Even though life should have been perfect, the kids still had a problem. Specifically, a kitchen-related problem.
Not the mess Jack had made on the floor. That gave it character. But the fact that neither he nor his sister could actually use the decrepit-looking appliances? Yeah, that made things tricky.
Breakfast wasn’t so bad. They both grabbed themselves a bowl of cereal. Then, since it was still the weekend, came lunch. They had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with a side of cheese crackers and apple juice. Still pretty good. But when dinner came, the only things they could come up with were ham sandwiches and two bowl of cold peas. And tomorrow? Given the limited options in the fridge, they’d have to dine on the same meals all over ahead. This was not the life of luxury Belle had suggested.
Still, Jack tried to stay optimistic. “We’ll get hot lunches at school,” he said, hoping lighten the mood.
But Belle was having none of it. “Ugh!” she exclaimed in frustration. “If only we had an adult around who would do everything we say without trying to parent us.”
Jack thought for a moment. “Pretty sure they call that a butler.”
Belle laughed at first. After all, she was just a random kid, no one famous or special (well, not yet anyway), so the idea of having a butler had never even occurred to her.
Except now she and her brother seemed to be in possession of a phone tied directly to all of Vlad Straud’s bank accounts. Even more interesting, as they had discovered with the movers, none of the services they called ever seemed to care that they were speaking to children. They just sort of took the money and did what they were asked.
So, really, why would a butler be any different?
She pulled out the phone, searched for butler companies (which were a thing, apparently) and asked the man on the other line to send someone right away.
Sure enough, within an impressively short span of time, a woman with salt-and-pepper hair in full butler garb knocked on the front door.
“Hello, there,” she said in a kind voice when Jack and Belle answered. “I was sent from the agency. I believe I have the correct address?” She glanced hesitantly inside the eerie mansion.
“Yup, sure do,” Belle said, opening the door all the way. “Welcome. Great to have you.”
“Take a seat,” Jack chimed in. “Make yourself at home. Also, can you make us food? I mean, hot food?”
The woman smiled as she stepped inside. “Well, of course I can, sonny. Old Ms. Crumpet can whip up anything your little hearts desire–”
“Sweet!” Jack said, though whether it was an expression of happiness or a request for sugar-laden sustenance was unclear.
“–but where, pray tell, is your parent? Or parents? It can’t be just you kids here.”
“Um…” Jack and Belle exchanged nervous glances with each other. Apparently this was one hired adult who got a little more nosy than they bargained for. But the tradeoff of having good food (and not having to do the laundry or clean anything) was too good to send her away. They just had to be a little tactful.
“He’s…sleeping,” Belle finally answered.
Ms. Crumpet raised a skeptical eyebrow. “Sleeping?”
“Oh, yeah, he sleeps a lot,” Jack chimed in. “All day and all night. He practically hibernates.”
He stared up at her with the most innocent and honest kid face he could muster. At first he thought, I’ve got to be kidding myself here. There is no way any sane adult would be dense enough to believe that–
“Hibernates, hmm?” Ms. Crumpet said. Then she gave a longing sigh. “He sounds just like my late husband…God bless his soul. Well, everything you’ve said sounds completely reasonable to me, so I’ll get to making some meals we can have on hand. Who likes spaghetti?”
The children both raised their hands eagerly and Ms. Crumpet smiled as she headed for the kitchen, humming to herself all the while. Cabinets creaked and snapped as she rummaged for ingredients, and in mere moments, they could hear water boiling on the old stove. Hopefully not too old. They still had no desire for fires.
Jack and Belle were about to go watch some TV when the clattering paused. “Now, what about homework? You kids finish your homework yet? Because you know if you don’t, they’ll ship you off to boarding school!”
Jack froze with the remote in his hand. “Um, what?” he called. But Ms. Crumpet had already gone back to humming while stirring this and that in the kitchen. As the pleasant smells of pepper and cooked tomatoes floated through the old mansion, mixing with the smell of dust and cobwebs, the two children exchanged nervous looks with each other. Boarding school? That would put a serious damper on all their plans. Maybe, just to be safe, it wouldn’t hurt to crack a book open. At least until they figured out a way around this…ugh…school thing.