Instead, I walked away from Winston. I didn’t have to explain myself to him. I wasn’t going to try.
“He won’t keep you. She hired you, which makes him detest you. No matter how appealing you might be.”
That was a fear I was trying not to focus on, but after hearing what I’d just—as he’d pointed out I eavesdropped on—Winston may be right. If he fired me, Heidi and I would be on the streets. How would I keep her fed? I couldn’t afford the home where she lived, or leave her to work a job. Not alone. She couldn’t be left alone. Especially not on the streets.
My head began to pound. I hurried inside to get away from Winston and his threats. I couldn’t lose this job. This job was all I had right now. Working here was keeping Heidi in a safe home. If my mother was friends with Portia, or Portia owed her something, I had no idea what that connection was, but I knew Jasper wouldn’t care. He hated his mother, that much was obvious. He wouldn’t care about helping Heidi or me.
“You’re late,” Portia said as I walked into the house. I was actually early but their talk outside had stalled me. I couldn’t tell her I had overheard them though.
“I’m sorry. Traffic was bad.”
She glared at me. “I did you a favor letting you go today. The least you could do was return on time. I don’t need this from you. You’re the help. The help. Do your damn job and stop acting so damn entitled.” She slammed her glass down on the table causing the liquid to slosh over and drip down onto the floor. “Clean that up. Then get to your duties.”
I nodded. “Yes ma’am.”
She stalked from the room and I hurried to clean up her mess. I understood she was hurting over what her son had said to her. The bitterness and anger that often spewed from her came from that hurt. She’d had an unhappy life. She’d slept with another man. After her husband died, she was left to the mercy of her son. For a woman like Portia who lives in luxury, I imagine the threat of having her lifestyle taken away was tough. It didn’t make her treatment of me all right, of course. But I understood it.
“She’s a bitch, isn’t she?” That was Jasper’s voice. “You don’t have to answer that. I know what you’re thinking. Can’t figure out why you’re here working for her when you could work so many other places. That face—it could get you in many doors.”
I finished wiping up her spilled drink from the floor and stood up to face him. “I hope I never have to use my face to get a job. And this job is just fine. It covers my needs and my feelings aren’t hurt easily.” I hoped that was the right thing to say.
He studied me. That made me nervous as I waited for him to respond. It seemed much longer than the seconds it took. “You want this job then?”
He shrugged and sighed. “Fine. She’s hard to deal with. If you can handle her, then you’ll do. You handled last night like a fucking champ. I was impressed.”
Portia never complimented me. I wasn’t sure if a thank you was appropriate or not. “I was doing my job.”
Jasper chuckled. “Yeah. I guess you were,” was his response, then he walked out the door heading toward the pool house. I watched as he said something to Winston, who laughed, and I stopped to watch that. Winston laugh. All I had ever seen was his serious face. And the disinterested way he looked down on all around those him. I hadn’t seen him smile. His face that was stunning with a scowl became almost angelic with a smile.
Shaking my head, I stopped admiring him and went to the kitchen. I had my list in there for the things I needed to do today. Staring at Winston wasn’t one of them.
BY THE NEXT MORNING, NO one remained at the pool house but Jasper. The others had left last night. I’d seen their expensive cars drive away. I wasn’t sure if they would return or if Jasper would be moving into his bedroom. I did know that today I had to clean the pool house. He’d told me not to worry about it yesterday but to come back after nine in the morning and give it a heavy cleaning. He would also leave a grocery list for me.
I watched him walk out at eight-thirty this morning, dressed in a suit with his messy blond hair brushed, and I had to admit he was stunning. He didn’t look like a CEO. He looked like a GQ magazine cover model. But he was obviously going to work somewhere. I wasn’t sure if they had offices in Savannah. Apparently, Van Allen Industries had something here.
I heard the sound of heels clicking on the marble floor and knew Portia was walking my direction. I finished cleaning the glass doors just as she entered the room.
“They’re all gone. You need to get out there now and clean that place. Make it spotless. Give him no reason to complain. He’ll look for something. Give him nothing. Now go,” she said with a wave of her hand. It made me feel like a dog she was shooing away.
I went as commanded to the pool house, disregarding Jasper had said to wait until nine o’clock. He had just left so I figured I was safe. Besides, if Portia continued to treat me like an unwanted pet, I was liable to defend myself and make her angry at me. She didn’t want me to be let go. That much was obvious. Again, it made me wonder how she knew my mother, and why she was helping me now. Nineteen years of my life, and not once had I met or even heard of Portia Van Allan.
When I had introduced myself to Portia, I hadn’t been brave enough to press or ask for information. At the time, I was grateful that I’d been given the option to take care of Heidi. It was a mystery why the more she did for Heidi and me, the more she worried about Jasper letting me go. It made me wonder what it was my mother had done for Portia to deserve this kind of payment.
The pool was tranquil with the morning sun glistening on its shimmering, dark blue depths. Without the pool area covered in people it was nice out here. Living and working at this house wasn’t all that bad. It wasn’t home. I didn’t feel welcome exactly. But things could be so much worse.
Momma had always told me, “Someone else has it much worse than you. Never feel sorry for yourself. You’re alive. That’s enough to be thankful for.” I had lived by that rule. I still did. It was what kept me sane. It was where I found joy when it seemed there was no reason to be happy. Was my life ideal? No. Was anyone’s? No. Everyone had bad things happen. Loss was a part of our walk on this earth.
I resisted the urge to bend down and run my fingers over the smooth surface of the water. Portia was no doubt watching to make sure I went to work like she’d demanded. I hurried to the pool house ready to conquer whatever mess was left for me. I could imagine all kinds of nasty after that party.
When I opened the door to see a perfectly neat living area, I paused. This wasn’t nasty at all. Or messy. Sure, the entire place needed some sweeping, mopping, and dusting, but the place wasn’t littered with empty beer bottles, food or condoms—which was what I had mentally prepared myself for. I had even expected to find a naked girl lingering.
I hadn’t expected a tidy pool house. Not even close.
There was no possible way this place had remained neat during that party. Someone had straightened up. taken out the trash, picked up the dirty towels, and apparently loaded the dishwasher—it was full, but the dishes were clean.
A note written in neat handwriting was on the bar. The list was for grocery items, just like Jasper had said there would be. I didn’t expect him to be someone that picked up after himself much less others. This neat freak didn’t fit into what I’d thought him to be. I guess I’d been a little judgmental. Jasper Van Allan was a stranger to me. I had no business assuming the worst about him when I didn’t know him.
I folded up the list and tucked it into my pocket for later. Then I began pulling out the cleaning supplies that Jasper had told me I’d find under the kitchen sink. The mop and broom would be in the back closet by the bathroom. Surprisingly, the supplies were very organized.
“Jasper said you wouldn’t be out here until nine.” Winston’s voice startled me, causing me to squeal as I spun around holding a spray bottle of cleaner.
“Oh!” was all I managed to say. It was one of those moments where you recognize the voice, but you didn’t know they were in the vicinity so you can’t help your startled response.
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