Sleep is a luxury to me, as it is frequently interrupted. As expected, Philip wakes me. Following him down the majestic wooden staircase, I see Mr. Addison waiting, tapping his foot on the beige carpet.
“What time did I fall asleep?” I ask Philip, trying to conjure a definite sense of time.
“Around nine,” he replies with certainty.
The large grandfather clock beside Mr. Addison reads 11:54. Judging by the lack of sun from the stained-glass windows overhead, I guess it’s nighttime. I suddenly remember why I could fall asleep. I grew bored, as I am not familiar with having nothing to attend. I take the valuable time to rest, physically and mentally.
The man waiting in his dining room appears no older than I. His dark hair looks to have never grown past his chin. His five o’clock shadow leaves me struggling to guess his age.
“Mr. Addison, this is Miss Richards, your new servant,” Philip introduces me, and Mr. Addison turns slightly, showing me his entire face.
I stare into his rainforest-green eyes and notice a scar sitting over his left eye.
“Ah, yes. Thank you, Philip, you can retire for the night.” Mr. Addison smiles.
Philip bows his head, walks to the back of the house, leaving Mr. Addison and me with only ourselves. As I try to avoid Mr. Addison’s gaze, I notice a flower pattern running along the room, stopping at each doorframe.
“My mother’s idea,” Mr. Addison noted. I blush because he notices my avoidance.
Mr. Addison must remember his mother by the framework; he stares at it reverently. “She adored flowers and convinced my father to have them all over. The only thing more dear to her heart were her children,” he says.
I nod my head slowly and clench my clasped hands.
“Please sit, Miss Richards,” he says while pointing to the chair behind me.
With a light chuckle, he grabs the plates nearest to him and walks toward me. “You are the first servant to have been close to my age since my parents were here,” he tells me as I watch for the subtle signs of permission to speak.
My eyes grow large as I notice him setting a full plate in front of him and me. I can’t help but salivate as I wait to be invited to eat.
“Hopefully you won’t find me a bad employer. I haven’t noticed any gossip from my servants,” he says playfully.
I nod my head in response and play with the hem of my shirt.
“Oh right… um, you may do as you please, Miss Richards. It’s only when there are others around that I will ask you to act appropriately,” he says matter-of-factly, like a schoolboy attempting to be the head-of-the-house.
I feel safer now, having been shown kindness, and I start to eat some of the food. For almost twenty minutes, we eat in silence, I having no desire to talk and he appreciating my company. I catch him sizing me up, playing guessing games with my history. I imagine him asking if I had been abused before and that’s why I do not speak. The less complex answer is I have nothing to say.
“I have one rule, Miss Richards,” he says, wiping his mouth with a cloth napkin. “Call me Zach, never Mr. Addison.”
I nod slightly, taking in the one rule. Zach sighs casually, sitting back to look me over. I see no point in looking back so I finish my meal. I eat until I can’t anymore; this is the largest meal I’ve eaten in the last year! My last home was beautiful until the master’s son took over, treating me like the servant I am. He refused me food but always stood behind his parent’s rule: never beat a female servant.
“Tell me something about you, Miss Richards,” Zach requests. He supports his chin with calmly fisted hands, resting his elbows on the marble table.
Tell me something about you….I haven’t the slightest clue of what to say. Nothing about myself could be as interesting as the man in front of me.
Playing copycat, I reply, “I like being called Cassie.”
He nods respectfully. “Okay, Cassie, what do I need to know about you?” Zach says, trying to dig deeper.
“I’m allergic to lemon juice and bees,” I say as I remember Mother Ester telling me that notifying owners of allergies is always a good idea if you have nothing else to mention.
He says, “Good thing I hate lemon juice and my gardener keeps bees away from the roses after spring.” He chuckles lightly.
“I also like to read.”
He leans forward, straightening his posture. “Maybe one night a week you can sit with me in my study and read before we go to bed,” he says with a smile.
My grin seems to overpower his as I reply, “I would like that, Mr. Zach.”
He pats my hand lightly and says, “Rogue will get these things for us, but I’ve had a long day. I assume you have too.” He stands and sets the dishes neatly atop one another.
He’s right. Leaving North Carolina that early in the morning after having served my previous home’s party, arriving at my new place, and meeting my master has drained me.
“Yes, Zach, you’re right,” I murmur and stand up, pushing my chair in.
“Good night Cassandra.”
I bow, returning the good night, and retire to my bedroom. I decide Mr. Addison is a sweet, gentle man. However, as a veteran servant, I know first impressions can be deceiving.