The Butler - 11. Chapter XI
I dropped Gregory’s clothes off at the cleaners that afternoon, and went on to get some more groceries; if Seth’s wife, Kathleen, and the children were coming, I’d definitely needed to stock up on candy and fruit. They loved their sweets.
Kat had a rule, or at least had it the last time they visited; take one piece of candy and eat a piece of fruit. Take two pieces of candy? Take two pieces of fruit.
I bought an equal amount of each, and went perusing the isles for dinner ideas. Jeremy, the eldest, was lactose intolerant, so that limited my choices. In the end, I decided to cook him a separate meal, quickly running out of ideas for him. Both Kat and Seth were vegetarians, as were the other two children (due to their parents’ beliefs), Charlotte, named after her grandmother, and Allison, named after Kat’s mother. That restriction didn’t help much either, and I ended up with three separate dinners to prepare. At least William and Gregory ate normally; they’d eat anything served to them.
Depositing the grocery bags in the trunk, my attention was caught by a flash of the sun, reflected in a door-window as it opened; a man left an exclusive Men’s clothing store with several bags.
I’d been wondering how on earth I would have something clean for Gregory by dinner, as he’d ordered. The least affected shirt was being washed at the house right now and one pair of pants drying; I was hoping the wax would come off from the shirt, but even the guy at drycleaners had shaken his head when he’d seen them. He would try his best, he’d promised, but no guarantees. And it wouldn’t be done until Monday, earliest. So when my eye fell on the clothing store, it seemed like the best idea; just buy some new things, at least to tide him over for the weekend. It wasn't A Man Hing Cheong in Hong Kong, the goto of himself and his late father (I had several of them and those were definitely out of my budget) but this would have to do. Perhaps his anger would subside; at least enough to not divulge my past to his brothers. Or worse.
I greeted Mr. Halliwell, the store's owner, who always seemed to be busy, no matter what the hour and no matter how many clients were in his store; one or dozens. I was the only one at the moment, which was exceptional for a Saturday afternoon, but he waved at me, busily walking to and fro as if World War 3 had broken out. For the moment, I preferred him out of the way.
Glad to be left alone for the moment, I walked through the store, avoiding the ‘sale’ racks because they usually were last season’s merchandise. Instead, I went straight to the new collection.
My eye fell on a light-grey v-necked pullover, long-sleeved, displayed prominently on a model, darker grey pants and a light blue button-down shirt to go with it, and black loafers, simple but elegant.
Right at that moment, Mr. Halliwell appeared out of nowhere, startling me.
“Master Christopher!” He said, addressing me in his usual, formal, manner. “How can I help you?”
I ogled the pullover again. Gregory’s style was classic, like mine. But I prefer more color; I only ever saw him in white shirt, suit & tie. Not like what was on display right now. Then again, it wasn’t like he had specified what he wanted. I didn't know what he wanted. Casual? What did he wear at home? I didn't know. Perhaps some blazers? When we met, that very first time...I tried to remember. He'd worn a blazer then, no tie. Shirt with a light stripe.
Deciding it was the best answer right now, I went into shopping mode. The household account would have to pay for it, for now. I’d have to replace the funds from my own savings, later.
“I’d like three of those,” I answered, nodding to the pullover and adding Gregory’s size, which I remembered from reading the labels. “One in black, one in dark grey and one in that color. I’ll need 6 shirts, an assortment of the one on display here, three button-down and three regular dress shirts. Vary the colors, please. No white.”
Gregory, as well as his father, were of the same cloth; they changed for dinner. I knew that from past experience. I’d actually adapted to it myself. Nothing too formal, but dressy still.
A display further I saw some pants. “And two of those,” again adding Gregory’s size. Two suede blazer jackets, because I just liked them. If he didn’t want them, I would; I owned several.
“Five pair of those,” I said, choosing socks, “and five of those,” I added, pointing at underwear. “No, silk satin.”
Thinking, I remembered shoes.
“Do you have those in…”
I returned to the house an hour before dinner, coming in to a racket of noise; Kat and the children had obviously arrived.
“Chrissie!” Allison Montgomery yelled, as soon as I came in, my hands laden with grocery and clothing bags. “Hungry!”
High heels came running from the salon, two arms scooping up the child before she could reach me.
“Hello Chris,” Kathleen Montgomery smiled, holding her hand over her youngest child’s mouth, then leaned in to press her lips lightly on my cheek in greeting. “Sorry about that. Allison, how many times do I have to tell you; no shouting indoors, and no running. And let Chris do his job.”
She let the girl slide down to the floor and released her, then proceeded to give me a hug.
“Are you okay? I know you two were thick as thieves.”
I swallowed the sudden lump in my throat and sent her a reassuring smile. Seth’s wife was like him; warm and caring.
“Yes, thank you, Kat. My condolences. I wish this visit was for another reason.”
“So do I, Chris. I already miss him.”
At thirty-six, Kathleen was a classic beauty, and completely genuine. She was a cheerful and humorous woman, an outstanding mother, and oblivious to borders of class, warm and kind. And sometimes, charmingly crude…
“Seth! Get your butt in here; Christopher emptied the town again!”
She grinned, winking and then left, rolling her eyes and sighing aggravated when the sound of something falling, and breaking, reached the hallway.
Seth stuck his head around the corner of the salon doors, and, noting the amount of bags, handed his wife a half full whisky-glass in passing.
“You should ask for help, you know,” he told me, accusingly, taking several of the bags I held out to him. “Will! Get in here!”
His younger brother came, frowning at the amount of bags; then he took the remaining ones, heading for the kitchen where Seth had disappeared to.
The other bags I took to the laundry room, checking the washing machine.
As I feared, the wax hadn’t come off; the pants were still damp as they were drying, and wouldn’t be wearable before dinner. And they also contained spots of wax. Ruined.
Sighing, I took the newly bought shirts out and got some hangers; they’d have to be ironed first. The pants were fine as they were, I’d just have to remove the labels.
Three quarters of an hour later, I took one of the back stairs up to Gregory’s room and hung everything in the closet there, ironed and neatly hanged, setting two pairs of new shoes underneath. Then decided against that, taking one pair of shoes, a blue dress shirt, pants, a pullover and a jacket, laying them out on his bed instead. That way, he’d see I’d done as he’d ordered.
I was about to leave when the door opened and Gregory came in.
“As ordered, sir,” I said, nodding at the bed where the clothes lay, and trying to steer well clear of his reach. I had to pass by him, though, and sure enough his hand stopped me, exactly at the same spot as before, and I winced, unable to keep a soft groan from escaping me. Almost immediately now, though, he let go again, his hand moving fast as if he’d burned it.
When I looked up at his face, he was gazing intently at my arm.
When I didn't respond quickly enough, he seized my wrist and undid the cuff, then slid the material up my arm, revealing a dark bruise where his thumb had been. He touched the spot with his fingers, lightly, almost unnoticeable. And then the strangest thing happened; a corner of his mouth curled up slightly. He was admiring it?
"It hurts a lot, doesn't it?"
He asked it so softly I first thought I'd misheard. I nodded.
"You'll remember now, to not make me angry, yes? You'll obey?"
To emphasize he stepped closer. Swallowing, I looked away. Again, he was hard. Apparently, it excited him?
“Yes sir,” I answered, quietly.
I felt he was looking at me, but I stared at the ground, lowering my sleeve and closing the cuff. His gaze practically burned a hole in my skull.
“You laid these out for this evening?”
I uttered the same reply as he gestured toward the bed.
“Good boy. We’ll have drinks in the library at 18:15, dinner at seven, sharp. That will be all.”
Not even a thank you. I stepped out into the hallway and the door closed with a soft click behind me.
“Yeah, you’re welcome,” I muttered to the wood.
Fuck, he scared the shit out of me now.
Once, a long time ago, he hadn’t been this strange. Well, not until…
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