Olivia was beautiful and poised. Almost like a China doll. She was five years older than me and college educated. She was a wealth of knowledge I drank up. Unfortunately, she proved to be about as delicate as she looked. Fortunately, she helped convince my mother a college education would greatly benefit me if I was to inherit my father’s empire. The Blue Moon rose was planted in her honor.
There was a reason why the house staff called it the Brown Room. It was always in hushed whispers or low mutters to each other.
“The Brown Room needs a scrub.”
“The young master is in the Brown Room and would like a ham sandwich.”
“Do the light bulbs in the Brown Room need changing?”
Officially, it was Robert Roderick’s study. But only his mother called it that. Robert called it his hiding place.
On the outside, out in the hall, it was nondescript. White, like every other door along the hall, with a brass doorknob that gleamed in the indiscriminate glow of the wall sconces. It was near the middle, but just off to the side. A hulking portrait of Robert, his mother, and his late father commanded the exact middle.
Inside, brown and brass had complete control. Brown desk. Brown chairs and broken in couch. Brown bookcases. Brass lamps with brown shades. Books covered in cut brown paper bags like they belonged to school children borrowing unwanted textbooks from the school district. Brown carpet with an odd brass colored design that disappeared under the expansive mahogany desk. And brown curtains.
Robert wasn’t colorblind. Brown was just a step up from the black and gray that had dominated for the first five years after his father’s death. He figured a change every five years would make both him and his mother happy. He was idly considering a cherry brown in two years. Red felt like too big of a leap.
It was in this brown room, Robert’s hideaway from his nervous mother, that the butler found his master. At first, the room appeared empty, with just the dim desk lamp lighting a small circle on the shiny surface.
But the butler knew better. It was a game he and Robert had been playing for eight years. At first, it started because Robert was embarrassed about having to choose a female companion and wanted to do anything but. Over the years, it had become a let’s-see-how-long-it-takes-Nigel-to-sniff-me-out. Both master and butler had to admit that it infused the sad, embarrassing situation with some necessary levity. Nigel only wondered how the game would go when his young master finally worked his way to white.
Nigel peered into all the usual places: the corners of the couch, under the chairs, under the desk, behind the curtains, and in the corner behind the floor lamp before he spotted a grinning Robert squeezed between the wall and a bookcase. He grinned back, though he worried the tall young man was perhaps too thin.
Robert twisted himself a bit to wrench himself out of his corner. Stretching a bit, as hiding for over an hour in a cramped space will cramp one’s muscles, Robert eyed the family’s long-time butler, who eyed him back with carefully blank eyes.
Batting a lock of too long brown hair from his face, Robert frowned and cast his eyes to the open window. East facing, it allowed nearly zero afternoon light in.
“I suppose it’s time, huh?” Robert asked.
“Just like a bandaid, sir.”
“It still hurts, you know,” Robert said casually as he forced himself to cross the room to the window.
Silently, Nigel ghosted his way to Robert’s side; a necessity so he would know which groups of girls to fetch. Already, the downstairs receiving room was set with vases of fresh roses and delicate cakes with pink icing. It was a bright, pretty room in stark contrast to the Brown Room. Nigel knew Robert hated it with a passion, but Rose Roderick wouldn’t hear of changing it in the slightest.
With an internal sigh, Robert scanned the garden full of women dressed in their best gowns. Many were familiar, but there was still a crop of fresh faces. They were mostly young and eager. He quickly passed over them. At twenty-five, he had no desire to hang around with an eighteen-year-old.
As always, they were laughing, eating, drinking, and milling in groups. As the Hall cast the garden into deeper shadows, lights lit up, turning it into a fairy garden.
One bright light, completely unlike the tiny twinkling fairy lights indigenous to the garden, under a tall, arching tree, caught his attention. He could see it outlining a human form, presumably with its back to the two ladies on the bench with it. There was a flicker of movement and a bobbing of the light, but she was too far away for Robert to get a good look.
Robert silently held out a hand. Nigel knew the drill. He forked over the binoculars and snapped to full attention.
Robert focused on the girl on the bench. She was in a blue gown, her dark hair pulled back into a sleek ponytail. He couldn’t exactly tell what she was doing, but it looked suspiciously like page flipping. Had a girl brought a book to the garden party?
He had to meet her.
Slowly, he raised a hand, his index finger pointed. Nigel took careful note of where it went.
“There,” Robert said, “on the bench under the tree.”
Nigel nodded. “I will bring them.”
“No,” Robert said quickly, making the butler pause. “Just her. The one in the blue dress.”
Nigel hesitated. His master had never requested a solitary girl before. Surely he would add lone girls to his list. A change from requesting groups? He wouldn’t put it past Robert.
“That’s it, Nigel,” Robert said as he put the binoculars away and headed for the couch. “Please bring her here.”
Surprised, but dutiful, Nigel gave a slight bow and headed for the garden, wondering if, perhaps, this girl was the one who would stay by Robert’s side. He hoped so. After eight years of girls leaving him, he deserved some happiness.
Back in the study, Robert flicked on all the lights, illuminating the room in all of its brown and brass glory, before sinking into the couch. He was curious, yes, about the girl, but something vague, something fighting description, had hit him the moment he laid eyes on her.
She could be the one.
A thought he’d never had about any of the twittering girls that had graced the estate in eight years.