~*~I was so unused to hearing the merry tinkle of the bell that I nearly jumped out of my skin. Mother seemed to have a similar reaction as me because the next thing I heard was her gasping:

"A costumer!"~*~

Chapter 7: Familiar Presence

I looked up to see a man standing in the door of the shop with a wary look in his dark eyes. My attention was immediately drawn from those seemingly soulless, black pits and onto his hair. It was a messy mane almost as dark as his eyes with a shocking bolt of white running through it. He seemed alarmed by Mother's delight and was turning to go when Mother, panicked at the thought of losing the first costumer in weeks, called out to him.

"Wait! What's yer rush? What's yer hurry?" She quickly stabbed her knife into the cutting board and made her way around the counter while wiping flour onto her dress. "You gave me such a fright. I thought you was a ghost. 'Alf a minute, can'tcher sit? Sit ye down! Sit!"

Along with her order, she literally forced him to sit down on the cushion of a booth. This made me jiggle slightly with silent laughter; Mother was clearly desperate to sell that man a pie!

"All I meant is that I

Haven't seen a costumer for weeks.

Did you come here for a pie, sir?"

By then, Mother had made her way back over to the counter and began searching for a pie to give the man.

"Do forgive me if me head's a little vague—

What was that?"

She picked up an insect, threw it on the ground, and proceeding to end it's life with a well-placed stomp.

"But you'd think we'd have the plague

From the way that people keep avoiding—

No you don't!"

Another bug had its life ended with a smack of the hand.

"Heaven knows I try, sir!

But there's no one comes in even to inhale!"

She picked up one of the stale pies, plopped it on a plate, and blew of the dust that had settled on the crust.

"Right you are, sir. Would you like a drop of ale?"

When he nodded, I went to go pour him a tankard. Lord knows he would need it if he actually ate the pie. As I filled the tankard, Mother continued on:

"Mind you, I can hardly blame them.

These are probably the worst pies in London.

I know why nobody cares to take them—

I should know,

I make them.

But good? No!

The worst pies in London—

Even that's polite.

The worst pies in London—

If you doubt it, take a bite."

If I had had properly functioning vocal cords, I would have screamed in protest as the man brought the molding pie to his lips. He bit into the crust and froze. Mother and I both gave him a look of pity. He turned his head and spat out the revolting morsel onto the floor. 'Well, we all know who will be cleaning that up!' I thought, coming forward to bring the man his ale.

"Is that just disgusting?

You have to concede it.

It's nothing but crusting—

Here, drink that, you'll need it—

The worst pies in London."

Suddenly Mother became slightly angry and took out her frustrations on a lump of dough.

"And no wonder with the price of meat!

What it is—

When you get it.

Never thought I'd live to see the day.

Men'd think it was a treat

Finding poor animals.

Wot are dying in the street.

Mrs. Mooney has a pie shop,

Does a business, but I noticed something weird—

Lately all her neighbors' cats have disappeared.

Have to hand it to her—

Wot I calls enterprise,

Popping pussies into pies."

Mother wasn't lying about Mrs. Mooney. One night, we had both witnessed her coming from the alley between her one of her neighbor's buildings carrying a wiggling sack into her shop.

"Wouldn't do in my shop!

Just the thought of it's enough to make you sick.

And I'm telling you them pussy cats is quick."

I shot a glare at her as she leaned against the counter. She knew I hated the fact that she had tried Mrs. Mooney's method; I happened to like cats! I looked down at the stranger's pie and almost retched at the sight of a cockroach scurrying out of it.

"No denying times is hard, sir—Even harder than

The worst pies in London.

Only lard and nothing more—

Is that just revolting?

All greasy and gritty,

It looks like it's molting,

And tastes like—

Well pity

A woman and girl alone

With limited wind

And the worst pies in London.

Ah, sir, times is hard.

Times is hard."

To accentuate her point, she lifted her rolling pin and smashed another cockroach. The poor man was trying to wash out the taste of Mother's pie by gargling his ale. "Trust me, dearie, it's going to take more than ale to wash that taste out," Mother stated, giving him a sympathetic look, "Come with me and we'll get you a nice tumbler of gin. Come along, Kelsie."

Dutifully, I followed them into the parlor. I took a seat on my usual chair, the man stood in the doorway, and Mother went to fetch him some gin. "Isn't this homey now?" she asked happily as she prepared the drink, "Me cheery wallpaper was a real bargain too, it being only partly singed when the chapel burnt down…"

My eyes widened at the revelation. She hadn't told me the wallpaper had come from a burnt down chapel. Of course, that did explain the faint scorch marks that could be seen on closer inspection… Mother gave the man his gin, which he immediately gulped down to finally rid himself of the foul taste that lingered in his mouth. Mother gently took him by the arm and led him over to the sofa. "There's a good boy, now you sit down and warm your bones, you look chilled through."

He obeyed Mother's order and took a seat while she sat down next to him. Finally, the man spoke for the first time since entering our shop and home. "Isn't that a room over the shop? If times are so hard, why don't you rent it out?"

As Mother gazed up at the ceiling in thought, I gave the man a curious look. 'Why does his voice sound so familiar?' I wondered.

"Up there? Oh, no one will go near it…" Mother stated, turning back to our guest, "People think it's haunted."

"Haunted?" the man asked, looking slightly curious.

"And who's to say they're wrong? You see, years ago, something happened up there. Something not very nice…"

I knew then that it was time to prepare to hear the tragic tale of Benjamin Barker, the barber, and his wife, Lucy. Mother had once told me the story not long after I started living with her and it had caused my heart to ache in sympathy for the Barker's.

"There was a barber and his wife,

And he was beautiful,

A proper artist with a knife,

But they transported him for life.

And he was beautiful..."

Mother was gazing intensely at the man next to her. It was almost like she knew something about him. "Barker, his name was—Benjamin Barker," she told him, monitoring his reaction closely.

"What was his crime?" he inquired.

"Foolishness," Mother replied, a sharp edge in her tone.

"He had this wife, you see,

Pretty little thing,

Silly little nit

Had her chance for the moon on a string-

Poor thing. Poor thing.

There was this Judge, you see,

Wanted her like mad,

Every day he'd send her a flower,

But did she come down from her tower?

Sat up there and sobbed by the hour,

Poor fool.

Ah, but there was worse yet to come,

Poor thing."

Although Mother intended to sound sorry for Mr. Barker's wife, I could help but notice the slight bitterness her voice held as she spoke of her. I had always wondered if there had been some bad blood between the two of them but never had the courage to ask in fear of angering her.

"The Beadle calls on her, all polite,

Poor thing, poor thing.

The Judge, he tells her, is all contrite,

He blames himself for her dreadful plight

She must come straight to his house tonight!

Poor thing, poor thing.

Of course, when she goes there,

Poor thing, poor thing,

They're having this ball all in masks.

There's no one she knows there,

Poor dear, poor thing,

She wanders tormented, and drinks,

Poor thing.

The Judge has repented, she thinks,

Poor thing.

"Oh, where is Judge Turpin?" she asks.

He was there, all right-

Only not so contrite!

She wasn't no match for such craft, you see,

And everyone thought it so droll.

They figured she had to be daft, you see,

So all of 'em stood there and laughed, you see,

Poor soul!

Poor thing!"

"NOOOOOO!"

The man's animalistic howl and sudden jump from the couch caused what should have been a shriek to escape me. Instead, all that issued from my mouth was a strange, strangled noise that triggered a coughing fit. Mother came to my side to gently pat me on the back as my hand flew to cover my mouth to muffle my hacking. "Would no one have mercy on her?" the man asked, choosing to ignore me.

Although Mother was rubbing my back comfortingly, all her attention was focused on the man before us. "So it is you—Benjamin Barker!" she gasped.

My fit ended and I was slightly panting as I caught my breath. As I sucked in sweet oxygen, I stared in shock at the man Mother revealed to be Benjamin Barker. Mother had raved how sweet and gentle Benjamin Barker had been, but I could feel nothing except a dark aura emitting from the man staring into the fire. Time changes people; especially those who have been wronged as much as he had. "Where's Lucy?" he asked in a broken whisper, "Where's my wife?"

"She poisoned herself," Mother admitted after a moment of hesitation, "Arsenic…from the apothecary around the corner. I tried to stop her, but she wouldn't listen to me…and he's got your daughter."

"He?" Mr. Barker whispered in disbelief, "Judge Turpin?"

"Adopted her like his own."

There was a pause as Mr. Barker absorbed all this shocking information. "Fifteen years sweating in a living hell on a false charge," he began, shedding his leather jacket and throwing it on the floor, "Fifteen years dreaming that I might come home to a loving wife and child."

"Well, I can't say the years have been particularly kind to you, Mr. Barker," Mother said, rising from her perch on the armrest next to me.

"No!" Mr. Barker growled, whipping around to face us, "Not Barker. That man is dead. It's Todd now. Sweeney Todd…and he will have his revenge."

The air became thick as a heavy tension descended upon us all. A shudder rippled through me despite the warm fire crackling in the grate a few feet away from me. Mother decided to make the intense uneasiness dissipate by getting the idea to show Mr. Todd up to his former shop and home. "Come on, Kelsie," Mother said, turning her focus onto me for a moment, "There's no reason for you to watch the shop."

I followed the two upstairs into a place that hadn't been touched in over a decade. Sheets covered the furniture in weak attempt to preserve. Flowers of various types sat shriveled in an assortment of vases. The once brightly colored wallpaper had drastically dulled and was beginning to peel from the walls. To top it off, a thick layer of dust covered every exposed surface in the room. What once could have been happy home was now only dark, empty shell of what it once was. Suddenly, a wave of dizziness crashed over me. I stumbled and grabbed a hold of the vanity that was pushed up against the wall. I clenched my eyes shut and took deep breaths. Suddenly, an image surfaced in my mind.

She spun, jumped, and leapt around the room making up a routine as she went along. She became so absorbed in dancing she didn't notice the barber turn to watch her. She paused and gasped when she saw that the barber was watching her. 'Well, if this isn't embarrassing then I don't know what is,' she thought, bowing her head while a familiar blush flared up on her cheeks.

I grabbed my head and forced my eyes open. 'What was that?' I thought, gazing at my pale face in the vanity mirror.

"Nothing to be afraid of, love."

I turned around and saw Mother trying to coax Mr. Todd into the barber's shop. He slowly made his way in and began to inspect his old home. As Mother began searching for something, Mr. Todd walked over to the baby crib. He lifted the sheet and gazed into it with a look of longing. He carefully replaced the sheet and walked over to the large window that Mother had kneeled down in front of. No longer plagued by dizziness, I also made my way over. She pried open a loose floorboard and pulled out a box wrapped in velvet. "When they came for the girl, I hid 'em," she explained, carefully removing the velvet.

She handed the box to Mr. Todd who opened it. We all peered inside to see that it contained what had to have been the most beautiful set of razors in all of London. Mr. Todd ran his hand over the blades, as if he was caressing a lover he had not seen in years. "Those handles is chased silver, ain't they?" Mother inquired.

"Silver, yes…" Mr. Todd replied distractedly.

Gently, like handling a newborn child, Mr. Todd lifted one of the razors from its resting place while sitting the others on the ground beside him.

"These are my friends,

See how they glisten.

See this one shine,

How he smiles in the light.

My friend, my faithful friend."

When the blade flicked open and glinted dangerously in the fading sunlight, a warm, tingling sensation erupted on my collarbone. I clasped my hand on the spot, attempting to stop the strange sensation.

"Speak to me friend,

Whisper, I'll listen.

I know, I know-

You've been locked out of sight

All these years-

Like me, my friend.

Well, I've come home

To find you waiting.

Home,

And we're together,

And we'll do wonders,

Won't we?"

The sensation dulled but was still there as I pulled my hand away to inspect the spot. The 'T' shaped scar on my collarbone seemed to be the source of tingles. 'That's strange,' I thought, gently prodding the faint mark.

"T for Todd," she muttered, putting her book back in the nightstand drawer, "I've been branded."

I quickly shook my head to rid myself of whatever strange tricks my mind was trying to play on me. To distract myself, I turned my focus back on to Mr. Todd who had flicked open another razor. Mother, who seemed entranced, also joined in.

"You there, my friend,

Come, let me hold you.

Now, with a sigh

You grow warm

In my hand,

My friend,

My clever friend."

"I'm your friend too, Mr. Todd.

If you only knew, Mr. Todd-

Ooh, Mr. Todd,

You're warm

In my hand.

You've come home.

Always had a fondness for you,

I did."

"Rest now, my friends.

Soon I'll unfold you.

Soon you'll know splendors

You never have dreamed

All your days—

"Never you fear, Mr. Todd,

You can move in here, Mr. Todd.

Splendors you never have dreamed

All your days

Will be yours."

My lucky friends."

"I'm your friend.

And you're mine."

"Till now your shine—"Don't they shine beautiful?"

-Was merely silver."

"Silver's good enough for me,

Mr. T..."

"Friends,

You shall drip rubies,

You'll soon drip precious

Rubies..."

By the end of it all, Mr. Todd was gazing lovingly at his razor, Mother was gazing at him in completeadoration, and I was feeling much like an unwanted bystander. Mr. Todd tore his gaze away from his razor and seemed to realize just how close Mother had gotten to him. "Leave me," he ordered.

Looking dejected, Mother stood and made her way towards the door. Not wanting to be alone with the strange man, I was quick to follow. I entered the shop and found Mother chopping up some vegetables for dinner with a deep frown on her face. Knowing that she didn't want to be disturbed, I went into the parlor and began to read, as childish as it sounds, Beauty and the Beast. I had always loved fairytales but that didn't mean I was no stranger to higher forms of literature, such as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. Even though Beauty and the Beast could always distract me, it just wasn't performing it's usual magic on me that day. My eyes would be running over the words and my hand would turn the page, but my thoughts remained solely focused on the strange hallucination-type things I had been having since Mr. Todd arrived. 'Not only am I having hallucinations,' I thought, turning another page, 'He seems so familiar. It's like I've met him somewhere before…'

Dinner finally came around, and Mother and I took our usual spots at the booth. We spooned vegetable soup into our mouths in a strange silence. Well, silence wasn't strange coming from me per say, but Mother would usual talk and I would write responses out on my pad. Suddenly, a thought struck me and I scribbled down on my paper, 'Won't Mr. Todd be joining us?'

"Not tonight, love."

'Would you like me to take a bowl up to him?'

"That won't be necessary, dearie. I was planning to take him one after I'm done."

'Well, why not just let me do it? I'm almost finished, and you've got more than half your bowl to go.'

"Kelsie, he doesn't know of your condition yet. He would probably think it was rude if you didn't say anything to him."

'Well, I can write him a note explaining it. Well, I doubt he'd mind much if I didn't speak anyway. He doesn't seem like the social type.'

"NO!"

I flinched as Mother banged on the table with her fist. I almost cringed again when I looked into her eyes and saw a cold fury. She stood up, whisked both our bowls away, and all but threw them onto the counter to be cleaned. She turned her glaring gaze back onto me, but her expression softened when she noted the slight fear my own eyes held. She closed her eyes and heaved a great sigh. She approached me and lovingly brushed her hand across my cheek and into my hair. "I'm sorry, Kelsie," she said, running her fingers through my hair, "It's just that I'm a little stressed out about having Mr. Todd here. He's not the Benjamin Barker I once knew. I don't know what to expect from him, and it's putting me on edge. I just don't want you to be alone with him yet; not until I'm sure he's not going to be a threat to you. Do you understand?"

I nodded.

"That's my sweet girl. Now, go get some rest; it's been a long day for the both of us."

I nodded again before collecting my paper and pencil and heading to my bedroom. I changed into a nightgown, laid down in my bed, and was asleep before I even hit the pillow.

AN: Hope you enjoyed the chapter! Don't forget to review!