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The home of the Gasquet’s was, if anything, old. It was filled with old furniture and old memories and old, misty light. Old treasures found in the depths of earth, uncovered in Singapore, Egypt and Portugal by men and women in bandanas. And a young woman, just barely at the age of twenty-three, ran her hand along the old staircase. She was a petite, pleasant-looking girl with a healthy complexion and rosy cheeks. Her bright orange hair hung just below her chin, complimented perfectly by the olive-colored dress. When her feet reached the last step, she stopped for a moment and smiled.
“He’s perfect for me,” she convinced the cracked Aphrodite statue, “They’ll see.”
“And how exactly, my darling Elena, will we see?”
At the bottom of the staircase stood Mr. Gasquet, master of the household and excavator of Aphrodite and her neighboring artifacts. As a result of his many misadventures in the archeological field, the man had a charming, youthful sort of quality about him, despite his grey hair and weathered hands.
Elena took one final hop off of the stairs, giving her father a kiss on the forehead. “Because he loves me, my darling father. He’d do anything for me.” He responded with a grunt and Elena playfully frowned at him. “Oh you know you’ll like him.”
“Well, I guess we will all find out…very soon,” he said along with the bonging grandfather clock, which was given to him by a deceased princess of some sort. By the sixth clang, the happy doorbell chimed throughout the house, raising Mr. Gasquet’s eyebrows. “At least the boy’s punctual.”
With a quick swat of the hand, she shooed her father away into the dining room to join his wife at the table. And with a smile on her face, she opened the double panel doors to Mitchell Whittaker.
Mitch, as opposed to Elena, had been born and raised in the lower section of a middle class life. He had worked hard to get where he was at the moment, at the age of twenty-seven, and was really ready to settle down with a pleasant, petite redhead with rosy cheeks. So he kissed her softly on the lips when she greeted him at the door.
“This place is insane,” he whispered against her cheek, his eyes scanning the massive ceiling.
She whispered back, “Home sweet home.”
The two of them walked into the dimly lit room and second-guessing whirled in Mitch’s head. This girl would never have him. Nor would her family. It was obvious that they were fairly comfortable money-wise, so why would they even bother with an underprivileged man as him? A freshman nerd dating a beautiful senior on the basketball team; no respectable high school student body would stand for such an abomination.
Feeling like a kid in a haunted house, his grip on Elena’s hand tightened as who he assumed to be her parents came forward.
The father, with his hands placed behind his back, seemed to be examining him, processing this strange man who had caught the fancy of his precious daughter. His dark eyes ran up and down to gather the final information and he at last set his hand out. A welcoming smile was absent.
Not even thinking about how offensive it might possibly be, Mitch slapped his palm again that of the grey-haired man’s, enthusiastically shaking it with as much energy he could manage.
Gradually, that missing smile extended so much that his eyes seemed to shimmer. “I like him already, Elena” he chuckled heartily, “He knows how to shake with vigor.” The man’s laughter was contagious, prompting grins on the other three lips.
Once he had quieted down a bit, it was his wife’s turn to greet the young suitor. The woman must have been close to fifty– although Mitch would never state this– but everything about her seemed fresh; her hair had a gentle sway to it, her black dress seemed as though it could have been one of Elena’s and her skin was firm and California-tan. He briefly had to remind himself that this Mrs. Nicole Gasquet with the mysterious allure was not the woman he loved.
With a voice no louder than it needed to be, Mrs. Gasquet said, “Welcome to our home, Mitch. We’re so pleased to finally meet you. Elena speaks so highly of you that for a while Jean and I almost thought she had made you up.”
“But as we can see, our daughter, indeed, has a man after her heart.” He winked secretly at Elena as they took their places at the table. Once the four of them had all sat down to their meal, the head of the table look up and asked, “What do you do exactly, Mr. Whittaker?”
“Uh…I’m an attorney for the DA,” he replied, his eyes staring anxiously at the moist steak in front of him, “Up at the…courthouse.”
Mr. Gasquet followed his gaze, smirking. “Something wrong with your food, son?”
“He’s a vegetarian, father. Remember?”
At this comment, Mrs. Gasquet covered her mouth in what seemed to be an attempt to hold back her unexpected fit of laughter.
“Oh…” his grey eyebrows furrowed, “Then I suppose we’ll have to find something you can eat, won’t we?” Upon hearing the sound of clapping, a round woman in black and white, her face seeming to be permanently angry, marched into the dining room. She stood there like a soldier, awaiting orders to invade a foreign country on the other side of the world. “Yes, Sophie. Take Mr. Whittaker’s plate away and bring the poor boy some of that delightful soup you made.”
Without a word, the frightening lady turned and left the room. She came back less than a minute later, carrying a bowl of reddish soup but remained silent when Mitch thanked her.
The dinner went generally well, to Mitch’s surprise, after the steak incident. He found that Mr. Gasquet really wasn’t as intimidating as he appeared at their first meeting. But it seemed that Mrs. Gasquet was the one to be worried about. Throughout dinner, the woman would periodically glance up from her meal, giving the eye to her daughter’s boyfriend. At one point, he genuinely thought she was about to rip her dress off and come crawling across the table on all fours, whispering in almost a moan that she just, couldn’t, help herself.
“The bathroom!” he shouted suddenly.
Three shocked faces stared at Mitch, who was now on his feet, clenching his hands into fists.
He desperately pulled the discomfort back down his throat. “May I please use your restroom?”
In the bathroom, after having splashed water on his face, Mitch looked at his reflection in the intricately carved mirror. This was a test; her mother, her father, this house. It was all just one elaborate test to see if he was good enough for Elena Gasquet. “I am,” he nodded to himself, “I AM good enough for Elena Gasquet.” Tossing the washcloth back down on the counter, saying, “Yeah… Yeah! Hell YEAH I am!” he threw the bathroom door wide open.
And there, staring with her ready-for-action-sir! face, was Sophie. She stood at the door in her usual stance, but there was something different about her expression. Something fearful.
The two of them paused awkwardly, not making a sound, until he asked, “Excuse me?” thinking maybe he had misunderstood her thick accent.
“Get OUT,” she said again, only this time with more force. Her face scrunched into a giant ball of worry and robust hands reached for Mitch’s, squeezing them as if in the middle of a prayer. Her whisper turned into a full on plea. “You must get out of this house while you still have the chance. Please, Mr. Whittaker!”
Both Mitch and the maid jumped at the sound of Mr. Gasquet’s voice.
“So-pheee,” it called out in somewhat of a taunt, “Where are you?”
By the second beckoning, she had begun to pull herself away, back into the dark. “Get out now… It’s a matter of life…and death.”
Standing alone and in faint light, Mitch thought for a moment that he had accidentally stumbled into an authentic haunted house. The creepy maid giving warnings, the shady painting to the left of a man–or was it an animal?–in red attacking a group of villagers, the slinky, seductive black-clad woman. But in a matter of seconds, he had laughed it off. The creepy maid, he concluded, was nothing more, nothing less, than insane.
Either that, or the Gasquets went through a lot of trouble to test Elena’s boyfriends.
He continued with his “I’m good enough” mantra as he made his way through the aged home, pushing off this new impulse to open the doors running along the hallway.
When he walked back into the dining room, he was surprised to see that only Mr. Gasquet was present. The man was sitting, pipe in hand, in a cushioned chair set aside from the table. Facing him was an identical chair, intended for his young guest. He instructed him to sit and, once he had done so, Mr. Gasquet smiled a slightly mischievous grin. “I know why you wanted to have dinner with us, son.”
Mitch shifted uncomfortably. “Oh?”
He swore he could hear the arms of his watch ticking.
“Sir, I can promise you…I love your daughter. With all my heart and all I want is what’s best for her. Within the next year I’ll be getting more cases; by then I’ll be able to fully support her and–”
“Yes, yes, yes. Enough of that, my boy. I can see you love her.”
It took all of Mitch’s strength to remain calm. He hadn’t been nearly as eloquent as he had practiced, but he hadn’t expected her father to be so straightforward. It was like he was enjoying watching the “poor boy” squirm beneath his all-seeing, all-knowing eyes. Just as he was starting to wonder if Mr. Gasquet had fallen asleep with those eyes open, the man announced, “With all my heart, you have my blessing, son. I would have kicked you out long ago if I didn’t think you were good enough for my Elena.”
Letting out a harsh sigh, Mitch celebrated internally. He had passed their test; hell yeah, he was good enough. So what if he was a middle class grunt? So what if he didn’t have old money passed down from generations. The nerd had prevailed! Praise the Lord, the freshman nerd was getting his beautiful senior!
And this beautiful senior with the petite stature and adorable freckles, as informed by her father, was sitting in the study, waiting for her overjoyed nerd to propose. Her bare shoulders were now covered with a blanket, giving the impression of a child in the middle of winter; everything about her screamed innocence. He didn’t realize how much he truly loved her until witnessing this picturesque scene. His steps interrupted her stargazing and she blinked sleepily at him. Stretching her arms against the blanket, a smile spread.
“Was Dad being nice?”
He determined, taking a seat next to Elena that, “He just may be the nicest man I’ve ever met.”
“He’s like that when he approves of people.” With that, she gave him a reassuring pat on the hand. “So what’d you two talk about in there?”
After the incident with her father, he decided that perhaps the direct approach would be best in this situation. “I told him that I want to spend the rest of my life with you.”
She blinked, possibly still a bit too drowsy.
“I know this must be such a crappy proposal, but all I can say is that I love you and I always will.” Clumsily digging around in his pocket for a moment, he pulled out a small, blue box and opened it, revealing a diamond ring. “Elena…will you marry me?”
At first, the expression on her pixie-like face seemed pleased, bringing Mitch’s hopefulness to an all time high. But it didn’t stop there. Her lips pulled wider against her cheeks, and her eyes squinted deviously. She was giggling. And the giggling grew to a mocking cackle. “Of COURSE I won’t marry you!” she managed between breathless laughs.
Confused and heartbroken, Mitch stared as she lugged herself to her feet, holding her aching stomach, and called for her parents at the doorway. He looked back down at the ring. Was it really that pathetic?
Mr. And Mrs. Gasquet came at once and immediately found Elena’s joke to be just as humorous as she did. Mrs. Gasquet even stated, “I love when they do that.” The three pairs of eyes eventually turned back to Mitch, who was on the unusual verge of tears. He didn’t notice until they had come within a foot of him that they were all holding rope.
Without warning, each parent took hold of an arm, trying to pull him across the room while Elena cheerfully watched at the side.
His flailing around wasn’t in complete vain, until they called for Sophie. Reluctantly, the woman yanked Mitch’s arm, as if he was a mere toddler, throwing him on a wooden table made by a carpenter in the Middle East. Holding his scraggly body down while the others tied his wrists and ankles to the table, Sophie whispered regretfully, “I tried, Mr. Whittaker. You didn’t listen to me.”
“What is this?! What the hell is this?!” he shouted above the now chanting Gasquet family, his eyes watching Elena in disbelief, “What are you, a witch?!”
“Hm…In a way. I suppose you could think of us as fangless vampires.” Still grinning, Elena pulled out a (too) dull dagger. “To simplify it for you, I need the blood of men who love me. Like you, my darling.” With the shadows around her eyes and her parents chanting in an unknown language, she seemed almost demonic. “Usually I need one a year,” she continued, “But I think your blood will last two, atleast.”
“How much blood do you need?”
The pleasant, petite redhead closed her eyes in pure ecstasy. “Bone dry…”
“No!” he screamed, tugging at the ropes, flinging his body helplessly, “No, I don’t love you! I’m useless if I don’t love you!”
Mrs. Gasquet, breaking her trance for a second, pressed her hand to her lips in another fit of laughter. “They always say that.”
In an attempt to appear innocent once again in Mitch’s eyes, Elena pushed her bottom lip out the smallest bit and ran her hand along his cheek. She whispered, “I’ll die, Mitch. Without your love, I’ll shrivel up and die. I’ll get older and weaker and soon I’ll be nothing but a skeleton. That isn’t what you want…is it?”
Mitch squeezed his eyes shut. No. No it wasn’t what he wanted. She was lovely. Despite all her gruesomeness, despite her cruel laughter, he still loved her. And knowing that, he couldn’t let her die.
Holding the dagger high above her head, Elena turned to father. “I told you he’d do anything for me.”