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Saturday, June 25, 2011

Masquerade by Lynne King

“Louisa, why is it taking so long?”

Kneeling down beside the wheelchair, my hand covered his on the armrest. “We’ve got him home, Dad. The security services promised they wouldn’t keep him long.”

The doors to the airport lounge swung open and a tall figure dressed in baggy jeans and an oversized combat jacket, stepped in. Dull blond, straggly hair hung about his shoulders and the only part of his face visible from the fuzzy growth of an unkempt beard, were razor cheekbones protruding below sunken eyes. My gasp came not from shock at his dishevelled appearance but that there was nothing familiar about him.

The brother who had teased and drove me mad at times but who I loved was gone. The stranger who replaced him sat with my father in the sade of a walnut tree, with Auntie Flo's black Labrador, Max, at their feet.

“They have a lot of catching up to do.”

My aunt stood next to me, our attention on the scene in the garden.

“He hasn’t spoken much, about what it was like or what he’s been through? I mean he looks so different now.” I couldn’t even address him as Richard.

“Louisa, slow down.” Placing an arm around my waist, she drew me in close.

It was a perfect summer's day. I should be feeling so happy and yet...

“Is that what’s been troubling you? Really, Louisa, you can’t expect Richard not to have changed. He has been held prisoner in dreadful conditions, traipsing through malaria infested jungles, never knowing whether that day might be his last.”

A small shudder ran through me. How could I be so insensitive by always asking him questions, grilling him, when all he wanted to do was forget? I forced out a smile and took hold of the plate of sandwiches held in Aunt Flo’s free hand. “Come on, let’s join them.”

Richard gave up his seat straight away for Aunt Flo and sat down on the picnic blanket next to me.

Whilst sipping my wine, my gaze was drawn to his face. The razor cheekbones had begun to fill out and the eyes were no longer sunken lifeless orbs but shone with vitality. Gone was the furry fuzz leaving behind a smooth youthful jaw-line and his fair hair was now short and fashionably layered. If I tried really hard, I could see my brother in him.

He caught me watching and our eyes locked. Whatever tiny resemblance I thought I saw, vanished. The burning sensation travelled right down to my bare feet.

“I can’t believe the beautiful Louisa isn’t married to some hot shot by now with several grandchildren around your feet.”

Shrugging my shoulders, I continued staring down at the grass and pulling it out by the roots. It was my way of releasing the tension. I was twenty-five years old and still living at home. Moving out wasn’t an option. I had no time for long term relationships -my commitment always to find Richard and bring him home. Now my life was my own again and yet I couldn’t embrace it. How could I throw that in his face, that he wasn’t the only one held captive all these years?

“Have you thought about what you plan to do now?” I didn’t look up.

The dog’s snoring grew louder and a blackbird began calling to its mate.

Finally he answered. “Writing down the truth of what really happened. It was once said to me, if you are forgotten, you cease to exist. Some things and some people should never be forgotten. I only hope with my words comes forgiveness.”

I met his gaze and found myself drowning in such sorrow within those depths. “Surely you don’t mean your kidnappers?”

His shoulders sagged as his eyes lowered. Looking up again, he didn’t have to say anything, I could feel it - he wanted my forgiveness.

He stood up abruptly. “I think I’ll take Max for a walk down by the river.”

The journey home from Auntie Flo’s was a silent one. Father had dozed off as soon as I started the engine up. Richard sat in the passenger seat staring at the setting sun. It was a remarkable sight, the grey endless road seemingly disappearing into the golden blaze of yellow with its halo of fire.

“There was a time when I thought I would never again marvel at a sunset, hear a blackbird sing or experience emotions other than fear,” he said softly. “But what stopped me from giving up, was the prayer that one day I would be sitting here and gazing upon the one image that gave me that hope not to give up.”

I felt the intensity of his gaze.

“No,” the inhuman cry tore through the house.

Throwing my book onto the floor, I jumped out of bed – grabbing my gown as I ran out into the hallway. Father’s light was showing from underneath his door, but I knew the sound had come from Richard’s room. Bursting through the door, I was confronted by a tormented soul thrashing about the bed, covers revealing his perspiration soaked torso. Eyelids though closed were quivering and whatever nightmare he was undergoing had him in its grip so deep, that even the light going on didn’t wake him.

“Don’t you die on me, we’re brothers in this, do you hear me…”

I fell to my knees beside the bed. “Wake up.” My fingers began lightly stroking his damp forehead. “It’s just a dream; you’re safe now.”

It was the first time I had had direct physical contact. Even at the airport he had embraced Father but had held back from hugging me. Now I was placing my hand upon his chest, my fingers caressing the smooth skin.

His eyes opened wide and stared into mine. “I couldn’t save him. I tried so hard, you have to believe me.”

It hit me full on what I had known from the moment he had stepped into that airport lounge.

“Who are you?” I sprung up from my crouching position and backed away from the bed.

“Don’t be frightened of me, Louisa, please.”

I could feel my heart racing and the room closing in on me. “Where’s my brother? What have you done with him?” The wall stopped me from backing up any further. I wanted it to swallow me up, save me from what I was about to hear.

“He caught malaria and his body couldn’t take it anymore.” He stared at the far wall. “I never left his side.” His gaze turned to me. “We helped each other survive by talking about our families or at least Richard did because, believe me, I had no happy memories to draw upon so I lived through Richard’s.”

My legs buckled and I slid down the wall. Throwing the quilt back, he looked as if he was about to jump out of bed and come over. I held up my hands.

“Stay away from me.”

His feet were off the bed and on the ground so he remained there and pointed to his jeans lying over the back of a chair. At least he had kept his boxer shorts on sprung into my mind. What was I thinking? I threw his jeans over to him.

“Unlike Richard, I had no family to fight for my return. Your brother saved my life by having them believe I was an aid worker, like him.” He began pulling on his jeans.

“Negotiations started up again with the guerrilla forces holding us but Richard was bad by this time and died before the news came that we were to be freed. They had a list of names – I wasn’t on it. We looked alike, same build. I became Richard, believing once I was on English soil, I would reveal the truth.”

“But you didn’t. How could you do that to us?”

“You wouldn’t understand.”

“Try me. You at least owe me that before I call the police.”

“You witnessed how your father was at the airport. I needed time to explain.” He threw his hands up to his face, the words sounding as if they were being torn from him. “Today I could pretend no more but he already…”

A movement in the doorway caught my attention. In his wheelchair with a blanket draped around him was Father. A sad acknowledging smile appeared. “You gave me something special and that was my son’s memories. I was as much to blame - I didn’t want it to end.”

My anger for the deceit had drained away. “What’s your real name?”

“Simon Blake. I’m a freelance journalist or at least I was.”

“Is that everything?” I asked.

“I’m also in love with you."

Rising from the floor, I went over to my father’s side and took hold of his hand. My other hand reached out towards Simon.

About the Author: Based in the UK. My short stories cover different genres and have been published in popular UK magazines and on-line. As for my novels, I love writing romantic suspense. Run To You, published by Eternal Press is my latest. Find more about my writing by visiting:

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