Despite Leopold’s many warnings over the years, professional butler work wasn’t nearly as grueling as I feared. Mr. Bingham-Long had a list of tasks for me to perform in my employer’s absence.
Washing dishes certainly wasn’t difficult, not with a state-of-the-art dishwasher.
But since Mr. Bingham-Long left me to perform my duties alone, my thoughts often wandered more than a butler’s should.
This kitchen could be the very same one that the master of the house ventured into for a glass of water…
Scrubbing the bathtub wasn’t difficult either, especially since it was already nearly pristine.
The master of the house undoubtedly soaked in the very same tub…
And then there was making the bed, a very simple matter when the sheets and covers were barely disturbed.
The master of the house surely slept in the very same bed. Most likely nude, due to the heat and humidity in Starlight Shores.
I wasn’t sure what the room at the very top of the manse was intended for.
Maybe the master of the house danced in the very same room…in the nude, for ease of movement.
But it was lonely, working by myself, without either an employer or other household staff to speak with. All of my orders came in the form of notes from Mr. Bingham-Long. It was almost as though I was the only one who ever entered the manse.
It was different next door, where I could see the butler (blurrily, thanks to my weaker vision) constantly interacting with others.
After I’d first been hired, I felt honored when my predecessor awarded me such nice personal butler quarters…
I really couldn’t have asked for anything nicer.
Why did the master of the house require a live-in butler when he seemed to live somewhere else entirely?
Maybe he was shooting on location somewhere far away, but he’d be back soon.
But until then, I felt confused, and anxious, and…more than a little lonely. But at least now I had a chance to meet Leonidas again. And I’d finally revealed the truth I’d denied all along.
Sebastian Strider–the detective I’d hired–seemed very dedicated to my case, and I called for multiple status updates throughout the day.
He sounded very apologetic when there was no progress.
I’d tell him there was no rush, even though I desperately wanted to be reunited with Leonidas, and promised to give him more time between calls.
But he never sounded annoyed or impatient, and promised me that his best guys were on the case.
I thought about calling Father and asking him what it was like to work alone, without any customer or co-worker interaction. I never thought I’d miss all of my terrible customers, or even the inoffensive and boring ones, but to go day after day without ever speaking to anyone…
I definitely could never ask Leopold about anything–he’d tell me I lacked the proper temperament for a butler.
So I sought out my other sibling instead.
“Benny!” She sounded so excited to see me, abandoning the counter to talk to me instead. “A new TV show is going to be filming here–maybe the Fallen Star Funeral Parlor will be famous soon. Or maybe they’ll use Batty as an extra, and he’ll be famous.”
So it was the news that was exciting, not the company. “…Is that even legal, Ophelia? There should be some sort of privacy laws, not to mention the matter of hygiene…”
“Batty licks his evil little butt and I still give him kisses,” she said with a shrug. “I guess it’s not much different.” She pulled me over to a sofa that was intended for grieving customers rather than visiting brothers. “I want to hear about the butler work. Do you love it? Are you filled with simmering passion?”
“It’s a job…” I cleared my throat. “I perform it to the best of my ability, as any Lyons butler would.” Though my abilities probably couldn’t match up to Father’s or Leopold’s. Ophelia didn’t know the first thing about being a butler, so it was a safe subject with her.
“You should have a torrid affair with the master of the house,” she said gleefully.
I was saved from having to answer right away by the arrival of Count von Batstein III–or as my sister called him, Batty–who I went over to say hi to–and who said hi back.
He did that every time he wanted me to pick him up, so I did.
When I sat down, tiny dog in my arms, I tried to maintain a neutral tone and expression. It was no use changing the subject–once Ophelia found one she liked, she never let go. “Don’t you mean mistress of the house…?”
“But you like masters, Benny. Not mistresses. Don’t you?”
“…You knew?” For some reason, I felt relief, not embarrassment or fear. There was no reproach in her voice, no judgment at all–or any real curiosity. How long had she known?
“Of course. My knowledge of dark, terrible romance is second to none.”
I had to have a romance in the first place for it to be dark or terrible–or anything else. “Please don’t tell Mother and Father.”
She gave me a puzzled look. “Don’t you want them to know?”
“Mother would talk about curses again,” I said. “And Father…I feel like this is yet another way I’ll be a disappointment to him next to Leopold.”
“But you’re Mother’s favorite. And Father would never say anything to upset her–or me. He knows better.” She frowned. “But I still don’t think he’d say anything bad anyway…”
Me, Mother’s favorite? Ha. And it was easy for her to say that about Father, when she could do no wrong in his eyes. I’d always felt the weight of his disappointment–from falling so far behind Leopold in every aspect of my existence to repeatedly failing the academy’s entrance exam. This would be yet another way I’d be forever set apart from my twin.
“Please,” I said. “I’ll tell them. But not yet.”
“Your secrets are always safe with me, Benny.” She gave me a sidelong glance. “That reminds me, Finn wants to see you.”
From one uncomfortable subject to another… Ophelia had a talent, and it wasn’t writing.
“…Did he say that?”
“He doesn’t have to.” She tapped the left side of her chest lightly with one finger. “I can read hearts. It’s one of the ways I channel my dark energies.”
I sighed. “…Please keep your dark energies to yourself.”
But still, it was a pleasant thought, even if it was a lie. I’d sooner believe that Leonidas wanted to see me. He had to.
But until our reunion, I could spend a little time in my sister’s company.
Maybe it was her relieving me of a long-held secret, or maybe it was the warmth of the small, furry dog I cuddled to my chest, but I felt my loneliness ease there in the funeral parlor.