As Grace O’Brien looked out over Hamilton Hall on the evening of Sunday, October 21st, she thought it somewhat ironic that the last film she had seen in 1959 before her fifty-three-year coma had been Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty.
Hamilton Hall was a large, fancy brown brick wood building built somewhere in the early 1900s, located on east Edmonton St not far west from the Anglecliff Country Club and Wicker St and was still owned by the buildings’ namesake. The Hamilton’s annual Halloween masquerade ball was being celebrated early because of Hurricane Sandy and was only enterable via invitation. The O’Briens were long since friends with the Hamiltons, with several members of both families having married into the other over the course of their histories to connect them by blood as well, and Grace was invited along with the rest of her family.
Though she had always loved their parties, it came as no surprise that she wasn’t particularly enjoying that one. After awakening, she had become confined into a wheelchair in a body that looked and felt over a century old. Dancing, drinking, singing and flirting, her favorite activities at parties, had become things that she could only fantasize about.
Grace’s last party before her coma was a wrap-up party for Queen Anne. Natalie Wood was the star of the film and the party’s centerpiece but there was a kind of secondary place for Grace as a rising new star. It had been the first and only major role and the director, along with several costars who had been in the business for years, which included Natalie Wood herself, had praised her performance. It seemed the sky was the limit and if things went right she would soon be another Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor just as Natalie Wood was becoming. It was the most wonderful party of her life.
The party at Hamilton Hall that Halloween was turning out to be the worst if only because it served to remind her of all that she had lost. Everywhere that she looked, all she saw were smiling young people with their whole lives ahead of them and it filled her with abject misery.
From her spot on a wheelchair, dressed head to toe in black with a black swan mask over the top of her face, she stared out at all the pretty people around her. The men wore tuxedos, the women gowns, and each with a gaudy mask of some kind of bright colored thing, usually animals, but sometimes-famous people, abstract art and even plants. Grace had gone to the Hamiltons’ Halloween masquerade ball every year until she had left for California, always enjoying the attention of the beautiful men that inevitably flocked to her. She recalled the last time she had gone as a green peacock wearing a matching green gown that reached down to her ankles. Her low neckline had been in the perfect spot between sexy and scandalous taking full advantage of her sixteen-year-old figure.
“William Anderson,” she whispered when she recalled the name of the very handsome boy who dominated her attention that entire night. He had worn a black tuxedo with white accessories and a white rabbit mask, which after reminding her of her favorite childhood story, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, had drawn her right to him.
She suspected he had learned that and had been trying to draw her in.
Thoughts of the past had been haunting her all through the night and it was made worse because no one would come up and talk to her. Everyone knew her for what she had lost, that girl who had slept away fifty years of her life up in some fancy hospital up north, and they all, especially the young girls, became extremely uncomfortable when they met her gaze. Her cousin Franklin had wanted her more centered but the Hamiltons and their guests were too uncomfortable with that and stuck her and her wheelchair in the back where she could watch quietly and unobtrusively out of the way.
Every day she sensed the world had changed more and more and that she felt she was not even remotely part of it. She was not young anymore externally but neither was she was old internally and it doomed her never to fit into either group. Franklin had been extremely good to her and did the best he could, helping her from here to there and keeping her company, but she knew her time was running short and soon she would die and of old age of all things. All he was doing, whether he admitted it or not, was easing her passing.
Still, in the end, she was truly glad she had come because anything was better than sitting around in a hospital spending what life she had left waiting to die.
It was about three hours after arrival when she noticed a gorgeous man by the large and ornately carved front doors talking to Darcy Hamilton, who Grace had immediately grown to like. She was a very pretty girl, fearless in her scandalously low cut maroon gown with a phoenix mask and dark red feathers in her hair, and, like her grandmother Rachel who had been one of Grace’s childhood friends, she was absolutely just as hard as nails. The boy she was flirting with turned his head and their eyes met.
Grace’s heart seemed to stop at the sight of him and she felt extremely self-conscious.
He wore a black suit with a deep orange tie, which apparently served as some kind of tuxedo because in the twenty-first century, some tuxedos had normal ties, and he wore a mask like an orange fish showing only the lower half of his beautiful face. She found him more attractive than anyone she had ever seen but she thought perhaps desperation and loneliness were just elevating his appearance in her mind.
Darcy left the young man while giving him a cute smile which chances were he would misinterpret in some way. In Grace’s experience, men never understood what a woman’s smile meant, either good or bad, and always, without fail, came up with exceedingly wrong answers.
She smiled sadly as she thought about him but then saw he was walking directly toward her. Her heart began to beat very fast and, feeling even more incredibly self-conscious, she turned her electric chair around and moved into the dark room behind her.
“Grace,” he called as she shut the door eighty percent of the way and then turned around to look out of the crack at him. He lifted off his mask revealing a fully gorgeous face and said, “Don’t touch me,” when her cousin came walking up behind him. He turned around and asked, “Who are you?”
Franklin O’Brien was a tall, stout man who had muscle and fat in equal measure standing several inches over the young man wearing a slightly tighter black tuxedo, which made him look stronger, and a reddish-brown dog mask. He immediately took off the mask to reveal a hard-faced, highly displeased man in his mid-fifties with a dark brown mustache and very short dark brown hair streaked with gray. He reminded Grace so much of his grandfather, her uncle, that it was almost frightening. “And just exactly what the hell do you think you’re doing?” he asked the boy.
“I wanted to talk to Grace O’Brien about an opportunity,” he replied. “I think she’ll be interested.”
“I really don’t appreciate your humor, Mr. Bartlett.”
“If I was joking I would have been hilarious,” he replied. “Who are you exactly?”
“My name is Franklin O’Brien. I’m Ms. O’Brien’s cousin. What exactly are you intending to say to her?”
“I can only say it to her.” Bartlett bounced his fish mask from one hand to the other casually and she found herself half-worried, half-intrigued to have someone from that family interested in her. “For her ears only.”
“You must be joking now because I find myself not taking you very seriously.”
“I really don’t want to just blurt this shit out,” Bartlett replied. “Please, Frankie, just let me talk to her.”
Franklin frowned at him, not liking that nickname and not liking him. “My cousin has the mind of a twenty-two-year-old girl and the body of a seventy-year-old woman in very bad health. She doesn’t need a handsome eighteen-year-old boy screwing with her mind or reminding her of what she has lost.” He leaned forward. “And if I find out you’re trying to get her inheritance by becoming her widower, I’ll make you wish you were never born.”
“You really think I’m handsome enough to have a shot with a movie star?” Grace felt herself suddenly blushing.
“This kind of thing,” said Franklin coldly, “Will make me very uncooperative.”
“Look, can I just talk to her?”
“I’ll talk to her and if she is willing to talk to you, well—” he shrugged “—maybe.”
“You seem rather loyal, Franklin, but math states you’re not old enough to have ever even known her.”
“When my parents were killed, her father raised me and my three sisters when he was an elderly man well into retirement. I promised him on his deathbed that I would take care of his daughter and I damn well intend to keep that promise. To this end, I will talk to her about you but I need you to tell me exactly what the hell you’re up to.”
“I’m offering her a second chance,” Bartlett told Franklin who instantly frowned at him. “It’s exactly what I’m implying. If you don’t believe what I’m offering ask Jessica Downs.” Franklin crossed his arms, distrusting him, and Bartlett sighed, turned around and walked away.
Grace moved her wheelchair back as Franklin stepped inside, moving instinctively into a much darker corner of the unlit room. She knew he meant well but it only seemed to serve to make her feel less real as if she was a secret or an invalid which she felt she actually was. He shut the door behind himself and walked over to her quietly. “Grace—” he began sadly.
She touched his arm weakly, which was virtually all she was capable of doing after her body had withered to near uselessness over the last half-century. “He’s different than the others,” she told him.
“He’s up to something.”
“He is so handsome,” she said and she thought about how he was only eighteen. It was only four years younger than she was inside yet fifty years younger outside. Such knowledge made her want to kill herself but she did not think she was even physically capable of it. She wanted to say something more about him, something of relevance, but all she could think of was how beautiful he was and how she could never have him.
When her body had matched her mind, he who would have thrown himself at her feet and begged her for a date. There were so many like him that had but she had not respected that part of her life when it had been available. That time was over. In 2012, she might want him more than anything else in the world but he would never want her back because she was older than his grandmother.
“Youth is wasted on the young,” her mother’s voice quoted softly in her mind. “What did you think he meant by second chance?” she asked sadly.
“I don’t know,” he replied earnestly and he held his dog mask unhappily in both hands. He looked at her with a sad expression that said, “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.”
“I—I want to see him, uncle, er, uh cousin.” Even after being awakened with the world and her body undeniably altered, she still found it hard to think of Franklin as younger than she was. Along with his face, his appearance was also so similar to his grandfather that every passing moment he seemed so much more and more like him. She found that she could almost fool herself into feeling no time had passed.
“I don’t know what he’s up to but I don’t think it’s a good idea. The Bartletts are trouble.”
Grace didn’t need Franklin to tell her that. She had always been fond of James Bartlett but his brother Julian damn near raped her when she was thirteen. Then he stalked her for several years like he was planning to finish the job but luckily her father believed her over his lies and never let her get caught alone with him again. One of the happiest days of her life came when she was sixteen and went to California just because it meant she was leaving Julian Bartlett behind forever although there was that one incident where he had followed her there but she never wanted to think about that. “Do you think he’s pulling my leg?”
“I don’t know. This one—” Franklin went back over to the door, opened the door slightly and looked out into the hall for him through the opening “—this one’s weird.”
“It’s true—” Grace squeaked and looked over to see Bartlett standing in the darkness only fifteen feet away, his upper body lit by the light of the half-moon through the nearby window he had snuck in through “—I am weird.” She bit her lower lip, grateful he couldn’t see her blushing and she quickly placed her hands on the arms of the chair to hide their shaking.
He held his mask in his left hand casually and when he smiled with his beautiful face, it was in a kindly way that reminded her of James Bartlett.
Franklin was almost snarling in rage as he walked up to him. “What part of ‘no’ don’t you understand, boy?” he almost screamed.
“Pretty much everything,” Bartlett replied as he walked around him and up to her. “My name is Ethan Bartlett,” he told her and he held out his hand.
Grace took his hand weakly, her heart beating faster, and she looked up into his face hoping he didn’t sense her hands shaking. She found that she was oddly, and almost uncannily, reminded of James Dean in him. Not in the physical or even personality but there was a kind of distinctive candle-burning-out quality that they both shared. Both were also rather fearless socially in some indefinable, yet unmistakably crucial, way and both had “life’s too short” ingrained in the back of their minds even if they weren’t personally aware of it.
Grace had always been in love with James Dean. “Grace O’Brien,” she told him softly.
“I’m glad we have this moment together, Ms. O’Brien.”
Franklin looked absolutely furious. “Boy—”
“Your cousin looks like he will soon beat the shit out of me so I better just say this straight out. I have a youth potion and I want to give it to you.” Grace’s eyes went wide as the possibility came over her.
“That is not funny,” said Franklin in a very offended voice.
“What exactly happened between us that made you think I’m some kind of goddamn comedian?” Ethan replied irritably.
“You’re movie star comment,” he replied and Grace found herself smiling genuinely for the first time since awakening.
“I can see that,” he said and then he reached into his pocket and held out a red vial. “This isn’t it. This is actually just a Heal potion but it will make you feel better.”
Grace took it and drank it before Franklin could object. She had developed a “life’s too short” James Dean kind of quality herself and she absolutely and desperately wanted to believe what he was saying was true.
She felt the potion go through her body feeling like warm coffee on a cold night and all her pain seemed to fade away. She was still old, still weak, but she felt good or close to it for the first time since she had awakened. She also believed it was possible she could walk but wasn’t quite up to trying that yet.
“Grace,” he said, “All I want a modest amount of money and land for my youth potion.” Franklin opened his mouth to say something mean “—we’ll make a contract. Take some time to finalize it. Payment of wealth and land only on my success of making you young again.” He shrugged. “What can go wrong there?”
“What are you up to?” asked Franklin in a voice saturated with suspicion.
“I’m trying to get rich doing the right thing,” Ethan replied. “I’ll make your elderly cousin Grace into your young daughter and you will give me an asston of money and land. I know you guys own that giant farmland west of Alberta that stretches all the way to the Bay City Dagger and tons of property on Fisher St of which you care nothing about. I want that farm and all of Fisher St and you can keep everything else. I’m not asking you for your house in the Hamptons or some beach house in Hawaii but I do want a house in Southern California if you have one.”
“You do understand Hurricane Sandy may destroy all of Fisher Street,” Franklin said.
“Damn, I forgot about that.”
“Yeah, I figured as much. You want property for a ‘youth’ potion but forgot about the giant hurricane coming out of Jamaica and now can’t deliver.” Franklin took a deep breath, calmed himself, and grabbed Ethan’s arm. “Okay boy, fun’s over.”
“Why does no one ever believe me—”
“On completion only,” said Grace suddenly and they both looked at her. “If you can truly make me young again, I will give you anything and everything you want. Land and money.” Her eyes narrowed behind the veil she wore under the mask to cover her lower face and neck. “How much money?”
“Fifty million dollars and—” Franklin’s eyes bulged. “—oh you’re well worth more than that. Nearly billionaires.”
“Oh yeah, sure, maybe if we liquidated everything we’ve built for two hundred and fifty years!” Franklin replied angrily.
“Ten and the land,” said Grace.
“Forty and the land which none of you use and one house in California. I’m barely scratching your inheritance with this, Grace.”
“Twenty and the land and my old house in Venice Beach.”
Ethan smiled at her and it looked mischievous and cute at the same time. It didn’t remind her of anyone but somehow she found herself recalling that she once had a girlhood crush on James Bartlett. “Thirty million dollars, the land and properties of Bartlett Bay minus you’re personal homes and the Venice Beach house. Any chance on a piece of that railroad?”
Franklin scoffed. “The O’Brien Railroad Company may not be making as much money as Microsoft but it has been solely owned and operated by our family since it was founded and built by Andrew O’Brien, the first O’Brien in America, who came from Ireland with nothing in his pockets.”
“He had a little money and he got plenty more when he married Ellen Bartlett.” Franklin’s face filled with unhappy surprise. “Yeah, I know things like that but I figured getting a piece of the railroad was kind of a longshot.”
Grace felt tears coming down her face. She wanted so desperately to believe what he was saying she felt she could give him anything but she saw that Franklin didn’t and that worried her because he had control of everything including her inheritance. “What are you up to, boy?” he asked. “If you had such a thing, you could sell it to a billionaire for hundreds of millions or even billions easily. Why help her?”
“Balance,” he replied simply. “Magic fucks her, magic fixes her. I’m not actually a big believer in second chances but I’m a huge believer in first ones. Since she didn’t have hers, she deserves it more than some trophy wife with a fifty billion-dollar bank account does. If she weren’t rich, Franklin, I wouldn’t ask for money and I would still give it to her just like I did for Jessica Downs. The fact that you are fabulously wealthy just happens to be a pleasant bonus for yours truly.”
“You are totally scamming us somehow.”
Grace put her hands on the chair and pushed herself up. Franklin was immediately there to help her and she was surprised she could almost stand on her own feet without him. “I want to dance again,” she said as she put her arm around her cousin’s neck.
“Let us make an official contract written by lawyers stating whereas only upon delivery do I receive payment,” said Ethan. “How long would it take to make one? A few days? A week?”
“Grace has to go back to the hospital tomorrow and with a hurricane coming she won’t be back for some while. Furthermore, your potion may have helped her but readjustments of this sort are never as easy as one magical drink away.”
“Will I be able to come back for our annual Christmas Eve party?” asked Grace.
“Well maybe,” said Franklin unhappily. “But I don’t think this a good idea—”
“It can’t hurt,” Ethan replied.
“Bring the potion then and by that time we’ll have a contract set up that will guarantee money and the land and the Venice Beach house,” said Grace. “However, you will have to succeed in making me young for you to get anything, and there may be a wait to prove that it’s not some temporary illusionary thing, you understand?” Ethan smiled. “I’m serious. You’ll get nothing if this is fraudulent.” He smiled wider. “Please don’t be fooling with me, Ethan. It will kill me if you are.”
Ethan’s smile vanished. “I only kill monsters,” he told her and he touched her shoulder gently. She instantly found herself wondering what he must look like under his suit and that made her feel depressed but not as much as it would have before his offer. “On Christmas Eve, if I’m not dead, I will find you and I will make you young again. You are not to tell anyone I can do this however because I don’t need a million people robbing me in some vain attempt to find a youth potion. Most especially my cousins.”
Franklin frowned at him untrustingly but Grace just stared sadly. She pressed her fingers to her lips against the outside of her veil just below the mask and then against his. “Be good to me, Ethan Bartlett,” she said softly. “Please be good to me.”
“I am always good and though I am rarely kind, I will be kind to you,” he replied and then he turned and left for real.
Grace found that she had hope for the first time since she awakened. She was desperately afraid the hope was false but it was better than nothing was and felt wholly wonderful in that moment. She hugged her cousin as if he was his grandfather and wept in both sadness and happiness for a long time.