“But everybody knows, dear,” she said, patting my arm vigorously. “He must be looking to get married! Let me see if I can introduce him to you, shall I? It would be brilliant. Oh, just brilliant! Imagine, at least one of my children settled and well – surely he must be impressed by either you or Molly, you know, depending on his…preferences, I suppose, and it should work since after all you two are the oldest and probably closest to him in age, and yes, perhaps we can ask them in to have dinner with us someday – your father must be good for something, that at least—”
I sighed loudly and closed my eyes, hoping that that would drown out my mother’s voice. It didn’t.
“Perhaps we should all calm down a bit,” my father said, looking over the top of the newspaper he was reading. “After all, we don’t even know if he’s actually taking that house – those were just the rumours you heard, yes? For all we know, it could be just that – a rumour.”
My mother waved away these inconsequential details with a sweep of her hand. “Come on, dear,” she said. “No one of his means would even inquire about a house he did not plan to rent. He’s not just anybody, after all, he’s Mr.—”
Wait. Sorry – I seem to have jumped right into the middle of things, and you’re probably quite confused at this point, so let me introduce myself and my family first, yeah? The speakers you just heard were my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Watson, and they – well, my mum, at least – are determined to have me married off by the summer. Which, considering that it’s February right now, would be quite an achievement – especially since I have no plans of helping them on their quest. But we’ll get to that later.
Anyway, we’re what you might call a typical middle-class London family. Five children, though, and in this economy you can probably tell it puts a little bit of a strain on our family budget. I have an elder sister, Molly, and three younger sisters – in order, Sarah, Cathy, and Harry (short for Harriet). If you’re thinking it must’ve been hell growing up as one of two men in a household of seven people, you’re right. I try to avoid thinking about it – the sequins, the frills, the fluffy clothes, and most of all, the pink – it all makes me shudder.
I love my sisters to death, though, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything – well, maybe Harry. Okay okay, Harry, if you’re reading this, I’m only joking. Jesus. My older sister Molly is the sweetest person you have ever met, I guarantee that. She’s soft-spoken and the nicest, most optimistic person I know, and my mother is terrified this means she’ll never get married. Sarah is the studious type – very much into her studies and couldn’t care less about boys – and Cathy and Harry are quite the opposite. Sometimes I wonder if they even know how to read, but then I remember their magazine subscriptions – my laptop is perched on a stack of Vogues as we speak.
Anyway, that should give you a better understanding of the characters involved. Now you’re all caught up, so I suppose I should finish the scene.
Oh! In all this talk, I forgot to introduce the most important character of all - me! I’m only joking, of course. You’ll meet someone who thinks they’re the most important character in everybody’s life soon, though, that arrogant git. But I digress.
I’m John Watson, and this is my story.
Where was I? Oh, right. Mum was ecstatic at the thought of Mr. Lestrade – for that was his name, I gathered – coming to live near us. I say near us a bit loosely, of course, but my mother would have none of such negative talk.
It seemed that Mr. Lestrade was the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Crime with the Met, and it was clear that the reason why my mother was so excited was that she had found out somehow that he was well off (or at least in a much better financial position than us, anyway).
“I do say, dear!” she cooed around the table at lunch. “Scotland Yard! What a catch he would be.”
“I suppose you’ve also thought about the fact that the ‘catch’ may not last very long, seeing as how officers at the Met find themselves rushing headlong into danger every day,” I replied dryly.
She gave me her best Shut up, I’m making a point look.
“He does sound rather nice, from what I’ve heard,” said Molly shyly from across the table. “I do wish either of you had met him, Mama.”
My father grinned at us from his place at the head of the table. “Why, it’s funny you should say that!” he said. “Did I mention I saw him the other day?”
I grinned back as I caught sight of my mother’s jaw slowly drop open. “I think you may have neglected to mention it,” I said.
“Neglected? Neglected?! Why, William, I swear—” My mother’s expression had gone from disbelief to anger.
“Calm down, dear,” my father replied. “I’ve invited him to dinner in the next week or so – you really should be thanking me, you know.”
The anger disappeared as quickly as it had come. “You’re lucky you did that, William,” my mother replied, shaking her head as a slow smile spread across her face. “So very lucky.”
Sadly, my mother’s blossoming plans were soon put to a quick end when Mr. Lestrade sent my father an email saying that he would be unable to make it that week due to unavoidable commitments.
“I just don’t understand why he would do that,” she said sadly as she folded the laundry.
“Come on, Mum, he was probably just busy! He’s allowed to call off dinner in the face of a pressing new case,” I replied. “Let’s just let it go for a while, and maybe he’ll contact us once he’s less busy.”
“I’ll send him another email today, maybe,” she said.
Sometimes I wonder if anyone in this household even listens to me.
Luckily for my mother, her incessant spamming of poor Mr. Lestrade’s email account finally yielded results – Mr. Lestrade told her he would definitely be attending the Merytons’ party that weekend, and since our family knew the Merytons quite well we had been planning to attend as well. My mother told Cathy and Harry quite firmly that they were not invited, and it looked like Molly and I would be going along with our parents. Great.
If anyone had caught my mother preparing Molly and me for the party, they would have thought she was an agent hoping to land us parts in the next Hollywood blockbuster.
“Keep your chin up, dear,” she said to me, tilting my head up slightly. “You already have that military air about you, and you may as well use it to best advantage – keeping your spine as straight as you do does obscure the fact that you are rather short.”
“Thanks, Mum,” I muttered.
“Now, Molly, speak up, dear! Remember to sound interested in what Mr. Lestrade says, and not to feel too upset if he decides to talk to John instead, all right? I’m not sure exactly, er, well. In any case. Just speak up, dear.”
My sister’s reply was too quiet to be heard.
Oh, this is going to be fun, I thought.
On the way to the party, my mother also found out the frankly earth-shatteringly good news (or so she portrayed it, anyway) that Mr. Lestrade would be there with a friend. A wealthy friend, apparently. I could almost see the gears turning inside my mother’s head.
“You must introduce yourselves to both of them,” she said. “I’ll introduce you if I’m there, of course, but you do have the appalling habit of simply wandering away at parties…”
I tuned her out as much as I could and turned to look out of the window of the taxi.
Finally, many more mini-advice sessions later, we were finally there. The Merytons were family friends, as I mentioned before, and so they were happy to see us – I’d grown up with their children and it was good to see Oliver Meryton after a long time. “Let me introduce you to our guests of honor, eh?” he chuckled.
“Please don’t,” I begged. “If my mother sees me so much as shaking hands with either one of them she’ll have the marriage documents drawn up immediately.”
Oliver ignored me as he walked through the crowd, and I had no option but to follow. Well, if I was going in, I wasn’t going in alone.
“Let’s go meet Mr. Lestrade and his friend, Molly!”
As it turned out, I needn’t have worried. Gregory “Call Me Greg” Lestrade was positively the nicest person I had met – apart from my older sister, of course – so they hit it off immediately. By which I mean they did their version of hitting it off, of course – they politely sat around and talked to each other gently for about an hour, and I could see visions dancing in my mother’s eyes every time she looked at them.
Both Lestrade – well, Greg – and Molly were far too nice to tell me to go away, so of course I also joined their conversation for a bit, but my mother kept making faces and “shoo!” signs at me every time she caught my eye, so I quickly excused myself and went to get a drink.
Hmm, I thought, catching sight of a tall, very handsome man with jet-black curls standing by himself in a corner, surveying the crowd like he was above such mortal pursuits or some such. I wonder who THAT is. I wasn’t the only one who had noticed him, of course – the man was attracting curious (and interested) looks from people across the room – but I could see no one was about to approach him. His manner practically screamed If you come near me, I will stab you in the face with a blunt instrument. Would it have killed him to be a bit friendlier? This was a party, for crying out loud. Surely some interaction with other living people was to be expected?
“Well, John,” I muttered to myself as I poured myself a drink. “This is what they trained you for in the army, eh? Go do it.”
I looked up, and the man was gone.
An hour of searching and several “oh hi, didn’t see you there” conversations later, I had found out the man was Sherlock Holmes, the aforementioned Greg’s friend. No one seemed to be able to tell me what it was he did for a living, but it was clearly working out for him – his clothes alone proclaimed that much. Or perhaps he had simply inherited enough money that he didn’t have to do anything for a living at all. I felt a quick stab of envy at the thought, and quashed it immediately.
I had given up and gone to pour myself another stiff one when I caught a pair of voices talking out in the hallway. They couldn’t see me, but I could hear them quite clearly. It was Greg and Sherlock.
“For Christ’s sake, Sherlock, will you stop moping around the room? People are beginning to wonder why you came to a party if you were just going to stare at them with an expression of distaste.” Good on you, Greg, I thought, hearing the strong, commanding voice. It seemed Mr. Lestrade was a man of many masks.
“Oh, come on, Lestrade, you know exactly why I’m here,” came the reply. The voice was deep and rich, and I smiled slightly. “I want in on that case, and I want Anderson out.”
“Fine, fine,” said Lestrade. “Can you just at least, I don’t know, talk to someone so that I don’t come across as a total arse by association?”
“Who do you suggest I talk to? Everyone here is dull, so impossibly dull.”
“How about John? Molly’s brother? She told me about him when we were talking—” My interest picked up quickly at the sound of my name being spoken, and I took a step closer to the door.
“Yes, Molly, I noticed that you were displaying signs of interest in her. She is not unattractive, I suppose, but she smiles too much.”
“I didn’t ask for your opinion, Sherlock. All I’m saying is, perhaps John—?”
A quick chuckle. “John, the military doctor recently returned from a tour of duty? Whose hand tremors when pouring himself a drink suggest a history of family alcoholism? Whose gaze at both me and other women at the party suggests bisexuality, and whose very slight – psychosomatic, I might add – limp suggests underlying PTSD?”
I stood for a moment in utter shock. How—?! Some of those revelations were new to me, and others Sherlock could not have possibly known about. How had he known that I was a military doctor, that I had been diagnosed with PTSD – and about my family history of alcoholism, for god’s sake?
I had tuned out for a bit, lost in my own thoughts, but came back to my senses just in time to hear this parting shot: “John Watson may seem interesting to you, Lestrade, but he is nowhere near handsome enough to tempt me.”
That arrogant, poncy git.
“How was the party, then?” asked my mother as we headed home, her curiosity evident in her tone.
“It was fun, Mama,” said Molly. I grinned at her sideways, noting her short reply, and she smiled back at me shyly.
“Well?” prompted our mother, never one to give up so easily. “Did you talk to Mr. Lestrade, then, dear?”
“I did, Mama,” said Molly. “He was extremely nice. I liked him quite a lot.”
“And he seemed to like you too!” I put in, happy to steer my mum’s attention away from me. Molly shot me a quick look of frustration – she was in for it now.
“That’s great, dear!” our mother cooed. She was practically brimming over with joy, and – just my luck – immediately turned to me.
“And you, dear? Did you speak with Mr. Holmes?”
“No, Mum,” I replied shortly. “Apparently I’m – what was it he said to Mr. Lestrade? – not ‘handsome enough’ for him.”
Mum gave me an affronted look, like that was somehow my fault. I lowered my eyes.
“It’s alright, Mama,” said Molly, stepping in. “I’m sure John will find—”
“Oh, you misunderstand me, dear! Why, I’m glad John didn’t tickle Mr. Holmes’ fancy!” our mother cried. “I quite hate him. What an arrogant young man.”
I looked up, surprised. “Yes,” I replied. “Arrogant does seem to be the word.”
“Oh, John, he is positively the nicest person I have ever met!” Molly replied, her eyes shining. “I almost can’t believe he works for Scotland Yard.”
“He seemed to be able to hold his own with Mr. Holmes all right,” I said, smiling back. Molly was quite obviously infatuated.
“I was surprised when he spoke to me for so long, to be honest,” Molly admitted.
“Were you really?” I responded. “Clearly, he couldn’t help seeing that you were about five times as pretty as every other woman in the room. Well, you’re welcome to like him. I give you my permission. Not that you need it, of course – you’ve liked many a stupider person in the past. Greg is a wonderful choice compared to them!”
“We all know you’re much too nice, Molly,” I said. “I bet you also thought Greg’s sister was just as charming as he is.”
“I know she is!” Molly responded. “She might seem a little aloof when you first meet her, but I’m sure she’ll be excellent to spend time with.”
I nodded my head absently. I wasn’t so sure. My impression of Greg’s sister at the party had been that she was slightly arrogant – it was the same vibe Sherlock Holmes gave off in abundance. “What was her name, again?” I asked. “Oh, I remember. Right. Irene.”
“Well, it certainly looked like Mr. Lestrade had his eyes set on someone!” Mrs. Donovan said, smiling at Molly.
“Oh, you mean because they spoke for such a long time, of course,” said my mother. “To be sure that did seem as if he liked her – and indeed I think he did – I heard something about it, but I can’t quite remember – something about Mrs. Robinson?” Sneaky sneaky Mum. Of course she remembered what Mrs. Robinson had told us yesterday.
“Oh, what Mr. Lestrade and Mrs. Robinson were talking about, of course!” said Mrs. Donovan, rising to the bait immediately. “Mrs. Robinson was asking Mr. Lestrade how he liked the Merytons’ party, and whether anyone caught his eye, and who he thought was the prettiest person there, and he responded with ‘Molly Watson, of course,’ almost immediately!”
“Well, I say!” said my mother, clearly satisfied with such an enthusiastic response. “That seems very promising – but I mean, it may all come to nothing in the end, of course.” There was a moment of silence as we all pondered – I assume – just how tragic it would be if Molly did not in fact end up with Greg.
Sally finally jumped into the conversation. “I also overheard something,” she said, glancing at me briefly. “Mr. Holmes is not nearly so nice as his friend, now, is he? Poor John, to be only tolerable, neither interesting nor handsome…”
I glared at Sally. We may have grown up together, but she’s always had a strong snarky streak.
“I do hope you’re not destroying my poor son’s self-esteem, dear,” said Mum. “That man is quite prideful, and I don’t care for his opinion one bit.”
“Yes, but his pride doesn’t offend me as much as pride often does,” said Mrs. Donovan. “He actually has an excuse for it! I’ve heard he has acres of land and quite a bit of wealth, and works with Scotland Yard for free, simply because he’s interested in the work. With everything in his favour, why shouldn’t he think the world of himself?”
Really, this was getting ridiculous. “Having pride in your own accomplishments is no excuse to cut everyone else down, though,” I said. “He may be smart and wealthy and successful, but I’m willing to guarantee nobody will want to put up with him if he continues to insult them so.”
“Quite right, dear,” said my mother. “He is mean and spiteful, and I can’t imagine why anyone would want to be with Sherlock Holmes.”
“So, as much as we’ve heard from your mother about Molly and Mr. Lestrade – does Molly actually like him, too?” Sally asked.
“Molly’s quite in love with Greg, I think,” I said. “It’s hard to tell, of course – Molly doesn’t really admit her feelings to anyone. I know her better than anyone else, and even so, this is purely guesswork.”
“She’d better make it clear to him that she likes him,” Sally said. “We don’t want him to think she’s not interested, after all.”
“Well, they haven’t really talked at all, though,” I argued. “How is she supposed to even know if she really likes him yet? I mean, we’ve been to his house a few times, and had meals together, but our mom always drags me along and insists on accompanying her, so it’s not like they’ve had a lot of time on their own…”
“Honestly, I think the less you know about your potential future husband, the better,” Sally said.
I gave her a questioning look. “You can’t be serious.”
“No, really! Think about it this way. Molly probably knows enough about Mr. Lestrade to know that he’s not a serial killer, or abusive, or anything of that sort. He seems perfectly normal and nice. Beyond that, I think happiness in marriage is just a matter of chance. By the time you grow old, you change and become different people than who you were when you married, anyway.”
I smiled. “There’s no way you really think that, Sally,” I said. “And I’m quite sure you won’t be following that principle when you eventually get married, either.”
Everyone was there – my entire family as well as Mr. Lestrade and his sister, Irene…and - oh, brilliant – Mr. Holmes.
The music was playing and people were dancing, but my leg was starting to play up a bit (you remember – the psychosomatic pain He Who Is An Arrogant Git mentioned earlier in the story) so I went to look for a place to sit down. There were a few chairs lined up along the edges of the room, and I settled into one with a soft sigh.
The next few minutes went by as I people-watched. Molly and Greg were dancing together and generally looking adorable. Sarah came downstairs to get a drink, looked around at what she probably thought was a ‘horrible display of the mindless nature of our modern British society’ or some such, then headed right back upstairs, probably to bury her nose in another book. Harry and one of her old flames were flirting by the lemonade. Oh dear, I thought. That never goes well. Harry can be just a little bit unstable when it comes to relationships. I looked to see if Mum was going to step in, but she was watching Molly like a hawk.
I found my attention being drawn to Mr. Holmes again – damn, but he was attractive – and I tried to watch him as surreptitiously as possible while avoiding all eye contact and making it very clear that I was not in the least interested in him. At all. His gaze passed over every aspect of every single person attending the party, and the way his blue-grey eyes seemed to look through every person – right through to who they were on the inside, if that makes any sense at all – made me involuntarily shiver.
A few minutes later, Mr. Holmes headed my way, and I nearly had a heart attack. Had he seen me staring? I heaved a very small sigh of relief as he sat down as well – carefully making sure that we were seated at opposite ends of the row of chairs. I looked as hard as I could at everything else but him, noticing that Irene seemed to be quite enamoured with everyone’s favourite antisocial being as well.
I bet myself she would join us in less than two minutes…and won.
Irene settled herself into the chair right beside that of Mr. Holmes and turned her head to speak to him. So, that’s the way the wind blows, eh? I thought.
“Oh, I do love parties, Sherlock,” she said. I rolled my eyes at no one in particular. Really? She was sharing her enjoyment of parties to the one person who looked like they would rather get run over a bus than be here? And, besides, just how well did Irene and Mr. Holmes know each other if they were on first-name terms?
Greeted by silence, she made a valiant attempt to try again. “I know exactly what you’re thinking, you know.”
Mr. Holmes’ deep voice replied this time. “I should imagine not.”
“Oh, but I do!” Irene said, clearly delighted that she had been able to draw Mr. Holmes – Sherlock? – into conversation.
“Well, then. What am I thinking about?” Sherlock asked. (It’s about at this time that I started referring to Mr. Holmes as Sherlock in my head.)
“You’re thinking about how dreadfully dull parties are, and about how people can possibly enjoy these things,” Irene replied. “Am I right?”
“No,” said Sherlock curtly.
“Oh,” said Irene. “Well—”
“I am in fact wondering how someone who looks perfectly ordinary can keep one’s attention for such a long period.”
Irene gave him a brief confused look. “Oh, Sherlock, you must tell me who the lovely lady – well, ordinary lady, I suppose – is who has inspired such a depth of feeling in you!” she said, laughing.
Deafening silence from Sherlock, of course.
“May we expect a happy announcement soon, then?” she said, laughing again. I rolled my eyes again. Even I could tell Irene was trying just a little too hard, but Sherlock seemed quite oblivious.
He listened to her with perfect indifference while she continued in this vein, and I listened with interest, hoping for clues as to this mystery person’s identity – after all, if they had held the attention of Captain Grumpy here, they must have been quite something, yeah?
Ten minutes of silence from Sherlock, and I was about ready to go home.
Molly’s phone was ringing, but she was nowhere to be seen. “Molly!” I called. “Where are you?”
No response. I looked over to see who the call was from. Irene. Interesting. After having awkwardly sat through her attempts to flirt with Sherlock at the Donovans’ (which had merited absolutely no response, I remembered rather vindictively), I was quite curious about what she might have to say. I picked up the phone.
“Hello, this is Irene. Is Molly there?”
“She isn’t, I’m afraid – I can take a message, though,” I replied.
“Well,” she said, “I was going to ask if Molly wanted to come over for dinner. Greg and I were going to make pasta, and Greg mentioned he hadn’t seen her in a while, and, well…” she trailed off, letting me fill in the rest.
Well! I thought. I hadn’t quite been expecting Irene to condone Greg and Molly, let alone help it along. Just showed what they said about not judging a book by its cover.
“I’m sure she’d love to,” I replied. I knew Molly hadn’t got anything planned, and she would be thrilled to see Greg again.
“Excellent, we’ll expect her at 7:30, then, shall we?”
“Yeah,” I replied.
“I suppose you can come too, if you like,” Irene said, almost as an afterthought.
“Thanks, but I can’t make it anyway, I’ve got something in the evening,” I replied.
“That worked out, then. Great,” she said, and hung up the phone without another word.
Great? Great? I could feel my newly-minted positive attitude towards Irene melting away. Some covers represent their books quite well, I thought.
About an hour after Molly left, my mother called me to the bathroom to check on a leak. “Look at that, dear!” she said. “It’s clearly mould, we’ll have to call in an exterminator soon.”
I looked dubiously at the spot where she was pointing. It looked fairly normal to me, and I told her so.
“Oh, you’ve got no idea how terrible this is!” she cried back in response. “Mould is not to be trifled with!”
Usually, at this point in my conversations with my mother, my strategy was to just back away slowly and hope for the best. Where was my father, anyway? Dealing with my mum’s nervous breakdowns over non-existent things was his job. “We’ll call someone tomorrow, shall we?” I said, in the most placating voice I could.
“Yes, dear, but what about Molly?” she asked.
“What about her?” I asked back.
“You know she’s deathly allergic to mould, dear,” she said. “We cannot under any circumstances allow her back into the house until it’s all gone!”
I tried to convince myself I was just imagining the twinkle in my mum’s eyes as she said that. Surely this whole thing wasn’t a contrived way to make Molly stay over at Greg’s? “She’ll be fine, Mum,” I said. “She can come back. And besides, where would she stay the night, anyway?”
“Oh, nonsense, dear,” my mother replied. “At Greg’s, of course.”
I followed her silently out of the room, at a loss for words.
After my mum hung up the phone, assuring Greg that they would call an exterminator as soon as possible, I attempted to talk some sense into her.
“We cannot make Molly stay at Greg’s for more than a day!” I hissed. “Imagine how awkward it must be for her! There are plenty of other places she could stay – the Merytons’, the Donovans’, even a hotel would be better—”
“Rubbish, dear, Greg said it would be fine, and that’s that,” she replied.
“Only because he’s too nice to tell Molly to find somewhere else to stay, like anywhere else that isn’t the apartment of someone she’s known for just three weeks!” I shouted.
My mum just patted my arm, gave me a pitying look, and walked out of the room.
“I don’t know,” I said, sighing. “Mum says the exterminator is extremely busy and won’t be able to come look at our bathroom until later today, but I’ve a hunch the whole thing is just one elaborate setup in the hopes that Greg will realize the depth of his feelings and propose to you tonight or something.”
There was a startled gasp on the other end as the penny dropped. Poor Molly. Of course she hadn’t considered the possibility that our mother was simply lying.
“What?!” she said. “That cannot possibly be true. I refuse to believe it.”
“Come on, Molly,” I said. “You know she’s had her heart set on you and Greg getting hitched for…oh, about three weeks now.”
Molly sighed. “I don’t suppose you could come keep me company?” she asked. “Irene is coming over for dinner tonight…”
I was just opening my mouth to mention how I had an obscene amount of work to do tonight and absolutely couldn’t come, when she continued. “—And so is Mr. Holmes, I think…”
Mr. Holmes, eh? “I can probably come,” I said. “Just make sure I’m actually invited.”
“Oh, Greg would love it if you came,” she said. “Don’t worry about it at all. 7:30, just like yesterday?”
“Works for me! See you then,” I said, and hung up.
But Greg’s normal, I thought. You know why you’re making such a fuss, and it’s not because of Greg. It’s because of Sherlock. My inner voice can sometimes be just a bit too truthful.
I settled on a simple button-down, and left the house only to find that it was pouring outside and I hadn’t an umbrella. Excellent. I glanced at my watch and took the chance that I would find an empty cab before I got soaked.
Ten minutes later, I still hadn’t found a cab, I was soaked, and I was very, very annoyed. How was my luck always this terrible? And how was it possible that all of London apparently wanted to travel by cab at this very moment? I stood under the awning of a café and took stock of the situation. There was no avoiding it – I was going to be late and completely dishevelled. I texted Molly to let her know. Chin up, I thought, and headed out to continue my increasingly desperate search.
Half an hour later, I was finally at Greg’s, and I patted my hair down as best I could and knocked on the door. Molly’s bright smile greeted me. “I’m so happy to see you!” she said, pulling me into a hug.
“Nice to see you again, mate,” said Greg, coming over to give me a quick handshake. I looked around to see Irene lounging on the sofa and Sherlock in an armchair, neither one making the slightest movement to suggest they’d noticed my presence. I narrowed my eyes and walked up to Irene.
“So good to see you again,” I said, as sarcastically as I could manage without Greg or Molly noticing something was off. Through my peripheral vision, I saw Sherlock’s eyes flick up to mine interestedly and the side of his mouth quirk.
“Oh, it’s wonderful to see you,” Irene replied, narrowing her eyes back at me.
“And, er, Mr. Holmes, was it?” I walked over to shake hands with him, then stopped awkwardly as it became clear he wasn’t going to reciprocate.
“You know who I am,” he said. “Why the questioning tone?”
“Well, I don’t think we’ve been properly introduced,” I said. “I know you’re Greg’s mate, of course—”
“Sherlock Holmes,” he said. “You can dispense with the Mr. Holmes nonsense, it’s not necessary and it reminds me of someone I’m not particularly fond of.”
“Er, right,” I said, not sure what to say.
“Afghanistan or Iraq?” he asked.
“I dislike repeating myself, and you heard me the first time, so…” he trailed off, looking at me questioningly.
“Afghanistan. Sorry, how did you—”
“Dinner’s ready!” Molly called from the kitchen, bringing out a pot. I hadn’t noticed that Greg and Molly had been laying the table. I gave Sherlock a wary look and went to sit down.
This is quite short, but I'll update again soon, I promise!
Dinner was just about as awkward as I had thought it would be. Sherlock was pushing around the food on his plate, Irene was tittering away next to him, Greg and Molly were wrapped up in each other’s conversation, and I…well, I seemed to be the unfortunate counterpart of Sherlock’s staring contest. I looked down at my plate for most of the meal (looking up every now and then to make sure that, yes, Sherlock was in fact still staring at me) and when Molly announced she was bringing out dessert it was not two seconds later that I volunteered to help her.
When we returned, the conversation had somehow – I narrowed my eyes at Irene – turned to the topic of what each person found attractive in the other gender. Sherlock was looking around the room as if hoping for something to materialize with which he could kill himself quickly.
“Well, I think that brainy is the new sexy,” Irene said, almost purring. “I like detective stories…” She looked at Sherlock meaningfully. “…and detectives…”
Jesus Christ. This woman does not let up, does she? At least she’d answered the question of what it was Sherlock did for a living. I refrained from pointing out that I liked detective stories, too.
Sherlock raised an eyebrow at her. “Detective stories are dull, and the killer is always obvious.”
I shook my head disbelievingly. “The killer is not always obvious!” I said. “Look at Agatha Christie!” She was one of my favorites, and I’d read every book she’d ever written. “You’re telling me that you can predict the ending of every Agatha Christie novel?”
Sherlock looked at me pityingly. “The fact that normal people would not recognize the murderer if his name was Mr. Serial Killer—”
“Oh, please,” I interrupted. “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd? Murder on the Orient Express? And Then There Were None?”
“Dull and obvious, John. I remember the solutions were clear to me from page fifteen, although I’ve deleted the details.”
Deleted the details? Was the man a hard drive or a human? Irene looked thrilled, though. I barely stopped myself from rolling my eyes. Now there was something dull and obvious.
“Alright, that’s enough, you lot. Molly, what about you?” asked Greg. “What would you look for in, let’s say, an ideal husband?”
Molly blushed. “Dependability, I suppose,” she said slowly. “Kindness, moral values, empathy…”
“I suppose you will be happy to know that Greg possesses all of those qualities,” Sherlock said offhandedly, causing conversation to shut down immediately as everyone – except Sherlock, I suppose – frantically thought of ways to steer away from a discussion of Molly and Greg’s exact relationship.
“And what about you, then?” I asked Sherlock, curious. “What would you look for in an ideal…mate?”
“I’m married to my work,” Sherlock replied, and Irene groaned.
“Come on, Sherlock, that’s an interesting question! You have to give us an answer,” Greg said. “Even I wonder what you’ll say…”
Sherlock sighed lightly and rattled off a list. Despite telling myself I was stupid for doing so, I quickly evaluated myself on each item he mentioned.
"Intelligence,” he said. Well, I’m not exactly stupid, I thought, although I was beginning to have the sense that Sherlock meant something quite different from you and me when he said intelligence. Genius-level intellect, perhaps? Well, shit.
“Common sense.” I’d got that in spades! One thing the army teaches you.
“Basic deductive abilities.” Shit.
“The ability to speak multiple languages.” Shit.
“The ability to play a musical instrument and enjoy the opera.” I hadn’t even realized people still went to the opera. Not unless they personally knew the Queen, or something.
“A sense of calmness in dangerous situations.” Another one for Watson.
“Scientific tendencies.” Shit. The last time I’d done anything scientific was in school.
“Rationalism.” Er, okay.
Greg laughed. “Good luck finding anyone who fits all those criteria, mate,” he said.
I nodded in agreement. Sherlock Holmes was going to die alone if he was waiting for his own personal rationalist calm scientific common-sensical language-speaking deducing intelligence machine to find him someday. Besides, Sherlock Holmes’ ideal match sounded, well, like Sherlock Holmes, and it seemed to me that he was bloody well unique.
Irene, of course, disagreed. She probably thought she fit all those criteria. “Oh, Greg!” she said. “I know plenty of people who answer that description.”
“You do?” I said.
“Of course!” she replied, but Sherlock Holmes had closed his eyes and seemed to be off in his own world.
“Well, you’re back now, and everything’s all right with the world,” I replied. “Let’s enjoy some family time – no distractions, no love life obsessions, no ridiculous excuses to stay at other people’s houses – as long as we can.”
Famous last words, I thought not fifteen minutes later, as our mother came into Molly’s room to let us know that a long-lost family friend would be coming to dinner.
“I thought Dad and Mr. Anderson weren’t speaking to each other, though,” Molly said.
“They weren’t,” our mother said. “But Sidney [that’s Mr. Anderson’s son, by the way, Sidney Anderson] emailed yesterday to say how important he thought it was for our families to be united, and how much he valued our relationship with his dad, and I suppose your father thought it would be a nice gesture to have him to dinner. In any case, he’s coming tonight, and do be nice to him, John. From what I’ve heard, he can be quite…irritating, but I think he has good intentions.”
“Of course I’ll be nice to him,” I said. “How ridiculous can he be?”
At tea that afternoon, my father was telling us – again – to be nice to Sidney when he got here. To be honest, I was a little disturbed by the fact that my entire family apparently felt the need to underscore that Sidney had “good intentions” at the bottom of it all…dinner was sure to be an interesting prospect.
Around seven o’clock, we were all ready to have a look at our guest. He arrived quite promptly, and Mum let him in as we all gathered round to be introduced. “This is Sidney Anderson, dears!” my mum cooed, and I noticed Sidney wince as she said his name. “Actually, I prefer to be known just by my last name, Anderson,” he said immediately – and, let’s be honest, who could blame him?
My first impression of him was that he had clearly gone to a lot of effort for this dinner – he was dressed in a suit, and his hair was slicked back in that eighteenth-century way I thought had gone out of style years ago. He seemed nice enough, though, if a bit taken with Molly, judging by the way he said, “Absolutely enchanted to meet you” as they were introduced. Then again, he also gave me a look (you know the type I mean) up and down as we were introduced, so perhaps that was just a personality quirk. Probably.
My father was quite silent during dinner, but my sisters were ready to pick up the conversational slack, so to speak – not that we needed the extra encouragement. Dinner at the Watsons’ is by no means a quiet affair. Anderson seemed to join in readily enough, even if he did have a way of creating awkward silences…we had barely sat down at the table before he told Mum that he had heard a lot about how attractive the Watson daughters – and son, he added, winking at me – were, and that there was no way we wouldn’t all be “snapped up” soon. Molly just looked over at me as I wondered if it would be completely inappropriate to yell, “THAT WAS AWKWARD!” at the dinner table.
We quickly noticed, though, that Anderson definitely had a trend in his conversational topics – they were all focused around his job. We all learned within 5 minutes of dinner that he was an investor at a major asset management firm called Rosings, working for a venture capitalist named Catherine de Bourgh. Judging from Anderson’s remarks, Mrs. de Bourgh was the best investor to grace God’s green earth – she appreciated his ideas (he said), and was now on a mission to find him a wife. “If I do say so myself,” he concluded, “I’d be quite the catch for any woman! Or man, of course, since I’m not picky.”
My mother looked over at me, her eyes twinkling as she caught the end of Anderson’s statement.
“Come on, dear!” she said, for the thousandth time. “Just take him to the Merytons’ party tonight, and I’m sure you two will get along wonderfully. He seemed rather sweet.”
“Sweet is not the word I would use, Mum,” I said, exasperated. “Obsessed with his job is perhaps a better fit. Maybe insufferably boring is the best of all.”
My mom tsk-tsked as she walked past. “I don’t care,” she said. “Give him another chance, why don’t you? I’ll call him now to invite him to the Merytons’ and tell him all - all my children are going, and that he should plan to see you all there.”
I sighed as loudly and as carryingly as I could.
“MUM!” I yelled, aghast. “How could you possibly think that was a good idea? I won’t even be able to make it to the party now.”
“Why not?” asked my mother.
“Because I’ll be dead from boredom!” I said sarcastically, heading off to my bedroom.
In the end, it wasn’t quite so bad – after the initial salutations and “how are you”s, I found Anderson’s constant chatter quite relaxing, actually. He didn’t seem to notice when I completely tuned out of the conversation, so I spent an hour idly wondering if I’d at least get lucky and see Sherlock at the party, perhaps. Not that that would make it any better, obviously, but at least I wouldn’t be completely bored even if I would have to put up with being called “dull” every thirty seconds.
At the end of dinner, Anderson insisted on paying – Oh god, I thought – and we headed off to the party together as I fretted about whether arriving separately with another man made it seem like he was my date to the party. It did, of course – I was just engaging in a spot of wishful thinking.
I heaved a sigh of relief when we finally arrived at the party and I saw my sisters – Molly, especially, looked happy, and I asked her what the grin was all about.
“Greg’s here!” she said, smiling, and I wondered again if that meant Sherlock and Irene were here too. Before I could ask Molly, though, she wandered off - “Oh look, there he is!” – leaving me alone with Anderson yet again.
I was about ready to collapse under the weight of Anderson’s unrelenting speech about his job (I knew much, much more about asset management than I would have ever wanted) when I finally saw a feasible distraction. Sebastian Moran, one of my mates from the army, was at the party.
“One moment, Sidney,” I said, vindictively enjoying the way Anderson’s eyes narrowed at my deliberate use of his first name. “There’s someone here I haven’t seen in a while, so I’m just going to go say hello, okay? I’ll be back…soon.”
Anderson just nodded, and I quickly walked away, thanking my lucky stars.
I’d known Sebastian for years – since the Afghanistan days – although I’d lost touch with him over the past few months. “What’s going on, mate?” I asked, clapping him on the back as he turned around.
“John!” he said, giving me a quick hug. “It’s been a while, eh?”
“Long time, definitely,” I said, grinning. “What’ve you been up to, then?”
“Not much – working for the government now, by the way.”
“Really?” I asked, surprised. “Wouldn’t have pegged you for the desk job type.”
“I didn’t say it was a desk job,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “It’s quite secret, actually.”
My intrigue must’ve shown on my face, because he just grinned and patted me on the arm. “What’ve you been up to then, mate?” he asked.
“Not much,” I said, mouth twisting as I realized how that sounded in the face of “I do secret work for the British government.” “Just, you know. A little bit here and there.”
Sebastian nodded understandingly, and thankfully changed the subject. “Let me introduce you to my flatmate and friend,” he said, motioning for someone behind me to come over. “This…is Jim.”
I turned around to see a handsome, well-dressed man walk over to join us. “James Moriarty,” he said, putting out his hand, “but you can call me Jim. Hi!”
“Nice to meet you,” I said, shaking his hand as I smiled back. “I’m John Watson.”
“This is John?” Jim asked, turning to Sebastian before looking back at me. “He told me a lot about you, but he never said you were hot…”
I laughed as I looked away embarrassedly. Sebastian looked from Jim to me, and seemed to make a decision.
“I think I see your sisters there, John,” Sebastian said, gesturing vaguely behind me. “I’m going to go say hello. You two should get a drink in the meantime, though,” he said, looking at me pointedly.
Oh dear, I thought. This could be trouble.
It also helped that, apart from being extremely attractive and extremely nice, Jim was also extremely funny. We laughed for hours at his tales of trying to fix governmental IT systems (it turned out Jim was a bit of a nerd!) and it was easy banter of the type I hadn’t engaged in for a long time.
The party seemed to be winding down around 1 AM, though, and Jim and I finally stood up to head back home – me with my sisters (and Anderson, who I realized with a jolt I had completely forgotten) and him with Sebastian.
“I suppose we should help clean some of this stuff up,” I said, motioning to the empty cups and bags of crisps on the table.
“Yeah, I suppose,” said Jim, picking up a few plates and heading into the kitchen.
As I went to throw some plastic cups away, though, I ran into the last person I was expecting to see at that point - Sherlock.
God, but he was looking fit as ever, and it was as distracting as always. “Hello, John,” he said, giving me a quick once-over. What do you see? I thought, wondering if he could read my new sort-of crush on Jim in the wrinkles of my shirt or something.
“Hello, Sherlock,” I said. “It’s nice to see you here…I was just, er, well.” Good going, idiot, I thought to myself as I wondered what it was about Sherlock that made me feel like I was 10 years old and insufferably stupid to boot.
“Yes, I see,” said Sherlock, a corner of his mouth turning up imperceptibly.
I narrowed my eyes at him. Was he making fun of me? I opened my mouth to (hopefully) say something more intelligent, but was interrupted.
“There you are, I was looking for you so—” Jim cut off abruptly as he saw Sherlock, and the atmosphere of the room changed slightly.
“Hello, James,” said Sherlock, narrowing his eyes. “What are you doing here?”
A bit rude, I thought, but nothing unexpected from Sherlock. “I was invited, Sherlock, what do you think? Unlike some, I know where I’m wanted and where I’m not,” Jim replied, and this time I really was surprised. This seemed to be a different Jim than the one I’d just spent two hours talking to.
Sherlock snorted derisively. “Don’t flatter yourself, Jim, you’re not needed anywhere,” he said, turning on his heel with a slight nod to me and striding away quickly.
I looked at Jim, confused, but he just dropped his remaining cups into the bin and motioned for me to go through the door first.