It was a truth universally acknowledged (well, locally at least), that any change to the "order of things" at Grace Brothers would seldom last more than a week. New ideas would be introduced on a Saturday evening to an already exhausted staff (or on a Monday morning to an already exasperated one), and they would last until Young Mister Grace's visit to the floor on the next Saturday (by then, everybody would have done very well indeed).
Of course, none of that bothered Mr. Wilberforce Clayborne Humphries. Quite the contrary : these changes helped break the monotony of life - well, work. And he'd find that, in the end, one could always count on the same constants for support : Captain Peacock's stern walk, Mr. Lucas' jokes, sleeves riding up with wear, or even Mr. Grainger's quiet snoozes.
When the "American way" was introduced to Grace Brothers, it was clear that these specific changes would follow the same pattern as the ones that had come before them. So Mr. Humphries put on his best suit (well, Mr Rumbold, no, Cuthbert, did say to "come as you are", didn't he ?) and his best smile, went partying, and came to work without changing clothes. What a life indeed!
Yet, this new "order of things" did have a few unexpected consequences. For one, Mr. Humphries finally got to learn Mr. Lucas' name.
"Good morning, Dick!" he would say every morning without fail.
"'Morning to you, Clayborne!" Dick would answer, or at least that's what he seemed to answer - most of the time, he was chewing something.
(Hearing Mr. Lucas call him "Clayborne" sent a few shivers down his spine, every single time. Being on a first-name basis was nice. Really nice.)
Everyone did seem much more relaxed - with the exception of Stephen, whose costume looked more ridiculous by the minute. And, well, Ernest's relationship with his wife did suffer a little that week. But Betty ! Betty looked marvelous - or at least, she tried very hard, poor dear. As for Shirley, she seemed so at ease - and it did her good, too: she got most of the commissions that week, seniority be damned.
And then there was Dick.
(When he'd seen him first, Clayborne had been most happy to have put on his biggest sunglasses. Nothing less would have hidden the monumental blush on his face. Nor the fact that he could not keep his eyes off that chest. Hair or no hair.)
(It wasn't even that nice a chest. Surely, Clayborne had seen nicer. But it was Mr. Lucas' chest.)
Clayborne was certain of one thing: Dick had not come "as he was". No, that was not Dick Lucas, in that... costume. Not the Dick Lucas who chased after "birds" as soon as he left work - or, indeed, as soon as he got in. Not the smooth-talker Clayborne imagined in his fantasies.
No, Dick did not come as himself. Dick came as the version of himself that would most annoy Stephen. Though, maybe that meant he had come as himself after all, Clayborne would muse, watching him chew gum and annoy his colleagues.
But the highlight of that week was not the first-name basis, nor the happy-although-slightly-confused customers, nor Betty's mishaps, nor even the clothes. No, the highlight was the "morning ritual".
"I like you, Stephen."
"I like you too, Clayborne," Stephen grumbled.
"I like you, Betty."
"I guess I like you too, Clayborne," Betty mumbled.
"I like you, Shirley."
"Well, surely I like you too, Clayborne !" Shirley smiled (he'd always had a certain fondness for her)
"I like you, Ernest."
"I like you too, Clayborne, I like you too," Ernest nodded.
"I like you, Dick."
"And I like YOU, Clayborne," Dick winked.
(He really did wink.)
(And his hand felt really nice.)
(Not to mention that time when they were "rehearsing" the American ways, and when they had basically embraced each other, that was nice.)
And so the week went on.
Until the Saturday morning.
By then everybody - except for Cuthbert, poor dear had never been the fastest of the bunch, in any capacity - knew, even though they would not speak a word of it, that it would be the last day of the American ways. And so everybody did their best to enjoy it while it last. Betty scared away customers - she was really trying so hard. Shirley showed off a bit of cleavage - and boy, Clayborne couldn't blame her, for she had beautiful things to show! Ernest barely dozed the whole day, as if he didn't want to waste those precious minutes, even though he would mumble about "young people these days" all the way through it. Stephen tried his hand at slang - and even smiled, when he thought nobody could see him. Clayborne himself took inside legs with more enthusiasm than usual.
Although his hands were a bit shaky.
All because of Dick.
Dick, and the morning ritual.
Shake hands, lock eyes, say "I like you" - those were the instructions. And yes, indeed, he had followed them. But one could say that he had gotten... slightly carried away.
"I like you, Dick."
"And I certainly do like you, Clayborne !" Dick had shouted.
Before grabbing Clayborne, swooping him up and giving him a kiss. On the lips.
Well, after that, there was no way Clayborne could fully focus on any inside legs, given that his own inside leg was giving him a bit of trouble. And if it had been only that! Every time the memory of that very morning came back to him, his whole face reddened. The sunglasses had indeed been a very, very good choice.
Facing Dick was quite hard, that day. Their banter didn't have the same flavour any more. Not that Clayborne could say, in all honesty, that the thought of Mr. Lucas' lips on his own had never crossed his mind before, during said banter even. But now that it had been done... well, it was a whole different matter, wasn't it? And, true to himself, Dick was of no help at all, carrying on joking and winking and singing along and well, being Dick (maybe even a bit of a dick).
So, when it finally got to Saturday evening and Young Mr. Grace graced them with his presence, announcing that the American ways were over, Clayborne sighed and left quickly (leaving Dick behind him) and put away his best suit and swore to himself not to think much more of it.
(But he did think of it, all through Saturday night, and a good bit of Sunday as well. He had his mother worried, and it's only for her sake that he finally put on a smile and offered to go to the pictures.)
Monday morning, he was back to Grace Brothers in his regular suit - for some reason, the thought of coming up in leather or even in his sailor's uniform didn't even cross his mind, he just wasn't in the mood for it.
"Good morning, Captain Peacock."
"Good morning, Mr. Humphries."
Everything was back to normal - the Eastern ways hadn't been implemented yet, upper management needed to make a few decisions, no doubt it would be done soon. Surname-basis, formal attire. Mr. Lucas was late, as usual. Back to normal indeed.
And the day went on. Inside legs, sleeves riding up with wear, "Mr. Grainger, are you free ?".
Until the evening came and, for once, Mr. Lucas did not seem in a hurry to leave. Actually, now that Mr. Humphries thought about it, he seemed to be waiting for something, standing there by the counter, chewing his own lip for a change.
"Everything alright, Mr. Lucas?"
"It's after hours, so you could call me Dick," blurted Mr. Lucas.
"Oh, fancy that!" exclaimed Mr. Humphries while putting on his coat. "I actually thought you didn't like the name at all."
"I don't, but well, it's you, so, migh as well, if you know what I mean."
Mr. Humphries did not know what it meant at all, but decided not to ponder over it (he had wasted enough time as it was), heading towards the elevator instead. And Dick Lucas followed him there.
They were alone - they had finished late, so no attendants; Mrs. Slocombe had said something about her pussy before running away, Miss Brahms had a date, and everybody else had somewhere else to be.
The doors closed.
And that's when Mr. Lucas errupted:
"At last! I thought we'd never get to there!"
And that's when the kissing started. Again. (Thankfully, it was a slow day for the elevator.)
A little while later, once they were out, Dick muttered in Clayborne's ear:
"Are you free, Mr. Humphries?"
Clayborne smiled, and answered:
"I'm very free, Mr. Lucas."