From the author: A little story about new companions and old ones, and the work it takes to fit them together.
The fourth date went very well, Susan thought. Her thoughts were confirmed when Edgar, an articulate and appealing man, tactfully asked her, while out to dinner, if his presence would still be welcome at breakfast.
She smiled and said that it would. Edgar's company had been lovely so far, and she had no reason to expect a deviation now. Besides, it had been a number of months since she'd last gotten, as it was typically abridged, "some," and her natural compulsions were starting to kick at her.
She woke the next morning feeling the best she had in a long time. Edgar, for his part, seemed equally happy.
The only minor hitch came when Edgar was in the kitchen making coffee and she was gathering her clothes. Something was missing, a small tank top she liked to wear under her shirt, which itched a little otherwise. From one side of the bed to the other, wall to wall, she couldn't find it. When she told Edgar, he smiled a wily grin.
"Sorry," he said. "Should've warned you. There's a monster living under my bed. He's harmless, but he does eat clothes on occasion. I asked him to take it easy last night, but I guess he got hungry."
"That's too bad," she said. "At least you don't have a monster living in your closet who eats clothes.” She smiled.
"That does sound worse," Edgar agreed with a chuckle.
They spent a nice, relaxed morning together, and the topic of the missing article didn't come up again. On her way home, she wondered if he had hidden it. For an anxious minute, she fretted with the idea that Edgar kept little trophies of a long procession of women. Maybe his bedroom bookshelf hid a secret door to a candle-lit shrine, where a spidery multi-armed rack displayed a kaleidoscope of slips, bras, and every kind of underthing.
She banished the idea. Probably it was just lost somewhere and he was embarrassed that it hadn't turned up.
"Good job," said Edgar, stalking around his bedroom. "Really great. Almost ruining everything. Again."
"Don't be so sore," said Jimmy in his gurgly New York cabbie voice, brushing his spiny head-fronds with a tentacle. "Everything was fine."
"Fine?" said Edgar. "I thought we had an understanding. You don't bug my guests and I keep you fed."
"You'll pardon me if a loose sock a day and the occasional scarf doesn't get a Firestone star," said Jimmy, smirking at his own joke. "If our deal is gonna keep going, you’ll need to put a little more thought and variety into the cuisine. Sides, it's not like I ate her underpants or her sweater."
"Maybe I should've chosen differently when the Old Man made me his offer," Edgar spat, crossing his arms.
"Oh, here we go," said Jimmy, wriggling back under the bed indignantly. “We’re goin’ there again, huh?"
Edgar thought back to when he was eight years old. He'd met the Old Man at a county fair, the only time he'd ever been to a county that still had fairs. It had been a dull family trip overall, but the fair wasn't bad. Edgar had spent some time wandering through the stalls, shooting at cans with BB rifles, betting on tiny mechanical horses and winning an overstuffed gorilla.
It was the fortune telling stall where he'd met the Old Man, whose name tag read exactly that. After a few minutes muttering some jibber-jabbery fake old language, the Old Man had presented Edgar with a gift: to know, by way of some kind of sign, when he had met the perfect woman for him.
At eight, Edgar had yet to start giving any non-pathogen-related thought to girls, let alone women. The idea that he ever would wasn't as heretical as it had once been, but it still seemed fantastically unlikely at best, and dimly far in the future. Maybe the sun would puff up and engulf them all long before that.
And it wasn't like he’d believed the Old Man was really a warlock or anything, anyway. So he'd scoffed and said something about rather having a monster living under his bed than meeting his "perfect woman."
The Old Man had smiled, and said that it was done. And there was an extra slyness to his grin that Edgar had never quite figured out, not even after he'd come home to find Jimmy gnawing on his woolen long johns.
"Jimmy," Edgar said, sighing. "Come on, come back out. Let's talk about your dietary needs."
Susan put down her phone after a brief chat with Edgar. He'd called in the evening, just like he'd said he would. She relaxed a little bit, but a nagging concern still poked her. They'd made plans to go to a restaurant close to her place in a couple of days. She wanted to bring him back here afterward, and she was a little afraid, with the neatness of his place, that the clutter in hers would be unseemly.
She sighed, looking around her bedroom, with its extra dresser and chairs piled with clothes.
"This isn't the tidiest place," she said aloud. "But it's my place, and if he really likes me then I’m sure he’ll come to like it too."
"Right you are, lady," said a low voice from the closet.