Chap 2

Malec turned towards me with a practiced grin. "Think my room's an essential?"

I didn't bite. Something in his tone seemed to test me. "I'm going to check on Janice."

"That your mother? Don't bother. Last I checked, she seemed to have passed out."

I stopped with an "Oh."

"My brothers and sister should be home soon. Mom will want you to meet them. But first, let's get you her list."

I traced his steps as he wound down the stairs to the kitchen, an expanse of steel, marble, and white that wrapped my vision in nerves.

Malec presented me with a list of chores, and commented that his mother was a little demanding. I glanced up at him quickly, gauging his reaction. He watched me with some interest, but he swung up onto a stool and asked, "So, sister, huh? She as cute as you?"

He sent me a friendly grin, but I almost snorted.

"What kind of reaction was that?" Malec raised a brow. I shook my head.

"How old's she?"

I looked up now. "18. Why?"

"Not bad. How old are you? You look a little young to be in housekeeping."

"I'm 16."

Malec paused, "Wait, are you going to our school here?"

"Yes."

"To Trinity Alcott?"

"I think so."

Silence.

"Fuck me."

I blinked. "No thanks."

That startled Malec, and he smiled suddenly. He chucked me under the chin before I could guess what he was doing and move away. "Don't tempt me to change your mind."

Making an excuse, I retreated to examine my room, which consisted of drawers, a small desk, a mirror hung in the corner of the room, and a small closet. I hung up a few sweaters and stuffed the rest of my clothes into the drawers, throwing my backpack across my desk chair. The last thing I did was gently place a framed photograph on my bedside table, no time to set up my laptop before I heard noises downstairs.

Poking my head out the door, I saw Janice walking down the hallway to investigate the new sounds as well. I came up behind her and tapped her on the shoulder.

"Oh! Lyds, you scared me. What's going on downstairs, do you know?"

"The other Mercer kids must have returned."

We filed down the front stairwell, walking onto a chaotic scene.

I hadn't realized until then that I had expected to see the children from that photograph in Mrs. Mercer's office. What I saw instead were three grown young men and two teenaged twins. I should have figured it out, really, after I met Malec Mercer. But that had been the only picture I could go on. The twins, for the most part, still carried a resemblance to themselves in Mrs. Mercer's photograph. Their hair was dark inky brown to the point of black, but their eyes were sharp pinpricks of color: green and blue. I caught my breath at the bright green eyes, thinking how unique they were in a house of blues.

At the moment, the boy had his twin sister in a headlock, and her identical face was purpled with rage, blue eyes fierce and frighteningly like her mother's.

"Jaz, you let go of Emily right now!" one man, who must have been blessed by Adonis, shouted. Malec also appeared on the scene, and he was busy ignoring the shouting whilst yanking his little brother into his own headlock. A chain of headlocks. I wondered if the other two would join. But Adonis seemed fed up as he dumped luggage bags off to the side. The other brother didn't even seem to register the commotion.

Malec looked up then and caught my eye, releasing his hold on his brother. "Hey, guys, we got company now. Jaz!" His hand shot out to whack the younger boy over his dark head.

Both twins protested to this, the girl yelling, "I'm not a guy, Mal!" and her twin brother yelping from his perceived head injury.

Adonis, now deposited of both luggage and coat, came to wrench his two siblings apart. "Hello. It's good to meet you. We are the Mercers."

Jaz and Emily settled, fuming, and simultaneously turned their glares on us.

"Hi there," Janice smiled brightly.

"Introductions are in order, I suppose," Malec commented. Adonis took over and introduced himself as Jeremiah, the eldest; a golden god, from his golden hair to his bright blue eyes. His face had such a clean sharp appeal, and slight whiskers appeared on his tan skin.

He introduced the next son in line as Core. While Jeremiah's attitude stayed detachedly friendly, as if he did this a million times, Core Mercer didn't display anything. He looked more like his younger brother Malec, except that he didn't exude the same liveliness; in fact, he appeared downright closed off.

Malec continued, "These two are 12. Meet Jasper and Jasmine Mercer." This introduction prompted howling, and I wondered if the two of them understood indoor voices.

"I'm Jaz," emphasized the boy.

"And I'm Emily," followed the girl.

"Hi, Jaz and Emily."

Janice burst out from beside me with, "Well, aren't you all just a beautiful bunch!"

I hoped Mrs. Mercer wasn't nearby. It probably would not normally present a problem, but I had learned long ago that Janice's appearance invited a whole host of problems with employers.

"We've got to unpack," came a deep voice that drew my attention instantly to the door which he had stayed beside: the second son, Core, glanced briefly at us.

Malec offered, "They're the new housekeepers. Janice Gerarde and her daughter, Lydia."

"You're too pretty to be a housekeeper," protested the young Jaz, and I wondered if he addressed Janice or me.

"You're too young to be our housekeeper," Emily contributed, squinting at me as if I were some species to examine.

Jeremiah snorted, "Mother got rid of your other one already?"

Malec grinned in response. "She wasn't half as pretty as our new ones, right? There's even a sister, too," he added mischievously.

Adonis-Jeremiah raised both brows, while Malec commented, "Almost makes you want to come home, doesn't it?"

Jeremiah laughed outright at that, and I shifted from one foot to the other, wondering if I should say anything. It began to feel as if we were on display, but Janice was delightedly observing each child in turn.

Core pushed off the back door, silently taking his bags. He passed directly by me, not touching.

"That's Core," Malec observed.

Jeremiah expelled a breath, "Well, I did my job bringing the kiddies here. Is Mother around?"

"No, she's seeing to some investors. Why? Miss the full reunion?"

"I'm just going to grab a bite real fast before heading back. Good to meet you, Janice, Lydia."

"Back to that crumby apartment?" Emily accused her older brother, who ignored her by leaving in the direction of the kitchen.

I quickly interrupted with, "When do you all eat dinner?"

Malec shrugged, "We eat whenever we feel like it."

.

This was how, only a few hours later, I sat at a table located to the back of the house. I supposed it was the table for help to eat at, since it had a smaller kitchen attached to it. There didn't seem much food in either kitchens, besides the mounds of junk food. Luckily, I scrounged up some sandwiches for Janice and me—and some more in case Marie-Clare or any of the Mercers showed up.

I waited at the table. Janice was likely taking a bath, possibly even asleep in it. It wouldn't be the first time, but I didn't worry, because her personality was too self-centered to drown.

Eating slowly, I took out the list of duties, headed by: To Do. (Subject to Change)

"Subject to change." Everything subject to change.

I made a face at the paper, then contemplated the logistics. Suddenly, a sound came from behind me, and I turned quickly to catch dark blue eyes as they emerged from the doorway. I hesitated. Process of elimination crossed out the eldest, Jeremiah, who didn't live here. Malec was more of a prettyboy, and his blue eyes didn't ever seem so blank. This couldn't be either of the younger twins, either.

"Hi, Core."

His expression didn't change. "Sandwiches?"

I looked at the plate on the table as if I'd never seen it. "Yes. Would you like one?"

He shrugged and snagged one before leaving with a bag of ranch Doritos in his other hand.

I found Janice later asleep in bed, wrapped in a furry bathrobe. I sighed, pulling the covers over her before retiring to my own room. The door closed gently.

.

The next few days gave me time to catch up on maintenance and groceries. I woke early to start on breakfast so that Janice could sleep in; she never did like cooking.

My stumbling around the unfamiliar house woke up several of the Mercers, including Mrs. Mercer, who must have come stomping into the spacious kitchen in her silk pajamas to yell at me. That was before she smelled the eggs and bacon.

"Low-fat, organic," I stated hesitantly, having had the opportunity to go shopping. "There are green onions and spinach in the eggs. I have pancake batter ready. Do you like pancakes?"

"Yes," Mrs. Mercer sat cautiously down at the stool. "Thank you."

"Something smells amazing, and that's the only reason I'm not pissed that—oh, hi, Mother. I must be dreaming."

"Malec, watch your mouth," Mrs. Mercer said without looking, taking a bite of breakfast.

The boy in question then added incredulously, "You're in your pj's."

I handed him a plate as well, repeating my same question.

"Pancakes?" He stood with the plate in his hand, looking down at it as if it needed figuring out. "Sure."

"What smells so good?" another voice penetrated the sizzling taking up the kitchen. Jaz Mercer melted from the shadows of the doors, rubbing his eyes.

"Hi, Jaz. Would you like some pancakes with your eggs and bacon?"

Jaz took this without missing a beat, "Yeah, sure. Wait 'til my sister sees this; she's going to freak."

Sure enough, Emily stormed in after her brother, "Why is everyone up!" She nearly tripped over her pajama pants as the edges caught on her painted toes in her rush. Jaz was looking over his eggs and telling me that he doesn't like spinach.

"Breakfast," I smiled at Emily, proffering a plate to her as well. Emily glared at me without trust, green eyes sparking like the bacon still browning in the pan. The electric stove was amazing, I'd discovered. I couldn't wait to experiment with the oven.

That would evidently have to wait. At the moment, I had been banished from the first floor while Malec entertained friends. I had only managed to steal a glance at these friends that occasionally popped over; with the house so enormous, I found it admirable that I even saw them once. I could barely keep track when anyone in the Mercer family left the house.

Collecting Jaz and Emily's dirty laundry, I made a quick mental note to check that Janice washed Core and Malec's. Tomorrow would be the first day at Trinity Alcott.

.

Folding the last of the clean clothes later, I noticed that I had just time to prepare dinner. The Mercers would steal bites independently, but Marie-Clare had shown up late one night to drop things off, although I only knew this from Janice.

"Don't worry," Janice told me, "Your sister saw the place. She won't be able to stay away for long. We really hit the jackpot this time!"

Janice had surprised me when she didn't grumble about the missing station wagon, since she hated feeling locked in one place. But she occupied the few days exploring the manor, describing the estate in terms that I could not comprehend until I saw it myself. A balcony circled around the back of the upper main hall, connecting with the balconies framing the rooms of both wings. The left wing second floor seemed reserved for guests, since no one lived in them from what I could tell.

I found a grand piano on each floor, an expansive home theatre in the basement that came with its own gleaming bar, a curved pool in the shape of an elongated number eight, and beyond it were basketball and tennis courts, and from what Janice told me, even golf courses. The balcony only saw out to the courts, but if I squinted, I could see mounds and what could very possibly be several golf courses. This could not just come from having rich parents—this house screamed old money.

I pushed away thoughts of exhaustion with the praise Mrs. Mercer had bestowed on me one morning.

"You do surprise me, Lydia," she had proclaimed. "I did not realize I was getting such a cook in our bargain. I am sorry to go, but I have work to attend to in my office. Thank you for breakfast. I almost wish sometimes that I made it back for dinner."

Her way of ending conversations usually did not include a speech. I almost felt flattered.

As I laid out dinner in the back kitchen now, I readied a peach dessert that I learned from a foster mother when I turned thirteen. That was before Janice returned with Marie-Clare one day to retrieve me. I had not indulged my sweet tooth since then, and it was while I skipped back into the service kitchen that I caught Core in the doorway again.

"Hi. Would you like some dinner?"I wondered if he could smell the sweet unadulterated peach aroma.

"Who are the plates for?" He asked instead, and his deep voice nearly sent chills down my back. I was just a girl, in the end.

"Janice and Marie-Clare, but there's enough for the rest of you."

He ignored that and verified, "Your mother and sister?"

When I nodded, waiting, he continued, "I need clean clothes for tomorrow. They're still dirty."

I digested this, wondering what Janice got up to today. "I can get started on them now." I refrained from asking how he could not possibly have any other clean clothes for tomorrow.

He left promptly after that. I wrapped my peach bowl in saran wrap and shoved it in the fridge for another night, then hurried upstairs to grab the dirty hampers from Malec and Core's rooms.

I didn't see Core when I peeked in his door. It was dark, and I didn't dare turn on a light, so I grabbed his hamper and moved on to Malec's room. I wondered if he was still with his friends somewhere in the billiard room playing pool and drinking beer, but as I entered the room to snatch his hamper, I heard his voice from somewhere in the bed.

"Who the hell—" came from a dark-headed silhouette, and I apologized, attempting to explain my presence, when I smelled the beer reeking off of him.

"Oh," he turned on a side lamp, squinting his eyes in the light. "It's just you. What do you want? Shouldn't go barging into rooms in case you see something you don't want to."

Seeing as how Malec was clothed and decidedly alone, I ignored that. "I'll be right back."

After depositing the dirty clothes, I trekked back upstairs with a glass of water. Malec lay face-down, and the light remained lit. I moved to his bedside, and hesitated with my hand hovering above his shoulder.

.


A/n: Met the Mercers :D Now we can get underway? (=

Thanks for reading!