Dear Diary, today was remarkable! Well, I guess what I really mean is that I solved a major mystery of something that’s been bugging me for a while now. I call it: The Curious Case of the Disappearing Plates! I know it sounds like I’m joking. But ever since being in Winchester, I’ve seen Alice carrying a plate of food out of the kitchen after every meal. When I asked her about it, she basically told me to mind my own business. Which also makes me admire her because I’ve never seen anyone tell me something like that in such a kind way. I don’t know how she does it!
Anyway, I’m getting off track.
So, I decided to follow her and crossed my fingers, hoping I wouldn’t get caught. I don’t know what the penalty would be for sneaking around like this, but I just couldn’t live without knowing.
Alice never suspected she was being followed. I mean, she didn’t have that cloak and dagger thing going on by looking all around her to make sure she was alone. She went straight to the garage. The side door she went in through is glass, so I was able to watch where she went without actually going in and giving myself away.
Pausing at a door that kind of blended in to the surrounding walls, she opened it, holding it with her foot so her hands were free, took a book of matches out of her apron pocket and slipped inside.
Slowly, I crept as soundlessly as I could across the garage to the door. It was unlocked and opened without even a creak. Standing at the top of the stairs, I hesitated because the light dancing around at the bottom bathed the walls in a strange, ghoulish blue. My heart raced as I put my palm against the stone wall to steady myself. Something inside me said I definitely should not be doing this, but the super sleuth in me couldn’t resist the compulsion to move forward. So, down the stairs I tiptoed.
At the bottom, there was one lantern hanging on the wall that was lit. There were other lanterns, but they remained cold and unused. Glancing around me, I saw another door and wondered if Alice had gone in there. But then I heard a small scuffling sound from another area and realized she’d gone around the corner instead.
I was probably peeking around the corner more than I should. Why didn’t she light all the lamps? It was so dark and I shivered at the damp cold wrapping around me like a heavy blanket.
At the very end of the hall, I could just make out the outline of a large bookcase. Where was she going? There was nothing else there; no where to go.
To my utter amazement, Alice tipped one of the books back toward her without actually taking it off the shelf. There was a scrape and a groan, then the bookcase slowly slid to the side and she walked right through!
A secret passage! My heart was going a million miles a minute as I wondered what could be back there. It had to be a person, didn’t it? Why else would she be bringing food?
Then, I hesitated for real because what would I find if I followed her through the bookcase? As I watched, it gradually slid back into place and I was standing in the hall all by myself again.
If I went through now, there may not be any place to hide myself. The last thing I wanted after having that talk with Matthieu in the garden was to make anyone angry with me for not minding my own business. I didn’t think these people would appreciate someone skulking around where they didn’t belong.
As the minutes ticked by, I continued to stand there, my pulse racing, my palms sweaty. I was halfway between running for my life back up the stairs and out of there and halfway going through the mysterious bookcase.
My breath caught in my throat when I heard a small click and the familiar scrape and groan that could only mean the bookcase was opening again! I rushed around the corner, back to the main hall and ran for the door I’d seen earlier. To my relief, it was only a half-bath with a water basin and toilet.
Holding my hand over my thudding heart, I could hear Alice’s footsteps as she came back through. I waited until I heard her go all the way up the staircase and the door close behind her before I came out again.
Swallowing back fear, I stepped closer to the bookcase. I wasn’t sure if I knew exactly which book Alice had moved in order to open the bookcase passage. But I knew which shelf it was on and which end, so I could try each of those until something happened.
Reaching out, I reluctantly touched a book with the tip of my finger, not actually moving it. Did I dare do this? Did I dare go through and find out what I wanted to know so badly? What if moving the wrong book was a booby-trap or something?
I took a few deep, steadying breaths in order to remain calm. Telling myself not to be over dramatic, I moved my finger just a bit. Nothing happened. Sighing loudly, I chided myself for thinking these kind people would ever booby-trap anything. If Ruby were here, she would have surely laughed at me for even thinking such a thing!
Slowly, I moved my finger to the book just to the right of the one I had tried first. After another series of deep breathing and talking to myself, I moved the book in the same way I’d seen Alice do it. Even though I’d already seen the trick done, I couldn’t help but feel astonished all over again when the bookcase moved aside, allowing me access.
But the next room only led to another bookcase! My jaw dropped and I began to feel a little bit irritated. Why would anyone ever set something like this up?
Without as much thought as I had put into the last bookcase, I reached out and touched a book in a similar position. Nothing happened. Clearly, this was going to be different.
I tried book after book and finally, the right one opened the door.
As soon as I walked into the next room, I let out a cry that was half humor and half dismay.
Because there was another freaking bookcase!
What is wrong with these people? This seemed like the one hundredth time I’d asked this since arriving on this strange island.
Without giving it another thought, I stepped through the bookcase and into a larger room.
“Good gravy!” I exclaimed, using a phrase my grandma often said. I was in Dax’s room! The room I’d first been brought to when I came here and was so ill.
Next to me was a table and chair with the plate of food Alice had brought. There was a single lantern lit in the room and it was on the little table.
Glancing around me, I saw the walls were covered with beautiful paintings and I could just make out an easel straight ahead of me.
“W-what are you doing here?”
It came from white-shirt who was standing in the shadows as usual. His voice was very soft and uncertain, but still made me jump.
When I was able to gather myself, I asked, “Dax, is that you?”
There was a really long pause and I thought he probably wouldn’t answer me. If I remembered correctly, Alice had made little jokes here and there about how Dax never talked.
But he surprised me. “Yes.”
Stepping forward, I studied a painting of a fisherman. It was difficult to see the details of it, but after having seen the portrait he’d done of me, I knew this piece was probably brilliant.
“Don’t come any closer,” he said.
“I’m just looking at your painting,” I assured him, taken by the scene. “Is this someone you know?”
Another long pause loomed between us and again, I feared he’d say nothing more.
“My father. He liked to fish.”
Smiling, even though he couldn’t see it, I said, “It’s really good.”
After a moment, I moved to the next painting which was very large. I got as close to it as I could because I didn’t want to miss anything in it in the darkness. “This is astonishingly beautiful.”
Again, a long, pregnant pause filled the air. Finally, he said, “My mother.”
“She is stunning.”
Going back to the area the table with food was in, I sat on the sofa just across from it.
“You need to leave.”
“Don’t you want some company?”
There was a small, surprised gasp and I couldn’t tell if he had laughed or if he was annoyed with me.
“Well, don’t you?” I prodded.
“Do you suppose I’m down here in this dark and hidden place because I want company?”
It was my turn to laugh. What he said made sense and I was glad he hadn’t said it in a mean way. It was more matter of fact. “That’s a good point.” Another moment of silence went by. “I really… well, I didn’t know you were down here when I came exploring,” I admitted. “But now that I’m here, and you’re here… I’d like to thank you for taking care of me when I was sick. And also for the beautiful painting.”
“You’re welcome,” he awkwardly said.
“I thought you might have painted it because you wanted to be friends.”
There was that terrible pause again. I half expected him to throw me out. Instead, he said, “M-maybe.”
That was encouraging. More than ever, I wanted to know why he was hidden down here and why he never did anything with the family. It wasn’t so much curiosity at this point as it was that I was beginning to realize that I cared.
I cared about him.
“Your food is getting cold. Why don’t you come eat?”
“I – I don’t want you to see me.”
Absently, I bit at a hangnail, trying to figure out what to do or say next. “But why?”
At that point, I thought I might have heard his fist lightly hit the stone wall next to him. Not in a violent way, but it was more of a sound of frustration.
“Please, come eat,” I said gently, trying to use the tone of voice my dad was an expert at.
“I’m afraid when you see me, you will be scared. Or – or run away.”
Good grief, what did that mean? Did he have three heads? Was there an evil twin growing out of his back? My mind conjured up every horror I could possibly imagine.
“You’d better go.”
Biting my bottom lip, I realized that because I cared about him, I couldn’t go without seeing him. “I insist you come out here and eat your breakfast. I will be fine.”
I could sense a lot of hesitance before I finally heard his feet moving slowly toward me. The entire time I heard those feet, I was telling myself that no matter what I saw, whether it be the bogeyman or not, I was not to react. Do not react, Blue!
At last, he made his appearance, and it was not at all what I imagined it would be. He was no monster. But his face was crisscrossed with scars. Unashamedly, I stared at him for a moment. Yes, he was obviously uncomfortable under my gaze, but what I saw, what I focused on, was how soulful his deep brown eyes were.
For a moment, he stared back at me.
Smiling widely, I stood and shook his hand, his artistic fingers warm against my own. “Hi, Dax. We haven’t been properly introduced. I’m B-” Horrified, I stopped myself from revealing my real name and quickly added, “Hester.”
“Hester,” he said and I nodded.
“Yes, how do you do?”
“All right,” he answered, staring at me all doe-eyed.
Suddenly, he pulled me into a tight hug. He smelled like paint and soap. And I have to say, it wasn’t unpleasant.
“I’m sorry,” he said, letting me go. “I just – I’m glad you’re better.”
Just as I was beginning to respond to what he said, the bookcase slid to the side and Agathe strode in, her expression as sour as ever, her mouth a thin line of disapproval.
“What are you doing here, girl?” she demanded.
Gulping, I tried to say something that didn’t sound too terrified. “I just – I thought – I saw Alice and – and – ”
“- And you followed her down here?” she hissed.
“Umm, yes, I did that,” I admitted.
“Aggie, it’s fine,” Dax said, his voice a little louder than when he’d spoken to me, but not nearly what one would call a “loud” voice.
Agathe took a step back in shock. “Did you just say something? You just talked! You’ve been talking to this girl but you won’t talk to your own family?”
Then she turned on me for real. “Listen here, young lady, whoever you are, when you are told something isn’t your business, that is not an invitation to go snooping around! I thought that perhaps you were shaping up a bit, but this does not impress me! You’ll be lucky if I don’t ship you out, back to wherever you came from!”
Hanging my head in shame, tears sprang to my eyes. I could have protested, I could have argued with her, but it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do. She was correct in how she felt. I had snooped and I had known when I did it, that I could get into serious trouble. Despite what Agathe or anyone thought, I was learning there were consequences to my actions. Now, what I needed to learn, was to heed the consequences prior to making the decision to do something that might get me in hot water.
“Go upstairs now,” Agathe continued, “and go to your room. I do not want to see you until I call for you. Then we are going to have a serious talk!”
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Dax’s distressed expression. Clearly, he wanted to say something, but Agathe was a force to be reckoned with. Before going upstairs, I gave Dax a small glance.
Once I was safely upstairs and out of Agathe’s earshot, I let out a huge sigh. I kept clenching and unclenching my fists as I thought about how she was going to send me away. I hadn’t even found out anything about the note yet! And I wanted to learn more about Dax.
Poor Dax. Just because he had scars on his face, why did he maintain that dungeon like existence, only coming out at night?
Instead of remaining angry with Agathe, my thoughts then turned completely to Dax. Maybe there was something good I could do here. Maybe I could get to know him and be a better friend to him than I had to anyone else in my life.
I had wronged so many people, I didn’t know how I would ever make amends. But I had to start somewhere. I would begin with Agathe and apologize for stepping over the line and for all of the rude things I’d done while here. I would throw myself on her mercy and beg her to teach me how to be the person I should be because I was so certain she was the one person who could manage it. All I could hope now was that she would forgive me.
For the first time in a long time, I wanted to be a better person. I wanted to be someone that my dad could be proud of. It would start here, in this place. And in becoming a better person, maybe I could help Dax, too.