Saturday, October 7, 2017

Episode 34 - Masks

"I can't wait for Halloween," Maura said happily as she, Judith, and Natalie shopped together at the local mall's costume shop. "I wonder what I should be this year. Oh! Do you think Jeremy and I should coordinate our costumes?"

Judith and Natalie exchanged a look. Maura was usually enthusiastic about life, but since her 'date' with Jeremy she was more over-the-top than usual.

"I don't think you should worry about that," Judith said, but her words seemed to fall on deaf ears as Maura browsed the clothing racks. "I thought your 'date' with Jeremy was only supposed to be a one time thing."

"Why would you think that?" Maura asked as she looked up. It didn't occur to her that Judith would actually have an answer to that question, so she didn't wait for one. Instead, with a faraway look in her eyes, she continued with her own thoughts. "I know Jeremy was trying to work up just the right way to ask me out again when we were interrupted."

"Are you really sure that's what he was trying to do?" Judith asked pointedly.

"Yeah!" Maura said, puzzled. "I mean it was the only thing he could have possibly been leading up to. Besides what he did after that said it all. He was so brave when he jumped in to try to defend me from those guys. His actions said more about how much he really cares about me than words ever could. Why else would he have put himself in harm's way to defend me? It was definitely more than a one time thing."

"Maybe he just wanted to help," Judith suggested. She was gently trying to be the voice of reason, but her light approach was not getting through Maura's haze of happiness and optimism. She really didn't want to be the one to crush her friend's dreams and she knew it wasn't her place to say anything, but if Jeremy couldn't be honest with Maura, then maybe someone else should be. She couldn't help thinking that speaking up sooner rather than later was the kinder thing to do in the long run.

"You weren't there. You don't know anything about it."

"I know more than you think," Judith muttered to herself as she turned her attention to the clothing rack in front of her.

"Oh right, I forgot you're an expert on relationships now, because of you and Vince," she said teasingly.

Natalie who had been watching their conversation from the sidelines couldn't help raising an eyebrow at Maura's insinuation.

"How's that going?" Maura asked with a conspiratorial grin.

"Good. Really good," Judith said tersely. She struggled to come up with some convincing details to add to the conversation. "Vince is really sweet and considerate."

"Um, this is the same Vince whose friends attacked Maura and Jeremy, right?" Natalie asked skeptically. She wondered if she was the only one who could see the connection.

"Former friends," Judith dutifully corrected. "He doesn't associate with them anymore and hasn't for awhile. He's really trying to turn over a new leaf."

"Yeah," Maura spoke up in defense of her brother. "That's why they attacked us, because he's not their friend anymore and they're mad that he cut off all contact with them. Vince was never like them anyway. He just got mixed up with the wrong people."

Natalie wasn't convinced, but she didn't see any reason to argue the point, so she turned her attention back to her shopping.

Later, while Maura was in the changing room trying on a costume, Jeremy entered the store and walked over to his sister.

"Hey, mom sent me to find you. She's ready to go."

"Okay. I'll go tell Maura I'm leaving," Judith said.

Jeremy watched Judith walk away before turning to Natalie. "Hey."

"Hi," she responded coolly. She had thought it best not to acknowledge his arrival at first, but when he addressed her she had no choice but to look up at him. She involuntarily winced when she saw the bruises on his face. She looked away and a moment of awkward silence followed.

"It doesn't feel as bad as it looks," Jeremy said, breaking the silence.

"Oh," Natalie said, fiddling awkwardly with the outfit she was holding. "That's good." Before Jeremy could speak again, Natalie tried to change the focus of their conversation. "Maura was just telling us about what happened. You're quite the hero to her."

Jeremy rubbed the back of his neck, embarrassed at the praise. "Yeah, I guess. I just reacted."

"She was lucky you were there," Natalie said evenly.

Jeremy studied her for a second. He felt like there was more meaning to those simple words than what was on the surface, but he wasn't sure what that underlying meaning was. He was about to say something, but Natalie spoke first.

"It's too bad your first date had to end that way."

"It wasn't really-" Jeremy started to explain, but he stopped short when Maura called to him from across the store. When he saw the way her face lit up as she approached, he suddenly wasn't sure how to say everything that he really wanted to say to Natalie. There simply wasn't enough time. He changed the subject

"I like the costume choice," he said casually as he motioned toward the outfit Natalie was holding. He was trying to find something else, anything else, to say to Natalie in the last moments before Maura and Judith joined them. "Little Red Riding Hood is a classic."

Maura just caught the end of their conversation before she grabbed Jeremy in a bear hug. Both he and Natalie looked away.

Sensing Jeremy's tension, Maura suddenly let go of him and took a step back. "Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't hurt you, did I?"

"No, I'm fine. But Judith and I have to go. Our mom is in a hurry."

They exchanged hasty goodbyes before the Wilton siblings left the store.

"Too bad he couldn't stay for awhile," Maura lamented as she turned to Natalie once Jeremy was out of sight.

Natalie simply nodded. She took one more look at the costume she was holding before she decided to put it back in its place on the rack.

"You've decided against that one?" Maura asked.

"Yeah, it's not for me," Natalie said, shaking her head.

As Natalie moved on to the next rack, Maura picked up the discarded costume. She took one instinctive glance back to the entrance of the store, before she looked at the costume, giving it her consideration.

* * * * *

Jolene gathered the Arrendale children in the living room to show them the surprise she had promised them earlier in the day. One of her neighbors had lent her a big box of costumes to share with the kids for Halloween. As expected, Lorna was the most enthusiastic of the three and immediately sat down on the floor next to the box and began pouring through the contents looking for treasures. Artie was too old and thought himself to be too mature to get excited over such things, but he wasn't without a sense of fun and found some of the things in the box interesting enough to comment on and even try on himself. Lance still adamantly refused to thaw to Jolene, no matter what kind of treats of surprises she promised and sat alone in the far corner of the room, sulking on the couch as he secretly plotted ways to get the nanny out of their lives for good.

"Here, give this one to your brother," Jolene said handing a grotesque monster mask to Artie. "It matches his attitude."

He tossed the mask to Lance, who stubbornly ignored it for a few minutes before deciding to put it on while sitting on the couch with his arms crossed.

"I don't see a difference," Artie remarked, causing Lorna to giggle.

"Okay, Miss Jolene, now I'm going to pick out a costume for you to wear, okay?" Lorna asked.

"Okay," Jolene agreed as she stepped back while Lorna picked out various pieces from the trunk.

Once Lorna had gathered everything necessary for Jolene's costume, she handed her the pile of things to put on.

"Wait right here," Jolene said, rising from her place on the floor. "I'm going to go into another room to put all of this on and make a surprise entrance."

"We'll be ready," Artie said. Once Jolene was out the door, he sat down next to the box and started pulling out things for him and Lorna to wear to surprise the nanny when she returned.

While Jolene was out of the room, Lawrence happened past the living room and stopped in when he saw Artie and Lorna decked out in costumes playing a game that apparently involved a witch and an alien overlord. "What's going on here?" he asked with amusement.

"Miss Jolene brought some Halloween costumes for us to try on," Lorna explained. "How do I look?"

"Very spooky," he remarked, earning a smile from his daughter.

Lorna was just about to suggest a costume for their father, when Jolene returned, decked in the wild mismatch of accessories Lorna had chosen for her. Cat ears, colorful jewelry, dragonfly wings, and long black wig had transformed her into a one of a kind mythological character.

"Ta da!" she said as she struck a pose. "What do you think?"

Lorna seemed pleased and Artie laughed heartily, but it was Lawrence's silent reaction that caught Jolene's attention. He was staring at her so strangely and so intently that it made her feel incredibly uncomfortable and out of place. Her breath caught in her throat and her heart pounded. Perhaps she had just made a terrible mistake. She quickly pulled off the wig and shook out her own blonde hair.

"I like it better without the wig," she said, trying to sound casual. When Lorna protested, she tossed the wig to Artie. "I think it would look better on your brother."

"Are you going to play dress up with us too, Daddy?" Lorna asked.

The question seemed to break Lawrence out of a trance, but his tone had lost all of the lightheartedness it had earlier. "Not right now, princess. I have a little more work to do."

The children all watched him as he retreated to his office, Lance suddenly more interested than he had been in anything all afternoon. Only Jolene seemed to ignore him as she focused her attention on the costume box and hoped whatever had just happened would just blow over.

Lawrence paced his office, pausing only to stare out the window. He closed his eyes and tried to recall something from the past. What was it about the nanny wearing that black wig that seemed so familiar? Why did he suddenly feel like he knew her from somewhere? He tried to think, but he came up with nothing. At last he crossed over to the phone and made a call.

"Shayna?" he spoke quietly into the phone when his assistant answered, hoping his voice wouldn't be heard in the next room. "Do you still have Miss Parker's background check and references? I'd like to see them as soon as possible."

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