Isis was more than oblivious to the conversation that filled her father's car. The middle aged man and the not much older woman were discussing a very nice invitation they received a week ago.
The invitation was from an apparently wealthy family that had arrived in town a month ago. All the local elite, which did not consist of many families, were invited to this party, and Isis' father, being the manager of the only bank in town, was also invited.
While her parents discussed this new and wealthy family, Isis ran her red tongue over her teeth, feeling the sharp canines with a certain disgust. Having opted for vegetarianism a few months ago, Isis was not too pleased to note that her body had remnants of primitive instincts.
The three of them soon arrived at the huge house of the new family. A few cars were being maneuvered down the gravel road that led to the party venue. Isis could distinguish the cars of Gastald's parents and that of Victoria. She got out of the car and stared at the mansion illuminated by two yellow spotlights. The enormity of the place made her feel very small. Twisting her nose, Isis pushed the thought away; she always wished she were two inches taller and not just a mere five foot, especially when she looked for the gingerbread cookies on the last shelf in the kitchen.
Her mother went toward the open door and Isis followed, wondering internally how much time they would have to spend at the party before elegantly leave the place, but this doubt was answered when she saw her mother's excitement just before she walked through the door.
– Sweetie, just give us a smile, will you? – asked her mother, tidying up her daughter's already impeccable hair.
– Mom, if you expect me to meet my future husband at this party just by keeping a smile on my face, I should warn you that the divorce is going to come through sooner than you would like.
The woman pressed her lips together and resisted the temptation to roll her eyes as her daughter also did. She and her husband, years before, had been much calmer when they realized that their daughter wasn't much into parties or group outings, but now the calmness was colored red and they wondered when their daughter would at least get a boyfriend, a decent one, of course. At almost twenty, Isis was uninterested in the subject of boyfriends or husbands. Her parents even entertained the idea, a bit surprising given the life they led in a small town like that, that their daughter might like people of the same sex. But apparently even this did not attract her attention. And the years were going by and her parents were getting more worried with each passing week while seeing their daughter holed up at home, cut off from the outside world, reading strange books in strange languages, listening to foreign or acoustic music only, and the food... Oh, let's not even talk about the food...
Her father approached both of them, peeking through the open door, watching the guests greeting and chatting.
- Isis, my child, just try to hold a conversation with someone, for me, will you?
She crossed her arms and pushed her hair away from her forehead.
– Daddy, you even speak as if I don't want to find someone to talk to.
– And don't talk back when someone is talking to you. Don't even start talking in one of those strange languages you like to learn. – continued the father as if his daughter had not spoken.
– Russian and Icelandic, Dad. They are not strange languages, – she replied a little irritated, as she turned away from her mother and father and entered the large room where the party was being held.
Her mother followed closely behind, speaking in her ear.
– If you don't want to make any effort to be sociable, don't go venturing into the house either. We're guests here, so keep a low profile, okay, young lady?
The daughter rolled her eyes and rushed her pace.
Her parents looked at each other and moved on to the nearest group of people. The best thing to do was to blend in quickly, before they were complete strangers in the place and it got too late for greetings and the other guests thought they were party crashers.
Isis studied the groups of people without much interest. Her former schoolmates were there, at least those who belonged to the local elite families. Most of them had left for the big cities to go to college, but Isis had opted for the local one, because her parents, even though they were part of the local elite, could not afford to pay for private universities with their souls.
The group seemed to talk about their hosts' house, the many rooms and expensive furniture, besides the works of art, of course. According to one of them there was even a secret library with rare books and an underground garage where they kept luxury cars that they had received as a guarantee from the italian mafia.
Men and women now, the former colleagues, seeing Isis passing by, watched her with interested eyes. Beautiful as she was and even more mysterious, she attracted attention even if she didn't want to in that small town.
She casually ignored the group's stares and stopped in front of a large abstract painting. White canvas with red paint and a few touches of black here and there. Minutes passed by as she demanded for herself the hard work of ignoring what was going on around her and concentrating on that work of art, until a conversation coming from a smaller group of four people caught her attention. They were all very well dressed and very beautiful. As she had never seen them before, Isis understood that they were the new family, the newcomers to the small town.
The conversation was quick and Isis couldn't make out many of the whispered words, only one or two, before the group dissipated into other groups and the oldest man of them went to the center of the hall, raised his champagne glass and thanked everyone for being there.
The acknowledgments continued and Isis sighed heavily at this formality. Her mother told her not to venture into the house, but this seemed impossible for the girl's restless mind. The hall was bubbling with conversation and laughter and classical music that was difficult to discern because of the voices. It was very evident that the house was not open to the public and that the party was only downstairs, but perhaps no one would notice her absence there.
Dodging people, Isis walked down a hallway as if to go to the bathroom, and her feet snatched her nimble movement and carried her up the stairs to the second floor.
The buzz of conversation and music drifted away as she climbed the steps. The corridor was dark, but a few windows let the light from the spotlights in to illuminate her path. If there really was a library or an office with books in it, she would surely stay there for a few hours before leaving.
But a feeling that she was being watched made her turn her head and look over her shoulder. A tall shadow was just a few steps away from her. And she didn't like that. Isis thought about getting satisfaction from the person who was following her so sneakily, but soon remembered, that she was the sneaky one there.
– I thought it was a little obvious that the party was downstairs. What are you doing here? – asked the shadow politely.
– I know the upstairs was restricted, but I heard there was a library here – she shrugged innocently. – I thought the risk was worth it.
The shadow approached, being illuminated a bit more now.
– If you're looking for a library, this is the way.
The shadow gave way to a man with a very handsome build, brown hair and caramel eyes, his skin pale as the moon. He walked past Isis and opened a door that was covered by the shadows.
As soon as he lit two lampshades that stood on two small, circular dressers beside two couches centered in the room, Isis raised her eyebrows slightly captivated. Two tall bookshelves on each wall watched over the library. The man looked with watchful eyes as Isis made her way to one of the bookshelves and ran her eyes through the books. She raised a delicate-fingered hand to a small copy that on the spine said was a compilation of William Wordsworth's poems, but soon pulled her hand back and looked at the man.
He approached her and picked up another book on the shelf, written in a language with Latin roots, probably Italian, and without looking at her, simply said:
– Don't be shy, you can take any of them and read.
Saying no more, he walked away and sat down on one of the sofas next to the lampshade, with the open book in hand, he began his reading. Isis was very puzzled when she understood that the fellow would not say another word. He was strictly absorbed in his book. Feeling more at ease with the situation, Isis took the book of poems by William Wordsworth, went to the other sofa, sat down next to the other lampshade, and began to read it.
As the minutes ticked by, Isis' mind drifted from the poet's words to the reading companion, and then back to the poems. She watched with the corner of her eye the quiet, calm movements of the other. The way his fingers brushed the white pages of the book, the way he unconsciously touched the side of his nose when he came across an intriguing passage that made him think.
As the minutes ticked by, the man's mind went from the words of the Italian philologist to his reading companion, and then back to the linguistic teachings. He watched with the corner of his eye the other's quiet, elegant movements. The way her fingers played with the spine of the book, the attitude that hid a smile as she read a verse beautifully adorned with simple words.
When she smiled, he could see her teeth that were sharp and straight, like a child's teeth that have not yet been overused in cutting meat. That instigated him even more. The two of them stood like this, studying each other like in a silent chess match, for longer than they were both aware of.
They both heard muffled footsteps on the hallway carpet, and four people appeared in the doorway of the library. Isis' parents and the man's parents.
– Isis, my child! I told you that you shouldn't come up here, – said her mother, unsettled, but trying to keep her composure. The father looked embarrassed at his hosts, apologizing for his daughter's behavior.
– No need to scold her, – interceded Isis' reading partner. – Uh, it was me who invited her here.
The hosts stopped their gaze on Isis. They were even more serious than she was, and it made her look just a little out of place.
– I apologize for this, sir, ma'am, – she got up from the sofa and bowed her head, with an innocent smile on her lips. – But I have to say that here in town there is no library like this one. Even the municipal library doesn't have so many books.
– We are grateful for the compliment. But perhaps you two would like to come back downstairs with us, dessert will be served soon, – said the hostess, her full, pink lips outlining perfectly symmetrical teeth.
Isis handed the copy of Wordsworth to her reading companion and listened to her mother apologizing and rejecting the invitation for dessert. According to her, they had other commitments, unfortunately, and needed to get home before dessert. Isis and her reading companion looked at each other cautiously and followed their parents to the second floor.
– What is your name? – Isis asked her reading companion after the goodbyes were said and the hosts went back into the house.
– Klaus. And yours?
Isis' parents called her from the car. She turned her eyes to Klaus and smiled at his polite expression.
– It's a pleasure, – she turned to go back to her parents, but after two steps she turned around. – It's really a pleasure to meet someone who speaks Russian. Nobody here in town knows that language. It's... – Isis put a finger on her chin as if she found the situation very interesting. – It's curious actually that you tell people that you are Italian and not Russian... People here are really very ignorant about foreigners and culture in general, they don't care about that, only about the appearance of things.
Isis smiled, her teeth gleaming insanely bright in the yellow spotlight.
Klaus squared his shoulders and narrowed his eyes.
– That's apparently a lie, isn't it? Because apparently you know Russian.
Her eyes were fixed on him.
– A word or two I would say.
– Klaus! – called the hostess from the doorway, beckoning him.
The son signaled to his mother that he would already be there, and when he turned to Isis, he saw her already halfway to her parents' car. He watched the vehicle leave their property with a serious countenance.
When he returned to the house, Klaus' parents were waiting for him at the door, away from the other guests.
– You look upset, my son, – his mother said worriedly, placing her hand on Klaus's forearm.
He was trying to keep his breathing calm, but it was relatively difficult in this situation. His eyes looked injected in a way that only his parents knew, and they paled more than was natural.
The next few words were enough to take away the inner terror that haunted his runaway family from a macabre past.
– I think we've been discovered – Klaus whispered worriedly, showing them his sharp, target teeth, thirsty with primitive instincts.
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