Let This Remain
My hands clenched at my sides, palms sweaty, as I stared up at the large house before me, fully aware this was to be my new home. I wasn’t sure what exactly would come from living with a total stranger, but I was running out of options. I couldn’t sleep on the streets forever. My mind was reeling, though, with thoughts of everything that could go wrong with becoming the personal maid of a man I had never met before.
“Don’t be nervous. You’re just here to keep the house clean. Other than that you can fade into the background,” the woman next to me was in her mid-forties with shoulder length brown hair swept into a ponytail. A navy blue blazer and pencil skirt making her look much more professional than me, simply clothed in jeans and a snug fitting white tee shirt, since the file read that this client didn’t require a uniform. I nodded, taking a deep breath, trying not to shake. I think her name was Carol, and I felt bad that I wasn’t sure despite the fact she was introduced to me not thirty minutes prior. She had come to pick me up at the cleaning agency, giving me a ride to my new assignment, where I would stay as a live-in maid. This was a convenient job for me, where I could dodge rent and get paid a decent enough amount, only having to pay a few personal bills, like my phone and insurance. This was my first day on the job, though. I was a nervous wreck.
“We run background checks on all the clients who request live-in maids, so try not to worry. If anything happens call the agency immediately. You’ll have a personal room for yourself, and you’re being paid salary. I’m sure they went over all of this with you after the interview, yes?” she looked at me, her hair falling to one side as she flipped through a folder with paperwork inside. I nodded to her and she dropped her hands to her side, advancing towards the house. I picked up my solitary bag, containing all of my possessions. “Good. It can be a little awkward at first, but you’ll be just fine,” for the first time she smiled at me, though it felt forced. Regardless I did my best to muster a smile back, trying not to look like I was wracked with nerves. We approached the large oak wood door, and she pressed the buzzer to the side, sending a chiming through the large house. It was a much more normal house than I had anticipated. When I found out about this job I had assumed anyone who could afford a live-in maid would have a mansion and four luxury cars. However, much to my surprise, it was a simple two-story brown-ochre Victorian style house. Granted it was larger than a normal family home, but nowhere near the grandeur I was expecting.
I heard footsteps padding towards the door on the other side and it was quickly pulled open, a tall man with tattoos running up and down his arms and neck appearing on the other side. My shyness kicked in full throttle and I focused my eyes on the ground, only seeing his black shoes in stark contrast to Carol’s blue high heels. She was doing all the talking.
“Hi there! Mr. Carlile? We’re here from Merry Maids Cleaning Service. This is Liana,” she gestured to me and I nodded, my strawberry blonde hair falling to the side of my face, brushing my freckled cheeks. “She’ll be in your care starting today.”
The man nodded, stepping to the side, allowing us entry. I made my way inside, but Carol didn’t follow, instead taking a step back. “Thank you so much for using our service, and please contact us if there’s anything you need,” she began to leave the porch, turning slightly. My breath caught in my throat and without thinking I said,
“You’re leaving?” My voice was soft and anxious, my expression must have resembled a lost child, eyes wide and nervous. She cocked an eyebrow at me.
“I do have other appointments. Mr. Carlile will make you feel more than welcome I’m sure,” they shared a slight nod. “If you have no other questions I’ll be going.” She turned fully, stepping quickly to the gray car we arrived in, the ‘Merry Maids’ logo plastered on the side. I felt my stomach churn as the door shut before me. A deafening silence settled over us, until the man rubbed his hands together, clearing his throat. My eyes snapped up to him, properly looking at him for the first time. He had tousled brown hair, short and pushed back, out of his amber eyes. He was tall and lanky, his face angular and long, with a nose ring. Strikingly handsome.
“I’ll show you to your room,” he stated, glancing down to my bag, turning and walking down the hall. His back was tall and wide, his imposing shadow falling over me as I strolled hesitantly behind him. I wasn’t particularly short, standing at about 5’ 5”, but he easily towered over me. The dark washed, wooden floorboards creaked beneath my feet as we walked. The house itself had an antique feel to it on the inside. There were no lights on, but rays of sunlight washed through the windows, bathing everything in golden light and casting shadows on all the furniture.The air was dusty and stale, almost unlived in it seemed. Most things were muted, earthy tones, a globe shoved against the window sill in the living area, soft brown against the mossy green wallpaper that continued into the hallway. He arrived at a door, the last one on the left. As he turned the old fashioned glass door knob light refracted from it, glimmering across the wall. The sun was setting.
“This is it,” his voice was deep and low set, his adam’s apple bobbing as he spoke. I slowly made my way inside the room. It was rather barren, only two pieces of furniture inside. There was a light birch bed frame topped with a stark white comforter, and a small vanity that matched the wood shoved against the wall on the opposite side of the room, a stool peeking out from beneath it. There was a closet, and beside it the door to a private restroom that wasn’t connected to the rest of the house, thankfully.
“I’ll let you get settled in,” his voice washed over me in waves, unexpected in the quiet that had immersed us. It felt like it was like this all the time in this place, like anything to disturb the silence was unwelcome and intrusive. I wondered if he had been alone all this time and had become accustomed to the stillness of the lonely abode. I looked on as he gently creaked the old door shut, and it was just me in an unfamiliar space. I placed my dingy green bag at the foot of the bed, running my fingers over the soft blankets. Tears welled in my eyes. I hadn’t had a safe place to rest my head in months. I had been sleeping in run-down motels, and on particularly rough nights, curled up behind the dumpsters around the back of well-lit gas stations. This job was my salvation.
I rummaged through my bag, setting my toiletries where they belonged in my bathroom. The sink faucets were old fashioned, like everything else here, with round ivory handles. The bath was a white claw-foot tub that sat at the far end of the room, a shower curtain pulled to the side. There was white wood paneling that reached a bit taller than myself on the wall, and above it painted a light beige. Moving on to the closet, dust stirred as I opened the door, untouched for so long. I wondered when the last time someone stayed in this room was. I left it to air out before I hung my clothes in their proper place.
There wasn’t much to unpack, and I found myself sitting timidly on the end of the bed. I still felt out of place here, like I didn’t belong in this little blip of reality untouched by time. I reached for the packet of papers with a checklist and instructions that I received from the director of the maid service, making a mental note of the chores I was now responsible for. Keeping things generally tidy, doing dishes, laundry, cooking. Nothing I hadn’t anticipated. I stood, gliding quietly over to the door, peeking out cautiously. I made my way down the hall, finding the kitchen, searching for a sign of Mr. Carlile.
“Hey,” I jumped, hearing the deep voice behind me suddenly, spinning around to see him standing several feet away from me. I quickly masked my look of surprise, taking a deep breath. “Are you looking for something?” Everything he said was quiet and low, like rolling thunder beneath stormy clouds. A shiver ran down my spine.
“Would you like me to start dinner?” my voice was like a soft breeze floating atop a lake next to his, quiet and unassuming. Our conversations felt like the calm before the storm, our voices deliquescing into the trickle of water running down the roof of a house. There was a silent ebb and flow, a gentleness to them, shared by two people who were used to the hush of an empty house.
“Sure. Use whatever you need,” he turned and strided out of the room, disappearing into the back of the house. He was mysterious, detached. Maybe I was wrong about him living alone for a long time. Perhaps he had another maid until recently, and this was nothing new for him. This is just another regular day in his world.
Digging through the pantry I managed to gather enough ingredients to throw together a tomato pasta dish. I pulled on a taupey beige apron that hung on the cabinet nearby and stood back as the pasta boiled, the sauce simmering in a pan beside it. The whole bottom floor was engulfed in the hearty smell of oregano and spices, drifting from room to room. I had learned to cook at a young age because of my father. If I didn’t cook for us we simply wouldn’t eat. I had many memories of getting sick in grade school and starving for days when I couldn’t stand long enough to pull something together. Maybe he starved to death after I left. I shook the thoughts from my head, stirring the sauce.
Soon enough the meal was ready, and partitioned into a serving dish in the center of the dining room table, with a single white ceramic plate placed before it. Walking quietly towards the back of the house I peered into the rooms whose doors were left open, in search of Mr. Carlile.
“Mr. Carlile,” I said respectfully as I stood in the entryway of a study, seeing him perched behind a desk with glasses on. They made him look sharp, intellectual. The more I studied him I realized just how attractive he was, though it didn’t matter what I thought of his appearance. I imagined our relationship would remain very minimal, me simply cleaning and fixing what needs to be done and retreating to my room, with very little to no conversation. It seemed like a mutually beneficial relationship, but required no real need for casual conversation. “Dinner.”
He nodded at me, removing his glasses and laying them on the desk along with a stack of papers he had been glancing over. It took very little time for him to reach the door with his long legs, breezing past me towards the dining room. I wiped my hands on the apron, making my way back towards my quarters, but was stopped short by a hand laid softly on the side of my arm. I flinched away from it, taken off guard. Meeting his gaze, he remained emotionless on the surface, dropping his hand away from me.
“Where are you going?” he asked.
“To my room,” I quickly regained my composure. “Was there something else you needed me to do?”
“We eat at the table together here. House rule.” And with that he turned and strolled down the narrow hallway, rounding the corner and leaving my sight. I couldn’t suppress the look of confusion that occupied my features, taking a moment to process what he said. Eat together? For every meal? I shook my head slowly, making my way to the dining room, wondering if there were any other house rules. I saw him there, at the table, filling two plates and setting one in front of himself, the other in the seat across from him. He had an unusually small table for the large amount of space in the room, only four chairs circling it. It felt like a cottage, albeit lofty. I decided not to question it aloud. It was my first day. I would adjust to things. I always did.
Pulling the chair out, I settled on the edge, lightly lifting the fork beside me. Without looking at Mr. Carlile I began to eat, slowly and decisively, staring at a spot on the wooden tabletop. Eventually I saw him lift his own utensil out of my peripheral vision, scooping the pasta up and eating quickly. He gave no indication of how he felt about the cooking, though I took it as a good sign, relieved he found no immediate fault with it. We dined quietly for several minutes, with only the clinking of forks against plates. I settled into the silence, grateful for the lack of empty small talk. Today had been such an eventful day. I was ready to sink into the warmth of a bath and feel the soft sheets of my bed.
Moments after I finished my last bite Mr. Carlile rose swiftly from his seat, reaching easily across the table, lifting my empty plate. I was confused as he carried both his and mine to the kitchen sink, turning on the faucet to rinse them. I stood, approaching the sink as well.
“I’ll take care of that, Mr. Carlile,” I said, moving to take the dish from his hand. He shuffled to the side, not relinquishing it, craning his head down at me.
“It’s okay. I’ve got it.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” I persisted, continuing to reach into the sink.
“Mr. Carlile, I-“
“It’s Austin,” he grabbed my wrist and I realized how close I had gotten to him, nearly pressed into his side. He had bent closer to my eye level to emphasize his point, our gazes intently locked.
“What?” my voice cracked slightly, and I went to take a step away but his large hand wrapped around my wrist held me in place.
“My name. Not Mr. Carlile, but Austin. I said it’s fine.” He released his grip on me, rinsing off the plates one last time before shutting the water off, stalking away and around the corner without another word. I stood, unmoving, a dazed look on my face. My wrist tickled where his fingers held. It had been a long time since I came in physical contact with anyone. I thought back to the last time.
My chest sank.
Please… don’t let him find me this time… My fists clenched at my sides. I don’t want to go back home.
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