nodded. “She has her own quarters, a small bungalow in back. There’s a room off of the kitchen, you can see it from there. It’s very small but she lives there alone so it suits her needs. She hardly ever leaves the grounds; she’s always around.”
Harry thought it strange she’d never mentioned this woman before, but refrained from comment and followed her hesitantly, cringing with each intrusive squeak of his sneakers on the high-gloss floor.
“I hate her.”
The statement was made with such casualness that it took Harry a moment to fully acknowledge what she’d said. “You hate her?”
When they had neared the foot of the staircase, she stopped. “It’s not really her fault, I suppose, but you have to understand that in her country, in that culture, particularly among the very poor native tribes, females aren’t highly valued.”
Harry shivered a bit, glanced nervously at the partially open door to their right and the hint of an office beyond. For a moment he heard a man’s voice speaking softly.
“But, she’s a woman too.”
“In a sense that makes it even worse,” Madeline said with a shrug. “You know, the whole self-loathing thing. Had I been a male child I’d have been treated like a prince by her, like a little God. But for bearing children or acting as playthings for men, girls are considered essentially worthless.”
“But she works for your father,” he reminded her. “If she treats you badly why would he keep her here?”
Madeline turned and looked into his eyes like she had on the beach moments before. Like they were the only two people in the universe, like nothing else mattered, her face a fusion of so many emotions it was hard to zero in on just one. Had she burst into tears or laughter or a screaming fit of rage, none of those responses would have surprised him. But instead, she reached out and tenderly stroked his cold cheek with her fingers.
“There you are.”
She dropped her hand as Harry looked over his shoulder to see a tall, trim man in dress slacks and a white oxford leaning informally in the office doorway. His light brown hair matched Madeline’s. “I was beginning to worry about you out in this storm. Where have you been, Maddy?”
You must promise never to call me Maddy.
“Just walking in the snow.”
It struck Harry that they spoke to each other like strangers, and maybe they were. In her father’s presence there occurred a transformation in Madeline so immediate and so drastic it was nearly physical in nature. Gone was the sparkle in her eyes and the carefree wraithlike attitude that dictated not only her facial expressions and tone of voice, but her corporal demeanor as well—her posture, her movements.
Without warning, Madeline had become someone else.
“Hasn’t been snow for a while now, just rain,” he said, frowning at her. “Look at you two. You’re drenched.”
“Harry,” she said, “this is my father, Bruce Martin.”
He strode toward them, the heels of his loafers clicking against the floor, and extended his hand while still several feet away. His gait was fluid, like that of a dancer, almost feminine. “Hello there, young man. This is certainly an occasion. I can’t ever remember Maddy bringing a friend home before.”
“That’s because I’ve never had any friends before,” she said flatly.
Her father ignored the comment, and so did Harry as he took his hand and shook it firmly but with enough restraint so it could not be interpreted as a challenge. His palm was warm, slightly damp. “Harry Paletto. Nice to meet you, sir.”
“And a gentleman to boot,” he said, slightly cocking his head. “There certainly