Oak Island Chapter 6: Masquerade

Oak Island Chapter 6: Masquerade

A Chapter by SweetNutmeg
"

Masquerade (Originally Tinder Island)

"

Chapter Six


My mother continued getting worse, very slowly, but very steadily. Aunt Pam never again suggested I visit, but kept me up to date. Still refusing to make a living will, my mother kept sending money to her faith healer.


Trees were turning gold and nights were cool when, one Sunday in late October, Cheryl gave me some news over lunch.


I waited until now to tell you, I wanted to be sure... I'm pregnant. Six weeks.” Cheryl was glowing.


Congratulations! How wonderful! Cheryl, this is great news.”


We conceived around Labor Day. No one knows yet but you and my mother. I'm going to wait a bit more before going public.”


We plumbed the subject thoroughly over lunch and into dessert and coffee. Something stirred in me. Did I want to be a mother?


When are you and Ezra going to get married?”


I squirmed a bit under this question. Did I want to marry Ezra? It seemed that I should have some kind of decisive answer to this question. But I came up blank. By default, then, I supposed the answer was No. If I wanted marriage, I would know.


She asked a fresh question. “Are you and Ezra ever going to get married?”


Shifting about, I tried to formulate an answer that didn't sound harsh. I loved Ezra, I really did. But we had never even discussed the subject. Which now seemed a bit strange. We'd been together over two years.


Do you want to get married at all?” Cheryl persisted.


I don't know,” I confessed. “It's really weird, but we haven't talked about it. I guess I'd know if I did.” I shrugged.


Time is ticking on, Cassie. If Ezra isn't the right guy, maybe you need to think about finding the right one.”


Is there a right one? What if there isn't?”


***



On my way home, I thought about our conversation. What if Cheryl was right, that there was a guy out there for me, a guy I did more than love, a guy who lit me up inside and made all my bells ring? Staying with Ezra would be foolish. But-- what if there isn't that kind of guy waiting for me out there, I dump Ezra and never find anything better? Should I stay safe and dull, or risk it all to find something better?


And then I was appalled at thinking so callously about Ezra. I loved him. I really did. And he could be so good to me. We had built a life together. You can't total up pros and cons of people like life was an account book.


***


Ezra and I were having the same conversation all over again. As I cut fresh basil leaves into strips for our salad, Ezra insisted.


Cassie, we have to go together. Paul's Halloween parties are the best and I said we could come.” Unlike the tame parties we attended in Ezra's inner social circle, Paul was known for his wild playboy extravaganzas, usually taking over an entire night club for the night.


Cheryl's party sounds fun. I don't fit in at Paul's parties.” In years past I would have jumped at an invitation to such an exclusive party. But that was before I knew what they were like. Everyone drank too much, which I had begun to find boring. People having sex in stairwells and lines of coke in the bathroom no longer felt risque and glamorous. Cheryl had planned a display for the trick-or-treaters in her neighborhood and we'd hand out candy. I'd rather admire the home made costumes of the small children than be surrounded by carefully garbed adults with witty themes for their masquerades.


I scooped the basil into the salad bowl and turned to the tomatoes.


We're a couple. We're expected.”


I chopped the slippery tomatoes carefully. “Ezra, can't we go where I want to go, for once? We always go to your parties and never to Cheryl's.”


Ezra snorted. “Like I would ever go to her parties. I have nothing in common with her class of people. Why do you hang out with her?”


I was getting irritated. “Cheryl is a good friend and a good person. I wish you weren't such a snob, Ezra. We're not better than Cheryl and her friends because we work different types of jobs or went to different schools.”


I'm not a snob. I just have standards.”


You are a snob. You think you are a superior being.” I went to the drawer for the vegetable peeler.


Well, that doesn't matter. I've already sent in our RSVP.” He was leaning against the cabinets, looking every inch the Ivy League man, in his french cuff shirt and work trousers.


It was beginning to seem as though we came from different worlds. And I was always the one who struggled to fit into his world. He never once tried to be pleasant or friendly with Cheryl or her husband.


As I peeled the cucumbers, Ezra came to stand behind me, circling my waist and pulling me to him.


We could be Gatsby and Daisy.”


I can't be a flapper with my hair.” I wriggled out of his embrace. Now I was just being contrary. I hadn't thought about costumes at all. I chopped the cucumbers in silence.


After a while, I said, “Alright, I'll make an appearance, as I did on Labor Day. Two hours. That's it.”


***


We decided to be Robin Hood and Maid Marian. Not exciting or original, but one for which my hair was not a problem. No one ever said Maid Marian couldn't be a flaming redhead.


Saturday night, I prepared to go to Cheryl's. I'd decided to go to her house first so I could see the trick-or-treaters. Paul's party wouldn't even get started until ten or eleven.


Cheryl's street was filled with parked cars and I had to walk a block to get to her house. The wet, blustery night was exhilarating. Trick-or-treaters were already out and I walked up the path to Cheryl's front door behind a pirate and a very small princess, escorted by their father. Cheryl had gone all out and her front porch was draped in spiders' webs. A stray spider, the size of my hand, dangled a few feet from the ground and intimidated the princess. The pirate, brandishing his sword, dashed up the path, past a cauldron overflowing with smoke created by dry ice. The porch was lit by a purple light bulb over head and many strings of tiny purple lights tangled in the spiders' webs. Cheryl sat on the steps, a pretty witch handing out candy from her plastic jack'o'lantern. Carved pumpkins lined the steps, candles flickering in the wind.


When the pirate and princess received their candy, Cheryl rose to greet me. Behind her was Ted, a lanky skeleton. He invited me in and directed me to the drinks table. I dipped into the warm mulled wine and ladled out a steaming glass mug. It smelled spicy, like autumn and red wine. I greeted a few familiar faces as I drifted to the back of the house, into the kitchen. Three people clustered around the coffee pot, trying to decide how much ground coffee was needed for a full pot. One of them was Leo, dressed in a medieval tunic and stockings with pointy shoes of worked velvet. He turned and noticed me.


Cassie, it's good to see you.” His smile was the smile I remembered from years ago. He hugged me and kissed my cheek.


Flushing, I fumbled for a conversational straw and asked, “Have you tried the mulled wine, Leo?”


His smile changed a little, gaining a touch of something like sadness. “No, not my thing these days.” He looked me up and down and asked, “Who are you masquerading as tonight?”


Maid Marian. Robin Hood is at home.”


With a flourish, Leo produced a hat with a large feather and placed it on his head at an angle. “Maid Marian, will you allow me to take his place? I, too, am Robin Hood tonight.” He took my arm and led me out onto the back porch. There was a circle of people around a blaze in the fire pit, and a nearby table laid out with sticks of varying lengths and a bag of marshmallows.


Let's make marshmallows, like Camp Henley.” Leo chose a stick, speared a marshmallow and handed it to me. “I know you like to burn yours.” He was right, I loved my marshmallows crisp black on the outside. It felt a bit ridiculous eating marshmallows like a little kid, but I accepted the marshmallow on the stick Leo handed me and followed him to the fire. There were several children toasting their own marshmallows, supervised by a couple of adults. It was a nice idea of Cheryl and Ted's to provide amusement for the kids in this form. I lit my marshmallow on fire, blew it out and pulled the stick to me, so I could eat my blackened treat.


Ouch,” I said as I tried to remove it from the stick. “That burnt me!”


You have to wait, Cassie.” Leo was laughing at me. His own marshmallow was browning as he turned the stick, to toast it evenly.


You're so careful, Leo. Look at that, yours is a gourmet feat of marshmallow toasting, just perfect.” He had always been good at gauging distances and times.


Mine had cooled enough to eat and I pulled it off the stick. It smelled like burnt sugar and was gooey under the black layer. I tried to take a ladylike nibble, but you can't do that with marshmallows, and I ended up stuffing the whole thing in my mouth, licking my fingers.


Leo was laughing at me again. “I saw you try to be dainty with that.”


I was not being 'dainty.' I just don't normally shove things in my mouth.” This was just like Camp Henley. That was Leo's word for me and my tidy ways, and being called dainty drove me crazy.


Nope, I saw you, that was genuine, certifiable daintiness.” His creation was perfectly browned now and he pulled it off the stick. When I turned to dispose of my stick somewhere, I noticed that there were Hershey's chocolate bars and graham crackers as well.


Look, Leo, we have to make s'mores.” I waved my stick at the table. I pulled two more marshmallows out of the bag. I threaded my new marshmallow as I handed Leo his. The spongy springiness brought back a rush of memories, warm summer nights at the fire ring near Lake Henley, Leo leaning against me just as he was doing now. I was careful with this marshmallow, trying to toast it evenly.


Aren't you going to burn this one too, Cassie?”


Not for s'mores. You can't use a burnt one on s'mores. Everyone knows that.” It was comfortable to be so close to him, shoulder to shoulder.


I dare you to try to be dainty now.”


We turned back to the table, smushing our marshmallows on top of graham crackers with chocolate. The chocolate melted messily and my fingers were covered with melted Hershey bar when I had finished mine. Leo was equally messy.


Laughing, I said, “Leo, you have some on your face. Where are the napkins?”


We found them and I dabbed at Leo's face. He had a smear on his cheek.


You have some, too,” Leo said. He cradled my face in one large hand, fingers sliding into my hair. “Hold still.” He leaned in and brushed at the corner of my mouth with his thumb, a gentle caress. He was so close. Our eyes met. My stomach made a strange dropping sensation and electricity flashed through me. I quickly pulled away from his grasp and broke eye contact, taking the napkin from him.


I can do that,” I snapped at him. I wiped at my mouth and turned away. “I need to wash my hands.” I fled.


In the bathroom, hot water running over my hands, I looked into the mirror. Something had just happened that I did not want at all. Leo had always been like a brother to me, and he needed to stay that way. I had Ezra. I didn't want this kind of complication. So I got angry. What the hell did Leo think he was doing? The anger pushed that electric feeling away.


I went out to the front porch, intending to watch the trick-or-treaters with Cheryl, to get away from Leo. I rummaged in my pockets for my phone to look at the time. I probably needed to get going anyway. Damn, I must have left my phone in the car. Distracted, I almost bumped into Ted. I asked him for the time. It was only nine o'clock. I had a little while before I needed to go.


Outside, I settled on the front steps next to Cheryl.


What's the best costume so far?” I asked her.


We had a father dressed as a Mormon, complete with bicycle. And Andy,” she gestured inside, “is a d********g. He's got the spout as a sort of helmet.” I had missed that costume. “Did you see Leo? He's Robin Hood. You could be his Maid Marian.”


Annoyed, I replied, “I've got a Robin Hood at home. I don't need Leo Lansing to complete me.” Once that was out of my mouth, I realized I sounded angry and harsh.


Cheryl turned, giving me a piercing look. “Is something up, Cassie?”


I looked away. “I just hate these couple costumes,” I lied. “It makes you seem incomplete without a man. It's sexist.”


Ted and I never do the couple costume thing because we can never agree.”


Yeah, well, I'm not too happy about the Robin Hood-Maid Marian thing, but Ezra insisted. I wanted to go as Rosie the Riveter.”


We talked on about costumes. I had the feeling that Cheryl was not fooled by my distraction, but she let me steer the conversation away from Leo. Not long after I took my leave.


I was concerned when I looked for my phone in my car and didn't find it there either. Damn, I had lost it or I'd left it at home.


When I got back to our apartment and unlocked the door, I found the living room dark. Curious where Ezra could be I followed the light into the kitchen. He was leaning against the far counter with a scotch in his hand. My phone was precisely centered on the kitchen island. To my surprise he hadn't changed into his costume but was still wearing the corduroys and sweater I left him in.


What are you doing calling this Leo guy?” Ezra bit off each word, obviously controlling some kind of anger.


He's a friend. How did you know I called him?”


That woman Cheryl texted you his number and you spoke to him twice.”


How could you know how many times I spoke to him?” I looked at my phone, sitting on the counter perfectly centered. I had not left it like that, I was sure.


Why did you call him?” Ezra repeated, sounding as if he believed he had some right to know the answer to his question.


F**k that, Ezra. Why were you in my phone?”


Good thing I looked, finding you talking to this guy. Is that how you repay me?”


Repay you? Repay you for what, exactly? I didn't know I owed you anything. Why were you looking in my phone?”


You're talking to that man behind my back. After all I've done for you, you're talking to some lowlife scum?”


Don't call Leo scum. And don't change the subject.” I glared at him. “Why were you in my phone?” I separated each word, seething with fury. How could he violate my privacy like that? And I didn't owe him one damn thing. All what he had done for me?


Leo this, Leo that. Go ahead and tell me he doesn't mean anything to you.”


Of course he means something to me. We're friends. And I'll talk to whoever I want. You had no right to be looking in my phone.”


Why were you hiding this from me, Miss Innocent?”


I snatched my phone off the counter and turned my back on him. I refused to be interrogated.


Ezra's heavy whiskey glass went flying past me and shattered against the far wall.


What were you doing talking to him?” he bellowed. I slowly turned, unlocking my phone screen and stabbing in the numbers 9-1-1.


If you don't stop throwing things, I'm calling the police.” My finger hovered over the connect button. “You need to calm down, Ezra.”


He stood there, looking furiously at me, as if trying to prevent himself launching himself at me.


I'm serious, Ezra. You get violent, I'm calling the police.”


He tried to take a deep breath. It didn't work very well, but he was trying. I put my phone in my pocket.


You listen to me, Ezra. There is no good reason for you to violate my privacy like that. There is no reason you can come up with that will ever excuse you for looking in my phone.” He was still looking furious. “Now you need to pay attention to me. I called Leo twice to make plans to meet him in person.”


HA!”


Let me finish. I called him to make plans to talk to him in person about my mother. About my mother. That's what we talked about. We didn't do anything but talk. And you can see I didn't call him again after that. I wanted to see him that one time for a specific reason.”


Ezra finally looked like he was calming down.


But all that aside, I can talk to whoever I want. If I want to talk to a childhood friend, I'll do it and you have no business telling me not to.”


But--”


No. No buts. Who I call is my business. Either you trust me or you don't. Obviously you don't. So you have all the answers you're going to get from me. Why don't you just go to your fancy party. ” I turned and headed for the bedroom, to change out of my costume.



© 2017 SweetNutmeg


Author's Note

SweetNutmeg
Thank you for reading. All comments, big or small are very welcome. I am especially interested in what people think about Leo's intentions and Cassie's reactions to Leo's behavior.

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dump him dump big time this guy needs to go... still very much enjoying this story

Posted 9 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.


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Added on April 25, 2017
Last Updated on October 15, 2017


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