by Noëlle Lague
(Freely based on "Maid in China" by Barefoot Servant)
IV - End of Protection
Maddie was, long before she was placed at the Special Unit, having a hard time with her self-confidence, her appearance and attitude certainly giving her no help. She had always been ashamed of her physical characteristics; generous but perky breasts, large hips and protruding lips were all things she hated. She was, despite her young age, verging on what you'd call "full-figured." Maddie had what it usually takes to become a perfect bully victim, but she somehow managed to avoid it, partially with the help of a couple of close friends who protected her. Jenny had been one of them.
However, Maddie couldn´t escape completely, she was occasionally being tackled in the hallways and called names. The worst she thought, was to be called Pudgy. She was happy that Jenny wanted to stay friends with her, especially after having been put into the Special Unit, retaking a year. Her loss of status among her classmates was otherwise clearly sensible. The fact that Maddie was going to change class, her classmates not going to be her classmates next year, was awful enough. But coming to know that she was going to be put in Heather´s class, made her shiver. Heather, Jenny´s younger sister, had always been picking on Maddie when she was at the Kim´s house. The prospect of becoming her classmate was excruciating, she could be so mean. What Maddie didn´t know was that Jenny actually had shared more than one good laugh with Skye and some other classmates when they found out about her placement in the SU.
The exposure in front of the class, in her childish uniform, had of course been unbearable for Maddie herself, but it also represented a turning point for Jenny who, from this moment, was going to change attitude toward her protege, cheered on by Skye and, even more, by her sister. The sight of Maddie, first in her uniform, next to her stupid mother, both completely humiliated by Mrs. Bronstein, the culminating moment in the schoolyard; Maddie waddling with her mother - holding her hand, dressed in an absolutely ridiculous outfit - toward the Special Unit, was simply too much. Heather didn´t have to spend hours to persuade Jenny to stop protecting her. Jenny was at first reluctant to set up a mischievous plan to subdue Maddie, but the thought of it, little by little, filled her with a curious pleasure.
“What? Are you serious?” Maddie asked.
Jenny shifted to a sitting position. She had been lying across her bed. Maddie already sat up and now crossed her legs, mirroring Jenny’s movement.
“Yeah, totally, I’d love to,” Maddie answered, squealing in excitement.
The prospect of going to China with Jenny was more than thrilling.
Jenny grabbed her hands and smiled. A knock at the bedroom door interrupted the girls’ excitement. An accented voice followed.
“Ladies, is everything okay? Can I get you something to drink, maybe a snack?”
Maddie had visited Jenny’s house a couple of times and recognized the voice as belonging to Rosario, Jenny’s family’s Filipina maid.
“You want anything Maddie, maybe a lemonade?” Jenny asked.
“Yeah, sure,” Maddie nodded.
Jenny yelled toward the door.
“Rosario, go make us some lemonade, okay.” It wasn’t a request.
“Yes, Miss Jennifer,” Rosario quickly answered.
Maddie could imagine the brown woman scurrying away on bare feet to comply with Jenny’s order. Conversation quickly returned to the China trip.
“You’re going to love it Maddie,” Jenny explained.
“We’ll see all off the usual tourist stuff, the Great Wall, Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, the Temple of Heaven. Our house there is great too. The pool is decadent, and we have more servants than just Rosario.”
Maddie closed her eyes and imagined a summer spent soaking up foreign culture and lounging by a pool while servants attended her every need. This is going to be the best summer ever. Maddie’s thoughts were eventually interrupted by yet another knock-on Jenny’s bedroom door.
“Ladies,” it was Rosario again, “may I come in? I have lemonade.”
“Yes, Rosario,” Jenny sighed, “come on in, and be quick about it.”
The door eased open and Rosario entered bearing a tray with two glasses of ice and a pitcher of fresh-squeezed lemonade. The round-faced woman smiled at both girls and set the tray down. She was uniformed just as Maddie always saw her when visiting Jenny - gray smock with white collar and puffs, ruffled white apron and bare feet. Rosario filled both glasses with lemonade and handed one to Jenny then Maddie.
“Can I get anything else for you ladies?” the maid asked.
“No, Rosario, this will be all for now.”
The two girls spent the next hour sipping lemonade while Maddie listened to Jenny talking about all the spectacular things she did last year.
“China, huh. I don’t know, Maddie, it sounds pretty expensive,” Max Akers fretted.
It wasn’t the answer Maddie had hoped for from her father.
“Besides, we expected you to get a job this summer to help save for college. That’s just a year away after all.”
Maddie sighed inwardly and maybe a little outwardly too.
“Come on dad, I never ask for much, ok, I know my GPA is pretty bad and that the score on my ACT isn´t ….”
”Well, Maddie, you´re not exactly the star pupil of your class, are you? A 1.9 GPA is clearly low, and together with your 14 on the ACT, you prove to be in urgent need of filling gaps in your education, darling” her mother interjected.
”Ok, I know that’s not going to get me any scholarship money, but still…. I’ll have the summer after my senior year to work to save for college, and I can always do a work-study during college. When will I get another chance to go to China?”
“Maddie, did Jennifer or her mother say anything about how much the trip would cost?” Melanie Akers asked.
“Maybe if we knew a little more about it, we could all make a more informed decision.”
“Well, the trip itself will last for two months. During that time, I’ll be staying with Jenny and her family, so there won’t be any hotel expenses or anything like that. The only time that I’ll have to buy food is if we eat out, so I’ll need a little spending money and money for two plane tickets, here to New York, and New York to Beijing.”
“How much will those tickets cost?”
“They’re kind of expensive dad. The ticket to New York is around $1,200. The one to Beijing is about $4,000.”
Max shook his head. He really did hate to disappoint his daughter.
“Maddie, I’m sorry, Maddie. Your mother and I, we just don’t have that kind of money. It would be hard for us to come up with it between now and whenever you would have to buy your tickets without taking out a loan, and we just can’t do that.”
Maddie’s shoulders slumped and little tears started to well up in her eyes. Max opened his mouth, started to say something, but Melanie stopped him short with a nod of her head.
“Okay, I understand,” Maddie said, dragging herself off toward her room.
“I just need to let Jenny know. She…… might want to ask someone else to go.”
Maddie trembled as she entered Jenny’s cell number. Why am I shaking? Maddie hated to disappoint anyone, especially one of her friends.
“Kim’s mortuary,” Jenny answered playfully, “you stab ‘em, we slab ‘em,” she continued.
It was how Jenny had answered Maddie’s calls since elementary school.
“So, what’s up Maddie? What’d your parents say?” Jenny asked.
Maddie waited overly long before answering.
“Not good, huh?”
“No, not at all. They…..they both say it’s too expensive, that I need to spend the summer working to save money for college.”
“That sucks. I was….. looking forward to having you come along.”
Jenny paused for a second, obviously in thought. Maddie could practically hear her friend chewing her lower lip.
“Actually, I’ve got an idea. I’ll call you right back.”
Maddie stared at the ‘call ended’ screen on her phone. That girl has the worst phone etiquette.
Jenny had come to a turning point in her attitude toward Maddie. Knowing Maddie was going to retake a year and that she would be continuously visiting the Special Unit had given Jenny mixed feelings. She still felt pity for her but she was slowly beginning to think that Maddie was a hopeless loser, relentlessly finding herself in scrapes. Maddie was about to lose the little rest of social status that was left in her class, it was slowly becoming too much for Jenny, and Heather was going to help her sister in reconsidering her loyalty toward Maddie. Heather, even more than Jenny, was a winner, both intellectually and physically strong.
She was equipped with a perfect body, a limitless self-confidence and a hypersensitivity to weakness and failure. This teenage bully demonstrated, the minute Maddie set foot in the Kim´s house, a superior attitude toward her. Heather thought Maddie was a complete loser, she had never understood why her sister would accept to hang out with the chubby simpleton, as she called her. Heather despised her profoundly and never missed a chance to humiliate her.
Maddie´s submissive nature was an irresistible trigger for Heather to intensify and refine her taunting. It was without any success that Jenny had been trying to put her sister in place, at several occasions, Heather always finding new ways of demeaning Maddie, especially when Jenny wasn´t around. Without the protection from Jenny, Maddie soon became a helpless victim to Heathers imaginative abuse. Mentioning the trip to China, Heather asked Jenny who she´d invited to come with her.
”Maddie…” Jenny answered ironically, with snicker.
Heather smirked. Jenny knew well that Maddie´s parents would never be able to pay what it cost. And Heather knew Jenny brought Maddie home not because she was her best friend, but rather as an act of pity. It was then Heather came up with the idea.
”Make her join us for the summer….as our live-in maid.”
Jenny looked with a puzzled expression at her sister.
”You….. really despise Maddie, don´t you Heather?”
”Listen, sis, the sooner you understand what a complete loser she is, the better. Talk to mum about it, she will think Rosario will be able to need some help and, most important, I´m absolutely convinced, little chubby will fall slap-bang into the trap.”
”I don´t know, Heather…..”
”You wanna bet? She´ll say yes and you know it. Imagine her in a maid´s uniform, serving us… it would be priceless Jenny. Just admit it.”
Jenny held back a snicker.
”Well, maybe Rosario could actually use some help,” Jenny said, changing into a broad smile, before putting up her hand for a high five.
Before Maddie could even put the phone down, it rang. Jenny. That was quick.
“Jenny, hey, that was quick. What happened?”
“I had to talk to my mom, and,” Jenny trailed off.
“Yes, and?” Maddie coaxed her friend to continue.
“And I have an, ah, interesting proposition for you.”
“Well, mom said that we could pay for your plane tickets and all of your expenses.”
“And maybe even pay you a small stipend for your college savings.”
Maddie frowned. She wasn’t sure where the conversation was going.
“Oh, that sounds….but why…..I mean…. are you serious Jenny?”
“Well,” Jenny paused, “mom thinks Rosario will be able to use some help this summer. Are you interested in being a maid in China?”