Please see the note on my profile about why only the 1st chapter remains. I really have appreciated you guys, and I apologize for this.
East. West. North, whatever. I had no idea where I was. I turned the map around in my hands, by some hope that upside down it might make sense. Unfortunately my old printer had run out of ink for the last few lines of directions on the map I'd found online. I wished, fervently, that I'd taken the time to write them down.
I threw the map down in frustration and looked up to see the very street I'd been searching for. Not ruling out divine intervention, I pulled my old car onto the tree-lined boulevard, my eyes bugging out at the enormous and stately homes that lined the road. I checked the street address one more time and found the numbers I was looking for on the brick border that lined what appeared to be a state park but rather as just someone's front yard. Huge wrought iron gates flanked the brick at the apex of the drive and I pulled up to a small speaker box on a decorative pole.
I didn't have the code for the keypad so instead I pushed the intercom button, waiting nervously until I heard a crackle on the other end.
"Can I help you?"
I cleared my throat. "I'm Riley Hall. I'm here to see Carolyn McAllister?" I wasn't sure why I ended that sentence in an up note, inadvertently turning it into a question. I'd had a call from the temp agency I was working for the previous day, encouraging me to look into this position as it was for a well-known family. The name meant nothing to me, but I agreed as I was, at this point, pretty desperate for work.
For what felt like the thousandth time I thought fondly of my former job as the high school choir director at a high school in one of the fringe suburbs of the larger metropolis of Indianapolis. How blissfully unaware I had been of the inevitable axe that would fall once the school levy didn't pass for the fourth time, thus forcing the school board to eliminate the music program completely.
I had sat in that cold, stale conference room watching as members of the school board filed in and stared at the three of us who would inevitably be on the chopping block. They hemmed and hawed and eventually got down to the business of severance packages and unemployment verification. I remained numb in my seat, staring at them as they decidedly refused to meet my eyes.
God forbid they would cut sports, I'd thought bitterly as I cleaned out my desk later, students trickling in to say goodbye and a few teachers, heads low, wishing me luck. I would need it, what with the job market for 2nd year music teachers. Read: nil.
The gate in front of me gave a loud buzz and began to swing open. I slowly pulled through and made my way past the perfectly manicured front lawn to park haphazardly under a brilliant white portico. The home that it was attached to was astonishingly large, even though I had been prepared for it. Brick with a green, slate roof it appeared to me to be more out of an 18th century novel in the English countryside than a rich American suburb. Casement windows lined the lower level, leading the way to three enormous bay windows that stretched from the first to the third floor. The curved archway underneath glowed lightly with recessed lighting, highlighting the great oak door which I now approached.
I rang the doorbell, listening to its sonorous tones reverberate through the house inside. I was startled by the door opening almost immediately by a prim looking woman dressed in black trousers and pressed white shirt. Her gray hair was cut stylishly short and she nodded at me politely. "Hello, Riley. Please come in."
I stepped inside, trying to keep from appearing too in awe of the grandiose scene that met my eyes. The small foyer opened up into a massive room, big enough for a ballroom to fit inside I thought. Straight above me hung an immense, glittering crystal chandelier, the early morning sun glancing off of it and casting dancing shadows along the mirrors that hung on either side of two mahogany tables that flanked either wall. Each had a vase full of red roses atop it.
The gray haired woman put her hand out to shake mine. "Gwen Walsh, I'm Mr. Carmichael's secretary. Carolyn asked me to escort you to his office to conduct the interview. Mr. Carmichael is out of the country at the moment so it's not being used."
I swallowed; concerned that I had no idea who this Mr. Carmichael was considering she spoke of him as though I did. We passed the curved railing of the wide staircase. Looking up I could see all the way to the third floor, a balcony overlooked the enormous room from each level.
We passed the stairs and continued through the room toward a long hallway lined with framed photos of men whose names I didn't have time to read. Several doors lead off to different parts of the home and I glimpsed a living room and what appeared to be a kitchen as we passed. Gwen made a sharp right turn and guided me into a beautifully appointment room bathed in sunlight that streamed through the open blinds. Two leather armchairs flanked a large, mahogany desk, behind which was an equally large brown leather swiveling chair. Currently it was empty.
"Ms. McAllister will be with you soon," Gwen said and then was gone, the sound of her shoes clicking on the brilliant wooden floors lingering after her.
I swallowed again, wondering what on earth I'd gotten myself into. I glanced in the mirror that hung next to a sleek metal bookshelf, covered in photographs and knickknacks. Smiling faces of attractive people stared at me, laughing it seemed as I straightened my hair in the mirror. I wished I'd pulled it back or at least held it in place somehow but instead by light brown hair hung, thick and straight to my shoulders. Honey colored eyes stared back at me through a fringe of dark lashes. I pushed my bangs out of my eyes, remembering how my mother always told me it was unprofessional. I wished I'd borrowed a suit from someone as I glanced down at my pleated, knee-length skirt, paired with a plain white button down top and black flats. When I'd been in a band I had worn it often, but generally with plaid knee socks, Converse all-stars and a striped tie or something equally as stupid that I had thought looked punk rock. I sighed, and twisted in the mirror. I didn't look bad, I hoped. Maybe a little young, but who expected teachers to have the sort of salary that would allow them to buy fancy suits?
I took a deep breath and moved to sit in one of the high backed leather chairs adjacent to the desk, crossing and uncrossing my legs as I waited for my mysterious interviewer. I'd applied at the temp agency as a last resort after realizing that substitute teaching just wasn't going to pay the rent. The agency specialized in educational needs and placing out-of-work teachers but when they'd called me yesterday they had mentioned that this particularly family was looking for someone who could tutor their young daughter in music. Other than that, I had no idea what the job would entail.
The door creaked open and I stood quickly to greet the young woman that approached me. On closer inspection I realized that she was probably older than I first thought and spent a good amount of time trying not to look so. Her blond hair swung in a pretty bob and she was extremely fit with just the slightest hint of a summer tan. Muscular arms were nicely showcased by an off-the-shoulder silk blouse paired with pressed white linen pants. Perfectly manicured toes peeked out from a pair of slim black open-toed pumps. I immediately felt schlubby and underdressed.
The woman smiled, exposing perfectly straight, white teeth and held her hand out to shake mine. "You must be Riley. I'm Carolyn McAllister. Please, sit down."
I sat again, making sure to keep my legs together in what I realized was a shorter skirt than I'd originally thought. Carolyn moved deftly behind the desk and pulled the chair close, steepling her hands on the desk in front of her.
"I'm so pleased you're here," she said. "I'm sure the agency told you, but my daughter is starting kindergarten in two weeks and we'd like her to have some extra tutoring on top of her regular school lessons. In addition, we'd love for her to start some music lessons. The agency sent me your resume; I was very impressed. You're a graduate of the Conservatory of Music?"
I nodded. "Yes."
Carolyn cocked her head slightly and studied me. "Tell me, why didn't you pursue a career in performance."
I stammered for a moment before my stock answer for the question came into my brain. I'd been asked it so many times in interviews I hoped it didn't sound stilted or rehearsed when I replied, "Performance isn't a very steady income to be honest. And what I've learned is that teaching is a far more rewarding experience than performing any day. Performing is what I did in college to pay the bills; teaching is my passion now and it's far more satisfying."
The woman smiled at me, seemingly pleased with my answer. "That's wonderful." She asked me a series of questions, many that I'd expected and several that I hadn't. After nearly an hour I felt mentally exhausted but knew that she had been impressed enough with my answers. I silently thanked all the schools that never hired me for the interview practice.
Carolyn uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. "Now, I'm sure you know that it's important now for children to be on track for their future – it's never too early to begin and I'd like Elle to have a well-rounded educational background that will help get her into an Ivy League school. Unfortunately she's not a legacy anywhere, but we'd like to start one."
I choked back my laughter, forcing my face into stone as I nodded somberly at her. Ivy League?
Carolyn went on, "She has shown quite an aptitude for music but unfortunately neither my husband nor I excel in the area so it was important to us that her tutor be musically inclined. I believe you'll fit the bill nicely." She smiled again. I wondered, idly, if Botox was what kept it from looking natural. I couldn't quite pin down what felt off to me.
"We can talk more about logistics of her study time and music lessons later. Would you like to meet Elle?"
"I'd love to," I said, with a relieved smile. I slung my bag over my shoulder and followed her to the door.
Following Carolyn back down the long, paneled hallway toward the cavernous entryway I tried desperately to temper the clicking of my shoes on the polished floor by slowing my pace but the woman walked so fast I was forced to practically jog to keep up with her. My footfalls sounded like thunder as she led me back toward the living area I'd passed earlier.
We passed through a large arched wall and into the living room. This space was clearly more used the others that I had seen. The high, beamed ceiling and walls were painted a muted cream and cast pretty, mid-morning shadows on the comfortable looking furniture. The room was decorated in warm earth-tones with muted paintings and oversized area rugs flanking an enormous fireplace with a worn stone mantle. Not for the first time I thought about how out of my league I was.
Through the open plan of the room we walked into the kitchen, which at this point surprised me very little to find it could have been in a magazine spread of designer kitchens. Stainless steel appliances were set off nicely by dark cherry cabinetry and granite countertops. A gleaming bowl of fruit sat in the center of the large kitchen island which was currently inhabited by two people, one a small blonde child, her hair pulled back into a perfect ponytail. She was coloring something and trying to explain it to the man who was listening to her with an intense look on his face. He was nodding his head as though what she was saying was eternally fascinating. His dark hair was casually styled and he had a few days worth of stubble on his very strong jaw, doing nothing to hide a very prominent cleft in his chin.
I could see a familial resemblance to Carolyn, despite the stark difference in coloring and assumed he must be related. At that moment both of them looked up at us, the little girl jumping down from the high backed stool, her face lighting up.
Carolyn patted her on the head then immediately smoothed down the hair she'd rumpled. "Elle, this is Miss Hall. She's going to be tutoring you and giving you music lessons."
Elle looked up at me shyly. She held onto her mother's hand but at her prompting held hers out and said, politely, "Nice to meet you, Miss Hall."
I bent down to shake the tiny proffered hand. "It's nice to meet you too, Elle." She blushed and ran to stand behind her mother again.
The man still sitting at the island cleared his throat then and looked pointedly at Carolyn. "My sister is apparently loathe to introduce me, so I'll do it myself." He stood up and I was surprised by how tall he was, several inches over six feet. He reached his hand forward and grasped mine firmly. "Charlie Carmichael," he said, dazzling me with the same white, straight teeth he shared with his sister. His smile struck me immediately however as more genuine, and I wondered if this was the elusive Mr. Carmichael that everyone spoke of even though he was much younger than I'd imagined, close to my own age I guessed. But I remembered then that Gwen had told me that Mr. Carmichael was out of the country…perhaps it was his father.
I was brought back into the situation as Charlie pulled his hand from mine and sat back down. Carolyn clucked at him. "I really was getting to it Charlie." She turned back toward Elle. "Are you excited to start music lessons with Miss Hall?" she asked.
It was an uncomfortable question, both for me and Elle. The little girl looked up at me, her huge blue eyes almost watery. I turned to Carolyn. "Please, if it's ok with you, Elle should call me Riley."
Carolyn nodded. "It's an interesting name. Is it a family one?"
"Sort of," I replied. "It's my mother's maiden name. She had a hard time giving it up I guess. Funny, since she got divorced anyway." I realized the minute I said it that it was decidedly not funny.
After a very long, uncomfortable moment of silence Charlie said, dryly, "Divorce is hilarious."
I laughed but immediately stopped when Carolyn didn't join in. Charlie jumped up then and pointed toward the coffee pot. "Would you like some coffee?" I shook my head.
Carolyn interrupted, "Aren't you supposed to be working, Charlie?"
"I'm on break. I'm allowed two 15 minute breaks a day, you know. Union rules."
Carolyn rolled her eyes and turned toward me. "Charlie and I work for our grandfather. There's an office building downtown but we do most of our work from home." Ah, so that was the mysterious Mr. Carmichael that was out of the country. She went on, "It's part of the reason I need someone to help out with Elle, as I'm too busy during the day to worry about administering her lessons."
I held in another derisive snort at her wording and simply nodded politely. This woman was too much.
Charlie reached into a cabinet and pulled down a coffee mug then turned to me, asking again, "You're sure you don't want some coffee?" He fiddled with the fancy European looking coffee maker on the counter with more buttons than I really felt necessary for a kitchen appliance.
I shook my head. "No thanks. I've had my requisite eight cups for the morning."
He chuckled. "Can I show you the bathroom then, perhaps?"
This time I didn't hold in my snort and Carolyn arched an eyebrow at her brother.
"Well, Riley I think that should be fine for today," she said turning back to me. "I do appreciate you making the trip out here. Shall we say 8am, tomorrow morning?" She looked at me, expectantly.
I grinned. "I'll be here. I turned to Elle and crouched down slightly. "I'll see you tomorrow, ok Elle?" The little girl nodded, silently but I could see a small smile twitching on her face. I hoped she'd warm up to me quickly.
I hitched my bag higher up my shoulder and glanced around the room, wishing I'd left a trail of bread crumbs as I was not even certain now that I remembered how to get out. "Well, it was nice to meet all of you, "I said, awkwardly as I backed up toward the living room.
Charlie looked at his sister who was gazing at her reflection in the stainless steel refrigerator. He shook his head and a ghost of a smile touched his lips as he walked with me back toward the entryway, ruffling Elle's hair on the way, making sure that it stuck up all over afterward.
He guided toward the front door and I tried, in vain, to keep my eyes from widening again at the sheer size of the room.
"Don't let the place intimidate you," he said, watching me.
I shook my head. "I think I'm a little more scared of your sister, to be honest. I get a definite Captain Von Trapp vibe from her."
Charlie laughed. "Well, she does carry one of those whistles around" he said, holding open the huge wooden door. My eyes widened and he grinned. "Just kidding. Don't worry, she's harmless." Sunlight streamed in and I squinted as I looked up at him. Little did we know that he would eventually be eating his words. At the time though I simply smiled and bid him farewell then I sat in the front seat of my car for a moment, staring at the monstrosity of a house, mentally preparing myself for the morning.
AN: Hello again! I've decided to take this story that I wrote last year and re-write it to give more depth, new characters, etc. Also, I've changed it from 3rd person to 1st person narrative because I really prefer to write that way, so if you see a wayward "she said" or something, please let me know!
An enormous huge monsterous dept of gratitude to Andee Lee for reading the first chapter and convincing me to post it. :)
The title is a Joni Mitchell song, "Both Sides Now" which I find pretty appropriate for this story.
Ive looked at clouds from both sides now
From up and down, and still somehow
Its cloud illusions I recall
I really dont know clouds at all...
...Ive looked at love from both sides now
From give and take, and still somehow
Its loves illusions I recall
I really dont know love at all