Hello, everyone, and welcome to Take Two! In case you didn't know, this is my second (and hopefully last) attempt at writing this story, because I didn't much like the first version and how it was.
If you read what I wrote of the first edition of this story, then you need to know that things are different in this one. However, if you didn't, then you're completely new to the story, which is just as good a thing.
Whether you're returning or not, I would once again like to welcome you to the story, and I hope you stay. And now, without further ado...
Chapter One - In the Dark
A wind blew through the city of Montville, Connecticut, late one evening, telling its residents that a storm was coming. Because of this, the streets were almost completely abandoned. Mothers were yelling at their children to come inside for the thousandth time, people who had been out with friends and lovers late at night were rushing home, and those who were inside their places of residence were looking out the window, eying the sky nervously and hoping that the coming storm would pass quickly.
Through all of this, only one man didn't seem too concerned with escaping from the outdoors. Instead, he simply walked through a nearby park, listening to the wind blow through the trees above him as the thunder and lightning started to sound. This man's name was James Adlam.
James wasn't the type of person who particularly enjoyed inclement weather, especially storms, but he did enjoy the darkness, and since nighttime was when it was the most dark, he was always out at night, whether there was a storm or not. Nighttime was the only time where he could, for the most part, avoid the stares and whispers of others when they took note of the mask that covered three-quarters of his face, save for his lower lip and chin.
The wind blew around him, causing his hair to blow around his face, and he sighed rather impatiently, running the thin fingers of one hand through his hair and trying to keep it out of his eyes. Damn the wind. It was the source of many problems in the world, including something as insignificant as one's hair getting in one's face.
Boom! A thunderclap echoed and then resonated as it faded, and it was then that raindrops began to fall from sky, hitting James's clothing and bouncing off of his mask. Because of this, for once, he was actually glad that he wore a mask, for it prevented the majority of his face from getting wet. He was, in a lot of ways, like a cat - he preferred darkness to light, for he had the ability to see quite well when it was dark, and he despised getting wet.
He took a deep breath, the rain-filled air filling up his lungs, and he then let out a sigh that was a sigh of ecstasy. The reason he went out at all was to get fresh air, for living in one's house the entire time wasn't exactly good for one's health, and the outdoors gave him the only thing that he believed he actually needed - fresh air.
Fresh air, though it wasn't all he wanted, was the only thing he was certain that he would ever get. What his mask hid from the rest of the world deprived him of the ability to live a completely normal life, so he fully believed that fresh air would be the only thing he wanted that he could get without making bad things happen.
His thoughts were interrupted when he heard a cry from nearby, causing him to jolt and find shelter behind one of the nearby trees in case someone came along. He didn't want anyone catching sight of him; he didn't want anyone staring at him at night.
After several moments, no one had come along, so he thought that it was safe after all and walked back onto the sidewalk, shrugging and telling himself that he had just imagined the noise as he proceeded walking. However, he was very quickly proven wrong.
There, several steps ahead of him, a figure was sitting on the ground. Quiet sobs were issued from the figure, and, judging by the form of this figure, he guessed that it was a girl.
He looked at the girl sitting on the sidewalk and crying for a moment, wondering if it would be the epitome of foolishness to approach her and if it would be better if he just turned around and walked away without acknowledging her.
However, whether it was foolish or not, he decided that he was going to speak to her, for it seemed to him that something was obviously wrong with her. He thought about how old she might be, the possibility of her having someone in the world who cared for her, and whether or not she knew where she was.
Sighing resignedly, he rather tentatively took a few steps up to where the girl was sitting on the sidewalk and looked down at her. She seemed unaware of his presence, for she continued crying without doing anything to acknowledge him being there.
He cleared his throat and very lightly placed a hand on her shoulder. "Hey."
Upon feeling his hand on her shoulder, she jolted and looked up at him, allowing him to see that she wasn't that old - she couldn't have been any older than fifteen or sixteen. She had on rather large-looking glasses, and tears and rain streamed down her face at the same time.
The moment she took note of his mask was obvious to him, for her eyes widened for a brief moment, and then she stared up at him, not saying anything or making any sort of movement.
"You know, it's terribly rude to stare," he said severely, any compassion that he had previously felt for this girl suddenly shriveling up dramatically. He folded his arms across his chest. "Didn't your parents ever teach you that?"
At that, she bowed her head, staring down at the concrete of the sidewalk, and mumbled something that he only got the words parents and gone out of.
"I'm sorry," she finally said, looking back up at him and running a hand through her hair, which was getting wetter with each passing moment. "Sorry for staring and... being in your way. You're standing here because you can't get by me, right?"
The moment she'd finished speaking, he was immediately taken aback by the humility and slight embarrassment in her tone. She hadn't meant to stare at him; he knew for a fact that it was a natural reaction whenever people saw his mask. However, though he'd scolded several people before for staring at him, none of them had ever apologized. They'd simply walked away as quickly as possible, faces flushing.
This girl was at least slightly different from the others, then. This was enough to make him feel slightly bad for her once again.
"Do you know where you are?" he inquired, not bothering to answer her question. To him, she acted as if she was a litttle bit lost.
"Yes, I know where I am," she replied, raising her eyebrows at him because the question surprised her. "I live here... not in the park, obviously. I live in this city."
"Hmm. May I ask why you're sitting on the sidewalk in the park in the middle of the night, especially when there's a storm out?" His tone suddenly became scolding once again. "You'll get sick if you stay out here, you know."
"No one cares what happens to me," she said, and though her tone was matter-of-fact, he also heard the hidden sorrow in it. She sniffed and passed a hand across her nose. "No one would notice if I got sick... or if I got abducted... or anything like that."
"What makes you say that?" he demanded rather incredulously, wondering where in the world this girl had come from. He hadn't seen a teenager act so cynical since he'd acted the same way during his own adolescent years.
"Oh... never mind," she sighed, sniffing again and then attempting to stand up. However, she winced and let out a whimper of pain. "Ouch! That hurt..."
"What's wrong?" he asked worriedly, as he hated seeing people hurt when it wasn't his own doing. He scanned her for a moment, looking from her face and then going down from there, his eyes traveling to her neck, her collarbone, her breasts, her stomach...
He then sighed and squeezed his eyes shut, feeling terrible. He thought that this girl had a rather attractive body, especially for someone her age, but she was obviously hurt, both physically and emotionally. Besides, she was evidently about half his age. He didn't need to be desiring her; she was too young.
Opening his eyes, he glanced down to her legs and saw that she'd scraped up her knee on her right leg pretty well, for the injury was wide and rather long.
"Oh," he breathed softly, immediately squatting down next to her and examining the injury for a moment. "How did you do that, may I ask?"
"I'm terribly clumsy sometimes," she explained, sounding rather embarrassed. "I was walking through here and slipped... or tripped... I don't even know. I inexplicably fall and run into things a lot."
"And you can't get up by yourself?"
"No. It hurts too much."
He sighed inwardly, but he knew that he couldn't just leave this girl alone. God only knew how she would be able to make it somewhere to take care of herself on her own.
"All right. I'm going to take you to my house and clean up your scrape. Is that all right with you?" he asked, extending a hand down to her as he rose. "I promise that I won't do anything to hurt you more than you already are."
She glanced from the hand he'd offered her and up to his face several times, and then she evidently decided that she believed him, for she grabbed his hand in one of hers and, with his help and a moan of pain, she stood up.
"Thank you," she sighed, releasing her hold on his hand and then taking ahold of his shoulder. "Where do you live?"
"Only a few blocks from here," he replied, glancing at the hand resting on his shoulder in surprise for a brief moment, as he couldn't remember the last time that someone had touched him of their own accord. He then started walking slowly so that she would be able to hobble alongside him. "It's not that far. Come on."
They then headed out of the park and towards the place where he lived, he walking and she hobbling, until they came to a rather large house that was really probably considered a mansion by most that was surrounded by a tall iron fence.
"Wow," she breathed in awe, looking up to the top of the fence and then looking straight ahead and past the fence to his house. "You live here?"
"Yes," he replied, stepping to the side against the fence and punching a five-digit code into a nearby keypad. The gate opened, and they walked through it as it then closed.
They came to the front steps of the house and walked up them, and he unlocked and opened the door. When they walked inside together, her breath was taken away by what her eyes met.
All around the house, there was the nicest furniture she'd ever seen, bookshelves packed with books, and some antique items that she had never seen anywhere else. There were three floors, and there was a polished oak staircase that led up to the second and third floors.
"This place is beautiful," she said softly. "Who else lives here with you?"
"Well... no one."
"No one lives here with you?" she inquired, turning to look at him and raising her eyes in surprise. "I can't believe you live in such a huge place by yourself. But, you know, I guess that means you don't have to worry about other people bothering you."
"Hmm" was his only reply. He then motioned to the living room. "Go in there and sit on the sofa. I'm going to get some peroxide and bandages."
Her eyes widened in shock, and she shook her head fervently. "Oh, I can't do that. I mean, your stuff had to have been really expensive, and I'm all wet. I'd ruin it."
"Don't worry about it," he replied nonchalantly, waving it away and shrugging. "Most of what I own is damaged in some way, anyway, so it doesn't really matter. Go ahead and take a seat. I'll be right back."
"Thank you," she said quietly, walking into the living room and then sitting down on the sofa, trying her best to sit up straight so that she wouldn't get the sofa any more wet. However, she felt tired, so she let out a sigh and leaned back, relaxing and closing her eyes.
When he walked back into the living room with a bottle of peroxide, some cotton, and bandages, he saw her leaning against the sofa with her eyes closed and wondered if she had fallen asleep. She looked as if she'd been through a lot recently.
"Hey," he said softly, walking over to her and placing a hand on her shoulder. He shook her a little. "Wake up."
She opened her eyes and looked up at him, sighing and then sitting up straight.
"Oh, I'm sorry," she sighed, rubbing her eyes and yawning a little. "I wasn't really asleep. I'm just really tired, so I was resting for just a second. I'm not trying to fall asleep at your house or anything."
"It's all right, I suppose," he replied with a shrug, grabbing a nearby footstool and sitting down on it. Then he reached out and took the leg that she'd injured, resting it on one of his legs and then opening the peroxide bottle, putting it on some cotton and then starting to clean her wound, trying not to think about how smooth the skin of her leg was.
"So... sorry," he said when he started to clean one spot of her injury and she let out a hiss of pain, pulling her leg back slightly. He took it back to where it had been before and continued cleaning it. "Are you going to tell me your name?"
"Oh, how rude of me," she said guiltily, extending a hand out to him. "I'm Stacey Burns. And you are?"
"James," he replied, taking her hand in his and holding onto it for a moment. "James Adlam."
"James Adlam," she echoed, looking thoughtful. "That's a Scottish last name, isn't it? And you're Scottish, judging by your accent?"
"Yes, it is, and yes, I am." He paused for a moment, continuing to clean her wound before he spoke again. "Now, what were you doing out in the park all by yourself at this time of night - and especially when there's a storm outside?"
"I was just looking for somewhere to be alone for a while," she said with a sigh. "Like I said, no one cares what happens to me. Besides, I didn't want to be around the people that I live with now."
"The people you live with now?" he echoed, raising his head and stopping his cleaning of her injury for a moment to look at her. "Why don't you live with your parents?"
For a moment, she simply looked at him without saying anything, but then her eyes lowered from his, and she folded her hands in her lap in a manner that he found to be rather old-fashioned. Then she finally said quietly, "My parents have died."
He swallowed hard, hoping that he hadn't sounded harsh or insensitive during the two times that he'd mentioned her parents, both in the park and just now. "I'm sorry. May I ask what happened to them?"
"Sure, I guess," she replied, shrugging. "My mom died when I was little... four, to be exact. I don't really know what happened. I think she had cancer or some other terminal illness. And my dad... well, my dad just died about three weeks ago. He had a heart attack."
For a moment, they were both silent, and then she looked up at him again, smiling slightly with tears in her eyes and finishing with a slight laugh, "He really enjoyed eating his big Irish breakfasts at the diner every morning... it clogged up his arteries."
He attempted to smile back at this, but found that he couldn't. He reached his free hand out to place it on top of one of hers, but he didn't know if she would welcome the gesture or not, as they didn't know each other very well, so he froze for a moment before pulling back without touching her.
"Well, if it makes you feel any better, I never knew my father," he murmured, almost in an absent manner, as he focused on her knee, which he'd resumed taking care of. "He died before I was born."
"That's sad," she said softly, her tone sympathetic. "Did your mom miss him a lot? I know my dad missed my mom."
"Yeah," he replied, letting out a rather bitter laugh for a moment as he shook his head. "I think she would have preferred to have lost me than to have lost him. She and I have never gotten along very well."
"I'm sorry," she said, clearing her throat while her face reddened slightly. "I didn't mean to bring up something bad like that... I didn't know. But I won't talk about it any more now."
"You don't have anything to apologize for," he replied with a shrug, finally stopping cleaning her wound and now placing super-sized Band-Aids on her knee to allow it to heal without having germs get inside of it or without it somehow getting injured further. "There. All finished."
"Thank you," she said, smiling appreciatively at him as their eyes met. "You really did me a big favor by helping me out. If you hadn't come along, I would have either had to stay out in the park all night or I would have had to drag myself somewhere."
"It wasn't any trouble," he said, looking into her eyes, which were a dazzling blue-green color, for a moment more before taking note of her facial features for the first time.
As he'd already noted, her eyes were blue-green, but it was hard to tell because a glare was caused by the light hitting her glasses, causing him to wonder how much more entrancing her eyes might be without glasses. She seemed to have none of the acne that was a source of worry for so many teenagers both male and female; her skin was clear and smooth. Her hair, which was stringy from getting wet and then starting to dry, was golden-blonde and fell down slightly past her shoulders. There seemed to be nothing strange-looking or out of place about her face; the eyes were perfect, her nose was just the right size for her face, her lips were full and soft-looking, and her chin appeared to be strong in that uniquely feminine way.
He was completely certain that he had never seen a more perfect, more beautiful, more appealing girl in all of his years of living. This of course meant that he would never have her, even if he wanted her.
If she'd noticed that he'd actually been staring at her during the past few moments of silence, she said and did nothing to imply it, for she rose from the sofa as best she could and said, "Well, I guess I'd better be getting back to where I live now. Maybe someone will be looking for me."
Something in him wanted to protest, as he suddenly felt a shocking, intense desire to keep her with him for a long, long, time, but he simply nodded silently and rose with her, walking by her side as she hobbled over to the door.
"Thank you for helping me, Mr. Adlam," she said politely, turning to him and extending a hand to him. "It was really thoughtful of you to go out of your way for me."
"You didn't cause me any trouble in doing it," he replied with a shrug, reaching out and taking her hand in his, noticing with slight wonder how their hands almost seemed to be exactly the same - thin and powerful-looking with the long, slender fingers to go with them.
They then shook hands, and when they'd each released their grip on the other's hand, she unlocked and opened the door, allowing them both to see that the storm had, in fact, worsened while they'd been inside the house. They just had been too absorbed in conversing with one another that they hadn't noticed it until now.
Seeing this, along with the fact that it was very poorly lit outside and the possibility that she could live a considerable distance away from him, he cleared his throat and closed and locked the door again, saying, "You know, it's late... the storm is getting worse, and it's almost pitch-black out there, as if the storm in itself isn't dangerous enough. You could get hurt again, either because of your clumsiness or because some lecher could see you and decide to come after you..."
He didn't really know how to finish, so he simply allowed his voice to trail off after a moment, and he simply looked at her before straightening himself and finishing, "What I'm trying to say is that you're more than welcome to stay here for the night, if you'd like."
She raised her eyebrows in surprise. "Really?"
"Yes, of course. You can just sleep here for the night, and, assuming that the storm has passed by morning, you can leave first thing." He paused. "I don't have any womens' garments to let you wear, but I'll find you something if you want to stay. You won't be very comfortable if you sleep in halfway-damp clothes."
For a moment, she looked at him without saying anything, but then she nodded, smiled, and shrugged. "Okay. Yeah, I'd like to stay here, if that's all right with you."
"It wouldn't be an issue with me at all," he replied, turning and then starting to head up the nearby staircase. "Follow me, then, and I'll find you something comfortable to wear to sleep in."
They then walked up one flight on the staircase until they came to the second floor, and she followed him into a room that was packed with assorted suitcases, chests, and boxes.
"These are all of my old clothes," he said with a shrug, motioning around the room. "You can just look around and take whatever you like. I don't know what will fit you and what won't, since I don't have it all organized, but... whatever you want is yours to keep. I won't need any of it for any reason."
She turned to him and smiled, nodding again. "All right. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He then paused for a moment, clearing his throat before continuing, "Now, I'm up on the third floor. I'm going to go up there now, and I won't come down for any reason to ensure that I don't disturb you. There's a room with a bed across the hall from here, and it has a bathroom attached to it. You can sleep there for the night. Whenever you're awake tomorrow morning, you can come up and get me. I'll most likely be inside the second door to the right, so knock on the door and let me know that you're there - don't open it. Then, if you're hungry and if you'd like me to, I'll cook you some breakfast before you go."
"That sounds just fine. Thank you, Mr. Adlam."
"Don't call me that; don't be so formal," he protested, shaking his head. "Please call me James."
"Then thank you, James. You've been very good to me, and I hardly know you." For a moment more, she looked at him, and then she smiled at him, stepping backwards into the room as she started closing the door. "Good night."
"Good night," he replied, standing there until she was out of sight by the door closing in his face.
For a moment, he simply stood there, but then he turned and walked over to the staircase, climbing up the remaining flight of stairs to the third floor so that he could retire for the night.