First: A story featuring a male keeper and a female Kept.
Previous: In the Henhouse
“You said…” Mélanie washed the eggs slowly. “You said that I had two assignments? I suppose that I should do those before morning is over…?”
“Oh! Thank you for reminding me. Yes. When you’re done with those eggs, we can go upstairs and I can show you where to find the best clothes. And then perhaps I’ll go out and do a little trading and give you some more time to yourself. Would you like that?”
“I…. I think I would be a little confused by that. But I would not dislike it, sir.” She finished the eggs and set them on a tea towel that appeared next to the sink. “Thank you, House. so… five outfits?”
“At least. There’s no purpose in stealing all of this stuff if we don’t enjoy it.”
“Did you send all of your other Kept away with outfits, sir?” Or did the house give them back when she ate them?
“Generally, I try to send them all away with a few outfits and enough of a supply kit to keep them comfortable until they can find a new placement of some sort. None of the clothes here have already been worn by some other Kept. I sell anything they don’t keep with them.”
“Why’s that?” A new placement of some sort. What did that mean?
“Because I try to let each new person to this house start fresh. We all end up wearing hand-me-downs, it’s the nature of the world – except this one woman I met who creates all her own fabric and uses it to tailor her own clothes – but there’s no reason you need to be wearing the hand-be-downs of your predecessor. It’s a little weird.” He shrugged. “But I have enough stock to do it. Besides, the last two women – well.” He cleared his throat. “Your clothes and theirs are going to come from different stock, I think.”
That could mean so many different things. Mélanie settled for tilting her head at the stairs. “Up in that loot-stockroom-bedroom?”
“Yes. Let’s do that.” He seemed in a hurry to get upstairs. Mélanie concluded that he’d been thinking something inappropriate and was for some reason embarrassed by it. Maybe because the house had heard? The house was a Victorian, and the suggestions could have been about Mélanie’s (not all that generous) chest size or her (slightly more generous) rear end.
He was still not looking directly at her when they got to the stockroom. “So.” He cleared his throat. “We have some clothes in the closet here. Rachel, she was, mm, two before you, she decided that the ‘nice things’ couldn’t all sit in suitcases. And then we have this dresser and that dresser. The left one is mostly, ah, feminine things.” He looked out the window. Mélanie wondered what he was seeing there. “So you can… pick what you want…” he added, when she didn’t move. “There’s still stuff in bags and boxes, too.”
“You already gave me one suitcase,” she reminded him.
“I did. And you can have five outfits in addition to that as well, or more, as you wish. I don’t look good in women’s clothes, they’re the hardest to resell, and I like it if people in my life are dressed nicely.”
“Then you ought to steal some tablecloths and some pretty art,” she answered a bit more tartly than she meant to. “All right. This may take a while,” she warned him.
“You have most of the morning.” He sat down on an old steamer trunk, clearly willing to watch her pick out clothes. “Please try to pick things you’d actually like to wear. I don’t mind taking the time.”
“You’re not making this easy,” she complained, and then shook herself. “I’m sorry. That’s ridiculous. I appreciate – I appreciate all of this, I really do, sir.”
“Do you think,” he asked in a very light voice, “that you appreciate it enough to call me by my name?”
“Thank you.. Jasper.” It felt intimate to use his name, like she’d walked in on him in his boxers. She turned away hastily and began going through the closet.
A few minutes later, she started going through boxes. She had already begun to discover one end of Jasper’s taste; now she found the other. It looked like everything that might fit a woman was either gorgeous, high-class sorts of things, more silk , pristine linen, the sort of things you might wear to a garden party, if anyone had garden parties worthy of Jay Gastsby anymore, or very practical, simple, chambray and denim and cotton, work clothes.
“I was told,” he cleared his throat uncomfortably, “that no woman wanted to go fetch eggs or clean the kitchen in a dress, certainly not the sort of dresses I liked to find. And so there are, ah. Work clothes as well.”
“I see. I…. see.” Forget garden-party. In half of these clothes, she would look like Guinevere’s lady-in-waiting. “I really do need to go through this, but I can settle on five outfits for now.”
“Then five it will be.” His look, she thought, was trying to be stern. But the smile pushing at the edges of his lips failed that. “For now.”