Steve sat on the end of the seat next to Chrissie, who leaned against him, linking his arm; Eleanor felt obliged to shuffle around to allow him to sit.
Eleanor glared at Chrissie, who winked and smiled back; Eleanor just felt angry.
“So, Arthur. That’s a bit of an old-fashioned name, isn’t it?” Chrissie tilted her head, a sly grin on her face.
“My parents were Gilbert and Sullivan fans, so I was named after Sir Arthur Seymour Sullivan.”
“Seymour is your middle name?”
Chrissie grinned and nodded at Eleanor, who just thought she was going over the top, making her even angrier. She didn’t want to be a part of their games.
“As I said, Arthur is an expert on anything Victorian,” Steve said. “You should see his place. It’s like walking into another century.”
“Really?” Chrissie said, nodding. “So you’ve been around there?”
“Yes. A few of us were stranded after a few drinks one night, and Arthur invited us to stay.”
Eleanor was silently seething.
“So, did you get up to anything interesting there?” Chrissie asked, her head tilted.
“We just bedded down for the night in his chairs and sofa. He made us a cooked breakfast in the morning,-” Steve looked at Arthur as he continued. “-which was like nothing I’d had before. The scrambled egg was delicious.”
Arthur nodded in return, saying nothing.
“But there is one strange thing,” Steve added. “There is one room he kept locked. I think that’s where he keeps his modern stereo and television.”
Steve laughed; Chrissie raised her eyebrows; Eleanor knew which room that would be.
“So, what do you have in that room?” asked Chrissie, her voice syrupy.
“That is a private matter,” Arthur said, his voice becoming clipped, more like Eleanor was used to.
“Why don’t you show us your room,” Chrissie laughed.
“Now, I’m sure the man likes his privacy,” Steve said, patting Chrissie’s arm.
He gave Chrissie a slightly worried look.
“I’m sure Ellie would love to see inside room,” she drawled.
That was it! Her heart pounding in her ears, Eleanor shot Chrissie a look, and stood abruptly.
“Excuse me,” she said sharply.
Arthur politely stood to let her out, watching her carefully. Eleanor put her coat on and ran outside.
A thunderstorm was in spectacular action as she went outside, typical London weather! Eleanor began to walk to the tube station, hunching her shoulders in the pelting rain, her head filled with rage. Damn that Chrissie! Damn that man! She didn’t want to be part of their game. She heard footsteps running behind her; she was jealous, she couldn’t run in her heels.
A hand gently grabbed her arm.
“Eleanor!” he said, calmly.
She glared at him
“It seems your friend has tricked us both.”
She looked up at him, into his face. Into that face she had spent so long trying to please.
“Why her? Why not me?”
He looked at her, puzzled. Rain was splashing into her face; Arthur looked quickly around, and pulled her into a doorway, out of the rain.
“I’m sorry. Why her? What has she got that I haven’t?
“I thought you wanted her to join in? Why else would you ask if she could come along?”
Eleanor was breathing hard.
“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “Can you forgive me?”
She just stared. He wasn’t what would be called handsome, but there was something about his eyes. She felt confused; anger, rage, pity. She eventually regained some composure.
“I did everything I could to please you,” she said.
“And you did it very well.”
Though still angry with him, she was touched by his compliment.
“Then why was she the one naked in your sticks last week?”
Arthur opened his mouth to answer, paused, and closed it again. He looked deep into Eleanor’s eyes, as though examining her soul.
“By that, did you mean to ask why you had never been naked in my stocks?”
“I… I… I suppose so.”
“Because you have always been the perfect lady for me. Why would I need to humiliate you like that?”
“So instead of trying to impress you by following your orders, I should have disobeyed them to get your attention!”
He gently grabbed both her arms, and pulled her in close to him; she gasped.
“No. You have always had my attention. I wouldn’t want you any other way.”
Tears welled up in her eyes; to hide them, she pressed her head against his chest, and wrapped her arms around him. He gently placed his arms around her shoulders, squeezing gently, reassuringly.
“Could you treat me a little less like a lady sometime?” she asked, croakily.
She her him exhale.
“For you. Yes.”
She gripped him a little tighter, allowing the warmth of the embrace to fill her. She was tired after the emotion turmoil, and almost slumped against him; he comforted and supported her. She wished that moment could last forever, just the two of them sheltering in the shop doorway, out of the storm.
“Hey, here you two are!” Steve exclaimed.
Eleanor moved out of his embrace and looked around. Steve and Chrissie were walking huddled together under Steve’s umbrella. Chrissie smiled at Eleanor; Eleanor looked away.
“The Tube’s closed,” Steve said. “An electrical failure. Probably lightning strike. Shall we get a cab back to yours, Arthur?”
Eleanor sighed. Just when things were going well.
Arthur looked at Eleanor and paused.
“Come on, let’s go!” Steve insisted.
Eleanor watched Arthur straighten. It was almost as if in front of her eyes, Arthur turned into the master she knew.
“On the understanding that you are not invited, and do not come as guests. My home, my word, my law.”
Eleanor saw Chrissie face change, and smiled to herself. Steve just looked puzzled.
“Yea, sure man. Whatever. Let’s just get out of the storm.”
Arthur looked into Eleanor’s eyes and smiled. Eleanor returned his smile; she had some idea of what just happened, even if Steve didn’t.
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