HELLO FRIENDS. I am alive. I am sorry I stopped updating for nearly 3 years. Life has been so busy and my focus has been peeled away from writing. I am very touched by all your messages while I was away and not updating. Sorry to leave you all hanging. I can just imagine the frustration. I'm really thankful for that handful who has never given up on me and this work though. I want to finish this as it's very dear with me but as I reread the first 22 chapters I can't help but be appalled by the quality of the writing. It literally physically hurts! I hope to one day rewrite this so all your input/review will be warmly regarded. Thanks again guys and HOLLA I'M BACK!

The Devil and His Secret

Chapter 23

The dress rehearsal has finished and children are pairing up with their chaperones one by one as they totter about, having passed the backstage door. William has his back against the wall, his arms folded against his chest. I stand across him, watching him politely smile at parents passing by in acknowledgement. As soon as our eyes meet however, the slight upwards curl on his lips turns to a downwards one as he quickly breaks eye contact. He scratches his forehead before quickly turning to another direction, waving slightly at some school personnel. I catch myself gasping once, like a the little girl I was, caught staring by a boy I liked - or something. My head is bowed but I look up through the gaps of the fringe that hung loose on my face, sizing William and convincing myself that can't be the explanation. I grit my teeth and scratch my head, only to stop at the sight of Lucas by the door. He stands in the threshold, his small hands gripping the edge of the doorway as he looks around in silent anticipation. He doesn't see me immediately as throngs of people flood the hallway as the rest of the kids swarm out. But in that crowd, I catch his drooping shoulders lift up as he bite his lip. He runs out, the blazer in his hand fluttering about as he carefully navigating through the crowd to one destination. I follow him with my eyes before finally turning to William's direction only to not find him there.

"That snarky bastard." I breathe down my neck, as I run towards the direction Lucas is headed. "Don't tell me that jerk just ran off." I think to myself as my clenched fist hang on my sides.

Anxiously, I search for Lucas in the crowd only to find myself stopping in my tracks. William has just let go of him after having smooched him on the forehead. Lucas has his back on me but I could see William's face, his eyes glimmering under the fluorescent light. Lines deepen around his eyes and his mouth- the devil is grinning! He is actually smiling with his teeth showing! "The devil's teeth!" I almost yell. It feels like the first time I've seen his pearly whites. He picks Lucas up, flinging him upwards slightly before pulling him towards himself before burying his face on his little boy's bronze hair. I find myself smiling at the sight of them. There is a certain light about the father and son, like a barrier that cannot be trespassed. It just seems rightful to let them experience this moment just between them so I give up my intention of saying hi to Lucas and start heading to the exit.

"He is human." I mumble to myself with a chuckle that falls flat. I shake my head but I'm not exactly sure if I was shaking it because of denial or shaking it because I may have just been proven wrong. After all, all this while, I have instilled it within me that he is something... else. Untouchable. Different.

Just as I'm about to exit through Dalton's main doors, I feel my phone vibrate in my coat's pocket. I shove my hand deep in it, feeling for my phone. I'm not expecting any call and I don't think I have any appointments to attend to so this is new. I shrug my shoulders as I fish it out. The phone feels cold in my hand as I turn it over curious to see the caller only to find an unknown number. I move to a corner, leaning on my side with my eyes on the door before I answer the call.

"Hello?" I say.

There is no answer.

"Hello? He-"

"Samantha? Meester?" The voice is coarse, deep and very familiar.

"Yeah. It's me. Who am I spea-"

"Oh, brilliant. That's great." An evident sigh of relief reverberates through the line. "It's me, Eric."

"Eric?" I wonder for a moment before it strikes me, immediately making my knees wobble at the realisation. "Mr. Cunningham?" I mutter. Of course, that accent!

"Are you still there?" He chuckles, "It's me, Eric Cunningham. And oh no, I hope I'm not scaring you off. I'm not some stalker." He chuckles again, "I got your number from, well, people."

My mind is literally blank. My mouth is open but no word is coming out. For a moment there is only silence between us which he eventually breaks.

"You're not buying it is it. Ha. Alright, I've gotta come clean right here." The deep breath he takes muffles the sound in my ear. "I searched the company's database I'm sorry!"

I smile, and I feel my cheeks tingle as I reply with a laugh. "What made you call? The only reason I can think of is that you're lost without your car and with just your credit cards and no bus card home."

We both laugh and I almost tremble from nervousness and excitement. Eric Cunningham called me and to do that, he actually searched for my number. He wanted to call me!

"Well, I'll know who to call if I ever find myself in that situation." He snickers before continuing, "but no, I'm calling with a less dismal reason."

I nod but I realize that that doesn't work when you're in a phone conversation because the person on the line can't see you. "Uh-huh..."

"This is a long shot but I was just wondering if you're free. Right now." he says, right now coming rapidly afterwards. I bite my lip, still unable to accept all these is happening right now for real.

"Actually, I'm with Louise now. You remember her? She thought it would be fantastic to have you over."

My air passageway somehow suddenly feels narrower as I let out an unnecessarily high pitched reply, "Oh yeah, of course. Louise, haahaaa."

I could hear Louise's ruffled voice in the background, Eric's voice is ruffled too as they banter. "I would love it if you come over Samantha but it's really Eric who-" It's suddenly Louise' s voice on the phone only to revert back to Eric who collects himself, "Sorry about that. She's... Alright, never mind that. So what do you say? Would you fancy meeting us for some drinks tonight?" A low chuckle follows his question, almost nervously before he adds, "It would be absolutely lovely if you could."

I swear Bohemian Rhapsody just started playing and I'm not sure if I'm surrounded by a live band performing it singing, "Is this the real life or is this fantasy?" My heart has been palpitating like crazy but it somehow feels like it has stopped in that a split second when I finally processed everything and mustered the courage to say almost too eagerly, "yes!"

The place has a subtle air of intimate elegance and I stick out like a sore thumb dressed in my shabby, old houndstooth patterned jacquard dress. The gilded walls give off a golden glow along with the shimmering of the crystals that hung from the numerous intricately designed, dimly lit chandeliers and it only makes me feel even more like the dullest person in the room. Opposite the table is Eric and Louise who are huddled on the menu as they help me order because the only thing I could understand in the menu was 'escargot."

"Hope you like seafood because the Moules Marinières here is impeccable." Eric says with a wide smile as he takes the wine glass on my side of the table. He fills it with white wine. "Here you go." Our fingers brush as I take the glass by the stem and I am so glad I did not explode in to butterflies or worse, drop the glass and completely embarrass myself. As if I'm not embarrassed enough!

Louise props her chin on her hand that twists precariously on her delicate wrist as she ogles at me with her bright, brown eyes, watching me nervously sip the wine and nearly choke at the realization she's staring at me. "Slow down Sam!" She laughs, setting her lashes aflutter. I chuckle in reply as she scoots near me, personally dabbing the wine off my lips with a napkin. Her face is inches from mine and I examine her features briefly and then there it goes, I feel a punch in my gut when I begin seeing Lucas' face in Louise. They have the same eyes, the same warm, wide brown eyes laced with thick, long lashes - nothing like William's cold, blue almond eyes. For a moment I seem to have forgotten the weight of the situation I have somehow managed to entangle myself into. I am basically conniving with William against her. I am helping him keep her son away from her and I don't even know why. What could be so unimaginably horrible about letting her reunite with Lucas?

"Sam, are you okay?" Eric almost rises from his seat but I immediately snap out of it. I must have looked horrible, I was chewing on my lip with furrowed brows. "Huh, what? Uh, I'm great! Oh my god, moul-molest, uh, mou. That thing! Yay! I can't wait to eat that thing!"

Shit, I'm standing and my arms are in the air, flailing, and the patrons' eyes are on me before they turn away in hushed conversations. Well done. Not even 10 minutes in and I've already outrightly proved that I do not belong here. I look around apologetically waving slightly as I say sorry.

As I sat down, a laughter erupts from deep within Eric, Louise looks at him with surprise before joining in, "You're a star." Eric says, calming down and looking into my eyes, "the only one in all of New York." He shrugs his shoulder, "Probably in all of America."

I had to look at the cushion of my chair to make sure it wasn't on fire because I feel like a firework lighted up. Eric Cunningham called me a star! Not really sure what that exactly means but stars are great, whether its the people type or the gas type, I guess.

"To tell you the truth, I've really been trying to muster the courage to ask you out again. You couldn't come the last time and I was so worried you'd say no again when I called tonight." Eric suddenly says garnering a pat on the back from Louise.

"No, I would never!" I reply, "Something came up last time." I almost grit my teeth as I remember William disregarding my previous plans and dragging me to his office just to interrogate me about this wonderful man before me. "I'm really sorry about that. I'm really happy you asked me to come tonight." I nervously smile at them both before focusing my attention on the wine as I proudly think to myself: Oh my God. For the first time, I think I didn't sound like a llama trying to talk to Eric!

The dishes come and they all eagerly tuck in. I dare not touch the ones with ingredients that I can't recognize so I end up just eating the mussels and some chicken leg.

"We're really happy you could come. Louise really wanted to see you too, maybe eve as much as I wanted to." Eric says, stealing a glance at me as he sliced a piece of steak that looks so raw I swear it's still alive.

Louise tucks her short hair behind her ear as she slurps some soup. She immediately nods, looking at me. "You're one of the most genuine and quirky personalities I have met here so far." She dabs a napkin on her lips, "And that's really refreshing to be honest. You've already made it to my New York scrapbook." She giggles like a little girl and I smile, remembering our first meeting and how she asked if she could keep my $2 handkerchief.

"It's a change really. Everyday I meet people who take me so seriously and people who expect me to take them very seriously." She continues as she stirs her soup.

"Aw. Don't say that. You're the most down to earth person I've met, seriously. And it sucks that people don't even give you a chance." I continue talking as I pick the meat off the mussel's shell in deep concentration when it hit me how casually I am taking this meal and conversation with loyalty. The meat flies off and skids on the floor with only me and a nearby waiter as witness. I quickly gather my bearings, pretending nothing has happened as I add, "Being royal must be tough."

She looks at me warmly, "You're the sweetest thing. Well, I guess that's what I should expect when I'm meeting lawye-"

"Louise." Eric haphazardly drops his steak knife and puts a hand on Louise's arm making her stop mid-sentence to look at him. It is so sudden I find myself frozen as I watch him turn to Louise whose jaw slackens. His grip seems so tight on her arm but it loosens as a crooked smile forms on his lips just as his eyes widen. "I, I just remembered the name of that bakeshop you've been dying to visit." Eric laughs, "I've been trying to remember it for the longest time!" He laughs as he turns to me, "Sorry to interrupt."

Louise's expression darkens as she seem to understand what Eric has just remembered. They break eye contact and she settles down with a heave of a sigh, "Yeah. Yes, of course. That's great."

"It's Carlos'." Eric says as he picks up where he left off. "Have you been?"

I shake my head, "No, but I've seen his show. Cake Boss. He's amazing." Louise is looking at her soup blankly.

These two are hiding something and I want to find out not because William has "successfully" brainwashed me into his minion but because I have a bad feeling it concerns Lucas. Oh Sam, you're jumping right into the mouth of these lions - fancy lions.

"So... anyway, how did you two meet?" I ask meekly, trying to sound as unperturbed by the fact that Eric just obviously stopped Louise from divulging some sensitive information.

He takes a sip of wine before answering, "It's a long story." He shakes his head.

Louise nervously reaches for her glass. "Yeah. We have a long history. Family friends." She replies, taking a long sip from her glass.

"Family friends?" I ask, as I pretend to be interested on the unidentifiable object on my plate. "Eric, you're royalty too?"

He looks unprepared by Louise's response but he smiles and tackles it in a gentlemanly manner, "I guess you could say that." He turns his attention to Louise, "She and William, they were once together." He turns his attention to me, "You know him - my brother."

Just like what Hayden had told me. My heart sinks but I can only nod my head. I can tell that Louise can feel the weight of Eric's stare on her but she doesn't return his gaze.

"Is that what brings you here then?" I ask, just to get rid of the heavy atmosphere only to realize that I have dug deeper into past scars with that question. "Oh, no. If it's too personal, you don't have to..."

Louise gives me a reassuring smile, "We're here as friends. Don't worry about it. It's in the past. It's over. I'm just here for some... some business to take care of."

"What was William thinking letting you go though? That man's out of his mind." And I mean that sincerely. The woman before me is faultless. All night, I couldn't find anything to dislike about her. If they get back together, there won't even be any need to fight over Lucas.

Eric seems to agree with a tilt of his head and a smirk but he says nothing.

"He's a jerk. He works everyone to death and I sometimes wonder if he has titanium plates for a heart..." I go on and the two of them smile, but Louise's one looks nostalgic. As I look at her, I think to myself that maybe, she is better off without him. With his sarcasm, unfeeling and tactless attitude, Louise can definitely do better. But then, William do have his moments just like tonight, at Dalton. It made me realize how incompetent my knowledge is of these two people to take sides and its unfair to both of them. I don't have the right to get myself angled in their affairs and unravel their pasts that only they shared.

My acting has always been terrible but I take my chances. I take one last sip of the wine before looking at my watch and exclaiming, "Look at the time!" It literally read 9:02 but I rise from my seat and grab my bag, "I'm sorry I have to go, I have like this jogging thing to do early tomorrow."

Eric looks at me curiously almost innocent of the lie I am making with my bad acting. "In the snow?" He asks.

"Uh... yeah. Less traction, more action!" I smile as I make hand gestures with my thumbs up. "I'm really sorry. I had a great time. Thanks for having me." I ramble on as I open my wallet only to find my last $50 bill. I hesitantly pull it out and put it on the table. "This is all I have with me right now, if it costs more, please, please let me know. I'll pay you back for sure."

Eric pushes my hand away as I try to put the bill down. "Oh Samantha, no. No, don't do that. I asked you out. It's on me."

I bite my lip, looking at him and Louise who is looking very confused but tries to politely not show it. "No, take it. You two catch up well, yeah. Maybe we can all go to Jersey and I don't know, buy some bread from Carlos' some other time." My brain has ceased to process what comes out of my mouth so I quickly dash for the exit, not looking back.

This is a mess. You're a mess Samantha. I tell myself.