Masks and Roses: Part Three
The next morning, over tea and hot cakes, Kat’s mum told her why she’d left.
She hadn’t wanted to go; Rose made that clear. But if she’d stayed, Kat and her father would have been in great danger. It was then that Rose let an important detail out into the air: Kat’s father had been aware she was leaving days before the night she’d gone. The note, his tears, the searching – it had all be hogwash, implemented only in case the villain Rose was running from happened to be watching the family.
This detail did not sit very well with Kat. It had never even crossed the Wocky’s mind that her father might be involved in her mum’s leaving. How had he kept the secret from her for so many years? Didn’t he think she eventually had the right to know?
“He’s a good liar,” Kat said now, her appetite suddenly quelled even though she hadn’t eaten much. She took a careful sip of her tea and added, “He never even hinted that he might... that he might have known.”
“It was for your own good, Katalynn,” said Kat’s mum. “You were so little when I had to leave. For you to know such weighted information – it would have been unfair.”
“Did he know where you’d gone?” Kat asked. “Has he been in contact with you?”
“I told him I had to go far away, love. But he didn’t know where. He hasn’t written, and we haven’t spoken.” Rose took a sip of her own tea and savoured the bland liquid for a while before swallowing. Kat had dumped a whole load of sugar and cream into her own morning drink, but her mum took it straight up.
“And you still need to hide, after all these years?” Kat asked after a bit.
“Yes,” said Rose. “The longer I’ve hidden, the more angry the... villain... has grown. She’s out for revenge, Katalynn. At this rate... at this rate, I’ll have to hide forever.”
“It doesn’t seem fair,” said Kat. “What could you have done to anger someone so much?”
Kat’s mum leaned back in her chair. “I didn’t mean to do anything. I just...”
“You just what?” Kat pressed on.
“I was in the artist’s quarter,” Rose said. “I... was looking for a place to set up shop, to sell my work. I eventually found a rather quiet area, at the way back of the quarter. It was next to a rundown building, where some of my friends stored their work so they didn’t have to carry everything back and forth each day. And inside the building, I heard noises...”
“The villain?” asked Kat flatly.
Her mum nodded. “Yes. I peered inside, thinking that maybe it was one of my fellow artists. But instead, it was a group of masked pets, led by a Kau. They were shuffling the art around, grabbing it – stealing it. My friends had worked tirelessly on their pieces. I couldn’t help myself. I yelled out...”
“They were stealing,” Kat said. “Why would someone have grown so angry that you caught them stealing that they’d try to hunt you down for the rest of time?”
“Kat, they were angry that I caught them stealing. But that wasn’t why the leader – the Kau – grew fixated with capturing me.”
“Why was it, then?”
“Because I ran. And the Kau chased after me. She caught me, eventually, but when she brought me to the ground, something happened.” Kat’s mum closed her eyes. “Katalynn, her mask fell off.”
“... and you saw her face,” Kat whispered.
“Yes. I wrestled away from her and ran all the way home. Later, I went to the library and did some research. Katalynn, she was a villain. A notorious villain. Sick, wicked, cruel. She did horrible things, such horrible things. And she was brash, daring. Her only saving grace, was that... that no one knew what she looked like.” Rose’s eyes flew open. “And now, Kat, I did.”
“So you left,” said Kat.
Rose shook her head. “Not right then and there, Katalynn. I wasn’t going to, not at first. But then a few days later, someone started watching me. Whenever I turned around, he was there, but by the time I went after him, he was gone. It was too risky to stay, love. This villain, Gwendolyn, had done such terrible things in the past. Things I do not even want to speak of now. I couldn’t risk her harming you or your father for something you had no knowledge of.”
“But he knew you were leaving,” Kat said.
“Yes,” replied Rose, “but he didn’t know exactly why I had to go. I told him something had happened, that I had to go away. He wasn’t convinced until I mentioned you – mentioned that what had happened might put you in danger. Then he broke. I left the next day, Kat.”
“And you’ve been living here ever since, afraid to open your own front door.”
Rose chuckled bitterly and took another sip of tea. “I know it sounds pathetic, love, but it’s all I can do. I can’t very well go out into the world and just wait for Gwendolyn to seek her revenge.”
“You could fight her,” said Kat, carefully slicing a hot cake into four different sections. She still wasn’t hungry, but the Wocky needed the mindless distraction.
“She has minions, Katalynn. Dozens of them. Perhaps hundreds of them. I’m but one pet.”
“I could help you.” Kat’s voice was full of desperation.
“No,” said Rose sharply. “I would never put you in such danger.”
“I’m not a child anymore, Rose.” It was the first time since her arrival the night before that Kat had dared call her mother by any name. She’d wanted to say mum, but she couldn’t bring herself to do so; after all, no matter how much she loved Rose, the elder Wocky hadn’t been any type of mother figure to Kat for ages.
Rose flinched but did not comment on what Kat called her. She just said, “Perhaps you’re older, Katalynn, but you are still my child. I couldn’t live with myself if something happened to you.”
“I tried on your dress yesterday.” Kat didn’t know why she said it, but she did. “The lavender ones with beads and diamonds. It doesn’t matter how old I am; I’ve always looked like a toddler. But when I tried on that dress, I was something else. I was grown. I know I can fight her, Rose. We can fight her.”
“You have your father’s spirit,” Rose said.
Kat didn’t know if that was a good thing or a bad thing, but she didn’t care. All she wanted to do was bring her mother out of hiding, defeat the villain who had taken Rose away from her. “Please, Rose. We can get everything normal again. All we have to do is fight her...”
“It’s not that simple, Katalynn. Gwendolyn is so strong, so very, very strong.”
“It is better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all.”
At this, Rose stood up, and still holding her tea, she paced back and forth across the brick house’s tiny kitchen. Her fuzzy pink slippers scraped against the linoleum tile, and she slurped down the rest of her tea as if it was a can of Neocola. Eventually, she leaned back against the wall and took a deep breath.
Finally, Rose said, “Gwendolyn’s lair is on Mystery Island, hidden in the jungle somewhere. No one’s ever found it, but it’s rumoured to be extraordinary.”
“I suppose we’ll be the first to find it,” said Kat.
“No, Katalynn. We won’t have to find it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Kat. Her tea was cold now, but she continued to sip it, if only because it was a nervous habit.
“Kat, Gwendolyn has followers all across the island. They all have my image drilled into their heads. Once one of the minions sees me... love, they’ll call for reinforcements, and then they’ll take me. And if you’re with me, they’ll take you, too. That’s why I’m so skeptical of your plan, Katalynn. How can we fight when we’ll be captives?”
“It might even work better that way,” said Kat. “We can attack from within. We won’t have to infiltrate. Maybe... maybe one of us can even gain her trust.”
“Katalynn, I know you want to be a hero, but love, I’m used to living like this. You don’t need to risk yourself to help me.”
“Perhaps you might be used to living like this,” Kat said sharply, “but I’m not. When you left, I was broken. Sometimes, I couldn’t even remember what you looked like, what your voice sounded like. Eventually, you became a storybook character to me – a lovely person, a perfect person, but someone who really didn’t exist. I’m not going back to that, Rose. I want to have a mum again. I want to be a family again. Call me selfish, but I’m tired of living a lie.”
Rose smiled and shook her head back and forth. “You have your father’s stubbornness, too.”
Kat sighed. “Are you going to come with me, Rose, or am I going to have to go at it alone?”
“I’ll come, love,” Rose said. “I’ll come.”
Kat smiled and took one last sip of her tea. “Let’s go get your life back, then,” she said. And after a bit, the Wocky added, “Mum.”
To be continued...