Dear Diary, when Dax and I returned to the house, I tried asking him more about Mango, but he put me off, saying that I needed to get some rest. Then, he left me, frustrated I suppose, to go back to his dungeon of a room.
During my shower, something kept tickling the back of my brain. Something, I began to feel, that I should have picked up on before now, but how could I have? At first, what was bothering me was still hiding in my troubled mind, so I tried to run back through the things Mango had said.
At one point, he’d asked if I knew him, as if I should have. Later, he mentioned a couple times that I hadn’t been his first choice. First choice for what? To contact? Had he tried contacting other people in the family? I knew now that he’d sent me the mysterious note that had brought me to Winchester. These things were all floating around in my dull, sleep deprived mind.
Then I remembered something Dax had said:
“Mango says he can will himself to other locations. He can look normal if he concentrates and he can even go places and be right in front of people and make it so they don’t even see him.”
Had Mango been right in front of us and no one had noticed?
Then it hit me. As soon as I was dried off and dressed, I ran to my room and pulled out my father’s journal. He’d written about my birthday and how the entire family had attended the party.
Furiously flipping pages, I finally found the one I was after. Grandpa had said he had pictures he wanted Daddy to look at very carefully. They were of cousin Tia’s wedding to Grant. He asked if Daddy saw “it” but before Daddy could ask what he was supposed to be seeing, Grandma had interrupted.
Grandpa had then urged Daddy to have lots of pictures taken. Turning the pages, I looked carefully at each photo of that day, but I couldn’t really see anything unusual. It was just my crazy relatives having fun.
I even looked at the negatives since Daddy had kept them all in a small pocket he’d crafted into the inside front cover of the journal.
Nothing. Sighing, I turned to the photos again. Instead of concentrating hard, I let my eyes just wander over the images, smiling now because they were frozen in time also smiling.
I hadn’t seen any of these people in so long. All at once, I was perplexed as I was reminded how much time had flown by. I’d been here nearly a year and a half already, yet it felt like it had only been months. How could I have waited so long to call my father? My lower lip trembled as I reminded myself of the pain I’d surely caused him. We’d spoken only yesterday but with the way he sounded, I felt as if I should make the effort to call him more often.
Staring uselessly at the photos, I decided to name all of my relatives, one by one. There was Grandma, Grandpa, Daddy, Tia, her kids Ramona and Marvin. My finger glided over the page as I moved from person to person. Great-Aunt Keniesha in her pretty lime dress, Grant, Great-Uncle Sam who was now married to Aunt Keniesha… Aunt Rachel, Uncle Josh, Aunt Daylynn…….. My finger paused on a figure partly obscured by Daylynn in the picture. He had a shock of blond hair and was muscular.
My heart was pounding uncomfortably in my chest as I pulled all of the pictures out again and began to circle the blond man wherever I saw him. Was it Mango? It had to be! This is what Grandpa had wanted my dad to see!
The pounding of my heart turned to an ache instead. I wondered how painful it might have been for Mango to return to see his wife remarried and happy. Had that made him happy or sad? I couldn’t even imagine. Why had Mango agreed to such a horrible deal anyway? It seemed pretty obvious to me, just from the little I knew, that he should have said no way to those scientists!
Unable to sleep, I decided to get on my chores in the garden. I’d been doing a lot of garden work lately since Old Treves was still recovering, and a lot of the help the St. Cyr farm usually had was still helping him and his family.
I was watering a plant, my mind still on Mango, when Dax’s voice broke in, “I thought you might be resting instead of slaving away out here.”
Shrugging, I said, “I couldn’t sleep right now if I tried. And I missed breakfast, so I thought I’d work off some of my anxiety.” Then something new and brilliant dawned on me. “Dax! What are you doing here?”
Grinning slightly, he joked, “Well, I can leave if you don’t want to see me.”
“Don’t be silly, you know what I mean. It’s day time and you’re out here in the sunshine.”
He was silent for a minute, bending down to pull some weeds from around a bean plant. Picking a green bean and wiping it off gently, he munched on it, then casually said, “Well, I thought I’d check things out. You know, see what’s going on.”
“That’s great,” I enthused, continuing with my work. “I’m really glad and I’m sure your brother and sister will be, too.”
He frowned slightly. “Elliott is.”
Pausing what I was doing, I straightened up to look at him. His expression was bland, but I could tell in his eyes that he was bothered. “What about Agathe?”
“She saw me, nodded and went the other way.”
“She must be busy this morning.”
His eyes seemed to darken and he looked away from me. It was obvious he had seen through my lame excuse. “You probably want to know what I have to say about Mango.”
“You have that right! When did he come here? What has he told you?”
“He came here long before I was born, when my parents were children,” he began to explain. As he told his story, we pulled weeds and watered the plants together. “When he arrived, the community was not pleased that he had arranged to buy the property where the cave is. But the family that owned that land, sold it to him and with the money, they left the island, never to return. You see, they should have had permission to sell their land to an outsider.
“At first, people were civil with Mango as he seemed pretty normal. But my grandmother and her small council wanted him to join the community if he was determined to continue living here. Although he wanted to be friendly with the community, he refused to assimilate into our culture. He explained that he only wanted to be left alone and that he would trade and buy from us for his needs. After a time, he only wanted supplies delivered to the cave at night. This was strange but he always had something to trade that was useful, so it was tolerated.
“One night, a local farmer named Aramis Quintrell stopped at the cave to deliver some vegetables. As he was stacking the crates at the mouth of the cave, he saw terrible, glowing eyes and ran away to tell the others. It was found out that Mango’s true form is what you saw last night, Blue. He’d been tired the night of the delivery, so he didn’t have the energy required to make others see him as normal.”
“Then what happened?” I asked breathlessly, waiting anxiously for every word.
“The community became frightened of him and would no longer associate with him. He was not allowed to come in town. The small council thought that if he had no one to trade with, he might go away. But he stayed because he knew the scientists wouldn’t find him here. I’m the only one who knows this about him as everyone is too afraid to approach him.”
What a horrific way to live, I thought. I found that my eyes were moist with tears and my heart still ached. It didn’t seem fair that Tia and Grace should have gone without their father for most of their lives, or that Keniesha should have to be without her husband… or Mango without his family. All because of one fateful decision that I imagined most people would have said no to. I supposed that not a day went by that Mango wished he could change that moment when he agreed to the scientists’ dubious plans.
“But why did Mango agree to the experimentation in the first place?”
“Of course, I asked him the same question. He told me that he had been a fairly good person, but not a very bright one; not until they accidentally infected him with the disease they were trying to cure. He said that it was the infection combined with the meteor strike that made him what he is now.”
“Is he looking for a cure?”
Dax shook his head as he bent over the next plant in the row. “No, not at all. He said he is here for a purpose greater than a cure for himself and that this purpose will redeem him.”
“How strange,” I murmured.
“And now you know what I know,” he said.
After lunch, I went upstairs to rest for a few minutes. I couldn’t get what I’d learned out of my head but I was so pleased that Dax had ventured out and had even eaten lunch with us. Agathe seemed so uncomfortable around him that I began to think there was something I didn’t know.
I’d had enough of mysteries for now, though, so after my nap, I decided to go for a walk. As I went into the hallway, I nearly tripped on another painting that Dax had left for me. For something he had painted by memory, he’d captured that moment perfectly. I was amazed at how quickly he had painted it and my heart skipped a beat as I recalled being in his arms under the sunrise.
Taking a small shelf off the wall, I hung the new painting there and stood admiring it before setting out for my walk.
The afternoon had cooled some and didn’t seem as humid as previous days. I followed a path through the woods and came out at the inlet where Alice and I had often walked. At least I was beginning to learn my way around.
I reveled in the sounds of fish jumping and birds singing. It truly was a beautiful day. Just around the corner, there was a pile of hay bales where I knew I could sit for a few minutes and see if any animals happened by.
But I was not alone. As I came around a large bush, I stopped in my tracks, my eyes huge, unable to move as my brain could barely comprehend what I saw. Elliott and a scantily clad girl, holding hands by the hay bales! Obviously, I wasn’t meant to see this or they would be on the farm, out in the open. Who was she, anyway?
Paralyzed like a deer in headlights, she turned toward me and I heard her say, “We have company, Ell.”
It was Audrey-Ann from the hotel! The rude woman who had practically told Elliott that I was a celebrity’s child!
A pang of guilt washed over me in waves… guilt and anger. Why was I angry? Elliott could see whomever he wanted. But did she have to be so pretty? So blond and blue eyed?
I wanted to shake myself as I began to realize that my anger was stemming from jealousy. Why should I be jealous, though? Elliott and I weren’t involved.
Before I could ponder these feelings any further, Elliott had followed Audrey-Ann’s gaze only to realize I had intruded upon them. His face turned pale white, then red and he called out to me, I think more from surprise than anything else.
Regaining my senses, I turned away from the embarrassing scene and ran as fast as I could away from them, tears stinging my cheeks. Branches hit my face as I ran through trees back toward the house, biting at the delicate skin across my cheeks. But it didn’t hurt as much as my heart.
Every emotion you don’t want to feel seemed to coarse through my veins, through my soul. Jealousy, outrage, embarrassment, yes, they were all there, but I also felt that Elliott should see that this woman didn’t deserve him at all.
There was something else, too. Confusion. Why was I having any reaction to this at all? It wasn’t like they’d been making out… well, not that I saw. Perhaps they already had, or maybe they were now. I cringed at the thought.
Somehow, I hadn’t been paying attention and now I was off the path. I emerged from the woods at the main entrance to the farm, my breath coming in gasps, wiping my eyes on my apron.
It was Matthieu. I tried to pull myself together as best I could and said, “Hey there, Matt.”
To my dismay, he sauntered over to me, a pleasant smile on his face. “Looks like you’ve really been running.”
Feeling more composed, I said, “Running is good for you.”
“Oh yes, I agree,” he enthused. “Where are you headed to? I could escort you if you’d like.”
Matthieu, sweet Matthieu. The way he always looked at me was unnerving. He was very handsome and extremely nice. Sometimes I just had the awkward feeling he wanted to be more than friends.
“Well, I’m just heading back to the house after a walk.”
“Me, too! Well, actually, I am coming back from town. I repaired a fence at the Delattre Farm. I guess the neighbor’s cow keeps getting into Mrs. Sylvie’s garden.”
“Yes, I was with Agathe when they were discussing the problem,” I said.
“Miss Blue, I’m glad I ran into you. I would really like to talk to you about something.”
I tried, but I couldn’t stop my eyes from turning as big as saucers. “Perhaps another time,” I said. “I have to help Alice with supper.”
Disappointment clouded his eyes. “All right. Maybe we could talk some other time when we both aren’t expected somewhere else. You see, I want to talk to you without being rushed.”
Good gravy, how was it that this was happening so often? Weren’t there any other young women on the island? I knew there were. And it wasn’t that I disliked him, in fact, I adored him. No, it was more that I couldn’t understand professing your eternal love for someone so quickly, without prior dating or anything. I needed to find out how things were done here, because it just seemed really fast to me.
“Well, I have to run! See you at supper!” I called over my shoulder, making my escape.
Author’s Note: If you would like to see the original pictures where Mango is hidden, they can be found in Chapter 2.16, Dear J, Birthday Bash.