The fog swirled around him, tightening around his soul, confining, even with its lightness, as it settled around him like a coffin. What would his life be now if he'd died all those years ago? Would he merely be a single droplet in a bank of white cloud on a chill evening? Would his spirit, his essence, be so controlled, so contained, as a speck of fog? The cloud surrounded him and he reached out into it, searching. But there was nothing there, no life--at least not the life he searched for. The hazy grey light of the fog darkened, as his mind dove into the cursed reality that his existence was now. Years of agony. He'd had so much taken from him. But it was almost time; the search was almost over. A flash of violet light and a rumble of thunder broke through the heavy, churning fog. The ground shook beneath his feet. A storm. Not so rare in this place.
Another flash and the power of the magic flowed through his veins, cold like liquid nitrogen, almost unbearable, yet beautiful at the same time. He held out his hands, filling his body with the raw energy that brought on the euphoria. The thoughts were too painful of late. The power, alone, kept him from feeling too much, too deeply. The power pulled him above all that, to the heights of the universe itself. He let himself become one with the fog, with the storm, with the crackling, electric night around him.
It was almost time.
I awoke to a dark dawn, the vestiges of a haunting dream hung from my shoulders. There had been a man, tall and thin, who'd come for me, toward me, as I fell down toward him. I couldn't change course. I had been about to collide with him when I awoke. I couldn't remember all of the dream, but the feel of a presence in the dark stayed with me as I climbed from my bed, fully opening my curtains to let in all the light possible. It was raining. Heavy, fat drops hit the ground below, but my window was sheltered by the large elm tree that grew along the side of the house. I shivered, the air in my rom was cold--thanks to the air conditioning--and my nightgown didn't cover enough skin. It was probably warmer outside, even with the rain. I shivered and rubbed my bare arms, feeling a dull ache in the soft flesh of my left hand as I moved it. I turned my hand over and saw two red marks that looked like they'd been left behind by mosquitos. The minute I saw the marks they began itching. I scratched them mercilessly on my way to my closet.
I'd been hoping for sun for my first day of true summer vacation, a much needed break from my university course load. Instead, I settled for my new pair of jeans. They were expensive jeans. I wasn't usually so extravagant, but I'd allowed myself to buy them in celebration when my best friend, Ivy, and I published our first app. A simple game we'd called Archeology Go! The game had made enough money to pay for my new pants. The jeans hugged my hips perfectly and with my billowing, ruby peasant top I actually looked pretty good, much better then the overly-tall, gangly, college freshman who was only pretending to know what to do with her life. I went to the bathroom and combed some cold water through my short, dark hair--a pixie cut that paired with my heart shaped face made me look somewhat ethereal, at least according to my mother.
Once I was clean and presentable, I headed downstairs and found a latte--handmade by Mom--waiting for me. Mom, who was the same height I was but not near so awkward looking, wrapped her arms tightly around me. "I can't believe my baby girl's done her first year of university!"
"I finished my first year two months ago," I said, trying to play it down. "This was just summer session. And I've still got three more years of school to go before I get my degree."
Mom stepped back and rolled her eyes. "Yaddah, yaddah, yaddah. This is still a big step, Aurora. You're done an entire year plus an extra course! Celebrate the little things!" She pushed the coffee toward me along with an envelope. Her silver hair was pulled up into a bun, and even though was only in her mid-fifties, her glasses hung from her neck on a beaded chain--if her skin wasn't so smooth, she'd fit in perfectly at a nursing home.
"What's this?" I asked, ignoring my cell phone as it buzzed. Whoever that was could wait a few moments.
"Just a little something your dad and I got you." Mom smiled and I knew it would be exactly what they'd bought my sister, Willow, for every year of university she'd finished. I opened the envelope like I planned to use it again, attempting not to rip the edges. Inside was a prepaid VISA card loaded with five hundred dollars for me to spend however I liked. No wonder Willow had decided to do her doctorate. To bad it wasn't quite enough money to move out and get my own place.
"Wow, thanks Mom." I moved to give her another hug. Even though I felt ready to leave home, I still loved my parents. "You really didn't have to do this."
Mom returned my hug and pressed her nose to the side of my head. Great, she was smelling me. She'd always done that. It was her Mom thing, and even though it kind of annoyed me, I didn't say anything. I knew it was important to her. "We didn't have too, but we wanted too. Like I said, it's important to celebrate the small things, and this isn't even small!" She pulled back and gave me a sincere smile. I smiled back, and then returned to the latte waiting on the counter. It tasted like a slightly burnt marshmallow, just how I liked it.
"Where's Dad?" I asked, though I was sure I knew that, too.
"Oh, he's already out at the dig site." Mom wondered over to the fridge where she pulled out her pre-packed lunch. She'd be leaving soon for work, too. As an independent website consultant, she had much more flexible hours than dad, Professor Daniels the professional archeologist, did. "He wanted to get some hours in before it got too hot. Then he'll be at his office most of the day, but he promised to be home by six so that we can take you out for dinner before we leave on our trip."
"Right, your, 'we're done raising children trip', how could I forget? Even thought you're taking it a year late." I slipped the VISA into my Kate Spade wallet before securing it in my backpack. I'd probably spend the money on clothes. I needed to refine my wardrobe. Now that I had two months off from school, I felt like I needed something in my closet other than sweat pants and hoodies. My cell phone buzzed again and I answered it this time.
"First day of summer vacation!" Ivy's words were so loud that Mom heard them all the way across the kitchen and laughed.
I rolled my eyes. "Is it? I had no idea."
"Well, you better be ready, I'll be there in five. Now I better hang up before I get arrested." Ivy ended the call and I slipped my phone into my bag. I spent the next five minutes guzzling my coffee and helping Mom review her packing list for her European summer vacation. I was glad my parents were going. They'd never once left Willow and I alone when we were kids, not even for a weekend at our grandparent's house, but I still wasn't sure why I felt quiet so miffed when I thought about the trip. True, they'd never asked me if I wanted to come. Or even if I would miss them. But I understood that. They were starting a new part of their lives, and battling empty-nesting or whatever it was called. I was an adult now. I was excited to be completely on my own for a couple of weeks. Still, Europe would have been nice. Even if it was with my parents and not some gorgeously hot guy that was head over heels in love with me.
I wished Mom good luck with her packing and raced out the door the moment I heard Ivy's Rav4 in the driveway. My best friend was dressed in her favorite denim short-shorts and grungy lumberjack shirt, and she looked ravishing. Just a tiny bit shorter than me, with a blond bob styled with an artful array of hair gel, she was much more fashion forward than I was. She could wear a paper-bag and find a way to make it look good.
"Ready for this?" Ivy turned to look at me. "The ultimate freedom?"
"Oh hells yeah," I said, and selected my current favourite track from the list on her iPhone, which just happened to be 'Cold' by Maroon 5. Ivy peeled out of the driveway and I could sense Mom's heart attack as we sped down the road. Getting away would be good for her. She always worried about us kids way too much. My older sister, Willow, had gotten the worst of it, being the first child. I was the second and last and lucky that Mom had already been broken in. Still, now that I was an adult, one would think she'd be done parenting me. Yet, she'd made my lunch more often than not the past year. And she still reminded me to do my homework, which was so annoying. If I could have afforded it, I would have moved out, but a Computer Science degree was expensive, which was probably why my hopes were so high that mine and Ivy's next app would be best seller. I could definitely afford my own place then.
Ivy drove across the river and into the quaint downtown, nestled against the green banks of the South Saskatchewan River. Ivy headed straight to our favourite coffee spot, The Good Earth Cafe, and parked in front of the soon-to-be open art gallery. We grabbed hot sandwiches and cold coffees, and then walked down the cobblestones to the scenic park by the water.
"So, when are your parents leaving again?" Ivy asked, as we settled into a bright, sunny spot in the small grassy park clutched between two sprawling bridges.
"Tomorrow morning." I smiled wistfully as I unwrapped my egg salad sandwich. "I can't wait."
"You should come and stay with me," Ivy said, laying on her stomach and crossing her feet behind her. "I can make us margaritas and we can stay up all night programming. No one to answer to, nowhere to go. Let's see where the creative muse takes us."
"What about your brother?" I asked, pausing at the thought of the mysterious brother I had never met. Somedays, I wondered if he was real or if Ivy was secretly shacked up with a really old guy or a monster from mythology. Yet she continued to swear to me her brother was real, and that I'd meet him soon.
"Garret? Bah, he sleeps all day." Ivy waved off my comment before pulling her chicken sandwich out of the paper bag.
"Well, I don't know. I mean, normally, yeah, I'd love to. But my parents are leaving and I'll have the house all to myself. Why don't you come stay with me?" I proposed. I took a long sip of my iced coffee while I watched Ivy.
She shook her head, and her tiny, thin eyebrows bunched together. "I can't. Garret has this thing about me being away from him. You know... since our parents..."
"Oh." I set down my drink on the grass, momentarily feeling like an awkward idiot. "Right. Of course. Well, my parents are gone for a few weeks. So I guess I could stay at your place for a few days. Are you sure your brother won't mind?"
Ivy laughed, the tepid darkness that had briefly coloured her eyes washed away. "Are you kidding? He'll be happy to see me working so hard. He actually likes helping me out with the programming, you know. And he really liked the animation you did on our first app. Just think, we're already making a couple hundred dollars a month from that first game, our second one will be even better!" Ivy was talking a mile a minute, which meant she'd already had too much caffeine, but she took another long drink of her iced latte and went on with all the plans she had for the second version of our game. Soon, I was wrapped up in the discussion. There was no better way to spend my summer. I'd only been friends with Ivy for six months, but I'd never had a better friend than Ivy. A few days at her estate in the country sounded like a great idea. Even if I'd never been there before. Even if I'd never met her brother, I knew that it would be an amazing time.
"Just promise me you'll make real margaritas," I told her.
She smiled and winked. "Of course, I wouldn't have it any other way."
With a Starbucks latte in hand, I headed out to Ivy's estate the next morning. I'd dropped Mom and Dad off at the airport, insisting that they send me a postcard from every stop on their European tour before giving them both big hugs. The minute they passed through security, I felt something change inside me. I was on my own. Officially an adult. The world was mine to command. So, naturally, I got extra whipped cream and caramel on top of my usual latte.
Since I was supposed to be watching the house, I didn't tell Mom and Dad that I was going to be spending a few nights at Ivy's house. I planned to go home at least once a day to check on everything, so they didn't really need to know. I didn't want them to worry about me anymore than they had to.
I was excited to stay at Ivy's mysterious country house. The thought was actually more tempting than the idea of staying alone in the house I'd lived in for nearly twenty years. Ivy had been somewhat of a mystery ever since she'd appeared in my programming glass back in January. I'd never been to her place, which was a ten minute drive out of the city, and I'd never met her brother. I looked forward to seeing them both.
In the back seat of my small, economy car, I'd squished my pug themed suitcase, my laptop, and my favourite body pillow. Ivy had promised that the guest bed was luxurious but that was yet to be seen. She also promised me plenty of time our in the gardens and at least one horseback riding lesson, two fabulous additions to my summer plans. But yet I was nervous. Why had I never been to her house?
We'd met in the second semester of university, and had hit it off from the moment we couldn't stop laughing when Professor Norm couldn't figure out what was wrong with his program--the example the students were supposed to be following. Both Ivy and I had spotted the error immediately, and spent twenty minutes passing notes while the professor panicked and stammered at the front of the class. I'd spent the previous year nearly friendless, and it had felt good to have a friend again. I wasn't about to force Ivy to invite me to her house, but now that she finally had, I wasn't sure exactly what to expect. I shifted gears on my Mazda and sped down the highway, I'd find out soon enough.
My iPhone directed me to Ivy's place. There was a long gravel drive leading off the highway in the direction of the river. Just as I spotted the house in the distance, I came upon a gate. The gate was made from black, wrought iron, affixed on both sides by short brick walls. The gate and wall wouldn't have stopped anyone from gaining access to the property if they really wanted to, but it looked nice. Official.
The gate was open and I drove straight through, past rows of small hedges. Beyond the hedges were fields of green wheat. I knew that Ivy and her brother weren't farmers, but they owned all of the land around the estate and rented it out, keeping only the house for themselves. The house was built well away from the river valley--which I could see curving off into the distance--to ensure that it was built on a solid foundation. As I approached the house, I sucked in a deep breath. Two stories, bricked exterior--which was practically unheard of in the prairies--and lots of large, bright windows. The brick was grey and the shingles were black, and the porch was small and held up by two columns bricked in the same material as the rest of the house. I pulled up in front, driving around a small, circular roundabout of baby pine trees that weren't even close to the giants they would be one day. There were a few groups of bushes in the distance, and a bright green, manicured lawn around the house.
Ivy ran out the front door--a broad, black thing--with a gorgeous smile on her face. "Welcome to Chateau Creepsville!" she said as I stepped out of the car.
"It does have a certain gothic air about it." I rested my arm on the top of my car and glanced up at the exterior. "But it's gorgeous. And huge!"
The sun was bright and hot, but the house was like a dark spot in the middle of a spotlight. I'd never seen a house like it before, unless looking at pictures of the United Kingdom counted. The house was entirely out of place on the prairie, and would have fit in much better somewhere near York--a city I'd visited once a few years before.
"Yeah, some crazy old guy built it. Garret got it on sale. I don't think anyone else wanted it on account of the ghost." Ivy laughed when I looked her. "Don't worry," she said with a wink, "I'm sure it's a friendly ghost. Leave your car here, Gil can move it later." Ivy pulled opened the back door of my car and loaded her arms up with my stuff.
I opened the other side and grabbed my suitcase while nursing my latte. "Who's Gil?"
Ivy frowned. "I haven't mentioned him? Well, he's our butler, for a lack of a better word. Though maybe you would consider him Garret's personal assistant?"
"Your brother has an assistant?" I glanced up at the house again, looking for a face in one of the many windows, but there were none. The house could have been entirely empty for all I knew. "I mean, I've never met your brother, and now I find out he has an assistant? He must be pretty important."
Ivy ah-hummed as she stepped into the house. The entrance was grand. A black and white checkered floor filled the space between two staircases, one running up each side of the foyer. A chandelier hung from the double height ceiling above. There was a decorative table to my right with a mirror hung above it and fake plants set on top. Not the tacky kind, but the expensive kind that you had to touch in order to know if they were real or not.
"Let's go put this stuff in your room and then I'll give you the grand tour," Ivy said. "Garret's still sleeping so we'll have to be quiet. He works with the other side of the world so his schedule's completely backward."
Ivy led me up the staircase to my left. It was covered in plush, heavy carpet that was so clean I thought it might never have been stepped on. It had a persian rug-type design of deep red and golds, which complimented the white walls with their black trim. It was the kind of house you'd see in a designer magazine. The decorations were slightly eccentric but came off as totally stylish. Not that it was a house, really, but more of a mansion, or an estate. I frowned and puzzled over the difference of definitions. Up the stairs, the air was crisp and smelled like tropical waterfalls. Plenty of natural light poured in from the open windows. On the second floor, Ivy again turned left. We passed two open rooms, one on each side. The first was a library, filled wall to wall with books. A solitary writing desk was placed directly under the window and in the centre of the room were two armchairs facing each other. The second room was a home gym complete with a pilates machine. At the end of the hall was a large bathroom, with a glittering, white marble floor.
"This is my room," Ivy said, indicating to the left. Her door was open, displaying a perfect room complete with canopy bed and lilac purple carpet. There were deep purple curtains and a leather chaise in the far corner facing a wall mounted television. "I've decided you should be in this room," Ivy said, opening the door on the other side. It swung open, revealing a space so blue that I felt like I was underwater. All the walls were a deep, royal navy colour, but the bed was so white and soft looking that it could have been a cloud. There was a papasan chair tucked into the corner, and a small dresser, also white, under the window.
"It's gorgeous!" I said, rolling my suitcase into the room. "I feel like I'm staying in a hotel, not at my best friends house."
"I hope it feels a bit more homey than that!" Ivy said, a touch of sadness in her voice.
"Definitely homier," I said with a smile.
Ivy walked over to the bed and sat down, crossing her legs underneath her. Her jean shorts and blue t-shirt matched the room, but the pink streaks she must have painted in her hair that morning did not.
"Thanks again for inviting me," I said. "I didn't realize how it would feel to drop my parents off at the airport. I thought I would be more excited but..."
"You felt a bit abandoned?" Ivy suggested when i didn't finish my sentence.
"I get it," Ivy said. "Come on. Leave your stuff here. I want to show you the garden."
I followed Ivy back downstairs. We didn't go to the west side of the second story, since Ivy said that was where Garret was sleeping. I bit my lip, wanting to meet this mysterious older brother. The one who had raised Ivy since the death of the uncle that had raised them after their parents died when Garret was seven and Ivy was a baby. Ivy might understand my current emotional state, because her past had been much worse. My parents were just going on vacation. I couldn't imagine how I would feel if they never made it back.
From the foyer, we headed to the back of the house and into a bright, spacious kitchen. Cast iron pots hung from the ceiling and deep wooden counters stretched along the walls. I was startled to see an older gentleman cutting up a flank of meat. He looked up and caught me with two, sharp, dark eyes.
"Ah, our guest has finally arrived." He spoke with a slight accent that sounded upper class--surprising for an assistant. The man placed the long, sharp knife he was holding down beside the raw flesh, and slipped off a blood-splattered glove to hold a hand out to me. He was much taller than I was, which was surprising since I was nearly five-foot-nine. He only smiled with one side of his face, and his eyes remained dark, assessing.
"Aurora, this is Gil, Garret's assistant. He does most of the cooking." Ivy indicated to the man who could have been anywhere between the age of fifty and seventy-five. She didn't look at him, however, but stared past him at the set french doors at the back of the kitchen.
I was frozen, a little appalled at the idea of taking the hand that had been so recently butchering meat. I reminded myself that he'd been wearing gloves, and shook hands with him to be polite. "It's nice to meet you," I said.
Gil tilted his head down toward me. He was thin, but rigid with sinuous muscle. He had sharp, shallow cheeks and short grey hair. "It's a pleasure, of course." He spoke slowly, his voice was deep.
"We're just going out to the garden." Suddenly, Ivy was at my side, pulling me toward the sunlight streaming in through the open doors. When had that happened? I felt strangely disjointed, like I'd been staring too long out a window, lost in thought, when I'd only just spent a second shaking Gil's hand.
"I've put the recliners out by the fountain for you and your guest." Gil half-smiled at me again. I looked away, a unsettled tingling in my lungs. "There's a carafe of sangria out there, too, and some snacks, since supper won't be served until nine o'clock, as per your brother's instructions." Gil slipped the glove back on and went back to chopping the meat.
I stepped out of the kitchen and into the sun, but still I shivered. It was warm enough that I would need a generous layer of sunscreen to keep from burning, but I felt chilled, and decided to forget the lotion for the moment.
I warmed up quickly enough as Ivy led me through a waist high maze of hedges, back toward a large, circular fountain. There were rose bushes around the edges of a small gravelled area, a few choice sculptures of cherubs, and two lounge chairs, just as Gil had said there would be. There was also a pitcher of sangria.
"Gil mixes drinks for you?" I settled into the chair furthest from the house. Out in the country, it was quiet. The prairie sky was blue and peaceful. A few birds chirped from the hedges, and there was the slight burble from the fountain, but that was it for noise. The sounds succeeded in chasing away any lingering feelings of uneasiness.
Ivy laughed and gave me a naughty look. "Of course. Gil does everything. Personally, I could have gone for margaritas, but sangria will do. Before my brother forced me to move here, I was living in Spain. Everyone drinks sangria in Spain. At least, everyone I know does." Ivy poured me a goblet full of the deep red liquid, and I took a generous sip to steady my nerves. I'd expected Ivy to come from money, she'd never hid that, not exactly. But I hadn't expected her house to be an amazingly decorated gothic mansion. I laid back in my chair and looked up at the house. I could only see the western half, and the window I imagined was Garret's. He was six years older than Ivy and a complete mystery. I couldn't wait to meet him.
Ivy and I laid in the garden most of the afternoon, tossing back and forth ideas for our app development. We hoped to develop a second game based upon the first, yet better, slightly more elaborate. One that would entice our current fans, and also draw in new ones. We were still each earning a few hundred dollars a month, but we hoped to be able to make enough money from our second app that we could get our own place.
It was the end of the June, which meant the sun stayed high in the sky for a long time. It only began to cool around eight o'clock, when the sun began to fall toward the horizon. It would be light out for a few hours yet, but the sky had faded from the blinding, bright blue of midday to a pinkish twilight as some clouds formed on the horizon. It looked like a thunderstorm was approaching and I was glad for it. Thunder and dazzling lightning strikes always made me feel refreshed and renewed. There was something awe-inspiring in the power of the storm, of a natural phenomenon that could bring a city to its knees.
I was a little lightheaded from the sangria as Ivy and I headed back into the house. Upstairs, Ivy disappeared to have a shower and I did the same. Once refreshed, I tried out my bed. It was soft and comfortable. And I must have fallen asleep, because a sudden crash startled me awake. I turned, momentarily disoriented before remembering I was staying at Ivy's house. There was another, quieter, roll of thunder. I got up and looked out the window. Dark purple clouds were pouring in from the west. The sun was covered by the thick, bruise coloured blanket. Lightning struck down from the sky, bright and bent, rending the vista. The thunder followed eight seconds later. The storm was a way off yet. The rain wasn't even falling. I left the view and dressed in a light summer dress since it was warm enough inside the house, and then went to find Ivy.
Her bedroom door was open, but she wasn't in her room. The hall was empty, dimly lit by electrical sconces on the walls. I hadn't noticed them earlier, which wasn't surprising since I'd been so taken with the plush, persian carpet. There was faint music coming from the lower level of the house, so I went downstairs. I followed the sound of Ed Sheeran and found Ivy in the main floor sitting room. She was standing at the mantle, which hung over an unlit fire place. We'd walked past the room earlier, but the doors had been closed. Now the two, sliding white doors were open, revealing a room with a rich mahogany floor, a deep, black persian rug, and opulent leather couches. The walls on either side of the fireplace were covered in a mixture of display items, photos, and books. There was a big window behind the couch, which looked out onto front drive.
Ivy said something, and my eyes drifted away from the decor and toward her. For the first time, I noticed the back of a man. He had short, shorn hair that was a medium brown colour, with just a hint of copper. He wore a white t-shirt, which hung from his broad shoulders and rested against the sculpt of his fit back and down to his rather beautiful--
"Rory! You woke up! I was worried you'd sleep right through supper." Ivy waved me over to her. "I want you to meet my brother."
The man I'd been oogling turned around. There he was, the man from my dream. Or was it? The memories of the dream I'd had the night before, and the associated feelings, had taken hours to dissipate, yet now my memory of it was foggy, less than half-formed, like memories of dreams often are. But this man, Ivy's brother, was tall like the man in my dream had been. He was slender, and he didn't smile. His face was tight with tension, and he looked pale and slightly drawn, like he was recovering from a late night spent partying or a bad cold. But mostly it was the feeling he carried, a feeling that had been echoed in my dream: the desire to step closer and closer to him until our bodies were touching.
"It's nice to meet you," he said. His lips were full and his voice was rich and smooth. His eyes, beautiful with thick, heavy lashes were captivating.
"Likewise," I said, hesitating for a moment before walking forward and thrusting out my hand. My eyes caught Garret's and my breath paused while I waited for his skin to touch mine. I was overcome with the desire to touch him, to look into his dark, rich brown eyes, which were slightly shadowed from his brow. He was gorgeous, even if he looked exhausted. A loud crash of thunder sent me jumping toward him. My hand caught his forearm and I felt the lightning rush through me. I looked down at his arm under my hand, and then up into his eyes. I fell into the depths of him and was struck by the cool feel of his skin and the solidity of his being. Ivy cleared her throat.
I stepped back. "Sorry, that startled me. The storm's getting really close." I brushed my short, dark hair off my forehead and smiled. "So, what were you guys up to?" I looked over at Ivy. Her lips were pinched and her gaze flickered down to my hand--the one that had gripped Garret.
"Just trying to pick the music," Ivy said. Her words were short and clipped. Another flash of light shone outside the window, followed closely by deafening thunder as the house was plunged into darkness. Ivy turned on her cellphone's flashlight function and smiled. "Good thing for technology."
"Why don't we go into the dining room?" Garret said. "Gil said dinner would be ready shortly, and I'm sure he knows where the candles are."
Garret indicated for me to go first, but he stayed well back, almost like... No. That was silly, he couldn't not like me, we'd just met. He didn't even know me.
Ivy stepped up and gripped my hand. She pulled me forward. "I'll lead you," she volunteered, brandishing the light before us. "I don't want our guest of honour to get lost in the dark."
The floor creaked, and the sound of rain pelting the windows echoed through the halls. There was a slight glow coming from the entrance to the kitchen, and when I stepped inside, I saw candles already spread out on the island. Gil walked through the far door, which I assumed led to the dining room.
"Ah, there you are. I've already opened the Malbec you choose, Sir, and I have set some candles out on the table. Why don't you make yourselves comfortable in the dining room? I'll bring the roast in shortly." Gil laid out the words one by one in an obedient monotone. I couldn't tell if he hated his job and his life, or if he was slightly amused. The slight curve of his lip told me that he found some interest in the situation, like a parent trying not to laugh at a misbehaving child.