“What do you think?” Daniel asked.
“I love it,” I admitted wistfully. He’d found the perfect space. The storefront was in the right neighborhood. I’d have a lavatory and workshop on the second floor. And I’d move in to live on the top floor. Except there was no way this was in my budget.
“Do you want to see the other places, or should we get your paperwork started here?” he asked.
“There’s no way I can afford this place,” I said.
“Nonsense. You told me that you’d pay between two and three thousand. This place falls right in the middle of that range,” he told me.
“What?” I asked.
“Two thousand, five hundred a month,” he confirmed.
“For all three floors?” I inquired.
“Of course,” Daniel said. He smiled at me, letting me know I hadn’t offended him with my disbelief.
“What’s the catch?” It felt too good to be true.
“The price will be renegotiable when the contract ends. I’m sure we can keep it reasonable, though,” he replied.
“Right,” I said. It could work. I had enough saved for the first few months at that price, and if I continued to make watches for Daniel on the side, I could keep myself afloat, even if my official shop didn’t take off immediately. “Let’s do it.”
“Excellent,” Daniel said.
Jim looked nervous about my decision. While Daniel went to retrieve the paperwork, I pulled Jim aside. I respected his opinion, and I hadn’t signed anything yet. If he had a compelling reason not to take this deal, I could change my mind still.
“Is everything okay?” I asked.
“I’m just nervous about Daniel getting more involved in your business,” he said.
“Is he so bad?”
“Not when you’re on his good side,” he conceded.
“I won’t forget who I’m dealing with. But he’s already invested a lot in me. I’d still be trying to save money from Shaw’s if not for him. I’m not saying there’s no risk. But I think that it’s a reasonable risk to take,” I argued.
He didn’t look convinced, but Daniel returned with the landlord and a contract before he could rebuttal. Jim had a point. I didn’t know Daniel well enough to guarantee I’d stay in favor with him. Still, I couldn’t pass up this deal. And I didn’t see why Daniel would have invested as much time, money, and effort in me if he didn’t see a beneficial future for us. I knew we weren’t friends, no matter how friendly he treated me. We probably never would be, but I felt like I had a good grasp of what he expected from me. As long as I didn’t promise him anything I could deliver, I’d be fine.
Once we finished all the signatures and I got my keys, Daniel insisted on treating us to lunch. I got confused at first when the carriage stopped in front of an alteration boutique. Everything made sense when Aubrey came out and joined us. I’d forgotten about her offer from the other night. From the little I glanced in her window displays before we drove away, I liked her work. I’d have to give her shop some serious thought when I was ready for a new wardrobe. My clothes weren’t bad, but I worried they didn’t set the perfect impression on my new neighborhood.
The carriage dropped us off in front of a restaurant I’d never have gone to on my own. Even if I could afford it, it would feel too imprudent. A host with nice shoes than mine led us to a table. I caught him scrutinizing Jim’s and my outfits before walking away. Maybe I needed that wardrobe update sooner rather than later.
Our server brought us a fizzy wine, and Daniel lifted his glass for a toast. “To new ventures.”
We drank our full glasses for luck, and the server refilled them for us before leaving us to peruse the menu. I quickly noticed something odd. None of the menu items had prices listed. Either you could afford the food here, or you’d be in a lot of trouble when the bill came. The host’s judgmental glance made even more sense. He likely wouldn’t have seated us if we weren’t with Daniel. Without the printed cost for guidance, I couldn’t base my choice on the least expensive option.
I’d finally convinced myself not to worry about the bill when the server returned. Everyone’s order sounded delicious, and I wished I could try it all. I picked a stuffed chicken dish that sounded too complicated to make without much better culinary skills than I could claim.
“So, you found a space?” Aubrey asked after the server left us again.
“It’s perfect,” I told her.
“Maybe you can help me find a new place for me to rent when my lease ends,” she said to Daniel.
“Whatever you wish, my dear,” he told her.
If the dresses she wore indicated the quality she sold in her store, she could sell to a higher status of clientele than her current location would provide her. The black floor-length gown she’d worn fit her just as well as the last dress I’d seen her in. She’d stitched intricate patterns in black beads so that the overlapping lines drew the eye when the light hit her. It took me several subtle glances to figure out she’d stitched words into the dress. I’d need to stare at it under a light to read it thoroughly. It could be meaningless drivel, and still, it would be unique and beautiful, two things the upper class coveted.
“Do you have anything scheduled for this afternoon, Dimitri?” Daniel asked.
“No, I kept my day clear in case we needed more time to view other places,” I answered.
“Perfect. After we eat, we should go back to Aubrey’s shop,” he suggested.
“Oh yes! I’d love to take your measurements,” Aubrey added.
“All right,” I agreed. It couldn’t hurt to estimate the cost of a wardrobe from her boutique.
Aubrey and Daniel happily planned another night out for the four of us as we ate. I joined in with suggestions and affirmations. But Jim stayed stoic the whole lunch. Was he upset with me for accepting Daniel’s assistance in finding the storefront? If he’d been this worried about it, why hadn’t he said something after Daniel made the initial offer? I wished I could get him alone to discuss it. It would be too rude to excuse ourselves from the table. So, I held my questions in and did my best to keep a cheery demeanor for the rest of lunch.