CHAPTER XXI: CONCEALED
The day of my father's seventh death anniversary passed in profound monotony and silence. It had been two years since I turned my back on Sparrowick and started my new life as a florist's assistant in London. The year after the revelatory events of that fateful Halloween were followed by a year of intensive and extensive therapy during which all my lost memories decided to return home, regardless of whether I wanted it. After that I decided I needed a refreshing change of pace and what better than to work around aromatic, beautiful flowers? There was nothing like a delicate orange lily to stave off the memory of Lyle Parker, dangling a bloodthirsty knife over me. There was nothing like the elegance of a rose to help me forget Lillian's cruel smile under the midnight blue sky. And there was not a single thing like a gleeful daffodil to help me stop thinking about the true circumstances behind my father's death.
As a nineteen year old woman I hoped I had grown up from the insecure hummingbird that lived in Sparrowick under her mother's ample wings. I was pretty sure I had – not many little girls can lift twenty pound bags of fertiliser like me. If I've had Horlicks that morning I can sometimes lift up to thirty pounds. This weight training was actually my secret weapon if ever Lyle had the guts to show up around these parts. Most girls daydream about meeting Prince Charming or living a fabulous life as an actress. I tended to dream about clobbering Lyle with bags of cow manure. I'd save the horse droppings for Lillian.
I had little to fear however. Last I heard Lillian was comfortably roosting on her throne in Sparrowick Castle. And obviously Lyle was being detained after they had found extremely incriminating evidence against him. At last he was where he belonged – jail. I could carry on living my carefree life as a florist's assistant, and one day, when I had learned enough, I would start my own branch. People would sail across the seven seas to get a peek at my prize-winning orchids.
The bell rang heralding the arrival of a customer.
"Good morning, Sir! How can I help you? Looking for a present for a loved one?" I asked cheerfully.
The customer looked over his shoulder once, and then slowly walked in.
I stared at him, willing him to give me details but my telepathic abilities failed me.
"What type of bouquet would you like?" I finally asked. I tried ignoring the extremely shady persona he was exuding. He wore sunglasses darker than coal, which was weird seeing as the clouds above were pregnant with precipitation. His silky black hair covered his entire face, and he wore a bowler hat. Something about his voice irked me, but I couldn't place my finger on what. Either way, he was a customer, and I had to treat him with the politeness of kings. It just seemed like instead of blending into a crowd, which was obviously his intention, he stood out.
"That scar on your neck looks painful," he replied.
"I'm afraid I'm not familiar with that flower arrangement pattern," I replied, pretty much baffled. Especially since I had taken to wearing turtlenecks since two years ago. It hid the disfigurations that decorated my throat region.
"Oh...never mind then. Could I get some azeleas?" he said, in almost a whisper. He looked over his shoulder again, directing a gaze towards the door. Huh. One would think he was on the run or something.
Azaleas have always been a favourite of mine. They tend to be a lovely, non-ostentatious dark pink. Not to mention my father named them after me. Or was it the other way around? Sometimes I overestimate my self-importance...
"Azaleas are a wonderful choice. We just got a fresh crop in. They go amazingly well with poppies. Shall I add some?" I asked in my professional and hopefully-not-too-douchey voice.
The stranger looked into my eyes. I like to think he did; he was wearing sunglasses so I did not want to imagine where else he'd be looking. "Yes, of course. Whatever you like. Might I suggest some turnips to go with it? Or perhaps...poison ivy?"
I liked this customer less and less. I wished him out of my shop, but unfortunately I'm not in an Enid Blyton novel so he remained there like a statue superglued to the floor. Perhaps this bloke had taken rudeness lessons from the ex-nineteenth Earl of Sparrowick, aka Lyle. Lucky for me however, Lyle was stuck behind bars of the highest security possible. Lucky for society that father-killers are not generally permitted to roam the streets. Even Lyle, who is known to turn into a werewolf at night, couldn't escape Her Majesty's prison.
"Please excuse me. It's my...tourettes acting up," the stranger apologised.
My heart immediately softened, although I have to admit that was the strangest expression of Tourrettes' Syndrome I had ever come across. Maybe there was a special branch of the illness dedicated to talking about poisonous weeds?
"No problem sir. Here, your bouquet is done. That will be £40 please." Yes, we charge exorbitant amounts simply because we are located in the poshest part of London, Chelsea. If that's not our minimum charge most of our customers get suspicious.
The man in the trench coat and bowler hat threw a wad of notes at me. "Can I add a letter to the bouquet?"
"Yes." I pointed to the note paper and envelopes on the nearby counter.
"Excellent," he said once he was done writing. "Please have this bouquet delivered to the name on the envelope. I have to run," the customer said, leaving the door open on his way out.
"But sir, we don't do deliveries...!" It was too late. By the time I reached the door, he had clean disappeared.
I sighed and went back to the counter. I was quite pleased with my work with the flowers. It was not award winning, but it was cute, and I'm sure it would have made some homely girl very happy. I glanced at the envelope addressed to a lucky girl called Azelea Dupont. The name sounded familiar, and I wondered what the girl would think when she never received her gift.
I need not have wondered too much.
It was my name.
Some weirdo had just enticed me into making a bouquet and pretty much giving it to myself. Many girls would call the gesture romantic; I say he's a lazy ass. It sounded like something Lyle Parker would do, but obviously being in jail sort of limits his capabilities.
Was it the homeless dude who sometimes follows me from the Underground station? But where would he get that sort of money from? And why would he waste it on perishable items? I decided to open the envelope to get more clues. The penmanship was painfully familiar, and this is what it read:
"My dear Lea,
I'm glad to see that even after two years you are as stupid as ever. You should know there is nothing I can't do. Prison bars are like liquorish in front of me. I can make the impossible seem like child's play. I'll show you an example: Right now, there is no place for me in your heart, but I will make you fall in love with me again. I have come to terms with what happened in the past. You should too. We've always made a good team, and why should one murder get in the way of that?"
It took me the better part of ten minutes to calm myself enough to read the rest of the letter, a sharp weapon disguised as an epistle. My relationship with Lyle has always been murky and distasteful – he was a neighbour, a childhood bully and a sadistic friend who had possibly been more. Not to mention the man killed my father. I could add one more item to the list. Backstabbing villain.
" – why should one murder get in the way of that, especially since I never did it? It is so easy to set a twelve-year old boy up, make him the scapegoat when the true plan is more complex and insidious than you can ever imagine. I need you to help me prove my innocence.
"Lillian will be hosting an afternoon tea party. You will receive an invitation. Do not go. That is all. I shall come for you soon.
Forever in your mind,
I was not going to fall for any more of Lyle's psychological traps. I broke away from Lyle's spell two years ago, and it would remain that way. Murderers tend to be liars too.
The next day, the postman did arrive with some mail, and its address was from Sparrowick Castle, recently taken over by Lillian's delightful family. The floral envelope piqued my interest, though most people would have found the bright blue and orange flowers distasteful. I cut it open with my finger, and read the printed note:
I would be honoured if you could grace us with your presence at a simple tea party I am hosting at Sparrowick Castle on the afternoon of the 10th of April. Please RSVP by contacting my secretary.
Lillian Desai (XIXth Countess of Sparrowick)"
Below, in handwriting that could have passed for Chinese characters, I read:
"PS: If you don't come I will hunt you down with a pickaxe" (although it could easily have read potato, I couldn't quite decipher the chicken scratch).
I realised that my first test as an independent adult had arrived. If I didn't go, I would be trusting Lyle and probably missing out on some awesome shortbread. But if I did, I'd have to confront Lillian, a girl I had grown to hate, being messenger of the news that overturned my life.
Some choices are difficult to make, and one may spend up to twenty-four hours mulling over the right thing to do, losing sleep and sanity in the process. Fortunately, where shortbread is concerned, the decision makes itself. It was time I returned to Sparrowick. But not in the way everyone expected. It occurred to me that there might be a third option, and ironically enough it was Lyle who gave me the idea with that ridiculous costume he wore today.
I would go in disguise.
Update! You can shoot me now, or later. But I deserve to be shot for leaving this so late :(
BUT before you shoot, please please leave a review! If you are feeling a little lethargic, no worries - just leave the word 'Ghoul' in your review and I will understand :D
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