I feel a cool breeze coming off the lake at the side of the house. It really is a magnanimous place, which I would feel better able to enjoy if I didn’t have the weight of Simon’s mission hanging around my shoulders. He expects me to report to him and everything. I try to tame the aching sense of foreboding at having to be a spy, and I confidently ring the bell. Some guy, some kid, swings open the door to reveal a flurry of people running around behind him with various tasks at hand. “Hey, who are you?” he asks. “Me? Oh, I’m Meg. Mrs. Simmons sent for me. I’m here to be the new maid.” This kid can’t be more than sixteen years old. He stares at me—or rather ogles me—as all teenage boys are tempted to do. And then he says, “Okay then. Well, Mrs. Simmons is upstairs. I’ll get her. I’m her son.” Mrs. Simmons is the head of the household, and she’s the one who hired me. I had rather expected her to answer the door and for things in the mansion to be quiet. Instead, there are people running every which way with flowers and decorations, oversized candles, swaths of fabric, and technical equipment. The boy is gone before I can stop him and ask what’s going on. I shuffle my feet nervously in the doorway, waiting for direction on where to go. This is not my usual gig. I don’t know how a maid is supposed to act. Luckily, I don’t have to wait long because an older, homely looking woman who I can only assume is Mrs. Simmons appears. She comes down one of the two grand staircases that adorn the room. “Oh, Meg. How lovely to see you. I’m so glad you found the place,” she says warmly. “Thanks. It wasn’t hard to find. Most people seem to know about the Belcourt Estate,” I say. “Yes, well, George…Mr. Belcourt was very generous with the local people. He’s been a huge loss to our community.” “I can imagine,” I say with all sincerity.
She wipes a tear from her eyes, and I can tell the loss of Mr. Belcourt is still fresh on her mind. Her vulnerable state obviously makes me feel more than horrible about my intentions for being here. I could just strangle Simon for making me do this. “Well, honey, let’s get you all settled in,” Mrs. Simmons says. I pick up my one duffel bag and follow her up the grand staircase. I venture to ask, “Hey, Mrs. Simmons, what’s going on here anyway? Are there always so many people in and out of the mansion?” “Oh, no, honey. There’s a party going on tonight. That’s why everyone’s here. In fact, I hardly have time to get you settled, because there’s so much to do. The florist is late with the flowers, and somehow I have to organize a staging room for some band called Haven.” “Haven? You mean Haven is coming here tonight and playing at this party?” I ask incredulously. “You’ve heard of them?” she asks over her shoulder. “Um, yeah” is all I say, though I’ve been trying to get tickets for weeks. “So, do these parties happen often, or is tonight a special circumstance?” “Yes, well”—she sounds like she might start crying again—“Mr. Belcourt always threw the best parties, and his sons are trying to honor that tonight. It’s the one-month anniversary of his death.” I try not to prod her further, as she’s visibly upset. She’s a hell of a lot more upset than Simon was when he heard the news. Mrs. Simmons shows me very long corridor, and then she opens the door to a beautiful room that overlooks the garden. It’s in impeccable shape. The design is modern with crystal chandeliers and contemporary furniture. A tufted white bed hosts several white duvets, and it looks like a cloud. There’s an adjoining bath and closet. I was expecting more austere maid’s quarters, but this is very plush. It almost feels like I’m more of a guest here rather than staff. “I hope that you’re comfortable here and that you have everything you need. Joan spoke very highly of you.”