READ ME: This will be my last scheduled update for a while. I will be changing jobs and moving states here soon, and I simply won't have time to keep my posting schedule. I am still writing and have 4 other stories drafted, a fifth nearly drafted, and dozens of story ideas, so I can promise without a doubt that I will be back, but it may be a few months. I hope you still enjoy the stories I have posted, and keep an eye out for my next ones. It might be next month or next year, but I'm not done writing yet. Happy reading!
These and many other terms whirled through my mind on my slow walk home, completely distracting me from my half-healed injuries' frozen complaints. How could I have been so stupid? I knew better, especially after last time, and unlike Holmes, I did not have a "friend" I could ask for help. After less than a year in London, I might become yet another homeless veteran come morning. Mrs. Hudson would be fully within her rights to throw me out for this.
Well, maybe not tomorrow morning, I amended. I doubted Mrs. Hudson would force me into the late-season snowstorm rolling in, but the heavy, wet snow would melt in a matter of hours. This time tomorrow would return to the normal spring weather, and unless she was willing to work with me, there would be nothing I could say that could keep a roof over my head.
Feeling almost well for the first time in far too long, I had gone out looking for something to do, and I had found it—too much of it. Like a child lacking all self-control, I had gotten caught up in the excitement of the games, and I had gambled away the last of my money for this month—including the funds I had set aside for rent. I was completely broke and would be until my next check arrived in a week.
Perhaps she would let me help around the flat? I was more mobile now than I had been in months, and I knew plenty about how to care for a house. A week's chores might make up for a late, partial rent check, and that would be far better than sleeping in an alley. Or maybe—
An older man pushed through the crowd, jostling me as he passed, and the pain spiking through my injuries sharply brought me out of my thoughts. That was just as well, I decided as I steadied myself against a wall. I could not make bricks without clay, as Holmes said. I would know Mrs. Hudson's reaction soon enough, and listing ideas on the street would accomplish nothing. Nobody ever followed the script, anyway.
You and your novels, Johnny. There are some days you act like the world is your manuscript, there solely for you to tweak and revise and edit until it's exactly as you like it. Put the book down and enjoy the world as it is. You'll never get anywhere trying to change what's not yours to control.
A faint laugh escaped at the memory. I had never been able to convey to Harry just where his thinking had erred, even after the chiding grew more playful, but he had ribbed me for that many times. I wished he were here to do so now.
He was not, however, and I could do nothing about it. I resumed walking, slowly limping along the wall in my quest to get home before the storm took my ability to walk. Not only had I foolishly lost my entire check, but I had done it on a night that I should have stayed home. It would serve me right if I got myself stuck in a snowstorm. The cold night might pound some sense into my head.
Pausing briefly to let another spasm pass, I finally turned the last corner, and a sigh of relief escaped when the flat came into view. Whether it would still be home tomorrow or not, the flat was a welcome sight in the growing storm. I was not far from being able to shed my coat and get off my feet—and get the coming confession over with. The light flooding the sitting room window announced Holmes had returned while I was gone, and if he occupied himself upstairs, I should be able to speak with Mrs. Hudson before he knew I was home.
Or not. I leaned against yet another wall as footsteps hurried closer, and my friend stopped next to me a moment later. He quickly took my arm.
"This is a cold night to be wandering in circles," he said evenly.
I had not been wandering in circles, but I had gone for a wandering walk this morning, when I had grown bored in an empty flat and before I had found a less wholesome diversion. I would not correct the mistaken deduction.
"Lost track of time," I answered instead, my focus on my feet. He readjusted to force me to lean on him instead of my cane, and I made only the token protest before complying with a 'thank you.' His support would not abruptly disappear on a slick patch as my cane's would, and I had no wish to impact the sidewalk again. We walked for a couple of minutes in silence.
"What…are you doing out here?" I finally asked, another spasm placing a short pause in my sentence. He had indicated a desire to do a specific experiment this evening, and I had expected to find him fully engrossed in his chemistry set.
"One of my supplies was missing," he replied, "and it was a longer search than I expected."
His shelf was full, but I would not ask what he had lacked.
"You found it, though?"
He nodded. "About a block back."
Good. I would hate to take him from his search. This late at night, the shops were closed or closing soon, but that explained how he had found me. I had stopped to rest against the window of the fabric shop up the street. He must have been in one of the other shops nearby, though I would not have expected him to hurry to catch up.
A cold wind tried to push me off balance, the first herald of the incoming storm, and Holmes moved a touch closer when I stumbled. "How long have you been walking?"
I had no idea. "Too long. I intended to be home before dark." Instead, I had gotten distracted by that last card game, and by the time I noted the clock—and the sad state of my pocketbook—all the cabbies had gone searching for more respectable clientele. My hours of diversion had earned me only an empty wallet, a heavy amount of shame, and a slow, painful limp home. I would not make the same mistake again.
He steadied me across the street before he replied. "I believe Mrs. Hudson kept supper for you."
She might regret that. "Kind of her," I grunted, using another spasm as an excuse to shorten my reply. A moment of leaning more heavily on him further diffused the rudeness. I did not want to talk. Talking would eventually spill what I had done, and I saw no reason to tell him until I knew Mrs. Hudson was evicting me.
He took the hint. Silence reigned until we reached the flat.
"Go ahead," I told him when he tried to help me up the steps. "I will be up soon enough."
He hesitated, apparently debating something, but his footsteps faded upstairs as I turned down the hall. Faint noises carried from the back room.
"Ah, there you are, Doctor." She appeared in the doorway, shoving something long and thin into a pocket as she moved toward the kitchen. "I saved you a plate from supper. You shouldn't skip meals, you know. You need to keep your strength up."
My stomach growled at the thought of food, but I ignored it for the moment. I needed to tell her what I had done before I could eat.
"Did you know Mr. Holmes doesn't care for roast?" she continued over me. "He was hungry enough to eat this time, but I will have to remember that. All he needs is an excuse to skip a meal. I have never known someone so disinterested in food. I swear he would eat nothing but sweets—and that twice a week—if he thought he could get away with it. Don't you start taking on his habits."
"It'll keep, dearie." She motioned me to the table, setting a plate and silverware in front of one chair. "Eat, first. You skipped luncheon, too, I'll wager, and you've run yourself ragged since. Just how far did you make yourself walk today?"
Far enough. I did not yet know all the streets of London, but that small gambling pub was too many miles away for my half-healed injuries to appreciate. It felt good to simply sit down.
"Mrs. Hudson, I don't have money for rent."
She nodded, unsurprised. "I know. Eat, Doctor. You can't think clearly on an empty stomach."
She knew? How could she possibly—
Holmes. Holmes must have followed me, said something, warned her somehow. I would have expected him to speak to me first, but at least he would not be surprised when she kicked me out. He might enjoy having the rooms to himself.
"Mr. Holmes is not the only one capable of deducing, Doctor. Why else would you look like a schoolboy caught with his hand in a tin of biscuits?"
I could not help but laugh. "Is it really that obvious?"
"Eat your supper. You can tell me the details when you've finished."
A small smile still stubbornly in place, I turned my attention to my plate. Mrs. Hudson's roasts were amazing, though that may be a bias on my part considering she cooked it the same way my childhood housekeeper had. The meat was tender and juicy, with small patches of concentrated spices that served as miniature surprises in every bite. I had never been able to mimic the flavor, and I could quite easily eat too much. As good as it was, however, I finally pushed the plate aside as she joined me at the table.
"Now," she said bluntly, "rent is due tomorrow, but you don't have it. When will you?"
The straightforwardness was refreshing, and it calmed some of my worry at her reaction. "I will have part of it in a week and the rest the week after."
"Does that include the late fee stipulated in the lease?"
"No." I caught myself fidgeting in my seat, trying to ease the aching scars, and I forced myself to still. "I will not have the full amount for the late fee until the third week."
She did not answer immediately, studying me, and I could not hold her gaze. I thoroughly enjoyed living here and had no wish to leave, but whatever friendship we had forged over the last several months meant nothing when I could not pay rent. She had bills, too, and if Holmes still could not afford the rooms alone, another lodger might not be so foolish as to waste his money on a game.
"You are mobile enough to find trouble. Are you mobile enough to work?"
She still watched me when I looked up, a smile of her own flickering into view when she saw my surprise.
I could not pass up this chance. "A week helping around the flat to make up the late fee?"
She nodded immediately. "What can you do?"
A quick glance provided several ideas, and I started with the one about which she had recently complained but I would enjoy the most. "I can cook." She eyed me warily, and I quickly added, "Unlike Holmes."
She smirked. "We'll see about that. What else?"
My shoulder would not let me work a broom, but, "I can do light cleaning."
"Not easily," she acknowledged. "What else?"
"I can run errands." I glanced out the window behind her. "When it is not snowing."
"Hmm." She debated for a moment. "Starting tomorrow, you cook for every meal until the first check arrives, provided breakfast proves you can cook."
"Thank you, Mrs. Hudson."
She waved me off, getting up to put my plate in the sink. "I do not want to search for new tenants, and I doubt you will let it happen again."
"Tenants?" I fully intended never to step foot near another betting table, but surely she would not evict Holmes because I had lost my rent?
She glanced up from scrubbing the plate. "You think he would stay here alone? Or tolerate a different flatmate?"
Why would he not? "He would probably enjoy having the rooms to himself. The only reason we took rooms together at all was because he could not afford them alone at the time."
We had scarcely discussed it since, but I did know that he had only kept the arrangement past the initial six-month trial because I was "a tolerable flatmate blessedly gifted with silence." I had stayed because I found his cases endlessly intriguing and him more so—and because I had nowhere else to go.
"Hmm." Rinsing the plate once more, she dried it then set it in its place, and the silverware quickly followed.
"You do not agree?" I finally asked.
"I think we would be his next case if you moved out," she answered with a wry grin. "'The Case of the Missing Flatmate.' He would wring every bit of information out of me that he could, and you would not make it one night before he started knocking on your door."
I resisted the urge to harrumph. I had not heard such a textbook example of "wishful thinking" in quite a while, but I did not say as much.
"How long do you think it will take him to notice that I am doing the cooking?"
"He is pretty busy," she replied slowly, thinking. "Two suppers."
"Busy" was an understatement. This was the first evening he had supped at home in the last week, and he undoubtedly would start a new case come morning.
"I say three, maybe four."
"Would you like to wager on that?"
I huffed a laugh. "Gambling is what set me to a week's cooking to start with. I don't need to go back to it now."
"There's a difference between gambling and a wager between friends, Doctor."
Alright. I could see that, and perhaps the occasional wager would help keep me away from the betting tables. "What do you propose?"
Silence answered me for a moment. "If he does not comment by the third breakfast, you will only cook luncheon and supper until your check arrives."
I rather liked that outcome. "And if he does comment?"
"You owe me a day's cooking—three meals—at my leisure."
"Watson!" Holmes' voice carried down the stairs. "I thought you wanted to watch this reaction."
I chuckled, using my stick to gain my feet. "Deal. And thank you." She waved me off again.
"Try to keep him from exploding that experiment, would you?"
I simply laughed. She knew better than to think I had any say in that.
A muted pop came from the sitting room as I limped down the hall, accompanied by hurried noises.
"You had better not set anything on fire, Mr. Holmes!"
Mrs. Hudson followed me up the stairs. Perhaps I would not be the only one assisting our landlady this week.
HEY! Did you read the note at the top? You did? Good. Hope you enjoyed the story, feedback is always greatly appreciated, and keep an eye out for my next update. I hope to keep a more relaxed posting schedule despite the chaos, but only time will tell if I manage it.
Thank you to everyone who has reviewed in the last couple of days. Know I read and extremely enjoy every one, even if I do not respond individually.
Until next time :)