Sometimes taking the job at The Chalet seemed like one of my best decisions as of late. Easy work and getting paid to pretend to be drunk? It seemed too good to trust.
A job that highlighted one of my few talents was rare, and despite my acting skills being relatively subpar, the role that I play is one that I’m particularly well versed at. Even the hours are more similar to my pre-tour schedule than I’d like to admit. Each night new patrons come in, looking to have a good time. They share some drinks and gamble. And five times a week , I stumble out of the backroom at 10 pm, order a bubbly, alcholess tonic and wait to be asked to join a game.
No one questions my appearances. No one attends the club often enough to recognize the fumbly, loose lipped blonde who shows up on the busiest nights with eyes slightly keener than a drunk person’s should be.
Not that a drunk man would notice.
And gambling is fun . The Chalet is a club I had attended with concerning frequency when I was younger. I know my way around the tables, the areas the drunkest men sit, and the patrons who would spot a fake poker face slip from a mile away. Avoiding those tables is what allows me to keep the job.
So it’s a good job. It allows me to have enough money for Percy and I to eat on a weekly basis, so any complaints I could have are null. But some nights the reality of being surrounded by alcohol that I know that I’m not allowed to drink and acting like the stupid, niave drunkard that I’ve been for most of my life, is really bloody hard.
I’d been off all night.
Nothing in particular had set me off, but nothing in particular ever seems to. I’d woken up with the itchy feeling I’d come to associate with discomfort or fear already bubbling under my skin. It was as if I could feel everything more than I was supposed to. The scratchy blanket Percy and I were burrowing under felt like sandpaper against my skin, the mid afternoon sunlight shining through the window causing my eyes to water and sting. Even Percy’s hand, innocently but tightly wound around my waist made me want to vomit. It was illogical, I knew. I’d been the one to fall asleep on top of him last night, but there was no way to ignore the way my unnecessarily overstimulated brain was yelling at me to move.
I jerked back upon waking, wincing as the sharp movement pushed me harder against the arm around my stomach. The feeling was odd. I wasn’t scared, but the desire to get out was strong in a way that made the physical contact nauseating. My chest was tight, my skin crawling.
I looked to Percy’s eyes, but he was thankfully still sleeping, face relaxed. The bright sunlight that I was avoiding shone across his skin, highlighting the freckles that covered his cheek bones. His face was always radiant in the morning, slick with sleep and comfort in a way I hope I’ll never get used to.
God, I don’t know how I got so lucky.
Moving as gently but as quickly as I could, I moved his arm away from my skin and slipped under, pushing myself out of the confines of the blanket until I reached the edge of the bed and was able to climb out. Percy stirred slightly, but continued to sleep, only rolling towards the warmth of the sun in my absence.
He’d gotten in the habit of taking on my sleep schedule, always saying he’d have a more healthy one when he found a stable job with an orchestra. He’d stay up close to when I got home, or go to sleep only a few hours before so that we had more “daylight” hours together. The demands of bill paying, grocery hours, and most of adult life however, required one of us to be up in the early afternoon most days. Today, rent was due downtown by midday.
Normally I dreaded the days it was my turn to get up at a reasonable hour, leave the comfort of my bed and boyfriend, and venture downtown. But today it felt like a blessing to get out of the stifling four walls of our apartment.
And now I’m at work, staring down my second tonicless tonic of the night and wishing desperately that it was real. I haven’t had an urge to drink this strong since the first couple weeks in England, but ever since entering the bar my brain hadn’t stopped whispering just one would be alright.
I suppose that should be a victory, I’m sure that’s how Percy would phrase it. “You’re not a failure love.” he’d say, his bloody perfect face doing that thing where it’s bloody perfect, “You’re merely incapable of completing the simple task of being a functioning individual, which is nothing less than the expectation at this point.”
Ok, maybe that’s not exactly what he would say. But definitely felt like what I deserved.
A quick series of taps on the wood of the bar I was leaning against pulled me from my stupor, the bartender staring at me with his lips pulled together in annoyance.
“You’re not here for napping Montague.” Spit flew from his lips as he spoke, his gruff British accent rough from years of cigars pulling his words tightly together. He placed what appeared to be three shots in front of me, grasping my shoulder tightly. I held back a flinch at the grasp, thanking myself for getting in the habit of leaning on my bad ear so that I hadn’t had to deal with the humiliation that him grabbing me without me expecting it would have led to.
Instead he merely pushed me forwards, turning me so that I would see the group of older men who had stumbled into the back of the casino, boisterous movements giving away how much they had already had to drink.
“Get over there and do what you’re good at.” He continued, giving my shoulder an extra push for emphasis, “Those are some of the French Aristocrats who are visiting town, I expect that you can keep them busy mm?”
Great. Frenchmen. My favourite.
It wasn’t a question he wanted answered, a point he further emphasized by leaving quickly after he finished speaking. I wiped at the spit that had built up on my arm, pulling in a deep breath to try to steady the nerves that were building up. I knew the game at this point, which meant that I knew that the first point was not to go to the table directly after speaking with the bartender. So I waited, throwing back two of the “shots” in quick succession and shuddering appropriately; despite my personal fondness for the taste of apple juice. My head fell naturally into my hand, but now my gaze was pointedly directed at the table on the far side of the room. I took another deep breath, trying to will away the nerves and replace them with the happy, floaty buzzing feeling that I was pretending not to miss.
I watched the men as they started their first game, observed the way that they held themselves, the way that most of them stumbled as they sat, or the way their hands would gesture in such a way that they’d almost hit each other.
Felicity may know all there is to know about the ways of the human body, but no one knows the moves of a drunkard quite like Henry Montague.
After a few minutes had passed I stood, making sure that my landing as I pulled myself off the bar stool was not graceful, but also not so crazy it pulled the eye to it. The point wasn’t to get their attention, but to be seen as regular and as boring as possible. Granted my scars sometimes led to a few questions, the peculiarity of a man missing an ear not lost on even the drunkest of patrons. Yet, it was also surprisingly easy to play off. I’d been in a mining accident, I’d been violently mugged, I’d been hit one too many times upside the head as a kid. The logicality of an answer didn’t matter and once an answer was given, the nature of my disfigurement seemed to leave their minds completely. And with that last one at least, there was a semblance of honesty.
I grabbed my drink, downing the final shot with my other hand before slowly making my way to the other end of the casino. The fact that these men were French was buzzing around my head as I approached them. Disregarding my general misfortune with the French in the past, there was still a lot to fear. Would they recognize me? Had any of them known the duke? Were the circumstances of his demise common knowledge?
Logically anyone who had heard the story would have assumed I was dead, if my full identity was ever revealed or spoken about. Being shot in the head wasn’t something people usually survived, as most people didn’t have a Felicity on hand when they made stupid decisions. There was no real reason for these random French aristocrats to recognize me, no reason for them in their drunk state to even think about the possibility of me being related to the death of one of their fellows, yet that didn’t stop the thought circling through my mind.
However, such thoughts weren’t useful when trying to imitate a loose and happy drunk, so I did my best to push them from my mind. Instead I tried to focus on the fact that this was my last shift of the week and that I had a weekend to spend alone with Percy ahead of me.
And suddenly a genuine smile appeared. This, I could work with.
Soon I was close enough that their accents were clear, words becoming understandable once I was in full view of their table. They didn’t look up at me as I approached and so I made a point of clearing my throat when I was close enough to the first man. He turned towards me with a wide grin,
“Are you here to fill our drinks?” He raised his own mug and whiskey sloshed out the sides, “Gentleman, we must finish quickly as there is more to come!”
He finished his phrase with a large gulp, and I laughed. Granted my laughter was loud and most definitely fake, but none of the men seemed to notice.
“No, sorry.” I started, waving at one of the serving boys as they passed by, “ I’m here to join your game, but this lad here can get you what you’re looking for.”
The boy who approached was one of the regular servers and he, like all the servers, knew exactly what game I was playing.
“Something for each of these fine gentlemen, and my regular.” I said, pulling all the upper class that I could into my voice. This job had a habit of making me utilize the bad habits I’d been trying to eliminate.
The boy only nodded before moving off to grab me another bubbling apple cider of some sort and each of the men the cheapest drink on the menu. If I played my cards right, I’d be getting much more than the worth of a couple drinks back anyway.
“We’ve got a local on our hands” The first man was directing his friends, who now all turned to look at me. I kept the smile on my face, just a couple more games.
“We appreciate the offer lad, but we’re here for a game among men. Go find a table with the boys.” A man on the other side of the table said, dismissive. He took only a moment to glance at me, shuffling cards as he spoke. He seemed to be the leader of the group and after he spoke no one argued.
I shrugged, feigning indifference. It was common for me to be denied on my first attempt, especially in older crowds. No one wanted a “boy” meddling with their serious game. It didn’t worry me though, my young face had pitfalls and benefits after all.
“But sir” I sighed, dragging the syllables together, “It’s my first night gambling. I want to get the true experience.”
Another man chuckled, but the man on the far end of the table didn’t look up.
“My father even gave me some money for my birthday.” I paused, making sure eyes were on me when I fumbled for the over sized coin satchel that had been hidden on my hip, “He said part being a man was learning to gamble.”
It was the farthest possible thing from the truth, though I’d known fathers who had inadvertently encouraged their sons gambling addictions through some misplaced intention of getting them to be more of a man. Mine, of course, had had more creative methods for getting me to do what he wanted.
I could tell I’d peaked their interest when the man stopped his shuffling to look me in the eye, while I starred pointedly just to the left of his. He glanced at his barmates, slurring quick french to the man beside him, who smirked. He said a couple more phrases in french, none that I understood, and then looked at me again. I smiled, putting my best I have no idea what’s happening face on. Naivety was easy to play when no one expected anything else from you, and playing into expectations was something I was great at.
“Well then, why didn’t you say so before?” He started dealing out the cards in front of him, pointedly dealing an extra pile to the empty chair beside him, “We’ve got a boy who's ready to learn to be a man here gentlemen, let’s show him what that means.”
And I was in. I took another swig of my drink before sitting beside the man, ignoring the way my pulse seemed to spike when his arm brushed mine.
The first game ended with little to no excitement. I lost just about as much as I had won, laughing loudly about how it must have been “beginner's luck” to have done “soo good on my first try”. The men around me laughed as well, encouraging me to join another game with them and to maybe try betting a little more.
For the experience of course.
The second game was where I had to stay alert. As long as I had a good enough hand, this was the game I’d rake in some dough and quickly leave. They’d be none the wiser, I‘d get paid, and the casino would make some extra cash.The best games for me in these situations were the fast ones, the ones where things seemed to happen so quickly that there wasn’t a chance for other players to think about how peculiarly well I was doing. But, sticking to the theme of my day so far, everything had to go to shit.
First of all, these men were actually very skilled at poker, even with their disadvantage of being inebriated. That meant I had to actually play in order to do well, while also maintaining the facade that I didn’t know what I was doing. Not only that, but the second game was moving much slower than the first.They seemed to have moved into the chatty drunk stage, so each turn seemed to last for a lifetime, dragging out as long as each of their syllables seemed to. The only part that was playing to my advantage was that they were at least still drunk, so their processing skills were still on the slower side.
“What about you Montague, you in?”
I looked up from where I had been pretending to study my cards. I had a strong hand this round and I was pretty confident in pulling a win. In a normal game I’d have allowed no emotion to cross my face at the question. Only allowing my opponents to see what I wanted them to see in an attempt to make them over confident. This approach was similar, they still would only see what I wanted them to, but here it needed to seem like a mistake. So instead I blinked, pulling the inside of my lip between my teeth,
I stopped myself abruptly, raising my eyebrows in fake concern as if I hadn’t meant to say anything. I looked back at my cards, flipping one over to stall for time before schooling my features into “serious expression” that likely looked more similar to a street dog begging for scraps. I pushed the rest of my coins into the centre of the table,
I pretended not to notice the way the men still in the round glanced at each other before they also didn’t fold. Those faces changed quickly when the cards were revealed, a few low french swears slipping through. I allowed a natural grin to fall across my face.
“Zoons, does that- does that mean I win?”
No one answered me, but I didn’t wait for one of them to. Their stares felt physical as I started gathering the coins quickly and pulled them into my satchel. Grumbles filled in the thick space, low french hisses and sharp words that I couldn’t understand. I started to move quicker, grabbing the last coin before standing abruptly,
“This has been fun gentlemen, but I’m afraid that I must go.”
A hand grabbed my arm in a tight grip before I could fully move away from the table. This time I couldn't hold back the flinch as my body seized. I felt my breath catch.
It was the man who I’d ended up sitting beside.
His grip was bruising, tight in a way that I wasn’t going to get out of by struggling, not that that stopped me from instinctively trying. Any thoughts of calming my breathing flew from my mind as I tried to pull away from him.
“What are yo- I have to go!”
“You’re not going anywhere.” The man growled, his accent thickening as anger bled into his words. My breath hitched and my struggle increased. I just needed to get out. Just needed to get out and I’d be okay.
“You wanted to learn what it means to be a man didn’t you?” he said, his voice unwavering. The other men at the table merely watched on with disinterest.
“You cannot stop so soon. We shall play again.” He emphasized each phrase with a sharp tug on my arm, the final one pulling me gracelessly into my seat. If I hadn’t had to use my free arm to catch myself on the chair, I knew it would be by my face.
Do not panic. I told myself, my brain stubbornly ignoring any plea. You are fine. Do not panic. Do not do anything stupid. And most of all. Do. Not. Raise. Your. Arms
Another hand was shuffled out, and finally my arm was released. I pulled it tight to my chest as if I was cradling it, ignoring the new group of cards that now lay in front of me. I couldn’t seem to focus on anything , my vision was blurry at the edges, and I realized with a jolt that I was still breathing faster than normal. I couldn’t panic. I couldn’t play. I couldn’t even fight without risking my job, and therefore my and Percy’s ability to live.
I couldn’t do anything.
The voices around me were as fuzzy as my vision. I shook my head trying to clear it, barely responding when the cards in front of me were shoved into my hands. The new game started up again, but I couldn’t pay attention to it. They slowly made their way around the table as I tried to make my panicking brain decide what the hell I was going to do when they reached me. The man beside me finished his turn and my body tensed. I tried to get my body to do something when I realized. They weren’t looking at me.
The server from before had returned, holding a large tray of drinks and saying something in a loud voice that made the men cheer. Whatever it was didn’t matter. Without hesitating I stood from the table and ran, not caring how odd I looked and ignoring any shouts from behind me. I pulled myself straight to the bathroom, gripping the wall when I was finally alone.
My knuckles were white by the time I’d somewhat calmed my breathing and ensured my eyes would stop watering. God I was so damn stupid. I moved from the washroom, walking stiffly to the backroom to set the coins in the safe before walking straight out the door. I’d be paid later, but I didn’t think I could stand another moment in that building.
My body felt numb as I walked home. It was a cold night, I knew that because I had gone back inside when I left for work to grab a coat, but I didn't put it on. It hung loose in my grip, dragging silently in the dirt behind me. You’re going to get sick walking like that a voice in my head whispered that sounded suspiciously like Felicity. But didn’t care, I just wanted to be home.
Finally, I was at our door. I pushed it open slowly, a low creak echoing across the front room despite my best efforts to quiet it. It was nearly four in the morning, which meant Percy should have hopefully gone to bed already, and I would thankfully be left alone.
I felt a strange guilt at not wanting to see him. He’d done so much for me, was always there at any point that I needed him, but right now I knew his concern would be stifling and I wasn’t well enough for the inevitable argument that I would cause. The urge for a drink was strong enough without the image of Percy’s hurt face burned into my mind.
I opted for the couch for the night and all but collapsed once I was there. I had meant to at least change, but in moments I could feel sleep tugging aggressively at my mind. So I slept.
A tug at my arm woke me with a jolt and I shot up, hands pushing forwards frantically before coming back to guard my face. I hadn't even opened my eyes, but my breathing was already coming in quick pants. A loud bang forced me to open them, but I didn’t move my hands. Instead of the French man, or my father, or the Duke staring at me in thick, unadulterated anger, Percy’s eyes looked back at me. They were wide, hands on the ground from where he had clearly caught himself after I pushed him.
God, as if the night could have gotten any worse.
He moved slowly, pulling himself to his knees before coming up beside me. He didn’t try to touch me again, though I could see the way his fingers seemed to itch to move towards me. He was a very physical person, but in a more innocent way than I was. Where I tended to try to obtain some semblance of joy from a quick romp, Percy liked small gestures. I’d always know that, the natural grab at my arm as he pulled me to see something that excited him, the way he’d always brush my shoulder when we sat together, quick taps to my shoulder when he could have just spoken. But since becoming... more... they had more meaning. Now it was quick kisses to my cheek when I told him a funny story, or lightly gripping my fingers when we walked at night, or hooking his foot under mine at the bar. And normally, I reveled in it. Normally those touches were like a constant confirmation that this was real, that I hadn’t just imagined the happenings of the last couple months, that he was actually here.
But sometimes those gentle touches were more overwhelming then I could explain.
I drew my lips together, bringing my arms away from my face but not quite looking him in the eye. Sighing, I pulled myself into a sitting position,
“God I want a drink.”
I closed my mouth with a snap, my hand coming to my mouth before I could comprehend what I’d said. I hadn't meant to say that . Not now, not ever, not in front of him. The buzzing in my ears returned and I pushed myself off the couch. I could hear Percy speaking, calm, concerned, placeting words as he followed me into the half of the room that acted as our kitchen.
“Stop following me, I don’t need your pity.”
The words seemed to fly from my lips without my permission, thick with pain and anger. I clenched my fists, this was exactly what I had been trying to avoid. I slammed my fist into the counter, barley feeling the impact except for a slight tinge of pain. I could feel Percy jump behind me at the noise.
“I’m not pitying you Monty, I just want to understand what’s wrong!”
“And how am I supposed to explain that to you if I don’t even know what’s wrong!”
Silence hung in the air and neither of us moved. I let my arms fall to the counter, resting my eyes on my palms in an attempt to hold off the god forsaken tears that wouldn’t stop trying to return. The counter creaked as Percy leaned his back against it, making no move to touch me this time.
“Did something happen at work?”
My wrist seemed to tingle at the reminder, but I shrugged,
“Nothing of particular interest.” I muttered, head still resolutely facing the counter, “One man got a little rough, but who can blame him? I am swindling them out of money.”
Percy made a soft noise at the indication of a man grabbing me, but didn’t comment,
“I’m not sure knowing how to gamble counts as swindling.”
“Pretending not to does.”
“I think that just counts as playing strategically.”
I could hear the smile in his words, and against my permission I felt one tugging at my lips as well. I turned, moving my head so it was just resting in one hand, allowing me to look up at him.
“I don’t know why I’m such a goddamn mess today. I just-” I paused, trying to think of the right way to phrase it, “Someday's I just wake up and feel wrong . Everything is normal, nothing’s changed; but I’m just..wrong. Everything hurts more. And I don’t know why.”
I straightened, which allowed me to actually see his full face. The concern was still there, the confusion and fear fading as my breathing became more calm. He glanced at me, tilting his face to the side.
“You know,” He said, “On days that I have a fit, I usually wake up feeling sick.”
I scrunched my nose, “This is not the sa-”
He held up a hand to stop me and I paused,
“Nothing in particular ever leads to it,” He continued, still holding up his hand as if fearing I'd try to interrupt again, “But I wake up feeling awful. I’m never quite sure what it is, until later in the day a fit comes on.
He sighed, “Sometimes everything is just...too much. Sometimes normality is exhausting, and this is how my body responds to it, no matter how debilitating it is. The only thing I can do is respect it and prepare.”
I looked down but didn’t respond. I wasn’t particularly fond of thinking of the days that Percy had fits. Even though my fear around them had lessened, it was still incredibly overwhelming each and every time it happened. And I still didn't understand how this related to me .
Percy’s hand came into my field of vision, resting just over top of mine in a silent ask of permission. I brought my hand up to his and gripped it tightly, glancing back up at him with a small smile which he returned,
“You’ve been through so muc- no, don’t deny it we both have,” He said, stopping my protests before they could start, “It stands to reason that your mind would do the same thing. Sometimes all this,” he gestured outward with his free hand, “Is too overwhelming and our minds just aren’t up to working at full capacity. The only thing we can do is respect it’s needs, and wait for it to pass.”
He squeezed my hand, “And, what I think your mind needs right now is some sleep.”
I nodded, the exhaustion from the day hitting me like a wave. We made our way to the bedroom, my pointer finger lying loosely against his as he walked ahead of me. He threw a night shirt at me when we entered and I quickly put it on, shucking my work shirt and pants to the floor. He climbed in to bed and I glanced at him,
“Is it….” I paused, rubbing at the scar on the side of my face, “can we sleep apart tonight?”
A sympathetic smile pulled at his lips and he tapped the bed beside him
“Of course love, I’ll get my share of Monty cuddles later, though I expect double to make up for it.”
Faux seriousness riddled his voice and I smiled, moving to the other side of the bed before climbing in. He turned towards me, pulling my hand to his lips for a quick kiss before pulling away.
I smiled, the first real, genuine full grin of the night, and allowed my eyes to close, the tight grip of sleep already pulling me back down.