Mr. Stokes walked behind the oak desk in silence as he massaged the mark of an old wound on his forehead. His eyes, obscured by his spectacles, were focused on the items lying upon the flat surface of the desk, though I could tell that he was not seeing any of them. His mind was elsewhere. He did not immediately dismiss my concerns about Aunt Rachel, which was in and of itself worrisome, nor did he discount my lost time or lapse in memory about the previous days’ events, causing a marked increase in my uneasiness about the well-being of my favorite relative and what had transpired during those missing days.
Without a word he pointedly raised his gaze and gestured to the library door while taking his customary seat. I stood from my chair and closed the door, allowing the two of us privacy, although I was certain that Mother would be occupied with the police detectives for a time and would not have the ability to eavesdrop or interrupt us. I walked back to the table and reclaimed my chair waiting for his response.
“I agree with you,” frowned Mr. Stokes.
I was unprepared for his unhindered and simple acquiescence. I expected my tutor to question me or demand that I explain my feelings because it was usual for him to deem them irrelevant or foolish, but he didn’t and that left me unsure of how I should respond. I was elated to have him respect my thoughts without question, but I was also deeply troubled because this time my feelings were in direct relation to the fate of my aunt, someone I cared about and whose continued absence would cause me great distress.
“Something has happened to Rachel,” he said, his voice cracking with unchecked emotion.
“What is it? What happened?”
“I don’t know,” he listlessly shook his head.
I screamed at him in my head, “You don’t know?!”
I was frustrated and he was doing nothing to soothe my worry, instead he was adding to it.
“Something …,” he struggled with his words, “Something isn’t … something isn’t …”
“Something isn’t right, is it?” I jumped in and finished his thought.
I knew what he was attempting to vocalize. It was more of a feeling than an actuality that could be described with mere words. It was a nagging sensation that originated deep in the gut, but was elusive and refused to be identified. It was a frequent companion to me as a child and would possess me whenever I heard the midnight whispers of The Ancestors. I never fully understood what the sensation was, though it created an intrusive imbalance within my reality, throwing everything askew when it manifested and the overwhelming feeling of dread that accompanied it was recognizable even if the root feeling was not.
He nodded, “Something is very wrong.”
“So what do we do? What can we do to make it right again?” I asked him. “We have to do something. We can’t just sit here. She needs us.”
He nodded and stood from his chair. He looked older than I imagined. Was it possible for someone to age years in just days? Mr. Stokes approached the table and sat himself down in the empty chair beside mine. He visually scrutinized me, searching for something, though I was unsure of what we was looking for and I didn’t have the patience to deal with this usual yet still peculiar behavior.
“You know I hate it when you look at me like that,” I snapped, crossing my arms in front of my chest.
“Yes, I’m aware. I apologize,” he said as he removed his glasses and placed them carefully on the table. He rubbed the bridge of his nose and shifted the chair so that he could sit directly facing me. He pointed to his chest. “Who am I?”
“What?” The shift in the conversation caused me serious discomfort. Where was he going with this? “What does your identity have to do with my aunt?”
“Please Angie,” he coaxed. “Just answer the question.”
“Seriously, Mr. Stokes, we don’t have time for this. What we need to be concentrating on is what we are going to do to about Aunt Rachel.”
“Angie, please,” he pleaded. “Who am I to you? To Rachel?”
I shot up from my seat, the anger expanding within me. Why were we wasting time with this? This was ludicrous. I was beginning to question my tutor’s sanity.
“Look, I can’t sit here and talk to you about who you are or who you aren’t when I know something terrible has happened to my aunt. I know she’s not in Europe. I know it,” I explained as an apparition of my cousin appeared next to me. Did Mr. Stokes see him or was he purely a hallucination my mind had conjured solely for me? “And Christian isn’t with his father. All that’s a lie.”
“I know,” he said, grasping my arm and gently pulling me back into my seat.
We sat in stillness for a moment staring into each other’s eyes. I directed my rising anger and frustration towards him determined to bend his will and align it with my own, forcing him to act as I demanded. We had to take immediate action. If Aunt Rachel was in jeopardy then she needed me and I in turn needed Mr. Stokes. He was my natural anchor and battery, allowing me to use my ability to its full potential. We couldn’t waste any more time sitting in the library doing absolutely nothing, other than discussing ridiculous topics such as his true identity.
Wait a minute.
True identity … as opposed to a false identity? My anger was clearly muddying my thoughts, causing me to create situations that weren’t really there so that I had some emotional drama to distract me. Things were becoming disjointed. Something was distorting and fragmenting my thoughts. I closed my eyes. I needed to clear my mind and concentrate on my aunt … my aunt … my Aunt Rachel … but my own words echoed in my head.
I reopened my eyes and repeated aloud, “All that’s a lie.”
I analyzed Mr. Stokes’ face and settled once more on his eyes. His irises were the most intriguing hue of green reminiscent of the jade on Mother’s antique necklace that she often wore at Christmas time. I allowed my essence to fall into the color and withdrew into my center, listening for the whispers that I knew would creep into my head. Usually this happened involuntarily when I experienced what Dr. Worth labeled my “unusual behaviors”, but I intuitively knew I had the ability to make it happen intentionally. I probed Mr. Stokes’ thoughts, seeking out the lie, searching for the deception, but when the whispers came, they were too low for me to hear clearly.
“Who are you?” I asked my tutor, allowing the suspicion to ride my words.
“You know who I am.” He gripped my hands with his and asked, “Tell me. Who am I?”
“I don’t know!” I shouted, yanking free. “I don’t know! I’m tired of your stupid game. We don’t have time for this.”
“This is important,” he stressed, reaching for me. “I know it may not seem like we have time and it might feel like I’m playing some game with you, but I promise you; I’m not.”
“I don’t believe you,” I retorted. But the truth was I did. I believed him. Innately I knew that this conversation was important, but I also felt an overwhelming desire to fight with him so that we wouldn’t engage in this discussion. I didn’t understand why I was feeling defiant. Was it possible that I was afraid of what he would say to me; of what I might learn? My emotions were entwined as I struggled to untangle and comprehend them.
“Yes, you do,” he stated. “I understand that you’re worried for Rachel. I am, too, but we absolutely must have this conversation no matter how challenging it is for you. So, will you please sit back down?”
I reluctantly obeyed.
“Thank you,” he smiled weakly as he held my hands. He took a deep breath and looked at me before asking, “Angie Williams, who am I?”
I would answer his stupid questions, but I would do so unenthusiastically.
“You’re my tutor.”
“Yes,” he nodded. “And?”
“And? Seriously? I don’t know what you want me to say, Mr. Stokes. Do you want me to feed you the lie that you’re a family friend? Because that’s what it is,” I spewed. “It’s fucking bullshit. You may be associated with my family alright, but not every member of my family. Huh? It seems that you fancy just specific women in my family.”
“Yes,” he smiled.
“Why is it you’re fond of me, Mr. Stokes? Is it because I’m young?” I accused. “Well, what about Aunt Rachel? You’re in love with her, aren’t you? Did you love Grandma Kathleen and Great-Grandma Lillian, too? And Great-Great-Grandma Catherine, Carrie, Nellie, Margaret, Elizabeth, Emma, Hannah, Mary Frances, Constance, Mary Elizabeth, Anne, Patience, and Abigail … because all of them … they …”
I realized that as I had spoken each name an image of the woman standing beside a man, who I instinctively knew was Mr. Stokes though he didn’t always look like the man sitting in front of me, flashed through my mind.
He nodded. “Yes, please continue.”
“They were more than friends with you, but not lovers, never lovers,” the information flowed through my mind as if I always possessed it. “You were their trusted confidant, a devoted companion, who … because of a bond …” An image of the foyer filled my mind; the crimson carpet rippled as if it was liquid as it cascaded down the stairs. “… a blood bond … willingly serves, attends, and guards his wi –”