Ch. 1: Checking in
“Hello, I’m Arielle Thomas. I’m here for the interview.”
My fingertips were sore after biting my nails the thirty-five minutes it took to drive out here. I was a city girl and being this far out in the countryside was not something I did every day. It didn’t make it any better that I was about to enter the biggest property I’d ever seen, the Silver Fox Mansion. Nervous didn’t even cover half of how I was feeling.
“Yes, yes. Please enter, miss Thomas. Mrs. Lee will be with you in a minute,” a young boy, probably some kind of servant, said and led me to a seating group right inside the main entrance.
The indoors looked just as sumptuous and impressive as the outside. A massive, brownish-red Chesterfield with a rococo coffee table was the center of attention in the big hall. Aside from the stairs up to what I assumed was the second floor, cupboards and pompous decorations completed the picture. It looked like an old-fashioned living room of the kind you can see in luxurious magazines. And that was just the hall.
I felt a bit intimidated by the atmosphere, but that was probably just because it was so far from the simple and predictable life I’d always led. Until recently. Now nothing was simple anymore, and predictability was only a vague hope.
They had to cut down on the staff at the library, and unfortunately, I was one of those who had got to go. I’d been unemployed for five months now, which left me unable to pay my bills. They’d already shut off the electric power, and I was close to eviction, so I was more than desperate to get a job.
I had several job interviews and had become a pro at copying and handing out my work application to everyone I could think of, but as far as this, to no avail.
I took a deep breath as I heard the loud clicking of heels on the hardwood floor until the sound changed as someone stepped onto the tiles in the hallway.
I quickly got up and reached out my hand to present myself to the slim and strict-looking woman who approached me.
“Pleased to meet you,” the lady answered rather coldly, without telling me her name. I found that a bit strange, but because she seemed so authoritarian, I guessed she was the one running the household. And it wasn’t only her attitude that made me feel slightly uncomfortable. Her appearance, too. She had a gray pencil skirt that matched her gray blazer. Even her eyes and hair were gray, and she’d combed the latter back into a sleek knot in her neck.
With little conversation, she led me into another room, just as huge as the hall. Red velvet curtains hung heavily from the ceiling to the floor, and the furniture and carpet were matching in the same color. It had several beautifully carved wooden ornaments, both on the furniture itself and at delicately placed decorations around in the room. What had to be really expensive giant portraits and framed art covered most of the walls. It was nothing less than astonishing.
We sat down on the couch, and I handed her my application. She skimmed through, hardly reading any of it, and then started asking questions.
“How are your cooking skills?” she asked, still squinting at my papers.
“Not too bad, I guess.”
I bit my tongue and wanted to slap my forehead. I had to do better than that if I should have any chance of getting this job. I needed to sell myself and give her a good impression of my capabilities, which I wasn’t any good at.
“I love trying new recipes, and I am pretty good at adapting to new environments. I’ll do whatever is expected of me, and I continuously try to improve,” I bragged, then scolded myself for overdoing it. Now I needed to tone it down.
“Do you have any problems with a different working schedule?”
“What do you mean?” I asked and tried to ignore the skepticism that pooled up in my stomach.
“Do you accept working late and on the weekends and holidays?”
“Well...” I started, then realized that I really need this job. “Sure. That’s alright with me.”
“Good. Do you have any reservations, chores, or tasks that you don’t want to do?”
I thought for a couple of seconds before I shook my head.
“Not that I can think of right now.”
“Okay. When can you start?” she said so casually that my jaw dropped.
“Oh, wow... I guess... Today? Or tomorrow?” I stuttered, quite surprised.
“Tomorrow is fine.”
She put a formality form and the employee contract down in front of me.
“Sign here, here and here.”
She pointed out the places that needed my signature, and I frowned at the sight of her hand. It looked really old. Older than the rest of her, however that was possible. It was pale, with protruding veins over way too visible knuckles. Her dark red nail polish had crackled, and she wore one golden ring, which I guessed was a wedding ring. It was way too large.
Once again, I ignored my growing apprehension and signed.
“Let me show you to your room.”
My room? Why did I need a room? Maybe she meant my office. I’d never had my own office before, so that would be nice.
We went back into the hall and walked up the beautiful stairs, with carved wooden ornaments looking eerily similar to a snake clinging to the handle. I was both fascinated and slightly creeped out as I took in more of the intricate details the house revealed. No matter where I turned my head, I saw new pieces of old and surely expensive antiques and art. But creepy or not, I had to admit that the owner had an exquisite taste, and probably an awful lot of money.
A blue door scraped lightly against the floor as Mrs. Lee opened it. She gestured for me to enter and followed right behind. And as we were standing in the middle of the room, I couldn’t suppress the chill that crawled up my spine. Why was it so cold? We were indoors! Also, it wasn’t an office. It was really a bedroom, like she said.
“Everything you need. A bed, a nightstand, and a closet. And over there is your bathroom.” She gave me a quick walkthrough before she squinted at me.
“You do know that you are going to stay here, right?”
“Yes. Didn’t you read the contract?”
“I did,” I said way too quickly, when the truth was that I was so happy to get the job that I didn’t take the time to read what they wrote in small letters before I signed.
“Good. Mr. Jackson needs you to be at his service twenty-four hours a day.”
“What did you say?” I exclaimed, startled.
“But don’t worry, you will have most of your time off. As long as you keep the house neat and clean, and serve him as requested, that’s pretty much it.”
“You’ll meet tomorrow morning at nine sharp. Is everything clear?”
I nodded, too stunned to do anything more than follow her back downstairs, and the same young boy that greeted me when I arrived bid me farewell. And that was it.
I had a job.
I was sitting at the kitchen table in my apartment, going through the stack of unpaid bills. It had been depressing seeing them piling up like this, with no possibility of doing anything about it. It didn’t help that my cellphone broke, and I couldn’t afford to replace it. Hopefully, that would be history now. I got a job! And even though it differed greatly from an ordinary job, I was sure it would be interesting.
I’d just started packing when I remembered I hadn’t told my mom the good news. She would be thrilled. But since I didn’t have a phone, that had to wait until tomorrow when I found a way to call her.
“Oh, well. I guess I can do that tomorrow evening after I’ve settled in at the mansion,” I mumbled to myself. Then I continued to fill my suitcase and my two bags. If it was true that I was going to live there, I needed more than just one change of clothes. The growing anticipation rushed through my body, and I couldn’t wait to meet the man who was going to be my new boss.
Tomorrow I’d be ready for a new chapter.