There was an ornate gold and cream parting screen in the corner of the ensuite. I spread it out in front of the claw-foot bath before testing the water and pouring coconut and vanilla bath bubbles into the tub. As I sunk into the hot water I began to sulk. I didn’t sulk because I wanted to go home but because none of this felt real. No way had I been able to escape so easily from your grasp. If I’d known it would have been this easy, I would’ve left years ago and left you to create your perfect life. Perhaps I was crying quite audibly or perhaps Henry was looking for me because he knocked on the door five minutes later asking if it was okay to come in. He opened the door slowly after I sobbed out a yes and he sat on the other side of the screen on the closed lid of the toilet.
“Do you miss it? I could take you back?” he asked calmly.
I wiped my tears and choked back my sobs, “...No, please don’t... I was... I was just thinking about... about things and I don’t want to go back.”
He began to speak but then the doorbell rang. I had never heard the cheerful ding of the doorbell before because no one ever visited the house. “Stay here” he said gritting his teeth before leaving. He muttered “shit” under his breath. I heard the click of a lock and quickly got out of the bath. What was happening?
Tracing my finger on the door mouldings, I tried to listen to Henry and the unknown person. It was barely audible but I could make most of it out. The unknown person seemed to be a man, “man, this case... this girl, she just vanishes- you got a beer?” he sounded tired and relatively young. I assumed that the shuffled steps were Henry’s. “Anyway, it’s just totally crazy, like we get a call from this old woman, her granddaughter has gone, so we assume she’s probably just gone back home-” he paused, perhaps taking a swig of his beer, “the mother didn’t see her but a couple witnesses said she saw the kid in the cafe where she worked. There’s no surveillance anywhere that gives a clear view of the cafe so we don’t know where she went when she left, but the really weird thing is that when we talked to the ex boyfriend, he’d said he had already tried to report her missing months ago but his report was dismissed after her mother said she was with family. I dunno man, it just doesn’t really add up, I dunno why the boyfriend wouldn’t know where she’d gone.” I could imagine him shaking his head at this, yeah it was weird wasn’t it. They continued to talk for a couple hours and I lost interest as the conversation turned to sports and other current affairs.
The door closed and suddenly the mood of the house changed. It became cold as Henry stormed at the stairs, he cursed under his breath as he dropped the key to unlock the door. I rushed into the dressing room and then to my secret room. I could feel the anger emanating from him as he said sternly “Grace, we need to talk.” I kept quiet and shuddered in the dark of my secret room as I heard him sit down on the bed. “Grace you haven’t been clear with me. We need to talk.” I could tell he was trying to stay calm but was struggling. I remained quiet. “Grace come here, now.” he raised his voice slightly, this wasn’t how he normally spoke. Almost scared I creeped to the door from my dressing room to my bedroom. He heard me and swung open the door. I backed away and sat surrounded by mirrors. His strong features had moulded into an expression of anger. “What happened to you?” he tried to sound calm and sincere. I shook my head trying to curl in on myself and become smaller.
He kept his distance from me and I could see his expression slowly changing, I was crying, I didn’t want to talk. He moved closer to me, crouching down to appear less intimidating, his right hand reached up to my face. I twisted away awkwardly and turned to the other side. “Grace, please.” The anger had completely left his voice now. We sat in tense silence for a while before I started to speak. I moved my dressing gown around me so I had more coverage, my towel had started to unravel and I felt very self-conscious.
“Nothing, I just went to my live with my Grandma, then I came back and you took me.” I almost whispered. My shaky arms wrapped around my legs as he asked “if that’s it, then why did your ex report you missing?”
“I didn’t say goodbye, my mum just told me I had to go to my Grandma’s then and there and my Grandma doesn’t have wifi or anything, I couldn’t reach him.”
“This doesn’t make any sense.” he shook his head. His heavy footsteps paced around the floor as he muttered questions under his breath.
He apologised to me profusely and made sure he kept his distance. At the time I didn’t want to admit it but I was missing him, he would work longer than usual and left me to eat dinner alone. I let him have his space. I didn’t want him to become angry again. I think it was a Thursday when we next spoke, yes it was definitely a Thursday. New Year’s Eve. I was alone, Henry had locked himself in his room.
Absent-mindedly I rooted through the record collection and picked out Tomaso Albinoni’s Adagio in G minor, It’s a beautiful piece of music really. I played it as loud as I could, lying in the middle of the grand ballroom letting the cold of the marble floor seep up into my skin. My eyes fixed on the elaborateness of the ceiling and chandelier. In that moment I was frozen in time, I could feel couples in billowing ballgowns and waistcoats and cravats waltzing all around me until the music stopped. He stood tall in the doorway, “I’m sorry.”
I ignored him, but he carried on speaking.
“I know that you’re upset and probably confused, you must think I am insane because I took you away from your life but I am not really being your typical kidnapper. But that look on your face on the day you came back, I’ve seen that look before. A few years ago, on this day in fact, my sister was driving us to the airport to see off our parents. She saw her fiancé and he... he was with someone else let’s just say... and then she got distracted and she ran a Stop sign and... well... we hit a truck. I was in bad shape but uh I was the only one that got out.” He paused, “I didn’t want you to do something stupid too.” He was leaning against the doorway when I looked up at him, avoiding my gaze. I didn’t know what to do or what to say. I hugged him. For a really long time and I whispered a sincere thank you. Perhaps you didn’t think he was right for taking me but he was only trying to help.
* * *
I was going to leave. I had written a short letter detailing what I would tell the police and saying how thankful I was for him. He was still asleep in my bed after I had woken him with my nightmares and I was stood in the entrance trying to force myself to leave. I had one foot out of the door when Monkey meowed behind me, I turned and gave a saddened smile and gave him a little scratch under his chin. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t leave, I wanted to stay there in this day dream of ignorance for the rest of the world.
I quietly hid the letter in my secret room and slipped back into my pyjamas and into bed. Henry began to stir next to me and turned to face me, opening his eyes sleepily. “Morning” I said softly. He grinned lazily and began to get up. I shook my head, “stay.” reaching for his arm I pulled him back down into the blankets and pillows and curled up closer to him whilst holding his t-shirt to my chest. I closed my eyes and breathed in his warmth, feeling his arm wrap around me, pulling me closer to him. This time I was sure of myself and kissed him without hesitating.