Covenhouse Christmas (part 3)

Covenhouse Christmas post 3 of 5

Did I ever. I spent almost three hundred dollars at Target on ornaments, tree lights, a stand, a skirt, and a lighted wreath for the front door. Then we went to the live tree stand up the road and spent another hundred-seventy-five on a ten-foot blue spruce. I was very glad I’d brought Jim, after all: How would a tiny little thing like me manage to get a ten-foot tree in the truck? Or, rather, out of it? Every man on that lot asked me twice if I’d need any help when I got home. I left fifty dollars in the tip jar. Flattery will get you pretty damn far with me.

It was closing in on ten o’clock by the time we left the city. I wouldn’t be able to come back up and get a hot meal, but at least I’d bring back more Christmas crap than even the Grinch could steal. I had a sudden image of all the vampires in the house standing in a circle singing, like the Whos in Whoville, and I giggled as I turned onto the 25 South.

“What?”

“Oh, nothing. I just – I imagined every Who in Whoville in front of the tree.”

He got it, and laughed. “I can’t picture any of you setting this stuff up.”

“I beg your pardon!” I laughed along with him. “I never leave tree-trimming to amateurs.”

“So you’ll be holding the tree straight while we adjust the stand, and stringing all those lights, and getting a ladder for that ridiculous star you bought?”

“Damn right.”

“You’re really not his girlfriend, are you?”

I shot him a look.

He held his hands up, palms out. Don’t shoot! “I’m not prying. I’m stating. He doesn’t strike me as someone who puts up with any sort of – anything he finds undignified.”

I ignored his accuracy. “You’ve barely seen the man.”

“I’ve heard everyone else talking about him. The staff, I mean. You, they love, they rave about. Him?” He shook his head. “They’re scared.”

I didn’t know what to say to this. It was nice to be loved by the staff – nice that they noticed I tried to be good to them, say thank you, the whole nine. I’d worked too many service jobs – and was too thoroughly a modern American – to treat them as if they were some invisible force to which I, as a suddenly rich person, was entitled. And of course they were scared of Grant. I was scared of Grant. You’d have to be especially stupid not to be scared of Grant.

“He is the boss.”

“Sure. And that’s why the maids turn their faces to the wall when he walks by.”

“They do not.”

He nodded at me. “It’s like ‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ in that house, and I think you’re the only one who doesn’t realize it.”

Well, who knew? “I’ll bet the rest of the upstairs doesn’t, either. Are we on the verge of revolt?”

He shrugged. “The pay is astronomical. I think the maids just like to gossip, and Simmons doesn’t bother reigning them in.”

“Better they talk to each other than anyone else,” I said, and immediately regretted it.

“So that non-disclosure agreement really is required?”

“You should talk to Simmons about it. I shouldn’t have mentioned it.”

“Now I’m curious. What deep, dark secrets are y’all hiding?”

I forced myself to laugh with him. Ha ha, vampires are hysterical! You can kill us all in our sleep with one well-placed match!

Of course, I knew all the employees were background-checked – and not just the usual, either. We had a couple of P.I.s on retainer who delved into religious affiliations, any occult interests, even what these people read for fun or saw at the movies. Just the same way Grant had known my every weakness, he knew everything about his staff. I wondered if he ever thought about weeding out the hot ones.

I could not stay out of trouble with this guy in the car.

“Wouldn’t you like to know,” I said, and turned the radio up. We were only fifteen minutes or so out from the house, anyway; I pushed the truck up past a hundred miles per hour to make it ten. Jim didn’t say a word, but I saw his hand curl around the oh-shit handle, knuckles white.

Simmons opened the door before I even climbed down from the cab. “He’s asking for you,” he said, coming around the front of the truck and taking my bag. “I’ll see that everything gets inside, but he’s – ” He glanced at Jim. “Well, Madam, I’m sure you can imagine.”

“Lovely.” I offered Jim my hand. “Thanks for the help. It was nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.”

“Madam.”

“I’m going, Simmons, I’m going.” Christ. Grant would not die if I kept him waiting two extra minutes.

I headed to the study, where Grant wasn’t, and didn’t feel a bit bad about wasting his time. Hell, he was wasting mine: I had lights to string and ornaments to hang. He had something to yell at me about. You can see what I thought more important.

I went through my sitting room and closet, dropping my jacket and sliding off my boots before going through the connecting door to the bathroom and into our bedroom.

“What kept you?”

He was sitting on the sofa in the sitting room. Someone had sent up a tray with a bottle of scotch and two glasses; I wondered who he thought would be drinking with him. I stuck to my vodka. “Nothing. I just pulled up.”

“Three minutes ago.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, was I supposed to run up the stairs and into your waiting arms?” I settled myself in a club chair across the coffee table from him. “Simmons didn’t deliver that part of the message.”

“Where are your shoes?”

“In the closet. I thought I’d indulge myself and walk around my own damn house in my socks.”
“With what else have you indulged yourself this evening?”

Oh, hell no. I started for the door, only to find him blocking it.

“Darling?”

“Don’t be a dick, Grant. I’m hungry. I want to put up my tree. I do not want to have a fight about my imaginary infidelities.”

“Imaginary.”

God, I wanted to punch him. Hard. Crack a couple of ribs. He would pull this shit when I was hungry and had something else to do. “This insecurity is not attractive.”

“Neither is a whoring wife.”

I’d started for the closet; I stopped and turned back to him in almost comic slow motion. “What?”

He didn’t say anything.

“So Christmas trees are out, but marriages are okay? Who made these fucked-up rules?”

“It’s not what I meant.”

“Oh, I think it’s exactly what you meant. It’s just not what you were supposed to say out loud.”

“Josephine – “

I turned again and headed for an exit. Any exit. I’d happily throw myself out a window if it came to that. “I’m not having this fight. Not now, not ever, because you know what?” I heard him following me, knew he could cover more ground than I could, even at top speed, knew he could catch me if he wanted to. I hoped he didn’t want to. “I’m not your wife.”

“Josephine, stop.”

I ignored him, as usual. Let him follow me. Let him try to keep this going in the middle of the living room. I fucking dared him.

He didn’t.

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