Authors: Lila Felix
I got out and toweled off. After that long, luxurious shower, I felt more like lying around all day rather than facing the dust bunnies. But if I were to earn my keep, I needed to work my tail off. I combed my hair up in a ponytail and put on my rattiest t shirt, comfiest yoga pants and my tennis shoes because it was definitely gonna be a workout.
I started in the kitchen and it took me three hours, scrubbing the countertops, scouring the stovetop and I practically had to disassemble the refrigerator to get all the gunk from the tiny crevices. I leaned against the counter and took in the glory of it. That’s what my parents always called it, looking at a room after it was cleaned, the glory. I pushed off the counter and decided to finish the living room before I took a break and while I still had the momentum. Everything was dust ridden, I moved furniture this way and that maneuvering the vacuum cleaner into the splices between, determined to make the grime go away. I found a step ladder and wiped down the ceiling fan, discovering worms of dust living on the blades. And when I turned to move to the last blade, I saw him on the stairs in the corner of my eye but I forced myself not to flinch. I needed to get used to ignoring him the best I could.
I had been watching her for an hour and she’d yet to notice me. She was a machine. She was methodical in cleaning each area as if she were trained by a professional. It was remarkable to watch. And I almost hated to do what I was about to do, but I was starving. I’d been up for almost three hours, woken up by the water running in the kitchen and I’d been here, perched on the balcony, watching her ever since.
And God help me, she was beautiful. She had a determination about her that contented her face. And I didn’t know what kind of pants those were but girls should wear them all the time, screw the jeans, those tight gray pants hugged everything she had.
I tip toed down the stairs, not wanting to disturb the master in action. I got to the last step and I saw her eyes flick my way and then back as if they’d been caught. I got a bowl down and a spoon and searched for my cereal. I couldn’t find it anywhere. I mean, I usually kept it on the counter but now it was gone.
I turned to her and cleared my throat. God, I hope one day I’ll be able to talk to her without sounding like a ten year old with strep throat. “Did you hide my cereal?”
She stepped down from the step stool and wordlessly came towards me, opened the pantry door and handed me the box. I swore I heard her mumble, “Men can’t find anything,” before climbing back up the stool steps to dust more. I propped myself against the counter to eat, pretending to be obtuse about the whole thing, as if she wasn’t right there, smelling like crisp sheets and freshly showered woman. As if she didn’t show a bit of midriff when she reached above her head to reach a light bulb or the top of a painting. As if she didn’t demand my attention with every move she made. I was practically in a trance when I heard the lock on the front door turn.
My mother strolled in and began inspecting immediately. She complimented Ashland on her progress and then asked my opinion.
“Breaker, isn’t she doing well? The place looks spectacular.”
I shrugged and put my bowl and spoon in the dishwasher.
“She’s all right.” I needed to stay cool about this, one hint to my mother that I was jonesing hard for this girl and she would get rid of her.
“I asked about her work, not her as a person.”
I rolled my eyes, “Looks cleaner, sparkling clean, clean as a whistle, shined to a gleam.” I gave her a ‘happy now?’ look and stomped up the stairs, maintaining my careless attitude.
I stayed in my room for the rest of the day, avoiding my mother’s needling and Ashland’s pull on my eyes. I immersed myself in the newest simulation game until darkness fell and my stomach rumbled. I opened the door to the smell of tomatoes and basil and noticed a pink note taped to the door. I hadn’t even heard anyone come upstairs.
I will be cleaning upstairs tomorrow. If you could let me know when it is convenient to clean your room, I would appreciate it. And I’m making spaghetti if you want some. Ash.
I tore the note off of the door and stuffed it into my pocket. I would have to deal with her sometime and she was just one person, not a flock. I could do this.
I traipsed downstairs; my nose leading the way. She sat in the same place at the countertop, swirling spaghetti around a fork and smiling at herself when it failed to wrap around it like she wanted.
She turned when she heard me and started to get up again.
“Don’t get up, please. You cooked?” I tried to change the subject, anything but talking about my awkwardness was a plus.
“Yeah, I figured spaghetti was a safe bet.”
I nodded, “It’s my favorite, thank you.”
I made a plate and sat down beside her. She squirmed and readjusted herself in her seat. I made her uncomfortable, which was funny since that had been my initial intention. God, I was an idiot for thinking I could do this. I just sat down beside her and I turned her off completely. Holly used to tell me that it was my personality she loved since there wasn’t much on the outside. And I guessed she was right. I gathered my plate, thanked her for the meal, then went to my room, preventing myself from wigging out before she even got unpacked.
I didn’t have a shot in hell—at least not like I wanted to.
The morning brought more insecurity and more questions. I brought my now stuck on spaghetti plate to the kitchen after making sure I didn’t have any boxers lying around. I left her a note, since that seemed to be her preferred method of communication, and told her I would be out of my room between ten a.m. and two p.m. I would occupy myself in the adjacent room where I was now working on a leather messenger bag. I had the main design drawn out but needed something for the middle. And that’s when it came to me; I would make it for her. I kinda owed her after being an ass.
I worked on it furiously until late afternoon and went back to my room for a shower and a change of clothes. I gasped when I opened the room, I’d forgotten she was supposed to clean it that day in my work frenzy. But my gasp was brought on by the overwhelming smell of her in my space. It was everywhere. Even when I entered the bathroom, her smell permeated the small space. I shucked my clothes, careful now to put them in the hamper. I didn’t want to undo everything she’d worked so hard on.
I’d noticed my shower was gleaming as I entered the warm spray. I’d have to try again. If Holly always claimed my personality was why she loved me, then certainly I could use it to be friends with Ashland. Friends certainly wasn’t the first word that came to mind when I thought about her, but I was suddenly desperate for her company, however I could get it. And she was living here against my will; I might as well make the most of it and try to push this state of mine to the limits. Maybe there was a chance I could break through.
Dr. Mavis was on vacation this week so even if my whole plan went south, there would be no one to go to. I looked at my disheveled hair in the mirror and decided to not even bother. My grayish eyes had dark purple crescents hanging below them, the effect of many a sleepless night. I hung my towel on the hook after brushing my teeth and looked at the door as if it was her. I needed this.
But when I went downstairs, she was gone. I looked out the window to see her car missing. I thought about what an easy life she must have, coming and going as she pleased.
Must be nice.
I heated up some of her leftover spaghetti and noticed another note taped to the refrigerator. It said she’d gone for gas and to call her cell if I needed anything from her in the meantime.
She was taking this maid thing way too seriously.
I ate and made sure to rinse my plate and put it in the dishwasher. I didn’t want her to think I was completely ungrateful. I took advantage of her absence and looked around the place. It was absolutely spotless. I made sure there were no invisible witnesses before opening the door to her room and was assaulted by her smell. If I thought it was obvious in the rest of the house, I was wrong. It was all around me and I closed the door, needing to escape it before I got ideas in my head.
I sat down in the living room and put in a scary movie about some kind of aliens. She came in later and the aroma of gas proceeded her.
“Why do you smell like gas?” I said it without choking. I wanted to pat myself on the head like I was my own obedient dog.
“Because I went to get gas. I thought I left a note.”
Oh God, she did leave a note. What a moron.
“Oh, that’s right.”
“I’m gonna start in on the back yard tomorrow. Your mom said you ran the gardener off. Something about crazed man running around in boxers screaming obscenities. That’s just hearsay though.”
I snickered but she didn’t. And I’m sure she didn’t mean ‘crazed man’ like I took it, so I decided to let it go. Plus, I had no idea my mom knew about the gardener. She’d certainly never said anything to me.
“He was mowing the grass at six a.m. on a Saturday morning.” I shot back at her.
“Well, God forbid someone wake up before noon.” She slapped her hand over her mouth. She began apologizing from behind her hand.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I just spout out smartass things sometimes. It wasn’t my place to talk to you like you’re a friend. You’re my employer. Oh, my mouth has a mind of its own sometimes.”
“No,” I said as I stood up, “It’s fine. As you can tell, or my mom probably told you, I don’t leave this house. So, if we could be friends, that would be good. Unless you don’t want to. I would understand that. I was a real jerk to you before.”
She shrugged and her teeth wrestled with her bottom lip before she spoke. “It’s fine. I would be pissed if I was a slob too.”
I chuckled. She was a smart ass—perfect. Holly always told me that joking was for kids and dumbasses. I’d curbed my jokes for a long time. But I needed to brush up on my skills. Smart assery just didn’t translate well over the internet sometimes. I’d know, I’d been banned from more chat rooms than I cared to admit.
“Nice. I wasn’t a slob at one time. So what time are you starting the back yard? I guess I better help.”
“No, no, you might hurt yourself getting off your high horse.”
I clapped my hands. “Ok, ok, you win.”
She laughed and it sobered me. She had the sexiest laugh I’d ever heard. It rang a song down in her chest and in mine.
“What time, slave driver?”
“Depends,” she shrugged.
“Depends on what?”
“Depends on whether or not you want breakfast. I make some mean French toast. But I’m not sure if it stacks up to his highness’ standards. But then again, anything is better than Frosted Flakes.”
“French toast sounds great Ash.”
Did I just call her Ash?