Stacy had once gotten lost in Romero North until Ethan noticed her snooping and she forcefully remembered where she needed to be. To be welcomed inside Ethan’s house was an entirely different matter. The Stowe residence had a vaulted foyer that covered its full three stories. Above the two stories of indoor balconies was a faux-stone crenelation with a golden statue of an eagle. Stacy marveled at it until she heard a “wooowoo woo!” and two gigantic dogs bounded into the room to greet them. One looked like a big black stocky labrador, the other looked like it was in the slow process of turning into a furry grey puddle.
“Hey Duchess, hey Duke!” Ethan got on his knees to accept the two dogs’ tackles. “This is Stacy!” he gestured to her, and she reached out to pet the melting one, whose loose skin wobbled as he stepped forward to accept the attention. “That’s Duke Emeril Carson III,” Ethan explained, “he’s fine, that’s just what a Neopolitan Mastiff looks like. This is Duchess Waxworth Merriwether Stowe,” Ethan held Duchess’s gigantic black head in both hands. “Newfoundland dog. Aren’t you, Duchess? Yes you are.”
Blas greeted the other dogs cordially after they had taken a moment to jump on Princess and wrestle her to the ground. They sniffed at him with special interest, taking their noses up and down his back and all the way to the tip of his tail. Blas didn’t bother sniffing them back. As rich dogs, there was barely anything to smell.
Ethan had confided to Stacy earlier that his mother Mrs. Carson had shuffled her schedule to have supper with Stacy. He followed this up with a hurried and ineffective assurance not to feel stressed out. “Ethan, would you help me out in the kitchen? I just need to get this food out.” Stacy made to follow him, but another voice called her by name.
“Stacy, don’t bother with that; the boys have it under control. Come here to the sitting room.”
Stacy broke away from Ethan and followed the voice down a marble hallway to a room walled with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Sitting in a high-backed easy chair with one leg over the other knee, Mrs. Carson held a crystal glass with a brown drink in one hand. An enormous ice sphere floated inside. “What can I get you, darling? You can have one of these, but you’ll have to wait five years. Or until Ted and I aren’t looking.” Mrs. Carson chuckled at her own joke. “We have Pepsi and Coke products, but my husband makes an inimitable pomegranate lemonade.”
Stacy was thankful for the hint as to what this intimidating woman wanted. “That sounds good,” she mumbled with a nod.
“One pomegranate lemonade for the young lady, Ted. Leave out the vodka.” Mrs. Carson smiled again, as if legal drinking age was a source of endless amusement. “You can sit on that couch there.” She indicated a plush purple sofa. “Sit on the far left.”
Afraid to ask whether Mrs. Carson meant her own left or the left from the perspective of sitting on the couch, Stacy took the former, and the woman nodded and took another sip of her drink. Stacy noticed that it was the same burgundy as the woman’s hair. She lifted one long finger and pointed to the floor beside her. “Duke, to me!”
The grey melting dog bounded into the room and sat at attention beside Mrs. Carson. She pet the dog and sipped her burgundy drink, studying Stacy in silence.
Stacy became uncomfortable after a moment of this. “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Carson. Ethan-“
“I asked Julia to call me Mrs. Carson, but she’s not here anymore. Please call me Mary.”
Stacy’s head spun. “Uh, Julia.”
“Somehow little Ethan got in his head that he should date Frank Sable’s daughter. Did you know they built a parking deck to keep all their luxury cars? We are a one-Tesla-per-person family. That is how you show class. Wealth and class are two very different things, Estacia Torres.”
“Of course.” Stacy agreed, feeling the blood rushing to her face. She definitely didn’t have wealth and she had no idea how to know if she had class. “Um, I’m really hungry. Is the food ready yet?”
“It can be. Ted!”
A voice came from the other room. “Yes, honey?”
“Put out the salad now. We’ll make this a multi-course meal.”
“Where do I sit?” Stacy asked when she saw the twelve-person dining room table.
“To the left of Little Ethan. Ethan, would you pull out Stacy’s chair for her?”
Ethan stepped out of the kitchen and pulled out a chair for Stacy. “You abandoned me with your mom,” Stacy hissed.
Ethan looked pained. “Sorry. She gave me specific instructions to do so. I hope she didn’t torture you too much.”
“I’m fine. Actually she just wanted to talk about Julia.”
Ethan’s eyes widened, and he stared daggers at his impassive mother. Mr. Stowe, whom Stacy would continue to refer to as such until he asked her to do otherwise, set sumptuous caprese salads before them. He was strikingly handsome for an old man. He looked like Ethan, actually, but with grey-black hair instead of Ethan’s brown. He set the pomegranate lemonade by Stacy’s salad. She took a sip, and gasped as the tart flavor filled her mouth.
The Caprese salad also spared no sensation. She could swear it had a whole avocado in it, and the cheese was soft and cool on her tongue. All thought left her as the meal consumed her.
“Do you like it?” Ted asked with a broad grin.
“Of course she likes it, Ted, let her eat.”
Blas smelled the next courses wafting from the kitchen. Salt, fat, and meat. He started salivating, and he followed the other dogs when they left the room. There wasn’t any food, though. Just white tiles everywhere, and strange flowery smells. The other dogs weren’t looking for food, even. They had just filed into this room to sit next to the wall. This was bizarre, but Blas understood there was no food involved. He turned around to go see if Stacy would give him food, but the door had closed behind him.
“You must be Blas,” said a man’s voice, and a muzzle-harness combo snapped over Blas’s face before he could resist. “You be a good boy.”
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