Wednesday’s Wafers: weekly series where I share some of my own recent writing.
Are you ready for the next chapter in my story? I love how my character is developing. Let me know what you think is going on. Enjoy!
Ch. 2 Surreptitious by Karolyn H —- [Ch. 1] [Ch. 3] [Ch. 4]
The front door opens, and a man in a business suit steps inside, shutting the door behind him. He wipes his brown suede Oxfords on the mat then crosses the foyer to hang his suit jacket on the coat rack.
He sees me and smiles tiredly. “Erica, thanks again for starting today. I’ve had quite the crazy week. Any problems so far?”
“You’re very welcome, Mr. Pagano,” I replied. “And no problems at all. I took the liberty of preparing a light lunch since you mentioned that you would be leaving work early today.” Hoping that I didn’t sound too eager, I shifted my legs awkwardly, clasping my hands in front of my waist.
“Thank you, and it’s Nicholas. Actually, just call me Nick, please. No need for formality really,” Mr. Pagano—Nick—assured me.
Out of the corner of my eye, I barely caught a glimpse of the tiny black shadow that streaked across the floor to slide comically into a heap in front of my new employer. Nick’s face lit up and he bent down to scoop up the kitten, who was now purring furiously and trying to lick any part of his human that he could reach. Chuckling, Nick carried him into the kitchen, setting his laptop case down on a chair, and a few pieces of mail on the dining table.
“I see you met my new roommate! I think I’m Spooky’s hero, at least for a little while. I guess he hasn’t forgotten how I rescued him a couple days ago. I probably shouldn’t have kept him, but now he won’t be home alone all day, at any rate, since you’ll be coming by a few days every week.” By now, Spooky had climbed onto his shoulder and was sitting there contentedly, rubbing his cheek against Nick’s ear.
I couldn’t help but laugh at the adorable little sidekick. “Well, how could you possibly resist that face? Even if he does like to race around the house, testing my balance and reflexes.” Walking to the nearest cupboard, I opened the doors, looking for tableware. I found a set of square, black dishes and matching mugs in the next cupboard over. These’ll do, I decided, and brought two plates to the table then hunted for some silverware.
Nick headed towards the wide staircase at the end of the hall, kitten still latched on to him. “I’ll go change really quick, then I’ll be down for lunch. Don’t feel like you need to wait, help yourself.”
I waited until Nick was out of site, and I could hear him treading across the carpet into his bedroom. When his door shut, I zipped over to the table, and immediately started flipping through the envelopes strewn across the tablecloth.
My heart beating out of my chest, I listened closely for any sound upstairs, and prayed that I could remember how the mail had been arranged so that he wouldn’t suspect that I’d been snooping through it.
Bill, bill, credit card offer, bill, ads…I glanced at his laptop case, debating. No, not right now, it’s just too risky. I’m sure I’ll have a chance another day. I picked up the last piece of mail on the bottom of the pile, a letter-sized manila envelope.
Reading the return address label, my hands began to tremble and my cheeks felt flushed. I knew it—could this really be from who I think it is…?
Just then, the door upstairs opened, and I could hear Nick scolding the kitten. I frantically put the envelope back underneath the rest of the mail, and spread out the stack how they’d—hopefully—been tossed originally.
Choosing my seat at the table strategically, with my back to the stairs, I calmed my nerves and focused on not having a panicked expression.
Nick pulled back the chair across from me, now dressed in blue jeans and a casual Henley t-shirt. Smiling, he declared, “This looks perfect, Erica. I’m starving. Please, join me, no need for you to rush off yet. You’re scheduled for two more hours anyway.” He sat down and immediately started dishing out some pasta and using the salad tongs to serve himself a large portion.
Spooky, indicating that he was clearly suffering from immense thirst and starvation, was mewing at us insistently. He had followed at Nick’s heels all the way to the table.
“I fed you not that long ago, buddy,” I said to the kitty, which had no effect on his cries, but did allow me to further compose myself.
“Mr. Paga– Nick, I do need to run the dishwasher, and I haven’t finished folding the laundry. So, I’ll stick around to take care of that before going home for the weekend. Is there anything else you need this afternoon?” I looked at him expectantly, trying to avoid the sharp little claws that were stretching up to dig into my slacks.
Nick chewed and swallowed, putting down his fork. “Heavens, no. When you’re done, take off and enjoy your Friday night! Here,” he reached into his back pocket for his wallet, taking out a few bills. “I’ll pay you for today, then every Friday of each week, how’s that sound? And I insist that you eat with me before you go.”
As he handed me my wages, I opened my mouth to respond, and his cell phone trilled. I waited while he glanced at the screen. He stared at it for a moment, as if contemplating whether he wanted to answer the call or not. He looked up apologetically. “Sorry, I have to take this, but it should only be a minute.”
He pushed back his chair to stand up and swiped at the phone to stop it’s ringing. Putting it to his ear, he spoke to the caller in a business-like tone. “Stefano, it’s great to hear from you. Let me step outside.”
He strode toward the sliding glass doors that led to the back patio. Then, he stopped and pivoted around, walking back to the table. He proceeded to search through the mail, and selected a familiar manila envelope, taking it with him outside. As he was sliding the door closed behind him, I heard him say over the phone, “I’ve received the package in question, and will open it now.”
Stunned, I numbly added some pasta and salad to my plate, paying it little attention. I ate, not tasting the cucumbers and onions, but watching Mr. Pagano instead, trying not to look like I was.
Who was he talking to? How can I find a way to read what’s in that envelope? The weight of what I was here to do and the reasons why caused my throat to tighten and my jaw to clench.
When it appeared that he had ended the call, and was coming back inside, I stopped eating, having lost my appetite. Keeping my inner turmoil from showing on my face, I got up to clear my plate.
“Now, where was I?” Nick asked. “Right, lunch.” He resumed enjoying his meal, not looking the slightest bit concerned.
Clearing my throat, I faced him and spoke carefully. “Nick, cash payments once a week works fine for me, thanks. I think I’ll get busy now, so that I can get out of your hair sooner. Enjoy your lunch.”
He nodded, his mouth full, and waved me off.
I washed my hands, then headed towards the laundry room, on the other side of the pantry. My mind, filled with both apprehension and resolve, wandered through various scenarios and memories. Memories that I could never forget. Plans that I refused to alter.
Spooky squeezed around me, and hopped into the basket full of warm shirts and towels, curling up to take his next catnap. I scratched his ears, pulled a bath towel out from under his tail and started folding.