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Been up late again.

Waiting for herself to get back from I don’t know where. We used to have such a good time, once the young princesses had retired and after the butler had helped himself to ‘just a little glass of port’ and headed for his chambers with half a jug of the stuff. The house at night, it was quiet, everyone sleeping at far ends of this big old place and us two snug and cosy in the kitchen. It was all ours, for an hour or two at least.

Recently though, we’ve drifted.

I asked her yesterday where she’d been and she just said, ‘out’ and that made me sad because I thought we were friends.

No secrets, you know?

Well, my secret was that I hoped we’d marry one day and have a large family and maybe find work as housekeeper and butler at some fine house, and I think she kind of knew that and went along with it a little just to please me, but even if it didn’t happen, even if it was never going to happen, I thought we were close.

Time was we’d sit up half the night talking and making plans, her creased up with laughter at my bad jokes and daft ideas and the tunes I played her on my old tin flute, and her sometimes in tears about how things had worked out and how she had plans and dreams of her own and how determined she was, and I’d tell her I knew it would work out for her. It would, I’d say, all of it, it’d all work out. We’d hug and say goodnight and then often as not we’d sit back down and talk some more.

One night there was a thunderstorm and she came to my room scared, and we sat up all night as this storm raged outside and we talked about her plans to escape the drudgery and I held her close as she told me how she wanted glamour and riches and beauty and things like that. Held her until the storm quietened and she fell asleep in my arms. Anything seemed possible that night.

But now? She goes out, never gets back much before midnight, and often not much before daylight, and she’s always too tired for a chat, or she does stop to talk it’s all ‘Prince Charming’ this and ‘Glass Slipper’ that, and the next morning she looks a little rough and I end up laying the fire and cleaning up for her before Cook gets here, while she sits and mopes in the corner, twirling her hair, giving herself airs and looking decidedly worse for wear. But happy too. Content somehow, the way the kitchen cat looks content when she’s caught a mouse. She has a glow. That old old hunger has gone, that mood of always waiting for something better to come along. Something better has come along, I guess. And she’s leaving soon, well, that’s the rumour. One of the maids said that she’s caused trouble and she’s being sent back to her father’s family in the country. But I dunno. I think she’ll make good. She deserves a happy ending.

And me?

Well I’m still just the pot boy here at the big house, the washer-up, the friendly gormless kid who gets into trouble and gets out of it with a song or by making people laugh.

So here’s a joke – what do you call the boy who doesn’t get the girl?

Answer? You don’t. You never call him.

Not any more.

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