This time around, the prompt was in my court. It had to go as follows:
- Feet or footwork must be an important part of the story somehow.
- One character should be in service to/performing a service for another character.
What I didn’t anticipate is how challenging this would turn out to be to write, even though I had the image clear in my head! But here we are at another Monday and I have readings to share, so let’s get to it!
- - -
The water in the bucket is warm enough to make the skin of Saint Viticus’s feet and ankles tingle. He can practically feel the outermost layer swelling, softening from absorbing the water hidden beneath the soap foam. A few moments too long, he figures, and the water will take more than just dead skin. A few degrees too hot and the skin just might fall away completely when he lifts his foot for the next phase. It might reach all the way deep down to the muscle, melting it, leaving only the gore-covered bones of both feet while Viticus screams and screams his head off.
He wiggles his toes just to make sure they’re still sheathed in muscle and skin, and the tingling sensation momentarily intensifies.
“How long did you say I have to leave ‘em in for?”
Ean lets out a small sigh through his nose. His long fingers tap the top of the plain white timer borrowed from Jamie, the one currently tick-tick-ticking away on the nearby coffee table. “Fifteen minutes, same as always. How’s the water?”
“How long has it been?” asks Viticus.
“You can see it from there.”
The Saint shifts in his seat, trying to see the dial. “You have it turned away.”
Ean looks down. He picks up the ticking timer and studies it a moment before putting it back on the table, its face still turned away from Viticus. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Ean, how much time is left?”
“Don’t worry about it! Just relax. You’ll know you’re ready when it dings.”
Viticus sags into his armchair, his small frame and the chair’s overstuffed nature making it seem much more like he is being eaten by it instead. Around his feet, he feels the bucket shift and tilt a little. Ean steps forward to fix it with a single, short tug and a warning to sit still—a warning he gives with his eyes. What is it, going on six years now? The boy hasn’t changed a bit. At least, not in the minor ways.
“Don’t get any ideas,” Ean says.
“About what?” asks Viticus.
“About using your powers to turn the timer around. Last time you did that—”
“You won’t let me see!”
“What’re you, five?”
“Even if he ain’t, Ean, you know patience ain’t his best feature.” Jamie LeBeau Louisiana drawl enters the living room before he does, a blue makeup bag in his hands. “Y’should just tell him so he’ll calm down.”
“Oh, great.” Viticus sinks further into the armchair. “Two against one.”
Jamie chuckles a little. “You know it’s true, Pinky. Remember when you tried meditation?”
“You actually got him to try?” asks Ean, the wonder in his voice surprisingly genuine.
“He lasted maybe two minutes ‘fore he found he couldn’t stop twitching like a snake bit him. I’d call that a record. Here.” Jamie offers their guest his makeup bag.
“All I’ve got for footwork’s in there. Double-checked and everything.” The Southerner nods. “Can I get you anything, Ean? Coffee, maybe?”
Ean offers a rare, genuine smile as he nods. Of all the people Viticus never expected to get along so well, Ean Amherst and Jamie LeBeau were at the top. They just seem so terribly different! One with his sweetness and Southern charm, the other as frosty as Seattle winters. One with all the roundness and slender appeal that makes him great at the chameleon art of drag, the other all lines and sharp angles. Even the apparent twin-like appearance commented on by gossip mills is a mystery to Viticus! Jamie’s blond hair is a sunnier yellow than Ean’s snow white; his skin closer to a pale peach in comparison to the doctor-coat white of the other’s complexion. Even the minor detail of their eyes—Jamie’s a warm, friendly spring green; Ean’s stormy hazel with flecks of olive.
All these differences, and somehow Ean and Jamie get along well. Best friends, practically! They never have a bad thing to say about each other. Jamie makes him suits. In exchange, Ean runs errands in the Garment District of the Gray City. They attend theatre performances together in the Entertainment District. For a while there was even gossip among the elite that they were secretly dating behind Viticus’s back. It only served to amuse them terribly.
“Will you hold still?” Ean chides the Saint. “You’re gonna knock over the bucket.”
“How much longer are you gonna have my feet in this thing?” Viticus asks.
“Maybe for the rest of eternity if you don’t shut up.” Kneeling down, Ean glances at the timer. “Not much longer.”
The Saint resists arguing with him, knowing by now that he stands no chance of winning no matter what he says. He wiggles his toes. In the kitchen, Jamie is humming a tune he doesn’t recognize. It is only a matter of time before he starts to fill the apartment with his voice. Maybe Ean will join in under his breath if he knows the words. It’s been quite a while since Ean has sung anything, come to think of it. A pity, really. He has such a lovely voice, a talent made all the better by the fact that he is so unusually modest about it.
“Are you sure this is everything?” their guest asks as he goes through the makeup bag. “Clippers, file, buffer, pumice stone—”
“Everything I had.” Jamie pokes his head out of the kitchen. “Cream or no?”
“Tall or short?”
“Cup size? Uh, tall.” Ean pulls out a few wooden sticks filed down to points. “Well, we’ve got orangewood sticks this time.”
“Do you really have to use those?” Viticus shifts in the armchair. “They’re fucking uncomfortable.”
“You want your nails to look nice? Those cuticles won’t clean themselves.” The youngest of the Amhersts sets them neatly aside. “I don’t see any cream in here, though.”
“Well, do you have to dig under my nails with’em? Always feels like you’re trying to pry them off.”
“I don’t dig under them. Just under the part that sticks out to get at the dirt. If you took better care of your feet—”
“I take damn good care of my feet, fuck you very much!” Viticus counters. “I keep them clean, keep my nails short and painted—”
“And yet there’s always dirt under your toenails and your heels are like cement!” Ean glances up. “Well. They used to feel like cement. But if you don’t keep taking care of them like I told you, they’re going to crack and bleed—and the last thing you need, as someone who spends a lot of time on his feet—”
“Yes, mother.” The punk’s mouth twists petulantly. “When did you turn into such a mother hen, Ean?”
“Probably about the same time you decided to try on monogamy for size.”
Any attention Viticus puts towards devising a good comeback or on estimating the level of future discomfort is briefly distracted by Jamie’s return to the living room, green apron hanging around his neck. In a flash, he’s gone into the bathroom to rummage for cuticle cream when Ean points out its absence from the bag. When Viticus calls down a question about the apron, a response about the possibility of muffins makes him a little more willing to stay in the oversized armchair—even if it means submitting to the will of a man who intends to scrape and scrub his feet with rocks and pointy sticks.
Sticks and stones, the Saint thinks to himself with a resigned sigh. It always comes back to sticks and stones, doesn’t it?
Anyone else might find the idea of being tended to by at least one attractive young man a winning fantasy, but the truth of the matter is that Viticus would much rather be working—at least right now. Though he enjoys his leisure as much as the next person, right now, he would much rather be at his palace in the Dead Country, making arrangements and finalizing all of the last-minute details that have been collecting in the background. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, after all—one of his busiest days in the year! One of the worst days, really. One of the most stressful, even some thirty-plus years later. Not only that, but then comes the Parade of Black Roses and the Danse Macabre—the two biggest events of the Festival Week—to think of, as well! So much, too much, to think about, enough to make anyone a bit looped in the cranial cavity.
Which is precisely why Death put him on a mandatory pre-Festival vacation, isn’t it? No book-balancing. No collections. Leave it all in the hands of his very well-trained attendants for at least a week while he gathers his energy for the stressful days ahead. It was fine enough the first couple of days—what with the adorable army of dogs to snuggle with and the enticing entertainment of catch-up sex with his beau—but now the itch to make his rounds is working its way back under his skin. The call of souls making an early leap off the mortal coil is reaching his ears, but can he do anything about it? No, not for a few more days at least, and for what reason?
Because someone pointed out to Death that Viticus was looking particularly worse off than usual; that he was extra sour and more short-tempered. She wouldn’t tell him who it was, but the Saint has his suspects.
“I should be out there!” he complains to neither of the blond men in particular. “I should be fucking working.”
“You sound like Essex,” Ean points out as he continues preparing his tools. “Or maybe Sorrows.”
“I’m pretty sure it was him.” Viticus rests his chin in his hand. “Sorrows, I mean.”
“Why would Sorrows—?” The timer rings loudly. Ean drapes a pink towel over his lap before attending it. “Why would he do that? Workaholism is one of his virtues.”
“Gimme one of your feet.”
“Which one?” asks the older man in the armchair.
“Whichever. The right one.”
Gladly, Viticus lifts his soaked, soapy foot out of the bucket, practically dropping it into Ean’s bony lap. Soap foam clings to the shining skin. The Saint wiggles his toes, flashing the cracked black nail polish partially covering his toenails.
“Well?” he asks cheekily. “What do you think?”
“I think Present has a better footcare routine than you do,” Ean tells him.
“Aw, not fair! Present showers two or three times a day and he’s got a foot fetish!”
“Past, then, and that’s counting how skipping a day or two of showering is probably the only thing he doesn’t panic about.”
“Who’s got a foot fetish?” Jamie sets down a tall blue mug for their guest before taking a seat on the couch near Viticus’s armchair. The apron is gone from around his neck.
“Present,” Viticus answers. “He’s kind of into feet. I thought you were gonna bake.”
“I’ll do it later,” Jamie says. “I wanna watch Ean work.”
“Look, he swears it’s not a sexual thing,” Ean expands as he reaches for the pumice stone. “Present says he’s just aesthetically fascinated by feet. I think he’s just afraid of being seen as a pervert, unlike some.”
“What the fuck is that supposed t—ow! Do you mind?”
“You haven’t been doing this like I told you, have you?” The pedicurist frowns. “Didn’t I tell you that if you did this at least once a week—?”
“Ean, does it look like I have time to scrub my feet with a fucking rock?”
“It’s as easy as doing it while you shower or take a bath, Vincent. Or maybe Jamie can do it for you. He looks like he’s got a good foot routine going.”
“Oh, I only do it myself when I can’t get an appointment in with the lady that normally does ‘em,” Jamie answers. “Rosalina down over near Main? Sweetest lady; charges me ten dollars for the works.”
“Ten bucks for a full pedicure?” Ean asks, surprised.
“Mm-hm. I’m sure it’s a discount.” The Southerner shrugs. “You’d probably get it free, being a directly-related Prince and what all.”
He shakes his head. It isn’t so much that Ean is afraid to remind people that he has had such a title thrust upon him thanks to his great-grandfather’s important position—not that actually has had to yet—because sometimes being part of some acknowledged noble class does have its perks. No, the truth of the matter lies in the old adage of doing something yourself if you want certainty that it’s being done right. Though Ean Amherst is one for indulging in a bit of luxury now and then as afforded to him by his privileged status, he values a perfect job much more.
“I think I’ll just keep doing it myself, thanks. At least if I do it, I know the chance of screwing up is greatly diminished.” He glances over at his host. “But maybe you can take Vincent with you next time. You two can use it to…I don’t know—bond or something.”
To this, Jamie only laughs a little. “Sweet, but no. Tried it once. Poor thing couldn’t keep still soon as one of the other girls in the shop laid her hand on his foot. Boy shot about eight feet straight up!”
Ean smirks a little as he continues to scrub away the dead skin. “Spooked him, did it?”
“I guess. I’m surprised he’s letting you do it.”
“Not without resistance,” As he drags the pumice stone up the sole of Viticus’s foot, he’s a bit gentler, taking into consideration the sensitivity of the spiderweb-white lines crisscrossing the skin currently flushed from the warm mini-bath. “I’m not even really sure how it got started. Probably when we were still sort of dating. I guess I kind of have a thing for feet, too.”
“A foot fetish?” Jamie asks teasingly.
“Not a foot fetish. I just have—”
“Ridiculously high standards,” Viticus interjects.
“Not ridiculous. High, yes, but not ridiculous and not hard to meet,” Ean answers, shrugging. “I just think it’s important to have nice feet. Not just clipped toenails. Smooth heels. Soft soles. It’s important to take care of them. Living or dead, it’s important! Present would agree with me on this.”
“Because Present has a foot fetish,” the Saint reminds them. “And there isn’t anything wrong with that! Nothing at all wrong with fetishes, unless they have to do with children or…y’know. Animals.”
“Wait—” Ean looks up, pausing to take a sip of his coffee. “Do you mean like…like fucking animals or furries? Because there’s a big difference between—”
“No! No, man, like fucking animals. Like people having sex with—come on, Ean. Some of my best friends—some of the nicest people I’ve ever met are furries.”
The Southerner raises an eyebrow. “What in hell’s a furry?”
Their guest nearly chokes on his coffee from laughing. Jamie looks at him, still very much confused. Viticus reaches over, chuckling himself, and pats his lover’s hand.
“I’ll tell you later.”
“You’d better. And it better not involve a goddamn video like the last time.”
“Do I even want to know?” asks Ean.
Still chuckling a little, Viticus says, “I may have introduced him to the concept of what the internet is really for.”
“It was obscene!” Jamie says, looking an exaggerated form of scandalized. “I ain’t ever seen such a thing before!”
“Well, not in public.”
Ean rolls his eyes as he works with the orangewood stick. “Say no more. I mean it. We should’ve changed the subject when we started talking about furries.”
“Well, I’ll change the subject with wondering how you got to be an expert on pedicures,” Jamie says.
Their guest actually manages to look genuinely humble as he flashes a little smile. “Running track in high school. Your feet are your biggest asset when you run. Well, actually your entire bottom half is pretty important, but if your feet are fucked, it doesn’t matter how strong your calves are or how far you can stretch.
“I picked up some tips from this other guy on the team. In hindsight, I think he might’ve had a crush on me, but he had some of the best feet on the team, considering everybody else was complaining about blisters and aching heels or broken toes.” Ean shrugs. “He was a nice enough guy. Didn’t get in my space. Understood dry humor. Irene didn’t like him too much, though, nor did she really enjoy the idea of her son hogging up the bathroom to keep his feet in pristine shape.”
“The sin of vanity!” says the Southerner. “It’s what Daddy used to say when my sisters used to try’n show me a thing about being a cleaned-up boy. ‘You’re encouragin’ vanity and vainglory in the boy!’”
“I was raised Catholic. Have you seen our cathedrals? Vanity and vainglory are expected. But who fucking knows? Maybe she was just afraid I’d turn out gay.”
“Oh, sure, because you’re about as straight as Rock Hudson.” Jamie pauses. “Did you get that or did I just age myself?”
“Both,” Ean says, quite amused. Cream added to all the pushed cuticles, he taps the Saint’s foot. “Back in the water and other foot.”
Jamie clicks his tongue. The water to greet the return of Viticus’s right foot is not as prickly hot as it was earlier. Ean remarks that, in regrettable hindsight, he should have removed the nail polish before making him soak his feet. Viticus doesn’t care either way but he knows that Ean does because Ean is a perfectionist among perfectionists. Regardless of what it is—piano, art, pedicures—he always has to attack things with the highest level of effort. His thin fingers move nimbly over any task set before him, his focus diamond-sharp. What Ean lacks in being a people-person, he makes up for in professionalism and attention to detail. Usually, anyway.
“So you guys got plans for Festival Week?”
Viticus scoffs. “You’re joking, right?”
“Your sarcasm needs work,” Ean tells him, reaching for the orangewood stick. “Hold still.”
“Well, yes, I have plans. I have to be in the parade. I have to be at the Danse Macabre. I have a party of my own to oversee in the Suicide District—”
“Mm, no. I have a party to oversee in the Suicide District,” Jamie says. “You just have to show up.”
“Yeah, but I have to explain why nobody but Suicides can go! Everybody wants to be there.”
“Of course, they do! I always throw the best parties.”
“So why do you have to be there if Jamie’s throwing it?” asks Ean.
“Now I know you’re joking,” Viticus answers. “I have to be at all the major parties because it’s expected of me. It’s good and proper. (He sighs.) I miss going to parties because that’s where the fun was at. They’re all the same. It’s boring.”
“Orpheia’s is never boring.”
“Because Orpheia knows how to throw a good party, too! But even it gets kind of old. Bunch of people rubbing elbows, trying to get favors and shit…”
“The trials and tribulations of Sainthood,” Jamie says with a little sigh.
“I would rather work than go to a party where I have to dress up super fancy and act like I like having a whole bunch of people kissing my ass. What the fuck does that say about me?” asks Viticus.
“That you’re getting old,” Ean says, grinning. “Now hold still.”