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Arc 1.7

He woke up with a headache he hadn’t felt in years. The lights were too bright, the noise of the TV too loud and his neck felt numb. He had passed out on the sofa. What had he been thinking? Tristan didn’t drink. His body didn’t have the built-up tolerance that his previous host had.

He got up. He had to clean up and brush his teeth before his stomach started protesting his overindulgence. His memories were somewhat blurry but... had he called his patron a pervert and a puppy in a house full of cameras and mics that reported directly to said patron?

Face red, Tristan resisted the urge to dive back under the blankets for cover. He hadn’t been so embarrassed in years.

* * *

“Here. Careful, it’s still hot.”

His lips had twitched the first, the second and the third time this had happened. But a doting service was the easiest thing to get used to, so now he accepted the cup of tea made to his taste as if it was his due.

Brigitte —for she had become Brigitte once she had bought every single art piece that had his name on it— took the seat next to him, commandeered his plate after putting hers aside, and started to put on plastic gloves, so she could debone his mackerel in earnest.

Really, he thought as he placed one of the ‘cleaned’ pieces of fish in his mouth, one couldn’t make these things up.

Six more months had passed in this manner. During that time, he had been courted as if he were a noble lady in the Victorian Ages. Because, make no mistake, this was a courtship.

It had started with coffee after a gallery exhibit. A week later, she had asked him out for lunch to show her care as his fan. Afterwards, she had invited him to watch a new exhibit uptown to ask him for his professional thoughts on some art she wished to purchase. Later that night, they had exchanged numbers, so she could “more easily consult” with him in the future. Barely another month had passed, and they had gone through the whole cycle again, but this time for calls: first emailing, then texting, then audio calls and finally video chats. Now, they ate dinner together at least twice a week, while they Face-timed every other day.

He wondered if instead of working at her company she spent her days planning out these elaborate ‘accidental’ meet-ups and coming up with excuses for the next meeting. Because that was what they were: plans and excuses. Regardless of what Ms. Pruitt claimed, there was just no way he and her shopped at the same grocery store! She really had to put more thought on some of her more spontaneous, and therefore silly, ideas. One couldn’t meet someone accidentally three times a week and have a whole day planned out for them to spend together. One just couldn’t, Brigitte, he tried to will this into her thoughts through gaze alone, but she was too busy carefully taking pin bones out of cheap fish, because he had mentioned craving it.

He speared some salad on his fork, while he waited for her to be done.

In addition, regardless of what he said, she decisively stuck to the schedule in her head. It was almost as if she found some manual on how to build a relationship written Victorian-style which she followed religiously step by step. Looking at that silly love-struck puppy in human form happily sending over the plate with boneless bite-sized fish pieces to him, he thought that it was likely that was exactly what happened: some idiot on the internet had posted a love advice manual, and she believed it verbatim.

One of these days, he is going to call her in a panic, to tell her about the ‘weird cameras’ he ‘had just found’ in his closet. He really wants to know what excuses she will have prepared then.

“Thanks,” he offered her a soft smile, and he could almost see her tail wagging excitedly behind her back. He stared at her face. She coolly nodded, not a hint of red on her skin. Really, if it weren’t for her silly actions, he might think her an ice queen.

“I actually wanted to ask for a favour,” he started once they had moved onto dessert. Peach sorbet after a fish dinner. She really knew his taste. “I want to find someone.”

Ha! There was an almost-frown on her face! It quickly smoothed out, but he continued, happier at the slight victory. “When I was younger, someone sponsored me, took me away from a... bad living environment,” that not-frown deepened in concern. Faker. She probably had saved Tristan’s file in her office for years. “They saved me. I want to find them. Tell them how grateful I am.”

“Why can’t you? Has something happened to them?” Brigitte asked.

“I don’t know who they are,” he answered, sounding a bit ashamed. Brigitte Pruitt. “I don’t know where I can find them,” Sitting right next to him. “... or even what they do.” Take out their stalking target on elaborate not-dates.

“Did they work under an anonymous service or organization?” she asked.

“I don’t know.” She created the damn organization.

“Hmm,” she looked to be deep in thought. “This might be difficult. Have you seen them before? Do you at least know what they looked like?”

“No.” Yes. Pale skin, chestnut brown hair, icy grey eyes. Always dressed formally. A true beauty, he added reluctantly. “But I know that there were others like me. I can give you their numbers if it would help.”

“I’ll see what I can do,” she answered. There are no others like you, her eyes seemed to say.

Not liking the intensity of that gaze, he focused on finishing the sorbet for the rest of dinner.

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