“Honey? I’m home, and I brought a friend.” There was no response. The front hall of the Armstrong estate echoed with the sound of my voice. Despite our marriage several years ago, there had been no formal name change on her property. All things considered, I can’t say I blamed her for that. Claire was the blue blood, not I.
“Roy, is that you? I thought I heard someone at the door…” Said Lain my maid as she came down the stairs. “Lain, where’s Claire?” I asked. I guess she hadn’t thought I was coming back today. When I addressed her, she practically jumped. “Oh! I didn’t know we were expecting more guests.” She said taken aback by John. Lain was Claire’s maidservant, and a sort of de facto autocrat over the rest of the household staff. At Lain’s say-so, floors got washed, meals got cooked, and the whole operation ran as smoothly as the lives of the gentry should. I wonder if she ever regretted it; that this was what she had been chosen to do with her life. After all, she’d graduated from the guild only a few years behind me.
“You said ‘more guests’?” I asked with a slight edge to my voice. Lain nodded “It’s just a social call, although the way that man bustled in here, you’d have thought he was the king himself.” Lain said with a sigh.
“The king!” John said. Lain looked at him. It was an appraising look. The same sort of look you might give to small, impulsive dogs or over-excited children. It said ‘are you about to break something?’ and ‘if so, will I have to clean it up?’ “Lain, this my friend, John Alabaster.” I said.
“Very nice to meet you, Mr…Alabaster.” She greeted with a suspicious glare. “How do you do, miss?” John said with a smile. Lain cocked an eyebrow at him. I could see her sizing him up, trying to decide what to think. “I do very well, thank you. Where did you say you knew Roy from again?” She said.
“He, uh, didn’t.” I tried to say when John interrupted me “The military. We were in the army together.” I face-palmed so hard at that moment.
Lain revealed a devilish smiled, crossing her arms “My, my, Roy. You must have lived a very busy life. Was this when you were fifteen, before we met? Or did you squeeze it in recently?” John had a scared look on his face. I grab Lain’s arm “Can you give us a minute, John?” I said as I guided her gently into a room. After I closed the door she got right up in my face “You never mentioned a John before.” She said. I nodded “You’re damn right I didn’t. Until about an hour ago, I’d never seen the man before.” She looked shocked “Then why is he–?” I interrupted her “Just play along with it for now, alright?” She folded her arms. “I don’t see why I should.” She stated. “Because I’m asking nicely.” I said with a smile, she sniffed.
“I was going to say, ‘what if he’s some sort of con-man, or a hardened killer looking for a place to lay low…’” She paused.
“…and then you realized how ironic saying that would be?” I smiled.
“Shut up. I don’t know him. I’m allowed to be skeptical. Hell, you don’t know him either. I can’t believe you’re not being more cautious.” Her face turned a slight red. Despite herself she could come off motherly.
“I have my reasons, okay?” I said. She sighed “Whatever you say, boss.” She didn’t have to roll her eyes when she said that. The words did it for her. “He’s still very strange. You have to admit that, at least.” She said eying me. “Well, he’s a spirit.” I said with a laugh, Lain looked shocked. She stood there, stunned, but quickly pulled herself together. “Well, then. Do you have any more supernatural house-guests you’d like to spring on me, or shall I get back to my job?” She motioned towards the door.
“Why don’t you take the day off?” I said with a smile and a hand on her shoulder. “If you say so…Look, before I go, you should know that Rolon’s the one visiting with Claire. I know you two don’t see eye-to-eye, and he’s always an ass to me. If you feel like kicking him out, be my guest.” I thanked her, she smiled “I thought you’d appreciate the heads-up.” Lain then left.
John drifted over from where he had been standing unobtrusively. The portrait he had been studying—one of Claire’s ancestors, confined to eternal stodginess by some well-intentioned hack—went back to slouching in its frame. “What did you tell her?” John asked. I looked at him with annoyance “That you suck at lying. And that you used to be dead.” His brow frowned “Was that wise?” He asked. I reassured him “Basically, it’s easier if she knows. I don’t know if I could keep up the deception for long if you end up staying here for a few days. Plus, anyone who spends more than five minutes around you can tell that somethings not right.”
“I see…” He sighed, defeated, and put his head in his hands. “Are things always going to be like this?” He asked. “Like what?” I asked. John replied “The hiding?” I rolled my eyes “It’s not my fault you offended the laws of nature. You should’ve thought about that before you decided to cheat death.” John became silent. It came out harshly, but it was true all the same. No one had ever coddled me, and I wouldn’t do it for anyone else, either.
“…Don’t dwell on it. Come on.” I motioned for the door “We have a guest to make unwelcome.”