Leathery skins

“Ugh, pesky tail. You make putting on bloomers unnecessarily difficult!”

“Any chance you want me helping with that one?”

“Wh…?! I, um, can do this by myself, thank you! What are you doing here!”

“This is the dressing room. Was going to grab my gloves before working on the roof, need to replace rooflights. Then I saw you struggling with your, underpants.”

Candice stays quiet, completely still, her tail awkwardly sticking out. She’s halfway through her maid uniform, still missing her lace headdress and tights. “…Please, look away. This is so embarrassing,” she not so much requests as whimpers. The impossible softness of her raspy voice reminds me of the bigger picture, of the fact I walked in on her changing and offered to… help with that. A great deep red broadcasts on my face and I swivel around like a weather vane at wind force 12. The sounds of fabric and frustration poke my ears from behind and it makes me want to turn around again.

Everything about Candice fascinates me – ever since I’ve started working here, I’ve been trying to sneak as many looks in as I could. Her sand-coloured skin, the pink nail polish on her claws, the way her red scales outline her face… This one time while I was cleaning windows, I saw her cleaning the master’s study, a waltz crooning from an old gramophone, and she kept doing these twirls, ‘pirhouettes’ I think the word is? The frills of her dress extended and her tail waving like a conductor’s baton in perfect sync to the fancy music, tip-toeing on her big scaley feet. She’s so… CUTE! I HATE IT!!!

“You can turn around again.” I do. “Sorry about that…”

“Nah, I should be saying sorry. I kept on staring at you like some fancy painting, after all.”

She covers her mouth with a hand, breaking eye contact. “I don’t mind.”

“WELL,” I pluck at my overalls. “Time for work. Good luck cleaning, I’ll be on the roof if you need me!”

“A word.”

Armand is calling; he always does this when it’s time for a break. Pristine young man he is, barely 18, doesn’t want me working too hard; there’s worse masters to work for. “Time for my break?” “Yes, actually,” his voice cracks and he coughs into his gloved hand real fast to try and cover it up. “But I also wanted to impart some advice.” I let out a heh, I’m one and a half times his age and served almost as many years, so for him to give me advice is cute. I hop off the roof and zip open my overalls – it is hot out. “So?” He hestitantly pats some sawdust off my arm and hands me a towel. “Just that you’ll have to look a lot less slovenly to win her over.” I freeze, zipping my clothes back up. “That obvious, huh? Isn’t against the rules, is it?” “Not really. I met my boyfriend here, too. The butler?” “You and Antoin? Huh. That’s nice, way to go.” He blushes and fidgets with his gloves. “Ahem. This is about you. Just wanted you to know that you should follow your heart but should also take a bath.” “You oughta give me less dirty tasks, then.” “No can do. You’re indispensible,” he brights a full-teethed ivory smile.

“She’s in the study right now. Stop walking around with your heart full of leads and talk to her. Good luck~.”

“Oh hello,” Candice beams with smiles, “are you finished with work already?”

“Nah, I’m here ‘cause Armand sent me on another task.”

“Armand…? Oh, the master of the house. You’re always so congenial with everyone! And… you’re always so nice to me. Even though I don’t fit in well with the other staff.” The motion she makes with her tail and how she clutches her duster is nothing short of a tragedy.

“What makes you say that?”

I know what did – I just wanted to hear her say it. But instead of the expected ‘I’m not human’, she makes an annoyed wave of a gesture – like a tsunami – at the scales on her neck and face.

I close the distance between us with a winter march. “Listen, Candice. I think, that’s really great.” She bats her tall eyelashes at me. “What is?” “I THINK YOUR TAIL AND OTHER STUFF IS CUTE.”

“My… other stuff…?”

I don’t know why I yelled that, I don’t know what to call this silence, I don’t know what to expect. I take a look at myself and Armand’s words ring through my head like nearby artillery, specifically the ‘less slovenly’ part. “I’m sorry. You’re so pretty and beautiful. Then I’m like this and I’m real sorry, Candice.” That’s all I can muster to utter.

I feel leathery hand stroke my cheek. “I would wipe your tears away, but I would poke out your eye.”

“Heh. Hehe. Ehehehe. Okay, that’s funny.”

“I think you’re very cute, too. I love how you look in overalls and that grime on your face is, well, it’s quite like make-up, isn’t it? You’re also very, strong, and, um, muscular. And I wouldn’t mind you helping me with my bloomers……..”

“Are you blushing?”

“A bit…” She shakes her head, retrieving her hand from my face. “It’s just. My skin is mostly scales and feels very leathery. Are you sure about this?” I take off a glove: my turn to stroke her cheek.

“You feel this hand? It’s rough and calloused so I think I can handle you. Besides… touching you is a risk I’d like to take.”

Candice suddenly drops her duster, because of heavily implied reasons.

 

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