n placed the plate to his front, positioning the paper to its left.
My dreams were full of fairytales. Traveling the world, going to fancy parties, and even outrageous closets full of clothes. When I opened my eyes I felt ashamed of myself even though I couldn’t exactly control my dreams. It still felt wrong to be so wrapped up in the things Hale could give me.
I liked him as a person. To me he was more than his money.
But would you like him if he lived in Moulton?
That was momma’s voice in my head. Bringing me back to reality. The truth was, a part of me was superficial. I wasn’t in love with Hale. I was fascinated with him because of the life he lived.
This was a part of my journey. It wasn’t like I was marrying the man. I was working for him, and although he said he wanted more, and score one for momma because she’d just said that to me, I wasn’t sure what more would be. Could I fall in love? Would it be easy because of all he could give me?
You were raised better than that. Momma’s voice again. Ricocheting around in my head.
While trying to clear my thoughts I finished making up the bed and dressing. Momma’s voice finally left. Images of Hale did not. It was just after sunrise and although Felicity’s note said Hale would awaken at eight ready for breakfast on the balcony with the morning paper, I wanted to have a head start making everything perfect. Plus, I really needed my own bite of breakfast and some coffee. I studied myself in the mirror. The new wardrobe that arrived last night had been surprising. Everything felt different. The fabric even smelled fancy.
Figuring out what I was supposed to wear everyday was confusing. The two really extravagant dresses hanging in my closet were the most mind boggling of all. Where would I wear those? Last night I’d slipped on the shoes that matched them and lapped the room a couple of times. They gave me the silly feeling of playing dress up. Like I was a child or something.
He’d even had panties and bras delivered. I wasn’t sure why it mattered what I was wearing under my clothes. I figured no one saw that and my undies were just fine. But these felt nice. Satin and silk. Putting them on made me feel like a princess. After changing three times I decided that the black linen shorts and delicate looking sleeveless blouse were good enough for casual. Though they didn’t feel casual in the least. The price tags were gone, but I had a feeling that clothing arriving without a price tag was too shocking for the average person to comprehend.
Cooking breakfast in this was going to make me nervous. He’d said not to unpack my bags, meaning he didn’t want to see me in any of my own clothes. Hale wanted me dressed in what he had purchased and I would do what he said. I tried not to focus on the cost of my outfit. I pulled my hair back into a loose low braid and proceeded.
The penthouse was quiet. Just the light muffled sound of the busy city came through the windows. I went to the glass doors in the living room and stepped outside to take in the view. I needed reminding I was here. Everyday I would need reminding. I was afraid I would suddenly wake and this would all be a dream. I’d be back in Moulton at the bakery. Something I did not want. The part of my life that kept me in Moulton was over and done with forever. I hugged myself and smiled as I studied the city below me, bustling and colorful and pulsing, people hurrying about in their business attire, while others carried shopping bags. The tourists were obvious with their cameras and phones snapping photos for friends back home.
Soon I would be a part of that world. Hale would take me to parties and lunches. I would walk the streets in my expensive clothing just like I lived in a movie, one continuously playing for me. My smile grew as I imagined what life with Hale was going to be like in the future. Would he take me to his other homes? Would I travel with him on his plane? I had no idea what surprises were in store for Sammy Jo Knox from Moulton.
I wanted to see so much. Do and experience it all. New York City could never be uncovered, because there was so much inside it to reveal. And I wanted to peel it back. As much as I thought I could. That wasn’t greed, now was it? Was my ambition blind to that? Was my desire to live my dream and its fancies arrogant self-absorption? These questions pinged in my head.
Turning around I went back inside and headed for the kitchen to cook. My stomach was rumbling loudly. I needed food to think about this. I knew if I called and asked momma, she would tell me “yes, you’re being greedy.” But then, of course, I could tell myself that momma didn’t understand things. She saw them differently because of the way she had lived, which wasn’t the life I desired. I was a dreamer. I chased after my dreams. I wanted so much more and I wouldn’t feel bad about going after my goals. If I hadn’t wanted more I would’ve missed this opportunity by being married to a guy in Moulton, when Hale stopped by the bakery. Things align and have a reason. That, I believe in my heart.
Knowing there was something bigger, a thing barely at the tips of my fingers, has kept me going since I was little. I loved the fantasies I created in my head. They were escapes from the reality I was born in, its hard edges and sharp nasty points, pricking my dreams everyday.
Now, here I was, living fantasies. I wanted to think that daddy was in heaven smiling down on what I was doing. He knew what I wanted to do. Not once had he told me I shouldn’t.
I also wanted this life for my sisters. Even if they didn’t for themselves. I knew if I could show them there were other options outside of Moulton, Alabama, they’d soon see things different. Momma was Moulton. I understood that. But I wanted to give her more. Less worries about money and the bakery. I would send cash home to make that happen, as soon as I got ahead.
Hale brought me here to change me. A part of me wanted that. To belong to the life he lived. But I was scared of what it all meant. This was going to be a huge leap. I had come and would somehow survive.
I heard his voice before I saw him. He was on his phone as he walked down the hallway from his room past the kitchen. I could tell from his tone it was business. He was annoyed and irritable and gesturing.
Moving quickly I finished up his breakfast. He wanted two poached eggs and kale salad, mixed with dried cranberries and walnuts. It didn’t seem very filling to me. Nor did it look appealing. I was glad I wasn’t expected to eat this. My sugary cereal with slices of banana would serve me well as usual.
“I can’t move the meeting. I have a prior engagement. It’s at seven and I won’t miss it.” As he walked back into the kitchen, Hale spoke into his slim, flat smartphone. I had his French pressed coffee prepared. The French press thingy had thankfully come with directions. I’d never seen anything like it. He took it from my hands sighing loudly.
“Lunch here will be the best I can manage. I’ll be here at twelve like we planned. They can join me here. Otherwise this will have to wait.”
Hale ended the call and slipped the phone into his pocket. He greeted me, but it took effort.
“Good morning Sam,” he said with a tight smile. He didn’t look as if the morning was good at all. If he’d let me fix him a real breakfast he might enjoy it better.
“I’ll take my breakfast outside. Where is the paper?” He asked, walking quickly towards the exit of the kitchen.
I snatched up the paper I’d retrieved from the door and lifted his plate to follow. I wondered if this was what he wanted. Someone to wait on him hand and foot. I’d never been around a man who needed a servant. My daddy would’ve been slapped, if he’d asked my momma to serve him. But I was the hired help. Maybe this was a rich people thing. I had a lot to learn.
The romantic guy from yesterday was gone and in his place was… this. I wasn’t here for romance anyway. At some point a line would be drawn. I guess Hale was drawing it now.
He took a seat at the table and I waited until he settled back in his chair. I the
“Can I get you anything else?”
He looked at his food and then me. “This is perfect. Are you not eating?”
“I ate earlier this morning when I woke up.”
He motioned to the seat across the way. “Please join me if you will. I hate to eat alone.”
I liked it out here in the open with the energy of the city just below us. Maybe waiting and eating with Hale wouldn’t be so bad. That is, if he wanted me here.
I took the seat across from his stare and he immediately studied my clothes. “Better. Much, much better.”
Saying thank you seemed silly since he’d bought the clothing and knew what it looked like before. The fact that my clothes hadn’t been good enough still bothered me, but this was different. I was wearing a work uniform. I guess that was how I’d look at it. I’d have to let that go. He might know what was best for me. Here anyway, in the city.
“I wasn’t sure what to wear while working.”
His smile was one of amusement. “You chose well. Did you try on the cocktail dresses?”
I assumed they were the fancy ones, so I hadn’t done more than touch them. I was afraid of the price tags and fabric. “No,” I replied, with a shake of my head.
“Make sure they fit and that you like them. You’ll be needing them soon enough.”
I would? He was ready to take me out in public? My heart rate increased and then I realized I might go into a panic if he did. Or if he kept talking about it.
“Will you be having a lunch meeting here?” I asked to change the subject. I would need to know how many were coming and what to prepare when they did.
He nodded. “Yes. For three.”
Good. That would give me something to do until then. I hated feeling like my time was wasted.
“You can clean my bedroom and bathroom. I’m going to stay out here and handle a few calls. Hopefully I’ll get a moment’s peace, to read the paper without being bothered.”
There was something else to do. I hadn’t thought about that. I should get in a maid’s frame of mind. He was confusing me with all this talk of parties and fancy clothes. I couldn’t remember who I was.
“Okay,” I said, instead of the “yes sir,” which almost fell from my lips. I wasn’t sure he’d like that very much. “Can I get you more coffee?” I asked.
He shook his head. “Not yet. Give me about fifteen minutes. I’ll be ready for another cup.”
I glanced at my watch. He seemed to like things on a schedule. “I’ll be inside cleaning if you need anything.”
He tilted his head to look. Those eyes were something else. Straight from a magazine. He could easily model in his spare time. “Do you like it here?” he asked.
I nodded. “Yes. Yes I do.”
A grin spread across his face. “Good. I like having you here.” Then his hand reached forward to gently caress the inside of my wrist with his finger. “You make things that were dreary, exciting.”
I wasn’t sure how I was doing that exactly. But it made me smile and my cheeks heat up into a blush that he noticed in an instant. “I’m glad,” I replied, almost breathless.
He chuckled and pulled his hand back. I hurried inside to take a deep breath and think about what he’d said. Hale was a confusing man. It didn’t seem like he’d be anymore understandable today, tomorrow or forever. I wanted to please him, but a part of me worried about losing myself along the way. While I made his bed and put towels in his bathroom I thought about the luxury that surrounded him. This was a life he fit. I needed to taste it, but I wasn’t really sure I’d ever belong like him. Like now, right now for instance, I wanted to put on cut off jeans, a tank top and knot my hair up. Pile it on top of my head. Although, that wouldn’t do for here. I wasn’t home working on the farm. I was where I’d always dreamed of being and I had to start trying harder to adjust and mold to this world. If I was choosing this life, then I would have to make it work, regardless of the changes involved. Hale had taken a chance by bringing me here and I’d also gambled by coming. Perhaps what would change would be me. A little, not a lot. I would take it a day at a time.
“He’s changed your clothing. I liked what you were wearing before.” Ezra’s voice made me jump and turn. He was standing in the kitchen’s entrance. Without thinking I immediately responded. “I’m supposed to look a certain way. Ever heard of a uniform?” Even though it came out kind of harsh, Ezra’s compliment made me feel good. He smirked, crossed his arms over his chest, then leaned against the doorframe. “I just hate to see him do it. There’s nothing wrong with you now. But he’ll change you, wait and see.”
I turned back to the salad I was making. Him standing there like a cowboy in a painting made me a little nervous. There was no doubt the man was gorgeous. In that Texas cowboy way. Though I knew it was only an act, because he wasn’t, he worked for Hale.
“Hale is outside with the other guest.”
He didn’t move. Although I wasn’t looking at him I knew Hale hadn’t budged. I had ears and the man was soundless. He replied, “I know where he is. I’m not in a hurry to join them.”
Ezra was weird and strange. I didn’t need him intruding with Hale. I wasn’t quite sure what there was between us, but this guy was an employee. He should care about upsetting Hale. Both of us had the same boss.
“Why’re you in here with me when there’s a meeting that doesn’t include me? Shouldn’t you be with them?” This time I turned to make him leave faster, though I figured he would do what he wanted.
“Not real big on Hale’s meetings. I don’t have to fuck with this one.”
Oh, well, okay. I didn’t know what to make of this man. Each episode with him became stranger. I wanted to dislike him, but there was something about him that was attractive, it drew you in. Maybe it was his personality. He didn’t give a shit about much. Or seemed not to care. His vibe was more than dangerous, and that can be really sexy.
“I need to serve the appetizers.” I lifted the tray of zucchini with the goat cheese tarts I’d made. It was a recipe Felicity had suggested that seemed easy enough. It gave me confidence for dishes that would take more time and contained various ingredients. I was thinking about this when Ezra moved towards me to take the tray from my hands.
“I’ll take it when I go.”
That didn’t sound like a good idea. He was a guest of Hale’s. A guest and an employee? This became more and more confusing.
“Uh, I better take it. That’s my job.”
Ezra studied me a little too closely. It made me feel like fidgeting and looking away, but I held his gaze and returned it.
“Are you scared of Hale?” When he asked me his voice dropped. It was lower and almost threatening. Frowning, I shook my head. “Why would I be scared of Hale?”
His entire body seemed to relax as he gave the tray back to me. “You take it then,” he replied. Then he left without explanation. I took a deep breath, tried to push it from my thoughts and focus on the job I was hired for.
I gave Ezra a minute to get outside before I followed with the tray I’d prepared. I thought about what momma would say, how she’d react to this: “Lord, that ain’t enough to feed a man! Make a pot roast with potatoes and gravy!”
Smiling at the thought I took the food. Only Ezra seemed to notice me. I placed the appetizers on the table with his gaze against my skin. I glanced at Hale, who simply nodded, while speaking to the other guest. That was my dismissal.
Hurrying back inside I slid the glass. Ezra’s focus was still on me. I was accustomed to the stares of men. I just wasn’t used to the Ezra’s. He might think this was some sort of game, but it was my future he was dealing with. I wasn’t going to anger Hale, get fired and sent back to Moulton. Ignoring Ezra was best for the present. Even though he was making it hard.
The rest of the lunch was the same. Ezra watched me like a hawk. Hale acted as if I was invisible. I manage
d to behave in a way that I thought would make Hale happy.
When I heard them all leave I finished cleaning up the kitchen while waiting on Hale to come to me. He didn’t say a word. I heard his footsteps down the hall and a door close behind him and then there was silence as usual.
I went outside to get the rest of the dishes and then made the kitchen perfect. After that I headed for my room. Hale was closed in his office and I could hear his voice through the walls asking questions. It was muffled, but I knew they were questions.
There was nothing for me to do. I wasn’t sure I was allowed to go out. Was I to wait and expect to be needed? I laid down on the bed with a New Yorker magazine I’d found in the living room. I would read and see what happened. Or perhaps I would fall asleep. The sharp knock on my door sent me bolting upright in the bed like a child from a nightmare. I never took naps at home. This job and the city seemed to wear me to a frazzle. Everything was always in motion. Moulton, Alabama wasn’t here. I hurried to the door to open it. Hale stood there with a grin on his face.
“Did I disturb your beauty sleep?”
“Sorry. I don’t know what happened. I haven’t done that very much. Not since I was a baby.” I then blushed. “But, I don’t remember. Being a baby that is.” My God I’m babbling, babbling.
“You woke up early and spent the entire morning working and doing your job. It’s okay to nap.”
I was relieved to hear him say that.
“You are, however, wrinkled. Change into something else. We’ll go out and explore.”
I was wrinkled? Really? I glanced down and figured I still looked fine, but I didn’t argue with the man. “Okay,” I agreed. “I can’t wait to see the city.”
To be released from the penthouse I would do what he asked. I wasn’t used to being indoors. It was beginning to feel like a jail and my boss was the jailer who kept me. Naw, that’s too dramatic. I must be imagining things. Hale smiled and walked away.
I hurried to my closet, once again overwhelmed, with the selection I had to choose from. I managed to find a dress that looked classy but was casual enough for exploring. I chose a pair of sandals with a heel. I wasn’t sure about walking all over New York, but there weren’t any flats in the closet. I brushed my hair and put on some lip-gloss. Studied myself in the mirror. I was still Sammy Jo from Moulton. That hadn’t changed a bit. But there was someone else in my reflection. There was polish and sophistication. I once dreamed that I would see myself dressed in clothes like these. But the reality was even more amazing. I was really living my dream.