Grey… then Ivy.
Well, she hadn’t reacted negatively. She was pretty quiet, but Grey chalked that up to surprise and… maybe wonder at his machine? It worked perfectly. The long, nimble spindle-fingers had felt like an extension of his own. But now they were inside. This is where the fun began. He tugged on Ivy’s arm. “Alright,” he whispered. “I’m not sure where exactly the thing I’m looking for is, but we’ll find it, and I’ll know it when I see it. C’mon, let’s check over here first.”
They walked through decadent rooms filled with fancy furniture, packed with a plethora of portraits, and choked with countless chandeliers. It was mostly lost on Grey. This was the sort of posturing he’d hated so much while he had lived with his parents. The opulence of the rooms mostly just made him sick, and he found himself trying to hurry Ivy along. She was staring open-mouthed at every little trinket. She said things like, “Is this the third library?” and “Do they really have a room just for playing billiards? They really don’t do anything else in this room?” and “What did you say this room was for again?”
“It’s a panic room,” Grey explained. They were looking into a room Grey had been rather hopeful about. The door looked thick and indestructible, and it was set in a remote location of the house. When the door had swung easily open at his touch, however, he knew it couldn’t be right. The room itself was small, almost cramped, and its only furniture was a cluster of comfortable-looking chairs and a well-stocked cupboard.
“What’s a panic room?” Ivy asked, in awe of the house even when faced with a glorified closet. “Is it where they go when they panic about which room to visit next?”
Grey snorted. “That’s something folks like these would do, but it’s not the intended purpose of the room. This is where they would go for safety if someone broke into their house.”
“Like right now?” Ivy’s voice was very, very quiet.
“No, because nobody’s home, and we’re not threatening anyone. It would be used if amurderer broke in. We’re not here to hurt anyone. See this door?” Grey pointed at the inside of the door where there were twelve locks of varying types. “This is a room for keeping people out. That’s why it’s so heavy, too. I think under this wood covering it might be solid stone.”
“Wow,” Ivy whispered.
“But it’s not what we’re looking for, so come on.”
They continued through the house, Grey growing increasingly irritated that they weren’t finding what he was looking for. He knew it wasn’t going to be in the conservatory, but when Ivy begged him to let her see the plants, he relented. It was a date after all. She should be entitled to see some flowers.
The “conservatory” as Grey called it was beautiful. Ivy had never seen so many exotic flowers in one place. It was obvious someone here really cared for plants. When she’d asked Grey about it, he’d shrugged and said, “Eh, probably they pay a gardener to keep things looking decent.” But Ivy could tell these plants were more than a job. Someone cared about them deeply. It was nice to see. Although it looked like they had gone a couple days untended-to.
She took a moment to catch her breath when she was behind some trees and out of Grey’s sight. She didn’t like that he had broken into this house, but it didn’t seem like he was trying to do any harm, and she had honestly really enjoyed looking at all the lavish rooms. She didn’t know what he was planning or what he was looking for, but it could be anything. It was probably something sweet, Ivy convinced herself. And she had promised to at least try to like the idea. Ivy set aside her fears, took one last look at the bamboo orchids she was hiding behind, and went back to Grey, ready to continue with their strange house tour.
They passed through a dining room and a music room with the most beautiful piano Ivy had ever seen, but Grey still wasn’t satisfied. “We could check down there,” Ivy suggested, pointing to a staircase.
“No, no. It wouldn’t be downstairs. That’s where the servants would sleep. And upstairs probably is just bedrooms. No, there’s one more wing we haven’t checked yet, and I’d bet anything it’ll be there.”
They passed through the “grand foyer” for the third time, its many stairs and balconies still entrancing Ivy, and the great chandelier, even darkened, dizzied her.
“No time to waste admiring this room again,” Grey said, tugging on her arm. “The final wing is through these big doors.”
They were the doors that they had faced while coming in. They were the largest doors in the building, with ornate, gold-leafed carvings on them. But Grey had insisted they check the left and right wings first. He had thought it more likely that whatever he was looking for would be there. Now he hefted the doors open.
The room was dark, as Grey had extinguished his lightbox while he had been struggling with the heavy doors, so at first, Ivy couldn’t see anything to tell what kind of room it was. Their first steps into the room, while Grey fumbled to switch the lightbox back on, reminded Ivy of the Workshop when she had first entered it. It had been dark as well, and, just like this room, it had been filled with echoes.
“Grey?” Ivy whispered. From the corners of the room came a whispery chorus of “Grey? Grey? Grey?”
“What room is this?”
Finally, with a click, the lightbox hummed to life. Grey lifted the lighted rod and shone it around the room. “The ballroom of course. If there was a real ball going on, there would be tapestries and cloth decorations, plush furniture and many, many people here to dampen the echoes.” A funny look crept over Grey’s face, and he looked intensely at Ivy.
“What?” she asked, flushing under his sudden scrutiny.
He bowed stiffly. “Would you do me the pleasure of giving me this next dance?” He said this with such ceremony and cordiality that Ivy would never have known it was him except he was the only other person in the room.
“I… alright?” Ivy said, unsure what the correct response was supposed to be.
“Wonderful,” he said, and instead of grabbing her hand and dragging her along as he’d been doing all night, he placed his arm under hers and gently led her to the center of the dance floor.
“I must admit that I don’t know one step of dancing,” said Ivy.
“Don’t worry,” Grey said with a small, amused smile. “I’ll lead.”
And so he did. Ivy stumbled a lot at first, unsure where her body was supposed to be going, but soon she found the rhythm of Grey’s movements, and began to trust him enough to where he nudged her one way and she would flow like a river in that direction. It was strange to be dancing in near-dark with no music and no one else in the room, but Grey made it feel natural. He held her quite close to him, and this, combined with the many spins the dance required, began to make Ivy a little dizzy. Soon she began to stumble again, and Grey laughed quietly and stopped their dance.
“Sorry, I don’t know what came over me,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck. “I suppose this big fancy place is getting to me.”
Swaying on her feet from being stopped so suddenly, Ivy smiled and said, “Well I enjoyed it immensely. Was this what you wanted to show me?”
Grey looked thoughtful for a moment. “You really liked it that much?”
“Yes! I’ve always wanted to go to a fancy ball in a fancy house, but I never have.”
“Hmm. Well, I’m sure you’ll like the next thing I have to show you even more. Come on, there are several doors leading out of this room. I’m sure it’ll be behind one of them.”
Note to self for next chapter: He pulled his hand out, and for a moment, it looked to Ivy as if he had just extricated a bloody heart from the dark chest of the house.