Miss Strider’s blood was exquisite. (The sounds she made when my fangs pierced the delicate flesh of her wrist: also exquisite.) Even Benedict’s favorite sugary plasma packs couldn’t compare to the sweetness.
I was uncertain as to how much assistance I could offer her with her culinary pursuits, or if a vampire could truly detect the subtlest notes and flavors in human blood. However, as her future devoted husband, I would deny her nothing.
In the meantime, I would go to my brother’s side. Now that Father had left us, I hoped we would bond as only twin brothers could.
“Took you long enough,” Benedict muttered. I hoped to get him to work on his enunciation during my time here.
I drew him into a brotherly hug; the act apparently caught him by surprise. “I’m here now, Benedict.”
“Don’t remind me,” he muttered yet again. “I hope you’ll be able to handle Mother. She’s not in her right mind.” He lowered his voice–unwise, considering the already compromised clarity of his words. “She goes dancing at night, Leopold. Dancing.”
Exercise was essential for both a sound body and mind, and I suspected the vigorous activity helped elevate her mood. Mother would most certainly fall into a deep depression if she ever lost her trim figure. “I see.”
“I also overheard her plotting to sell the house,” he continued, voice rising with his arms. “The house we’ve lived in all our lives! What could she possibly be thinking?”
“I ran my figures on the way here,” I said, “and it wouldn’t be especially cost-effective for Mother to maintain a four-bedroom house on a lot of this size. The property taxes on Fangs Island are quite obscene, regardless of the prime waterfront views.”
“Must you be–must you be such a butler?” Benedict sputtered. “Even at a time like this?”
“Of course,” I said, perplexed. “Isn’t that what Mother requires most?”
He sighed. “…The house isn’t the same,” he said. “Just to warn you. It’s…it can’t be the same, without him.”
“…Thank you.” My lip trembled, but only for a moment. My mother and brother needed me.
And they most certainly needed a butler. Despite the house’s proximity to the Academy, the level of cleanliness in Father’s absence was shameful.
Of particular concern was the dust buildup in the spaces formerly occupied by the refrigerator and stove; however, I was quickly able to address it to my satisfaction.
“Why are you bothering with that?” Benedict demanded, watching me from the bar. “Don’t you have more important things to do?”
“The cleanliness and organization of one’s surroundings can have a direct impact on one’s state of mind,” I informed him as I set an artificial fruit bowl back in place.
“Well,” he huffed, “if cleaning this place up makes Mother act less crazy, clean away.”
After that, I tended to Mother’s finances, which were in even more disarray than Master Straud’s. (Fortunately, she hadn’t changed her account details in decades.)
Perhaps Benedict was correct to be concerned about Mother selling the house; I’d need to discuss Father’s will and estate with his attorney before the redistribution of any major assets, though he likely left the house to Mother. I should compare the price per square foot to other recently sold houses in the area…
And then there was the matter of the Blackwell-Lyons Butler Academy and Finishing School. Grandfather Thaddeus had taken over the day-to-day management of the school immediately after Father’s passing, but Mother would probably want to sell it entirely.
There were a great many things that needed tending to in Father’s absence, such as feeding the birds…
Polishing the guest coffin…
And I could understand Mother’s concern with excessive clutter.
“What are you doing now?” my brother hissed.
“Have you come to help?” I noticed Benedict hadn’t been doing much productive lately, and the activity could help.
“Help get rid of Father’s things?”
Again, his behavior was perplexing. “He has no further use for them.”
“You–you’re as heartless as Mother!”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand, Benedict…”
“Of course you don’t. You, Finn, Mother–none of you understands.”
I wish I knew how to best comfort my brother; I could tell he was handling our father’s death poorly. However, my many attempts to reach out to him throughout our lives had never gone well…
No doubt Miss Strider would have an easier time of it, with her sunny disposition. I couldn’t help but smile when I imagined her arms around me, commending me on a job well done and offering me words of encouragement…
Mother, at least, seemed to be in high spirits, though her embrace lasted longer than usual.
She was wearing her dressing gown and emerged rather late from her bedroom in the morning; two unusual occurrences, but not enough for me to find them as troubling as my brother apparently did.
“It’s so good to have you here, darling,” Mother said. “Your brother has been in the foulest mood, and I haven’t been home much. But the house is running quite smoothly with your help.”
“I’m glad to be of service, Mother.”
“Oh, Leopold, I finally feel so alive again,” she said. “So to speak. I don’t know what I’d do without–the dancing.” Perhaps she was taking ballroom dancing lessons–a waltz would suit her especially well, with her natural elegance.
“Do you suppose my intended might enjoy dancing with me as well?” I asked.
“I don’t see why not,” she said. “But you’ve gone and proposed without my approval?” She sounded as hurt as she looked.
I shook my head hastily. “Of course not, Mother, but I do plan to propose after an appropriate mourning period has passed. And I’m certain you’ll adore her as much as I do.”
“Well,” she said, “I do hope she’s an appropriate choice this time around, darling. But I can’t imagine you not having learned properly by now…”
No, I couldn’t understand Benedict’s dire warning about Mother’s behavior. I noticed nothing particularly worrying, and was glad to see her getting out of the house.
“Don’t wait up for me, Leopold,” she said, “and tell your brother not to wait either. I fully intend to dance the night away.”
“Have a lovely evening, Mother.”
I looked forward to my evenings the most as well, when I could retire to my room after a long day of hard work.
Once I had showered, brushed my fangs, and prepared for bed, I permitted myself a look at Miss Strider’s messages, of which there were usually many…
Strange; that didn’t resemble any restaurant I had ever seen. As a vampire, however, I rarely dined out.
Ah–my confusion was due to an error on her part. An “oopsie Daisy,” if you will. (Uncle Byron would approve of my wordplay.)
As much as I was glad to be of assistance to my mother and brother, I looked forward to seeing her again…
And I hoped she didn’t mind my saving the picture she had originally meant to send, though I would’ve preferred one that focused more on her lovely face than the restaurant.
Yes, Mother would most certainly approve of Miss Daisy Strider as her daughter-in-law… How could she not?