling the seat belt when I noticed a large brown envelope by the dashboard. “What’s this?”
“Open it,” he urged.
The engine of his Theta Scorpii (one of the most powerful sport cars in Ashbourne) hummed, the car motioning swiftly just as I curiously unseal the envelope. “Hurricane Auction House?” I turned to look at him.
“A ranch near the country is listed for auction, end of March next year; I thought that would be perfect for your circuit plans.”
I stared at him speechlessly. “You signed me up as a member? How did you do that; they’re impossible to please?”
“I know friends who know friends who know friends, who-,”
“Okay, I get it,” I punched him playfully. “You don’t know what this means to me, Chan.”
“I do, actually. That’s why I went through all the trouble.”
Smiling, I breathed watching the smirk forming on his face, then hastily leaned to grab his face, and kissed him passionately. “Thank you,” I sniffled.
“We gonna crush if you keep kissing me like that,” he mumbled through the kiss, and then the slowed the car down. We were silent for a moment - Channing waiting on the traffic lights, while I browsed through the auction catalogue, and then I heard him breathing, awkwardly.
“What?” I turned to look at him.
“I…I transferred extra cash into your account to help you with the auction,” he coughed.
I shook my head in fury. “I told you, I wanna do this myself. I have enough in my trust fund and thank you for your help, but I don’t need it. This is for me, Chan, don’t you get it,” I fumed. “I need to do this myself.”
“If you keep being proud and stubborn, you will lose that ranch, Jo!” He yelled, unexpectedly.
“Now you don’t believe in me?”
“I believe in you, Jo. I believe in you completely, but I need to be sure you have all you need, you are happy before…,” he paused.
“Before it’s too late…” he said lowly, with an almost broken voice.
I shook my head at his pathetic attempt to lie. “Too late for what?”
He was quiet for a moment, and when I raised my brows at him, he parted his lips again. “I’m familiar with two names on the bidders list; trust me, you gonna need help.”
With a defiant frown, I flipped the auction catalogue again. “That land is valued at what – A quarter of a million? Well, I have double that amount saved, and I’m willing to use it all if it comes to it.”
Channing was already shaking his head before I finished, hands stiff on the steering wheel. “If you spend all your trust fund buying the ranch; what will you use to build the circuit?”
“I’ll use the land to secure a loan.”
He sighed. “You really want this don’t you?”
“I do, and I want to do it on my own.”
“A little help will do you no harm, Jo; if only you could stop being stubborn,” he mumbled and then turned to ask. “Have you told Maryanne yet?”
“No, not yet” I sighed. “I will - tonight, after the party.”
“The sooner the better; you don’t want her to hear from-,”
“She won’t; unless you tell her.”
He shook his head, increasing the speed as the car turned into Nightshade Highway, a road that led towards all the cities, including Milbourne, where we were heading.
We arrived at Channing’s apartment, an hour later. Located in the North West of Milbourne, the apartment had a look that spelt hundred years in age, enormous glass windows looking over the tranquil river Stills. The inside reflected a combination of ancient and contemporary designs, bright, airy, spacious and yet packed with character and charm.
After a steamy session of in bed, Channing and I remained on the bed whispering some sweet nothings. I lay down on my back - facing the ceiling, while Channing rested his head on my stomach with his arms round my waist, enjoying my fingers running through his hair.
“This is way better than my straight sets,” I breathed. “What do you say we ditch tennis and do this every Saturday, instead?”
I expected him to laugh or perhaps tickle me like he always does, but he didn’t answer. Instead, he turned his head to look into my eyes and said nothing.
“What?” I asked, watching as he forced a smile, but the smile could not wipe off the crease on his forehead.
Planting soft kisses all over me, he crawled on top, up until his eyes were on mine. He moved his hands to intertwine our fingers, and while holding me tightly, his blue eyes stared delicately into my grey pupils. Curiously, I held his cloudy gaze, my heart pounding with anxiety - forcing my chest to rise and fall erratically, while my eager ears waited, waiting patiently for his lips to part, and they did.
“Remember the other day I said I had something to tell you,” he said.
Here, it comes, I thought. What was it? Was he ill – terminally ill, no, maybe another girlfriend - he had fallen in love with someone else, - one nightstand, impregnated a stranger or… maybe not. I should be optimistic, this maybe something good - glad tidings. He wants to tell me, he’s moving from Milbourne to Ashbourne – no more long drives to see him, or perhaps… Let him speak, Alex, a voice at the back of my head interrupted my thoughts.
“I’m listening.” I said.
“Stay with me, tonight … please,” he said with a serious face.
I paused to examine his face. “Chan I can’t be absent at my graduation party.”
“I know. I mean after the party. I need you here so we can talk.” His eyes were so serious that I heard my voice answering, okay,’ without thinking.
He stared at me, again - the same way he had stared at me the first time we met, over a year ago when he was 19, and I, 17 - time we fell in love, and then he sat me up, and began talking. He didn’t tell me what he wanted to tell me, but gave me a hint, or at least that’s what I thought it was. Asking questions like,
Would you forgive me if I kept a secret from you?
Would you still love me if you knew I was something monstrous – a beast?
Questions that kept ringing in my mind throughout the day and later after he dropped me home promising to be back before the party began.
Why did he say that? Did he think me a beast? Of course, I knew I was something more than human, but certainly not a beast; I still had blood running through my veins, but then again beasts did too, right. He was giving me a sign, I thought. A chance to tell him the truth, and thereafter we would go on with our happy lives together and in love, without a worry of secrets lingering in our heads, but how could I confess to what I was when I too didn’t know what that was?
“Hmm,” I jumped.
“Daydreaming really?” My mother shook her head elegantly. “A party can’t be a graduation party without the graduate.”
I tried to smile, and then turned to look at her.
She had startled me, my mother, coming from the garden outside where the party buzzed, and I stood in the gourmet kitchen, lost in beastly thoughts while I waited patiently for Channing who hadn’t arrived yet.
“I’ve been calling, Chan; he’s not picking,” I told her.
She paused looking at me thoughtfully, and then sighed. “I’m sure if you give him a few minutes, he’ll be here.”
“Right,” I almost snorted. “I’ve been giving him a few minutes for the past 60 minutes now.”
“Maybe if you stop counting minutes,” Mother tilted her head slightly, folded her arms as she rested her back by the centre island.
She was a tall woman, my mother, about 5”7 or 5”8 like me when she chose to wear the longest heels in her wardrobe. Her hair, light auburn like mine was, just as long and wavy, but unlike me, she kept hers in an up do. She used to say I got the best parts of her and dad - my dad’s height to begin with, grey eyes, her high cheekbones and the fair hair. One thing I wished I had though was her skin tone; naturally tanned, near olive but closer to my yellow tone.
Tonight she looked smart as usual, but more graceful in the lace band, plum dress, detailed in opulent beads; she loved the lace detailed dresses, just like all the other women in Ashbourne.
“Something’s wrong; why is he not picking his phone?” I said again. “He’s never been late before, and…,” I trailed off, emotions taking over.
Maryanne quickly pulled me for a hug. “Stop worrying, sweetheart,” she sang. “It’s probably nothing… traffic maybe,” she pulled off the hug to cup my face. “The Van-Bailey closed Stills lane; I heard they’re having another Charity ball,” she added; now holding my hand she tried to pull me out of the kitchen, but I stopped her.
“Honey, what’s wrong?” She asked.
“Something is wrong,” I told her. “I can feel it deep down my heart, it’s happening now.”
She grimaced. “What’s happening?”
“He said he got something to tell me, and I think I know what that means; he knows and that’s why he not coming. He’s running away from me, isn’t he?”
Thoughtfully, she paused and then with a sigh, she squeezed my hands. “Don’t you think you’re overreacting, honey? I have something to tell you can mean a lot of things, and.”
“No, aah ah,” I shook my head vigorously. “You were not there to see his face, Ma,” I struggled to control my voice. “One minute we were happy and then the next, he holds me so close I couldn’t breathe, kisses me so intensely like never before. Almost taken aback I pause to look into his eyes, and they are teary. A tear drops on his cheek, and for a second, I blink trying to think if I ever saw Channing crying, and when I look up to his eyes again, all I see is goodbye.”
“Alex, how did you see goodbye in his eyes?” Maryanne’s voice was almost exasperated. “Did he tell you goodbye?”
“No, but the look in his eyes.”
“Did he tell you what he wanted to tell you?
“No, he said he would tell me after the party,” I sighed.
“So wait for him; he will tell you after the party like he said – he’s coming,” she emphasised.
“I love him, and I’m afraid whatever he wants to say is gonna tear me apart. I really…,” I trailed off, breathing.
“You don’t know that for sure, honey,” Maryanne reached out to embrace me, but I stepped aside, away from her.
“I think you should just tell me what I am, mother, so I can tell him before he-”
“No,” she shook her head vigorously. “No I can’t do that, Lexie.”
I stared at her desperately, my eyes pleading for her to understand, and then I felt my cheeks wet, my trembling heart resenting her. “If he breaks up with me, I will never forgive, you mother!” I had begun to shout.
She returned the favour, yelling at me too. “If he’s gonna break up with you, it’s certainly not gonna be because of what you are, Alex!”
“And how would you know that, mother?” I screamed louder.
“Because he loves you,” she cried, grabbing both my arms. “That boy adores you.”
I blinked once, my eyes piercing deep into hers, and then I shook her hands off me. “Of course, he adores me,” I uttered bitterly. “He adores me because he doesn’t know what I am. One day he will find out, and god help you that day is not today, mother.”
With her arms folded across her chest, she turned her back to me and remained silent for a moment. When she turned back to look at me, her eyes seemed apologetic, soft, but her lips still hesitated as they parted without letting a word out.
“Please Ma, I’m begging you, he’s gonna leave me if-,”
“Enough, Alexandra!” She screamed unexpectedly. “Okay maybe he will leave you and who knows maybe he won’t, but you young lady need to grow up! Stop behaving like Channing is the last boy on earth, and if you ask me, I would say it’s high time you start dating other people!”
“Ha!” I breathed. “What is that supposed to mean?”