Room-maid Page 1

Author: Sariah Wilson

Genres: Romance


“Do you know what this apartment has?” Frederica asked me as she threw her arms wide, like she was the ringmaster about to introduce the clowns.

Which felt like an appropriate gesture, given how my life was going.

“Madison.” She said my name, trying to get me to pay attention. “Do you know what this apartment has?”

She was obviously expecting a response equal to her level of theatrics. “A staph infection? Flesh-eating bacteria? A hantavirus?”

My real estate agent / aunt glared at me. “Wrong. The correct answer is it has nine-foot ceilings. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find this ceiling height in an apartment in the city at this price?”

The city was Houston, Texas. And I chalked up not noticing how tall the ceilings were to my upbringing. Because I’d grown up in one of the largest mansions in the state, nice things felt normal. Comfortable. But given my decision to become a teacher (a career choice my family heartily disagreed with by cutting me off, kicking me out of the house, and rescinding my trust fund), I was quickly finding out that on my salary I couldn’t afford said nice things. Or even semilivable things.

I knew Frederica was getting frustrated with me. She had shown me dozens of apartments that were either too far away from my job as a second-grade teacher at Millstone Academy, or else they’d been completely terrible. Like they sported their own special petting zoos that consisted of cockroaches, ants, and bedbugs. Or they’d been little more than a dumping ground for cinder blocks, old magazines, and used tires.

But I couldn’t afford better. When I’d opened my first paycheck, I had audibly gasped. The total net amount (after some jerk named FICA took most of my money) was for less than what I used to spend in hair maintenance every month. I didn’t know how anyone was supposed to live on such a tiny amount.

Or how I was supposed to save up enough money for first and last month’s rent as well as a deposit. I also needed to get a car to get to and from work and run errands. Apparently I needed to put a deposit down for that, too.

No matter how hard I tried, it felt impossible to set aside money. I had been crashing on my best friend Shay’s couch for the last three months.

After I’d told her I’d be living with her for only two weeks.

It was way past time for me to move out.

This apartment seemed decent and was only a half hour away from work. I’d really wanted to be closer to the school but at this point I was going to have to take what I could get. I could make this tiny apartment work. I knew Frederica had grown tired of dragging me all over the city. Especially since she wasn’t earning a commission and was running the risk of incurring my mother’s wrath by helping me.

I figured she was doing it because, secretly, I’d always been her favorite niece.

Which was not a hard contest to win. My older twin sisters were terrible. The oldest, Violet, had been groomed to take over my dad’s finance company. She was cutthroat and ambitious and did the Huntington name proud. Vanessa, since she hadn’t gone into the family business, went the other acceptable route—she was married to a vice president at Daddy’s company, had three children with a fourth on the way, and rubbed her Perfect Life in my face every chance she got. Both of my sisters were snobby, self-centered suck-ups who had always made my life miserable.

Frederica’s voice pierced my thoughts, interrupting them. “This is a nice one, right?”

It was. I had opened my mouth to say as much when I caught the expression on her face. There was something she wasn’t telling me. “Yes, it’s nice. But what aren’t you saying?”

“Oh.” She waved one hand in the air, as if to suggest that I was being silly. “Nothing. It’s got these great ceilings and laminate wood floors. It should work for you.”

She was fine with laminate wood floors? Now I knew something was up. “Tell me.”

“Fine.” She turned the word into four syllables. “If you must know, the previous tenant was slightly . . . murdered here a year ago.”

“Murdered?” I repeated. “As in, somebody came in and killed the person who lived here? The police found the body in this very apartment? This was a crime scene?” I folded my arms across my chest, suddenly afraid to touch anything.

“I mean, it was just the one person. It’s not like some serial, ongoing situation. A crime of passion, apparently, and the man is good and locked up. So no need to worry. I only told you because the law requires me to. And it shouldn’t really matter because lots of people die in houses.”

That was probably true enough, but there was no way I would live here. I could almost see the police tape and chalk outline. “This is a definite no.”

I would take the cockroaches over this. I was not up for being haunted.

She sighed, ever so slightly and dramatically, and opened the front door for me. I went out into the hallway while she locked up. Even though I knew it was all in my head, the hallway suddenly seemed dark and foreboding. As if crime-passioned murderers were waiting in every shadow. I felt a rush of relief when we exited the building, grateful for the setting sun.

We didn’t say much as I followed her back down to her beloved car, a Ferrari she had named J. Lo. The color of the Ferrari was what Frederica called Louboutin red. It was her signature color. Right now, it was the shade of lipstick she wore, the color of her silk blouse, and the soles on the bottom of her high heels. Her expensive taste reminded me how much money she usually made finding homes for Houston’s elite, and I felt instantly guilty that I had been wasting so much of her time.

“She’s a beauty,” I said, trying to get back on her good side by complimenting the Ferrari.

Her broad smile indicated that I’d accomplished my task as we slid onto the soft-as-butter leather seats. “She is. Are you still planning on buying a car of your own?”

“I am.” I’d only recently acquired my license. It hadn’t been necessary growing up since my family’s drivers had always taken me everywhere I needed to go. My mother had often wondered aloud why Huntington women would even need a driver’s license. It made “no rational sense” to her.

Not surprisingly, neither one of my sisters had a license.

And neither one of them had their own personal car, either.

I felt great pride that I’d be the first in my immediate family. “I’m even thinking about getting a used car.” If that didn’t send my mom into a fit of vapors, I didn’t know if anything ever would. My mother refused to touch anything that had been used by someone else, which included such things as hotel sheets and duvets, towels at the gym, and bathrobes at her favorite spa. It gave me a small, rebellious thrill to plan on buying a car that had been previously owned.

“You should try the Ares dealership.”

“Ares?” I echoed her recommendation. “Isn’t that the car rental company?”

“Yes, but once their cars hit a certain mileage they sell them. So you can get an, er, used car that’s been reasonably looked after and presumably kept up well.” She said the word used the same way my mother did: as if it were an unsightly and invasive mole that should be beaten over the head with a tack hammer for daring to disturb her prizewinning roses.

“I’ll check it out.” We reached the outskirts of the downtown area and I realized I didn’t know if our apartment-hunting tour was over. “Did you have any place else to show me or are we calling it a day?”

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