Once I’m properly outfitted, I get to work in his bathroom. It’s not as dirty as I anticipated, probably because his housekeeper didn’t quit all that long ago. I’m disappointed he isn’t a total slob, but then, maybe it’s a good thing considering I’m the one who now has to clean up after him.
I can only imagine what my “friends” from my old life would say if they saw me now, scrubbing a toilet seat with enthusiasm. It’s really not so bad. I hum an upbeat tune, spritz a little more cleaner, flush. A droplet from the spray gets in my eye and I don’t even break character. I am Meredith Avery, maid extraordinaire.
I’m still bent over his toilet when Jack walks in. I didn’t expect to see him again so soon, especially considering how eager he was to be rid of me earlier.
I pause my scrubbing and sit back on my heels. From my angle on the floor, he seems even more large than usual, looming there like a demon and blocking the light from the bathroom window.
He takes in the sight of me with my rubber gloves up to my elbows and a mask stretched across the lower half of my face. His mouth twitches like he’s fighting a smile.
“A little overkill, don’t you think?”
I tip my head to the side and stay silent, hoping he’ll take the hint and leave.
“Have you ever cleaned a toilet before?”
I sigh and yank the mask down. “Well, I’ve used toilets before—how hard could it be to do the opposite?”
He points out my first failure of the day. “Pretty sure the sponges are for the kitchen sink.”
“Well now they’re for the toilet.”
“There’s a toilet scrubber in the corner there.”
Truthfully, I thought that was for the shower. I’m glad I don’t say so.
“I was under the impression that you were a real busy guy. Do you plan on micromanaging me the whole day?”
He opens his mouth, thinks better of whatever he was about to say, and then turns to leave. Ha. Victory. I listen to him walk toward his office and once I’m sure he’s really gone, I reach for the toilet scrubber. It’s a lot easier to use than the sponge. I’d thank him for the tip, but alas, I would rather stick this entire toilet sponge in my mouth.
Jack and I have definitely started out on the wrong foot. Though rare, I have given and received bad first impressions before. This takes the cake, and it’s unsettling. I’m not used to having problems with people. I pride myself on being easygoing and gregarious. In fact, back in California, I’m sure all my acquaintances would corroborate my genuine social proficiency. My whole life wasn’t just an act to please Andrew. I’m nice, dammit!
But for some reason, around Jack, I play defense. I get angry and snappy. He rubs me the wrong way, gets under my skin. It’s his arrogance, his utter lack of sympathy for somebody clearly down on their luck. I can’t stand him, which is a problem considering he’s my new boss.
If he hadn’t assumed the worst of me right off the bat, we might’ve even become friends, but the word didn’t take long to form on his lips: princess. If he ever calls me that again I’ll grab that thick head of hair and give him a swirly in this toilet. That stupid baseball cap would clog the pipes and he’d have to clean it up himself.
I finish up in his bathroom and move on to the next one, all the while thinking about the conundrum I’ve found myself in. It’s interesting to think I might’ve just swapped cards, a Drew for a Jack. One is arguably just as arrogant as the other. Not only that, they’re both good-looking and confident too, but the similarities end there. Andrew is smooth edges and refinement. He’s sly and cunning. In two days, I’ve already seen that Jack is rough around the edges, crass, and opinionated. Yesterday, he dragged me away from that meeting in front of all his ranch hands. Andrew would have never done that; he would have bottled his anger until we were behind closed doors.
Most curiously, I almost never had the courage to fight back or speak up with Andrew. He sapped my confidence down to the point that by the end, I was little more than a Stepford wife, subservient in every respect. Yet, with Jack, I can’t help but speak my mind. My voice is back and ten times louder than I remember.
Edith didn’t save me any coffee this morning. Not only that, she poured the excess down the sink while I watched. Oh, were you not finished? She’s upset with me, thinks I’m being too hard on Meredith, but she doesn’t know the whole truth. Meredith isn’t here as some destitute damsel seeking sanctuary; she’s here to stall until her husband begs her to come home, a sheep in sheep’s clothing. Helen confirmed as much when we spoke last night. I called her, surprised Meredith had lasted her whole first day.
“You know she hasn’t even bothered to call home?” Helen said. “I bet Andrew is worried sick.”
“Maybe she really is planning on leaving him.”
“No way. Meredith is anything but independent—spoiled by parents, doted on by boyfriends, and then completely provided for by Andrew. Remember when you were a kid and you’d get mad, run away, then be back home in time for supper? My guess is whatever this little tiff is about will be forgotten by Friday, and she’ll be in your rearview mirror.”
The phone call left a bad taste in my mouth. What kind of petulant woman just up and leaves her husband like that? He’s probably really worried about her while she’s off playing hide-and-seek a few states over. It doesn’t make sense. Then again, Helen hasn’t exactly painted Meredith in the best light, and I trust Helen’s judgment. She’s been a good employee for years while I’ve only known Meredith for 48 hours.
All day yesterday I kept waiting for her to fold, to feed into the impression Helen gave me, but she didn’t. She cleaned the whole day and only took a quick break for lunch—I know this because Edith said she felt bad seeing her eat out on the porch by herself. A few times throughout the day, I heard things crash to the ground followed by a loud curse, but the house was clean, nothing was broken (that I could see), and better yet, she didn’t bother me once.
I think over my conversation with Helen while I make a new pot of coffee. I wonder how well Helen really knows Meredith. If she never once mentioned that she had a sister, they can’t be all that close.
The back door opens and I turn to find the subject of my thoughts scurrying into the adjacent laundry room and yanking the door closed behind her. She presses her back against the door and her hand to her chest. Her eyes are closed. Her breathing is erratic. It looks like she was just running for her life.
“Was Alfred out there?”
Her eyes pop open and her light blue gaze locks with mine as her cheeks turn a rosy shade of red. She clearly thought she was alone.
“I found that if I throw a rock at the barn, I can distract him long enough to sprint from the shack to the house.”
“Whatever works.” I chuckle, turning back to the coffee maker so she can compose herself without me watching. “But the more you try to avoid him, the harder he’s going to try to win you over. He’s smart, and he likes a challenge.”
“Can’t you just train him to avoid me?”
It sounds like she really thinks that’s an option.
I glance back at her out of the corner of my eyes. “I don’t really keep an org chart with all my employees’ ranks, but it’s safe to say that Alfred is your superior. Besides, I doubt you’ll be here long enough to bother.”
Her brows furrow and her gaze drops to the floor. If Edith were watching, she’d jab me in the ribs with her elbow.
I sigh. “Are you actually scared of him? He’s a giant teddy bear.”
“No. Of course not,” she says haughtily, pushing off the door and lifting her chin as she steps into the kitchen. “I just…don’t reciprocate his enthusiasm.”
“You sure about that?”
Her pride will be her downfall. If she’d just admit she was scared, I’d make an effort to keep Alfred away from her. Since she swears she’s not, I won’t bother.
I flip the switch on the coffee machine and it starts percolating right away. The smell is better than sex.