Fast Forward- 6 Months Later
It has been six months since Stephen resigned his position at Grace Brothers. No one has heard from him. Betty had glanced at his flat on her way to and from work and had not seen any activity. In the evenings when she returned from work, it would be dark and quiet. She wondered if he still lived there.
It was Friday. Betty was busy doing housework. There came a knock at the door. She switched off the vacuum and opened the front door. She screwed her face into a frown.
"What do you want?" she snapped.
"Go back in. I am going to knock again. You answer the door like you've never met me before," said Stephen expectantly.
She went back in and closed the door.
"I should just go back to napping the rug…" she thought to herself.
He knocked again, checking his reflection in the window.
She opened the door, "Yes? May I help you?" she asked in her posh voice.
"Good afternoon. My name is Stephen Peacock," he tipped his hat, "I live a few doors down in Number 5. I've seen you around. I was wondering if I could call on you sometime."
He scratched his chin nervously. He looked at her hopefully, yet braced himself for rejection.
"I must tell you up front, I'm not in the market for a married man…" she said sternly.
"Good, because I am recently divorced," he stated, "What is your name?"
"Where do you work, Betty Slocombe?" He searched her face.
"Grace Brothers. And you?"
"Woodward and Lothrop. What do you do at Grace Brothers?" he cocked his head slightly..
"I'm Senior Saleswoman, Ladies' Intimate Apparel. You?"
This exchange seemed rather redundant; he knew where she worked, but he wanted a clean slate.
"I work in the stockroom," he admitted.
"Manager?" her eyebrows raised.
"No. Sweeping. Packing and Maintenance," he said humbly, "Your Young Mr. Grace was very instrumental in securing this position for me." He looked down.
"I don't know whether that's good or bad," she mused.
"I'm happy to have a job at all. He could have called round and had me blacklisted. I've been told I'm a good cook; perhaps you'd like to join me for dinner sometime? May I have your phone number, Betty Slocombe? I would like to call on you sometime…if that's alright," he asked in anticipation.
"So, you're asking me out?"
"Like on a date?"
"Yes," he nodded.
"That would be nice; I'd like that," she smiled.
He handed her his famous little black notebook and a pen. She wrote her number down for him, even though he knew it by heart and she had not changed it.
"I have to ask you…"she started, smiling impishly, "on your first day…did they…you know…"
"Oh, yes, they did!" his face reddened, "It was most humiliating! I showed up for work dressed as I did at Grace Brothers. I didn't know what job I would be doing. The shop steward was handing me my smock and work trousers and a voucher for a pair of work shoes. Someone came up behind me and wrenched my trousers down hard! They got my boxers and my braces snapped; the whole lot was down around my ankles! There I was, exposed before the whole warehouse!"
Her face blanched, "Oh, my! You poor man!"
She laughed, as did he for the first time in a long time.
Her expression turned serious, "Did she really have the pictures she threatened you with?"
Stephen's lips were thin and tight, his eyebrows raised and he nodded,"Oh, yes. The ones of us at the launderette were very incriminating." He smiled proudly.
"You were sitting on the washer, skirt hiked, I was standing between your legs. I had my hands on your thighs, and you had slid my braces down…" he smiled wryly.
"Oh! I remember that night! It was raining and you took off your jacket and waistcoat," she rolled her eyes and let out a long exhale through pursed lips, "Another five minutes on that wash cycle and that picture wouldn't have just been incriminating, it would have been evidence!" She chuckled devilishly, raising one eyebrow.
Stephen reached into his jacket and took out his wallet. He opened it, retrieved the picture, and handed it to Betty. Her face flushed and she gasped, wide-eyed. That was indeed a hot picture. The edges were frayed a bit.
"It looks well-worn," she quipped.
"Well-loved," he replied, his eyes were intense.
"Oh! I'd like a stack of those to send out with my Christmas cards!"
"She had so many pictures you could have made a flip book!" he chuckled.
" I wonder how they took the pictures without us noticing."
"We did have our eyes closed and we were…distracted…it wouldn't have been too difficult."
"But the windows in the launderette were all fogged up!"
She handed the picture back to him and he replaced it in his wallet.
Betty took his hands in hers. His palms were rough and callused. Embarrassed, he pulled them back, curling them into fists. He sucked his cheeks in and looked down. She reached for his hands again. She took one closed hand and opened it, brought it up, and pressed her lips into the palm.
"There's no shame in hard work, Stephen. And you did get dressed smart to come talk to me," she smiled warmly, eyes shining, "Come inside; I'll make you a nice cup of tea."
"I'd like that. Thank you."