Chapter six: Goodbyes
Time flies when you’re having fun. I want to sigh as I pack my bags.
Today is the day, young master’s sixteenth birthday.
He’ll go to university next, he’ll be a man from this day on and my help will no longer be required.
I pick up a pile of the young master’s fairytale books.
I never returned these…he never asked for them either.
I read from them a lot, the others did too, but now it’s time to give them back.
But…it can wait until after breakfast.
I sit down on the bed and flick open the story about five cats who save the world without even knowing it.
Then there’s a knock on the door.
Mister Mason Junior stands in the doorway, his cheeks red with exertion.
“What’s wrong?” I ask as I put the book down. I didn’t expect my services to be needed much today.
“The young master requests your presence at breakfast.” The man explains.
“What? Why?” He never needed me at breakfast before, that’s human stuff.
“If recall correctly he said something along the lines of ‘there is no way he’ll skip out on singing me a birthday song this time.’”
I shake my head, smile unfurling in my chest, “That does sound like the young master. All right, take me away.”
He smiles, tips his cap and leads the way.
We walk to the breakfast room together where the young master is proudly sat in his father’s chair for the day to mark the occasion. They grow up so fast, it seemed like yesterday when he drowned in that ornate throne, but now it seems almost natural for him to sit there like it’s meant to be.
“There he is, finally.” The birthday boy laughs and Mason Jr and I shuffle through the room of guests to hide amongst the rest of the staff.
“Make sure Stegarius stands near the front, I want to see him sing.”
Multiple hands push me in the back, I comply hoping we can get this over with as swiftly as possible. Birthdays are human things, I don’t even know when I was born, despite the scarecrow’s efforts.
“Oh hello, Miss Punct,” I say to a familiar green bonnet.
“I’m getting too old for this ruckus. The boy is a darling but I’ll surely appreciate the quiet when he gets sent off to university.”
I’m trying to form a response but the mister Modest taps the e on the piano three times and then starts to play.
And everyone in the room starts to sing the standard birthday song. It’s been so long I heard it sung, I’m not quite sure of my words. I keep looking around for lips to read, if the boy wanted me to sing that badly he should have supplied me with a lyric sheet.
The boy claps delightedly as the song ends and the members of the staff give a quick bow before resuming their duties. The music starts to play and the party has officially started.
I turn to head back to my room.
“Where are you going?” The boy asks behind me.
He didn’t just become bigger over the years, he’s faster too.
I turn around and in his handsome suit, he looks like royalty. “The party just started.”
“I have other duties to attend to young master.”
“Can’t you stay for a little while?”
I look over the boy’s shoulder, his mother is shooting daggers at me, almost pulling the hair from her skull as she picks at the locks “I can’t stay, you see, I have a surprise for you.”
His eyes start to sparkle “I knew it-”
“But, you can’t tell your parents, it’s a secret surprise.”
“After dinner, meet me at the gate.”
His eyes light up, I quickly move my finger in front of my lip to urge him to stay quiet. He then nods gravely before grinning widely and saying “see you tonight then.”
I go back to my room to clear out my belongings and sweep the floors, clean the windows.
Erase all traces of me and when I’m done Miss Punct comes by to check the room.
“What’s with the pile of books?”
“They’re the young master’s, I borrowed them for a bit.”
“I’ll make sure he receives them.” She takes a final look under the bed “It all looks in order.” She smiles, her wolf teeth shimmering in the light “I must admit when you came through my door that first day I said to myself ‘that doll is not gonna last a week in here’ but you did, and eleven years thereafter.”
Pride blooms inside my chest.
“You did good work Stegarius.”
“That means a lot to me coming from you.”
She nods solemnly and picks an envelope from her purse “You receive this months salary as well as next months to bridge the gap between employments.”
I take the envelope “Thank you miss Punct, for everything.”
She nods, I grab my bag.
And we walk to the gates together.
She waves me off, then returns inside.
“So this is it?” the left scarecrows asks me.
“We’re gonna miss you pall.”
“Actually you’re not rid of me quite yet,” I tell them. “But you can’t tell anyone else.”
That evening I’m back at the manor, hiding in the half-dark.
“Psssst you know we can sense you right?”
“Yeah, we don’t have eyes remember?”
“Look you two aren’t going to rat me out.” I whisper “All I need is to make sure there are no human guards around.”
“But the kid is on his way.”
“Even climbed out the window, he’s taking this secret business very seriously.”
“He climbed out the window!?” Is he crazy!? He could have fallen down, broken his neck, then where would we be!?” I whisper loudly.
“Relax, he’s fine.”
“Oh, there he comes, shhhh.”
The kid comes sneaking up, dressed up in all-black to mix in with the shadows, he’s carrying a large bag, though I’m not quite sure why.
“Stegarius?” He whispers.
“I’m over here.”
“I climbed out the window.”
“I don’t want you to do that ever again. You could have gotten very hurt.”
“Where are we going?”
“It’s a surprise. What’s in the bag?”
“It’s a surprise.”
“I see, well at least let me carry it, we got a stiff walk ahead of us.”
Turns out even at sixteen his legs aren’t equipped to walk for miles and we order a carriage as soon as we arrive in the city.
The young master keeps his nose pressed against the glass the whole trip, gazing outside entranced to the music and lights of the big city.
Then the carriage stops.
“We’re here,” I tell him and I pay the coachman.
“Bar-B?” he asks looking at the sign hanging above the door.”
“Come on in, there are people I’d like you to meet.”
He opens the door and a roaring “surprise!” blows the both of us off our feet.
“What’s going on who are these people? Wait you’re all dolls right? This is a doll bar. This is the doll bar isn’t it!?” His eyes are sparkling with excitement.
I’m flabbergasted “I told you about that years ago.”
“Yeah, but how could I forget?”
“He has a valid point,” Jaxogeras says with a smile.
“You’re the owner right, the one with the music boxes.” He taps his lips as he’s thinking “I forgot your name I’m so sorry.”
“Right yes of course. I’m sorry, doll names are complicated to me.” He smiles sheepishly while extending his hand “Oh I should also ask your pronouns right?”
“It’s they, and thank you. How about you?”
“Oh, uhm.” He takes a moment to think before saying “You can call me Inquiry if you like. It’s my first name. Oh and I go by him.” Jaxogeras accepts the hand then looks up at me “You raised him well.”
I shrug “I tried my best.”
“Stegarius is the best tutor I could wish for.” The boy states with conviction. A collective awww drifts through the room and a bittersweet feeling fills my heart, a mix of pride and loss. After tonight I’ll have to let him go. My job is done, he’s an adult now.
He doesn’t need me anymore.
“It was about time you brought the kid along to meet the family.” Two long hands descend on the boy’s shoulders “Hi, my name Prishtoli, I’m a lady and I’ve heard so much about you. Come sit down.” She pushes the starstruck boy to the sofa and sets him down before sitting down next to him.
“You’re the singer.”
Prishtoli points an accusing finger at me “Stegarius you’ve been gossiping.”
“I had no idea he would remember that,” I respond with a shrug.
The young master looks around at the curly silver and pink decor “This place is amazing, it looks so old.” He picks up a brocade throw pillow. “So this is where you’ve been hanging out on Sundays?”
I sit down on the embroidered upholstered chair across with the curvy cabriole legs “Pretty much.”
“And during the evenings,” Prishtoli adds.
“After you were asleep of course.”
“Inquiry would you like a cup of tea?” Jaxogeras asks tray in hand.
“You have tea? But I thought dolls didn’t drink or eat?”
“We don’t, which is why I need you to be very careful with this tea set. I borrowed it from a friend and she expects it back in one piece.”
The boy nods gravely “I’ll make sure no harm comes to it.”
I’m so glad the young master gets along so well with my siblings. I fold my arms and sit back watching them have fun as they fuss over tea and milk.
“Now the cheese seftons are bought at the market because I’ve never had to cook in my life,” Jaxogeras admits.
“They’re really nice though.”
“Stegarius told me you don’t like sweet things.”
“There was this one time he didn’t eat breakfast because the cook made glazed apple bread and he was cranky all the way up to lunch,” I tell the room with a smile.
“Stegarius!” The boy’s ears turn red in embarrassment.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean to embarrass you.”
“You do know that saying that actually makes it worse right?”
The room starts to laugh, Prishtoli pretends to be angry at me for embarrassing the boy and it feels like the two of them have known one another for years.
“Well now that everyone’s settled in, who’s up for a game of jinx?” Zjeliah asks holding up a deck of cards.
“Splendid idea.” The boy concurs “But first, give me the bag.” He tells me.
Oh right, the bag. I pull the bag off my shoulder and hand it off.
“Thank you. Now here you go.”
I take the bag back again “Thank you?”
I open the bag and all the eyes in the room are fixed on the contents as I pull out a stack of books. “But I just gave these back?”
“A certain someone taught me it’s not polite to return gifts you know.” He says with mock annoyance.
“Steragius how could you!?” Zjeliah teases me.
“But they’re your books. I was just borrowing them.”
He shakes his head “I told you you can have them as long as you need, that’s human for ‘I don’t need them back’.”
That doesn’t really make sense to me but I thank him regardless and hug him.
A collective “awwww” even sweeter than before flutters through the room.
I grumble at this, the young master laughs at this.
And then it’s time to play.
The kid may be excellent at mareia but he’s powerless against the randomness of jinx.
Watching him struggle with this realisation is a joy to watch. Though I let him win whenever I can.
It’s his birthday after all.
Jaxogeras has a music box prepared for the occasion and in a brilliant move of improvisation, Prishtoli adds silly lyrics on the spot about how I made a silly move or how Zjeliah could really cut the kid some slack.
Every time the porcelain clock chimes its little ditty, I feel the end of the night creep up on me.
The end of my duties.
The end of an era.
I pretend I didn’t hear him chime ten times, then did the same at eleven.
But as midnight is announced I know I have no excuse.
I toss my cards to the table “All right time to go home.”
The boy shakes his head “On one more game, just the one. I’m one game short of a draw.”
“It’s midnight already.”
The boy’s head whips to the clock “You’re kidding.”
“I wish I was, now up you go. You have a long day tomorrow getting to the university.”
The boy grumbles, sighs, then bows to the others “It’s been an honour meeting you all.”
“Likewise, feel free to come by any time,” Jaxogeras says and the other murmur agreeably.
We head out again, the wind is howling and thick clouds cover up the moon and stars. I bet it’s going to start pouring soon.
I wave for a carriage and pay the man to bring us back to Winton manor.
As we drive away from the lights and the buzz of the city the mood darkens.
The boy is silent staring out the window with empty eyes.
Perhaps he’s just tired.
I listen to the continuous tapping of rain on the roof. Wondering if I should speak.
But then when we enter the long country road and the outside is nothing but fields and black he turns to me and asks me severely “You’re not coming with me to university are you?”
I hoped he wouldn’t ask but perhaps it’s for the best “No, you have people there who can take care of you.”
“So my parents just fired you?”
“That’s stupid, how could they? Where will you go now?” He exclaims offended.
I shake my head “It’s not your job to worry about me, I’ll be okay.”
“Going to university and outgrowing your tutor is all just part of growing up.”
“If that’s so I don’t want to grow up.” He bites back, arms crossed tightly against his chest.
“I’m afraid you humans don’t really have a say in that regard.”
He huffs indignantly.
Filled with grief I put my arms around him “It’ll be okay, you’ll love university, there are all new things to learn and you’ll make lots of friends and have a bunch of fun. You’ll forget about that old coot Stegarius in no time.”
“Don’t say that. I’ll miss you.” He’s pushing back tears, I can hear it in his voice.
“Then you know where to find me, Bar-B will still be there when you’re done.”
He nods and sobs and I stroke his back and I wait for him to calm back down.
It doesn’t matter how old he gets he’ll always be a little kid to me.
The carriage stops, we get off together and I give him one last hug before he rushes back into the house, through the door this time.
And I just stand there in the rain for a bit. This big house that I lived in for years. I doubt I’ll ever see it again.
I try to absorb the essence of it for safekeeping.
However, that would work.
“You know is gonna be boring with no one talking to me.” The left scarecrow says and the moment is broken with a start.
“Hey what about me?” the right one retorts offended.
The right one rattles “You don’t count.”
“Rude! But yeah we are gonna miss you.”
“Likewise. Goodbye.” I look up into the rain and wonder “You know I don’t think you’ve ever pinpointed my birthday.”
“Oh don’t get me started.” The right one grumbled “You dolls are complicated okay. I’m pretty sure the stars don’t work for your kind.”
“But if they did you’re a salmon.”
“Or a rabbit.”
“No, no definitely salmon.”
I can hear their bickering fade out behind me as I walk out the gate and onto the street.
“You need a ride back?” The coachman asks but I shake my head
“No thank you, I’ll walk.”