"What's wrong with you? Why are you so afraid?"
"You are too young to understand."
"What are you talking about? I'm sixteen years old!"
Terrence watched the conversation bouncing back and forth between his wife and son, utterly bewildered as to what was going on.
"Dear," he said.
"You stay out of this!" she barked at him. "And Gilbert is not allowed to see any more of our clues," she added.
"Mom, you are being unreasonable."
"Why? Because I refuse to let that little sniveling girl have all our clues? Because Mort doesn't deserve a penny of the money he's already received? Because I am the best at solving puzzles?"
"You aren't the best," said Gilbert flatly.
Annabel glared at him, and took a deep breath, "What did you say?"
"You aren't the best," he repeated, "I figured out the first clue an entire day before you did, and I already have half of that clue solved," he said pointing to the squares that lay scattered across the desk in his parents room. "But I guess if you don't want my help, you don't have to have it. I can go help Eudorra and her family."
"You aren't going anywhere, child, you are grounded!" Annabel said the last word so forcefully that she knocked a jar of pencils and pens off the desk.
"Why? Because I dare to think that someone is better than you? Because I choose to ignore you half the time while you berate and deride Dad, or whoever else has made you look dumb or foolish?" he knew he had struck close to home, and it felt good to get his frustrations out, even if it did incur his mother's wrath. "Do you know what really makes you look dumb? When you spend hours tearing everyone else apart instead of working with them. When you don't listen to the people who care the most about you. And most of all, when you put your pride above anyone and everything else including your own family!"
Annabel's face had turned white, this was more than she was prepared to hear. Her jaw had become rigid, like her mouth had been glued shut with industrial strength epoxy. Her eyes were dark and had sunken into her skull. Her back was planted so firmly in her chair that Gilbert was quite certain if she had been standing as he had said these words she would have fallen over. When she finally found her voice it was harsh and raspy.
"Go, Room, NOW!" she grunted.
"Not until you give me my phone back."
"Gilbert, I think it is better that you go," his father said.
"NO! If she wants to stay angry at Mort, that's fine, but I will not have my friendship with Eudorra be severed just because she can't let go of something that happened years ago that she won't even tell us what it is."
"GIlBERT!" his mother's voice was an icy razor that cut the air like a scalpel. She was standing now, her eyes boring into his skull as she hunched over the desk, "I said to GO TO YOUR ROOM! NOW!"
He shrugged and left the room, but not without a final shot, "Well, if you won't tell me maybe you will at least tell Dad when I'm not here."
He left their room and walked next door to his own room. He dared not ring the bell for Jared and risk more of her wrath, but he did need to communicate to Eudorra somehow what was going on. She had looked terrified as she quickly gathered her notes and pushed past them while his mother was demanding his phone from him. He sincerely hoped that he had left Mars Blaster open, otherwise she would see the text history between himself and Eudorra and see how much they had been working together. If only Jared would wander up to their rooms for some reason. But he knew this was unlikely as Jared had been used to serving them in the Dining Room while they worked on their clues. This was a complete change that wouldn't be noticed for hours. He could only imagine what was going on in Eudorra's head right now.
"Why won't you work with Mortimer?" Terrence asked once Gilbert had left the room. His wife's behavior was alarming, especially after being so cordial last night, inviting them to watch a movie together, and making the popcorn. Why on earth was she so upset with Gilbert trying to work out their clues with Eudorra. It was just a game after all.
"I don't want to talk about it," Annabel spouted. She had started rearranging the cards with a passion the second Gilbert had closed the door.
"I believe that time has passed." He said firmly, but Annabel did not look up. "You have behaved in a very childish manner this afternoon and I believe that I have a right to know why."
Annabel continued to cold shoulder him.
"Annabel, you can't keep doing this. You have got to start treating people like equals instead of subordinates. You are only making it harder on yourself because no one wants to work with you."
"No one?" she said glaring at him from the corner of her eye.
"Yes," he said meeting her gaze, "No one... including me!"
Her hand faltered as she tried to pick up a card. She continued rearranging cards for a few moments in silence, "You wouldn't."
"Do you really want to find out?" Terrence's voice was steady and firm.
A tear trickled down Annabel's cheek as she continued to shuffle the cards around the desk. Terrence waited for her to respond for three minutes, then stood up and walked toward the door. Annabel let out a sob as he opened the door. He walked through the door and closed it as the tears streamed down her face. He would give her some time to herself, maybe then she would be willing to talk. He walked out to the Entry Hall and down the stairs to the library, maybe he could get some reading done while he wasn't working on this puzzle.
Annabel sat in tears. She couldn't see what letters were on the cards she was shuffling. Sobs escaped her no matter how hard she tried to suppress them. Her mind traveled back to when she was six. She word a blue and red checked dress and her hair was done up in twin braids. Her mother's high squeaky voice rained down on her, scolding her for the shattered plate and spilled foot lying at her feet.
"Annie! Can't you do anything right? I told you not to carry the plate yourself, you are not old enough and not good enough to carry a glass plate!"
She blinked tears away and the next thing she knew she was ten and sitting in the tree house in the orchard. The wind blew through the weeping willow making it creak and and moan. Rain started to fall and someone was calling for her. A knot welled up in her stomach and she clenched her fists in her dress pocket. A frail looking woman came into view and yelled up at her.
"Annie, get out of the tree, what are you thinking? You're going to catch cold, or worse! Get down from there." She could not help but numbly obey.
"Wait until your father hears about this, you will never be allowed to come here again! What was Simon thinking? That man." Silent tears rolled down her cheeks and fell onto her brown shoes.
"Well done, Mort!" Simon called to them from the door of the ballroom. They were standing next to a potted plant where Mort had just dug up a small shiny robot with remote control. Her heart ached and her face felt like it was on fire, she had been one step away when Mort pulled it out of the dirt inside the pot. She wanted to punch Mort, but she knew Simon wouldn't approve so she just balled up her fists and stood rigid while Simon continued to applaud Mortimer.
A month passed, "I want my own clues," she demanded. Simon was sitting behind his desk in the den looking at her concerned.
"Well, Annabel, the puzzles are really just for fun, it doesn't matter who wins."
"Yes it does" she fired back, "And I want to win."
"Just because you have your own set of clues doesn't mean you will win." he pointed out.
"Yes it does, because I won't have to wait for Mort to figure it out."
Simon drummed his fingers on the desk while he thought, "Okay, we will try it this one time.:
"Thank you, Simon, thank you!" she shouted with joy.
Annabel stood up in her own room with the clue cards laying on the desk in front of here. Rain was pounding against the window in torrents, and thunder rumbled overhead. She looked around terrified, what had she been doing? Where did all those memories come from? She wiped the smeared mascara from her eyes on a tissue and blew her nose. She had to get out of here, she was going crazy. But where? The car wasn't ordered to return until Saturday evening. Then the thought struck her, the one place she always felt safe.
She grabbed a jacket and dashed up the corridor, she ran down the grand staircase and across the symbol emblazoned on the floor in the center of the Entry Hall, then opened and slammed the door as she darted out into the rain.
Terrence jumped when he heard the front door slam and poked his head out of the library. Mortimer and Angela came out on the upper corridor of the hall from the Sitting room and looked around.
"What was that?" Mortimer asked.
"No idea," said Terrence, it sounded like someone ran down the stairs and out the front door, but I didn't see who it was."
"Where is Eudorra?" Angela asked her husband.
"I thought she was in her room doing homework." he replied.
"Let's go make sure she is there and that she is alright." she pleaded.
They marched down the west corridor toward the back of the manor. Terrence who was having similar thoughts about Gilbert, set down the book he was reading on one of the side tables in the Entry Hall and quickly climbed the steps of the grand staircase. His heart beat quickly as he neared his son's room. Mr. Henson was also looking out his door when he came to the guest rooms.
"Everything alright?" he asked.
"I'm not sure," Terrence said looking worried.
"Well, someone sure took off like a shot from this side of the house. I heard a door open and slam then footsteps running down the corridor."
Terrence's face dimmed further. He carefully opened Gilbert's door, dreading what he was going to find. He was pleasantly surprised to find Gilbert sitting at his desk working on the puzzle pieces he had made as copies from the originals that morning.
"What?" he said looking up from the desk, "Am I free to go now?"
Terrence felt the blood from his face drain. If Gilbert was still here, that could only mean... He left the door wide open without answering Gilbert and ran the ten steps to his and Annabel's room. It was empty. There were tear marks all over the cards she had been sorting, and the rain continued to pound against the windows. He checked the bathroom, the walk-in closet, and around and under the bed. She was nowhere to be seen.
Gilbert wandered in and looked around. "Where's Mom?" he asked, his face wrinkled in concern.
"I don't know. Someone just ran out of the Manor and slammed the front door." He swallowed the knot that was growing in his throat. "I think your mother may have just run for it!"
Gilbert looked stunned and reached desperately for something to steady himself. Run for it? His mother never ran from anything. She was always the controlling, in charge, run everyone else over type. This was completely out of character. Beads of sweat began to run down his forehead, and he looked around the room hoping against hope that she was still there and they just hadn't seen her.
Terrence looked in the closet once more and noticed an empty hanger. She had taken her jacket. He quickly grabbed his own jacket and rang the bell. Not only did Jared shortly appear, but so did Mr. Henson.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"I think Annabel finally cracked. She ran out of here into that rainstorm with only a jacket. We need to find her."
Mr. Henson looked grim. Jared's normally stoic face betrayed a deep concern.
"Let the other's know I am going out to look for her. Please check every inch of every room in the Manor, in case she decided to hide inside."
"Also check to see that Eudorra is okay," piped in Gilbert. "Mom caught us working together on a clue and I haven't seen her since."
Jared nodded and ran stiffly from the room.