Nothing changed. As far as he could tell, everything remained the same, except for the growing dust covering every surface of the cabin.
He could clearly tell they left in such haste, taking only the bare minimum as they went in the dead of the night. A dead chuckle bubbled up within Matthias’ chest as he continued to survey the room.
The frustration in him kept bubbling up as well, the more he stared at it. How could they leave this place so suddenly? He knew very well how precious this place had been for the old gardener and his Leyla.
The sounds of pelting raindrops hitting the cabin echoed loudly in the darkened silence he found himself in. His breathing became rhythmic in tandem with the rain. Matthias turned, and walked down the hallway. He soon found himself face to face with the door to Leyla’s room. He’d been in here once, savouring every feel of her body against his, drowning in the pleasure of her…
But now it was abandoned…
But it didn’t matter, he’d see Leyla here again and make new memories.
Matthias soon found himself sitting at the edge of her bed. He quickly flicked on the lampshade on the bedside table and looked around the room.
It screamed Leyla. And for a moment, he wondered if he could summon her again with just the call of her name. Every inch and crevice of the room, he could see ghosts of her.
Lately he kept dreaming of her running in front of him, and then she would stop and look back at him. Almost as though she was waiting for him to come find her. There was a twinkling in her eye, almost like she’s about to laugh…
And then she’d run again, and turn back to look at him again.
He often found himself eyeing her lips, watching as though they were whispering something…
“Please love me.”
Her honeysuckle voice echoed in the deep recesses of his mind. Matthias straightened up from his seat. Those last words of hers kept looping in his head. A subtle warmth grew in his chest the more he thought about her waiting for him to come to her for a change.
His lips pursed into a thin line, his eyes staring around him, but not really looking at the now-rundown cabin…
His breathing grew ragged as the warmth in his chest started turning into an ice-cold grip. While her sweet words swirled in his head, her absence was screaming at him they had all been lies!
His knuckles turned white as he clenched his fists tightly to limit his shaking. He crouched in on himself, ignoring the swaying dust all around him as he pounded his fists into the worn-down mattress.
He quickly shot up to his feet, and began pacing, trying to calm his breathing as the warmth returned with a vengeance, burning hotter than ever….
And then he felt it. The blazing fire in his chest was suddenly doused, and he paused to look at what he’d kicked.
It was a large wooden box, partially sticking out from underneath the bed. It piqued his curiosity. What was in it? Were they more secrets of Leyla?
And just like that, Matthias felt reinvigorated at the knowledge of seeing only something Leyla knew. This was another one of her secrets only he would know. The sudden elation he felt prompted him to quickly pry into the box, ignoring the huff of dust upon the lid falling haphazardly on the floor.
They were all junk, as far as Matthias could tell. Why would she even keep them? Though he wouldn’t deny that the box seemed familiar.
And then it clicked.
It was a gift—specifically, a gift from him.
He sat back down on the bed, and began to sift through the contents of the box, the curiosity in him building up upon the knowledge Leyla left a box which contained a gift from him.
He pulled out a velvet box first, and popped it open. In it contained a beautifully carved crystal bird. It shone brightly in the darkened room, its wings painted a faint yellow, appearing golden, like Leyla’s hair.
This was the one he had commissioned after seeing her delight in their visit under the passage in the museum.
‘My Leyla…’ Matthias declared softly to himself, but a nagging voice, a quiet voice was whispering to him he never owned her. Not even a little bit.
He closed the velvet box up swiftly, and returned to look into more of the box’s contents.
More and more, he found more of the gifts he’d given her left behind. Even the shoes he’d bought for her in replacement for the one he’d stained with ink.
She really did it then, took every single thing he’d given her out of the goodness of his heart, and left it behind, left everything behind as she left him.
He wanted to laugh at the pettiness of it all, he wanted to be angry even at her throwing away his gifts for her. But what was the point? Leyla was not here.
She was not here to see him. She disappeared from him, leaving him behind.
So what did she have left?
A puddle of rain formed beneath him the more he stayed in the house. He could care less about creating a pool of mess in this cabin. No one was left in it to care for it after all.
Surely, she must have left behind something else, not just his gifts. There must be something she would be willing to return to. She can’t leave him like this.
He resumed wandering around the small room, digging through every crevice and corner of her room, practically grasping at straws for something to cling on to. Her things have been upturned, her books, and many other irrelevant objects.
Nothing personal, as far as he could tell, and stronger and stronger the rain pelted down on the cabin outside.
And then he saw it, in the corner of his eyes. A small journal, haphazardly splayed out on the floor by the foot of the bed.
A diary, the kind for a child.
His pale, calloused hands picked it up, scanning through the entry it had been opened on, and realized whose it was.
It was Leyla’s diary from childhood.
A new insight into Leyla’s mind. How fascinating! At that moment, Matthias completely disregarded his promise to himself to move on from her. He doesn’t want to move on from her.
He flipped immediately to the beginning, Leyla’s first day in Arvis.
[ I got in Arvis today. And I met Uncle Bill too. He’s very big and scary, but don’t worry, he wasn’t scary at all!
He never even hit me! He doesn’t even make a lot of noise too. Also, I got dinner! He gave me one. He said he likes seeing children eat like a cow, so I tried to eat like one!
He didn’t get angry I ate a lot. Plus, his food was yummy!
So yeah, I like Uncle Bill. He wasn’t scary. I guess Arvis pretty too.
Hopefully he’ll adopt me! Then I won’t have to go to that orphanage. I promise I’ll be really good too! Wish me luck!]
Tucked in the pages behind the diary entry, were a couple of dried grass and petals of random flowers Matthias never bothered to learn. There were also a couple of doodles here and there of trees, flowers and birds.
He assumed they were rough imitations of what she’d seen in Arvis.
He flipped on to another page.
[I was in the forest today! And guess what I saw? The duke! And he tried to shoot me too! I got so scared that I had to cry!
Though, I thought he was reeaaally cute! And his voice was so soft and smooth too! It was soft like that bird feather I picked up! The one I gave Uncle Bill!
Speaking of, I asked him if all the noblemen were pretty like the duke, and he said no I guess the duke’s special. Though I don’t understand why he would do bad things.]
The memory flashed in front of his eyes as he recalled their first meeting. He’d seen a small girl sitting on the tree at that time as he had been strolling down by the riverside.
He’d shot at her initially, thinking she had been a bird. It had come as a surprise for him; it had been a person instead. And since that moment, he’d often seen her around their designated hunting grounds.
When interacting with young nobles like he and Riette, most people, or servants would often shower them with compliments and care. Not Leyla though, she had made it a point to turn the other way around as soon as she gave her respects to him.
She made it clear early on, how afraid she’d been of him.
He was brought back to the present, hands clasped firmly around the edges of the child’s diary. Half of him didn’t want to keep reading, but the prospect of letting Leyla go wouldn’t let him as well.
He needed to keep reading.
And so he did, and on and on it went. Her feelings in Arvis, her childish adventures and discovery since coming to Arvis. Her day-to-day life with Uncle Bill. The more Matthias read, the more he understood what it was that Leyla wanted.
And he’d also learned more about the flowers and birds that grew in Arvis, things that were unimportant to him. He read about the compliments her uncle would give her, her experiences in every season…
And then he stumbled upon the entry on her first time ever tasting an ice cream. He could hear the sadness bleeding out of her entry as he read into it.
[I was called to the mansion today! I also met the duke’s relative. I wanted to play with her, but I didn’t understand the game. She called me a puppy, and then left. I don’t know what that meant, but puppies are cute, right?
I tried showing her how good I am at other things! But she just told me she’s a lady. She seemed to hate climbing trees and running too. So I just kept following her around, and then she gave me money!
They told me to take it though, even when I told them I didn’t need money. But I did take it. I guess I was so shy at the moment, I dropped the money on the floor and then the scary duke came!
He stepped on it too! And I felt terrified and embarrassed. I had to crawl in front of him to pick them up! He’s still pretty, but scary. I went home crying, and told uncle everything!
He told me not to cry though, I was doing my job. So I should be proud I made honest money. It’s weird. He told me I would be an amazing adult. But everyone kept calling me unlucky because I’m an orphan…]
Leyla proceeded to pour out her feelings, writing down her cousin’s from her aunt teasing her how she’d be a prostitute. It wasn’t until later on that she realized what it meant, and she’d been so upset and even fought with her brother when he said it to her too.
And then she wrote down the consequences of her fighting back. How they’d hit her, and starve her. In her hunger, she even ate a turnip fresh from the garden, but she got caught and got hit again for disobeying.
Her aunt called her a thief after that. And she’d end up a prostitute, cheating people off their money. Everyone else kept telling her the same thing…
But Uncle Bill was different. He told her she’d be a good adult, but she didn’t understand what a good adult was supposed to be. So she kept quiet, believing her uncle to be all wise, then she must grow up to be one too.
[… I can’t sleep well. I keep dreaming what I’d be when I grow up! I wonder what uncle Bill saw. He’s smart, so he can predict the future! Oh I can’t wait to grow up and be a good adult!
And then Uncle Bill will be happy and I will be happy! He laughed at me when I said that but that’s okay, I like hearing his laugh.]
The words ran out long before Matthias moved on from that entry. It was a joke for him, stepping on the money and making her pick it up with great difficulty. He didn’t think much of it, so he can’t remember why he even did that to her back then.
All he knew was that she intrigued him, and he wanted to tease her more. Push more of her buttons and see how much she could take from him.
It’s been so long after all. He hardly even remembered much of the details of his childhood. Leyla was the only thing he could remember so vividly, her beauty, her green eyes, how she cowered from his presence…
The sky grew darker outside. Still Matthias remained in the abandoned cabin.
She wrote and wrote every single thing in her childhood down, eventually refreshing more and more of his memory with every account of hers that mentioned him. Her goals kept changing.
From getting good grades, mastering the bicycle, and then living a happy life with Bill, Kyle was part of her plans here, but most of the names she mentioned he didn’t recognize.
Probably because they were inconsequential to him being with her. Never mind she kept mentioning they lived around Arvis too.
The last entry was about winter. It stood out to Matthias because it was that winter, that he came upon owning a beautiful bird to entertain him to his heart’s content.
He wanted to read more, and resumed his search around the room, but saw no more. She wrote nothing more to leave him with.
How odd. He used to think his time with her was the highlight of his meager life. But it seemed as though, for her, he was her nightmare in the flesh.
How odd. Why did she see it like that?
Perhaps it was because he spent too much time looking at her? He was merely a spectator of her life from afar after all. And the more he watched, the more annoyed he got how out of reach she kept trying to be from him.
But lately, he found himself devoid of caring about anything else. His fingers twitched.
He wanted to sleep again. Had he been in his room he would have reached for those sleeping pills again. And then he’d be asleep shortly.
Deciding that nothing was left for him here, he flicked the lampshade off, and trudged out with heavy steps outside the cabin.
It was time to return to his mansion.
He was only out for a walk, and that was what it looked like to his attendants who eagerly waited and cared for him as soon as he arrived. They fretted over him and his health, telling him to get warm from the rain…
That’s right, it had still been raining when he left the cabin. He wondered how he could have missed that.
Still, despite their cries for him to get something warm in his, Matthias ignored them, heading sluggishly back to his room. Every desperate plea they reasoned with him all became an annoying buzzing of insects to him.
As he reached his bedroom door, he was greeted by the hardened expression on Hessen’s face upon the sight of him. The old butler’s lips were pressed into a thin line, before sighing in resignation.
Just behind him was a sobbing maid. She looked familiar.
Ah, that was the maid Hessen showed him would be taking care of his bird upon his leave.
He walked forward, and addressed his butler.
“How’s my bird?” He asked softly, and Hessen’s face grew somber, as he bowed his head apologetically at him…
“I am deeply sorry, my Lord,” Hessen began, and the maid’s sobbing sounds grew louder. “I’m afraid the canary didn’t make it, my Lord.”
A loud ringing began to echo in Matthias’ ears.
“Your bird’s dead, my Lord.” Hessen finished.