Daniel smoothened his scruffy hair, straightened his collar and buttoned his jacket.
He was going to ask Lydia out, and nothing would mess up his chance of spending a few hours with his old crush.
As he stepped out of the house, he remembered his mother's complaints on Lydia: that she wasn't rich, that she wouldn't be able to give Daniel a "proper" life.
Daniel sighed. I'm not even sure whether she'll accept my request or not, and here Mom's grumbling about me spending my life with her, he thought, shaking his head.
The arrival of an automobile snapped him out of his thoughts.
'Ah, there you are, Mr Warren! I thought you'd never come!' cried out the driver in a French accent. 'Here's your ride.
Daniel managed a weak smile as he climbed into the automobile. He didn't feel the need to respond -- instead, he stared at the scenery, thinking about Lydia.
He closed his eyes shut and imagined a perfect evening with her. He'd book the best hotel in Las Vegas and throw the grandest party ever seen in Manhattan -- if only he got her hand.
Daniel sighed. Will Lydia even give me a second glance? he wondered, remembering her playful smile and twinkling green eyes.
He remembered the day his best friend, Jackie had said: 'You're a beauty enough for me, but I don't think you'll be one for the girls.'
Daniel tried to resonate with himself, that Lydia would succumb to his mansion and million-dollar salary -- but he knew that she wasn't that kind of a lady. Even though she wasn't rich, she didn't want the kind of luxuries people would think the poor would want.
Daniel rubbed his eyes and restrained himself from yawning. There he was, already feeling drowsy. What if I mess up the whole evening? he panicked. What if I say something I am not supposed to... and... and...
A sudden jerk shook him out of his thoughts. He glanced around and screeched the automobile to a stop. He'd already reached the ball!
Daniel climbed out of the automobile, his hands sweating. He tried to feel confident and almost succeeded, but his brain repeated only one thing: Something's gonna go wrong.
Daniel eyed the hallroom with distaste. This was the place where he was going to ask Lydia out?
There was a golden chandelier hanging on the pink ceiling, and the windows were all drawn with fluorescent pink curtains. Even the floor was painted pink!
A pink vase was placed beside the cake (topped with pink icing, of course) and in it was a bouquet of roses. Everything in here is pink! thought Daniel, crinkling his nose. No, I must ask Lydia out somewhere else -- definitely not here!
All the female guests, dressed in extravagant gowns, had their eyes only on Daniel. 'Look at his muscles,' a young lady whispered, pointing at his arms.
Daniel pulled back, his face red. He shuddered and chose to put his arms behind his back.
The waiters offered him the finest wine, and a few young ladies kept swooning in front of him. Daniel didn't care. He'd come to this ridiculously pink place only for Lydia.
But he couldn't find her.
Daniel frowned. Where was Lydia? She'd told him she'd be in the corners of the hall, with a glass of wine in her hand!
After spending quite a few minutes in the hall, Daniel finally decided to ask the host for an answer. He left the pink place and entered a rather grey and gloomy office -- it seemed like another place altogether!
He strode towards a man in a cutaway morning coat with an ascot tie, and asked him about the guest list. 'And why, young lad, should I show it to you?' the man asked with a raised eyebrow.
Daniel straightened his top hat and replied, 'If you didn't know, I am Mr Daniel Warren, heir of the Lancelot Mansion and co-owner of the J. Lancelot Hotel. Now, would you like to....'
'Sir, Sir! It was my mistake, Sir! Here is the guest list, Sir! Enjoy the evening, Sir!' the man cried, rummaging in his drawer for the guest list.
Daniel grinned inwardly, and left the mansion with the guest list.
Daniel scratched the back of his head. Why wasn't Lydia's name in the guest list? He'd eavesdropped on her telling her father all about her outfit, and what she was going to have there -- so was this a fraud?
He shook his head. What was he even thinking? Lydia wasn't a fraud. She couldn't be a fraud!
Daniel fumbled with the handkerchief in the pocket of his tuxedo. Had I misheard her? he wondered. Or... or is it something more sinister?
He shook his head once again and decided to drive to Lydia's house. He knew it would freak out Lydia... if she was there. And what else, thought Daniel, I can ask her out in her own house! That'll be better than asking her out in that pink hall.
He borrowed the automobile from Monsieur Bernard, and drove to Lydia's house. The lane in which they stayed was a bright one, filled with palm trees and free from busy streets.
So that's where Lydia gets her sweet smile from, thought Daniel, walking over to the house that had a label saying A.R Potter. The paint of the door was already peeling off, and the windows had a few cracks in them.
He rang the doorbell.
Daniel groaned and rang it once again.
This time, the door creaked open. An old man with dark holes under his eyes pulled it wide open. Upon seeing Daniel, he managed to smile and croaked, 'Are you Mr Lancelot's nephew?' Daniel was taken aback. 'H-Has Lydia mentioned me?' he asked him.
The old man smiled. 'You are too popular in these sides, lad -- but have a seat -- and then we shall talk.'
Daniel shrugged and entered the room and was immediately handed a mug of tea. 'Are you wondering why Lydia didn't attend the party?' asked the man.
Daniel nodded and the old man sighed. For a moment, Daniel thought he saw a flicker of despair in his eyes -- but in the next, it was gone.
'You see, lad, Lydia has caught fever. The doctor told her to rest for a few days. You can go up if you want to see her -- after all, it is my good fortune that the great Mr Warren has chosen to ask about my daughter,' said the man.
Daniel bowed. 'Thank you for your permission, dear Sir,' he said and trudged up the wooden stairs.
He pushed open the door of Lydia's room and gasped. Lydia was lying in bed with a hand on her forehead -- and she was coughing wildly!
Without thinking of anything, Daniel rushed to her side. 'Lydia, my Lydia! What has happened to you? Have you taken your pills?' he asked, clutching her hand.
Lydia turned her face towards Daniel. Her eyes were hollow and grey, and her face wore a blank expression which didn't suit her at all. Those didn't bother Daniel -- she always looked beautiful to him.
But the thing that really did bother Daniel was Lydia's question:
'Who are you?'
It was raining.
A drenched Daniel changed his clothes, washed his face and laid down in bed.
He pulled up his blankets and shivered. Has Lydia really forgotten me? he thought, his eyes brimming with tears. What have I done so wrong to achieve this fate, O Jesus? Why doesn't she remember me?
And then, he hunched up like a baby, and let the tears flow. He had spent years just memorizing the things he'd say -- if he'd ever get the chance to ask her out.
Daniel remembered the time he had bought his own horse buggy when Lydia was near him... he had sold it afterwards, though.
All these years, he'd known he was going to get her. But now, he thought bitterly, she barely remembers me.
He turned to the other side and grabbed a framed photograph from his bedside table. It had a picture of Daniel giving a bouquet of roses to a blushing Lydia, and...
'Enthuzimuzzy!' He cried, jumping out of his bed.
He seized the black-and-white photograph and looked closely at it. Lydia had been blushing in the picture -- the black ink was deepened. Had she actually liked me?? wondered Daniel.
And he knew, from his experience, that one could not forget a person he/she liked.
He then looked at the dress she was wearing. Lydia had been, for as long as Daniel could remember, the perfect American tomboy. She had always come to the school balls wearing not an extravagant gown with laces flying here and there, but a simple tuxedo and trousers.
But, Daniel remembered, Lydia was wearing a lace gown when she was in bed! If she wears a man's outfit outside, why does she wear a woman's at home?
Daniel pushed the photograph aside and shoved a pistol in his pocket. He knew that this was a mystery, and if the need arose -- well, he might have to shoot a few men.
Daniel rang the doorbell of A.R Potter's house.
The old man opened the door with a beaming smile, but his eyes were puffy and red.
Daniel narrowed his eyes and his hand reached instinctively for the pistol in his pocket as he invited him in.
'Mr Warren in my house twice! Well, this shall be news tomorrow....' the old man blabbered, handing Daniel a bowl of cabbage soup.
He looked at it apologetically. 'I'm sorry Mr Warren, but I ain't got nothin' more,' he said with a low bow.
Daniel kept the bowl on the creaky old table in the middle of the room. He glanced at the stairs and said:
'I suppose you do have something more, my dear sir.'
The old man furrowed his bushy brows and asked hoarsely, 'What do you mean, Sir? Poor Bill ain't got nothin' left....'
'Oh yes you do, Mr Potter, and I would like to hear it.' Daniel banged his fist on the table and glared at him. 'What you do have, Mr Potter, is secrets.'
The old man's eyes widened and he paled. 'W-What do you....' he began, but Daniel cut him off. 'Where is Lydia? And I mean the real Lydia, not the fake one you have upstairs,' he growled.
Mr Potter squeaked once as his knees gave away and he slumped to the torn sofa.
'Please....' he muttered weakly, 'don't h-harm me....'
Daniel took out his pistol and held it near his forehead. 'I can do anything if you don't tell me where Lydia is.'
The old man's shoulders sagged and he dropped his face into his palms. 'I can't say anything,' he whispered hoarsely, 'but I can give you a clue....'
He turned to the other side and pulled out his handkerchief. Daniel heard the scratches of a fountain pen and frowned. Why was a genuine man like Mr Potter hiding secrets, and moreover -- secrets about his own daughter?
Daniel opened the folded handkerchief in his bed. It was twelve o'clock, and there was not a sound except for an owl's hoots by the windowsill.
And on the handkerchief was written:
Made his by unlawful means,
That price now he must pay
The wife who never was the pot-maker's,
Has now gone astray.
Beneath the little poem was a question: Where do monsters hide in the rich man's house?
Daniel scratched his head. He was certainly a Sherlock Holmes lover, but to get entangled in a real-life mystery...
He straightened his tie. Judging by the look of despair in Mr Potter's eyes, it was obvious that his daughter was in danger. 'And I won't let anything happen to Lydia. My Lydia,' he promised himself.
Daniel read the poem again and again. Made his by unlawful means... he pondered, that must mean he had done something illegally. And the price he must pay... is he going to prison and wants to keep Lydia out of trouble?
He shook his head and read the third line. The wife who never was the pot-maker's... pot-maker... Potter! he thought, the butterflies intensifying in his stomach. Potter's wife? Did Mr Potter have a wife? I've never heard Lydia mention her mother...
A click went off in his brain. That meant the mystery had something to do with Lydia's mother! I think he never had a wife... but how can that be? Then how could Lydia have taken birth? Daniel pursed his lips and thought hard. Perhaps... perhaps... perhaps she was ADOPTED?
His jaw dropped in shock. Lydia had never mentioned that she was adopted! Perhaps she didn't know? Daniel asked himself. He inspected the last line. Has now gone astray -- oh, oh! Has Lydia's mother done something to her... oh, my Lydia... Daniel gulped as he finished reading the poem.
And one thing was clear to him.
Lydia was in extreme danger, and her birthmother was somehow involved in it. Negatively.
He then read the question. Where did monsters come from? he wondered. And in the rich man's house too?
He searched down his memory lane. When he was a teenager, he had been fond of horror stories. And over there... where did monsters hide? he asked himself.
And then it went click.
He grabbed his telephone and dialed the police. He knew one thing for sure. Lydia was in danger, because of her birthmother. And she was in the basement.
Daniel stepped into the basement, holding up his pistol and turning back once or twice.
The fog enveloped the wooden planks and swirled around Daniel as he made his way through the basement tentatively.
All was silent and Daniel had almost given up, when he heard a sob.
His ears perked up. Yes, there it was! It was coming from the deeper part of the basement -- and Daniel recognized the voice as a female's.
'Lydia,' he whispered, and told the police officers to follow him.
And then, a sharp knife flew at him out of nowhere!
Daniel neatly swerved to the left and avoided the fatal blow. The knife only skimmed against his coat and took a tiny piece of the silk with it.
Immediately, the police officers raised their shotguns and cried: 'WHO GOES THERE?'
Before Daniel could groan, a cackle answered: 'Ooh, it isn't Bill then, is it?'
'No, it's not,' said Daniel, knowing that his entire plan had been foiled. 'And are you Lydia's mother?'
Another cackle sounded, and a woman stepped into the light. She had curly blonde hair and the same green eyes that Lydia had, only they were hollow and cold, whereas Lydia's was warm and shining. A thin smile curved on the woman's blackened lips, making her look like the murderess of a Sherlock Holmes's mystery.
'Ooh, does ickle Warrenkins know me?' she asked in a mock-baby voice. Daniel felt a shiver run down his spine. This woman was an unpredictable maniac -- that he knew for sure.
'Yes, I am Daniel Warrens, and don't try anything on me, I've got the entire police force at my beck and call,' he warned her.
The woman's eagle-like nose twitched. 'Well, as an answer to your question, I am Lydia's mother -- or, as I had originally named her -- Rose. She was mine before that pesky young man came up and adopted her!' the woman chuckled. 'Well, now I've got back to him.'
'Where is Lydia?' thundered Daniel as one of the policemen fixed his shotgun's aim on the woman's forehead.
The woman repeated his question in her mock-baby voice. 'Are you blind? Why, she's sitting right there!' she pointed to a pillar cloaked in the dark.
Daniel squinted at it. And sitting against the pillar, was Lydia. His Lydia.
But her eyes were closed, and a stream of blood was bubbling down her mouth. Her skin was unnaturally pale and her wavy auburn hair was now tangled and stringy.
Daniel's eyes blazed as he turned towards the woman. 'What have you done to her?' he asked in a dangerously low voice.
The woman grinned broadly and waved his question away. 'Oh, nothing -- just slit her mouth open when she didn't want to open it,' she cooed.
Lydia's eyes fluttered open.
The woman lunged for his pistol.
And then, the policemen fired.
Six months later.
The smell of freshly baked cake wafted into everyone's nose as they settled down at their respective tables.
The musicians were playing a lovely song, the birds were chirping happily, and even Daniel's usually surly mother was gossiping with her neighbors!
A gentle breeze ruffled Daniel's sandy hair, and this time, he didn't even bother to smoothen it. Instead, he stared at his new bride.
Dressed in a simple, white gown with a long trail behind it, was the blonde Lydia, her green eyes sparkling against the sun.
Even without makeup, her face was glowing. Out of pride. Out of happiness.
That Daniel Warren, the courageous man who had saved her from a terrible fate inflicted upon her by her birthmother (and who secretly had a crush on her) was marrying her.