One of the most beloved characters in Wandering Soul is Winston. He’s in charge of Elsa’s house—ordering groceries online, hiring and overseeing cleaning and gardening crews, and taking care of the cooking and laundry. On paper, his job is listed as “butler”, but he thinks of himself as Elsa’s caretaker. She thinks of him as family.
From the very beginning, they shared a special bond. When they met, it was as if they could feel the future of their relationship, like the ripples spreading out from a pebble dropped in a still pond. Their meeting was beautiful and took them both by surprise. I’d like to share that unguarded moment with you.
Copyright © 2015 Cassandra Chandler
Elsa wasn’t happy about needing to hire a chef. She had been putting it off ever since she moved to Summer Park at the urging of her best friend, Jazz. But with a new novel in the works, Elsa’s single-minded focus on the fictional story was having unfortunate effects on her reality.
The week before, she had thrown up in her kitchen sink after taking a bite from a tuna salad sandwich she discovered in her fridge. Later she remembered that she had never succeeded in making edible tuna salad. She still wasn’t a hundred percent certain what she had tried to eat. She’d been subsisting on cereal and energy bars ever since and felt terrible.
Elsa was practiced at appearing to be on top of everything. In truth, she had always been better at taking care of other people than herself. She needed help. Primarily someone to cook, but it would be nice if they could also remind her to eat, maybe help with laundry, and definitely keep the fridge clear of hazardous materials. She could afford to hire a full staff for her house, but that many people running around…
No, she needed to find one person who could help with all her needs. That was why she was sitting in the waiting room of the Abrams Hiring Agency, preparing to interview several candidates and find the best match. Mr. Abrams was late, which was not a good way to—
“What the bloody hell is wrong with you?”
Elsa’s heart leapt into her throat at the harsh voice bellowing down the corridor that presumably led to Mr. Abrams’s office. A man dressed in a dark suit stepped into view. His hair and beard were snow white and his skin weathered. His voice was heavy with a thick Cockney accent.
“You think I can’t take care of people? How the hell do you think I take care of myself? Do magical fairies come and do my wash, cook and clean, and maybe fetch the old man a pint at the end of a long day?”
He smacked his cane against the wall as he turned toward Elsa. She jumped out of her chair, noting that the receptionist had already picked up the phone. Security would be on the way in moments.
Another man appeared in the hallway—maybe in his thirties, with glossy black hair and a snappy suit. Mr. Abrams, Elsa was certain.
“Mr. Cooper, please calm down. As I said, we clearly state that applicants must be able to fulfill all of the duties required…”
“You’re going to talk to me about my duties? I’ve been doing this since before your parents were born!”
“Nonetheless, you were not honest on your resume. When you stated you could do the job blindfolded…”
Mr. Abrams cast a glance at Elsa and looked stricken. He shook his head and held up one finger, as if asking her for a moment. Then he rolled his eyes.
The gesture would have been disrespectful enough if done behind Mr. Cooper’s back, but the men were still facing. Elsa was shocked Mr. Abrams wasn’t getting another verbal barrage for such poor manners until she noticed that Mr. Cooper’s cane was white with red at the end. He was blind.
Elsa clenched her purse, willing herself to stay calm as her fear turned to anger. Making faces at a blind person? She would be taking her business elsewhere.
Mr. Abrams turned his attention back to Mr. Cooper. “In any case, your resume should have noted your disability—”
“I’m differently-abled. Not disabled, you pillock. And you can consider my resume withdrawn.”
Mr. Cooper popped a dark gray Trilby onto his head to punctuate his statement, then turned to the door. Never once did he have to right his course as he left the office.
Elsa was stunned. Differently-abled, he had said. She knew what it was like to be different. And she completely understood why Mr. Cooper had left that fact off of his resume.
“Ms. Sinclair, I’m so sorry that you had to witness that.” Mr. Abrams extended his hand to her. She ignored it.
“I’m not.” Elsa slid her purse strap over her shoulder and gave Mr. Abrams her coldest stare. He pulled back his hand. Good.
“There are several excellent candidates—”
“Please extend my regrets to them.”
“Ms. Sinclair, you have to understand—”
“As a matter of fact, I don’t.”
Whatever explanations Mr. Abrams had ready, Elsa wasn’t interested. She turned and walked out the door.
Mr. Abrams followed her with his hollow apologies as far as the sidewalk, sending a spike of panic through her. Was he going to try to stop her from leaving?
She quickened her pace, falling in step with the other pedestrians. Glancing back once, she saw that he was shaking his head as he stepped back into his building. She let out a little breath of relief.
Her car was parked close to the building, but she would wait a few minutes before doubling back. She needed to clear her head and regroup.
Summer Park was a gorgeous city, with old trees shading the sidewalks, flowers spilling out of planters everywhere, and the flawless blue Floridian sky overhead. Elsa still hated going into town.
People made her nervous. Especially strangers. Otherwise, she would have subsisted on take-out and delivery, like she had back in Virginia. But she’d lived there for years, and had built pleasant acquaintances with enough restaurants and dry cleaners to keep herself fed and clothed. Plus, most of those relationships had started in college, when she was just a student and not a relatively well-known historical romance author.
Elsa’s new house was a manor. She loved it, but it was huge and didn’t have a doorman to screen people or include a maid service as part of the rent. Sure, she had more privacy, but she also lacked a support structure.
Jazz could help Elsa find a chef. And a maid, and a driver, and they would all be amazing and spectacular. But that wasn’t what Elsa wanted. She wanted someone she knew would mind their own business and leave Elsa to hers.
She had reached a corner and was waiting for the lights to change so she could cross the street. The group next to her laughed loudly, startling her again.
She needed to get back home—to sort through her thoughts. She needed to get away. Maybe it was time to head back to her car. She turned so abruptly that she bumped into someone.
Muttering, “Excuse me,” she started to cross the street.
A strong hand grabbed her arm and yanked her back. Seconds later, a sports car whizzed by, right where Elsa had been headed. Her heart started to pound. If she had taken one more step…
“You all right there, love?”
Elsa turned to see Mr. Cooper staring over her shoulder, a faint smile on his lips. His voice was so different when he wasn’t shouting. He sounded playful and friendly, with a touch of gruffness tracing the edges of his wonderful accent.
“I… You… How…”
He laughed and pulled her hand into the crook of his elbow, then led her a few steps farther from the street. “‘I hear all things in the heavens and in the earth.’”
“Poe? You’re reassuring me by paraphrasing The Tell-Tale Heart?”
“You a fan then?” He let out a little laugh. “I suppose I could have chosen something better. I’m in a bit of a dark mood at the moment, and that was the first thing that came to mind.”
“Well, thank you, Mr. Cooper.”
“Bah. Call me Winston.”
Her cheeks felt stiff as she smiled. “Winston. I’m Elsa Sinclair.”
“Nice to meet you, Ms. Sinclair.”
“If I’m calling you Winston, you’re calling me Elsa.”
He laughed and patted her hand on his arm. “What I’m calling is a taxi.”
“Let me buy you lunch,” she said.
Where did that come from? Sure, once she thought about it, she was starving. And it made sense to get a properly cooked meal with balanced nutrition before returning to her pathetically stocked kitchen.
Winston looked like he wasn’t keen on the idea of going to lunch together either. He was staring at her shoulder, his expression fixed as if he was trying to find the right words to politely decline.
“It’s the least I can do,” she said.
Now she was trying to convince him to come along? The idea of eating with a stranger usually set her stomach on edge. But Winston didn’t feel like a stranger. Maybe it was because he had just saved her life.
“Being blind doesn’t just make my hearing better than most people’s. I noticed the same scent of roses in the waiting room of Mr. Arsehole. That plus you knowing my name and it’s fairly clear you had to sit through the spectacle back there.”
“Actually, I stood.”
He laughed, then said, “Well, I’m just fine, so you can look elsewhere for your good deed of the day.”
“My good deed? You just saved my life.”
She struggled to find words—something she hated experiencing. At least at the page she could take her time. But with Winston right in front of her—getting ready to leave—she knew her opportunity was closing.
“I’d like to interview you,” she said.
“I’m serious. That’s why I was at the agency in the first place. What happened between you and Mr. Abrams… Well, let’s just say that I no longer trust his judgment of character.”
“Seeing as how he has none himself?”
She laughed and felt a weird lightness shoot through her stomach. When was the last time she had laughed? She couldn’t remember, had only experienced it vicariously through her characters in… Months? Years? No wonder Jazz had been worried enough to insist Elsa move to Summer Park.
“You all right, love?”
The lightness skittered through her chest, oddly making her heart feel tight. Or maybe making her aware of the tension that was already there.
She shook her head and smiled. “I’m fine, just hungry. And you should know I’ll probably starve to death if you walk away thinking that this is me trying to be altruistic.”
He let out another snort and started to pull away, but Elsa held on.
“I’m serious. The most nutritious thing I’ve had to eat in the last week was a rancid tuna sandwich.”
“Rancid tuna? Not even ‘rancid tuna salad’?”
“I wish. I thought it was tuna salad because the meat was all runny.”
“But I don’t have any mayonnaise or radishes in the house.”
“Why would you need radishes to make tuna salad?”
“I usually chop it up and mix it in. Aren’t you supposed to put radish in tuna salad?”
Now that her mouth was running, she couldn’t seem to stop it. She hadn’t spoken to anyone for a while, and Mr. Cooper had a strangely reassuring presence. She knew that if he had a problem with her, he would tell her straight out. That was a wonderful feeling.
“Come to think of it, the last time I did try to make tuna salad, I ended up in the ER.”
“I’m afraid to ask, but…more runny meat?”
“No, I have a tendency to be easily distracted when working on a new book and lost my focus with the knife.”
He stared at her with pale gray eyes, then shook his head. “Oh, my love. You do need my help. Come on. Let’s get that lunch and see what we can work out.”
Elsa smiled as they started across the street.
I hope you enjoyed this little view into Elsa and Winston’s past. You can read more about them in Wandering Soul on July 7!