Mr and Mrs Porter escorted Mason out of the Underclassman giveaway and down a large staircase to the front of the building. Parked in front of the building were two cars. One was a shining stretch black limousine and the other a slightly less glamorous, but still expensive looking, black SUV. A driver stepped out of the limousine and opened the back door for Mrs Porter who slipped inside. The driver held the door open for Mr Porter but it was clear Mr Porter was not getting into the limousine right away. Still holding Mason by his collar, he dragged him over to the SUV, opened the rear driver’s side door, and shoved Mason inside. The door slammed shut with a thud and Mason watched as Mr Porter walked over and slipped into the limousine next to his wife.
In the driver’s seat was an elderly man with a black cap. Mason wasn’t sure if he was allowed to talk to the man or not. There had not been a briefing about what to do with strangers. The general rule for Underclassman, as Mason knew, was that you only did what your owner told you to do. Everything you were allowed to do and forbidden from doing was set down by the owners. Mason wondered if he would be breaking any rules talking to the driver of his vehicle. There weren’t any rules forbidding it…yet.
“I’m Sam.” The man in the black capped looked into the rear view mirror at Mason. Mason could see now that the man, Sam, had deep set eyes and very thin lips, like they had been drawn on. His outfit, a completely black uniform with shiny gold buttons, made his skin look a washed out grey colour. Mason didn’t reply. He still wasn’t sure if he was allowed. “It’s okay. You’re allowed to talk to me.” Was this a test? Mason did not want to fail so he kept his mouth shut as the car lurched away from the curb.
The SUV ran considerably smoother than the train. Mason had never ridden in a car before and was still trying to adjust to the smooth leather seats and the speed at which everything flashed past his window. He had managed to, after a few minutes of studying it, work out how the seatbelt worked although he still wasn’t sure of its purpose. He tugged on his seatbelt a few times, noticing that sometimes it would stretch and sometimes it would lock depending on how hard he pulled at it. This certainly was a new experience.
The view outside of his window was something to behold. For most people living in Liberty, the town was just a mixture of greys and greens. Pavements and stone buildings flashed past with speckling of man-made grasslands and random bushes or trees. To Mason this was wildly different from the red dust-land he grew up with. There were no farms, no cows wandering out of their pastures and in front of people, no smoky and dusty clouds when a cart rolled by too quickly and kicked up the dirt. Here there were just people. No wildlife at all. People in suits. “This is the business sector.” Sam glanced again at Mason who was shrinking back into his comfortable leather seat. “Over left you got all your business offices for your lawyer and accountant types.” Mason looked where he was instructed to and was greeted with numerous buildings, each one made of more glass and brick than the previous one. The blacked out windows on every building, reflecting the bright sun beaming down, were almost twice the size as Mason. “If you look right then you’ll see the government buildings.” Mason turned his attention to the other side of the car and noticed a huge building surrounded by a lot of smaller buildings. The tall building had a banner draped down the side with a picture of the Mayor on it. The Mayor smiled over his town with a grin so big that it stretched at the sides of his face. “That’s Mayor Lambert.”
The scenery slowly began to change. The grey buildings because less and less frequent and the foliage became more and more predominant. The buildings turned into houses, no longer were they the office types with huge glass windows. They were still monumental, compared to Mason’s home back in Ashdale, but they were considerably smaller than the office buildings he had just seen. They all seemed to be pained, something Mason noticed was missing from the office blocks. The windows were smaller and tended to be decorated with nets or plush curtains. “Residential district. This is where all the people live. The rich people that is. Bet it’s nothing like where you come from.”
“Not really.” Mason hadn’t realised he had said anything until the words had left his mouth. Sam looked up at him in the mirror and saw Masons wide eyes staring back at him, wondering what sort of punishment to expect from that. Sam just shook his head and smiled, his lips stretching even thinner.
“You think you’re the only Underclassman this family ever owned?” Mason noticed then something that he hadn’t noticed in anyone he had encountered at Liberty so far; Sam was talking to him. Everyone else spoke at Underclassman, but Sam was speaking to Mason as if they were equals. “I was taken fifty years ago. Worked for The Porter family and their children ever since.” Sam’s eyes grew distant. Mason worried about his safety given the wavering concentration on Sam’s face. It was as if he were re-living his life before he came to Liberty. For Mason that was easy, it was only a couple of hours ago, but for Sam it was a whole lifetime ago. Mason couldn’t imagine not seeing his brother or mother for fifty years. “That’s why they got you.” Mason’s eyebrows furrowed as he tried to figure out what it was that Sam was telling him. “I’ve run out of use. Can’t carry as much as I used to. Can’t move as quickly as I used to. All I can do now is drive. When I can’t drive no more then I’ll be gone.”
“Where?” Sam chuckled and Mason wondered what was funny. He hadn’t intended to make a joke and couldn’t, looking back on the conversation, find anything that was directly laugh-worthy.
“Underclassman don’t go no where but down.” There wasn’t anywhere left for an Underclassman to go. Mason couldn’t physically fall any further down the social ladder. He had thought he was at the bottom back in Ashdale but now he was truly at the bottom. It took a few seconds before he realised what Sam was saying.
“You mean they…”
“Not directly. Can’t have murder on their hands. But they turn you out into the streets. No one gonna take on an elderly Underclassman though, so you don’t have no choice but to survive for yourself.” Mason wondered if he could do it. He thought, given a few months at Liberty, he would be able to find his way around. He knew Ashdale and the surrounding area like the back of his hand and even knew the measurements of all the farms. If, in a couple of months time, Mason was thrown out onto the streets then he would undoubtedly be able to survive. He had survived on less before. But Sam wasn’t eighteen. Sam was sixty eight years old. Mason had known elderly people, people Sam’s age, back in Ashdale. They could still tend a farm but they weren’t as quick or as hardy as they had been in their youth. Any cold chill could send them inside for weeks with a fever and some of them would never come back out again.
“They can’t just throw you out.” Sam had stopped listening and was now just looking at the road in front of him.
“We’re nearly there.” They had turned into a road full of ornate houses with elaborate brick and stonework on the sides. The front gardens were full of bushes and topiaries carved into impressive shapes. None of the shapes looked easy, but this was the point. Where one family might have a five pointed star shape carved into their hedges, another family would outdo that with a selection of spirals and loops that intercut each other. Then the original family would reply with more stars, linked together like a pyramid. The garden, and the outside of the house, was not a practical place. Everything there, from the perfectly manicured grass and flowers full of colour right up to the thick oak door, it was all for display. Mason knew right away why these people needed Underclassmen. They didn’t need people to do their day to day chores, although he knew that would be part of the package, they needed someone who was going to maintain their display of wealth and frivolity.
They pulled up into the driveway of one of the most elaborately decorated houses on the street. All the windows had fancy spirals moulded into their framework and the grass was a solid block of neatly trimmed lush green. Every stand of grass was the same size and colour as the rest and it matched the colour of the hedges and topiaries perfectly. The flowers that lined the house were not subtle and were bursting with different vibrant colours. There were pinks and purples and blues and yellows. There was no coordination to them, everything was just colour over style. They could see the limousine pulled up in front of the house as they turned to slide the car into the garage. Mr and Mrs Porter were probably already inside waiting for Mason to arrive.
Sam took the car around to the side of the house into a small alcove that was hidden away underneath more foliage. Apparently having a place to put your car was considered ugly because Mason would never have spotted this from the street. Sam turned the car engine off and Mason reached for the handle.
“They are important people.” Sam didn’t move, not even to look at Mason, so his voice seemed to be coming from no where. Mason froze with his hand on the car door handle. “Mr and Mrs Porter. They are important people. They run in the highest of circles and frequently socialist with Liberty’s elite.” There was something more to Sam’s voice, like he wasn’t just informing Mason of this as a fact but was warning him to be on his best behaviour. “They have powerful friends. Should you upset them, you may end up disappearing rather easily.” Sam didn’t say any more, he simply exited the car and walked Mason over to the door that connected the garage to the rest of the house.
When Sam pushed the door open it was, once again, like a whole new world for Mason. The inside of the house was more lavish than Mason could have ever conceived in his mind. There was a dark coloured wood on the floor, but not like the wooden floorboards at Mason’s house, this wood was smooth and polished with not a single hole visible. The walls were a dark gold with white finishings around the fireplace and the window frames. The sofa’s and chairs – of which there were many – were white with brown trims on the arms and legs, the same brown that matched the wooden floor perfectly. To top it off, the focus point of the room, the centre held a large white rug with a brown coffee table that seemed to fit effortlessly into the grandeur of the room. That single room, Mason thought, was bigger and more decorated than his entire house.
He thought back to his single armchair that Thomas would often be found curled up in. It was tattered and torn and his father had brought it back after finding it discarded in the middle of no where. And the single chair in their kitchen, the one they had been given by Miss Johnson. There was more furniture in this single room than in most of Ashdale combined. But these people did not seem to notice at all.
Mr Porter had draped his jacket over the back of one of the sofa’s nearest the door and Mrs Porter had left her handbag and coat on the floor and hung on the back of an armchair. If Mason owned that room then he wouldn’t let anyone treat it as a place to hang clothes. He soon found out how Mr and Mrs Porter were able to be so lackadaisical about their cleaning habits.
“Hang up our coats.” Mrs Porter disappeared into the kitchen, with Mr Porter following closely behind. He stopped when he got to the kitchen door though.
“And do be quick, we do not want to wait around for you.” With that he disappeared into the kitchen. Sam, before Mason knew the Porter’s were gone, was already hanging up Mr Porter’s coat and had Mrs Porter’s in his other arm. If he was slow then Mason could only imagine what he would have been like fifty years ago. He hung it over the coat hook by the large wooden front door and then Mason turned, ready to enter the kitchen. Sam cleared his throat and Mason immediately turned around to see what he wanted.
“The bag needs to be hung up too.” Sam gestured towards the handbag, using this more as a teaching aid than actually doing the work for him.
“But they said coats.” Sam picked up the handbag and handed it to Mason, pointing to where it needed to be hung up. Mason threw it over the same hook where Mrs Porter’s coat was hung and then Sam corrected it, moving it to the hook next to it. “When they say coats, they mean anything out of place in the room. You tidy the room.” He straightened the straps on the bag so that they hung evenly and the handbag rested perfectly in place on the hook. “And nothing must be out of place. The bag must not go on the same hook as the coat and the bag must be hung perfectly.” Sam gestured towards the kitchen door where Mason could hear Mr and Mrs Porter talking. “You should hurry.” Mason slipped into the kitchen and Sam followed a few seconds later.
The kitchen was all slick surfaces and shiny metals. The counter tops were white marble, resting on top of sleek black cupboards, and the walls were black to match. The floor shone brightly, almost a luminous white, reflecting the dazzlingly bright bulbs overhead. Mason was taken back by the lights alone. He had never seen actual lights and actual light-bulbs so to see so many of them scattered about one room, illuminating the entire place, almost left him short of breath. The table in the middle of the room had a large white marble top, to match the counter tops, held up by shiny metal supports underneath. On top of the table lay more food than Mason could have grown in a month. There were apples, banana’s, pears, plums, grapes and various types of berries, some of which Mason had never seen before. He had to fight every muscle in his body just to resist reaching out and grabbing an apple, sinking his teeth into it and feeling the fleshy core of it split open and the juice come running out. The table in front of him contained more apples than Mason could ever remember eating, and he wanted to eat them all.
“You need to be quicker next time.” The comment was aimed directly at Mason, as they probably knew Sam could do it quicker if he wasn’t there.
Mr Porter was stood the other side of the table, with Mrs Porter, with a few pieces of paper in front of them both. He had a pen in his hand and clicked it repeatedly until he was happy he had clicked it enough.
“We are fair owners and give you the opportunity not to serve us.” Mason couldn’t believe what he was hearing. He had the opportunity to not be an Underclassman and to not serve these people. He glanced over to Sam who, when he realised he was out of sight of Mr and Mrs Porter, shook his head gently from side to side. Mason knew this was a bad sign. “If you decide not to follow our rules then we shall hand you back over to General Campbell and he shall decide what to do with you.” Mason could imagine what would happen if he was handed back over with Mr Porter telling him that he ‘didn’t agree with our rules’. It wasn’t really his place to disagree with the rules and so that would be taken as a sign of disobedience towards the government and Mason would be punished accordingly. What that punishment was, no one knew. No Underclassman ever refused the rules. “So, if you would please sign here to show that you understand and agree to our rules.” Mason wondered how necessary this all was, considering they did actually own him. No one would support him if he wanted to complain about their rules so why did he need to sign anything. He assumed it was just added incentive, to make it appear to the outside world that Mason wanted to be there and it was his choice to choose this perfect family. “Hurry up, boy!” Mason quickly picked up the pen and scribbled something down onto the paper. He didn’t have a signature, he had never needed to have one. He had to come up with one on the spot and it turned out more just like a random squiggle than anything coherent. “What is your name, boy?”
“…I’m sorry?” Mason wondered if he had made a mistake, was he allowed to ask for clarification?
“It is not a difficult question, boy. If you are to live here, under our roof, then I am not going to be calling you ‘boy’ the entire time. Now do you have a name or not?”
“M…Mason.” The words sputtered out of his mouth the same way a wagon would sputter along the old dirt road, bumping up and down unsteadily.
“Mason.” Mrs Porter wrote the name down on the piece of paper, as if the paper actually meant anything to anyone.
“I’m hungry!” The voice rang out through the kitchen as the door slammed shut. It sounded like the noise the solid metal chair scraping along the stone floor had made at graduation. Mason turned around and was met with the steely, unfamiliar eyes of a small girl.
The girl couldn’t have been more than Thomas’ age, maybe thirteen at a push, but she was nothing like Thomas. She had large, puffy red cheeks that could easily have been mistaken for apples. She had her mother’s hair, although less severely, it was a tangled mess on her head. She was dressed like a princess and Mason wondered just what royal qualities she had. Her stubby little legs circled Mason like he was an unfamiliar animal entering into a herd.
“Who is he?” The question was not aimed at Mason, for that would make the two of them on the same level. Instead, the precocious little child addressed it to her mother, using her stubby finger to indicate just which ‘he’ she was talking about.
“Darling, this is Mason. We acquired him today.” The little girl looked displeased with Mason’s presence. Never had Mason felt so out of place amongst a group of people.
“Make me a sandwich!” Mason could see the sun setting outside and knew, at least where he came from, this would not be the time for a sandwich. But he could not argue with the owners daughter. He crossed over the kitchen to where he spied a breadbox. He opened it up just enough for Mr Porter to slam it down, almost onto his fingers.
“Not now, sweetheart. Mason’s duties begin tomorrow. Tomorrow he will make you as many sandwiches as you want.” Once more the focus was about Mason but no one was actually looking at, or talking to, him. “Samuel, show Mason to his room.” Sam nodded his head and escorted Mason out of the room.
Sam showed Mason upstairs to the very top floor, further up than any of the family bedrooms. Mason wasn’t used to being up this high but knew he would have to get used to it quickly. It was not decorated as nicely as the rest of the house, although it was still more glamorous than where Mason had grown up. There were no decorations on the walls and there were no carpets or rugs to cover the floors. On the plus side, Mason thought, there were no holes in the walls and the floorboards were still as shiny and polished as the ones in the living room. This, for most people from Ashdale, was a veritable heaven. Mason knew that it was not as nice as the rest of the house but he could not complain, he had everything he needed in that room. A small bedside table and a small wooden framed bed. Even the bed didn’t creak as much as his one from Ashdale had.
On the opposite side of the room was another bed. Sam’s bed. It was a large open plan bedroom that they both had to share. Mason couldn’t find any complaints with this, while Sam was in the bed opposite then he wasn’t living on the streets and that was enough for Mason. Even if they weren’t living the life of luxury, they were living and neither of them could complain about that.
“That was Tallulah, their daughter.” Sam slipped into his bed and watched Mason take in the surroundings. “She doesn’t understand that Underclassmen are people. To people like her, they are just objects for ordering around.” Mason knew all to well this was true from the tone of voice Tallulah had used when asking for food. If Thomas had asked for food, from a stranger, in that tone then Mason would have been within his rights to clip his ear and send him to bed without any food. He never had to though because, unlike Tallulah, Thomas treated people like people. Mason had made sure to instil good values in Thomas when he had to look after him, to make sure that he was always courteous to people who helped him or gave him stuff for free. That was the reason they shared the food with Mrs Miller. If someone had the decency to help you out then you had the decency to respect them. That world was gone though. Mason wasn’t in his world any more. He was in Tallulah’s world.
The next morning Mason was woken just as the sun was peering over the horizon. He could see it clearly out of his top floor window and wondered how he had been able to sleep in for so long. Sam, the reason for his waking, was standing next to him gently shaking his shoulder. Sam was already dressed in his full black uniform with the shiny gold buttons. The black hat he wore would have been better suited to a child and only served to make Sam appear significantly older than he was.
Beside Mason’s bed was a matching suit with a matching hat. This wasn’t the usual attire for Underclassmen, there was no usual attire for that occupation. The uniform was whatever the family wished and some would have to spend eternity living in the baggy grey clothes they were acquired in. For Mason he had stumbled upon a rather fortunate family whose pride in their appearance outweighed their desire to ridicule and humiliate. For Mason this was lucky because, whilst he would spend the rest of his life serving others, at least he got presentable clothes to do so.
Around the house Sam and Mason were allowed to wear just their shirts and trousers unless it was a special occasion. The rule was that shoes must always be kept by the front or back door in case chores required them to work outside. The Porter’s did not want their Underclassmen wasting time rushing up flights of stairs just to get shoes. Jackets, while at home, could be hung up neatly on a hook in the kitchen but should anyone come to call then they must be worn immediately. Any Underclassman not in full uniform while visitors were around was opening themselves up to a punishment.
When Mason had dressed he met Sam downstairs in the kitchen. Already Sam had various pots and pans on the hob with a multitude of different dishes cooking. Some dishes Mason recognised, such as bacon, eggs and toast, but others were more exquisite and not something he would have been able to make using only farm supplies.
“What am I supposed to do?” If Sam had a spare moment then he would have laughed, but at the time he was dashing back and forth between frying and boiling and chopping and peeling.
“Get the doughnuts out of the fridge.” Mason opened the fridge and realised he didn’t know what he was looking for. He grabbed a few boxes and opened the lids. Anything that smelled vaguely savoury went straight back into the fridge. Mason assumed, judging by the copious amounts of sugar and butter being thrown into pans, this was not a family that would enjoy a savoury breakfast. Eventually he stumbled across a large cardboard box at the bottom of the fridge. He opened it up and took it across to Sam who told him to take them out and put them onto plates. Mason reached into the box but received a spatula to the back of the hand before he could touch a single crumb. “Not with your hands. Use the tongs on the side.” He pointed towards a set of tongs resting in a large pot with a lot of other utensils Mason had never had to use before. “Don’t touch any food with your hands. All food has to be prepared using gloves,” He threw a pair of clean plastic gloves onto the centre table where Mason was stood. “Or you use tongs. Do not indent the food with the tongs though. The doughnuts have to be a perfect circle.” Mason carefully lifted each doughnut onto the plate, only putting the occasional dent in one or two.
“What’s next?” Sam quickly strolled over to where Mason was stood and looked at the doughnuts. He picked up the dented ones and threw them into the bin. “What was that for?”
“You’re not allowed to dent them.”
“Yeah, be we could have had them later.” Sam snorted as he made his way back over to where the pots and pans were boiling and frying.
“If you’re caught with any food they didn’t allow then there will be severe punishments.”
“I’m wondering just how they can punish us, we’re already at the bottom of the rung.” There was a loud clattering sound as Sam dropped the spatula and it ricocheted off the side of the oven and then onto the floor.
“You want to know?” He rolled back is sleeve to reveal several large scars up the inside of his arm. They weren’t deep scars though, they couldn’t afford to be if a family prided themselves on how they looked. “Every time you mess up a meal, you get one of these.” Mason counted and there were dozens of little welts and marks all the way up his arm.
“They get something metal. Anything they can get hold of quickly. Sometimes it’s just a spoon, other times it’s a knife or a spatula. Then they hold it over a flame and then press it to your skin.” Sam rolled his sleeve back down and told Mason to get back to work, telling him to just chop up some of the fruit. Mason was sorry he had asked the question. He knew every time he felt pain he would relive the memory of how it happened, so he had just asked Sam to relive every single time he had messed up a meal and been burned by the family.
“S’ok. They do it places people can’t see. You’re not a good Underclassman if you’ve got too many marks. The less marks the better you are. If people can’t see your marks then you gotta be the best, right?” It was rhetorical, even Mason knew that. But, even to Mason, the logic made sense. He would have never put anyone through the same thing, not even if they had messed up a great deal on the farm, but then again Mason never had to worry about being judged on how he looked. “They be down in a minute. You better get yourself fixed up.”
“I’m ready.” Sam looked across at Mason and shook his head. It was one thing to look a mess while no one was around but, as the clock struck eight, Sam knew the family would be down soon and he couldn’t have Mason looking a state.
He rounded the table to where Mason stood and looked him up and down. Immediately he grabbed the hem of Mason’s shirt and began to tuck it into his trousers. He then grabbed the waistband of his trousers and pulled it up slightly, much to Mason’s discomfort. The whole attire was probably half a size too big for Mason so Sam was doing his best to make sure it looked as presentable as possible. Sam reached behind him and picked up a tea-towel. He ran one corner of it under cold water and began to scrub at Mason’s cheeks like a mother prepping her child for church. Then he turned his attention to Mason’s hair. At the moment it was just an auburn mess, sticking up in random places. This would have done on the farm, because no one would have seen him, but here was different. Sam dampened the tea-towel once again and quickly ran it through Mason’s hair and then, using his fingers as a makeshift comb, combed all of Mason’s hair to the left and parted it down the right side. Mason looked as presentable as one could do using only things found around a kitchen and a uniform that was too big. They finished just as footsteps began to be heard on the wooden stairs.
“Now, when they come in, don’t say a word. They will tell you what they want and you serve it to them.” Mason stood off to one side, where Sam manoeuvred him, and nodded his head. He understood everything Sam was telling him, he just never understood why. The worst part about the situation was that he wasn’t allowed to ask questions. He wasn’t allowed to ask what Mr or Mrs Porter did. He wasn’t allowed to ask how old Tallulah was, he just had to assume based on how she compared to Thomas. He wasn’t even allowed to ask for food.
Both Mr and Mrs Porter came in without saying a word. They sat down at the table and then Tallulah came stomping in. Mr Porter picked up a newspaper, Sam had obviously placed it there when Mason was distracted, and began reading it.
“I’ll just have some fruit, Samuel.” Sam picked up a bowl and placed a variety of fruit into it. He carefully selected apples and some pears but avoided things like blueberries and blackberries. It had not occurred to Mason until that point that the hardest part of the job was catering to their likes and dislikes. There hadn’t been a book to study of what each member would or would not eat and so, Mason thought to himself, were they expecting him to mess up? Had that been how Sam had got all those burns on his arm? Just because he didn’t know they didn’t like something?
“Gimme a sandwich!” Tallulah yelled at no one in particular. Mason, wanting to make a good first impression, moved across to the bread bin but was stopped by Sam. He looked up and Sam just shook his head and pointed for him to return to his position. “Give me a sandwich!” Tallulah still wasn’t addressing anyone. The blame, if they were to be blamed, could at least be spread between Sam and Mason. “I want a sandwich!” Still there was no response and neither Underclassman moved. After a fourth time of demanding Mrs Porter looked up from her bowl of fruit, which she was picking at timidly, and over at her daughter.
“Not now, darling. Have some toast instead.” Sam nodded for Mason to move and Mason quickly grabbed a slice of toast, put it onto a plate and held the plate out for Tallulah to take.
She took the toast, eagerly, and stuffed the entire slice into her chubby little face within seconds. By the time she had finished she had more crumbs over her than there were on the actual slices of toast. How she achieved such a state of disregard for her appearance, while her parents did their utmost to make sure everything was perfect, was definitely a question Mason wanted to ask.
Breakfast passed by without too many hitches. Everything that nearly went wrong, like when Mason almost picked up a piece of fruit without gloves on or when he almost asked if Tallulah was finished with her plate, was corrected by Sam’s interference. Sam had snatched the piece of fruit out of Mason’s reach before Mason could grab it, likewise he had provided Tallulah with another piece of toast before Mason could ask the question. Tallulah, never being one to say no to food, gladly accepted the toast and ignored whatever Mason may have tried to ask.
“Did you invite the Pearson’s tonight?” Mr Porter hadn’t put his paper down the entire meal but still managed to engage in conversation with his family. Neither of them seemed to mind that he didn’t look at them because they were too engaged in their own mealtime habits. Tallulah was trying to cram as much food into her as possible and Mrs Porter was trying to appear as if she were eating without actually doing so. She seemed to push food around her bowl a lot and occasionally pick up a fork and stab at it, but there was still almost as much there at the end as there was when Sam handed her the bowl.
“Heavens no. Those people are ghastly. Have you seen that they cannot afford to buy another Underclassman when their current one runs out?” Mr Porter laughed at his wife’s comment from behind his paper shield. Mason hadn’t actually been bought, you couldn’t buy an Underclassman because they weren’t worth anything, but you did need to be able to keep them alive. Most people tried to anyway. There was no point in having an Underclassman if you were not going to keep him alive and so many, rather than admit they did not have the capital to own another Underclassman, would simply choose not to own one and fake the idea that they were “trying to become self sufficient.” Self sufficient meant different things to different people. To Mason it was living on his farm, tilling the land, growing the crops and then harvesting them and preparing food from that. He wasn’t reliant on anyone else. To most in Liberty, self sufficiency was the idea of picking your own coat up off of the floor, or washing your own plate after breakfast. Some, like The Porter’s, would rather die than try and be self sufficient.
“Which Underclassman are you taking with you today?” It was the first time he had put his paper down since he had entered the kitchen. Mrs Porter turned around and looked at both Sam and Mason, both of whom were busy washing up after breakfast.
“I’ll take the new one.” The Porter’s all left the table and disappeared into the living room leaving Sam and Mason on their own in the kitchen. The table was still stocked full of food and Mason felt his heart drop when he saw Sam dumping large quantities of it into the bin.
“No.” Sam slides a bowl of porridge across the table to Mason. “We’ve got ten minutes.” It didn’t take either of them that long to eat the porridge and it was going to take Mason a lot longer to actually enjoy porridge. It wasn’t the worst thing he had eaten, some mornings on the farm he would go without breakfast, but he hadn’t had to dump out tonnes of perfectly good food and then eat flavourless gruel. “You should go and report to Mrs Porter.” Mason was about to head out of the kitchen when Sam stopped him. “Every woman is Ma’am and every man is Sir. There are no exceptions. Even Tallulah is a Ma’am to us.” Us. It wasn’t just Mason who had to humiliate himself by catering to the whim of a twelve year old, Sam had to as well. Sam had been doing it his entire life. No doubt he had catered to Mr Porter when he was a child as well. It killed Mason to imagine a young, healthy Sam obeying orders from a child every day of his life. But that was who Mason was now too.
Mason appeared at the bottom of the stairs just as Mrs Porter was pulling her coat on. She handed Tallulah her coat as well and told Mason to go and fetch his jacket. Mason quickly dashed out to the kitchen and grabbed his jacket from it’s hook. “Tallulah’s coming too.” Mason sighed as he exited the kitchen and met back up with the women at the bottom of the stairs. As Mason opened the front door, Sam came out of the kitchen.
“Ma’am.” Mrs Porter turned around, a lot less furious than she would have been had Mason been the one to address her. “Ma’am I’m sorry for disturbing you but young Miss Porter has her dance class this afternoon.” Mrs Porter looked at her gold wristwatch and then up at Mason. She huffed, like it was Mason’s fault, and then looked down at her daughter.
“This could take a while, Mason is new. I’ll take you out next time. We can’t have you missing your dance class.” So this was what a twelve year old had to worry about in Liberty? Dance classes and not going shopping with their parents. For Thomas, back in Ashdale, he would be worrying about whether his mother was still alive while trying to cultivate the farm to produce enough food for himself and for her. Tallulah pouted and folded her arms making her face bloat even more than it already was. Another chin was added to her already growing list.
“Mason, you left something in the kitchen.” Mr Porter’s voice wasn’t angry like Mason had expected. He had expected, the first time he was addressed, for it to be a scathing insult or being told he was worthless and no good. Instead he just walked out to the kitchen where Mr Porter was.
“Sir? What did I forget?” Mr Porter grabbed Mason’s arm in a tight grip, pinching his skin as his hand folded almost the entire way around Mason’s arm.
“You forgot that Samuel will not be around forever.” He growled at Mason, like a bigger animal would to warn smaller animals away from something. Tallulah clearly took more after her father because he had the same bulbous cheeks and enormous stomach. His grip tightened as he pulled Mason closer to him. “So I will just count the minutes until you screw up, then I’ll embarrass you like your kind should be.” He let go of Mason’s arm, almost throwing him out of the door.
“Are we ready, or do you want to waste more of my time?” Mason wished the conversation had been overheard but, even it had been, who was going to do anything about it. Mason was property of Mr Porter and he could do anything he wanted with him. Sam wouldn’t have been able to stop him, even if he had overheard, and Mrs Porter wouldn’t have interfered because she and her husband were in the ownership together. Even if Mason ran away and told the police he was being mistreated, he would be lying because an Underclassman cannot be mistreated, there are no rules for how to treat an Underclassman, it is purely however the owner sees fit. “Hurry up, you have to get the preparations for the party tonight.” Mrs Porter hissed and Mason realised this was going to have to be a party that he would work at. He had never attended a party before, not one that Mr and Mrs Porter would throw anyway, and now he was expected to cater the party too? He took a deep breath and followed Mrs Porter out to the garage.