Category: NonConsent/Reluctance Stories

The Maid Ch. 07

by karaline©

This is the final chapter. I am very aware that I drifted away from nonconsent/reluctance a while back. I didn't mean for this to be as long as it has turned out to be and the focus has definitely changed from what it was initially. I considered moving it into a different, more suitable category, but after asking for feedback I decided against it, for continuity reasons. So sorry about that, but at least this will be the final time.

A final thank you to misternik and to vmc312 for all their hard work editing. And thank you for those of you who have voted, faved, left feedback, I've really appreciated it. The next few stories I have planned are going to be in romance (I should probably get it out of my system!) I think, in case you would like to keep following my work and don't follow that category.


*****

Joe stepped over the threshold and into the hallway, casting a proprietal glance around.

"Nice."

She nodded mutely while an internal stream of questions buzzed around her mind. What was he doing here? What did he want? Why was he turning up now, after all this time?

He wasn't talking loudly exactly, but he was standing right outside Sophia's bedroom door and she was worried he was going to wake her up. That would be a disaster. She had no idea how she would explain Joe's unexpected presence to Sophia; strange men didn't normally arrive at her house unannounced. She shuddered at the thought.

"Come into the kitchen." She tried to fix what she hoped would look like a polite smile on her face, but it felt more like a grimace. "I'll put the kettle on."

She went in, not giving him a chance to reply or suggest the more intimate setting of the her tiny sofa on the front room. She wanted the kitchen table between them.

As he sat down she tried to shoo the unwelcome image of Stephano sitting in the same place a few weeks ago after the fire as she moved nervously around, putting the kettle on, wiping the already clean table. She was starting to unravel, like a wool cardigan that had snagged on something.

Finally the hot drinks were made and she sat down opposite him. Perched uncomfortably on the edge of her seat, she wrapped her fingers round her mug, deriving comfort from the heat of her chamomile tea. She watched him, taking him in, waiting for him to speak. He looked well, much better than he had last time she had seen him; which, to be honest, wasn't a great achievement, considering what he looked like. He was clean-shaven, his hair had recently been cut, his clothes were clean and new. They were clearly not as expensive and dashing as the things that Stephano wore but he looked good, great in fact. He still had his charm and his boyish good looks, but she couldn't help compare it to Stephano's more sophisticated beauty in her mind.

A choppy conversation followed, in which everything was familiar and yet not familiar at all.

"You look well."

"I've been in rehab."

"Eleanor and John didn't say."

"They didn't want to get your hopes up."

She frowned, cross with them for not warning her of his imminent reentry into her life.

"Did they know you were planning to..."

"No, I didn't tell them I was planning to come here, but when they told me about the fire, I... I just needed to see you, I had to make sure you were both okay."

She nodded. "Yes, we're fine, we were very lucky. Sophia was off school for a few days. But they checked her out again a few weeks ago, there is no lasting damage to her lungs." She didn't elaborate, she wasn't sure if Joe knew about Stephano. She wasn't sure how to broach the subject.

"Shall we go for a drink? Lets go out to the pub ."

"I can't, Joe. Sophia, she's asleep, I can't leave her."

He looked at her blankly for a minute. "Oh yeah, of course. I wasn't thinking, sorry."

There was an awkward silence until he spoke again. "So, what have you been up to?"

Andrea visibly balked at his question, and Joe looked uncomfortable. Seeming to realise his faux pas, he concentrated very hard on the table.

She struggled to control the emotions that reared up in her as a thousand possible responses passed through her mind. She thought of the number of times over the years she had imagined how she might answer this if Joe asked it. If Joe had been there to ask it, if Joe had ever deigned to contact her at any point in the last six years. In the end, her voice tight with suppressed rage she settled for noncommittal.

"Oh you know, this and that."

Silence stretched uncomfortably between them, until eventually she felt compelled to fill it.

"I'm a chambermaid. I work in one of those big hotels up west."

"Do you like it?"

"It pays the bills."

"Sounds, umm, posh. You must meet loads of rich people." She bristled at his dismissive language.

"We don't see that much of the guests." She felt herself colour as another uncomfortable silence transpired while he watched her quizzically. She worried that he was going to ask why she was blushing, but much to her relief, he didn't.

"You didn't go to dance school?"

"No." She felt a pang of regret. It had been her dream, before she got pregnant. But despite being offered a place on one of London's most prestigious performing arts schools, despite the potential that everyone told her they could see, she hadn't. She couldn't. Didn't he realise there had been a baby to take care of? An unwelcome surge of anger began to rise up. She swallowed it back down; she didn't want to start an argument and risk waking Sophia.

"I'm starting teacher training in September."

His face lit up. "You're really making something of yourself Andi, I always knew you would."

She had forgotten how captivating Joe's smile could be, how charming he was with his boyish good looks. She could see why she had been so smitten him. Memories started to come flooding back all at once, filling her mind like the commuters she watched clambering onto the bus every morning. She shook her head, trying to chase the memories away. It didn't work, and she couldn't help but compare him to Stephano with his more sophisticated, masculine appeal. But there was something else about his reaction too, something that she couldn't quite put her finger on; there was an implication in his words, that some how she was managing something he could never achieve and she didn't like it.

"How are Tracey and Paul?" He asked.

"They're alright, but they broke up in March. He slept with Joanne."

"What! Tracey's sister Joanne?"

"Yeah."

"He didn't!"

"He did."

"I bet that went down well."

They both laughed and she was relieved to be on more neutral territory but he became serious again.

"Andi, look, I've been thinking a lot about us recently."

He explained that he wanted to try again. He reached over to her hand, which was resting on the kitchen table and covered it with his, she pulled it out from under his, so quickly it was as though she had been burned. Immediately she felt guilty, but she was reeling already from him being here, she couldn't cope with physical contact as well.

Joe seemed to realise that he was expecting too much too quickly.

"Sorry, I shouldn't have turned up unannounced."

"I think you should go now. It's late, I have work tomorrow and this is all so unexpected. I need time to think, I'm sorry."

"We could go out, at the weekend, to Marine Ices? Do you ever take Sophia there?"

They used to go there all the time after school, everyone did. She wondered again what he was doing here, what his motives were.

She forced herself to laugh. "Of course I do, all the time."

"Good, lets go on Saturday and I'll buy us all an ice cream, I can meet her then."

Without waiting for an answer he stood up, brushed down his jeans with the palms of his hands and strolled out of the kitchen. At the door, he pecked her on the cheek, and she was startled by the pungent aroma of his unfamiliar cologne. And then he was gone, as suddenly as he arrived. She stood, leaning against her front door in a wrung out stupor.

~

The following morning was a bit of a blur. She'd hardly slept at all after Joe had left. She'd lain in bed working through a whole mixture of emotions; anger, fear, confusion, guilt. She'd turned the situation over and over in her mind. She wasn't sure about introducing him to Sophia yet; the situation didn't seem permanent enough, and he might just disappear again. She didn't want Joe to hurt Sophia, but he was her father. She couldn't keep them apart. Finally she'd been so wound up she'd got out of bed and wandered into the front room to find something mindless to watch on TV. She'd fallen asleep pretty quickly on the sofa and woken up again just before dawn. Feeling cold, with a crick in her neck, the TV still on, she stumbled drowsily into bed and managed to oversleep.

Of course after Andrea's exciting weekend away in Milan and the promise she'd made at bedtime, Sophia was disappointed by the rushed, disorganized morning. Breakfast wasn't a relaxed chat at the table; it was a slice of marmite on toast as they dashed through the park to school. Andrea felt guilty at how distracted and irritable she was being, but Sophia's new AC Milan football kit helped soften the blow.

-

She finally arrived at work, twenty minutes late and a complete wreck. Connie kept shooting her quizzical looks, but she avoided getting into a conversation with her. Stephano would be arriving today and they were meant to be meeting for dinner later. Her Mum was supposed to be babysitting again. She had been looking forward to seeing him but now after last night she felt differently. She was still very unclear about Joe and the role he would have in her and Sophia's life. She needed more time to think, to get things straight in her head before she saw Stephano again.

Her morning was a nightmare. Her supervisor shouted at her over how long everything was taking and she burst into floods of tears. Connie demanded to know what was wrong but she didn't want to talk about it. She couldn't talk about it, she was scared of what might happen if she started to talk and she just needed to get through the day.

She texted Stephano and arranged to meet him for coffee in her break. His reply was brief and he didn't ask why she needed to see him so suddenly. They planned to meet in a café near the hotel. She spotted him as soon as she arrived, sitting at a table in the corner. Despite having been with him so recently, she felt her breath catch upon seeing him. He spotted her immediately and stood and started towards her. He took her hand as she sat at the table.

"I haven't got much time, I have a meeting at eleven... " He looked at her face and frowned "You are okay?"

"I..." She couldn't speak. She hadn't thought this through, she hadn't thought about what she was going to say to him. Her head was starting to swim, and she thought she might be about to burst into tears. Why did everything have to be so complicated?

"Something has happened?" he whispered as he stroked her hand with his thumb. "It will be okay, I will fix it."

She had an inappropriate urge to climb into his lap and bury her face in his chest so she could just forget about everything. Instead she started to explain. "Joe, he's back, he came last night he wants us to try again. He wants us to be a family, for Sophia."

As she spoke the words they seemed to drop between them like stones into a lake, hard and swift and impossible to retrieve.

His whole countenance seemed to change before her eyes, the concern disappeared and he seemed to become more distant.

"Of course, I understand completely." He said, standing abruptly. She stood too, unsure of how interpret his reaction.

Taking a step towards her, he pulled her into his embrace pressed his lips against her forehead. Her eyes fell closed and she took comfort in the contact as relief washed over her, at least Stephano was being understanding and not making unreasonable demands of her. He held her jaw in his hands lifting it to face him as he stared at her. She was struggling to read him, to understand the significance of his gaze. He looked lost in thought looking at her as though she was a stranger, or perhaps as though like they were never going to see each other again, as if he was committing her face to memory. She realized he was speaking.

"I will go now."

He was pulling away, withdrawing. A feeling of nausea was rising up inside her as she had a horrible insight into what he was thinking, what assumptions he was making but before she could speak again, before she could tell him he was wrong he was gone.

As she watched him walk away she felt a numb sort of despair/terror wash over her. At one point he seemed to falter and she thought he was going to turn and look at her, but he didn't. She took a step towards him, she wanted to go after him but before she could he was out of the door. She hadn't meant to finish it; she had just meant to tell him what was happening, to explain how she felt, to tell him that she needed some time to figure out what she wanted to do. He seemed to have jumped to the conclusion that she wanted to end it. She hadn't been sure what she wanted but now that she was confronted with the possibility of never seeing him again she realised this was definitely not something she wanted. She was lost as how to set it right. She sank back down into the chair, noticing what must have been Stephano's espresso sitting on the table in front of her.

She really should give Joe another chance. He was Sophia's father and he deserved to get to know his daughter. Sophia deserved a father. Perhaps this was for the best. Perhaps it would be easier to work things out without Stephano distracting her, making it harder for her to think straight, to decide what her priorities should be. But why did she feel like she was making a terrible mistake? Her heart constricted painfully and she buried head in hands as the tears began to fall. She couldn't afford to languish in self-pity; she needed to get back to work.

She left the café and immediately felt the need to pull her coat closer around her. The weather was mild, but she could feel a chill settling in that she thought might never leave her.

When she arrived back at hotel, she didn't have to look in the mirror to know that her eyes must be red from crying. She could no longer avoid giving Connie and Maria an explanation.

She had never seen Connie so angry before. She was pacing around the room, vibrating with rage. Maria less so, but she was still frowning and nodding in agreement at everything Connie said.

"The guy is an arsehole, Andi."

There was emphatic nodding from Maria.

"You've never met him." Andrea mumbled, her eyes downcast.

"I don't have to have met him! He ran out on you when you were eighteen and pregnant. He's an arsehole."

Distractedly she noticed that Connie was swearing. Connie never swore.

"He wasn't thinking straight, he was on drugs. He's cleaned himself up now."

She found herself wondering why she was defending him, who was she trying to convince?

Connie was standing, a hand on her hip, eyebrows raised waiting expectantly for Andrea to expand.

"Things might be different this time, he's changed." Andrea said in response to the unspoken question, but she didn't look at either of them as she spoke.

Connie picked up the statement and held it out, as though it was a discarded sock she'd found underneath one of the beds and handed back to Andrea with a distasteful expression on her face. "Things might be different this time?" The incredulity in her voice was hard to ignore. "He's changed?"

Folding her arms and narrowing her eyes, Connie fixed Andrea with one of her stares.

She slumped into to a chair and sighed, burying her face in her hands. "I know, I know but he's Sophia's father, Connie. I can't deny him his daughter."

"Of course you can't deny him his daughter," Connie's gaze softened. "But that doesn't mean you have to start playing happy families. What about Stephano? What about you?"

"And isn't it funny how you don't hear a peep from Joe until you meet someone else?" Andrea had almost forgotten that Maria was there until she spoke.

"He doesn't know anything about Stephano" she replied, but as she turned it over in her mind and she wondered why it hadn't occurred to her to think about this sooner. Did he know about Stephano? She hadn't mentioned him to Joe. She had assumed he didn't know about Stephano but what if he did?

She was twisting the hem of her skirt round and round in a parody of anguish.

"Andi," Connie sat down on the arm of Andrea's chair and rested her hand gently on Andrea's shoulder. "Don't let him treat you like a doormat. You don't have to take him back for him to be Sophia's daddy. Don't make the same mistakes your Mama did."

But at the mere mention of Stephano and Andrea felt like she might break. All the apprehension and fear she had been feeling, all the insecurities began to pour out of her, like the relentless surge of a broken dam.

"Stephano lives in Italy; he wants me to move there. I can't be who he wants me to be." Her eyes pricked with tears as she spoke. "I want to be a teacher, Connie. All those nights I spent studying, I can't just throw them away to swan off to Italy. I'm used to working, to supporting myself."

She could feel herself starting to unravel again.

"He's too good to be true; stuff like this doesn't happen to people like me."

"Lord above, you're infuriating Andi."

She frowned at Connie. "What?"

"You're sabotaging yourself." It was Maria that spoke this time "it's almost like you don't want to be happy."

"But he's so... so rich, so handsome, so successful. I'm just a maid, I don't understand what he sees in me, just look at me."

Why would anyone want her? Even Joe had walked out on her, she fought the urge to cry.

"Andi, you are a beautiful young woman who was dealt some tough cards and you have worked hard to pull yourself out of the rut you were in. You deserve this. You deserve to be happy, don't let that slimeball mess this up for you."

Closing her eyes she shook her head and pressed her lips together. She didn't believe them, she couldn't believe them.

"You don't have to go to Italy with him tomorrow. You need to get to know each other, take your time. You need to reach a compromise. He's all about instant gratification that man, no self control."

Andi squeezed her eyes closed as unwelcome emotions swept over her; they didn't know the half of it.

She thought she might start crying again.

"He is so dominating, so driven. He knows exactly what he wants. I'm scared I'm going to lose myself when I am with him. I feel like he might swallow me whole."

In the end she left work early. Connie spoke to their boss, she told him Andrea wasn't feeling well and he agreed that she should go home. She rang her mum to explain that dinner was cancelled and she didn't need to babysit.

Later, after she had put Sophia to bed, she was just sitting down with a cup of chamomile tea the phone rang. Anxiety spiked through her. She considered letting it go, so she could screen it and call back if need be, but just as it was about to go to voicemail she snatched it up. It was John, Joe's dad.

At first he said her name and then there was an awkward silence. It took a while before he could begin trying to say what he needed to say.

She sat, holding the phone to her ear, trying to recall if there was ever a time John had cause to ring her, not Eleanor. She spoke to Eleanor quite frequently, but John was taciturn. He didn't ring people unless it was important.

"Andi, there's something I need to talk to you about."

"He was here yesterday John."

"Yes, I know. I'm sorry, we should have warned you before he turned up, we wanted to warn you. He said he wanted to ask you to marry him."

Category: NonConsent/Reluctance Stories