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Chapter no 24

Hidden Pictures

“Is that Mallory?” “Yes?”

“Hi, this is Jalissa Bell at Rest Haven Akron. You called here yesterday for Mrs. Campbell?”

“Right, can I speak with her?”

“Well, it’s complicated. I could put Mrs. Campbell on the phone, but you wouldn’t have much of a conversation. She has late-stage dementia. I’ve been her caregiver three years and most mornings she won’t recognize me. I really doubt she can answer your questions.”

“I just need some basic information. Is there a chance you know her mother’s name?”

“I’m sorry, hon, I don’t. But even if I did, I wouldn’t be able to tell you.”

“Has she ever mentioned an inheritance? Receiving a large sum of money from an Aunt Jean?”

She laughs. “Now that’s something I definitely couldn’t tell you. There’s privacy laws! I’d lose my job.”

“Of course. I’m sorry.”

I guess she can hear the desperation in my voice, because she offers a compromise: “We have visiting hours tomorrow, noon to four. If you really want to talk to Mrs. Campbell, you can stop by, and I’ll introduce you. Visitors are good for the patients. It keeps their brains active, gets those neurons firing. Just don’t come with high expectations, okay?”

I thank her for her time and hang up. Akron is a good six hours away and I only have tonight and tomorrow to convince the Maxwells that I’m telling the truth. I explain everything to Adrian and he agrees that I shouldn’t waste any time chasing down long shots.

If there’s a solution to my problem, I’m going to have to find it right here in Spring Brook.

 

 

At the end of the day, we walk into town to the Bistro, a small sit-down restaurant that serves all the same food that you’d get in a good Jersey diner, but there’s soft interior lighting, a full bar, and a jazz trio, so everything costs twice as much as you’d expect. And then after dinner we walk aimlessly around the neighborhood because neither of us is ready to call it a night. Adrian insists he’ll come visit me in Norristown, and he says of course I’m welcome to hang out in Spring Brook as much as I want. But I know it’s going to feel different without the job—I’ll feel like an outsider, like I don’t belong here anymore. I just wish there was some way to convince the Maxwells I was telling the truth.

Adrian takes my hand and squeezes it.

“Maybe there will be new pictures when we get back to the cottage,” he says. “New clues to help us make sense of everything.”

But with Teddy away at the beach all day, I think it’s unlikely. “Anya can’t draw on her own,” I remind him. “She needs hands. She needs to work through a medium.”

“Then maybe you should volunteer. Give her a chance to finish the sequence.”

“How would that work?”

“We go back to your cottage, you close your eyes, and invite her to take over. It worked yesterday, didn’t it?”

Just thinking about the episode in the den makes me shiver. “That’s not something I’m anxious to experience

again.”

“I’ll sit nearby and make sure you’re safe.” “You want to watch me sleep?”

He laughs. “If you put it like that, it sounds creepy. I’m offering to stay and make sure you’re okay.”

I don’t really love the idea, but it’s getting late and I’m running out of options. Adrian seems convinced there’s one or more pictures missing from the sequence—and with Teddy away for the whole day, someone needs to volunteer their time and hands, so Anya can finish telling her story.

“What if I fall asleep and nothing happens?”

“I could wait an hour and slip out the door. Or if you prefer I could—” He shrugs. “I could stay until morning.”

“I don’t want to sleep with you tonight. It’s too soon.”

“I know, Mallory. I just want to help. I’ll crash on your floor.”

“Plus I’m not allowed to have overnight guests. It’s one of the House Rules.”

“But you’ve already been fired,” Adrian reminds me. “I don’t think we need to play by their rules anymore.”

 

 

We stop at Walgreens so Adrian can pick up a toothbrush. The store has a tiny stationery section so we also pick up a sketch pad, a box of pencils, and a thick Sharpie marker. Maybe it’s not everything that Anya would prefer, but she’ll have to make do.

We arrive at the cottage, and I feel obligated to give Adrian a tour, which takes all of three seconds.

“This is nice,” he says.

“I know. I’m going to miss it.”

“Don’t give up hope yet. I think this plan has a good chance of working.”

I put on some music and then we spend a good hour talking, because what we’re about to attempt feels so

awkward. If I’d brought Adrian home to sleep with him, I’d know exactly what to do. But instead we’re getting ready to do something that feels even more intimate and personal.

By midnight I’ve finally built up the courage to go to bed. I go into the bathroom and change into soft gym shorts and an old Central High T-shirt. I floss and brush my teeth, I wash my face and put on moisturizer. And then I hesitate before opening the door because I feel a little silly, like I’m presenting myself in my underwear. I wish I had nicer pajamas, something prettier than a tattered high school T-shirt with little holes all around the neck.

When I exit the bathroom, I see that Adrian has already turned down the covers for me. All the lights are off except for a small lamp beside the bed. The sketch pad and pencils are on the nightstand—within easy reach if I’m seized by inspiration, or something else.

Adrian is standing in the kitchen with his back to me, reaching into the refrigerator for a can of seltzer. He doesn’t notice me until I’m standing right behind him. “I think I’m ready.”

He turns around and smiles. “You look ready.” “I hope this isn’t too boring for you.”

He shows me his phone. “I’ve got Call of Duty Mobile. I’ll be rescuing hostages in Uzbekistan.”

I stand on my tiptoes and give him a kiss. “Good night.” “Good luck,” he says.

I get into bed and get under the covers, and Adrian settles into a chair at the far end of the cottage. With the ceiling fan spinning and the noisy crickets chirping outside my window, I’m barely aware of Adrian’s presence. I turn on my side and face the wall. After two long and exhausting days, I realize I’m not going to have any trouble falling asleep. As soon as I rest my face on my pillow, I feel all my stress ebbing away; I feel my muscles relaxing, my body letting go. And even with Adrian just a few feet away, it’s

the first night in a long time when I don’t feel like I’m being watched.

I remember only one of my dreams. I’m in the Enchanted Forest, lying on a path of hard-packed earth and looking up at the black night sky. My legs are off the ground. A shadowy figure is pulling me by the ankles, dragging my body through a bed of dry leaves. My arms are raised up and over my head. I can feel my fingers grazing past rocks and roots but I’m unable to grasp them; it’s like I’m paralyzed and I’m unable to stop what’s happening.

And then I’m looking up from the bottom of a hole; it’s like I’ve fallen to the bottom of a well. My body has been twisted into a pretzel. My left arm is pinned beneath my back and my legs are splayed wide open. I know it ought to hurt more than it does, but somehow I’m in my body and out of my body at the same time. High above me, there’s a man looking down into the hole. Something soft and small strikes my chest. It falls away and I see that it’s a toy, a child’s stuffed bunny rabbit. It’s followed by a stuffed bear and a small plastic ball. “I’m sorry,” the man says, and his voice sounds hollow, like he’s talking underwater. “I am so, so sorry.”

Then my face is struck by a clod of dirt. I can hear the soft chop of a shovel spearing into a mound of earth—and then more dirt and rocks fall down upon me. I hear the man grunting; I can feel weight accumulating on my chest, the growing pressure on my body, and then I can’t see anymore. It’s just blackness.

Then I try to open my eyes, and I’m back in my cottage. The lights are off and the tiny clock on my nightstand says 3:03. I’m lying in bed, clutching a pencil with a broken point. Even in the darkness, I can see that my kitchen chairs are empty; I can only assume that Adrian got tired of waiting for something to happen, and he went home.

I get up to make sure the door is locked. I lift back the sheets and swing my legs out of bed, and only then do I see

a bare-chested Adrian sleeping on my floor, lying parallel to my bed, using the crook of his arm and his balled-up shirt as a pillow.

I reach down and gently shake his shoulder. “Hey.” Instantly, he sits up. “What’s wrong?”

“Did it work? Did I draw anything?”

“Well, yes and no.” He switches on the tiny lamp, then opens the sketch pad to reveal the first page. It’s nearly covered in scribbles; the surface of the paper has been obliterated with graphite. There are just two small patches of white—two places where the pencil point gouged through the paper, revealing the blank page underneath.

 

 

“It was just past one o’clock,” Adrian explains. “You’d been asleep for an hour or so. I was getting ready to give up and go to bed. So I turned off the lights and lay down on the floor. And then I heard you turn over and reach for the pad. You didn’t even sit up. You drew this lying down in the dark.”

“It’s not much of a picture.”

“Maybe Anya’s telling us she’s finished. There are no more pictures. We already have everything we need.”

But this can’t be right. Something is still missing, I’m sure of it. “I dreamed I was at the bottom of a hole. A man was shoveling dirt on top of me. Maybe this picture is the dirt.”

“Maybe, but how would that help us? What do we learn from a picture of dirt?”

I stand up to get the rest of the drawings. I want to spread them out on the floor and see how the all-black scribbles might fit into the sequence. Adrian pleads with me to get some sleep. “You need to rest, Mallory. Tomorrow’s our last chance to figure this out. Just go to bed.”

He reshapes his T-shirt into the world’s saddest pillow and lies back on the hardwood floor. He closes his eyes and I stop thinking about Anya just long enough to register his upper body. He’s tan and toned all over, the natural by-product of working outdoors all summer. I could probably bounce a quarter off his stomach. He’s been kind and supportive and he might have the best physique I’ve ever seen on a man, and like a dummy I’ve made him sleep on the floor.

Adrian opens his eyes and realizes I’m still staring at him. “Can you turn off the light?”

I reach down, skim my fingers across his chest, and take his hand. “Okay,” I tell him. “But first I want you to come up here.”

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