With Mrs. Kim’s permission, Rosario retreated to the kitchen to set out lunch for the family and guests. Maddie was, by default, left to hand out presents. She had attended enough of Jenny’s birthday parties—seen Rosario do it often enough—that she was familiar with Jenny’s preferred protocol. Maddie carried one present at a time from the table where they had all been stacked to Jenny, read the tag indicating who it was from, and handed it to Jenny.
Jenny opened the presents at a perfectly humiliating pace, quickly enough to keep Maddie’s servant bells really jingling, slowly enough to savor the moment.
Lunch service, to Maddie’s surprise, provided something of a breather—and a break from the dreadful bells tied around her ankles. Lunch—cheeseburgers with sides like chips and dip, potato salad, baked beans, pasta salad, and, of course, Rosario’s vegetable tray—was served buffet style. The guests assembled their own burgers, and Maddie and Rosario had only stand behind the buffet to dish out the side items. There was hardly any jingling at all.
That all changed, of course, once everyone had been served. Rosario stayed behind the buffet to serve anyone who returned for seconds; and Maddie was again dispatched on drink duty.
How much lemonade can these people drink?
“Excuse me, Maddie,” it was a voice Maddie hadn’t heard so far today, but one she recognized—after a second of thought—as belonging to Graham Buckley. For someone who had been in her class forever, since Kindergarten, Gram was an enigma. For most of elementary school and junior high, everyone thought of Graham as a skinny, weird kid—if they thought of him at all. All of that, though, changed this year. The smart kids, the kids who were very obvious about their grades, learned that Graham had every bit as high a GPA as did they. The athletes watched him fill out into his current, lean form, and wondered why they had never encouraged him to play football, or soccer, or any sport. This year, he had finally quit wearing what for most of his life had amounted to a uniform—jeans and a black turtleneck. Today, for example, he had on a pair of loose-fitting cargo shorts and an orange t-shirt with some band logo Maddie didn’t recognize. As usual, he was carrying a well-worn book. Maddie couldn’t see the title, but she knew it was something she and most of her classmates would never think to read. So, yeah, Graham Buckley was an enigma. For all Maddie knew, he could be an alien or a superhero. “Could I get a lemonade?”
Maddie snapped out of her daze. “Oh, yeah, sure, I mean, yes sir. It’s just that I didn’t see you come in.”
“Yeah, I slipped in through the back gate while everyone was swimming. Here, I’ll walk with you to the kitchen.”
“You don’t have…”
“I insist. Cute uniform, by the way.”
Maddie blushed.“It’s not exactly what I’d be wearing if I had any say in the matter,” Maddie explained, filling a glass.
“Regardless, you make it look good.
Maddie smiled. “Still, I normally go for something with shoes.” She wiggled her bare toes.
“Shame,” Graham countered, taking the glass from her, “you have cute toes.”
“And jingly bells.”
“The bells do seem a bit odd here in the States, but they are common attire for servants in the Guangdong Province of China, at least, as Jenny mentioned, during festive events, like birthdays parties.”
“How do you know so much about the Gongdong Province?”
“Guangdong,” he corrected her pronunciation, “and I read a lot.”
“I noticed. Guangdong,” Maddie practiced pronouncing the word. “Earlier Jenny’s mom—er, Mrs. Kim—said their house was on Hainan Island.”
“Hainan Island was part of the Guangdong Province until 1988, when it became its own separate province. Still the areas share much culturally.”
I could listen to him talk all day. “So, uh Graham, do you have any plans for…”Maddie was unable to finish her question. “His immediate plans involve accompanying me back out to the pool.” It was Skye, of course, interposing herself between Maddie and Graham. “And yours include fetching me another water.”
Left holding Skye’s mostly empty glass, Maddie watched her and Graham disappear out the door to the patio. Maddie’s face was turning red again, but this time it was out of anger, not embarrassment. She turned to stomp toward the refrigerator, but was stopped by a hand on her shoulder. “Maddie,” it was Rosario, “no stomping, okay. Servants should step lightly about their betters.”
“But, but they’re not my betters. They’re my classmates, Jenny, Skye, Graham, all of them.”
“No ‘buts,’ Maddie. Yesterday they were your classmates, and they may be again in the fall, but for today and the rest of this summer, Jenny is your mistress, they are her guests, and you and me, we’re servants.” Blunt though she was, Rosario tried to soften her words with a smile. “Now go get Miss Skye her water.”
Maddie slumped. “Yes, Rosario.”
Maddie found Skye and Graham sitting at the edge of the pool. Graham had his shoes off now, and they were both dipping their feet in the water. As she approached, Maddie heard Graham whispering something in Skye’s ear. Maddie had no idea what he had said, but was sure it was something to deep for Skye to fully fathom. It didn’t keep her from giggling. Swallowing her rage, Maddie stood silently with her serving tray waiting to be acknowledged by either Skye or Graham. After several painful seconds—emotionally and physically, as the concrete was getting hotter all the time—Skye finally spoke up. “You can just leave the water here, Maddie, and give Graham and I our privacy.”
Graham offered a smile, awkward and weak.What was I thinking? He’s just like every other guy. There’s nothing special about Graham Buckley. Nothing at all.
“Yes, ma’am,” Maddie answered placing the glass on the ground within Skye’s easy reach. Fighting hard to hold in her tears, she turned and ran for the cool tiles—and relative privacy—of the house. Maddie’s bells rang cheerily.
Even though the party was starting to wind down, there was no rest for Maddie or Rosario. Certainly, there was no time to cry. As guests departed, Maddie was, of course, charged with retrieving their bags from the pool house. Between such runs, she was also expected to help Rosario clean. Leftovers had to be put away, counters wiped down, floors swept, the dishwasher loaded. The list of tasks went on forever. In ways this was a blessing. When Maddie did dare pause for a second, she actually noticed the ache in her back, her legs, and her feet.
“Do you ever get used to this, Rosario?”
“Get used to what, Maddie?”
“This work. It’s hard. My whole body is aching. That, and I’m starving. When do we get to eat?”“Well, Maddie, I think I have good news and bad news both for you.”
“Good news first?”
“We’ll eat when the cleaning is done, leftovers, but the Kim’s buy good food. And, yes, you will get used to the aches of this job.”
“And what’s the bad news?”
“You get used to the aches, but they never really go away. This is hard work you’ve signed on for, Maddie, and it takes a toll on your body. By the end of this summer, you’ll probably look a lot like me.”
Maddie chuckled, tying a full trash bag. “That’s unlikely. You’re from the Philippines, right? And my family is from, like England, Germany, and all over Scandinavia originally.”
“I don’t mean our color, Maddie. I’m not stupid. Though, you will probably get a dark tan—or burn—in China. The sun is very harsh there. What I mean is going barefoot all summer will probably give you big feet like me; and being up on your feet all the time, carrying stuff, could give you—how do you say, what is the word—cankles. ”
Maddie stole an uncertain glance toward Rosario’s feet and legs. She did sort of have cankles, and her feet were very broad and flat with wide gaps between her toes. “Seriously?”
“Seriously, Maddie. Before I started working as a maid, I was a dainty thing like you.”
Maddie was fortunately saved from further discussion of the impact of domestic work on her body by the departure of the final guests—Courtney, Kimberly, and Graham. Graham hadn’t really brought anything with him, but Maddie had to fetch the twins’ bags. Opening the door for the trio, she forced herself to smile and thank them for coming, but all she could think—especially in regards to Graham Buckley—was good riddance.
Maddie returned to the kitchen to find Rosario working over some food. “There wasn’t much left, but I have put something together for us.” Rosario slid a clear glass bowl toward Maddie.
Studying the contents, Maddie turned up her nose. “I was kind of hoping for a cheeseburger. What is it anyway?”
“There was only one burger left Maddie. Your friends eat a lot. I divided it between us and added it to last night’s leftover rice. Now eat. You need your energy.”
Resigned, Maddie took the bowl and slumped into a chair at the small breakfast table.
“No, Maddie,” Rosario practically hissed, “get up. Servants aren’t allowed to use the furniture, except in our room. Eat standing here at the counter with me.”
Maddie picked at her beef and rice, as well as the vegetable tray, wondering more and more what she had signed herself up for.
“That goes for the toilet too. If you have to make water, Maddie, you must go to our room to do so. Speaking of, drink,” Rosario passed her a glass of water, “or you’ll get dehydrated.”
Maddie had—despite her initial apprehension—just finished her beef and rice, when Jenny’s voice rang out from the family room. “Rosario, Maddie, we’re starting a movie. Come here!”
Rosario practically jogged toward the family room. Maddie followed on her heels. “Would you ladies like drinks or a snack during the movie?”
Jenny turned to Skye. Johnny sat up from where he had been laying on the sectional. “What about me, Rosario? I’m no lady.”
“So sorry, Master Johnny. I didn’t see you there. Would you like something to drink? Some popcorn?”
“Lemonade for me,” Jenny answered, “and popcorn”
“Me too,” Johnny echoed.
“Water for me.”
Of course Skye wants more water.
After a quick return to the kitchen to pour drinks and make popcorn, Maddie and Rosario returned to the family room. Rosario had been kind enough to carry the serving tray laden with drinks, leaving Maddie to carry the tray of popcorn.
“Anything else, Miss Jenny,” Rosario asked.
Jenny, feet propped up on an ottoman, nodded silently and made big brown eyes at Rosario. Maddie had spent enough nights watching movies at Jenny’s house to know what that meant… and to dread what it meant for her as well.
“Yes, Miss Jenny.” Rosario sat down on the floor, across the ottoman from Jenny, face to her mistress, back to the television and started to massage Jenny’s bare feet.
Feet similarly propped up on an ottoman, Skye looked at Maddie and smiled. “I guess that means you’re with me, Maddie.”
Even though she had known it was coming, the not fully spoken request—order—hit Maddie like a punch to the gut. Still she complied. “Yes, Miss Skye,” Maddie answered, sitting down on the floor and beginning to rub the ball of Skye’s right foot.
Before the opening credits were even complete, the doorbell rang. Maddie had never been so happy to have yet another chore thrust upon her. “I’ve got it,” she whispered quickly to Rosario. In a flash, Maddie stood, offered Skye and Jenny a quick curtsy as a way of excusing herself from her current foot-massage duties, and practically ran toward the front door.
“Good evening. May I—,” Maddie started before she even realized who it was at the door. “Oh! Hi, mom. Hi, dad. I am so glad to see you both.” Maddie hugged each of her parents in turn.”
Max Akers turned to his wife. “Do you recall a time when our Maddie has ever been so happy to see us?” Then, back to Maddie. “Are you sure you’re going to be able to handle spending the whole summer away?”
Maddie poked the floor with a bare toe. “Yeah, sure dad, yeah, I’ll be fine.”
This time it was her mom’s turns. “You don’t sound so confident, Maddie? Are you sure you want to do this?”
Maddie continued to stare at the ground, her bare feet. “Yeah, I’m good. I signed up for this. The money is going to be very helpful for college next year. And when else will I ever get to see China? It’s just that being a maid is hard work, a lot harder than I ever expected.”
Melanie Akers reached out to hug her daughter. “You’re right Maddie, you’re going to be fine. Your dad and I both had jobs when we were your age.”
“I know, I know, you guys met at the Dairy Queen where you both worked.”
“That’s right, Maddie,” her father chimed in, “and that wasn’t easy either. And I must say, your uniform actually looks just as comfortable as what we had to wear.”
“You’re right, dad. I’m going to be just fine.”
“You and dad are just a phone call away,” Maddie cut her mom off. “I’ll call if I need anything, I promise. And I’ll call just to talk too.” Maddie hugged each of her parents in turn.
“On that high note,” Max Akers finished, stepping to the side to slide Maddie’s suitcase toward her, “you’ll be wanting this, and your mom and I should probably be getting home. We need to catch up on last week’s Game of Thrones.”