Sixty-nine: Needing a Keeper
Considering Christine's ploy to meet me in the woods, I had some serious thinking to do. Part of that thinking was, 'What if I had responded to her with kisses and ... what all' and part of it was, 'Holy shit, last year at this time I was just a kid, and this year, I'm on display in the meat market.' If I had tossing and turning imaginations in the night about what might have happened had I joined the fair Christine on the bank of the stream, I also had broken sleep wondering when I had crossed the bridge from childhood to open season.
And Rachel -- I hoped that my words to her on our instant messenger chats weren't too distracted; I did think she was the most beautiful, delightful, charming girl I'd ever met -- but Christine was so earthy, so ... I tried to be as silly and Owenesque with Rachel as I could be. She was my friend, and didn't care about my age, or about having sex with me; Christine wanted the jump and the hump, without being friends.
Sadly, I acknowledged that the amount of money behind my name would always assure me of having any number of humps, whenever I wanted them. Having real friends, however, was something quite different. I knew I was a freak to my fellow classmates -- what other kid in the school took fencing lessons, or rode English, with its high boots and tight breeches? What other kid my age wasn't allowed to go hang out down town or on the municipal pier until midnight on Fridays and Saturdays? Rachel was the only one to whom the difference didn't seem to matter, and maybe that was because we had become friends before she found out who I really was.
The city's fireworks display had been postponed due to a particularly heavy and wet foggy marine layer moving in from the ocean, all the way inland to us. It was chilly, damp, and dim, and after three days, I was ready to run away from home and join a circus if only it traveled to some place with sun. What a way to waste the summer vacation.
On Monday morning we even lit a fire in the downstairs fireplace to reduce the clammy feeling of the house. I was sulking there, angry because of the weather, grouchy because the whole house was on edge with our mother's impending return with four babies, and frustrated with energy that I didn't know how to expend. (You can only practice fencing for so long before you begin to wonder what the hell the point is, since you are never going to use the skill in a practical manner.) Aunt Sully was seated on the big hearth with a clipboard, writing notes and making checkmarks on typed forms. I should be curious about what she's doing, but I've had it up to the ears with being Little Mr. Responsible. The hell with it. I closed my book and pushed the ottoman away from my chair.
"Owen, could we talk?" she asked me, uncharacteristically deferential.
"My dear aunt, if I said 'No' you would nail my hide to the wall until I agreed to do so, would you not?"
"Not," she said with a frown. "When have I ever forced you to listen to what I had to say?"
"When did I ever have the choice?"
"Any time you could get up and toddle out of the room, as I recall, other than when you stayed at my house, and I don't think I ever asked you to talk that you didn't have the option of not talking, where exactly is this coming from? What have I done to deserve a crack like that?"
John waved his hands, and made a T with them. "Time out! What is wrong with you two? Both of you are as touchy as a bear with a sore -- look, just talk like you love each other and leave off the cranky crap, will ya?"
My aunt looked like a thundercloud was perched behind her eyes.
I refused to apologize, but offered to forge on. "What shall we discuss?"
"A personal assistant for you."
"Personal assistant. Someone who keeps track of your appointments, your clothes, your needs in the household ... "
"Wait, you mean a nanny?" My anger came back.
"No, a personal assistant. Not someone to take care of you, but a dedicated staff member who looks out for you and your needs."
"Needs. What needs do I have that aren't being addressed?"
"The hems of your pants, for one. The length of the sleeves of your shirts. Your haircut. Security of your suite. Those things have to be taken care of, and it's quite unfair to expect the existing staff to deal with them as well as their regular duties."
It was my turn to frown and bristle. "Are you saying I'm not taking care of myself?"
She looked down at her clipboard, her face without expression. After about 30 seconds, she rose from her spot on the hearth and walked out of the room.
Without saying a word, Aunt Sully had absolutely mashed me into a pathetic puddle on the floor. Her actions told me that I was being too much of an ass to even be acknowledged further. She was not going to waste one more word, one more facial expression on me. Where my mother might have left a room in exasperation, with a parting, "I don't even want to have this conversation," Aunt Sully was even less patient with rudeness or contention.
I thought John might say something after she left, but he didn't; he just went back to reading the opinion section of the newspaper he'd had in his lap. After a few minutes of feeling more punished than I'd ever been in my life, I got up and went to the front hall. Redell was just entering his office.
"Good morning!" he said cheerily. "We've been planning the menus for the week your family returns from Italy. We thought that comfort food would be the best bet, things that are easily digestible and familiar to the tongue -- travel often upsets people's bodies. I'll have them posted here" (he indicated a bulletin board inside the doorway) in case you have any suggestions you want to make. Did your aunt get a chance to talk to you about a personal assistant?"
Shaking my head ruefully, I answered him. "Not really. I don't understand why she was even bringing the subject up. Or what a 'personal assistant' is. Sounds like she thinks I need a keeper or something."
Redell laughed. "No, it's not like being a keeper. Your personal assistant gets your wardrobe ready for you, so that you don't have to rummage through a closet to find out what is available to wear. He makes sure all your shirts have their proper buttons, or sends them back to the laundry to have them mended. He knows which newspapers you want to have in the morning, and has them set out for you. He makes sure all the supplies in your rooms are adequate, and that the cleaning has been done. He keeps track of where you have to be and when; sometimes he's the driver for you, sometimes he stays at the house to make sure what you wanted to have done gets done. He accompanies you to make sure you are safe -- your personal assistant would be a good rider, one would hope, so that you could go out riding without having to wait on your brother or your aunt."
"Is this because I've moved to the third floor?"
"Not really, though it helps to have someone to take care of your rooms. Maybe you're a bit young to have a personal assistant, but God alone knows how much you're going to have to take over directing the household with four infants taking up your mother's time."
"Directing the household is what Aunt Sully does."
"Sully manages the estate, not the household. I manage the household currently, but it is you who will direct it, if you see the difference."
"I don't know. What if I hate the personal assistant and feel like I'm trapped and choking?"
"Owen, then you fire him. Never, ever keep a personal assistant that you have come to distrust."
I felt a wave of relief. "So if I don't like the person, I don't have to have him -- her?"
"Correct, sir, though your personal assistant would not be female. After all, you might have a wife one day. Then the personal assistant's job would be to do perhaps a bit less for you, but to also take on the considerable task of staying out of your wife's way." He was so good-natured about it all that I no longer felt defensive. "We've brought this up to you because I've found a young man recently who is well-trained and very trustworthy, seeking a position. I've met him, and think perhaps he'd be a good match with you."
"It just sounds so weird, Redell. How do you know so much about personal assistants, anyway?"
He laughed out loud again. "I was your father's personal assistant, didn't you know that?"
My jaw sagged to my breastbone. "What? I never knew that! How could I not know that being his son?"
Redell bowed. "Because I was a very, very good personal assistant and knew how to be discreet. And I was not here for you, or the other kids, I was here for him."
Shock gripped my chest and made my breath short. I wanted to go to my suite and think for a while with no one to watch the emotions on my face. I began to turn to leave the office. "When would I meet this fellow? Would he just be here one day, and we'd see how we got along, or what?"
"Oh, no, you'd be present to meet him before any offer was made." Redell opened a file drawer and pulled out a manila folder. "Here's his resume and background information. Have a look, see what you think, and then let either your aunt or me know if and when you'd like to meet him."
I took the folder, thanked him, and walked to the elevator, feeling a bit dazed.
What am I to think about all this? There's just too much. In three weeks, everyone is going to be back from Europe, with four screaming babies (babies all scream, from what I've heard) and I'm supposed to have some weirdo shadowing me all the time and asking me if my pants are too tight?
Why would this man be applying for a position as a 'personal assistant' in the first place? He's got a college degree in Business Administration, served in the military for a few years, rode on some equestrian team in Virginia, speaks Italian and French ... why is he applying for a job as what is practically a servant?
I put my pen down. Redell was the head of the house staff and house manager. Technically he was a servant, but there was nothing subservient about him. My mother and Aunt Sully trusted Redell totally, with no reservations.
Redell was my father's 'personal assistant.' I guess my father must have trusted him completely, too, like Mom and Aunt Sully do. Like the whole household does.
Well, I guess I'll give this Dane Heresford a chance, whoever he is. At 28, he's young enough to ride with, at any rate. I wonder if my adults would let us take a horse trailer over to Point Reyes and camp and ride on the beach? Now that would be cool.
Closing the journal, I mused that if Dane Heresford wasn't a total jerk, maybe I could make my own journeys in Europe as my siblings had done. I could practice Italian and French with him; he would be like a tutor who would keep me from making Dumb Teenager Mistakes along the way. Maybe having a personal assistant could turn out to be a good thing.
The unfinished business was my rudeness and anger when talking to my aunt. I could not remember why I had been angry, there hadn't really been any reason, I just was. And now I wasn't, and wasn't sure how to go about making amends. I couldn't think of any dignified way to go about patching things up without coming off like a stuffy little snot or a whining punk, so I ditched the dignity aspect completely and went to the door of her suite, which was open.
I neither knocked nor called, but instead, lay belly down on the floor with one hand across the threshold. Sooner or later one of the staff would come by to check on things, and announce my prostration to my aunt, if she or John didn't discover me before.