I was getting older, 49 to be exact. And though I could pass for younger, Hollywood for the most part was a young person's game, and I was getting a little too old for the demand for the young, cute and cuddly. Let's face it, I was a dinosaur, and in the age of "reality" television when episodic drama had all but disappeared, I was definitely expendable. I had worked in the business for a decade plus six, and while I wasn't A-list, I had been a decent writer and able to provide a reasonable living. While it was nothing outstanding, I had been able to secure a fine home, nice cars, vacations and the other niceties of a successful career. Circumstances change...sometimes drastically. My second wife now lived in the house and drove the Mercedes I had purchased for her birthday while I made do in a dingy one-bedroom apartment with my son from my first marriage. I had survived in a tough business and had enjoyed the perks and freedoms of being a writer. Only now, that career choice wasn't too rosy.
My divorce had put a major crimp in the financial situation and I had been out of work for almost two years. With my savings depleted by the divorce settlement, business was never a strong suit, that, and the brutal shark of a lawyer my wife had hired, I was now on the brink of homelessness. With bills piling on my desk, I needed employment in a hurry. Let's face it, I was desperate which led to a desperate decision that put me where I am today.
My ex and I had been friends with a younger couple for 14 years since our kids met at school—my son, now 20—was a couple of years older than their fraternal twins, a boy and a girl--and when I was offered a job working for them, I said yes despite my hesitancy and embarrassment of accepting employment from what had been friends. It was a humbling experience when I was out playing golf with Jeff and he said that maybe something could be worked out. At the time I detected an attitude of slight smugness, but Jeff always had that air about him. He was intelligent, well-educated and while friendly and cordial, I always got the sense that he felt himself somewhat superior to me though it was so subtle that I always checked it off to my own insecurity. Yeah, I might be able to beat him on the golf course, but I'm sure he felt that in the game of life he was ahead.
He was a businessman with his own consulting business and few other side projects. I wasn't sure of his income, but it was well into the six figures, the forty-one-year-old Jeff was doing quite well. Also, he and his wife, Ann, came from fairly well-to-do families. Married while in college and having kids early, they were exceedingly mature for their age when I first met them during the Kindergarten year of school when my son was in the second grade. They were comfortable, and while far from being ostentatious, they drove BMWs and owned a large home in a new subdivision, and pretty much did whatever they pleased, money never seeming to be an issue. I can't say I was ever jealous or envious of their financial comfort; at least I wasn't until the work dried up and I found myself struggling to make rent on the dreary apartment that was home. After the divorce, my wife and I had both remained friends with the couple, though my relationship was much cooler than the one my wife maintained with them, particularly Ann, who remained a close friend to my ex.
I wasn't qualified for most employment, a self-made writer, I had only made it through a year and a half of college. I had come to Hollywood with a briefcase full of scripts and was one of the lucky ones to actually find work. Without any training or education and being on the old side, the work world wasn't exactly clamoring for my services. I was close to taking a supermarket job or something similar, maybe an assistant at a food-fast food place when Jeff said I could come and work for he and his wife. When not involved with their children, his wife assisted with some of the businesses and supervised the maintenance of their household. I'm sure my ex gleefully filled them in on my financial straits, so I wasn't entirely surprised that they said they could use my help. I WAS somewhat surprised I said yes, I guess the thought of looking for a menial job would be more humiliating than going to work for my smug friends.
His wife, Ann, was very attractive, definitely didn't look her age of thirty-nine. Tall and almost too thin, her shoulder-length light brown hair framed a pretty face that might have been a tad long, but nonetheless she was looker. Of course, her smile was perfect, teeth white and straight and she had intense green eyes that flashed with impatience when things didn't go exactly they way she sought. She was a perfectionist and subtly demanding. I knew that working for her wouldn't be easy, that it would be unlikely anything would be complete satisfactory for her judging from the way she would nitpick and complain about every little thing in her life.
Jeff wasn't much better. He was immaculate in appearance and manner. And he had the same perfectionist manner of his wife. More than once I could over hear him on his cell phone upbraiding an employee to do their job right. He wasn't a screamer, but he knew what he wanted and how he wanted things done and accomplished. So there it was, I had say yes and found myself one morning ringing the bell to their house, standing at the door, questioning how I got myself into such a situation.
We hadn't discussed the details of my employment, only that my salary would be five-hundred a week, a far cry from the thirty-grand I used to get for each television script for which I received credit. Jeff had said he was sure they would be able to find something for me to do, joking even if it was only cleaning their house, but that he and Ann always had a need for another hard working person in their life. He said that they could use a secretary...administrative assistant he quickly corrected himself, that they could trust and depend on. He did iterate that he and Ann could be demanding and I said I knew this well, and that I was eager and willing to work hard to please them.
The part-time maid answered the door and said that Mrs. Moore was expecting me in the office. I walked back to the office, which was located in the rear of the house, a house that was decorated with great style and taste even if it leaned a little to the "shabby chic" generic. It felt odd to be in the home when it wasn't a party, play date or social visit. I was anxious and still feeling slightly embarrassed that I had reached the situation for a mercy hiring by my friends. The door to the office was partially opened and I walked in with butterflies roiling in my stomach. Ann was sitting at the desk, typing on the computer keyboard.
"Good morning." I tried to sound cheery and eager to be there, though I had a certain dread running through me.
Ann didn't look up from the computer screen. "You're late."
Thankfully Ann couldn't see me flush red from her comment. Yes, I was late, but only by five minutes and I was struck by the coolness in her voice and that I was starting from a negative as it was evident that she was displeased by my slight tardiness. "Uh, I guess, I'm a couple of minutes late."
"No, five minutes, Mike. I know with your Hollywood job things were a little more casual and that you know us socially and so forth. But this is now a workplace and I expect you to be professional and prompt."
Anger started to swell up within me and I almost turned and walked out as I felt I didn't deserve to be treated quite so abruptly, but I didn't want to fail on the first day and give Ann and Jeff any satisfaction that their standards were higher than mine and I would be unable to meet them. Plus, I really could use the money. "Uh, okay, Ann, I'm sorry, I will be on time from now on."
"Good. Your fine will be five dollars."
"My what?" I couldn't believe she had the audacity to suggest a fine, particularly with the measly five-hundred I was earning.
"Mr. Moore and I will assess fines as we see fit. Keep you motivated and from slacking off."
Ann was not happy with my protest. "Look, Mike, these are our rules. If you can't abide by them, then get out."
Damn, I knew she could be tough, but this was a whole different side to Ann. Again, I thought about leaving, but figured the fine thing was simply a ploy to get my attention and wouldn't be much of an issue. "No, no, I don't want to leave. It just seems a little unfair. Particularly since I didn't know about the rule."
"Well you know what they say about law. Ignorance is no excuse."
"Whatever you say, Ann."
"Also, Mike, when you are in a work situation, you need to address me as Mrs. Moore and Jeff as Mr. Moore. Do you have a problem with that?"
Wow, this was going to be harder than I thought. Here was this woman, someone I had thought of as a good friend, someone ten years my junior, instructing me on how to address her. "No problem, Mrs. Moore, you're the boss."
I could see a hint of a smile on her face. "Yes, I am your boss now, Mike. Please don't let our history cloud our understanding of the current situation."
"No, Mrs. Moore, I won't."
"Good." Ann looked up at me, her stern green eyes intensely scrutinizing me.
She looked great. Wearing a skirt and blouse, barefoot, her toes, as always, perfectly manicured, this time in pink with a flower painted on each big toe. I was glad, that if nothing else, I would get to be with her even if I was now in her employ. I stood there for a couple of minutes feeling awkward as I didn't know what I was supposed to do and I didn't want to interrupt her. Finally, I said, "What would you like me to do?"
I could see the familiar wrinkle of irritation cross Ann's face as she raised her right hand as to stop me from talking. "I'll let you know as soon as I'm finished."
Again, I thought she was being unfairly abrupt. She certainly wasn't making this easy for me. She worked for a few more minutes, before sitting back and looking at the computer screen as if she was scrutinizing her work. But I got the sense she was making me stand there simply because she knew she could.
Maria the maid popped into the room. "Ann, what would you like me to do with these papers on the coffee table?"
Ann looked up and warmly smiled at the maid. "Just leave them on the kitchen table, I'll go through it later."
"Don't forget that I have to leave early today."
"I haven't. Mike will drive you home after lunch. You know Mike right?" Ann said, introducing me to Maria.
I said hello and nodded at Maria who glared back while saying, "Yes, I've seen him before."
"He works for me and Mr. Moore now. And he will be helping you too."
Maria brightened at this comment. "Very good. I always could use help. Much to do around here. I go back to work now."
Maria left. Ann had been so much more friendly and warm with her maid, so much for the workplace formality she had just expressed to me. "Let's see, where was I?" Ann was looking at the computer once again. She then swiveled her chair towards me, bare legs crossed, girlishly bouncing one foot as she looked at me. "What shall I have you do?" She had a smile on her face as if she was enjoying the fact that I was now her employee. "This is a little odd, isn't it, you working for us?"
"Yes kind of..."
"I'll have to admit though, I kind of like it. And I'm sure Joann is going to flip when I tell her you're working for us."
Joann was my ex. I hadn't really given it much thought of her knowing about it since I had been more concerned about getting some cash. I wanted to ask Ann why she liked it, but decided not to press the subject. I had been there twenty minutes, just standing and watching her work as I felt like a fool. There was a chair on the other side of where Ann sat, but she hadn't offered it to me and had made no effort to allow access to it. So I had stood while she worked. I thought it ironic that she had upbraided me for my five-minute tardiness, yet I hadn't done a thing. Typical boss kind of thing. Finally, I couldn't take the idleness anymore. "What can I do for you?"
"Mrs. Moore. Please don't forget the proper manner of respect."
"What would you like me to do, Mrs. Moore?" I repeated resenting having to address her that way.
"Right now, you may clean my car. Vacuum, dust, wash it. You know where I keep my keys. The supplies are in the laundry room. If you need any help finding things, ask Maria."
"Yes, Mrs. Moore," I said, knowing that the keys were on a hook in the kitchen, everything in the house having its proper place.
"Good. You're dismissed."
Dismissed? I felt like a servant and almost let out a sarcastic, yes oh great Mrs. Moore, but I said nothing. I gathered the supplies and went into the garage where the SUV was parked. I passed a large closet full of shoes, as the Moore's had a rule of no shoe wearing inside the house except for guests who didn't wish to remove their shoes or the exception of Maria who wore her thick sole nurse type shoes when she was working. Having a foot and shoe fetish I imagined what it must be like to have to clean and polish Ann's shoes and wondered if that would ever become one of my duties, though it would be humiliating to actually have to clean the shoes of someone who had been my equal and that I had known so long as a friend, nothing in the least kinky or sexual.
But interrupting my brief shoe reverie was the need to clean Ann's ride and I got to work for the next hour and a half cleaning her new X5 trying my best to get it as sparkling as possible knowing Ann's fastidiousness. When I went back into the house around eleven, I found Ann sitting on the plush sectional sofa in the entertainment room and talking on the phone while Maria was sweeping the kitchen that connected to the area where Ann sat. She was laughing about something when I began to sit on the sofa across from her. Phone to ear, looking up at me she shook her head no indicating that I wasn't to sit down on the sofa. What was this? Now I wasn't good enough to sit on her precious furniture?
"Just a sec." She put the phone to her shoulder and said while pointing towards the kitchen, "Go make Maria and me turkey sandwiches and cut up some fresh fruit."
"Yes, Mrs. Moore," I said, quietly seething to myself.
"Did you bring lunch with you?"
"No, Mrs. Moore." I didn't even think of bringing lunch. Ann had always been generous in offering food or snacks during previous visits. I had no reason to think otherwise.
She kind of shook her head and said, "That's too bad. I don't want you eating any of the turkey in case the kids want something later. Maybe after they have had their snacks, you can have a banana or something. From now on, you'll be expected to provide your own food."
I didn't know what to say. I was dumbfounded with her attitude, so I simply said, "Yes, Mrs. Moore," like a robotic idiot.
"Good. I'm glad you understand. Now go!"
I didn't understand. Why was she treating me this way? Why did Maria get to eat her food but not me? And as I pulled the turkey out of the refrigerator to make lunch and seeing that there was enough meat to feed the neighborhood, I realized that there was something more going on than simply having enough food for after-school munchies. I could her hear continue the phone conversation and I realized she was talking with Jeff.
"He's doing all right. It will be an adjustment for all of us. Of course, he started out on the wrong foot by being late...Yes, I fined him." There was a second of silence followed by much laughter from Ann. "Yes, maybe we'll have to do that. He'll learn or else. All right, I'll see you later, darling. Love you." Ann put down the phone after hanging up. "Is that lunch ready?"
I was hurrying to put her turkey sandwich together. I had eaten enough at Ann's house to know how she liked her sandwich prepared. "Getting there, should be a few more minutes."
"You need to work fast, Mike, I don't like to be kept waiting for anything."
"Yes, Mrs. Moore, I'm aware of that. I'm working as quickly as I can."
"That's a good attitude, Mike. I know I can be demanding, impatient, even unfair. But that's just me. You'll have to deal with it."
"Yes, Mrs. Moore, I understand." I quickly finished the sandwiches and cut up the fresh fruit and put them on plates as Ann thumbed through a magazine. "Your lunch is ready, Mrs. Moore."
"That's so cute the way you say Mrs. Moore, Mike. Do you hate addressing me that way?" Ann said standing and walking the few short steps to the kitchen. "Maria that's good," she said to the maid who was puttering around the kitchen.
"No, if that's what you wish, I have no problem."
"Good, Mike, you are more agreeable than I thought you would be. You must have really needed this job."
"Yes, I did..."
Ann was circling her hand for me to finish my sentence. "Don't forget your manners."
"Yes I did, Mrs. Moore."
Maria had taken a seat at the table and Ann was standing at an end chair waiting for me to realize that I was to pull out the chair for her to seat down. And? I wasn't sure what she meant by that. "And what? Mrs. Moore?"
The question displeased Ann who snapped as she sat down. "A thank you."
"Oh...thank you, Mrs. Moore for the job." I could see Maria smirking and trying not to laugh as she enjoyed Ann's difficult treatment of me.
"That's better." I placed the plates before Ann and Maria and began to clean up the kitchen. Fixing the food had made me hungry, but I wasn't about to venture into that territory, Ann had made it clear that her food was not available for me.
"Mike. Do you think that Maria and I are some kind of philistines? Where are our napkins?"
Messed up again. "Sorry, Mrs. Moore," I said, scurrying over to the table with two cloth napkins that I pulled out of a linen drawer.
"Apologize to Maria also."
Ann smoothed the napkin into her lap as I handed the other napkin to Maria with my apology. This was a little weird, but I was going to go long with Ann's little game. "Sorry, Maria." I turned to go back to cleaning.
"No wait. I think you should address her as Mrs. Lopez. Show her a little respect. After all, you ARE the probationary employee around here. And since you will be helping her with the household duties, she is going to be your boss too."
This was getting to be too much. The maid was my boss? I flashed back to when I was working in television, the eager assistants hoping to break into the business getting us lunch, doing our errands. I had sunk a long ways, but it could be worse, and I wasn't eager to explore the job world any longer. Besides, there was a little bit of me that enjoyed the new attitude displayed by Ann. "Sorry, Mrs. Lopez."
Maria giggled a little and said, "That's okay."
Maria and Ann discussed Maria's trip back to Central America while I finished cleaning up the kitchen. Ann telling Maria that she would have to train me on the ways of the household. Even though the details of what I was going to be doing was rather vague when I agreed to work for the Moores, I didn't really expect to be doing so much cleaning and such, but that's what looked like would be needed, so that was what I was going to be doing.
After Ann quickly finished her lunch, she said she was going out to inspect the X5 and quickly disappeared. Maria wasted no time asserting her status. "Next time, no tomato on mine."
"Yes, Mrs. Lopez," I said, looking at her, trying to maintain my cool.
"Good. Clean up these plates."
I couldn't believe she was ordering me to do this like she owned the place. "What the..." Before I could go any further, Ann had already returned.
"Mike, are you sure you cleaned my car?" Her voice was full of disgust and she noticed the tomato slices that Maria had left on her plate, one of them with an obvious bite taken out of it. "You don't like tomato, Maria?"