My last day-guy didn’t have the temperament to tolerate Liz’s abuse… after he reached his breaking point and fed antifreeze to Liz’s cats, she did the same to him.
One ad in the classified section was all that was needed.
“Personal Assistant needed for errands and miscellaneous duties. Must be professional, initiatory, courteous, trustworthy and discrete. If you looked up the definition to any of those adjectives, don’t bother applying. If you looked up adjective, consider night school. Apply in person. Elevenses on Riverwalk. Wednesday 9:00 PM.”
Twenty-eight applicants crowded around the tiny tables at Elevenses…
Power-suits and slicked back hair. Attaché cases carrying nothing more than copies of their trumped up resumes and business cards no one would ask for. For the most part, it seemed as though Pam and I were holding open auditions for the sequel to Wall Street.
The one exception was ‘Mrs. Claus’. Liz’s nickname, not mine.
“Eric, she looks like she should be making cocoa for Santa’s elves.”
The woman couldn’t have been a day younger than 60. Her chin length, salt and pepper hair aged her as much as the little reading glasses she was wearing. She was wearing jeans and loafers with a simple white blouse.
Instead of sitting stiffly enough to look like a store mannequin, she was contentedly reading from a paperback… turning the pages with arthritic hands that had done more real work than the hands of the 27 men in suits combined.
She’d been the first person in line when Liz opened the doors half an hour before interviews were scheduled to start, but I couldn’t help but wonder if she was actually confused enough to be there for tea.
When the plethora of clocks on the walls chimed at 9:00, the woman closed her book and tucked it into her crocheted shoulder bag.
Liz shoved me towards our table, anxious to begin and called, “Applicant number one.”
The woman’s eyes lit up and she quickly joined us, pausing to tuck Liz’s tag into her blouse. “There ya go. Very pretty blouse… I’m partial to pink anyway, but it really sets off the auburn in your hair.” She offered her hand to me, and then Liz. “I’m Adele Stackhouse.”
Partial to pink and complimenting Liz’s attempt at being a brunette. Liz already wanted to hire her.
She sat down and immediately removed a manila folder from her bag.
“Nice to meet you, Adele. I’m Eric Northman and this is my wife, Lizzie.”
She gave us a nod. “Eric, Lizzie, nice to meet y’all.”
I opened the folder to look over her resume, but she offered, “The folder’s more impressive, isn’t it?”
“Part time work at… the Bon Temps Public Library? Why would you say that?”
She grinned and laughed through her nose. “My husband was too proud to be comfortable with me working. He didn’t win many battles, but I let him have that one. The part time job at the library was my way of fighting empty nest syndrome when our kids moved out to start their own families. Our preacher’s wife actually offered the job to me after services. Mitchell couldn’t really argue.”
“We aren’t hiring a librarian though. We need an assistant.”
She nodded. “I understand that… The job description said you need someone to run errands for you. I have plenty of experience running errands from being a wife and mother. I fit the description to a tee. Well, according to my daughter, stubborn is missing.”
Liz probed, “So why are you looking for a job now?”
“Well, I still have my job at the library, but it’s not cuttin’ it anymore and they don’t need anyone for full time… Hell, for that matter, Bon Temps doesn’t really need a library… Fact of the matter is, my son and his wife died in the spring. I had just enough left from my husband’s life insurance to bury them. I’m on Social Security and the kids get survivor benefits, but I’m raising my grandbabies now and we’re barely squeaking by. I either need to find a source of income that’ll exceed my Social Security and the $3.35 an hour I make at the library, or I’m going to have to mortgage on the land that’s been in my husband’s family since the 1700s… because I’m NOT willing to lose the house my son built with his bare hands. It’s all his babies have left of him.”
I had to appreciate her determination, but Liz was completely sucked in.
She asked, “How old are your grandchildren?”
“Just recently nine and almost twelve… I figured this is a long shot, but a job where I’m running errands has enough flexibility that when the kids have days off, I can tote them with me. They’re in summer school right now. If something happens, the school can call my daughter because she’s just down the road… and I can light a fire under it to get the work done so I can be home to make a proper supper.”
Liz pinched my leg under the table.
Because I needed that clue she wanted to hire the woman.
I asked, “Say I send you for flowers for Liz.”
“I’d ask you what you did so I know what kind to buy.”
“I forgot her birthday.”
“Then you don’t want ‘flowers’, you want a spray for your casket.”
Liz laughed, “That was a trick question. He never forgets my birthday… Do you like cats?”
“I love them. I always had them as a girl, but my husband was allergic so we didn’t have any house pets.”
“I just bought a kitten, a hairless. Hypoallergenic and no shedding.”
She didn’t ‘buy a kitten’. She went to Fashion Week and returned with Dr. Frankenstein’s Cat.
Adele blinked at Liz several times before offering, “I can’t picture that.”
I explained, “It’s something you have to see. It’s grotesque…”
Liz argued, “Adorable!”
“Nothing that shits on my desk is adorable. And the thing…”
“Dior looks like the product of a Chihuahua raping a bat.”
She assured Adele, “She’s very affectionate.”
I corrected, “Freezing.”
The fact that Humans created them, encouraging a genetic flaw, was one thing… A Vampire, who was void of their own body heat, owning one was just ironic.
Liz had been watching television with a heating pad on her lap and if it weren’t for that and window ledges in sunbeams, it would have died of hypothermia already.
Adele chuckled, “How long have you two been together? Y’all act like you’ve known each other forever.”
I nodded. “Sometimes it feels like we’ve been together for centuries… In an effort to end the conversation about Liz’s adorable little freak, tell us why you think you’re personal assistant material.”
She thought about it for a moment before taking a deep breath to begin, “I might not be the perfect model of a personal assistant, but I’ll work my rump off. I’ve been a wife, a mother, a cook, a maid, a librarian, a babysitter, and a farmer. I graduated high school back when girls weren’t expected to, and then twice more by helping my kids. I nursed my in-laws through German measles. I managed to keep my kids from burning down the house with their practical jokes. I’ve buried my parents, my husband and my son, all in the last decade, but I’ve never given up on a damn thing in my entire life. Improvising, or making do, but never giving up… Those boys over there, they don’t know their heads from a hole in the ground. They probably have degrees, but I went to the school of hard knocks. Not a one of them have 67 years of experience juggling real-life. I’m not here looking for a way to network or swap business cards so that I can get a leg up I haven’t earned. I’m here because I need to work. And let me tell ya, if I’ve learned anything from being a wife and momma, it’s that need motivates people to get things done. Greed sits back and waits for it to happen.”
I already found her demeanor amusing. She was well-spoken. Determined…
But being shrewd enough to understand the significant difference between education and experience sold me on Adele Stackhouse.
I opened my mouth to tell her she was hired, but she pointed at me and gave me a stern look. “And don’t go hiring ‘the little ole widow with pitiful mouths to feed’. I’ve heard ‘no’ plenty of times in my life. Once more won’t break me.”
I chuckled, “You’ll have to try harder than outliving loved-ones if you want my sympathy, Adele. Why don’t you excuse the other applicants so we can discuss particulars?”
Her jaw dropped and she stared back at me for long enough I had time to consider buying a pet to eat Dior.
“Adele, does your hearing fluctuate?”
She shook her head and stood quickly enough to tip her chair back.
“I’m… Clear as a bell…” She turned to face the rest of the dining room with her arms out like she was herding sheep. “Alright kids. Thanks for coming out, but the position’s been filled.”
One of the applicants snorted, “Crazy old bat.”
She reached out and slapped the side of his head. “I guess that suit didn’t come with manners. Get your rump outta that chair before I whoop you like your momma shoulda. Go on.”
She actually shoved his briefcase towards the door with her foot.
Liz snorted, “She’s a trip.”
“She’s gutsy enough to have earned a chance. She can’t be worse than the last one.” Last one, last five. ToMAYto/toMAHto.
Liz kicked my shin under the table. “Don’t pretend I can’t tell you like her too.”
“I didn’t. I do like her… and I’m justifying my excuse for hiring a geriatric woman with logic.”
She huffed, “As long as you admit it,” as we watched Adele steer the disappointed hopefuls through the front door, but she paused before closing it and offered a thumbs up.
There was an immediate squeal followed by a girl’s shouting, “She got it, Jas! She got it!”
I asked, “Did you bring your grandchildren to a job interview, Adele?”
“No sir, I brought them to Riverwalk for ice cream and bowling. I had a quick stop to make on the way home…”
Liz snorted, “She’ll fit right in on your payroll.”
Adele continued, “To be honest, I didn’t expect I’d make the cut. Yes, the help wanted ad was ambiguous, but I still imagined a boardroom. If you were doing interviews in an office building, I wouldn’t have come. My daughter talked me into believing you might have something more domestic in mind, like arranging landscapers and pool-cleanings and making sure packages are brought in when you’re out of town, gifts for strangers, that kind of thing… so what exactly did you hire me for?”
Liz raised an eyebrow in my direction before repeating, “Arranging landscapers and pool-cleanings and making sure packages are brought in when we’re out of town, gifts for strangers, that kind of thing. Have the children come in. If they get heat exhaustion, you’ll have to take time off.”
Adele grinned and turned to the door, waving her hand and waiting for the children.
“They had the windows open and the breeze is beautiful tonight. Jason was playing a video game. Sookie was reading.”
Liz’s eyes lit up. “He has a Game Boy!?”
Adele nodded and offered, “He cut every lawn in town until he had the money for it.”
I chuckled, “Did he get his motivation from his grandmother?”
“No. He got my hand up-side his head. He convinced my brother to buy one for him… marched his hide into the toy store and made him return it himself. Told him I might have bought it for his birthday, but after that stunt, he was on his own. Worked out really well to. He’s really proud of it, reaching his goal.”
I appreciated Adele’s principles. Liz left the table to get her purse.
The boy: Blond with blue eyes, and probably the most inconceivably graceful ‘almost twelve’ year old boy I’d ever laid eyes on. I tested my memory to be sure I remembered his age and my millennium of experience correctly. Yes, boys that age were supposed to be awkward and cursed with bulging adam’s apples, acne, and unfortunate (albeit temporary) disproportionate appendages… I had been spared from acne, but my arms and shoulders experienced a growth spurt when the rest of my body didn’t. A funhouse mirror caused an unwelcome flashback for me once… There was no way that boy had any friends.
The girl: Blonde with blue eyes, like her brother, but remarkably serious. In spite of the excitement I’d heard coming from the parking lot, she was wearing an impressive poker-face as she took in the lace and floral decorations of Elevenses. She was pretty though. Not too thick or willowy, perhaps a bit short, but my gage was probably askew. It wasn’t as though I spent much time with children. Bright-eyed and alert as she was, the copy of Rebecca in her hand was what had my attention. I was almost sure that wasn’t on the ‘pig-tails and eyelet dress’ reading list. Rebecca Of Sunnybrook Farm, perhaps, but the author’s name was printed clearly. Du Maurier.
“Eric.” The suits would have called me ‘Mr. Northman’, but for Mrs. Claus to be so formal, it felt odd.
She nodded. “Eric, these are my grandbabies, Jason and Sookie Stackhouse.”
I had just enough time to nod and offer a greeting before Liz called, “Jason, how are your batteries holding up?”
He looked confused, so Sookie rolled her eyes. “They died on ‘em…” Then she mumbled, “God forbid he read a book.”
He slapped the book from her hand and grumbled, “I did m’homework. Bookie.”
There it was… the horrible symptom of adolescence… His voice cracked and pitched, making him sound like a wounded calf.
It almost made up for the other traps he escaped.
Sookie’s eyes rolled again and she scoffed, “A bookie is someone who calculates odds and takes bets, dingleberry. A bookworm is someone who enjoys reading.”
“Yeah? Then what would you call somebody who likes playing video games?”
She snorted, “A window-licker,” and bent over to take her book from the floor. When she stood, her lip was curled . “Nice goin’. You found dog poo in a parking lot.”
He grunted, and pulled each foot up to examine the bottom of his shoes, but his sister was snickering before he realized she’d tricked him.
She giggled, “Shoe-poo shuffle.”
He scowled at her, but she scoffed, “Don’t even, Jason Stackhouse. I told you I’d get you. There’s only so much Milli Vanilli a person can take before they go bananas.”
He definitely had it coming.
When Liz emerged from the office, holding her Game Boy case (a Louis Vuitton makeup bag), Jason Stackhouse’s jaw dropped…
He was ‘almost twelve’ and there was a beautiful woman who wanted to play video games, walking towards him with a box of fresh batteries. Nevermind the black lace leggings and the low-cut of her blouse. She might as well have been in lingerie.
I’m sure, in his mind, he was already running away from home with my wife.
It was so fucking hard to not laugh at the look on his face.
Liz took his wrist to tow him to a table and cooed, “Nevermind her. Video games are challenging. It doesn’t take any skill to read what someone else wrote… I need someone to play with because Eric won’t do it…” Note the double entendre there. “We’ll link up…” And there. “And play until we need more batteries…” Again… and she wasn’t even doing it intentionally.
Jason’s mouth was beginning to dry out from hanging open for so long.
“Liz? Are you going to leave me for a boy who’ll share his toys with you?”
I couldn’t help it…
Jason hadn’t even noticed she’d connected their Game Boys with a cable. He was more interested in the way she leaned over to do it, and his view of Victoria’s Secret.
“I might. We’ll take power adapters with us on our honeymoon.”
Liz was going to be the star of most of his fantasies in the foreseeable future.
While Liz and Jason played Tetris against each other (humming along to Korobeiniki), and Sookie read from her book, Adele and I discussed the terms of her employment…
When we weren’t laughing at the ‘happy couple’, of course.
Even though she’d lowballed herself, I offered the same salary as I would have offered anyone else.
Adele’s new Filofax…
Liz had already filled in the addresses of the houses we didn’t rest in and businesses, as well as most of the companies we frequented.
Even though Adele had the children’s schedule to consider, she still assured me if something came up in the middle of the night, she’d do everything she could to make sure she did her job…
But just as Adele lifted the pen to sign her contract, Sookie blurted, “Not yet.”
Adele turned in her seat to raise an eyebrow at her granddaughter. “Not yet, what?”
Liz and Jason were oblivious, too busy mumbling to themselves about what shape they needed.
“There’s nothing in your contract about vacation and sick time. You could call off at the library because you were hourly, but this job is salary, Gran.”
Well, hello there. If she wasn’t so fucking short, I’d have challenged her age.
Nine-year olds don’t find loopholes in contracts.
Adele was actually blushing when she turned around again. “I’m embarrassed I didn’t think about it. Did I miss that part of the contract?”
I shook my head. “No. Would you like a moment to discuss this with your attorney?”
When she cringed, I actually felt badly for her. There were plenty of ways her life could have prepared her for the position, but contract negotiation wasn’t something she would have experience with. Then again, the little girl didn’t really have that excuse either.
And it wasn’t a loophole I’d installed for my own benefit. I’d left it out because it wasn’t a factor. Since Liz and I began using assistants, we hadn’t used them for more than a few hours each week. It wasn’t time I was paying for, it was discretion. And any of the 27 suits would have noticed the missing addendum, and negotiated a lower salary to have holidays off.
Since I couldn’t have been more curious about the legal savant in Jelly sandals, I asked, “Do you have a proposal, Miss Stackhouse?”
Yes, I was negotiating with a nine-year old.
She studied the ceiling for a moment, rubbing her teeth over her bottom lip… she finally closed her book and nodded as she started, “As it stands you could work her like a plow-ox, 24/7.”
“I could, but there aren’t many occasions when she’d exceed forty hours per week. Normally, she’d work an average of twenty-hour weeks.”
“But you could… ummmm… okay… If you say the norm will be twenty, would you be willing to agree to a monthly cap? Forty hours per week, times 4.3 weeks per month… No more than 172 hours per calendar month? That way when things are busy, Gran’s got some promise that it’ll calm down.”
I nodded. “I’d be willing to agree to that.”
She cautiously scooted to the edge of her seat and offered, “How about holidays? With the monthly cap, she’d make up the time she misses for, like, Christmas or Easter. Would you be willing to agree to curtail her chores to minimize the amount of hours she puts in on holidays? Like, don’t send her out for ketchup on Thanksgiving or something.”
I’d changed my mind… Liz had invited me to go to the roller rink with her after the interviews, but I wasn’t interested… I was definitely going along… I needed to find another nine-year old, just to confirm Sookie wasn’t typical.
She wasn’t missing anything.
“I’m an atheist, so I don’t pay attention to holidays. I’ll need fair warning, but I’m willing to add that clause. What about sick days?”
Her smile was nothing, if not victorious. “Ummmm… How about she banks ‘em? Like, two per month. She’ll never use ‘em unless she’s so sick me or Jas have to call off for her, but at least she’ll have ‘em.”
“One and a half. Yearly, she’d save eighteen days rather than twenty-four. Anything else?”
“The Human resource director at one of my companies is already making arrangements with a carrier… Blue Cross, I think. When the policies are instated, your client will be notified.”
She lifted her chin proudly and slid back on her seat to open her book again. “Cool. I think I’m done.”
Adele was pinching her lips between her teeth to keep from laughing. “I’m sorry. She’s a cheeky one, that girl.”
“Don’t apologize. She just renegotiated your contract… I’m just trying to imagine what she’d be like in a decade.”