I could not get that door and the painting out of my head. Every time I walked past the castle painting in the front hall, I looked at it. I kept trying to find the mystery behind it. Esther caught me lifting it up to see if another painting hid behind it.
“Cassie, what are you doing?” Esther asked, seeing me putting the painting back against the wall.
I debated about what to tell her, but I figured I couldn’t look any crazier so I said, “Last week, while waiting for the kids to come down, I could have sworn I saw people and a storm in this painting.”
Instead of looking at me like I was crazy, she laughed, “Maybe you did.”
“What?” I asked in surprise.
“This painting may be older or as old as the castle.” She smiled, “Rumor has it that what we see is not the true painting and only the moon can reveal the true painting.” She shrugged, “Maybe you saw the true painting.”
I stared at her, even as she turned to assist some student. Finally, I returned to the library. As I assisted various students find books and topics, it hit me. I needed to do some research. Surely something somewhere could tell me more about this mystery.
I really needed to find it. I kept seeing the scene from the painting in my dreams. It did not make for restful sleep.
Thus began my deep dive into the history of the island and art. I had to stay focused during the hours the library was open, but I found myself staying later and later, doing research. I hunted up any book that I could find that mentioned the island or showed artwork that included castles.
One night, a week or so later, I stared at pictures on the Google image search for paintings of castles in storms. Carefully I moved through each picture of paintings, trying to find the one painting that matched my memory. Then I heard the door behind me open. Turning my head, I watched Caden walk in.
When he caught my gaze, he asked, “Cassie, what are you still doing here? You missed dinner, again.”
I glanced over at the clock. It read 8:30 pm. Yep. I missed dinner and now that he reminded me I could feel my stomach clench in hunger. “I guess I did,” I replied, returning my eyes to the computer.
Caden approached asking, “What are you doing?”
He looked over my screen to see me click through a few more images before I responded, “I know it seems crazy, but I swear that castle picture looked completely different when I saw it, so I’m trying to find it or at least about it.”
Caden reached over covering my hand, stopping me from moving the mouse to the next picture. “Cassie, are you doing this to prove you’re not crazy? Because you’re not. I believe you. I’ve seen it before too.”
“So why didn’t you say anything that night?” I cried at him pulling my hand away.
“I didn’t want to worry the students and I hoped you would forget about it,” he said a little sheepishly, looking down at his shoes. His blond bangs flop forward and my fingers twitched to brush his bangs back. Then I realized what he had said.
I smiled at him incredulously, “Have you not learned anything about me?” When his eyes met me, I laughed lightly, “I almost broke into your room in my curiosity while exploring my first day here. What makes you think I’d ignore a mysterious, disappearing painting?”
He laughed a little at my words. “You’re right,” he agreed, “I should’ve known better.”
Smiling, I turned back to my computer to continue my search, but Caden stopped me by grabbing my hand again. “Cassie, you need to stop.” I looked at him, eyebrows raised in question. “At least for tonight,” he clarified, “You need to get some rest.”
“You’re right,” I agreed. Pulling my hand away I slowly shut down my computer. Yawning, I gathered my stuff to take to my room. I needed to check on my girls, anyways. I had responsibilities. My search could wait a little longer.
“Cassie,” Caden’s soft voice penetrated my thoughts and I looked at him. “How has your sleep been?” he asked.
I chuckled as I asked, “Polite lie or complete truth?” Before starting to walk to the door to lock it.
“Cassie,” he stopped me, his hand on my shoulder and I looked up into his blue eyes. He seemed to be searching for something, then he said, “Complete truth, please.”
I closed my eyes, removing myself from his gaze, then turned away and continued to lock up.
“Cassie?” his voice pleaded and I sighed.
“Honestly, I have not slept well since the night of the hunt,” I finally replied.
“Why not?” he asked softly.
I threw a smile his way, “In my dreams I enter the painting, always running after the knight. Yet I know I won’t make it on time. I see him enter the castle, but wake before I reach the doors.” I sighed again, “I tend to wake up with my heart racing, and terrified.” I looked at him. “That’s also why I’m searching. Maybe if I know more, the dreams will stop.” As I said this my voice trailed off as I watched Caden turn around and leave, almost like he couldn’t get far enough away from me.
“Well, Cassie,” I muttered to myself as I walked to the door, “There goes another one.” Giving myself a wry smile, I made my way to my room, checked on the girls, and attempted to read before lights out.
A few minutes later, I looked up to see Caden walk into my room and close the door. “Caden?” I questioned, then added, “You really have to stop closing my door for me. People might talk.”
His chuckle was the only acknowledgment I received as I watched him sit down next to me on the bed, as I pulled myself into a sitting position.
“You’re special, Cassie,” he said smiling. Then almost to himself, “More special than even I realized.”
“Why thank you?” I said questioningly. I was not quite sure he meant that as a compliment.
His big grin flashed at me as he held something out to me, “I want you to have this.”
“Why?” I asked taking a small wooden box out of his hands. The dark wood box had the carving of a crown on it.
“Open the box,” he urged.
Giving in to my curiosity, I opened it to find a fine silver filigree pendant of a Celtic knot and tree on a fine silver chain. “What’s this?” I asked.
“It’s a necklace,” he stated the obvious.
Rolling my eyes, I said, “I see that, but what is it?”
He smiled at me, “It’s a necklace that used to be my mother’s. She said it meant the full moon and gave her protection,” he explained then added, “I want you to have it.”
“Oh, Caden,” I whispered, staring at the beautiful necklace, “I can’t take this. It’s your mother’s.” I attempted to give it back to him.
He curled my fingers around the box pushing it back towards me, “No, I want you to have it.” Then he smiled, “Besides I think my mother would agree that you should have it.”
I stared into his blue eyes as he smiled into my own. Even with the smile, his eyes looked serious and a part of me had fallen in love with the necklace as soon as I saw it. I gave in. “Thank you.”
I pulled it out of the box, carefully touching the pendant.
He touched my hands over the pendant, “One request,” he said and I looked up at him, “You must wear it always.”
“Always?” I questioned, “Like to bed and shower?”
He paused a second, then nodded, “Please?” he whispered.
Well, that was a weird request but for this beauty, I could do it. I sighed as if this was such an imposition, “Okay, I will always wear it.” Then paused and added, “Unless I start turning green, then I’m taking it off.” I handed him the necklace and turned my back to him, “Here help me put this on.”
He chuckled lightly, “No worries, your skin will stay its beautiful, porcelain color.” I felt him stand and lean close as he fastened the necklace around my neck.
After a few minutes, he whispered, “Thank you, Cassie,” kissed my head then strode out before I could even turn around.
Fingering the pendant lying just below my neck on my chest, I pondered what had just happened until my alarm went off reminding me of lights out.