The Stranger in my bed
Light And Shadows
The distant chiming of the clock in the hallway told me it was eight in the morning. I opened my eyes to the early rays of light. True to his promise, Mr. Weston had touched nothing but my hand. Even in his sleep. I carefully untangled his fingers from mine so I didn’t wake him.
The cool air of morning touched my exposed skin and sent a shiver through me. I blushed remembering the way he stared at my body, but there was no time for that today. There was no third day. “Jack Weston” would not be appearing again and I had to prepare for whoever might come down the stairs later.
I got dressed and went downstairs to wait for Thomas. I went to the parlor and sat in an armchair near a large window. I stared at the rose garden, in just a few days how many important things had happened here? I came here to escape being homeless and broke, how did I end up in some torrid affair with the man who was supposed to be my employer?
“Welcome to day three, Ms. Walton.” Thomas’ voice snapped me from my trance. “If you make it past today, then congratulations. You will have surpassed nearly eighty percent of previous candidates. Now, as I have said, Mr. Weston will not be himself today. There are a number of people he could become so I have brought you this. I would suggest you study it in your free time.”
He handed me an old and very large binder filled with different tabs and notes. The first page was titled “Jack Weston”:
Occupation: Heir 6
Personality: Social, friendly, care-free.
Interests: Reading, walking in his garden, chess, music.
Dislikes: Sports, politics, long-lasting silences.
Frequency: Approximately once a week.
Jack is the true personality of Mr. Weston. He likes to be informed of the activities of his other personalities while he has been “absent,” give him a detailed and truthful account. Jack prefers academic interests and enjoys discussing literature and the arts. His personality is easy-going, bordering on flippant at times, but he is a serious and thoughtful person. Give him reassurance as he is constantly doubting himself.
I looked at Thomas in surprise.
“This is a compilation of Mr. Weston’s personalities,” he explained. “At least the ones that have appeared so far. Refer to this any time a new one appears to you. Feel free to edit and add to this book as needed, his personalities are people and, therefore, are constantly growing and changing. If you encounter a new persona not listed in this book, then give the new man a brief interview and add a page for him. I have organized the book by the frequency of their appearances. Any questions?”
All I could do was stare. It was enormous. Jack mentioned five personalities appeared most frequently, but there had to be over fifty different pages in this book. Did he really have so many personalities? How could I keep them all straight?
Thomas must have seen the panic on my face because he quickly walked over and pointed to a blue divider near the front of the book.
“These are the ones that appear most frequently. You’ll be lucky to see any of the others three times in a month,” he reassured me.
I counted the pages at the front, there were seven. I couldn’t help the sigh of relief that exited my lips. Seven, a lot, but far more manageable than fifty. So he might be ten people a month? It sounded doable.
At that moment I heard footsteps at the door. Thomas and I turned and Mr. Weston was there. He stared at us in confusion.
“Thomas, who is this woman?” He asked.
The Stranger In My Bed
Jack mentioned he only retained certain details when he was someone else. Thomas had been here for years, I was very new to the house. Still, the knowledge that he had forgotten about me sent a sharp pain to my heart.
“Mr. Weston, this is our new assistant. Please, introduce yourself, Anna,” he said, turning to me.
As I stood he leaned close and whispered. “Only Jack Weston has a caretaker. To any other persona, you are an assistant, alright?”
I gave a brief nod as I walked to the stranger at the door. I gave a small curtsey and extended my hand.
“A pleasure, sir,” I said, smiling. “I’m Anna Walton and I’ll be your new assistant.”
He took my hand and squeezed it gently. “I’m Arthur Weston, and the pleasure is truly mine. Thomas!” He said looking past me. “Where did you find such a lovely girl? She’s perfect! I need to set up my equipment immediately.”
“I think breakfast first would be best, sir,” Thomas said.
“Right, of course,” Mr. Weston said, nodding. “This way, Ms. Walton.”
I stayed back as he walked off toward the dining room. Thomas came over and handed me the binder.
“I’d suggest educating yourself before you fully interact with him. Read and walk, Ms. Walton,” he said, following Mr. Weston.
I flipped through the first couple of pages and found the name, “Arthur Weston”:
Age: 28 1
Occupation: Photographer 2
Personality: Forgetful, dreamer, friendly.
Interests: Photography, art, and animals.
Dislikes: Loud noises, bad weather, social gatherings.
Frequency: Approximately once a week
Arthur is a photographer. He takes his work very seriously and will spend most of his day taking photographs. While intently focused on his work he gets easily distracted by anything that would make a good “subject,” because of this he often forgets to eat or drink. He will speak bluntly about what he thinks but is very friendly. He hates forced interactions though and avoids unnecessary conversations.
I had just finished the last sentence when we reached the dining room. The chef had already laid out breakfast and Mr. Weston was eating quickly.
“Come now, you two!” He said while chewing. “We’re losing light. Eat quickly and let’s get to work.”
Thomas leaned over and whispered, “I’m sorry to say you will not always have the luxury to take your time eating. I would eat very quickly, he hates to be kept waiting.”
I dutifully shoved some toast into my mouth. It seemed I had barely finished a slice before Mr. Weston leaped up, wiping his mouth.
“That’s enough of that!” He said, walking quickly to the door. “To the studio, Thomas! Inspiration waits for no man.”
Thomas stood and walked at a normal pace, motioning for me to follow. I followed him upstairs and down the hall. He stopped at one of the rooms, I heard a clattering on the other side.
“Mr. Weston’s photography studio,” he said before opening the door.
I saw Mr. Weston fumbling with an expensive-looking camera. He seemed intently focused on it. I looked around. Camera equipment and lights were everywhere. A messy display of random items sat in the corner. Despite being so large the room somehow felt crowded with all this equipment.
A sharp click and a flash of light startled me from these thoughts. I blinked the spots from my eyes and turned toward their source. Mr. Weston smiled from behind the camera.
“Thomas, honestly, where did you find this girl? She’s perfect! Tilt your head slightly to the right,” he asked, motioning with his hand.
I stood there. I was still too stunned to understand what was happening. Mr. Weston frowned a bit. Thomas nudged me in the ribs gently. My mind snapped back to the present.
“Oh! Me?” I asked.
“Well, I’m certainly not talking to Thomas,” he said, shaking his head. “Lovely, but a bit slow isn’t she?”
The Stranger In My Bed
I couldn’t help but take a bit of insult at that. It must have shown on my face.
“Ah, sorry,” Mr. Weston mumbled. “Please ignore me when I say things like that. The filter is off when the camera is on. Now lift your chin just a little.”
I did as he asked. He raised his hand suddenly to signal me to stop and snapped a picture. He did this several more times before stopping to look at the pictures. I pressed my hands over my eyes. Spots danced in the darkness. Would this persona blind me before I could see Jack again?
“Sir, I will remind you humans have eyes,” Thomas said simply.
I uncovered my eyes to see Mr. Weston looking my way in confusion. Realization seemed to come over him.
“Right. Right! Sorry about that,” he said, readjusting the lens on his camera. “Let me know if the light is too much for your eyes. I’d hate for such lovely eyes to be hidden by glasses, they make it nearly impossible to take a decent photo.”
It was quickly becoming obvious Thomas hadn’t exaggerated about “Arthur’s” passion for photography. I didn’t know whether to be delighted or insulted that I would no longer be the object of his obsession. He busied himself running around the room, adjusting various light fixtures. Thomas stood back silently, so I did the same. We were practically invisible, ghosts in the corner.
I leaned over to Thomas and whispered. “Is he always like this?”
“On days like this, I would recommend a good book, Ms. Walton. I once finished the entire Canterbury Tales in one day, if that tells you anything,” he whispered, amused.
Time seemed to stop in that room. We only lasted another ten minutes before sitting in some chairs in the corner. Thomas produced a pack of cards from his pocket. We were deep in a third game of poker when we heard the crackle of the intercom.
I stood up and pressed the button on the wall.
“Lunch will be ready soon.”
Lunch? Didn’t we just have breakfast? The hall clock striking one said otherwise. I smiled a little.
“Thank you, chef. We’ll be there soon.”
I turned back to Thomas. He had something like mischief in his eyes. He gave a slight nod toward Mr. Weston. He was busy focusing on a backdrop he’d been fussing with for the last hour.
“Mr. Weston, lunch is ready,” I said.
“Later, later,” he said without turning to me.
I looked back at Thomas. What now? Thomas shrugged his shoulders and gave me an amused look. Right. I was Mr. Weston’s caretaker now. I had to make sure he didn’t neglect his health.
I took a deep breath and tried to use my firmest speaking voice, “Mr. Weston. You have to eat.”
He rolled his eyes. I wasn’t sure if he knew I could see him or not.
“God, you found a talker didn’t you, Thomas,” he sighed. “Look, I know you’re new, so just sit in the corner and wait until I’m finished. We’ll go when my work is done. Understand? Good.”
I stared at him in shock. Not only had he blatantly ignored me, but insulted me as well. I turned to Thomas again, but he didn’t budge. He watched me expectantly. I sighed. What did I expect? Did I really think I would get away with doing no real work as a caretaker?
I rethought the situation. It was obvious to me asking Mr. Weston to go to lunch wasn’t going to work, and ordering him had even less of an effect. I guess I’d have to try something to trick him instead. What that was, I had absolutely no clue.
“Ms. Walton?” I heard the intercom crackle.
I sighed and answered it. I guess we’d been up here a while. The chef was probably waiting on us.
“Will Mr. Weston be dining soon?”
Would he? Good question. I glanced at him, he was still deeply involved in his work. Would I ever eat or see the sunlight again with this “Arthur” around? An idea struck me suddenly. It was stupid, desperate, doomed to fail, but it was all I had.
“Yes, chef,” I answered. “However, Mr. Weston would like to eat in the garden today. Can you set up a table for us?”
“Of course, Ms. Walton.”
I turned to look at Mr. Weston. He had apparently tuned out my voice by this point because he hadn’t budged an inch. I only hoped my plan would work well enough to get him to eat something.
“Mr. Weston?” I called sweetly.
He let out a deep, exasperated sigh. He turned to me. It looked as if I was on his last nerve.
“Look, Miss… Miss…” he struggled to find my name.
“Walton,” I finished. “Sorry to interrupt you again. I was only going to say what a shame it is to stay inside all day in this dim, dusty room.” I paused and pulled back the curtains a bit. I gave an exaggerated sigh of longing. “The garden looks so lovely in this lighting.”
The Stranger In My Bed
I waited hopefully. Would it work? He stared at me blankly for a moment. Suddenly, the light bulb went off. His eyes went wide.
“Yes. Yes! It is lovely this time of day!” He said, fumbling to take down his equipment. “Thomas, what were you thinking letting me stay here at this time? Can you imagine? The beauty of afternoon blossoms captured in their finest moment! Good thinking, Ms. Walton!”
Well, at least I’d gotten him to praise me somehow. Mr. Weston shoved his things into a bag clumsily and rushed from the room. Thomas stood and smiled.
“Nicely done, Ms. Walton.” He said, walking toward the door. “You’ll find that tailoring your demands to Mr. Weston’s various wants or needs will yield far more results than using a blanket approach. As said, each of them is an individual and should be treated as such.”
I followed Thomas down the stairs and out to the garden. The chef had laid out a table as requested. However, Mr. Weston was far too busy setting up his equipment to notice the spread. Thomas gave me another amused look.
“You got him outside. Now, how will you make him eat?” Thomas chuckled.
I thought about it for a second. It would be a lot harder to convince him eating was photogenic. My thoughts were interrupted by a sharp whistle. I turned, Mr. Weston was waving at me.
“Ms. Walton! I’m trying to center this scene, go stand by the roses so I can use you as a marker,” he said, pointing at them.
My last experience of stopping to think taught me it was better to follow his orders immediately. I walked over to the bushes. He waved his hand to the right. I moved that direction until he held it up for me to stop. Luckily, there wasn’t much need for flash in the bright midday sun, so my eyes were spared from further abuse.
After a moment he stopped and looked at the camera. It seemed like he was scrolling through the pictures.
“Beautiful,” he mumbled, almost to himself. “I’ve never really used a live model before…”
While he mulled over this another idea came to mind. I walked over to the table and picked up a plate of pasta salad. He whipped his head around to follow my movements.
“Where are you going?” He asked.
I took a bite of the pasta. “I’m starving, and I won’t have the energy to stand there unless I eat something.”
He gave a frustrated sigh. “Fine, hurry up and come back quickly.”
I set the plate down. “Oh, no, sir. I can’t eat by myself. That’s too lonely.”
He looked at me in shock. He quickly turned to Thomas. Thomas laughed and stood up, reading the situation.
“Sorry, sir. I’ve just finished, and I’m afraid the cleaners are coming today. I have to go supervise them, but I’m sure Ms. Walton will be more than capable of assisting you in my absence.” He gave a slight bow and exited quickly.
Mr. Weston stared at the scene in awe. He stayed like that a moment before I cleared my throat. It seemed to snap him back to reality. He looked at his camera sheepishly.
Oh, well, hurry up and-”
“I’m sorry, sir,” I interrupted, “but as I said I won’t be able to eat properly if I’m alone. Come eat with me? Just a bite? Please.”
I almost felt sorry for poor Arthur. He seemed at a loss for what to do. He glanced between me and the garden a moment. He really wanted to take more pictures.
“But, the light-”
“Is even more beautiful at sunset. Now, come eat,” I said, sitting.
He stood there a little longer before giving a defeated sigh and sitting next to me. He picked at some chicken half-heartedly. Several times he tried protesting how long I was taking, but I was careful to make sure he ate a decent amount before finally agreeing to come back and help him.
He leaped from the table like a freed prisoner and ran for his equipment. He muttered complaints under his breath about wasted time and changing light, but otherwise continued as normal.
I had never really considered myself a “picture person,” but Mr. Weston didn’t seem to care. I must have posed for hours while he took various pictures, demanding a new pose every few minutes or so. I never knew modeling was so demanding. As I heard the clock strike four in the distance I worried I might collapse.
“Mr. Weston, can we take a break?” I begged.
He barely reacted to my words as he scrolled through the last set of pictures we had taken.
“Break, why?” He mumbled, not even looking at me. “The light is just starting to change in our favor. You were right, sunset will be more beautiful.”
Part of me feared I wouldn’t make it to sunset at this rate. I hobbled over to a nearby bench while he was distracted and took off my shoes. Vanity got the best of me today. I wore very low heels. Perfectly functional for a normal day around the house, but I was quickly realizing this house would be anything but normal. I hadn’t planned on being on my feet for hours at a time.
I lifted one of my aching feet to my knee and began massaging it. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Now I sympathized with models. How did they do it? I was dying after one afternoon. I didn’t have a chance to dwell on these thoughts. A pair of hands replaced my own on my foot. My eyes snapped open to see Mr. Weston rubbing my foot.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “I’m so used to working with inanimate objects, I guess I forgot the strain my demands might put on the average person.”
“Th-that’s alright, sir. I’ll be fine,” I said, pulling my foot away.
He held my foot firmly, refusing to let me move. After everything that had happened the last couple of days, a foot rub should have been the least of my worries. But still, something about the intimacy of it made me blush.
“Ms. Walton, I’m an oblivious man,” he sighed, never looking up from my foot. “I’m not ignorant of this fact. I lose myself completely in my work at times. I say rude things, ignore my health, neglect my assistants, but I never intend to do these things.
I promise I’m not the demanding and stubborn tyrant I might seem like. If I say something rude or inappropriate, then tell me at once. If I’m neglecting your needs and ignoring your requests, feel free to walk off and fulfil them anyway. You don’t need to sneak away from me or neglect yourself for my sake.”
“Mr. Weston, it’s really not like that,” I said. “I never thought of you as a tyrant. I just needed to sit for a minute. I wore the wrong shoes today, it was my fault, really.”
He smiled slightly at this. “No, you wore the right shoes, they look lovely on you. Please, allow me to undo some of the damage I’ve done to your poor feet.”
I really didn’t want him touching my feet anymore, but arguing was proving pointless. I sat there awkwardly as he rubbed my feet. He wasn’t bad at it, my feet did start to feel better.
The Stranger In My Bed
I looked off into the garden, desperate at this point to look anywhere except for his direction. It was the first time I’d noticed how large the garden really was. There were so many roses I’d assumed they were the only flower there, but I saw patches of lilies and violets in the distance. The sweet scent filled the air, no perfume in the world could compare to it. Such a beautiful and peaceful place.
I heard a soft click. I turned to see Mr. Weston had again picked up his camera and taken a picture of me. He smiled sheepishly from behind it.
“Sorry, I couldn’t help myself,” he said softly. “I usually hate live models. They move, they argue, they need breaks, but for some reason, I’m willing to tolerate all that with you.”
My eyes rolled involuntarily at this statement. To my surprise, he laughed.
“I promise I meant that in a nicer way than it sounded,” he chuckled. “I have that problem a lot.”
I moved my feet from his lap and slipped my shoes back on.
“It’s alright, sir,” I said, standing. “I tolerate more from you than I would the average person too.”
He seemed shocked at my boldness, but a smile spread across his face. He stood and led me back toward the house.
“God, is that really what I sound like when I speak to people? I’m surprised Thomas hasn’t killed me yet,” he said, shaking his head.
“Oh! Thomas,” I said, suddenly remembering the old caretaker. “I should probably find him. He said he was meeting with the cleaners, I should learn how to talk with them.”
“Well, make it quick if you must. I’ll be back in the studio. I want to take more pictures of you. I’m curious to see how the photos will look with you in proper lighting,” he said thoughtfully.
I shook my head at this and started walking down the hall. As I walked away a thought flashed through my mind. I spun back around and called to him.
“I’ll only pose for more pictures if you eat dinner on time today,” I said sternly.
He started at this. “Ms. Walton! Do you really expect me-”
“No negotiations!” I shouted before hurrying away.
I knew there was only a slim chance of it working, but why not plant the seed now and save myself the trouble later. My footsteps echoed down the halls. This place really was so large and empty. Thomas said the cleaners were here, but I had still yet to see a single person.
Finally, I heard a voice in the distance. I walked toward a bedroom at the end of the hallway and opened the door. Thomas was talking with a group of three men in blue coveralls. He turned as he heard the door open.
“Anna! What are you doing here?” He asked. “Where is Mr. Weston?”
“He wanted to work more in his studio. I thought I should come to learn how to talk with the staff,” I said, walking over.
“Did he actually eat lunch?”
I laughed. “Resentfully, but yes.”
Thomas seemed to relax a little on hearing this. It made me wonder how much “Arthur” had neglected his health in the past to make Thomas worry so much.
“Mr. Anderson?” One of the men said suddenly.
Thomas and I both jumped a little at this. I think this was the first time I actually heard Thomas’ last name. He turned back to them and cleared his throat.
“Oh, yes. Is there anything else?” Thomas asked.
“No, not really,” the man said, shrugging. “Who’s the girl if you don’t mind me asking though?”
“Ah, right. This is Anna Walton,” he said gesturing to me. “She’ll be Mr. Weston’s new caretaker and you’ll be following her orders from now on.”
The first cleaner scoffed and rolled his eyes. The other two nudged each other in the ribs playfully.
“Sorry, Mr. Anderson, but if I had a dollar for every time I heard that I could own this mansion by now,” he said, shaking his head. “If she makes it to the next cleaning day then I’ll start listening to her. Anything else you need done today?”
No, that will be all,” Thomas said stiffly.
The workers walked past me almost as if I was invisible. I heard their laughter echoing from down the hall. Thomas pinched the bridge of his nose before turning to me with an exhausted look.
“Sorry about that, Ms. Walton. They-”
“No, no. It’s fine Thomas,” I interrupted. “They’ve gotta be just as tired of the changing caretakers as everyone else is.”
He let out a sigh. “I know, but there’s still no need for them to be so curt with you. I’m more thankful than you can imagine for your forgiving nature. It’s helped us keep you this long.”
I stood up straight and gave Thomas a firm look. “I have no intention of leaving this house any time soon.”
I think he tried to give a playful smile, but it ended up looking more relieved than anything else. The clock echoed five in the hall. Thomas looked at his watch as if to confirm the time.
“How have you and Arthur been getting along?” He asked.
“He seems to like me as a model, I’m using that to my advantage right now. I hope it lasts long enough for me to trick him into eating dinner,” I said, laughing.
“If he’s eaten twice you’ve already done more than half the previous candidates.” Thomas glanced at the watch again. “Ms. Walton, do you think you would be okay staying in the house alone with Mr. Weston? I have some business in town. I can rush back if you really feel it’s too much, but it would be more convenient to stay in town. I would be grateful if you could care for him by yourself tonight.”
I thought about it. I hadn’t had any serious hiccups so far, but it was only my third day on the job. Did I really feel confident enough to be in this house alone? I was wary of it, but poor Thomas looked so desperate I couldn’t say no.
“Of course, Thomas,” I said, smiling. “My only concern is how I’ll get him to sleep.” 1
Thomas rushed over and squeezed my hands gently. “He can sleep where he collapses. Happens all the time, just cover him with a blanket. Thank you, Anna, really.” 2
With that, he darted out the door. I wondered what had Thomas in such a hurry, but knew it was none of my business. I’m sure he had his own arrangements to make if he was planning to retire soon.
I noticed how dark it was becoming in the room. It was probably time to return to Mr. Weston. The halls darkened around me, my echoing footsteps seemed even louder now.
I thought I heard a voice in the dark. I looked around but no one was there. As I walked I thought I heard it again, more distinctly this time. I began to get a little nervous. Was one of the cleaners still here? Did Thomas forget something? As I passed by one of the studies I heard it clearly this time.
I almost jumped out of my skin before I recognized it as the chef’s voice. The intercom. I rushed inside and hit the button.
“Sorry, chef! I was in the hallway.”
“Dinner will be done shortly.”
I remembered the impossibility of trying to get “Arthur” to leave the studio. Thomas did say it was easier to cater to the personas’ individual needs.
“Actually, please put dinner on a tray. I’ll take it to Mr. Weston myself,” I answered.
“Yes, Ms. Walton. I’ll leave it in the dining room for you.”
Everything in this house was always so easy. No arguments, no complaints. It was if the entire staff had given up long ago, accepting anything that came their way. Could I really live that way? How long? As long as Thomas?
As I picked up the tray from the dining room I pictured myself forty years from now. A gray-haired, aging woman. Worn down, tired. Carrying this same tray upstairs because I was caring for an elderly man with no control over himself. One who might be even worse than he was now.
I paused at the bottom of the stairs. Could I do this forever? A crashing sound from the studio replaced my personal fears with panic. I ran up the stairs. As I rushed into the studio I saw Mr. Weston dusting himself off.
“What happened?” I asked, panting.
He seemed shocked to see me so panicked.I dropped a tripod, that’s all. Are you okay, Ms. Walton?”
I let out a deep sigh of relief and set the tray on a nearby table. “Don’t scare me like that again.”
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled, still confused.
I sat in a chair and motioned to the tray.
“Come eat.” He opened his mouth to protest but I raised my hand to silence him. “I’m not moving one inch until you eat something. I told you, no negotiations.”
He looked at me another moment before walking over and grabbing a sandwich. He took a bite and nodded toward the canvas. I crossed my arms and shook my head. I wasn’t going to fall for any tricks.
He half smiled and sat in a chair, continuing to eat the sandwich. When he finished he looked at me, I nodded toward the tray.
He sighed. “If you’re forcing me to waste valuable time like this can you at least prepare yourself while I eat?”
I kept my arms crossed. “You’ll sit there and eat while I get ready to model?”
“Yes, yes. I had this fantastic idea for some new pictures while you were gone. Not exactly original, but far different from anything I’ve done before. Even I can’t predict how they’ll turn out,” he said excitedly.
He seemed to be fading into his own mind the longer he talked. It would probably be best to agree before he lost himself to “inspiration” completely.
“Alright,” I said, standing. My sudden movement seemed to pull him out of his own head. “You eat. Tell me what to do in the meantime.”
I thought I saw a small glimmer of something in his eyes. He grabbed an apple and leaned back in the chair. A smile spread across his face as he looked at me.
“Take off your clothes.”