Still, it occurs to him one day as he slops the beef stew out of the can that there ought to be more dirty bowls in the sink. Also spoons. All he sees in there is the one from breakfast. When was the last time he did dishes? He checks the cupboard, and there are nice clean stacks of bowls. The silverware drawer is full of shining, somewhat dinged silverware.
Then the microwave beeps, and it’s time for five minutes of stew and another afternoon in the orchard.
Adrianne blows through on her way to Chicago – which obvious lie Jared doesn’t call out, even though Iowa is by no definition on the way from the Twin Cities to Chicago – and they spend an evening working their way through the specialty brews she brought along and talking old times. By the time they’ve downed two six packs between them, she’s in his lap, kissing him sloppily between giggles. “We shouldn’t do this, should we?” she says while squirming like she’s bound to answer the question for him.
“Probably not,” he agrees, skimming his hands up her under her shirt anyway. “I didn’t even shower.”
Adrianne sinks her nose against his collarbone and heaves a breath. “Mm,” she says, discontent. “Sour.”
She rolls herself out of his lap and onto the couch. “Little late, anyway, huh?”
“Yeah,” he agrees. The thought tips him over into melancholy. “But I’m glad you’re doing good up there, Adrianne. Wowing ‘em all.”
“You will, too,” she tells him, drunkenly earnest. “The farm looks good, Jare.”
“Thanks.” He rubs his hands together. The calluses are hard-earned.
“Even the house looks good. Who’da thought you’d make any kind of housekeeper?”
“Thanks,” he says again, though it feels less deserved this time. In fact, “I don’t clean, really.”
Adrianne snorts. “Yeah, right. It’s like my mom lives here. Spotless.”
That doesn’t sound right to Jared, but he’s a couple of beers past sobriety, so.
Eventually Adrianne sacks out against his shoulder, and he stretches her out on the couch under an afghan and finds his own bed. In the morning he feeds her oatmeal and instant coffee, which she’s too polite to make a face about even though he knows what she considers necessary in a cup of coffee, and then he sends her on her way. Once she’s gone, he takes care of the goat and the chickens, refrigerates the eggs and sets the milk to cool in the freezer, washes a day and a half of grime off, and then takes a serious look around his house.
The sink, once again, contains only breakfast dishes, although he definitely didn’t touch the ones from last night. Adrianne could have, he supposes. Maybe she rinsed the beer bottles out, too, and lined them all up on his counter, ready for his next run to the recycling center. He doubts she cleaned the toilet or the sink in his bathroom, though, or even set foot in it, and he’s fairly positive she didn’t cycle his laundry or stack it on his closet shelves.
He’s fairly positive he didn’t, either.
There’s a sprinkler system timer that needs looking at, though, and crops to water. He puts the question to the back of his mind and goes to get his toolbox. He comes back for lunch and again for dinner, and before he takes his shower that night he counts the bowls in the sink – four – and he leaves them very firmly where they are.
When he gets up the next morning, the sink is empty.
“Weird neighbors?” Grandma Chandler asks. “What do you mean?”
“I mean someone’s sneaking into my house and doing my dishes and my laundry. Did you ever have anything like that happen to you, when you were working the farm?”
There’s a pause, and then Grandma Chandler laughs a big, full-bellied laugh. Jared wishes with a pang that she were here to laugh with him and work the farm and tell him all her secrets, that her health weren’t so fragile. “I know your problem,” she says. Of course she does. Grandma Chandler always knows. “You’ve got a brownie.”
Or not. “I don’t really bake, Grandma. Or get baked, either.”
She snickers. “No, Jared. Brownie. Person out of folklore, comes out at night and cleans up after you. Try putting out some milk, porridge, honey. Some of them like a whiskey. See which one it eats and don’t say thank you.”
“Why not?” Jared asks automatically, staring at the phone. He didn’t realize things had gone so far with Grandma Chandler.
“Then they’ll leave, and you’ll have to do your own housework.”
“You young whippersnappers, never believe anything your elders tell you.” Now he knows she’s kidding; whippersnapper is not a word Grandma Chandler uses unironically.
“Have you ever had a brownie, Grandma?” he can’t help asking.
There’s a long pause. Jared wonders if his grandma’s lost track of the conversation. It’s been happening more often lately. Finally, she says quietly, “You know, sometime it seemed I didn’t clean that kitchen for quite a while. It always looked fine, so why bother? But you know I don’t always remember what I did five minutes ago.”
She sounds wistful, and it makes Jared’s heart ache. He ends the call not long after that and puts the call back on the hook.
That night, feeling impossibly stupid, he leaves a congealing bowl of instant oatmeal and a shot of honey out on the countertop. In the morning, he finds the shot glass turned upside down on the top cupboard shelf, gleaming once again.
So he has a brownie. That’s cool. He maybe doesn’t quite really believe it, but he’s totally willing to sacrifice some honey and oatmeal to his delusion, if his delusion includes dishes he doesn’t have to clean and clothes he doesn’t have to wash. Even the floors are shining, now that he finally looks at them, although he forgets and tracks dirt in on his boots at least twice a week.
But now he wants to get a look at the thing. He supposes that’s probably discouraged, given how these fairy tales go. Eventually he thinks of looking it up on Wikipedia, which tells him that if his brownie is Scottish and not actually a brownie, then it’s going to be invisible anyway. Otherwise, situation unknown. No indication that catching a glimpse would sour the deal, though. Which is good, because imaginary or not, it’s a pretty sweet deal he’s got right now.
That night he sets out the honey and the whiskey within sight of the living room, and he lies down on the couch. It’s got to take his brownie at least an hour or two a day to keep his poor, neglected house as clean as it is. He’ll just keep watch, and when the brownie shows, Jared will know.
He falls asleep, of course.
The second night, he sits up in one of his fairly uncomfortable kitchen chairs. And falls asleep again. He’d count it some kind of brownie magic – if he believed in magic, or was entirely sure he believed in brownies – except he’s been working himself so hard that he could probably pass out on his feet and not even notice when he fell over.
He gets smart the next time. He sets out the brownie lures, and he puts his laptop right close by with the screen angled so that the built-in camera is focused right on the plate. He’s downloaded a program that will take photos every few seconds, like a security camera. Tomorrow, he’ll know what his brownie looks like.
It’s a girl. Jared’s brownie is a girl. Or woman, rather – she looks about Jared’s age, as best he can judge despite pixilation and poor lighting. She appears to be of normal human size, if a bit on the short side. She has dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and a generous mouth that looks like it’s made for laughing, although she isn’t doing any of that in the picture. She’s concentrating on her work, focused, blandly expressionless.
There are three more images of varying blurriness. She must have closed the laptop after that – to put it away, he supposes. That possibility hadn’t occurred to him when he set things up last night.
She’s hot, he thinks, looking at the first image again, the one with the clearest view of her face. It’s a mystifying face. How is there a person who sneaks into his house every night? Does she have a key, or...? He’s not going to consider what the alternatives to that might be; magic is still not a word he’s willing to deal with. Yet. But where does she live?
Another glance through Wikipedia suggests that she lives there in his house, which is ridiculous. It’s not that big a house. He’d know.
He searches it anyway, upstairs and down, and the basement, too. There are mouse droppings by the furnace, but no evidence of any other living creature. She must sneak in at night, he decides. Maybe she can pick locks.
She, the strange woman obsessed with keeping him in clean shirts. There’s no sure thing about a person like that.
“This is ridiculous,” he tells his living room. “I cannot possibly have a brownie in my house. Brownies are a fairy tale.” A thought occurs to him. “And anyway, if I had a brownie, she’d have dusted the top of Grandma Chandler’s china cabinet by now.” The china cabinet is almost as tall as Jared and probably hasn’t been dusted in thirty years. After all, no one shorter than Jared would be able to see it needed it.
The next day, Grandma Chandler’s china cabinet is dusted.
It should be creepy, that Jared has a person in his house, within speaking distance. He should worry about stalking. Instead, he starts leaving out more whiskey. He buys sandwich fixings at the store the next time he goes, too; surely brownies get tired of honey and oatmeal? The sandwich disappears with the rest of the offerings, anyway. He decides to keep making real food to leave out. It forces him to get the grocery store more than once a month, which is probably a good thing. He might turn into a can of Dinty Moore himself soon if he doesn’t vary his diet a bit.
“The sprinkler system out in north cornfield is broken again,” Jared says wearily one night, waiting for his stew to finish heating. “It’s just old. If I can just keep it functioning through the fall... Not that this is your problem, obviously.”
The sprinkler system doesn’t seem to break quite as often after that. Possibly it’s Jared’s imagination.
“I wish you’d come out,” he says another evening. “Just for someone to talk to. I mean, I talk to you anyway, which is kind of pathetic, I guess. But don’t you ever want company? Everybody wants company.”
“The other chickens are picking on Missy,” he says a few weeks later. “Her comb’s bloody, and I don’t think she’s getting enough to eat.” He doubts she’s laying, either, but that’s not the point. “I guess I should build a separate cage for her. God, I so don’t have time, though. Did anyone ever tell you how much work it is to run a farm?” He stares vaguely down at his empty, crumby plate. “I mean, it’s kind of proverbial, right? I did get a farmer’s tan.” After repeated farmer’s sunburns, anyway.
He looks up to the ceiling, like maybe his brownie is there listening through the second story floorboards. “It was probably a dumb idea, thinking I could keep my grandma’s farm going,” he confesses to her, or to empty space, he’s not sure he even cares which. “Nobody makes a living farming these days.”
Following that are a few weeks when even talking to himself would take more energy than Jared has to spare. When they’re over, though, the hay is in, the wheat is sold, and he has a few weeks’ breathing room before he has to deal with corn. Also he has a lot more sympathy for the monocroppers of America than he did before he started this gig. At least they only have to deal with the demands of one crop.
He uses the time to build Missy a coop of her own, and he puts Clarice in with her, for company. Clarice is his lone Rhode Island Red, and he has a soft spot for her because she lets him hold her. He’s hoping that patience translates into being nice to Missy. If not, he’ll switch her out and try another companion chicken. No chicken should have to live in a coop all by itself.
“You should come out and say hi,” he tells his brownie again. “I’ve got beer. And I made oatmeal cookies.” They’re a little burnt around the edges, but you can’t have everything. They’re very sincere cookies, anyway. Not that brownies work on the same logic as the Great Pumpkin. Probably they don’t. “Please?”
No pretty dark-haired girl appears. Not that he expected she would, but maybe he hoped a little. He ends up drinking the six-pack himself and eating the entire tray of cookies, which leaves him feeling gross on multiple levels.
The cookie tray is washed when he wakes up, of course.
He goes a little crazy after that. Possibly he can’t handle the high of getting a full eight hours’ sleep. Anyway, he uses his mini vacation to make a mess. He wears his boots into the house every night. He changes clothes at lunchtime, so his hamper’s full every two days. He cooks things – not well, because he’s not much of a cook, but prolifically and with as many dishes as possible.
When the results of his cooking adventures are edible, he leaves some out for her. “I’m going to keep doing this until you come out and say hi,” he tells the breaded cod one night as he arranges it on the plate. If his brownie takes any notice of this, he can’t tell.
It rains. It pours down in buckets, and when the sky runs out of buckets it uses bathtubs. Jared thanks his lucky stars he got the wheat in last week; by now, it’d all be lying flat, unrecoverable. He spends two days in the shed, tinkering on the tractor while the rain falls like bullets on the aluminum roof. He isn’t great with engines, but it was sounding a little rough, that last time out.
At dinnertime on the second day, he cuts across the corner of the tiny neglected pumpkin patch on the way to the house. His foot hits a slick patch and slides right out from under him, and he lands flat on his back with a soft thud. Soft, because the fall is cushioned by mud at least an inch deep. “Ow,” he says, blinking against the rain falling into his eyes. Cautiously he pushes himself to his feet and shakes out his shoulders. He looks himself over as mud drips down his arms and his back and along the backs of his ears. Only mud-wrestling could get him any dirtier. At least he has his brownie to deal with the laundry.
That gives Jared an idea.
Jared considers the ground for a few moments, and then he kneels in the mud, scoops up a glob in each hand, and smears the stuff across his face and down his neck. Then he does it again. Only when he feels completely and thoroughly plastered – heh – does he get to his feet and squelch wetly to the house.
“I’m all muddy,” he calls, as soon as he manages to get the door open. Mud makes doorknobs tricky. “I’m completely covered in mud. And I’m wet. And now I’m going to go lie down on my nice clean sheets in my boots.”
It occurs to him as he tracks mud across his grandma’s thirty-year-old carpet that this is going to be a real pain to clean up if his brownie decides she’s had enough and takes off. “I’m lying down now,” he announces to his bedroom. “I’m going to lie on this bed all filthy until you come wash me off.” He sits down and stretches out in a resolute sprawl.
And waits. It’s pretty uncomfortable, being covered in mud. His skin itches as the mud begins to dry. Also it’s cold, since his clothes are pretty well soaked through.
“Anytime now” he says. “If you don’t, I’ll—”
“Oh my God, shut up.” There she is. His brownie. Big as life and pretty as hell.
“Hi,” he says, grinning a little loopily. Not that she can tell, probably, through all the mud. “Oh my God, hi! I’ve been waiting so long to meet you—”
“You’re a punk, you know that?” The brownie scowls at the bedspread. Which is fair. “This gig is supposed to be discreet. You leave me goodies, I wash your linens, everybody’s happy.”
“I’m happy,” Jared can’t help but say. He shifts to sit up, so he can appreciate her from a better angle, and he can’t. He can’t sit up. “Uh?”
“You want me to wash you? I’m going to wash you.” In her hands, like, well, magic, there’s a bucket and a stack of wash rags. “Now, off with the clothes.”
Thirty seconds later, Jared has been stripped naked via some process he couldn’t quite follow. “I can’t move,” he ventures.
“Nope.” The brownie slops a rag around in her bucket and then pulls it out and applies it, still dripping, to his face. Jared shuts his mouth and his eyes, because the other option is to get soapy water in them. As soon as she moves down to his throat, though, he opens them again. There’s an efficiency to her motions that he’s pretty sure not even practice can fully account for. It’s mesmerizing.
Eventually, though, he remembers all the questions he meant to ask. “So what’s your name?”
She purses her lips. “Names are power. I don’t just toss mine around to whoever wants it.”
“I’m Jared,” he says.
“I know.” She doesn’t bother to look up.
Jared summons another question from his very long list. “Did you know my grandma? She used to live here.”
The brownie pauses a moment, biting her lip. When she dips her cloth in the bucket again, she says, “I never met her, if that’s what you mean.”
“That wasn’t what I meant. So you’ve been here a long time?”
“Long enough.” She’s moved down to his chest now, scrubbing mud away in firm, even strokes – the epitome of professionalism, like a nurse on her rounds. Not that getting her hands on him was actually the point, strictly speaking. In fact it has not occurred to him until right this minute that she’s probably going to clean him everywhere. He is suddenly not sure how he feels about that, under the circumstances. Not that he’d mind at all under other circumstances, and wow is that not the thing to be thinking about while his dick is lying all out in the open like it is. “Good thing, too,” she continues. “If it weren’t for me, your farm would already have gone under.”
Jared’s completely over this can’t-sit-up thing. “What?”
She casts him a sideways glance as she washes around his bellybutton. “Who do you think keeps the tractor running?”
“Or the sprinklers?”
“That was you!”
“Or cleaned the black mold out of this house so you didn’t develop some chronic respiratory illness?”
“You did?” He cranes his neck to get as clear a look at her as he can. “You did all that?” She doesn’t answer. “Why did you do all that?”
She shrugs tightly. “It’s what I do.”
“God, th—mmph,” Jared mumbles against her hand.
“I know you know not to say that,” she says darkly. “I heard her tell you.”
Jared swallows, and after a moment, she takes away her hand. “So you, you want to stay?” he asks.
She stills. After a moment, she pushes a strand of hair out of her eyes and says, “I’m saying, if you’re going to get rid of me, make sure you do it on purpose. That’s all.”
Jared doesn’t get a chance to think about that, because now she’s reached his balls. He hastens, “It’s okay, I can do that part.”
“You asked for it,” she says, unyielding. “You’re going to get it.”
And so he lies there as she wipes around his balls in the most unsexy manner imaginable. Once she reaches his inner thighs he can breathe again. And speak. “Are you magical?” he asks. “Like an elf or something? You look human.”
She casts him a single, unimpressed look and then begins scrubbing harshly at his knee. “That’s for me to know and you to not ask stupid questions about.”
Next topic, then. “Do you live in my house?”
A breath explodes from her. “Yes, I’m magical. You want to know where I live? Well, it’s magic, okay? So just shut up.”
The next question sneaks out without any input from Jared. “Will I see you again?”
She bites out, “The next word out of your mouth, I’m going to gag you.”
Jared snaps his mouth shut.
She works in silence, smooth and quick. When she reaches the soles of his feet, she slaps his shin and tells him to roll over. He finds that he can, so he does. Then she works her way back up his calves to his ass. He finds himself holding his breath again, but she doesn’t even pause. She scrubs out the dirt he soaked into his ass when he fell, and then she’s working on the small of his back.
Seconds later, it seems, she gives his shoulders one last swipe and steps away. “Your hair’s nothing a shower can’t fix.”
Jared forebears to mention that there was nothing about him before that a shower couldn’t have fixed. He shoves against his bed and finds he can turn over. “Do you want lunch? I just went to the store yesterday, I have this fancy foccacia bread I could make sandwiches with, there’s beer in the fridge...” He pauses when he sees her edging for the door. “I don’t want to go back to not seeing you,” Jared says, fisting his hands in his poor abused comforter to keep himself firmly on the bed. “I just met you.”
“I can’t,” she says. “I have a job, I can’t just, just hang out.”
Can’t, not won’t. Jared’s clung to thinner hopes than that. “You sure there’s nothing else you want to clean?” He winces - it sounds like a line, now that he’s said it.
“What, you want me to squirt a little water where the sun don’t shine?”
“...Sure?” Jared says. Or maybe squeaks.
She rolls her eyes. “It was a joke. Anyway, I don’t have the stuff.”
“Bring it next time,” he blurts, before he can’t think. “I mean. If you want?”
She grimaces. “I have to go.”
And just like that, Jared’s sitting bare-ass naked on his muddy comforter, alone in a room so empty he could swear there’d never been anyone in it but him. “I mean it,” he tells the room. “You can... do whatever the hell you want, if it means I can talk to you.” He slumps. Just to himself, he says, “I just want to talk to you.”
He makes himself a really spectacular sandwich that night, and he saves half of it to set out on the counter before bed, wrapped in plastic wrap with a beer beside it and a note: Until next time? It’s gone when he wakes up, and he takes that for a good sign.
Of course, just because she’s not around to talk to him doesn’t mean he can’t talk to her. He wonders if she has some kind of magical eavesdropping device stashed somewhere around the house. Even if she is around the farm 24/7, she can’t possibly hear him complaining about dust if she’s out fixing tractors and sprinklers.
He doesn’t catch another glimpse, though. He wonders if he’s going to have to go roll around in the mud again to get her to come back. It’s not that he isn’t willing. He’d just be happier about it if he were sure that she wasn’t going to be pissed. He doesn’t want her pissed. He wants her to like him, and to come visit him because she wants to.
Then it’s time for corn, and he’s working too hard to think about his brownie except sometimes in the morning when he admires his clean sink.
It’s in. The corn’s in and sold to the wholesaler, and the animals don’t need feeding until tomorrow, which may be a problem because Jared’s not sure he’ll get up again for a week, once he finally manages to get horizontal. He sits on the couch to unlace his boots.
A light shines in his eyes. “Whah?”
“You fell asleep,” says a voice. A familiar voice.
“I have a name,” she says. He can sort of see her now that his eyes have adjusted to the light from the end-table lamp.
“You never told me what it was.”
Her hands are on her hips. He can’t read her expression, but his vision is still a little fuzzy, so. “You didn’t take a shower.”
“Uh.” Jared has to think about that for a moment. He is kind of itchy. And – yep, also smelly. “I guess I fell asleep.”
He blinks at her a couple more times. “Why are you here? Did you— Are you going to clean me up?”
There’s a pause. “Do you want me to?”
Jared shakes some of the sleepies out his brain and wonders what time it is, aside from after dark. “That’d be really awesome,” he tells her honestly. Maybe he’d be less honest – more embarrassed, more cautious – if he were a little more awake. “If you want.”
“All right, up you get. I’m not doing this on the couch.”
Jared pushes unsteadily to his feet and follows her to his bedroom. When he gets there, he strips of his own accord and lies down on his back. He didn’t see the brownie carrying anything when she walked in, but now suddenly she’s leaning over him, her wet, soapy rags in hand. She sets to wiping him down and firmly working the grime out of all his crevices.
It’s nice, kind of. It’s not like he’s spent a lot of time on physical comforts lately. Or physical contact, either. “That feels really good,” he mumbles.
The scrubbing pauses. “Yeah?”
“Yeah.” He opens his eyes, which have somehow fallen closed. “Like a massage, kind of.”
“I thought this was all a ploy to talk to me. I didn’t think you had a fetish.”
“What? No!” Jared sits up before he remembers that he can’t. Except he can. Huh. She must not have magicked him this time. “I’m sorry, I’m really tired.” Then he gets a closer look at her expression. He thinks there might be a smile, hidden somewhere in the shadows of her face. Tentatively he tries on one of his own, and hers disappears, if it was ever there in the first place.
“Lie back down,” she says, and he does.
“You don’t like me asking questions,” he says. “Anyway, this time it wasn’t a ploy. I was just tired.”
“You’ve put in a lot of long hours lately.”
“Yeah. Now I just have to get the place battened down for the winter.” Jared’s almost been looking forward to it after the last few weeks of frantic activity. Almost. Preparing for winter is hardly less urgent; they’re predicting first snow any week now.
“Well, your tractor attachments are all put away. Your furnace is working fine, and the heat lamps in your chicken coop have new bulbs.”
“They do? They are?”
She rubs furiously at some terrible blemish on his right hip and doesn’t look at him. “Yup.”
“Wow. Um, th—”
“Don’t even,” she says, glaring at him with her index finger in the air.
“Right. Um, are all brownies so full-service? Winterizing the tractor, that kind of thing?”
When she doesn’t say anything more, he prompts, “You’re basically a full-time employee around here.”
“Basically, yeah,” she says, not giving an inch. “Except for getting paid.”
Jared grimaces. “We could do something about that.” God knows this farm isn’t making him rich, but when the woman says it wouldn’t run without her, he believes her. Surely he could figure something out.
“No. Brownies don’t get paid. We get very offended if you offer.”
He gives her a hard look. She doesn’t look offended. She doesn’t look inclined to budge, either, though. “Is there something I could do for you, though? Better food, or something?”
She hesitates, and then she starts washing around his balls, which is very distracting, however clinical she is about it. She doesn’t answer his question, and he sort of falls asleep for a while, although he wakes up long enough to turn over for her. It is nice, being soundly scrubbed, having someone’s hands all over him. He wishes it could be mutual. Sandwiches and beer are not a fair return for cleaning out a guy’s toe jam.
Anyway, he’s not convinced she’s getting a lot of that physical contact, either.
“Okay,” she says, and he realizes she’s finished. “Now it’s time to clean out your insides.”
Jared’s brain stutters. “Uh.”
“You requested an enema?” She crosses her arms, her eyes daring him to back down.
Okay, so yes, that was what she meant. He was never certain. “Yeah. Sure. It’s fine with me. If you’re nice about it?” Because getting an enema from someone who hates him is on his please never list, even if she’s cute. Not that he thinks his brownie hates him now. He doesn’t really think she ever did.
She slants him a look. “I’m always nice.”
He blinks, searching for some politic response to that, and then he sees the beginnings of a smirk. “Hah!” He points at her. “You do have a sense of humor.”
“I’m hilarious,” she says, and snaps him with her washcloth.
“So how’s your sphincter?” the brownie asks casually.
“Uh.” Jared stares. “Fine?”
“I mean, you’ve got pretty good control? We can put a plastic sheet on the bed, but the bedspread needs a wash anyway. A few drips won’t hurt it. So unless you think you’re gonna just let go...” She trails off and looks expectantly at him.
“I should be fine?” Not that Jared is speaking from any prior experience, here.
She nods once, firmly. “You have any preferences about position?”
“Lie down on your side, then.”
Jared does. From behind him and across the room, something rattles up next to him. He twists and sees, “An IV stand?” There’s a bag hanging from it. Jared declines to think about what it’s for. “Do you just have every kind of cleaning equipment at your fingertips?”
“Mostly,” the brownie agrees gravely. “I need a special permit for the atmosphere scrubbers.”
This time, Jared catches on faster to the quirk of her lips. “You’re right. You are hilarious.”
“Told you. Now, back on your side.” She takes him by the shoulder and rolls him over again.
The next thing he feels is his asshole being prodded. “Um?”
“Just opening you up. Don’t worry, I've got gloves on.”
Well, that resolves all his concerns. Not.
Her questing fingers poke into his ass, and okay, he should maybe have considered the part where his hot housekeeper would be putting her fingers in his ass. Then something else pokes at him, something less giving. Jared holds his breath, and slowly the... nozzle? Whatever it is, it slides further in.
“Okay? Did I get enough lube on it?”
“Sure,” he manages to say. “I think this might be a terrible idea.”
“Maybe, but you’re definitely going to be very, very clean. And now for the water.”
He expects it to be cold. It isn’t. It’s a trickle of warmth seeping into his belly, pooling like the morning’s first cup of coffee. A gently intrusive cup of coffee. It’s nice, kind of. Carefully he lets go of the breath he was holding.
“Okay?” the brownie asks again.
“Yeah,” Jared says. “Yeah, I’m fine.” It’s weird, is all. He closes his eyes, and he tries to ignore the sense of fluid fluiding around inside him. After a few moments, though, the warmth starts to feel like a kind of pressure. “Um.”
He startles when her hand falls across his lower abdomen. She rubs a circle below his bellybutton, gentler than he’d have thought she was capable of. “Better?”
“Yeah.” She keeps her hand there through another two turns. Then Jared feels a twinge, sharp and deep. He grunts.
“Yeah.” She presses a little more firmly against his stomach, like she thinks she’s going to rub the cramp out. Maybe she does; it passes after a moment. Now, though, that hint of internal pressure he felt before is stronger, more insistent. “How much more?”
“You’ve got plenty of room still. Stop whining.”
“I wasn’t -- oh.” This cramp grips him and doesn’t let go. Jared digs his chin into his chest, trying to curl into the ache. The press of the brownie’s hand on his belly is less comfort than distraction at this point, but even distraction is something. Jared moans, his eyes squeezed shut.
“Just breathe through it. It’ll feel better in a minute.”
“Are you sure?” Jared grates out.
Jared squints one eye open. Raggedly, he asks, “How are you only ‘pretty sure’? How many times have you done this?”
“How often do you think people want their brownie to clean out their ass?”
“Oh, God.” Jared shuts his eye again.
“It’s okay, I did a bunch of reading.”
Jared doesn’t even dignify that with a response. He focuses on the breathing. It’s hard; he wants to hold his breath until the pain goes away, and he has to keep remembering to exhale. Slowly, an eternity later, the cramp eases. For a moment, Jared only revels in the sheer lack of pain he’s enjoying right now. Then he becomes aware of just how weird he feels. How full, where there should be no fullness. He opens his eyes and peers down at his gut, but all curled up as he is, it’s impossible to see anything.
“Just a little bit more,” his brownie says. “How are you doing?”
“Okay,” Jared says uncertainly. He doesn’t dislike the sense of swollenness, necessarily. Or like it, either. He has no idea how he feels about what he’s feeling right now. Quietly he lies on the bed, trying to decide. The pressure continues to build. The brownie’s fingers brush across his taut, heated skin, and somehow that’s the trigger that decides, oh yes, he likes this. He really likes this, and his dick is perking up and telling him so. He feels his face flaming, and he buries his head in his arms. The brownie doesn’t make any comment, on either his sudden shyness or his erection. Maybe she didn’t notice.
Another cramp worms into him, but it’s a little one, and it passes soon enough. He starts to pant against the pressure. He’s not sure how much more he can take.
“Okay!” The brownie says, startling him. “Bag’s all empty, so you just need to stay still for a couple more minutes, and then we’ll empty you out.”
“God,” Jared mumbles into his arm. “Can’t we do it now?”
“Nope,” she says cheerfully. She pats his chest, which isn’t so far removed from his dick that she could miss seeing it. Jared doesn’t hear any horrified brownie noises. Cautiously he peers up at her, his face hotter than ever.
She gazes back. Eventually, she arches an eyebrow. “What?”
“I’m sorry? I didn’t mean to, um.”
She fails to look nearly as horrified as he thinks she should. “Enjoy it?”
“Yeah,” he mutters.
“I guess I didn’t do a terrible job, then,” she says. “Go me.”
“You don’t mind? I swear, I didn’t know, you don’t have to—”
He’s cut off by the brownie leaning over and kissing his swollen dick: a touch light and sweet and wholly insufficient, and then gone. Jared stares. “Not a word,” she says, her finger in his face. Hers is bright red, too, now. Then she turns abruptly and walks around behind him. A moment later he hears her fiddling with the IV stand.
Okay, then. Jared really doesn’t have enough brain to process that right now. He huddles in on his belly and waits. It feels a little like he’s floating, on the ocean, maybe, except the ocean is inside him. It wants out. He really, really can’t let it out.
“You ready?” the brownie asks, softer than last time.
“Please,” Jared says, more desperately than he’d like.
“All right, out comes the nozzle.” A moment later, he can feel her sliding it out of him. Then the brownie is in front of him, her hands under his elbow. “Up you get. And don’t you let go yet.”
Jared doesn’t need the reminder; the risk of relaxing even a little and spilling filthy water all over has him flushed and clenched tight as he can. The brownie helps him upright and then pulls him to his feet. Together they stumble him to the bathroom, and she guides him onto the toilet. “I can do this part,” Jared says. Pleads.
“I should hope so.” She disappears back into the bedroom, pulling the bathroom door gently to behind her.
For a moment Jared can only sit there. Cautiously he looks down at himself, at his flushed, swollen dick, at his aching abdomen. He spreads a hand across his belly; he can feel the swell the water makes, the heat of it under his fingers.
Then the toilet seat beneath and the aching pressure within catches up to him. Somewhere deep in his brain, something relaxes, and everything in him drains into the bowl.
He sits for a while longer, just breathing. Eventually he starts to think about moving again. His dick has wilted some, and he eyes it for a moment, uncertain. That kiss earlier - was that supposed to mean something? Whatever this is that he has going on with the mythical person who cleans his house, it’s very confusing.
Better be safe than sorry, he decides. All it takes is a few flashes of memory of that warm pressure filling him, the brownie’s fingertips grazing his skin, to get himself fully hard again, and a few practiced strokes to bring him to completion. After another few moments to recover, he wipes himself off and makes his shaky way out to the bedroom.
“How do you feel?” asks his brownie. She’s sliding a fresh pillowcase onto his pillow; the rest of his bed has already been stripped and remade. The IV stand and everything with it is gone.
“Uh, okay.” Jared slumps onto his bed. The comforter is cool against his skin. Probably he should think about some clothes soon. Or sleep. He was sleeping before all this started.
“Yeah? All cleaned out?”
“Squeaky clean. I feel pretty good, actually.” Jared finds himself smiling. “Sort of, uh, wrung out?”
“Do you have to go now?”
She comes and sits next to him, her fingers fiddling with the pillowcase hem. “Pretty soon.”
He turns and searches her face for a hint of what she’s feeling. Without her scowl and her fierce efficiency, he can’t tell what’s left. “I don’t get it,” he says finally.
Her brow bunches in a familiar scowl. “What?”
“Why you do all this. The farm, and the... the personal stuff. You already said it’s not standard brownie MO, not that I even understand what that is. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been great, and you’re great, and the damn enema was great, but...”
The brownie drops her eyes to the pillow in her lap, still fiddling with the hem. Motionless, she seems smaller – she’s barely half his size, probably a head and a half shorter even sitting down, and suddenly he wants badly to put his arm around those slim shoulders and pull her in.
Her head comes up. Jared could swear tears shone in her eyes. “It feels like something worthwhile – taking care of your farm. Taking care of you.” She flashes him a sad smile and pokes him in the stomach. Jared grunts; he’s feeling a little tender there. “This way, the stupid cleaning all means something. I’m not just doing it to do it. I’m doing it for...”
“For me?” Jared asks disbelievingly.
She rolls her eyes. “For a person. Who is you, granted.”
“Oh.” Jared is stupidly warmed by this. It doesn’t last long; she looks so defeated. “You can’t tell me why, can you? Why you’re here at all. Why you’re a brownie when you seem to hate it so much.”
“No. I can’t.”
“Is there anything I can do? Anything at all?”
She pushes to her feet and takes a step for the door, and for a split second he thinks he’s back to square one, no questions, no talking. Then she stops and says, “My name’s Genevieve. Or Gen, usually.”
Jared is flummoxed. It takes him a moment to find his tongue. “It’s pretty.”
“And I like bananas.”
“You do?” he says blankly.
“Yeah. Fresh or, like, banana bread. That’s my favorite.” She turns around and pats his knee, finally sliding her gaze over to meet his. “I’ll see you around, okay?” She leans in and gives him a peck on the corner of his mouth.
Then the house is empty except for him.
He stares at his wall for a while. He feels obscurely like crying. Maybe that’s aftermath from getting his bowels flushed out. Eventually a chill comes over him, and he realizes he’s still sitting in the open air buck naked, so he turns out his light, crawls under his fresh sheets, and falls asleep.
It snows that night. The next morning Jared cleans his truck off and drives carefully into town on roads slick but not yet packed down. At the grocery store, he takes out the recipe he copied from one of Grandma Chandler’s cookbooks, and he picks up bananas and sour cream along with his usual supply of beef stew and frozen pizzas.
Once he gets it all out to the car, he sits for a minute just looking out over the steering wheel, across the snow-gray parking lot. Finally he gets his cell phone out of his pocket, and he dials. After six rings, it goes to Adrianne’s voicemail. Jared listens all the way through before ending the call. He doesn’t leave a message. He doesn’t know what he’d have said to Adrianne even if she picked up. I might be falling in love with my housekeeper? I think she’s in trouble and I don’t know how to help?
I miss you, Adrianne. You and Osric and Aldis and the gang, and the city, and everything that isn’t this damn farm.
It starts snowing again on the way home. Jared brushes himself off outside the door. Inside he takes off his coat and his damp jeans, and once he’s in dry clothes he starts a fire in the fireplace and sets about figuring out how to make banana bread. He’s not much of a baker, but it doesn’t look that hard. He didn’t think he had any loaf pans, but there at the back of the cabinet he finds a stack of them: yet more tools for living left behind by Grandma Chandler when she moved.
He doesn’t talk – to the brownie or the ceiling or anyone. He doesn’t know what he’d say.
Eventually the bread is done. He dumps a loaf out onto the cutting board, cuts a heel off, and slathers it with butter. He’s not much for bananas, honestly. Still, bread is different, and it tastes pretty good once it cools enough to put in his mouth. Like cake, kind of.
When he’s done, he doesn’t know what to do with himself. He puts more fake logs on the fire. He putters around on his laptop for a while, thinking about spring seeding, but that just makes him tired. More tired. The gray sky is clotted with falling snow and already getting dark, and here inside Jared feels muffled, like no sound can properly reach his ears. Somewhere unimaginably distant, the world carries on, but here time stands still.
At seven o’clock, he slices up the rest of the banana bread and arranges the slices on a plate, and he sets a full glass of milk next to it, and he goes to bed.
All the bread is gone when he wakes up. The glass and plate are of course in the dishwasher, clean as new.
Part 1 | Part 2 | Whole fic on AO3
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