However pointless Cessily deemed fussing over an empty house, mopping and dusting rooms missing their people, making and remaking already made up beds, she remained as grateful for the work. She could hear her elder coworkers in the butler’s pantry, a man and woman in servitude to this family long before Cessily arrived there. On another day the man would have made himself scarce, preoccupied with the heavy lifting that was part and parcel of maintaining the infrastructure of this massive house and gardens. But on this day, with the Mr. and Mrs. away on vacation, the two had settled into idle chatter while one of them applied polish to the sterling flatware laid out neatly on the pantry counter, one by one, and the other buffed it to a fare-thee-well before carefully slipping each back inside its velvety soft sleeve.
While they chattered away, now and then exploding in laughter over some little bit of nonsense, Cessily wandered towards the back of the house, where she gazed outside through an enormous bay window. She stood there and drank in the scenery before her, the groomed hedgerow and the still, pale blue water in the swimming pool. A sunbeam shone through the window glass and fell across her cheek; she closed her eyes and tilted her face upward to capture more of its radiant warmth.
A moment later she unlatched the French doors leading to the veranda and pool beyond it, and stepped out into the sunlight. She found the aromatic collision of boxwood hedge and chlorinated water not at all unpleasant; it was a distinctive perfume she would recall at will for the rest of her life. A neat row of chaise lounges on the far side of the pool beckoned to her; any other day she’d silence her longing to answer them, but what harm could it possibly do on this day, she reasoned. She brushed away a bit of detritus from the lounge nearest to her and eased herself into it. Swinging up and then slowly stretching both her legs long, she could feel her sinewy calves touching; she smoothed out her uniform and gently reclined. Cessily closed her eyes and drank in the heat of the sun.
Some time later a car pulled into the drive, but its engine’s rumble was too distant to reach Cessily by the pool, where she lay quietly sleeping. Now a sneakered foot was nudging a wheel on the chaise lounge, sending her bolt upright in it; she shielded her eyes from the sun with a single hand to get a better look at the person attached to it. Before her stood a lanky young man, a towhead in shorts and nautical stripes, who now removed his sunglasses and peered directly into Cessily’s face, a grin coming onto his own. Behind him, a pair of young women and another man stood in a huddle and observed the scene with curiosity and amusement. Cessily felt her heart exploding inside her chest and scrambled out of the chair, stuttering an apology and hustling back inside the house. She could hear the quartet’s laughter rising behind her, felt hot tears coming in her eyes and then a sudden and powerful longing for her old home, for Cecil and Claudia, and for her brother Andy. She longed to see the rows upon rows of daffodils marching down to the river once again, to enjoy the magnanimity of the Chatham family and the ridgetop she imagined would be her safe haven forever.