Chapter 3 – We call them secrets, but they are really lies. Lies we tell each other, lies we tell ourselves.

~~**~~**~~

Though I often feel alone, I know—intellectually, at least—that I am not.

We all have our secrets, do we not? As isolating as they may feel, they are what bind us together as a race of humanity. Only….

We call them secrets, but they are really lies. Lies we tell each other, lies we tell ourselves.

I must be sensitive. Continue in my duty. But I am so tired.

~~**~~**~~

Chandler had lived with him for a week when Landon started to think Maya may have been right. She liked to call it her “woman’s intuition,” but it really felt more like “I told you so.” When Landon fessed up and admitted he had let a complete stranger from a foreign country move in without so much as a renter’s application…. Well, she hadn’t exactly taken it like he’d hoped. And the details Landon told her over the phone weren’t helping.

But then, Chandler still wasn’t like either one of them expected. Maya was suspicious of him, being from a communist country, but he wasn’t like what they’d seen in movies. He was kind of a mystery.

Chandler always dressed impeccably, even though Landon never saw him doing any laundry. His suits were always starched and pressed, even his pajamas all looked new. And every day the house phone would ring at 7 a.m. The first time Landon answered the call, he thought he was living in the wrong country as a British accent floated out from the receiver.

“Good day, this is Mr. Butler. Please inform Master Wang that Mr. Butler is phoning him.”

Landon didn’t know what to do, so he just did as he was told. He felt strangely like a boy again. He peeked his head into Chandler’s room and whispered loudly.

“Chandler, there’s a British guy on the phone. He said his name is Mr. Butler…?”

To his surprise, Chandler’s face went red and he grabbed the receiver. He spoke intensely in Chinese for a minute before hanging up and handing the phone back to Landon. Landon balked, frowned, and put the phone away.

Who was this guy?

Every day, a black car was waiting parked in the driveway by 8:30 a.m. to take Chandler to class. About a month after moving in, Landon came home one day to find new furniture all over the house. He paused when he walked in, afraid he’d accidentally walked into the wrong house. But no, there was his old desk—and right next to it, a shiny oak one. There was a new leather sofa set in the living room and—he had to check—all new furniture in Chandler’s room.

Chandler was studying on his bed. He looked up when Landon poked his head in and grinned.

“Do you mind?” he asked. “I made some… improvements.”

Landon didn’t know what to say. Chandler was covering the entire rent and, he had to admit, the place looked loads better than it had when he had moved in. How could he mind?

One of the biggest surprises of living with Chandler—or, as Maya started to call him, the Chinaman—was the food. Landon couldn’t believe he was such a great cook. Night after night, Landon would come home to a manicured house and a hot dinner, served Chinese style. With Chandler as a roommate life was easy, if a little unsettling. That was, until the unforgettable day that made Landon feel like the world’s biggest idiot.

He had just had a big test and a sleepless couple of nights. He decided to go home after class and take an afternoon nap instead of heading to the library like he usually did.

I’ve been robbed, he thought as he opened the door.

A middle-aged Chinese man and woman stood in the living room, and they looked up at him as he walked in, as though they had been caught.

Landon panicked. All he could say was, “Take what you want, I don’t want any trouble.”

The two said nothing, just stared at him. A voice came from behind. Landon recognized the British accent.

“Good day, Mr. Gartner. Pleased to meet you. I am Mr. Butler, and these are my assistants, here taking care of Master Wang. I hope you have been pleased with their work.”

An older Chinese man in a perfectly tailored suit and a distinguished gray hairline held out his hand to shake Landon’s. He took it dumbly. Of course… he had been coming home to a perfect house and home-cooked meals for a month now and hadn’t even considered…. He just felt stupid now.

“No fear, Mr. Gartner,” Mr. Butler was saying, sitting down in the leather chair and murmuring something in Chinese to the man and woman. “I am only visiting. Checking up on Master Wang, you know.”

Before Landon could snap out of his shock, the woman placed a tea cup in his hand and Mr. Butler urged him to sit down.

He didn’t know what to say or do, so he just sat. The silence in the room pressed on all of them. All four of them drank tea, looking around at each other. Landon smiled awkwardly around and no one smiled back. He shrugged and sipped more tea. It tasted like dirty water, but he didn’t know what else to do. He had not been this still since his last time out as a kid.

He was relieved when he heard a car door closing outside in the driveway. Mr. Butler and his assistants rushed to stand in line by the door. Chandler entered and the three all bowed almost 90 degrees.

“Master Wang,” they murmured.

It was the most bizarre thing Landon had ever witnessed—he thought these things only happened in the movies. Chandler frowned.

“Why are you here, Mr. Butler?” he said guardedly.

Mr. Butler opened his mouth to say something but Chandler cut him off.

“We had an agreement. You agreed to give me freedom. To leave me alone and let me live my life while I’m in college.”

Mr. Butler looked hurt.

“I have taken an oath to watch over”—

Why are you here?” Chandler yelled over him.

Chandler stormed past Mr. Butler and headed for his room. Mr. Butler followed and they broke into angry Chinese. Landon looked around at Mr. Butler’s assistants, who stood silently and stared at the wall, their faces expressionless.

A few minutes later Mr. Butler walked out of Chandler’s room and bowed curtly to Landon.

“Have a good evening, Mr. Gartner,” he said, and he headed for the front door. His assistants followed close behind.

After they were gone, Chandler came out of his room, red in the face and looking worn out. He collapsed onto the sofa, one hand over his eyes.

“Sorry,” he muttered. “That was my…”

“Butler?”

Chandler chuckled tiredly. “I guess so.” He opened his eyes and rolled over to look at Landon. “Look, I haven’t been completely upfront with you about some things.”

Landon laughed internally. That was a bit of an understatement.

“I guess I should tell you who I really am.”

~*~*~*~

“Maya, you won’t believe what happened to me today.”

Landon wasted no time calling Maya. Talking about Chandler had become the highlight of their conversations lately, but today trumped it all. Except that Landon regretted telling her almost the instant the words left his mouth.

“Landon Gartner! I can’t believe you think this is amusing. You’re lucky those communists didn’t kidnap you!” Maya was practically screaming.

“Maya, you’re overreacting. It’s not what you think.”

“Overreacting?” Her voice suddenly took on a low, dangerous tone. “Overreacting? You are so naïve. I can’t believe you!”

Before Landon could get another word in, Maya hung up on him. Oh, he was so dead…. In the ground, six feet under, dead.

At the same time, Landon knew she would be calling him in a few hours once she had cooled off, and she would probably cry a little bit and apologize, though not until after he did first, of course. Maya did not—could not—hide her thoughts and emotions. It was one of the things Landon loved about her. He found it adorable when she got into her no-nonsense mode.

Landon had known Maya since she moved into his neighborhood in the sixth grade, but they didn’t start dating until he was a junior in college. Landon didn’t date much before that. He had always been the pragmatic type, and dating seemed like a waste of time and energy. He set up criteria, and he didn’t even bother to look twice at girls who didn’t match up. And all that time Maya was just under his nose.

She was funny, straightforward, and responsible. And she was smart. He remembered the day he found out she had beaten his ACT score. She had rubbed it in his face with a little victory dance, and he knew right then and there that this was the girl for him.

After they had been dating for a year, Maya told Landon that if they were to continue their relationship, then he had better be prepared to give her not only his love, but also his soul and his life. Otherwise, she wasn’t going to waste anymore of her time with him. Landon had found her ultimatum to be just plain endearing. He had dropped down on his knee and proposed to her right then. He didn’t have a ring so he’d taken off his jacket and given it to her instead. The night had been freezing but he’d hardly noticed. She still had that jacket.

Maya liked to tell Landon that he was a hopeless optimist, maybe even naively simple-minded. He could only imagine what she was thinking after telling her about Chandler and what had just happened. But he could handle it. He felt just fine.

~*~*~*~

“Landon… Landon!”

It was Saturday morning, and way too early, when Landon woke up to Chandler nudging him from the edge of his bed. Landon grunted.

“What is Greek life? What are ‘fraternity’ and ‘sorority?’ Chandler asked.

Landon rolled over. “It’s a college thing. Why?”

Chandler handed Landon a piece of paper. “I found this flyer at school. Can you go with me?”

Landon looked, bleary-eyed. “A Delta Gamma party? You don’t….”

“Can you take me? I want to go, Landon.”

“Look, Chandler. I don’t really know who you are, and what happened yesterday is still freaking me out.”

“I told you.”

Landon grimaced. “All you really told me is that you’re some rich, Chinese, pseudo-royalty kid who travels with an entourage who all have to call you ‘master.’ I think it was better not knowing anything at all.”

Chandler paused. “If you go with me, I’ll tell you everything. Please go with me. I want to learn about America.” He was pleading like a kid.

“So what was that all about yesterday?” Landon insisted. “Maya thinks you’re gonna get us whacked.”

Chandler grinned. “Let’s go to the party and I will tell you afterward.”

Landon had never been to a sorority party before but his curiosity got the best of him. He was such a sucker. He went with Chandler to the party.

The place was full of young kids. Landon worried when he walked through the door who might see him. But the house was pretty dark and if any of the other law students were there they would probably be just as embarrassed as he was, so he figured he was safe. Chandler looked like a kid in a candy store; he couldn’t decide what to do or where to go first.

“Landon, look!” he whispered urgently. “I saw that girl when I first got here.” He pulled on Landon’s shirt collar so hard that Landon nearly fell over.

“What girl?”

“Look there.”

Chandler started walking toward a tall blonde girl in a low-cut red shirt and jeans. He looked practically hypnotized, walking up to her without a worry about all the people surrounding her.

She was laughing and pretending to fight over a chair with another girl. Then she let the other girl win and reached over for a folding chair against the wall. She lifted it up and—

BAM!

Chandler dropped to the ground, a bloody gash on his forehead. The girl crouched next to him, looking horrified. Landon tried to get close, but a crowd of people had already started gathering around.

“Oh-my-gosh-oh-my-gosh-oh-my-gosh,” the girl was talking rapidly. She looked around at everyone and then back at Chandler. “Is he alive?”

Chandler stirred and rubbed his forehead, then looked woozy when he saw the blood on his hand.

“I’m… all right, I think.” He sat up and blood trickled down his face.

“Get me something!” the blonde said to no one in particular. But someone had already rushed over with a first aid kit. The girl snatched it and started dabbing Chandler with gauze. Landon was impressed—she knew what she was doing. She got him cleaned up in no time.

The crowd started to disperse, and Landon made his way through to them. He helped Chandler up off the floor. The guy still looked dazed.

“My name is Ella Page,” the girl said to both of them. Chandler gave her a queasy smile. “I’m so sorry for what happened.”

“I’m Chandler.” And before anyone could say anything: “Can I take you out for coffee?”

Ella looked about as floored as Landon felt. She looked around the room, as though searching for an out. But no one was watching them anymore.

“Coffee? Right now?” she said.

He took her hand like some kind of prince from a fairytale—Bold move, thought Landon—and she batted her eyes unexpectedly.

“Of course,” he said. “No time like the present.”

She kind of smiled at him—or was that a grimace? “Let’s just make sure you don’t have a concussion first, Chandler. You got hit pretty hard. How many fingers am I holding up?”

He grinned. “Twice as many as the seconds it took me to realize that you’re beautiful.”

Landon groaned. “Okay, Chandler….”

He started to help Chandler out of the room but Ella stopped him. Her expression had softened.

“I just… want to make sure he’s okay.” She put a hand on his forehead, next to the bandage. “You’re warm,” she said softly to him.

Landon stared. This had to be a joke.

“So how about it, Miss Ella?” Chandler replied. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee?”

She laughed. “You and your coffee.” She paused and sighed. “Well, I owe you that coffee as long as you’re feeling okay.”

Chandler brightened. “I feel great!” he said, standing up straight.

Landon took the hint and left without him.

He’s a big boy, he thought. He can take care of himself.

~*~*~*~

Landon rolled over, frowning. Why was he awake? He glanced at the clock and saw that it was two o’clock. He paused and glanced at the blinds above his bed. Light streamed through the cracks. His eyes opened wide. Two o’clock in the afternoon.

He scrambled out of bed and then heard what had woken him up. There was a heavy knocking at the door. He zombied his way to the door, passing a sleeping Chandler on the couch, who was completely unaware of the heavy thumping.

“What took you so long?”

The face in front of him woke him up like nothing else could have.

Maya pushed her way into the house, leaving Landon speechless by the door. She turned to look at him and tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear.

“Did you just get out of bed?” She looked puzzled. Landon had always been an early riser.

“Uh, well…. Yes.” Landon didn’t know what to say.

“Well, I’m here. Where is your room? Help me get my stuff.”

“W-What about school?” Landon managed to piece together a reply.

“I can finish online. I mostly only have generals left, anyway. You do have internet at least, don’t you?”

She looked around for a moment and her eyes stopped on Chandler, who had sat up halfway and looked confused with a bloody bandage on his forehead.

“Who’s this guy on the couch, Landon?”

Landon tried to smile. “Chandler. Meet Maya, my fiancé.”

Landon had been in awkward situations before but this was beyond uncomfortable—unbearable, maybe.

“Nice to meet you.” Chandler got up and ran for his room.

Maya looked sideways at Landon, her mouth turned down in her judgiest of frowns. Needless to say, that was not how Landon had hoped her first impression of Chandler would be.

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