Authors: Sandra Miller
Moving to the distant light switch, Mr. Richards turned them on and leaned backwards against the counter. Staring silently, as if he expected her to broach the silence between them, Tessa drew in a breath and began loudly so that her voice would carry across the distance between them, since she chose to make her stand at the stove.
“Well, I assume you have questions for me,” she began, with her voice echoing.
“As a matter of fact, I do.” Again, there was no attempt on his part to sound cordial. In fact
, he was becoming precariously close to being rude. “You told my mother you were forty. I’ve explained to you already, Ms. Maguire, that I am not interested in hiring a college student. I’m especially not interested in hiring someone who would lie to get the job.”
Leaning backwards against the Wolfe for support, since her knees were beginning to weaken from sheer anxiety of the moment, Tessa folded her arms across her chest. She had driven sixteen hours to get here and had a total of three hours of sleep. It was not a good time to test her patience or her civility; if that’s what he was doing.
“To be honest, sir, I don’t know whether to shake your hand or take a switch to you.”
Looking at her curiously, Mr. Richards frowned, causing furrows to appear between his heavy dark brows.
“I’m afraid you’re going to have to interpret. I’m not fluent in southern vernaculars.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, how clumsy of me; I don’t know whether to be flattered by the fact that you think I’m that young, or insulted because you’re calling me a liar.”
With one corner of his mouth threatening to curve upward into a half grin, the insufferable bully forced it back and continued his surly insults.
“I rarely have the opportunity to converse with someone so…let’s just say…provincial. But at least you’re versed enough in the English language to translate for me.”
Tessa felt her jaw fall open, surprised more than anything, by his behavior. She should have told him last night to just forget about the whole thing. It would have been much easier to do over the phone. But she hadn’t, and now she was forced to face him, with a trembling body betraying her need to appear unaffected by his aggression.
Trying to calm her nerves, she rushed to remind herself that not every confrontation ended in violence. Mr. Richards was not going to harm her. He may not like her, but he had no cause to raise a fist in anger. When was she
going to get those memories out of her head and become normal again? Somehow, she had to find the fortitude to stand up and refuse to cower down to this man.
“Yes, well, aside from cooking up a pretty good mess of hog jowls and ciphering on my fingers and toes, being bilingual is one of my greatest assets.”
“Is that so,” he commented, with no signs of humor being present in his gaze that was narrow and piercing.
“Yes, sir,” she purred in an exaggerated Appalachian drawl. “I can ease right into pompous elitism just about any time it’s called
“How fortunate for both of us; not everyone is gifted enough to be a smart-ass in two different languages.”
Tessa grinned slightly, “I was going for insulting.”
“You succeeded on both counts,” he stated dryly.
Finding themselves in a verbal impasse, Tessa and Mr. Richards stared, trying to size each other up before continuing their belligerent repartee. When the silence between them became painfully awkward, Tessa decided to speak up, just to finally put an end to the ridiculous situation.
“Look,” she began in earnest, making sure her voice remained too calm to ever be considered confrontational. “I’m not going to beg for this job, Mr.
Richards. Your mother was made fully aware of the fact that I’m a grad student. And if there’s something about my looks, my accent, or just me in general, that you don’t approve of, just say so and I’ll leave with no hard feelings.”
Having said it without even the slightest bit of trepidation, Tessa was pleased with the fact that mysteriously she had somehow developed a back bone. Never had she spoken so openly before. But then again, she was unaccustomed to being called a liar by a complete stranger.
“In spite of what you may think, I’m not being unreasonable. I’ve had to hire three different housekeepers this past year alone; all of them students in their twenties. Not only were they inept at their duties, things became unnecessarily complicated.”
Trying to hide the chuckle threatening to erupt, Tessa covered her mouth and simply nodded in understanding, and she did understand—perfectly. It was evident that he felt the young women were victims of his irresistible charms, and developed romantic interests in him. What a narcissist. It was the perfect time to turn around and walk out of the house. And she would have if she hadn’t been
so curious as to how this was going to play out.
“I can see that your past experiences have already tainted your opinion of me, and to be quite honest, I’m not all that crazy about you either. So why don’t
we save ourselves a lot of time and trouble and just agree that this isn’t going to work out for either of us.”
Even though she tried to not to avert her eyes from his gaze and clue him into the fact that she wasn’t as brazen as she was portraying herself to be, Tessa glanced away for a brief second, before turning back to his expressionless face.
“Would you mind if I asked to see your driver’s license before making a decision?” he finally asked, the unexpectedness of it causing her to jump slightly.
Yes, she would as a matter of fact.
“Not at all,” she lied sweetly. “I would ask the same of you if the roles were reversed.”
It took several seconds of fishing through the book bag that served as a purse before Tessa could produce it. Since he refused to take the necessary steps to take them from her, she was forced to cross the floor to hand them over.
After looking at it closely, he finally raised his eyes to meet hers. There was a definite hint of surprise in them.
“It seems as if I owe you an apology, Ms. Maguire. You honestly don’t look your age. And with your voice being so…”
Satisfied with a simple apology, Tessa raised her hand to stop him. “It’s okay. I understand…really.”
“No, it’s not. I’ve offended you without just cause. It’s just that I work eighty hours a week, and don’t have time to keep hiring and firing people. When I come home all I want is my house in order and to be left alone. I’m not looking for a companion or a relationship. I want a housekeeper, period. And I’m hoping a more mature woman will be able to respect those boundaries between employer and employee.”
“Then I don’t foresee any problems. Because all I want is a job that will get me through grad school. Once my chores are done, you won’t even know I’m here,” she assured him with a genuinely warm smile, while extending her hand once more.
This time he accepted it, and shook it firmly. The smile he tried to muster up was pathetic, but at least he made the effort to appear pleasant, that was at least a step in the right direction.
Swinging her shoulders toward the door, Tessa prodded for a more definite answer as to whether he was asking her to stay.
Sooo…you want me then?”
“Yes, Ms. Maguire, I’m officially asking you to stay. Now if you follow me, I’ll show you your suite.”
“You must really be desperate for a housekeeper then,” she teased, falling into step behind him as he led the way through the maze of rooms.
“You are correct in assuming that, yes.”
With her spirits finally beginning to lift, she couldn’t help but to giggle from relief.
“Well, then I feel much better knowing that we’re
entering into this under duress.”
Ignoring the barb, her new and official employer continued through the mansion, not bothering to offer a proper tour. The retrievers bounded at her side, as if they were overjoyed that their master had decided to hire her, now if only Tessa could muster up some excitement about the prospect of staying.
The behemoth rooms stretched on endlessly, each seemingly more beautiful than the other. The library would be her favorite out of all of them, Tessa knew that immediately when she stepped into the two story room that was larger than most of the public libraries she had been to. The décor reminded her of the Library of Congress, on a smaller scale
, of course, but not by much. It smelled of furniture polish and old books, the combination was like heaven to her. Desperately, she wanted to climb the spiraling staircase to the ledges of books above to exam the volumes of classics, but knew that any tarrying on her part would not be tolerated by a man in a rush to leave for work.
Across the foyer, that housed a massive mahogany staircase, was another cavernous room designated as the ‘living area’. As Mr. Richards walked through it, he explained that it was the only room he ever used, aside from the kitchen, simply because of the entertainment area, as he called it, which was basically a theater, just a lot more comfortable with its overstuffed leather sofas and chaise lounges. In the center of the room was a billiards table placed in front of the biggest fireplace she had ever seen. She could literally walk inside of it without having to stoop, and it was probably fourteen feet wide. At the far end, near the two-storied stained glass window was a grand piano, not a baby grand, but the real thing, with its rich cherry finish catching the soft first light of early morning sun.
As they continued on past the living area and down a long hallway that led to the very back of the mansion, Tessa caught sight of what looked like a brass cage, as she approached and stood directly in front of it, it was evident that it was a private elevator. A glance inside caused her to stop in her tracks. Lined in dark paneling and lit by ornate brass sconces, surely it was the most luxurious amenity imaginable. Hanging down from the wall was a beautiful oil painting that she recognized right away to be one of Winslow Homer’s masterpieces. She never claimed to be a patron of the arts, but because of the art appreciation classes she was required to take to fulfill her Liberal Arts degree, Tessa knew enough to have a favorite artist, and Winslow Homer was definitely one of them.
“It’s beautiful,” she mused aloud, staring at the painting that was being illuminated by recessed lighting. The lone figure was that of a woman with a child, standing firm against gale winds.
“It’s an elevator,” Mr. Richards scoffed, stopping only briefly. “I never use it, but it’s a convenient way to get cleaning supplies and laundry to the top floors.”
“I mean the painting. I love Winslow Homer.”
Though he refused to comment, he did raise one judgmental eye brow as if surprised by the fact that she recognized the artist.
“Is it an original?”
Tessa couldn’t help but to laugh. How could he not know, considering the fact that an original would set someone back at least a million dollars, if not more? And then she rethought her question. Chances were
, rich people didn’t discuss such things. In fact, it was an impolite error on her part to even ask. Her working class roots were showing, no doubt.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked that. Now you’re going to think I’m casing the joint.”
“No,” she exclaimed, embarrassed by the question and the fact that she was stupid enough to plant the seed in his mind.
“God, no. I was trying to be funny.”
“There is nothing humorous about grand larceny, Ms. Maguire.”
“You’re absolutely right. My bad.”
“Well, then leave the jokes for someone more qualified.”
Tessa blushed profusely. The knack she had for digging herself a hole by saying ridiculous things when she was nervous always caused her so much grief and humiliation. This time was no different, except for the fact that someone was ungracious enough to call her out on it.
Her new employer needed to lighten up or she needed to control her incoherent babbling in stressful situations, otherwise they would never be able to co-exist together, and it didn’t take a genius or a clinical psychiatrist to figure out who would have to change. Tessa was simply going to have to work on her own idiosyncrasies or wind up with a pink slip.