[Prompt: “The butler did it.” ]
A mere dinner party remained between Mark and joining the elite ranks of society. Tonight he would meet Sarah’s parents for the first time, which just happened to coincide with the calculated timing of his proposal to their daughter, who happened to be the only heir of their immense wealth.
Of course none of this was an actual coincidence. Mark had been working toward this day for nearly a year, going to great (and sometimes questionable) lengths to gain Sarah’s admiration. In the process Mark had lost the few acquaintances that could stand his narcissistic tendencies and emotional indifference; it hadn’t been much of a loss for either party involved.
Mark was intelligent, good looking, and always dressed smart. Other men often found themselves aspiring to replicate his look, confidence and cool demeanor. But unknown to most that he met, Mark was a special type of monster. Although he didn’t exude any telling behavior, his heart was as cold as a frostbitten appendage.
His childhood had been marred by his parent’s divorce, and his emotional development severed by neglect. So as life dealt Mark bad hands, he spun his web of deceit and entangled others to trap for his advantage. Using them for his own gain had become second nature.
Performance was Mark’s secret weapon. From a young age, he’d practiced the necessary actions to bend his separated parents to his will. He’d even become adept at manipulating them against one another when it suited him. His puppet mastery was incomparable because Mark could compartmentalize his feelings, nearly erasing them when stuffed into a deep enough recess of his mind.
Mark consider Act 1: Childhood the weakest drama of his life’s work so far. It had been a struggle for him to find balance between his insensitivity and the expectations from those around him. He’d never had a close friend or a pet he cared for, two milestones he would realize in later years were normalcy for the majority of people.
Act 2: Entering Adulthood had been a surprisingly successful comedy, albeit dark. By this period in his life Mark had mastered his manipulation tactics and explored everything from testing other’s loyalty limitations to how quickly he could seduce a woman he had just met. Every interaction was a well planned scene, each line layered with meaning. Mark’s dark eyes and mysterious demeanor drew others to him, and he used them like sugar packets in a coffee shop; torn open without care, contents added to his repetoire, then discarded without a second thought.
And now, after pulling and attending countless threads, Mark found himself nearing the finally of his great tragedy, Act 3: The Love Story. He knew it was expected for him to settle down and make something of his life as he neared his 30’s, so he’d planned accordingly.
Mark didn’t want to sell insurance for the rest of his life. It was an easy gig for someone without a conscience, but it didn’t allow for the luxurious lifestyle Mark pined for. Having little ambition to work his way up in the company that employed him, he knew he’d need an alternative monetary resource. So, without an objection from his absent conscience, he’d gone through the company’s clients with the largest life insurance policies.
After much research, and actions that flirted with possible stalking, Mark had found the perfect star for his tale, Sarah Garland. The only child of Morty and Dolores Garland, a family of ample monetary resources that went back generations on both sides of the tree. Sarah was a university student, making her easy to approach and giving Mark lots of opportunities to cross her path without needed explanation beyond claiming to be a fellow student.
It had been so easy, Mark had amused himself with silently joking they were meant to be. He had spent months in the background of her favorite haunts, silently observing and crafting his character. A windy day on campus had provided the ideal entrance for him, gallantly rescuing her white scarf that had caught a rogue gust and decided to flee. Mark had proceeded to impress her with cryptic references to topics she enjoyed and disarming her hesitation with his warm smile and mysterious dark eyes. Sarah’s insistence on a cup of coffee for gratitude had resulted in their first date later the same day.
Six months had passed since then, and everything had gone smoothly. Sarah hadn’t been as easy to crack, to his surprise, but he knew he was in the home stretch after being invited to meet her parents. The importance of her parent’s opinion regarding Sarah’s choices had become apparent to Mark shortly after they began dating, and he had wormed his way to the center of her heart in order to gain audience with the couple who would seal his fate. He knew that once he was there, he could easily gain their approval, which would in turn guarantee Sarah’s acceptance of his proposal. And once he was married to Sarah, he’d have access to the Garland family’s pot of gold. Spending a few years with Sarah to strengthen their trust would be small consequence compared to the opportunities it would provide.
On his way to the Garland’s Estate, Mark stopped and purchased an expensive bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne at the Wine & Spirits Shoppe. It would be the perfect pairing for his surprise proposal, and the small investment would prove to be worth it, he was sure. The female clerk stared at him with awe like reverence as he slid his card through the reader. He never broke eye contact, even to scribble his name on the screen. Mark left her with wordless grin, she swooned as the door closed behind him.
It looked like the welcome mat had never been used. Mark stared at it with mild annoyance as he waited for the door to open. He checked to make sure the buttons were hooked on his sport coat, and then straightened the sleeve of his arm cradling the champagne. As he reached up to check his hair, the door opened, revealing Sarah.
Leaning forward she grabbed Mark’s free arm and pulled him into an embrace, “Welcome, you.” she kissed each of his cheeks and blushed slightly, she seemed uncomfortable with their physical proximity in front of her parents. Turning, she lead Mark into the foyer where her parents were waiting.
Mark reached his hand out to greet Dolores before she could utter a word, he took control of the situation with a strange grace, “Mrs Garland, it’s so nice to finally meet you. Your home is beautiful. I’ve brought you this Dom Pergnon, I hope it’s to your liking.”
“Oh yes, Mark, thank you, dear.” Dolores smiled and took the bottle from him, continuing, “Please, call me Dolores. That’s so thoughtful of you, I’ll have Bentley take it into the dining room for us.” She snapped her fingers, a young man promptly appeared at her side, offering a towel covered arm for the champagne. Dolores handed it over and Bentley nodded, leaving the foyer.
Mark turned to Morty, charming smile and playful tone, “Mr. Garland, I don’t know how you ever get attention when sharing the room with the two most beautiful women in the city.” Mark winked as he shook Morty’s hand. “I am so pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Morty grinned at Mark’s remark, clearly proud. “Well thank you for noticing me, Mark. It’s the first time someone’s spoke to me this week.” Morty let out a hearty chuckle as he motioned Mark into the dining room.
The extravagant room spared no expense, fresh flowers decorated the space and ancient china watched from the grand hutches at each end of the room. The giant, crystal chandelier dominated the space, glimmering and casting small rainbows from the facets of the gems. Sarah gripped Mark’s hand in hers and lead him to one end of the table, motioning for him to sit down. Grinning, Mark took a step back and pulled the chair out, motioning for Sarah to sit. The parents beamed at his gentlemanly conduct, just as he expected.
Once seated, Bentley poured them each some ice water and the small talk commenced. Mr. and Mrs. Garland peppered Mark with questions about his job, and he skillfully replied, making his job and his position sound much more interesting and important than they actually were. Mark then took the conversation into his control, prompting Sarah to recount their first meeting, and elaborating about the enrichment courses he was studying at the same university. He painting a grand story of their meant-to-be encounter and the adventure they had been on since. Morty and Dolores were all ears, smiling and glancing approvingly at their daughter as Mark continued to stir in details and special moments.
They had moved through the main course by this time and Mark knew his opportunity was near. He cleared his throat and motioned to the butler. “Bentley, is it? Could you be so kind as to pour us each a glass of the Dom Pergnon I brought?”
Bentley glanced at Mrs. Garland, her nod allowed him to smile at Mark and reply, “Of course sir, I’ll get that right away.”
As Mark imparted another touching story he and Sarah had shared, he noticed movement out of the corner of his eye. Taking a drink of water as an excuse for pause, he was surprised to find Sarah wringing her hands in her lap, her eyes cast downwards. This didn’t bode well for his upcoming announcement. Returning to his story, he reached over with one arm and slid it around Sarah’s shoulders, prompting her returned attention and a small smile. Perhaps, he thought, he had chosen the wrong story to share. He was happy for Bentley’s return as he shifted the focus to the champagne.
“Garland Family, I would like to invite you all to join me in a toast after this next story I have to share with you. Bentley, can you pour us all a drink?”
Bentley nodded, but he seemed nervous. As he tipped the bottle to Mr. Garland’s glass, the neck knocked against it, chiming. Bentley’s hands were shaking and he could barely concentrate on the task in front of him.
“Bentley, my good boy, are you well?” Mr. Garland raised his eyebrow as he watched the fumbling butler.
“S-sir, yes, I’m fine. Please f-forgive my hands. They seem to b-be getting away from me.” Bentley managed a weak smile as he finished pouring for Morty and moved on to Dolores.
Mr. Garland began to huff but calmed at the look Dolores shot him, she was determined to have a dinner without any incident. The glass sang out as Bentley moved to pour for Mark, and the table waited in silence as the butler did his work. But once Mark’s glass was full, Bentley stepped back from the table, sweat apparent on his brow.
“Bentley, you’ve forgotten Sarah.” Dolores objected.
Mark glanced at Sarah, her face was in her hands and she appeared to be shaking. He looked back to Morty and Dolores, thoroughly confused.
“M-ma’am, it’s my understanding that p-pregnant women shouldn’t partake in alcohol…” he trailed off, the look from Dolores silencing him.
But the look Bentley received for only a mere moment was nothing compared to the rage filled looks that were immediately directed at Mark. Mark gaped at Mr. and Mrs. Garland, completely caught off guard. For once in his life, he was experiencing a scenario that he had never planned for. His mind grasped for words as he tried to pinpoint when this revelation could have happened.
“I-I.. er…” he managed, stupidly.
Morty’s fist struck the table, the resulting sound forcing Sarah to look up. Tears streamed down her face, mascara running along the paths, her words bubbled out of her pitiful sobs. “It wasn’t Mark…the butler did it!”