On the morning we are to leave for our Grand Tour of the Continent, I wake in bed beside Percy. For a disorienting moment, it’s unclear whether we’ve slept together or simply slept together.
Percy’s still got all his clothes on from the night before, albeit most in neither the state nor the location they were in when originally donned, and while the bedcovers are a bit roughed up, there’s no sign of any strumming. So although I’ve got nothing on but my waistcoat—by some sorcery now buttoned back to front—and one shoe, it seems safe to assume we both kept our bits to ourselves.
Which is a strange sort of relief, because I’d like to be sober the first time we’re together. If there ever is a first time. Which it’s starting to seem like there won’t be.
Beside me, Percy rolls over, narrowly avoiding thwacking me across the nose when he tosses his arm over his head. His face settles into the crook of my elbow as he tugs far more than his share of the bedclothes to his side without waking. His hair stinks of cigars and his breath is rancid, though judging by the taste rolling around the back of my throat—a virulent tincture of baptized gin and a stranger’s perfume—mine’s worse.
From the other side of the room, there’s the snap of drapes being pulled back, and sunlight assaults me. I throw my hands over my face. Percy flails awake with a caw like a raven’s. He tries to roll over, finds me in his path, keeps rolling anyway, and ends up on top of me. My bladder protests soundly to this. We must have drunk an extraordinary amount last night if it’s hanging this heavily over me. And here I was starting to feel rather smug about my ability to get foxed out of my mind most nights and then be a functioning human by the next afternoon, provided that the afternoon in question is a late one.
Which is when I realize why I am both utterly wrecked and still a little drunk—it isn’t the afternoon, when I’m accustomed to rising. It’s quite early in the morning, because Percy and I are leaving for the Continent today.
“Good morning, gentlemen,” Sinclair says from the other side of the room. I can only make out his silhouette against the window—he’s still torturing us with the goddamned sunlight. “My lord,” he continues, with a brow inclined in my direction, “your mother sent me to wake you. Your carriage is scheduled to leave within the hour, and Mr. Powell and his wife are taking tea in the dining room.”
From somewhere near my navel, Percy makes an affirming noise in response to his uncle and aunt’s presence—a noise that resembles no human language.
“And your father arrived from London last night, my lord,” Sinclair adds to me. “He wishes to see you before you depart.”
Neither Percy nor I move. The lone shoe still clinging to my foot surrenders and hits the floor with a hollow thunk of wooden heel on Oriental carpet.
“Should I give you both a moment to recover your senses?” Sinclair asks.
“Yes,” Percy and I say in unison.
Sinclair leaves—I hear the door latch behind him. Outside the window, I can hear carriage wheels crackling against the gravel drive and the calls of the grooms as they yoke the horses.
Then Percy lets out a grisly moan and I start to laugh for no reason.
He takes a swipe at me and misses. “What?”
“You sound like a bear.”
“Well, you smell like a barroom floor.” He slides headfirst off the bed, gets tangled in the sheets, and ends up doing a sort of bent-waist headstand with his cheek against the carpeting. His foot rams me in the stomach, a little too low for comfort, and my laugh turns into a grunt. “Steady on, there, darling.”
The urge to relieve myself is too strong to ignore any longer, and I drag myself up with one hand on the hangings. A few of the stays pop. Bending down to find the chamber pot under the bed seems likely to result in my demise, or at least a premature emptying of my bladder, so I throw open the French doors and piss into the hedges instead.
When I turn back, Percy’s still on the floor, upside down with his feet propped on the bed. His hair came undone from its ribboned queue while we slept and it edges his face in a wild black cloud. I pour a glass of sherry from the decanter on the sideboard and down it in two swallows. Hardly any flavor manages to kick its way through the taste of whatever crawled into my mouth and died during the night, but the hum will get me through a send-off with my parents. And days in a carriage with Felicity. Lord, give me strength.
“How did we get home last night?” Percy asks.
“Where were we last night? It’s all a bit woolly after the third hand of piquet.”
“I think you won that hand.”
“I’m not entirely certain I was playing that hand. If we’re being honest, I had a few drinks.”
“And if we’re truly being honest, it wasn’t just a few.”
“I wasn’t that drunk, was I?”
“Monty. You tried to take your stockings off over your shoes.”
I scoop a handful of water from the basin Sinclair left, toss it across my face, then slap myself a few times— a feeble attempt to rally for the day. There’s a flump behind me as Percy rolls the rest of the way onto the rug.
I wrangle my waistcoat off over my head and drop it onto the floor. From his back, Percy points at my stomach. “You’ve something peculiar down there.”
“What?” I look down. There’s a smear of bright red rouge below my navel. “Look at that.”
“How do you suppose that got there?” Percy asks with a smirk as I spit on my hand and scrub at it.
“A gentleman doesn’t tell.”
“Was it a gentleman?”
“Swear to God, Perce, if I remembered, I’d tell you.” I take another swallow of sherry straight out of the decanter and set it down on the sideboard, nearly missing. It lands a little harder than I meant. “It’s a burden, you know.”
“Being this good-looking. Not a soul can keep their hands off me.”
He laughs, closemouthed. “Poor Monty, such a cross.”
“Cross? What cross?”
“Everyone falls in immediate, passionate love with you.”
“They can hardly be blamed. I’d fall in love with me, if I met me.” And then I flash him a smile that is equal parts rapscallion and boyish dimples so deep you could pour tea into them.
“As modest as you are handsome.” He arches his back—an exaggerated stretch with his head pressed into the rug and fingers woven together above him. Percy’s showy about so few things, but he’s a damned opera in the mornings. “Are you ready for today?”
“I suppose? I haven’t much been involved in the planning, my father’s done it all. And if everything wasn’t prepared, he wouldn’t be sending us off.”
“Has Felicity stopped screaming about school?”
“I don’t have a notion where Felicity’s mind’s at. I still don’t see why we have to take her along.”
“Only as far as Marseilles.”
“After two goddamned months in Paris.”
“You’ll survive one more summer with your sister.”
Above us, the baby kicks up his crying—the floorboards aren’t near enough to stifle it—followed by the sound of the nursemaid’s heels as she dashes to his call, a clack like horses’ hooves on cobbles.
Percy and I both flick our eyes to the ceiling.
“The Goblin’s awake,” I say lightly. Muted as it is, his wailing stokes the ache pulsing in my head.
“Try not to sound too happy about his existence.”
I’ve seen very little of my baby brother since he arrived three months previous, just enough to marvel at, firstly, how strange and shriveled he looks, like a tomato that’s been left out in the sun for the summer, and, secondly, how someone so tiny has such huge potential to ruin my entire bloody life.
I suck a drop of sherry from my thumb. “What a menace he is.”
“He can’t be that much of a menace, he’s only about this big.” Percy holds his hands up in demonstration.
“He shows up out of nowhere—”
“Not sure you can claim out of nowhere—”
“—and then cries all the while and wakes us and takes up space.”
“You’re not being very sympathetic.”
“You’re not giving me many reasons to be.”
I throw a pillow at him, which he’s still too sleepy to bat away in time, so it hits him straight in the face. He gives it a halfhearted toss back at me as I flop across the bed, lying on my stomach with my head hanging over the edge and my face above his.
He raises his eyebrows. “That’s a very serious face. Are you making plans to sell the Goblin off to a roving troupe of players in hopes they’ll raise him as one of their own? You failed with Felicity, but the second time might be the charm.”
In truth, I am thinking how this tousle-haired, bit-off-his-guard, morning-after Percy is my absolute favorite Percy. I am thinking that if Percy and I have this last junket together on the Continent, I intend to fill it with as many mornings like this as possible. I am thinking how I am going to spend the next year ignoring the fact that there will be any year beyond it—I will get wildly drunk whenever possible, dally with pretty girls who have foreign accents, and wake up beside Percy, savoring the pleasant kick of my heartbeat whenever I’m near him.
I reach down and touch his lips with my ring finger. I think about winking as well, which is, admittedly, a tad excessive, but I’ve always been of the mind that subtlety is a waste of time. Fortune favors the flirtatious.
And by now, if Percy doesn’t know how I feel, it’s his own damn fault for being thick.
“I am thinking that today we are leaving on our Grand Tour,” I reply, “and I’m not going to waste any of it.”