Red and the Wolf
November 18, 2010
Upon letting herself into the South Kensington townhouse, the first thing that struck Marianne was the smell: Stale food, old wine, dirty clothes. She wondered if Kendrick had fired the help or if they had run off.
Any mystery surrounding the servants was dispelled when she found the light switch. The chandelier revealed rusty stains smeared along the dark wood walls. Drops of a more vivid crimson patterned the black-and-white floor.
Marianne crossed the entry and was approaching the doors to the dining room when she heard Kendrick on the landing.
“Marianne,” he said.
She watched him pad lightly down the stairs. He was barefoot and bare-chested, dressed only in a pair of faded jeans; week-old whiskers darkened his face. He smiled uncertainly, showing only the tips of his teeth.
“I knew it was you.” His nostrils dilated slightly. “I smelled your perfume.”
“I’m surprised you can smell anything in here but filth,” she snipped.
He stopped a foot away, tucking his head sideways in his charming fashion. “It’s not so bad. It smells like someone lives here, that’s all.” He studied her heart-shaped face; her pale skin was luminous against the dark red of her hooded coat. “You look ravishing.”
Marianne put her lacquered nails against his chest to stop Kendrick’s advance. The thick hair felt spongy under her fingertips. “Just stay.”
She turned and flung open the dining room doors. “Oh my god, Kendrick. What have you been doing all week?” She walked into the room and regarded the long table. Its gleaming surface was hidden beneath a layer of smeared dishes and half-eaten dinners. She picked up a steak bone, pinching it between her thumb and forefinger. A few scraps of raw meat dangled wetly from it.
Kendrick stood uncertainly in the doorway, shifting from side to side, watching her. “I couldn’t find a service to come in.”
Marianne dropped the bone and ran her hand over an empty wine bottle. “You live like an animal.”
“But you’re back now, aren’t you? And you’ll hire new help, won’t you, darling?”
“Not so fast,” Marianne admonished. “I’m back because it occurred to me, why should I be the one stuck out at the country place? I’m not at all fond of the forest. The weather was beastly and the cottage roof is leaking in the master bedroom. And let’s not forget it was my grandmother who gave us this house.” She moved to the far side of the table and glanced out from under her hood. “If anyone should leave here, it shouldn’t be me.”
He scowled, his dark eyebrows meeting at the root of his long, straight nose. “Don’t say that, Marianne. Please. I’ll do whatever you say.”
She sighed impatiently. “Stop whining. You know I hate it when you whine.”
Marianne made the circuit of the dining room and came up beside him. “And before you start assuring me that you’ll do ‘anything’, you need to understand: We’re talking about an entirely new set of rules, Kendrick. No more of your old tricks.”
She held up one hand and counted down on her fingers. “First of all, your personal hygiene must improve. Look at your nails – not just your hands, look at your feet. For heaven’s sake, Kendrick, your toenails are positively black. One would think you were raised by – “ She broke off, shaking her head.
“Second, there will be no more out-of-control parties with your pack of friends. The neighbors are sick of it and I’m sick of having the police called on us.
“Third, no more getting rid of the help. Tilly was the best maid we’ve ever had and now she’s gone. “
“She was a cow.”
“I don’t care what she looked like,” Marianne snapped. “Which brings us to rule number four: No more chasing women. Period.”
Kendrick sighed. “Of course.”
“And lastly, you will mind your manners, Kendrick. If you expect to live here with me, you will behave with at least a modicum of civility. The next time I host a dinner party for my grandmother, you will not leer at her. You will also not eat with your hands and you will not take food off of anyone else’s plate. You will behave like the gentleman that coat of arms on the wall insists you are, though I’ve seen precious little evidence of it.”
This blow to his nobility struck a nerve. Kendrick looked at her from under his wooly brows and growled softly, “Are you done?”
Marianne jabbed an immaculate red fingernail into his chest. “You will never use that frightful tone with me,” she scolded.
She turned and strode across the parquet entry once again. As she reached the front door she heard Kendrick howl, “My god, Marianne, don’t leave!”
He was on his knees. Marianne watched coolly as he dropped onto all fours and crept towards her.
“Please,” Kendrick begged. He leaned against her legs. “Darling, don’t leave me. I’m lost without you.”
Marianne was seized with a triumphant sort of pity. She reached down and stroked his hair. “Do we have an agreement?”
“Yes, yes,” he murmured.
She stroked his head once more before stepping away. Pausing at the foot of the stairs, she said, “I need to change clothes. Some of this mess must be gotten rid of before we call in a service and you’re going to help me.” She smiled encouragingly. “Everything will be fine. If you’ll do as I’ve asked, we can make everything fine again.”
She unbuttoned her coat and flung it to Kendrick, then turned and made her way upstairs. He held the garment to his face, breathing her incredible scent as she disappeared into the upstairs hallway.
Suddenly, Marianne’s angry voice cried out from upstairs. “Dear god, Kendrick, not the chauffeur, too!”
Kendrick started. “I can explain,” he promised.
He turned and darted upstairs, dropping her coat on the floor where it lay like a pool of blood.