Hunter’s voice is calm and reassuring. Aside from a tense silence when I describe Mirena’s attack, he seems fixated on my well-being, frequently asking if I’m okay.
“I’m alright, Hunter. Just… just shaken,” I hold my cell phone to my ear while I lay sprawled across my bed, still in my pajamas. I can hear Wynn getting ready for class in the room across the hall.
“Marle has always been controlling. Merlin House was tasked with the stone because of their strict sense of morality and justice. The fact that they were a wealthy family long before the stone didn’t hurt either.”
I guess that explains the sprawling manse.
His words come slowly, burdened with disappointment and frustration. “I can’t believe he threatened to take your memories away again. This is exactly why this secrecy has to stop. We have no right to take away your free will just so we can continue enjoying the privilege our predecessors secured for us.”
All I can think about this morning is that looming threat of losing my memories. Of my new friendships being stripped away. Even if it means having to live with the scars Johannes and Mirena have left me, I can’t imagine giving this new life up. The pieces of my old life that I once clung to are evaporating with the tears on my pillowcase.
“Hunter…” I hesitate and he waits patiently on the other end, “Hunter, I don’t want to forget you.”
The silence continues and I realize I’ve probably said something ridiculous. I start to explain myself, to take back what I’ve said, but his deep voice interrupts.
“Selene, we won’t let it come to that,” he speaks with an intensity and determination that bars any doubt, “I am going to talk to Victor, head of Solomon House. I think he’ll hear me out.”
“Victor?! Why? You think he’ll trust you?” Wynn peeks her head around the corner to make sure I’m okay, I nod and wave her off as Hunter explains himself.
“I think it’s worth a shot. He thinks of Mirena as a daughter… if he finds out that Merlin House is holding her captive it’s going to cause him a lot of problems. He can’t openly oppose them – they’re too powerful. But he’s going to be furious – first they took his son from him and now her too. It sounds like he isn’t convinced I’m a threat, and he’ll be looking for any opening to act against Marle.” Hunter sounds confident, but I’m still not convinced.
“But will he actually support you? For all you know he’ll try to trade you for Mirena.” I recall Victor’s face staring down at me the night he helped Mirena kidnap me. I remember the anger that contorted it the night of the party, making it so similar to his son’s.
“It’s possible, but unlikely. Victor is smart; he knows Merlin House wouldn’t go for a trade like that. If they knew he had me they’d just find another way to make him hand me over. Marle wouldn’t give up someone he sees as a threat, not even for me.”
“He has a soft spot for his son,” I point out, “and you almost killed him. Left his body covered in scars.”
His guilt is loud amidst the following silence. I wonder what it’s like to live with someone else’s blood on your hands. To want to make amends to someone who you know will never forgive you. I wonder if my father ever felt anything like that, or if he died still never understanding how someone as untouchable as him could need forgiveness in the first place. I wonder if I carry some of his blood on my hands.
“You’re right, but I think that’s a fair risk to take. People listen to Victor. If I could convince him I’d have all of Solomon House behind me. I need people to stand with me, Selene. You’ve already appealed to Yagher so you must realize there’s no way I can convince him on my own. Especially not while his father has his ear,” when I don’t answer right away, he tries to reassure me, “I’ll be careful. In the interim, you should be careful too. Maybe try to stay on Yagher’s good side for a bit.”
“You mean stay away from you,” I say, realizing that Marle is probably having me watched even if Yagher isn’t.
“It’s probably safer for you,” I start to object but he quickly interrupts, “Selene, I can’t tell you what to do or not do. I’m just giving you my advice. And…if for some reason he does take your memories from you… I swear I will do what I can to fix things.”
“Fine. I’ll toe the line with Yagher,” I close my eyes tightly as I say it, wringing the words out of me. I want to see him, I realize painfully, but I can’t. Again. “But I want to come with you to see Victor.”
“I’m guessing it’s entirely pointless to tell you how dangerous that could be,” I’m relieved to hear him laugh as he speaks, “Fine. It will take a while to set up, but I won’t go without you. Selene…”
“I’m glad you’re coming with me,” his words are hesitant, almost reluctant, but it only makes them seem more sincere.
“I’ll see you soon,” I say.
After I hang up, I notice Wynn loitering by my bedroom door again.
“Who was that?” she asks, looking at me mock-suspiciously.
“A friend,” I shrug and look away dramatically, as if I have no idea what she’s hinting at.
“Fine, keep your secrets, but I have something to tell you,” she grins at me, pursing her lips as if she is struggling to keep in her surprise, “Nat just called me. We found a place!”
“That’s great, Wynn!” I’m a little nervous about finding own apartment, but I no longer resent her decision to move, “When do you guys move in?”
“She’s moving in two weeks from now and I’m slowly going to move my stuff over there. If it’s too soon though…”
“No, it’s fine. I’ve got a few options and worst case scenario I have enough saved up to cover rent here for a month or two,” I’m trying to remember where I saw some ads for cheap bachelor apartments downtown.
“Okay, well, I have to head out now, but I’ll be back early tonight,” she turns, lifting a bag over her shoulder. As she leaves the apartment she shouts, “Text me if you need anything!”
I begin mentally compiling a list of things I need to do. Things I need to worry about. By the time I feel like I’ve assembled them all, I realize I’ve already forgotten most of them and need to start over. Eventually I surrender to my flawed human memory, forcing myself out of bed and into clothes for my shift at Hanson’s. My phone vibrates on the bed as I’m tugging on a pair of jeans. I recognize the number as my manager’s.
“Is something wrong?” I ask, “Do you need me in early?”
“No, Selene. Actually, you don’t have to worry about coming in today. Alice is going to cover your shift.”
“Why? I’m alright to come in today,” my mouth feels dry and my hand trembles.
“It’s just… all the time off, the weird behaviour. You’ve been a good employee, Selene, but I’m overstaffed as it is. Maybe if you get things back together… when things pick up I can…”
“Are you firing me?” I ask, incredulous.
“Technically, I’m laying you off indefinitely,” his voice is cold and professional
“So, technically I’m out of a job? Because I got attacked at a party and my dad died?!” Getting mad at him probably isn’t helping, but it’s been a shitty week.
“I told you, there’s more to it than that. But yes, you’re done. I’ll mail you your pay stub.”
“Thanks,” I say sarcastically and hang up the phone. I immediately feel like a child and regret burning that bridge, but I’m tired of my life spinning out of control. Of feeling like everyone is making decisions for me. Marle and Yagher taking my memories. Mirena fishing through my brain. My parents, trying to force me to be something they could be proud of. I hate to admit it, but even little things like Wynn moving out have added up. It feels like everyone is forcing my hand.
What about Mr. Harris? As horrible and dejected as I feel, thinking of talking to the old man makes me smile. I finish getting dressed and decide that not only am I going to visit him, but that it’s my turn to share my secrets. Who knows, maybe he’ll even have advice to offer. Of course a conversation of that magnitude requires chocolate, so I decide to make a stop at Sugar Treaty first.
I notice something glittering beside my purse as I snatch it off the dresser. I shrug and grab Yagher’s necklace, tossing it into my purse. Fine, I’ll take it with me like I promised, but I’ll be damned if I’ll give him the satisfaction of wearing it.
On the elevator ride up to Mr. Harris’ apartment I have the sudden realization that he might not be home. The thought fills me with an overwhelming sense of dread. What will I do with the rest of my day if he isn’t here? Will I still have the courage to tell him everything if I have to wait?
Luckily, when the elevator doors open onto the now golden fields of the farm, I can see him playing fetch with Mariposa in the distance. I shout to him and wave frantically for his attention. He waves back and starts walking towards me. He halts when James appears from behind the barn to his right, standing in plain sight. I wonder if I should leave, if I should give them privacy. Mr. Harris stands wide eyed, occasionally turning his head from me and then back to James. Finally a small, almost defeated smile creeps onto his face and he gestures for me to join them.
I watch their animated discussion as I walk, unable to hear their voices from this distance. James is much taller than Mr. Harris and his build much thinner. He must be close to my age, Marisposa only remembering him from her puppy days. I wonder in awe at how old she must be and how he’s been keeping her alive all this time.
As I glance back to the real Mariposa, lying quietly by the elevator doors, I feel a strange jolt. At first I wonder if it’s an earthquake, but when it happens a second time I realize that the sensation is more akin to electricity than motion. The third time it happens the illusion around me shorts out for a brief moment, revealing the grey loft hidden beneath it. Mr. Harris looks around in an obvious panic and chants what I can only assume is some kind of spell.
The vision continues to fail every few seconds and each time it takes longer to return. Mr. Harris and James are running towards me now – James disappearing and reappearing intermittently. They run right past me and crouch at the still form of the sleeping dog. I watch as Mr. Harris quickly, but delicately, tinkers with something on her collar. He shakes his head and pulls out a small screw driver from his pocket. When the whole world begins to flicker, he throws the screwdriver and hugs the dog tightly. I’ve walked up close enough now to hear his ragged breathing, to see the tears coursing down his cheeks.
He looks up suddenly, as though remembering something important. He reaches out his hand towards James. James reaches his hand out in return and, as their fingers briefly meet, the dream is lost forever.
In case you missed it, my last blog post contained some news about Secrets and Skin. I will be releasing some extra chapters, occasionally boosting the release schedule to three times a week with the intention that the full novel be posted by 2017. That’s right… the end is in sight! I always try to state the release date of the upcoming chapter at the bottom of the page, so keep an eye out for extra release dates – probably Mondays or Tuesdays.
As always, feel free to leave a comment if you want to say hi or give some feedback. If you feel so inclined, you can also leave a review of Secrets over at Web Fiction Guide.
Thanks for reading!