A slight breeze had taken up permanent residence in the courtyard of Billiards Day School. It blew through my hair, sending random black locks spiraling around my face.
Griffin reached out to tuck a strand behind one ear. “It’s getting cooler.”
I nodded in agreement. “Winter is pretty much nonexistent in California,” I told him. Griffin smiled his signature, crooked grin.
I took a tiny sip of my orange juice, watching Griffin watch me. I noticed a small smudge in his eyeliner, so I hesitantly reached forward to rub it away. As soon as I had done so, Griffin wrapped his hand gently around my wrist. The contact sent electric currents through my body.
“Arielle,” he whispered, as though he didn’t want even me to hear. But then, loudly enough to be heard clearly, he said, “there’s someone that I want you to meet.”
Griffin hailed us a cab and gave the driver an address on Fifth Avenue. I did my best to contain my shock at the street name- it was just so hard to believe that Griffin lived on one of the most well-known Avenues in the city.
Of course, I couldn’t help but gasp a little at the sight of the house we were dropped off at. It was a timeless townhouse right across from Central Park. Griffin led me up to the heavy mahogany door and unlocked it with a small key he produced from his pocket.
The door opened into a shadowed foyer, complete with deep brown walls and dark wood floors. Directly across from the door was a huge crucifix carved from wood the same color as the floors. The whole effect was rather unnerving; before I knew what I was doing, I reached out for Griffin’s hand.
He took mine in his own, squeezing it tightly and offering me a slight smile. “Don’t be afraid,” he said quietly. “Trust me. Follow me.”
The following rooms were just as dark, filled with the same earthy colors- and many more crosses. Griffin took me by the hand up a twisted, spiraling staircase, and then down a long, spacious hallway.
When he came to the door at the end, he knocked loudly, waiting for a split second before pushing the door open.
Unlike the other rooms of the mansion- there was just no other name for it- the room Griffin took me into was painted off-white. The floor-length curtains were drawn tight, permitting no light in. Instead the room was filled with dozens of vanilla scented candles.
But what held my attention was the woman seated in the monstrous black leather chair positioned right in the center of the room. Her silver-white hair came down to her mid-back, her pale, wrinkled skin glowed softly in the candle-light. Her eyes had been closed, but as soon as Griffin and I approached, they fluttered open, causing me to jump slightly. They were the same stunning emerald as Griffin’s own eyes.
Once again, Griffin gave my hand a squeeze. “Arielle,” he murmured, “this is my grandmother.”
Her name was Cordelia Barrett, although she introduced herself as Cordelia Marie Barrett, daughter of Richard Braham I, widow of Edward Barrett III. Later on Griffin informed me that her good name was one of the few things she had left to cling to, but at the time, the mouthful of words shocked me into silence.
“And who are you?” She asked me. Her voice was much stronger than I’d have thought possible for such a frail little body, and nowhere near the biting tone I’d imagined. Rather it was smooth and soft, much like Griffin’s. “Surely you must be terribly important to my grandson for him to have brought you here.”
I was sure that, in proper lighting, I would’ve seen Griffin blushing.
“Uh, I’m Arielle Kemp,” I told her. “Daughter of Stephanie Crayton, step-daughter of Mark Crayton.” My introduction was nowhere near as impressive as hers, but it was better than plain old Arielle Kemp.
Cordelia nodded slowly, her eyes closing as she did. When they re-opened, she said, “Griffin, would you please give us a moment alone?”
I could tell that leaving me alone was the last thing he wanted to do, but he obeyed, stroking the back of my hand with his thumb before he left.
Cordelia waited a few minutes after the door closed before gesturing to another chair in the room. She was probably listening to Griffin stomp down the hall, I decided as I sat down upon the burgundy cushion.
Then, she turned to me with her bright green eyes, except she didn’t say a word. She just kept gazing at me, watching me.
Finally, what seemed like ages later, she said, “It’s no coincidence that you two found each other.”
I just blinked at her, not even the tiniest idea how I was supposed to reply to that.
Cordelia seemed to sense this, almost seemed pleased by it. A smile- smug, yet kind- worked its way onto her thin lips. Yes, I definitely saw the relation there.
“I can see it in the way you two are. You need him almost as much as he needs you.”
I was still speechless, so I just nodded once. Cordelia took it as her que to continue.
“I was so worried about him being trapped alone in the city. Griffin has been… difficult since the death of Anthony and Heather. And then, Griffin told me about you. His savior. God meant for it to happen this way.”
I couldn’t help but wonder what “difficult” meant. But Cordelia was continuing before I could ask.
“I’m only praying that you can help him through this difficult time.”
I nodded again, because it seemed the appropriate thing to do, but all I could think about was that slightly faraway look in Griffin’s eyes, the one that made me thing that maybe not all of him was there with me. Like somewhere along the road, he’d lost part of himself.
I figured that this was the part where I excused myself from the room, so I rose to my feet and headed towards the door.
“Arielle?” Cordelia called just as my hand fell onto the gold knob. I turned my head and locked eyes with the elderly woman. “Let him in. Fill the hole in his heart that he won’t allow God to.”
I shut the door as close to silently as I could, allowing Cordelia’s words to properly sink in. It sounded as though she was basically asking me to be Griffin’s own personal god.
This wasn’t to say I wouldn’t do anything for Griffin, but the fact that she wanted me to complete him was just asking a bit much. I mean, I hadn’t even known his last name until twenty minutes ago.
And yet I felt like I’d known him for all of eternity. I felt compelled to be at his side every waking- and sleeping, for that matter- minute. In a way, he was a part of me, completing me, so why shouldn’t I return the favor?
I reached the staircase and realized that I had absolutely no idea where I was going. There were three other doors in the hall besides Cordelia’s, but I didn’t know what lay behind any of them. So I decided to try them all. One was locked anyways, and one was a bathroom. However, the one closest to the stairs was open, and when I pushed it a crack, I could see yet another room luminous with candlelight.
“Arielle?” Griffin’s voice caused my stomach to flip over, making me nauseous for a moment. I took his call as an invitation to come into the room; I shut the door after me. I trusted Griffin.
“So, what did Cordelia want to talk to you about?” He asked. He was seated at a desk, once again absorbed in a drawing- probably of the dead angel. I shrugged, looking around while Griffin was still distracted. The room was nothing like how I’d pictured his room to be- yes, I had tried to imagine his bedroom. The walls were a soft gold, and it was offset with burgundy.
And, of course, it was huge. Three times the size of my room, at least. He had a colossal, king-sized bed at the far end, and his desk shared a wall with the door. Another wall had a floor-to-ceiling window, but the burgundy curtains were shut; just like his grandmother’s room, there were candles on every available surface.
I went to go and sit on his bed as I answered his question. “She just wanted to get to know me,” I semi-lied. But there was one question I had for him- well, there were millions, really, but one prominent one. I spoke hesitantly, quietly, knowing full well that I was crossing lines in our relationship that we’d never dared cross before. I was bringing up the past, and that was dangerous water to tread.
“She said you were… difficult when you first came to the city.” I tried to watch for an expression, but Griffin maintained a perfect poker face. I sighed. It was obvious I wasn’t going to get an answer from him. He continued to draw. I lay down onto his bed, positioning myself so that I could watch him. There was a certain air of seriousness about him when he was drawing, like there was nothing else in the world but him and his paper.
The golden shadows cast about the room by the candles, scentless, as far as I could tell, illuminated his face in a breathtaking way, making my heart start to race like it already did when I was thinking about how flawless Griffin was. I closed my eyes to focus on breathing.
When I opened them, Griffin had put down his pencil and was staring intently at my face.
“What?” I asked with a nervous laugh.
Griffin only shook his head, so I reclosed my gray-blue eyes and lay down on my back. I became aware of a weight shift on the bed, and then seconds later I could feel Griffin gently stroking the side of my face with two fingers. I raised a hand uncertainly to brush the back of his hand with my own fingers.
“Arielle,” he whispered. He seemed to whisper my name a lot.
I imagined pouring my heart out to him then and there, telling him just how much I missed him when he was away from me, just how much I longed to be near him.
But I was much too much of a coward to tell him any of that.
I did, however, continue to caress his hand, eventually moving my way up to his cross tattoo. I traced the outline with my index finger, feeling the rises and falls of his scars beneath my fingertip, making sure not to make eye contact with Griffin.
I knew it was getting late, but the thought of leaving Griffin made me sick to my stomach. Going home was the last thing I wanted to do. What awaited me there, besides emptiness and misery? Surely there was no love in that house. Not meant for me.
“Do you need anything?” Griffin asked quietly. I figured he was referring to food or beverage, but then again, there was a big difference between can I get you something and do you need something. Because I did need something: him.
“I… I’d like you to kiss me again,” I whispered. I looked up through my lashes to see a small smile playing on Griffin’s mouth.
He brought his face down to mine; our lips brushed ever so gently. I placed my hand on the side of his face, and I could feel his on the back of my neck, holding me in place. I couldn’t help but wonder how many girls Griffin had kissed before. Surely people weren’t just born with such a talent.
Of course, we were interrupted by the loud, screaming ringtone on my cell phone. I checked the caller i.d. before flipping it ope. And, of course, it read MOM.
I swore under my breath as I flipped it open, putting a finger to my lips to silence Griffin.
“Hello?” I asked, trying to keep my voice as steady as possible.
“Arielle Elizabeth, where in God’s name are you?” My mom was shouting into the receiver. “I come home from work, you’re gone, there’s no note…”
“Relax, mother,” I said with a heavy sigh. Beside me Griffin laughed quietly. Unfortunately, nothing got past my mom’s lawyer ears.
“Who’s that, Arielle? Is that a boy? And where are you?!”
I took a deep breathe. My mom could be so overprotective. I was always responsible, and yet she never trusted me.
“I am over at a friend’s house, on Fifth Avenue,” I told her calmly.
“Well, you had better be home in twenty minutes, or it’ll be a long time before you see anything except the inside of your bedroom!” And then she hung up.
I rolled off of Griffin’s bed slowly, and together we headed downstairs. Griffin got me a cab- I was absolutely awful at it- and he kissed my cheek before I crawled in.
“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I promised. I watched him out the back window as the taxi drove away.
I watched her leave.
I didn’t want her to leave.
I hated that.
Back inside the manor, I started straight up to my room. My feet came down hard on the spiral staircase as I pounded out my frustration. Frustration at my own weakness. I’d kissed her again, felt her own lips moving against mine, and oh, God I wanted more. I wanted her.
I couldn’t handle this.
Call me predictable if you will, but as I’m sure one might have guessed I went right to my desk, plopped down and began to draw. Anything to distract my mind from her, even for a few short moments.
It was in vain, of course. Every time I closed my eyes I was plagued with the image of her slender hands and her lush lips and the melancholy sound of her sweet voice.
She was broken. She was torn apart by whatever secrets she held in those pale eyes, locked away in her frozen heart. I would find a way in, even if it killed me.
I was stripped of inspiration at the moment, so I left my blank cardstock and charcoal behind and returned downstairs.
I spun around at the foot of the stairs and looked up to see Cordelia standing at the top, staring down at me with that cool composure of hers.
I kept my own gaze level. “Yes?”
“Arielle is a wonderful girl. Truly a blessing. Do not let this one go.”