Penny’s hands were shaking more than usual as she carried Mrs. Crane’s coffee mug and corkboard coaster to where she was sitting by the fire, surrounded by tall bookcases full of old books and little mementos of an unknown past. She had worked as a housekeeper many times before, sure. The nice old man down the street. The mother with her five kids. The guy who worked all day and needed someone to walk his dog. Those jobs had been relatively easy, though, because all of those people had been easy to please, and Penny was good at pleasing them. Not once had they ever yelled at her for making the baby cry or feeding the dog at the wrong time or putting the dishes in the dishwasher the wrong way. And she had delicate yet steady hands that were not prone to drop things or knock them over. Maybe it was her confidence that gave her such poise, because now she could see the coffee in the mug slosh up and down rapidly. Don’t spill on the rug, don’t spill on the rug, she whispered to herself, holding her breath as she crossed Mrs Crane’s beautiful oriental carpet. It felt rough and nubby under her socks, so it must have been hand-woven too, and very expensive.
She crossed the rug to the tall red wingback chair where Mrs Crane sat with her hunched posture and beady eyes. She wasn’t an old woman, though--her hair was long and blonde with graying roots, and it fell down nearly to her waist. She raised her head slightly as Penny approached.
“Took you long enough. Give it here.”
Penny handed her the mug and gave a quiet sigh of relief. She didn’t think she managed to spill anything.
As if reading her thoughts, the woman continued. “You didn’t spill anything, did you?”
“No, ma’am,” said Penny.
“I hope not,” Mrs Crane hissed menacingly. “This rug cost me thousands. If you spilled on it, I would’a snapped your little neck.” Snap my neck? That’s a bit harsh, Penny thought. She didn’t want to admit it, but she knew it was too true: She was terrified of Mrs Crane. This woman had a reputation of being reclusive and nasty, and now Penny knew that for a fact.
“Yes, ma’am,” Penny murmured. She left Mrs Crane there in her chair by the fireplace and headed out of the living room. “I’m going to clean the upstairs bathroom...if you don’t mind.”
Mrs Crane didn’t say anything, so Penny crossed through the large hallway to the stairs. The ceilings were high, at least ten feet. The walls of the hall were covered with a forest green mural wallpaper, with intricate, vintage patterns resembling leaves and flowers. One side of the hall was lined with three large windows that reached from near the floor to the top of the ceiling. The dark mahogany trim and the smoky gray velvet curtains made the whole room feel warm but gloomy and mysterious. They reminded her of an english castle compared to her own small house. A sense of envy and longing washed over her as she turned at the double doors with the stained glass awning and began the climb up Mrs Crane’s long staircase.