Chapter Twenty Three

After the Story was Over

I sat on Emi's impeccable couch watching the wind swirl snowflakes against the panes of her living room window. Emi was in the kitchen fussing with a tissue for Paisley's runny nose. Evander wasn't home and truth be told, I had no idea what I was doing there. I assumed it was babysitting, but something about the way Emi was dressed said that might not be it. She usually looked like she was on her way to a Victorian funeral. As far as I knew, she didn't own casual clothes. But that evening, she wore yoga pants and an elegant sweater (still black) but comfortable looking. The startling part was the bright orange fluffy slippers she wore peeking out from under the hem of her pants.

After she got Paisley all sorted out, Emi plopped her daughter on the living room carpet, dumped out a basket full of baby toys in front of her, and sat herself cross-legged on the floor.

"Thanks for coming," she said breathlessly. I noticed her lipstick was still flawless. Apparently, some things just couldn't be downgraded.

"I'm not babysitting, am I?"

"No," she said, making her lips a perfect O. "I invited you here to have a good chat while Evander and Vincent are away."

Evander and Vincent had gone to Vancouver. Apparently, Evander was going there to get the remainder of his belongings. He had come to Edmonton with practically nothing; just his clothes and his art supplies. He went back to pick up the rest. He was going to move on with a new and different life.

"I got a call from Vincent and they should be home sometime this evening," Emi continued. "I thought you might like to hang out with me and have the added fun of being here when they get back."

I glared at her playfully. "You just want me to calm Evander down if he's a basket case after seeing Reg."

She smiled. "Nah. He's fine. I talked to him on the phone last night. He was perfectly all right. Vincent said Evander went into his old room and went through all his old possessions. He ended up throwing away most things. Most things don't matter much in the long run anyway. He picked up the family albums and pictures of Autiny which was the whole point of the trip."

"I thought the point of the trip was letting Reg know he wasn't coming back home to live—ever."

"Reg doesn't need to be told. Nothing makes a dent with him anyway and if you say things only to hurt him, you'll be disappointed. So many things that happened to him should have broken him—should have made him hit rock-bottom. But, he likes trapping people. He likes being the rock and the hard place that make a person miserable. It doesn't matter if it's his mistress, his wife, or his son. He's perfectly happy making anyone wretched, no matter who they are. That's just the kind of guy he is. Your pain, his pleasure. You know, he didn't even know about Evander's mad scribbles on the wall until after I took Evander away. That's the real reason he brought Laurie and the kids here on Remembrance Day. Reg saw it and suddenly he had to see his son. He likes being where the drama is."

"And he'll never change?" I asked woefully.

"Probably not." Emi picked up a stuffed elephant and gave it to Paisley, who immediately shoved it in her mouth. "Enough about Reg. The only way to beat him is to forget about him."

I let it go. I didn't want to talk about him either. "So," I said slyly. "What about you?"

"What about me?"

"You're a witch?"

Emi rolled her eyes. "It's not a big deal."

I bit my tongue and waited for her to elaborate, but the seconds passed and the silence prevailed. Finally, I said what I had been waiting for a chance to say. "I know you told me you've been bound to silence, but is there anything you can tell me? Anything at all? It could be tiny. Anything?"

Emi chuckled. "You're adorable, Sarah, but there isn't really anything to say. Miracles happen for people who want miracles, people who think they can happen. Do you know what I'm saying? People perform miracles when they're willing to open their eyes and their hearts and decide it isn't too much trouble trying to make another person's dreams come true. Which means?"

"That the miracle wasn't the book," I said slowly because I could tell Emi expected it.

"Right. The real miracle was that you cared for Evander enough to break his misconceptions. I may have noticed his pain and your love, but I was merely giving you the opportunity to show what you felt. If I had just given you a copy of his blue paperback without any magic, you could have read it, then stormed into his room and told him he was being an idiot. That may have worked just as well as what I did."

"Really? I don't think so," I retorted.

Emi smiled patiently. "What I mean to say is that the next time you're in a bind whether it's with Evander or someone else, you're going to have to figure out a way to solve the problem yourself. I just hope the experience you had within his book will give you the courage to know you can handle anything."

I frowned and said critically, "Emi, I wouldn't expect you to help me with your magic. You didn't bail me out of trouble. You threw me headfirst into trouble."

"Right!" she said enthusiastically. "So remember that magic is a force to be reckoned with. Even when it's doing what it's supposed to; it doesn't make things easier. It's difficult, but don't you feel that in the case of you and Evander the end justified the means?"

"I did suffer a lot, especially my burnt feet, but I never imagined that a man could be as kind to me as Evander. He treats me like a treasure."

"You are a treasure," Emi said factually.

"Oh, stop it," I scoffed. "But there is one thing I wanted to ask you about the book. Can anyone else live through it like I did? If another girl picked it up and started reading, would it drag her into it?"

"No. It was meant for you. You were the only person who could live in it and make the book say what you did and how you thought. Even if your sister had picked it up before you read one sentence and gave it a go, nothing would have happened. She would have just read it the way Evander wrote it. Now it's finished! It will always tell your story. That way Evander can go back and read it over and over again."

"Thank you, Emi," I said, choking down my gratitude with teenage awkwardness. She would never know how much it meant to me.

"Why? Were you worried someone else might read it and snatch Evander away from you?"

I scratched my nose. "A bit."

"That's cute," Emi smirked.

"There's something else," I said shyly. "Do you think Evander will actually move into my building?"

"No. I think he just said that to Reg to try to freak him out. Of course, it didn't work. Why are you asking? Does Evander live too far away from you now you're used to sleeping in his bed, under his bed, or down the hall?" she asked with a laugh.

I colored. I should have realized that Emi knew all about my adventures in Evander's book. "He's fine where he is."

"Good. I like having him around. You know, he's very helpful."

"I'm not sure I've seen him help," I grunted.

"Are you kidding? He's always willing to run to the store for me. I love it."

"Why does that matter?"

"I hate shopping. More than anything! I hate shopping."

I was baffled. A beautiful, polished woman hated shopping. There was always something new and weird to discover about everyone.

Vincent and Evander showed up a little after ten that night. I watched Evander come in through the backdoor, letting in the cold air, and carting a huge cardboard box. He shook the fallen snow off his head and shot me the most dazzling smile.

"Hi," I said shyly. He acted shy, too. Vincent was two steps behind him, dropping bags haphazardly on his way to reach Emi.

For a moment, my meeting with Evander was eclipsed by Vincent and Emi. He did not kiss her, but held her tightly, like she was his life preserver. How did he handle leaving her all the time for business? Then Emi took him by the hand and led him off to their daughter's room to see Paisley.

It took a minute for Evander and me to get comfortable talking again, but wonder of wonders—Evander took the lead.

"Were you that worried about me? You've got lines on your forehead," he pointed out playfully.

"Yeah, I was pretty worried," I said as I smoothed them out.

"Don't be. I've got the goods." He took me into the living room, threw open the box flaps, and showed me what was worth going all the way to Vancouver. There were the photo albums, which I expected, and his mother's black and pink floral print dress.

"That's the one that belonged to your mother?"

"Yeah," he said. "Is it really ugly?"

I picked it up and shook it out. It smelt recently washed with vanilla-scented detergent. I held the fabric into my face and got a good breath. "Did Laurie wash this for you?"

"How did you know?"

"I know everything!" I said cockily.

He chuckled. "Apparently, you do."

"How is she?"

"She's sorry. Before I left, she sat me down in the dining room and told me how she ended up with Reg."

"How?"

"She said when she first started seeing him, she didn't know he was married. He took her on a romantic date, apparently with a boat ride and the setting sun, or something equally as impressive to a lonely, isolated girl. She slept with him, woke up alone, and then it's the same old story. He didn't phone her and she tried to get in touch with him, but he wouldn't return her calls until he found out she was pregnant. He didn't believe the baby was his and wouldn't see her or help her. It was then she found out he was married."

"How did they end up together with that kind of story?"

"It's simple. He didn't fall in love with her. He fell in love with Sebastian. Sebastian looks more like him than I do. He has the same daredevil personality. Even now, if Laurie left Reg, Sebastian wouldn't leave with her. He'd stay with his dad."

"They're that attached to each other?"

"Yeah, and when Sebastian was little, Reg would stay over at Laurie's apartment just to see Sebastian in the morning before work. That's how they had Brody. He was practically living with them, so Laurie thought he really would leave his wife... and eventually, he did." He paused. "She cried while she told me this. It was so pathetic, Sarah. She thought he really loved her. She thought his cheating with her was because he'd screwed up his life marrying my mom in the first place and if he got divorced and married her, everything would be made right. And now she knows she was wrong."

"You feel sorry for her?" I asked quietly.

"It was hard to keep in mind that she's almost forty. She cried like a little girl. The truth is, I forgave her ages ago. It would be impossible not to forgive her after seeing her suffer every day when I lived with them."

"That's good of you."

Evander leaned back on the couch and put his hands behind his head. "What about your family and the ones you're supposed to forgive?"

"Huh?"

"Carly."

"Well, she hasn't promised to go back to high school. Instead, she got a job!" I said proudly.

"What's she doing?"

"She's working at a funky clothing store on Whyte Avenue. Doesn't that suit her? I went and saw her in her shop the other day. She looks totally at home and like all her quirks are finally her assets instead of her liabilities."

"Are you taking accounting this semester?" Evander suddenly asked.

"Yeah, how did you know?"

"Uh… I didn't," he chuckled. "Keep going."

I scoffed, "I don't get what's so funny, but whatever. She's not fighting with my mom and she gave my mom some money for rent."

"What about Rachel? Has she forgiven Carly?"

"I think so. After all, Rachel loved her enough to chase her to the coast when she was being rotten. Think of how easy it is to love her now that she's doing one or two things right."

We sat there for a minute in silence before I grabbed the cardboard box and opened the flaps wide. "What else is in here?"

"Boring stuff. Let's see, art projects from when I was a kid." He pulled out a little white clay figurine that looked like it was supposed to be a snowman, but Evander had carved it into a monster and stuck blue feathers in its side to act as arms. It was endlessly endearing.

"How old were you when you made this?" I turned it over. "It's got a k on the bottom, so I guess that means kindergarten."

"Hey, what do you mean? I made that on the way here."

I laughed at his joke, but I was stunned. It looked too polished to be made by a five-year-old.

Then he pulled out a mold of his handprint from when he was four. I picked it up and put my hand over the indentation. Little Evander had been so cute!

There were scads of school pictures up until the time when Autiny left Reg. Evander explained they couldn't afford them when she was sick and they lived with his Grandma. Instead, there were plenty of pictures Autiny took of him with an ordinary camera and even a couple of rolls of film that had been shot but never developed.

"There was no money," Evander said again as he gathered them up.

"Would it bother you to get those pictures developed?" I asked gently.

"I won't know until I see them, but I didn't get them printed before because I was worried about getting my heart ripped open all over again. I don't know, since I met you, I feel stronger. Like I'd like to know more about my mom and how I looked through her eyes. She took a lot of pictures, eh?"

I nodded.

Then he showed me Autiny's jewelry that his grandmother had allowed him to keep. Most of it was costume jewelry that had clearly only been purchased because it was beautiful. They could not have been valuable, because, after all those years, they were chipped, tarnished, and broken.

"This was her wedding ring," Evander said, liberating it from a black velvet box. It was plain gold with little stars cut in the gold. It looked kind of like the wedding ring Tremor had given me in the first story. I didn't think he was drawing from reality. That ring was supposed to have belonged to Tremor's mother. "She stopped wearing it when I when I was six."

"Had she already stopped loving your father by then?"

"No. Not being able to wear it made her really sad. She told me her finger had gotten too fat and she couldn't get it on and off without soap. Reg wouldn't pay for her to get it sized."

"Did he ever think about anyone other than himself?" I snarled.

Evander ran a hand through his hair. "No. He was definitely thinking about himself when I looked him in the eye and told him that if he ever wanted to see me again, he would have to come find me because I would never come to him again."

"How do you know?"

"I don't know, but I think he thought he would never see me again when my mom left him. He never fought for custody. He's happier with Sebastian and Brody, but I think I might represent something inside him that stings."

"What?"

"He doesn't care about women. The moment he wins a woman's heart is the moment that matters to him. If he loses it afterward, it doesn't matter. It's a whole different ball game with me. I think he's sorry he didn't try harder, but he'll get over it soon. Besides, I think he's right about something."

"Really? What?" I gawked.

Evander put his forehead on mine. He closed his eyes and I could feel the fluttering of his breath against my hair. "The moment when you win a woman's heart is very important. Being with you is the best thing that could happen to me. I still can't believe I have someone to share this mess with. Just having you know my past seems to lift a weight off me. Thank you, Sarah."

"I wouldn't have done it for anybody else," I whispered.

We kissed. It was a kiss that finally felt like the love both of us had longed for.

The End

Author's Notes: Hey Cuties! Thanks for reading! As I've said before, I will no longer be posting new material to Fictionpress. Today is the last day. Please go find me on Inkitt. There's a link on my profile, or you can find me with my username StephanieVanOrman. I've liked writing here! Thank you for the privilege.