I get to Friday morning without any major calamities. At least, none that the Geigers know about.
There was the vegetable- risotto disaster on Tuesdaybut thank God I managed to get a last- minute substitute from the caterers. There was a peach camisole that, in hindsight, should have been ironed on a lower setting. There was the Darting- ton vase that I broke while trying to dust with the vacuum- cleaner attachment. But no one seems to have noticed its gone yet. And the new one should arrive tomorrow.
So far, this week has cost me only two hundred pounds, which is a vast improvement on last week. I may even start making a profit before too long.
Im putting Eddies damp underwear in the dryer, averting my eyes as best I can, when I hear Trish calling me.
Samantha! Where are you? She doesnt sound pleased. Whats she discovered? I cant have you walking around like that anymore. Trish arrives at the door of the utility room, shaking her head vigorously.
Im sorry? I peer at her.
Your hair. She makes a face.
Oh, right. I touch the bleached patch with a grimace. I meant to get it done at the weekend
Youre having it done now, she cuts across me. My super hairdressers here.
Now? I stare at her. But ... Ive got vacuuming to do.
Im not having you walk around like a fright anymore. You can make up the hours later. Come on. Annabels waiting!
I guess I have no choice. I dump the rest of Eddies underpants in the dryer, switch it on, and follow her up the stairs.
Now, Ive been meaning to mention my cashmere cardigan, Trish adds sternly as we reach the top. The cream one?
Shit. Shit. Shes found out I replaced it. Of course she has. I should have known she couldnt be that stupid
I dont know what youve done to it. Trish pushes open her bedroom door. But it looks marvelous. That little ink stain on the hem has completely disappeared! Its like
Right. I give a smile of relief. Well ... all part of the service!
I follow Trish into the bedroom, where a thin woman with big blond hair, white jeans, and a gold chain belt is setting up a chair in the middle of the floor.
Hello! She looks up, cigarette in hand, and I realize that shes about sixty years old. Samantha. Ive heard all about you.
Her voice is gravelly, her mouth is pursed with lines, and her makeup looks like its been welded to her skin. She comes forward, surveys my hair, and winces.
Whats all this? Thought youd try the streaky look? She gives a raucous laugh at her own joke.
It was a ... bleach accident.
Accident! She runs her fingers through my hair, tsking all the while. Well, it cant stay this color. Wed better go a nice blond. You dont mind going blond, do you, dear?
Ive never been blond, I say in alarm. Im not really sure
Youve got the coloring for it. Shes brushing my hair out.
Well, as long as its not too blond, I say hurriedly. Not ... you know, that fake, tarty, platinum blond ...
I trail off as I realize that the other two women in the room have fake, tarty, platinum- blond hair.
Or ... um ... I swallow. Whatever you think. Really.
I sit down on the chair, wrap a towel around my shoulders, and try not to flinch as Annabel briskly pastes some chemical- smelling goo on my head and layers in what feels like a thousand bits of silver foil.
Blond. Yellow hair. Barbie dolls.
Oh, God. What am I doing?
I think this was a mistake, I say abruptly, trying to get out of my chair. I dont think Im a natural blonde
Relax! Annabel clamps down on my shoulders, forcing me back into my seat, and puts a magazine in my hand. Behind, Trish is opening a bottle of champagne. Youll look lovely. Pretty girl like you should do something with her hair. Now, read us our signs.
Signs? I say in bewilderment.
Horoscopes! Annabel tsks again. Not the brightest penny, is she? she adds in an undertone to Trish.
She is a little dim, Trish murmurs back discreetly. But marvelous at laundry. So this is what being a lady of leisure is like. Sitting with foil in your hair, drinking
Bucks Fizz, and reading glossy magazines.
I havent read any magazines except The Lawyer since I was about thirteen. Normally I spend my hairdressers appointments typing e- mails or reading contracts.
But I simply cant relax. By the time Annabel is blow- drying my hair, my entire body is seized up in fear.
I cant be blond. Its just not who I am.
There we are! Annabel gives a final blast and switches the hair dryer off. Theres silence. I cant open my eyes.
Much better! Trish says approvingly.
I slowly open one eye. Then the other.
My hair isnt blond. Its caramel. Its warm caramel with streaks of honey and the tiniest threads of gold. As I move my head it shimmers.
I think I might cry.
You didnt believe me, did you? Annabel raises her eyebrows at me in the mirror, a satisfied smile at her lips. Thought I didnt know what I was doing?
She can so obviously read my mind, I feel abashed.
Its wonderful, I say, finding my voice. Im ... Thank you so much.
Im entranced by my reflection, by my new, glowing, caramel, honey self. I look alive. I look colorful.
Im never going back to the way I looked before. Never.
My pleasure doesnt fade. Even when Ive gone downstairs again and am pushing theHoover round the drawing room, Im totally preoccupied by my new hair. As I pass any shiny surface, I stop to admire myself and flick up my hair so it cascades back down in a caramelly shower.
Vacuum under the rug. Flick. Vacuum under the coffee table. Flick. Flick. It never even occurred to me to dye my hair before. What else have I been missing out
Ah, Samantha. I look up to see Eddie coming into the room, wearing a navy jacket and tie. Im having a meeting in the dining room. Id like you to make some coffee and bring it in to my guests.
Yes, sir. I curtsy. How many of you are there? Four altogether. And some biscuits. Snacks. Whatever. Of course.
Huh. He didnt even notice my hair. In fact, he looks hyped up and red in the face. I wonder what this meeting is. As I head to the kitchen I glance curiously out the front window and see an unfamiliar red Mercedes Series 5 parked in the drive, next to a silver convertible BMW and a dark green Rover.
Hmm. Probably not the local vicar, then. Maybe its something to do with his company.
I make a pot of coffee, put it on a tray, add a plate of biscuits and some muffins I bought for tea. Then I head to the dining room and knock.
I push the door open to see Eddie sitting with four men in suits, around the dining- room table, each with a thick, open file before him. Sitting beside Eddie is a plumpish man in a soft brown jacket and horn- rimmed glasses. Directly opposite him is a guy with chiseled, good- looking features, wearing an expensive- looking suit.
So just a few amendments, the chiseled man is saying as I approach the table. Nothing that should concern anyone!
Your coffee, I murmur in deferential tones.
Thank you, Samantha. Eddie looks puffed up, like the lord of the manor. If you could serve it out?
I put the tray down on the sideboard and distribute the cups among the men. As Im
doing so I cant help glancing at the papers on the tableand immediately recognize them as contracts.
Er ... white or black? I say to a burly, red- haired guy in a blazer.
White, thanks. He doesnt even acknowledge me. While I pour the coffee, I have another casual look. It looks like some kind of property investment deal. Is Eddie sinking his money into something?
Biscuit? I offer.
Im sweet enough. The red- haired man bares his teeth in a grin. What an asshole.
So, Eddie.You understand that point now? The chiseled- looking man is speaking, his voice dripping with concern.
I recognize this man. Not his facebut I know him. I worked with people like this for seven years. And I know instinctively that this man doesnt care two jots whether Eddie understands.
Yes! says Eddie.Yes, of course. He peers at the contract uncertainly, then looks at the man in the brown jacket next to him. Martin?
Lets just have a look, replies Martin. He starts perusing the document, nodding every so often. I guess he must be Eddies lawyer.
Were as concerned about security as you are, says the chiseled man, with a smile. When it comes to money, who isnt? quips the red- haired guy. OK. What exactly is going on here? Why am I suspicious?
As I move round to the chiseled- looking man and pour his coffee, the contract is clearly visible and I run my eyes down it with a practiced speed. Its a property- development partnership. Both sides putting up money ... residential development ... so far so standard ... It looks fine.
I pour out coffee for the next guy and have another quick scan, just to be sure.
And then I see something that makes me freeze in shock. A carefully worded, innocuous- looking little clause at the bottom of the page that commits Eddie to funding any shortfall. In one line. With no reciprocity.
If things go wrong ... Eddie has to foot the bill. Does he realize? Does his lawyer realize?
Im totally aghast. My urge to reach for the contract and rip it up is almost overpowering. If this were at Carter Spink, these guys would not last two minutes. Not only would I throw their contract out, but I would recommend to my client that
Samantha? I jerk back to reality to see Eddie frowning slightly at me. Could you please serve Martin?
Im not at Carter Spink. Im in a housekeepers uniform and I have refreshments to serve.
I move round the table and pour out coffee for Martin, who is reading through the contract with not one sign of alarm. Hasnt he seen the clause?
Chocolate biscuit? I offer him the plate. Or a muffin?
Ah! His fleshy face lights up. Now ... let me see ... they all look so good ... His hand hovers over the plate.
I dont believe this. Hes paying more attention to the muffins than he is to the contract. What kind of lawyer is this guy?
So. Enough talk. The adventure begins. Mr. Chiseled is unscrewing the lid of a smart pen. Ready? He hands it to Eddie.
Hes about to sign? Now? Everything OK by you? says Eddie to Martin, whose mouth is now stuffed full of
Take your time, Mr. Chiseled adds with a perfect- toothed smile. If youd like to read it through again ...
I feel a surge of sudden fury at these guys, with their flash cars and sharp suits and smooth voices. They are not going to rip off my boss. Im not going to let it happen.
Mr. Geiger, I say urgently. Could I see you for a minute please? In private?
Eddie looks up in annoyance.
Samantha, he says with heavy humor. Im in the middle of rather important business here. Important to me, at any rate! He glances round the table, and the three men laugh sycophantically.
Its very urgent, I say. It wont take long.
Please, Mr. Geiger. I need to speak to you.
At last Eddie exhales in exasperation and puts down the pen.
All right. He gets up and ushers me out of the room. What is it? he demands.
I stare back at him dumbly. Now Ive got him out here I have no idea how to bring up the subject. What can I say?
Mr. Geiger, I would recommend reviewing clause 14.
Mr. Geiger, your liabilities are not sufficiently protected.
Its impossible. Who takes legal advice from their housekeeper?
His hand is on the doorknob. This is my last chance.
Do you take sugar? I blurt out.
I couldnt remember, I mumble. And I didnt want to draw attention to your sugar consumption in public.
Yes, I take one lump, says Eddie testily. Is that all?
Well ... yes, there was something else. It looks like youre signing some papers in there.
Thats right. He frowns. Private papers.
Of course! I swallow. I was just ... remembering. You told me always to be very careful with legal documents.
Eddie laughs jovially.
You dont need to worry. Im not a fool. I do have a lawyer!
Um ... yes, sir. I think quickly for another way. Only I couldnt help thinking of a time that Lady Edgerly signed up to some kind of investment, I think it was. And afterward she said to me that she wished shed got a second opinion.
I look into his eyes, willing the message to get through. Consult a decent lawyer, you stupid schmuck.
Very thoughtful of you to be concerned, Samantha. Eddie gives me a pat on the shoulder, then opens the door and strides back in. Where were we, gentlemen?
I watch in dismay as he picks up the pen again. Hes going to get fleeced.
But not if I can help it.
Your coffee, Mr. Geiger, I murmur, hurrying into the room. I pick up the pot, start pouring, then accidentally- on- purpose drop it on the table.
Theres total mayhem as the coffee spreads in a dark brown lake over the table, soaking into papers and dripping onto the floor.
The contracts! shouts Mr. Chiseled in annoyance. You stupid woman!
Im really sorry, I say in my most flustered voice. Im really, really sorry. The coffeepot just ... slipped. I start mopping the coffee with a tissue, making sure to spread it over all the remaining paperwork.
Do we have any copies? asks the red- haired man, and I look up, alert.
They were all on the bloody table, says Mr. Chiseled in exasperation. Well have to get them printed out again. He looks at Eddie. Can you make tomorrow?
Actually ... Eddie clears his throat. Not tomorrow. I think I want a little more time. Just want to make sure its all shipshape. Might even get another opinion, to be on the safe side. No offense, Martin!
None taken, said Martin amiably, reaching for a chocolate biscuit.
The visitors exchange looks.
Of course, says the chiseled- looking man after a long pause. No problem.
Ha! Something tells me this deal may not be happening after all.
Your jacket, sir? I say with a smile, handing it to him. And again, Im dreadfully, dreadfully sorry.
The great thing about legal training is it really teaches you to lie.
It also teaches you to put up with being yelled at by your boss. Which is handy, because as soon as Trish hears what Ive done, Im forced to stand in the kitchen for twenty minutes while she strides around, haranguing me.
Mr. Geiger is putting together a very important business deal! That meeting was crucial!
Im very sorry, madam, I say, eyes downcast.
I know you have no understanding of these things, Samantha. But a lot of money is at stake! Money that you probably have no conception of.
Stay calm. Stay humble.
A lot of money, Trish repeats, impressively.
Shes itching to tell me more. I can see the urge to show off and the urge to remain discreet fighting it out on her face.
Seven figures, she says at last.
Urn ... gosh. I do my best to look awestruck.
Weve been very good to you, Samantha. Weve made every effort. Her voice throbs with resentment. And we expect you to make every effort in return.
Im very sorry, I say for the millionth time, but Trish still seems dissatisfied. Well, Ill expect far more care tonight. Tonight? At dinner. Trish raises her eyes skyward.
But ... Ive got tonight off, I say in alarm. You said it would be OK, I could leave you a cold supper ...
Trish has clearly forgotten all about our conversation.
Well, she says querulously. That was before you threw coffee over our guests. That was before you spent all morning sitting about, having your hair done.
What? That is so unfair I cant even find a response.
Frankly, Samantha, I expect a little better. You will stay in tonight and serve dinner. She picks up a magazine and strides out of the kitchen.
I stare after her, a familiar, heavy resignation creeping over me. This has happened so many times in my life, Im used to it. Ill have to call off my date with Nathaniel. Another date ... another cancellation.
And then my thoughts stop mid- track. Im not at Carter Spink anymore. I dont have to put up with this.
I stalk out of the kitchen and find Trish in the living room.
Mrs. Geiger, I say as forcefully as I can. Im sorry about the coffee and Ill make every effort to do better. But I have to have tonight off. Ive made arrangementsand Im going to stick to them. Ill be going out at seven as planned.
My heart is beating fast as I finish. Ive never asserted myself like that before in my life. If Id ever spoken like that at Carter Spink Id have been dead meat.
For a moment Trish looks livid. Then, to my astonishment, she gives an irritated click with her tongue and turns a page.
Oh, very well. If its that important
Yes. I swallow. Its important. My personal life is important.
As I say the words, I feel stirred up. I almost want to say something more to Trish. Something about priorities, about balance.
But Trish is already engrossed in an article on The Red Wine DietHow It Can Work for You. Im not sure shed appreciate being disturbed.
Im putting the finishing touches to a cold roasted- vegetable salad for the Geigers supper when Trish comes into the kitchen. She opens the fridge, peers into it, then closes the door, looking dissatisfied. She leans against the counter, watching me work, until I start feeling twitchy.
Er ... can I get you anything, Mrs. Geiger?
No, you just carry on. She picks up a vegetable parer and twirls it around in her hands.
Um ... Mrs. Geiger ... I gesture that I need the parer, and she hands it over with a tsk of irritation.
You have such a simple life, Samantha, she says, with a sigh. So ... untroubled.
Yes, madam, I say after a pause. If you only knew ...
Trish moves to the window and gives another gusty sigh.
Mr. Geiger will be out this evening. So you only need to make one cold supper.
Um ... right. I have the feeling that if I point out Ive already made a salad for two, shell bite my head off.
She definitely looks out of sorts, standing there, running her finger up and down the windowpane. Maybe I should make conversation.
Nathaniel told me that you used to run a business, Mrs. Geiger, I say, carving strips off a huge chunk of Parmesan. Road haulage? That must have been interesting.
Oh, yes. It was our life.
You must have worked hard, I prompt.
We built it up from scratch, you know. Mr. Geiger and I. She suddenly looks animated. By the end we had a staff of thirty. Contracts with every major supermarket chain in the country. Youll have seen our lorries on the road. Red with a black flash.
Those are yours? I feel a flash of genuine interest. Ive seen them on the motorway!
They were ours, corrects Trish. We were made an extremely generous offer a few years ago. Which naturally ... we took. All the animation has waned from her voice.
As I sprinkle torn basil over the plate, she gazes out the window again, her face rigid.
And you dont ever think about ... doing another job? I venture.
Samantha, says Trish, in her explaining- things- to- a- three- year- old voice. Mr. Geiger and I have made our money. I am fortunate enough not to need to work.
No, of course not, I say deferentially.
I grind black pepper onto the salad, remembering Trishs tears that day by the washing machine. I cant help feeling a bit sorry for her. She obviously has no idea what to do with all her time. And Eddie doesnt help, being out on the golf course all day.
You know, Lady Edgerly didnt have a job either, I say casually as I put cling wrap over the salad dish and place it in the fridge. But of course she kept busy with her charity work.
Charity work? echoes Trish after a pause. What sort of charity work?
All sorts! Fund- raisers ... charity lunches ... She said if she hadnt had those to occupy her, she would have gone stir- crazy, doing nothing all day except filing her nails and having her hair donealthough obviously thats nothing like you ! I backtrack as Trish turns around. Youve got ... er ... loads going on!
Absolutely. Trish lifts her chin defensively. I have many interests and ... and ... occupations. People envy me my full life, you know, Samantha.
Im ... sure they do, madam. It was just a thought. I bob a curtsy and head out of the kitchen. At the door I glance back. Trish is still standing in exactly the same place.