Clint Barton had never been to a job interview before. Mrs. Baxter at the homeless shelter got him the plain button-up shirt and a new pair of jeans for the occasion. She knew the owner of the staffing agency, Maria Hill, which was how he was now sitting in front as she went over his application.
“Tell me about yourself, Clint.”
He wanted to lower his eyes, but Mrs. Baxter had said Maria appreciated honesty and hard work.
“It’s not a good background,” Clint told her.
Maria’s smile was patient. “Let me be the judge of that.”
“My parents died when I was little. My brother and me were sent to an orphanage and when they wanted to split us up, we ran away. A circus took us in. We did roustabout work, a little of everything. I helped with the cooking, laundry and anything else they needed.”
“How long were you with them?”
“Until I was seventeen. They folded and we came here.”
“Mrs. Baxter said you’re currently homeless and you managed to earn your GED as well. She gave glowing recommendations for all the work you did at the shelter.”
“It was the least I could do. She helped me get my GED.”
“I’ll allow your modesty to pass.” Maria opened the side drawer of her desk and took out a piece of paper. “I think I have just the thing for you. This may help you better your situation.”
Clint leaned forward in anticipation. “You mean a job?”
“It’s a live-in position with a senior partner of a prestigious law firm. In the old days, they called it a houseboy. You would be cooking meals, running errands, some laundry and light cleaning. He has a maid service for the rest. He needs someone reliable, trustworthy and nice. What do you think, Clint?”
On the surface, it sounded amazing. Clint hedged unsure of how to ask his next question.
“You have some concerns?”
“I’ve lived on the street for three years, Ms. Hill. Offers like these usually come with ultimatums.”
“Clint, I’ve known Phil Coulson for years. He’s a respected attorney and one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. Do you believe me?”
Clint relaxed and eased back in the chair. “Yes, I do. Thank you.”
Maria began writing as she spoke. “Be back here at 5pm. I’ll call Phil and let him know to expect you. I’m sure he’ll see that you’re a good fit for this position.”
She held out the form and Clint got to his feet. “Thanks.”
“A cab will take you at our expense. Good luck.”
Clint took the paper and walked out of the office. Once on the street, his nervousness began. This was more than he could ever hope for, but doubts began to plague him. What if this Phil Coulson didn’t like him? What if all he saw was street trash? What if he found out what happened? Clint closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He still had three hours to go.
With Central Park several blocks away, Clint decided a walk was in order to get a handle on his anxiousness. By the time he returned, he was perspiring. The cab ride took him to the Flatiron district and when it stopped on Park Avenue, Clint looked up at the fashionable apartment building.
He got out and the doorman gave him a look before opening the door. Clint went to the desk.
“Deliveries and pickups are at the service elevator,” the man answered barely glancing at him.
“I have an appointment with Phil Coulson.” Clint smoothed the front of his shirt. It was too loose and clung to his skin.
After the clerk called, he pointed Clint to the elevator. “Top floor. Take a right. It’s the first door.”
Clint went to the elevator and as it climbed, he noted the rich mahogany of the wood inside. Only someone rich could live here, he realized. He shifted back and forth. Clint was already thinking this was a bad idea, but it was too late to back out now. He was expected and it wasn’t in him to not follow through.
When he got to the door, Clint took a deep breath before ringing the bell. It opened and he was momentarily taken aback. The man before him was gorgeous and it took a moment for Clint to find his voice.
“Maria Hill sent me from the staffing agency.”
“Yes,” Phil said. He smiled and motioned for Clint to come inside. “Thank you for coming. It’s Clint Barton, right?”
“Yes, sir.” Clint was amazed at the beauty of the large penthouse. He followed Phil into the living room and they sat across from one another. He noted the expensive suit and other lavish furnishings. He most definitely didn’t belong here.
“Maria told me a lot about you. Is it alright if I call you Clint?”
“Yes. It’s fine.” Clint’s throat felt dry and he cleared it to get rid of the hoarseness.
“I’ve been looking for someone a while now,” Phil explained. “I have a tendency to work long hours both at the office and here at home. Finding someone trustworthy isn’t easy even with the best background checks and references so I relied on Maria to keep an eye out. What I need is someone who can do a little cooking, light cleaning, laundry. I send my suits to the cleaners so it won’t be a lot. From time to time, there will be errands and on occasion I do have a dinner party with clients and associates. I have a catering service for those events.”
“I can cook about anything,” Clint offered. “People’ve told me I have a knack in the kitchen. Laundry is easy and so is cleaning. I don’t know this part of the city well.”
“How old are you, if I may ask?”
“I just turned twenty-one a few weeks ago.”
“Maria told me you were quite modest and she believes this would work well for us. What do you think?”
Clint tried to hide his uncertainty, but still managed to nod. “I’d like to try. If it doesn’t work out, the staffing agency might be able to help me find another job.”
Phil smiled. “I would, too. Let’s call it a trial run for the both of us. First, I don’t want you to hesitate to come to me if there is ever a problem. I’m the worst mind reader on the planet. In fact, I have a tendency to be oblivious to anything outside of work.”
“I will,” Clint promised. “I might ask a stupid question sometimes.”
“The position doesn’t pay well, but you’ll have your own room with a half bath. Your meals will be provided as long as you cook them yourself. I’m a nightmare in the kitchen,” Phil admitted. “I’ll provide you with a MetroCard at my expense and a credit card. You’ll need it for groceries and other home related expenses.”
“Um, I have a question.”
“Is this a seven day a week thing?”
“Oh, of course not.” Phil flashed an embarrassed grin. “After dinner, your time is your own. Weekends and holidays you won’t be expected to work. I imagine midday will be quite slow around here so if you have a hobby or if you want to take in a museum, you’re welcome to do that. Do you have a cell number I can reach you at should something come up?”
“No. I mean I don’t have a cell phone.”
“I’ll take care of it. Would you like to see where you’ll be living?”
Clint followed him through the dining room, to a beautiful kitchen and then behind it was a bedroom. When Phil opened the door, Clint walked inside. It was a huge room with a queen bed, expensive furnishings and a large half bath. It was nothing short of amazing.
“This sure is big,” Clint murmured.
“I’ll have a TV installed tomorrow for you.”
“You don’t have to do that.”
“It’s that or boredom,” Phil grinned.
“When do you want me to start?”
“I hope tomorrow morning isn’t too soon. You can move in tonight if you’d like.”
Clint wasn’t looking forward to that walk. He had no money for a cab or even bus fare.
“You know, my mind has been on a huge case and I completely forgot.” Phil took out his wallet and held out a hundred dollar bill. “It’s the middle of the week. Your first full pay will begin next Friday.”
Should he take it? He hadn’t done a thing other than sit on the expensive couch. Clint finally did and his hand shook as he held the money. It was his first hundred. If he didn’t need the money so desperately, he would have framed it.
“I don’t have much so I can come back tonight if that’s okay,” Clint stammered.
“I’ll arrange for keys to the elevator and penthouse.”
“Thank you, Mr. Coulson.”
“I don’t hold to formalities much. Please call me Phil.”
“Phil,” Clint repeated. “I’ll work hard for you.”
“I believe you will. Clint, this is your room and I won’t come in without your expressed permission. You’re entitled to privacy and your own life. Do you understand?”
Maria must have said something, Clint surmised. He nodded.
There was a look of relief in Phil’s eyes and Clint found himself looking forward to the new job. He left the penthouse and broke the hundred with a celebratory soda and candy bar. Clint took the subway to the homeless shelter in the Bronx.
Mrs. Baxter was thrilled when he told her about the new job. He packed his clothes in an old army laundry bag and before leaving, Mrs. Baxter gave him a hug and extracted a promise to let her know how he was doing. He cared about her, but he wouldn’t miss the shelter in the least and as he left, Clint hoped he didn’t wind up back on the street.
When he got to the penthouse, Phil was on the phone and motioned him inside.
“Clint, that’s the last time you knock,” Phil said with a half-smile.
Clint nodded and went to his new room. He set his bag of clothes on the floor and sat on the bed. He kicked off his sneakers and stretched out enjoying the softness of the mattress.
He finally got up and started putting his things away. Clint took the locket from around his neck. He couldn’t remember the last time he took it off unless it was a quick shower at the shelter. His worst fear was it being stolen. He couldn’t imagine someone as rich as Phil Coulson wanting to steal it. Clint opened it up to look at the picture of his long dead mother. He propped it on the dresser.
A long hot shower sounded like a good idea and after checking, Clint found soap and shampoo. He stripped out of his clothes and after playing with the shower settings, Clint spent half an hour under the water relishing the feel of it on his skin.
When he finished, he walked back into the bedroom and found a note on the floor. Clint picked it up. Phil had to go back to the office and he was welcome to fix himself a meal. As Clint dressed, it occurred to him that he didn’t ask about what sort of clothing he was expected to wear.
The shirt would need washed. He set the new jeans aside for tomorrow. Clint opted for his well-worn cargos and AC/DC t-shirt.
Clint went to the kitchen and stood in the middle of it. This was something he only saw in magazines. He chewed his bottom lip and went to the fridge. It wasn’t well stocked, but there was enough for a decent breakfast in the morning. He’d have to plan a menu for the week and shop.
He consumed a sandwich and juice in short order then set about checking over the rest of the kitchen. The cookware and everything else was top of the line, but completely unused. He was about to toss the empty bottle in the trash when he caught site of the empty takeout cartons filling the container.
Clint would make sure Phil Coulson ate a good home cooked meal at every opportunity.