Thursday morning and I feel as if the namesake god dropped his hammer on me. Somehow I drag my sorry ass to the café, wave at Miho who starts making my coffee without another word. It’s time to check my mails again and I actually find the invitations for two job interviews which I immediately confirm. Anna wrote me that she can’t get hold of Sam who is apparently on a business trip.
That doesn’t really explain the lack of answers to my mails, there’s internet basically all over the country, so unless Sam’s in the Bermuda triangle my messages should have gone through. I have to accept that I just won’t get an answer anymore.
“Did you get any sleep at all last night?” A coffee cup appears under my nose and I inhale the fragrance.
“Actually I did. Just don’t feel like it.” Greedily I grab the cup and take a first, tentative sip. Coffee is good, but not worth burning my mouth and tongue for it.
“You stared at your laptop like a zombie. Not sure your brain was actually involved in the process.”
“Not sure yours is ever,” I shoot back, half grumpy and half joking.
I shake my head, close my laptop and sigh.
“Au contraire, ma chère. I got some good news and no news in one case. I would prefer it to be the other way around, but I’m not complaining.”
“Hm.” She stares at me intently, lips curled into a light pout. “But you want to complain. I mean, you’re not looking happy. At all.”
I shrug, complaining won’t change anything. I doubt it would even be a relief at this point.
“I think I need a break. Only that I won’t get one for the next few days.” I contemplate a swig of booze in my coffee, to make it less here and more Irish. But I have to polish glasses later and they cost more than the whole job pays.
“That’s it. Tonight you and me are going out,” Miho declares, both hands on the counter, leaning towards me. “Don’t even start coming up with excuses. After work go home and change into something less-“ She motions up and down my outfit, jeans shorts and a ratty shirt. “I’m gonna pick you up at 10.”
My first reaction is laughter. This has to be a joke. But she doesn’t join in and I stop, running out of breath. “Is there even a place to go to here? I don’t want to end up in a club full of kids with faked IDs.”
“Don’t worry about that, there’s actually a really good club in town. Of course you can’t go there on the weekends or you drown in pimpled High Schoolers trying to look like adults. But during the week? It’s actually great.” Miho grins smugly, if I walked right into a trap I still haven’t spotted the trigger. It’s more likely that she wants to go there and now simply drags me along.
“I have to work tomorrow,” I point out, “and so do you.”
“We don’t have to stay until 5am. Just a drink or two, you can even dance.”
“I can’t dance,” I point out. It’s true. For once it’s not the hearing loss but the fact that I have no control over my limbs as soon as I step onto a dancefloor.
“Then it’s maybe a drink more. I don’t care. You just finished college, you should have some fun and not work, work and then some more work.” She grabs one of the cake plates, cuts a generous slice and slides it over to me.
“Are you bribing me? With cake?” I already grab a fork, but I have to ask.
“Yep. And there’s lots more where this comes from.” Miho’s wink is the cherry on top.
“I know. I can see the other cakes from here. You know, glass display and such…” With laughter I evade her swat, grab my cake and step back.
“So tonight stands?”
The bite of cake in my mouth keeps me from answering, my nod has to be enough. We agree on her calling me later so we can hash the details out, for now I have to go to work. At least I had coffee and cake. This day gets better and better.
Despite the party preparations, Thursday is Mom’s laundry day and she instructed me to take care of that first before I start polishing glasses and crystal vases. Not that I’m complaining, I rather press a button on the washing machine than rubbing the expensive glass collection anyway. So I trudge through the bed- and bathrooms, gather towels, sheets and whatever is in the hampers, only paying half a mind to the task. It’s none of my business what I’m washing in the end, only that it gets clean and that the trouser pockets are empty. After having to go to the bank to change some bills that were crumbled, faded and pressed into a little ball I learned my lesson.
Sheets and towels don’t prove much of a challenge, the boys hardly ever sleep in their old rooms anyway and the mayor is a neat person. No socks lying around, no crumbled shirts in a corner. An easy task. Still, I feel like an intruder, tiptoe from room to room, always afraid of getting caught. With my laundry basket overflowing I make my way downstairs to the laundry room – not just a washing machine crammed into the kitchen or bathroom, an actual room only for the appliances and the linen closet, fancy, isn’t it? – relieved that I’m back in the common rooms and not in the bedrooms anymore, when I hear the door getting opened and closed.
“Hey, anyone at home?”
It’s Jake. Of course it’s Jake. I’m hauling what feels like a ton of laundry around and Mr. Pain in the ass waltzes right in, grins at me as he spots me on the stairs.
“Darling, I’m hooooome!” His jacket lands on the floor, two big strides and he’s at the foot of the stairs, making googly eyes at me.
“In that case I’m outta here.” As swiftly as possible with my heavy load I dance around him, towards the laundry room and out of sight.
At least that’s the plan. Instead he grabs the basket, tugs at it.
“Come on, let me help you with that.”
“No, I’m good. I made it this far already, I can carry it the rest of the way.”
“Jazz,” he insists, tugs harder now. “Why can’t you never let me help you?”
“Because you only make things worse for me!” I yank at the basket, he loses grip and although I lurch backwards I stay upright. A quick glare and I stomp past him, drop the laundry into the machine and turn it on.
Armed with sheets and towels I make my way back upstairs, can hear Jake rummaging in the kitchen. Hopefully he cleans his own mess afterwards.
I have to admit my bed making isn’t exactly professional, but I get the job done. It just takes ages. Ben’s bed isn’t too complicated, it’s a double with only two pillows. I try not to think too much about him in this bed – and especially not with Maddie. There’s a limit to my masochism, too. That’s also the reason why I don’t really look around in his room, don’t check the pictures he has pinned at the wall. I’m not here because he wants me to be, he probably doesn’t even think about the possibility of me entering his room. I’m just the maid after all.
Elias’ bed is a bit tricky. King-sized and in the middle of the room it attracts attention, so I spend a bit more time smoothing down the sheets and fluffing up the pillows. And I definitely don’t wonder when the last time a woman has slept in here, next to him and – Heaven forbids! – with him. Nope, not wondering at all.
With the last stack of sheets I cross the hallways towards Jake’s room, strain my ears to check if he’s still in the kitchen. The clatter of dishware gives him away and I slink into his room, pull the door close but don’t actually shut it. I better don’t make too much noise. Pillows are easy, I stuff them into the cases and put them aside for now. But the sheets…
Jake’s bed is pushed against a wall on one side and with the headboard. And it’s actually queen sized, so I struggle with the sheets, especially tucking them under the mattress. It’s impossible to reach the other side of the bed without crawling over it, at least for me and my a bit less than average height. I’m on all fours, fighting the fabric and the wobbly mattress doesn’t help me either.
“Now, if I had known you want to get in my bed that badly… all you gotta do is ask.”
Jake’s smug voice is the last straw, I lose the fight with the beddings and my balance altogether, plop down on the mattress with a curse.
“Dream on, Casanova. Dammit!” I emerge from the sea of sheets, brush my hair out of my face.
“You need a hand?”
“Yeah, but only the hand. Keep the rest away from me,” I grumble, irritated that something is off.
“My hand can still do a lot, you know?” He pulls me up and only when his voice sounds slightly muffled I realize what happened.
“I lost my hearing aid.”
“My hearing aid. Right ear. I just lost it. Come on, help me find it.” I tug at the sheet, carefully pull it off the bed again and check it for my hearing aid. Maybe it got entangled in the fabric somehow.
Jakes goes around to the foot of the bed, checks the floor and the mattress.
“Not even sure what I’m looking for,” he mutters, but I guess he will recognise a hearing aid when he sees it.
“Hm, maybe it fell into the gap between bed and wall,” I ponder and crawl back towards the other side, stick my hand into the narrow gap, feel my way from the headboard down to the end of the bed. No hearing aid.
“It can’t have gotten very far,” I hear Jake from below the bed. “I mean; it got no legs, right?”
I sigh but crawl back off.
“Help me lift the mattress, will you?” I already have one corner of it grabbed tightly, tug so that the mattress slides halfway off the bed.
His scream comes too late to stop me. First I think he doesn’t want me to have to put too much effort into this, but when the mattress isn’t blocking the way to the actual bed below anymore I see why he doesn’t want me to move it.
“Are those…?” Curious by nature I reach for one of the magazines, naked women on the cover of every single one of it. “Wow, they sure are old.”
- Vintage almost.
“Yeah, uh, I keep them for a friend.” He laughs awkwardly, clears his throat. I’m still blocking his path so he can’t just come and snatch them before I had the chance to mock him thoroughly.
“Under your mattress? Try again.” Nothing too racy awaits me at opening the mag, mostly busty blonde beach babes, some perky butts, barely covered.
“So, you prefer blondes?”
He hangs his head in shame, I’m not convinced it’s heartfelt though.
“I’d say I have a certain type, yes.”
I hum in agreement, it’s pretty obvious judged on the magazines.
“Hey, what’s that?”
Mixed in with the skin mags there’s one clearly different. A yearbook.
“Ewww, don’t tell me you jerked off to pics of your classmates!”
“What? No!” He yanks the yearbook from me, now genuinely flustered.
“What’s wrong? You’re fine with me finding your porn but finding your yearbook embarrasses you?” I’m more than mildly amused, can’t even remember when I last saw him squirming like this.
“It’s not – you know, probably every guy has some porn. Even your boyfriend or whatever. Look around in his private stuff and you will find porn, promised.”
“I doubt that, but okay. So it’s normal for a guy to have porn, fine. I don’t get why you hide it there although you know that the housekeeper – a.k.a. my Mom – can easily find it, but that’s not the point. I’m more interested why the yearbook has been there, too.” No chance that I’m letting him off the hook now.
“That’s none of your beeswax.” He motions towards the bed again. “Look for your hearing aid and then get out of my room. I rather make my bed on my own if you don’t mind.”
I must have hit a nerve somehow but hey, I don’t mind at all if he wants to do some of my work.
“As you wish.” I quickly scan the bed, spot the hearing aid near the wall. “Hold the mattress.”
A short climbing maneuver later I got it back, put it in and leave Jake without another word.
Laundry just takes so much time, even with interruptions, and after preparing dinner nothing saves me from cleaning crystal vases and wine glasses. I set up camp in the kitchen, carefully place all the glass on the table and put on some music so I don’t feel too much like in some sweatshop.
Jake is still sulking in his room, not even the food could lure him out. So I work just in the company of some amazing singers, from Ella Fitzgerald up to Alanis Morisette or The Doors. Anything that makes me feel good. The idea of going out, into a club where I would be able to dance for the first time in ages, doesn’t sound so bad anymore. I can wear that one nice-ish sundress, maybe even style my hair a bit. But just like Cinderella I can’t go to the ball unless I have finished all the housework.
Cue evil step sister.
I can hear Maddie before I see her, the click-clack of her shoes a better announcement than some bellman, walking in front of her and constantly saying her name.
I’m so tempted to just turn off my hearing aid, instead I brace myself for her mood, whatever it might be today.
“You look like something the cat dragged in.” No greeting, of course not.
“Thanks, you are lovely again today, too.” I don’t even look up from my work, my hands close to cramping.
“Must be nice not to care about your appearance. I can’t afford to be sloppy, I’m working with so many people each day.” She plops down on a chair, fans her face.
“Get me a drink, will you?”
I keep polishing this already spotless crystal candelabra.
“I asked you for a drink,” she repeats. I nod.
“I heard you, but as you can see I’m busy.” Carefully I place the candelabra on the table, take the next piece. A beautifully crafted crystal bowl, very uneven surface. Lots of facets to clean.
With a huff and some grumbled comments she gets up again and stomps into the kitchen.
“Since you’re already going there, could you bring me a glass of water? Thanks!” It’s petty and not even a real victory, but I enjoy it nonetheless.
Of course she comes back empty handed and with a sour expression, just in time to run into Jake who finally caved in and follows the scent of grilled lemon pepper chicken downstairs.
Despite the heat outside the temperature drops a few degrees at their meeting.
“Madeleine,” Jake acknowledges her but walks past her into the kitchen.
“Creepy jerk,” she mutters, much to my surprise. This is the same guy she used to fawn over, the one whose name decorated her whole notepad in class 10. Okay, back then he wasn’t wearing a suit but jeans and a rock band t-shirt, kept his hair even longer and carefully disheveled. But even now he’s the same smug, annoying bastard, so what has changed? Besides the obvious fact that Maddie is going to marry Jake’s brother. The brother that’s the polar opposite, cheerful and kind, a bit simple sometimes, but I’d pick him over the snarky, arrogant Jake anytime.
And apparently that’s what Maddie did, too. Not that I care, definitely not. They are all adults and better hash that out among each other.
Without any sign of acknowledgement from me Maddie only harrumphs, but I’m not letting her lure me into one of my usual rants about how much I despise Jake. Not when he’s only a few steps away and I’m technically working for his dad. Even Elias’ favor will run out when I start badmouthing his sons.
A glass of water appears in front of me, Jake is casually leaning against the table, offers me the glass with an encouraging nod.
My brow furrows at this answer, he rolls his eyes.
“Water, what else? I thought you wanted something to drink?”
Did he hear me saying that to Maddie?
“Did you do anything strange with it?” It’s not on my clothes yet so there has to be something else fishy with it.
“No. What do you take me for?” He scoffs, sets the glass down. I make use of my Miranda-rights and keep my mouth shut, my honest answer wouldn’t make him happy and a lie would be too obvious. My silence is enough of an answer, though.
“You really think I would tamper with your water?” Eyes wide open he shakes his head, grabs the glass, downs the water and slams the glass back on the table. “Next time you can just drink it, dammit.”
He swaggers off, maybe to the bathroom to regurgitate the water. In case he actually did tamper with it. But I have to say, if he did he’s really stone-cold.
“I don’t get why he keeps wasting his time with you.” Bored now that the drama is over Maddie stretches, yawns and lets her gaze sweep over the still to polish glasses. “And since we are talking about wasted time, I don’t have enough of that to babysit you here. Tell Jake it’s his turn now.” She flips her hair back, gets up and smoothes her clothes down.
I keep my head down and my hands busy. There’s a lot of polishing to do for me after all.