If yesterday was testing Amy for being seven minutes behind schedule, today was excruciating. She tried to force herself to stay calm, but she was about two and a half seconds from throwing the jam at Colin’s face.
“One spoonful in each dish,” she said, rubbing her forehead with her thumb and middle finger. “It’s not exactly rocket science.”
“This is a spoonful,” he argued, gesturing to the sticky ramekins on the counter.
“No, those are a spoon-ish,” she said. “Look, this one is filled to the top, this barely fills half the dish… How is that even possible?”
“It’s fine,” he retorted. “Just stick them on opposite ends of the room, and no one will know.”
“That’s not,” she began. “You can’t just…”She took a deep breath and checked her watch. “Just… make the coffee. I’ll handle this.”
She grabbed the jam jar from his hands and began cleaning the sticky sides of the dishes as she attempted to save his horrible work. She could feel his eyes on her back, and she flushed in spite of herself.
“Just staring at me won’t start the coffee,” she said tersely.
“And what will?” he asked. “Start the coffee, I mean.”
“Probably the coffee pot… That’s… not a coffee pot.”
He put the tea kettle down and gave a sheepish smile and shrug.
“I just get coffee delivered,” he explained. “I’ve never actually… made it myself, you know… I do have a very expensive cappuccino maker at my flat. My manager uses it, though.”
“Of course,” Amy said, biting her lip and checking her watch again. “It’s probably my fault for asking you to do anything, Your Majesty.”
“If you think he’s bad, you’d hate his father,” Sophie remarked, walking into the kitchen with a crate full of ingredients.
“Sorry, I didn’t have the chance to grab those yet,” Amy said with a flush.
“I can get them,” Sophie replied, awkwardly setting the box onto the counter and sliding her cast from under it. “It’s all about balance, you know.”
Amy gave a smile and returned to her work. They usually had a dozen ramekins filled with jam, a dozen of clotted cream, and three pots of coffee ready to go. Right now, there were a half-dozen sad jams that needed fixing and nothing else. The knot in Amy’s chest tightened.
“I can handle the kitchen,” Sophie said, looking around. “I think maybe Colin could help with setting up the dining room.”
“Are his cleaning skills better?”
“No, but there aren’t as many sharp things you could stab him with when he messes up,” Sophie replied with a wink.
“I’m literally right here, you know,” Colin said.
“Come with me, Your Majesty,” Amy said with a roll of her eyes. “Let’s see if you can handle tablecloths better than jam.”
The answer to the question was an unsurprising no. He couldn’t seem to figure out how to evenly distribute a tablecloth, resulting in one side of the white fabric piled on the ground and the other side just barely covering the table. Every time he tried to adjust it, he ended up just piling fabric on the opposite side of the table. He also didn’t know how to fold napkins, and when she asked him to set up the silverware, he just put the fork dish on one table, the knife dish on another table, and the spoons on a third table.
“They can walk and get their own,” he suggested as Amy huffed and grabbed the forks.
“Are you really this useless at everything?” she asked. “Or are you just acting like a complete fool so you won’t be asked to work again?”
“I’m not useless,” he said. “I’m on a famous television show. I’ve won awards. What have you done with your life?”
Amy felt her face grow hot.
“I can function without a babysitter,” she retorted. “Can’t say the same about you, Mr. Celebrity.”
She slammed the forks on the table and reached for the knives next.
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“Really? ‘Cause your aunt is in a cast, and she’s taking care of you,” Amy said, slamming knives on the table. “Why’d you even come here anyway, if not to be looked after cause your family was too busy?”
She realized immediately that she said the wrong thing. She could feel Colin’s eyes on her and saw his body stiffen from the corner of her eye.
“I’m here to see my family,” he replied. “What’s your excuse?”
He stormed out of the room. Amy felt her hand tighten around a knife. But throwing it at him would only damage the walls. She took a deep breath and checked her watch. Still behind. She quickly prepped the dining room, opening a minute late.
“Not bad,” Sophie said, stepping into the hallway and checking the time. “I told the guests to sleep in a little, just in case.”
“Is your nephew really that…” Amy began, searching for the right word.
“Probably,” Sophie responded with a shrug. “Or he’s a really good actor.”She winked at her own joke and glanced back towards the kitchen.
“I think it’s best he stays in the back,” she said. “I’ll keep an eye on him, and he can stay away from anyone who might recognize him.”
“Is he really that famous?” Amy asked.
“Who knows? I don’t really watch TV,” Sophie replied with a shrug. “But getting discovered here would stroke his ego, and then the whole island might collapse from that weight.”
Amy smiled. As long as he stayed in the kitchen and away from her, the day couldn’t get any worse. Amy sneezed again.
It was halfway through breakfast when the trouble started. They ran out of teacups, and Amy could count all twenty (minus the four in use in the dining room) stacked in a heap of dirty dishes near the sink.
“I need those cleaned,” she said. “Like, five minutes ago.”
“I’m just finishing up on the plates,” Colin huffed. “Hold on.”
If she wasn’t so stressed, Amy would have laughed at the picture. Colin was wearing the only clean apron left (a pale blue apron with lace trim) and bright pink rubber gloves as he hunched over a sink that was clearly designed for someone shorter. He had a soapy yellow sponge in one hand and a plate in the other.
“We stopped serving the scones,” Amy said, walking to the sink. “So, we don’t need the plates right now.”
“But they’re taking up the sink space,” Colin protested. “Let me just get them out of the way, and I’ll—“
“Oh, just give it here.”
Amy snatched the sponge from his hand and used her hip to bump him out of the way. She grabbed a cup and held it under the hot water, using the sponge to quickly clean it before running it under hot water again. It took maybe twenty seconds. She put it on the drying rack and reached for another.
“Cups are usually the priority,” she explained, not even bothering to look over at Colin. “Since everyone drinks coffee or tea, we always need a clean cup or two around. Then spoons, then teapots and coffee pots, then utensils, then plates.”
“Why are plates last?”
“We have a lot of plates,” Amy said. “But not many cups.”
“The plates were on sale at Ikea!” Sophie called out. “So, I went a little crazy on them.”
Amy nodded, holding up a cup. “Meanwhile, she only uses cups she buys in person,” she said, lowering her voice. “And she wants each cup to be unique.”
“So, we don’t have many of those,” Colin said with an understanding nod.
He took the cup from her and gently nudged her out of the way.
“I think I can take it from here,” he said, giving her a small smile.
Amy felt the knot in her chest loosen a little under the gaze of his blue eyes. She snapped herself out of it.
“Yeah, well, don’t fall behind again,” she muttered.
She towel-dried a few cups and rushed back into the dining room. He was doing this on purpose, she thought, trying to logically analyze the situation. He played dumb with the dishes so that she’d do the work for him, and then he tried to get away with it by giving her a dazzling smile. Well, she thought with a toss of her head, he wouldn’t be trying that again.
Amy brought Colin into the dining room after the last guest had gone. She set the plastic tub into his hands and gestured to the tables.
“This has to be cleaned,” she said. “And I’m sure you can manage.”
“What should I do?” he asked.
“All the dirty dishes go in here,” she said. “And then take them to the kitchen and wash them. I’ll take the tablecloths and throw them in the wash.”
She grabbed the mason jars filled with wildflowers and stacked them on the wooden chest against the wall. Looking at the flowers, she guessed they had about a day of beauty left in them before she’d have to go and pick replacements. Maybe if she woke up sixteen minutes early—
A crash interrupted her thoughts. She spun around and saw dishes on the ground, one of them clearly broken in half. Colin had a wide-eyed look on his face.
“I, uh,” he began, looking at the mess. “I thought you said you needed the tablecloths, so I kinda… I dunno, I thought I could, like, grab the tablecloth and dishes together and then pour the dishes into the tub?” He sighed. “It worked in my head.”
“Well, obviously it didn’t turn out so great in reality,” Amy snapped, grabbing a broom. “You’re lucky it was a plate and not a cup.”
She set the dishes into the tub and swept up the debris.
“Hopefully there’s no more broken glass anywhere,” she said with a sigh.
“I thought it’d be more efficient,” Colin began weakly.
“Just… don’t touch the tablecloths, okay?” Amy said. “You hold this and follow me.”
She thrust the plastic tub in his hand and began setting the dishes into it. Colin opened his mouth, but Amy shot him a glare.
“Follow me silently,” she said.
She hurried to put the rest of the dishes into the tub and then sent him to the kitchen while she did the laundry and sweeping. She tried to take a few deep breaths to calm herself down before returning to the kitchen. Colin was finishing up the last of the dishes, and he flashed her a smile.
“Dishes are ready for inspection,” he said. “Unless you trust that I did it properly.”
“If I have to double check everything you do,” she began, stopping and forcing herself to calm down. “Just… grab the food trash, and I’ll show you where to dump it.”
Colin glanced over at the small trashcan next to the sink. It was filled with eggshells, coffee grounds, and tea.
“Yeah, no, I don’t pick up trash,” he said with a shake of his head.
“Well, you do now,” she retorted. “Wear gloves if you have to, but hurry up. We still have to clean the rooms.”
She spun on her heels and left the kitchen. After a few moments, Colin emerged, holding the trash as far from him as possible. She shook her head at him and led him to the garden, past the gate and stream, around the back of her cabin, and to the rundown wooden structure overgrown by wildflowers.
“Dump it in there,” she said, nodding towards the bin.
“It smells—” he began, choking a few times like he was about to be sick. “So… bad.”
“So then dump it quickly and hold your breath.”
“This can’t be good for the environment.”
“All the wildflowers growing here seem to suggest otherwise,” Amy retorted. “Hurry up, or you’ll be here longer.”
She folded her arms and gave him an expectant look. If he was waiting for her to give up and just take over the work for him, he’d be waiting all day.
Colin sighed and trudged over, dumping the trash so quickly he nearly dropped the can.
“It’s mushy,” he whined, hobbling over to Amy again. “Why is the ground mushy?”
“Magic?” Amy suggested, turning away from him. “Congratulations, you’ve managed to do one thing by yourself today. Let’s really push ourselves and see if you can make a bed by yourself, too.”
Amy showed him how to clean one room and then sent him into another by himself while she scrubbed down a third room. He still hadn’t emerged when she finished, so she moved on to the next room. And then the next. By the time she cleaned every other room, his door was still closed.
Maybe he somehow wrapped himself into the mattress and got stuck, she thought, knocking on the door once.
She wouldn’t have put it past him, given his skill level.
Colin was on the floor, his head resting against the bed, legs splayed out, arms still holding a duster and some cleaning spray. He snored gently, and his eyelids were flickering slightly, like he was in the middle of an exciting dream. His hair seemed to frame his face, and Amy couldn’t help but stare. Asleep, not talking or messing things up, he was almost cute.
Amy snapped herself out of it. She kicked the sole of his shoe a couple times. He blinked his eyes open slowly and looked up at her. A back part of her brain registered his soft blue eyes, but that part was quickly brought to attention.
“You still haven’t finished cleaning,” she said. “Hurry up and bring the sheets downstairs so I can wash them.”
She spun on her heels and left quickly, taking the steps two at a time. She realized she forgot to check her watch.
Twenty minutes behind.