🌹🌹The Swedish Prince 🌹🌹
🌸🌸(ROYAL r0m@nç£) 🌸🌸
He shrugs. I know he doesn’t want to go and I also know that he will if I ask him. But he just started a job as a mechanic at a local garage and he’s often exhausted. And the kids are legally my Problem not his.
“I’ll go” I said to him.
I give him a tired smile. “We could both go together but we don’t have money for a babysitter.” And someone refuses to babysit, I finish in my head.
He nods. He doesn’t even have to look at April to know she’s who I’m talking about. If I was a better mother–scratch that, I am not their mother—but if I was better at setting down rules and discipline, then maybe I could convince April to watch the younger ones.
But I’m not those things. With this family now, I have to pick my battles.
“Are you both still talking about me?” Callum asks innocently.
I give him a look that I hope would freeze him in his chair but like April, he’s immune. He shovels corn flakes–or No Name Flakes –into his mouth and smiles, the milk dripping out of the ends.
I roll my eyes.
“Your teacher is unhappy with you, Callum” Pike says, pouring himself a cu-p of coffee and sitting down next to him. “Again.”
Callum shrugs, eats more cereal and smiles.
Kid is going to grow up to be a sociopath.
“Maggie” April practically snarls as she dumps her plate in the sink. “We’re going to be late.”
I glance at the microwave clock. She’s right.
I quic-kly get half my oatmeal down, gr-ab an apple and then yell, “Okay everyone, the bus is leaving now!”.
When my parents died, we all inherited money. Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have a lot of money in general and didn’t get the best insurance plan.
I got my money six months ago and it was only enough to buy us a much-nee-ded minivan to take place of the broken-down piece of $h!t we had before, plus a little extra to put into savings.
Pike also put his money in savings after buying himself a used motorcycle, which he then fixed up. Everyone else has to wait until they’re eighteen to claim theirs, though I have a feeling April’s will be for a one-way ticket out of here.
I don’t blame her.
Thankfully the mortgage on the house is fully paid and even though the big sprawling place is run down and sits on a hill above both Highway 58 and busy train tracks, providing rumbling and endless noise all hours of the day and night, it’s home. Plus, the property taxes are cheap and manageable.
The twins fight over who gets sh0tgun, with Rosemary winning out in the end because of her supreme elbowing, while Thyme, Callum and April climb in the back. I honk goodbye to Pike, then wave at our closest neighbors the Wallace, who are out gardening.
They’re old as sin and now that it’s May and the scorching summer weather is alre-ady here, they can only be found outside in the early morning hours.
I drop off Callum first since his grade school is closest, then the girls, and take a de-ep, long inhale before I head to work.
After I got the news about my parents, there was no more university, no more journalism degree.
I gr@bb£d the first flight out back here and had Sam sh!pall my stuff back home. Good friend that she is, she even c@m£ a few days later with most of it, to be my support during the funeral.
The minute I arrived back in Tehachapi, chaos carved a permanent place in my heart, sometimes overshadowing my grief. Sometimes they would tag team me together and on those days I just wanted to lock myself in the bathroom, get in the bathtub and cry. I did that a few times, wanting to drift away to a place where the pain couldn’t get me, where sorrow didn’t reside in my bones, where I wasn’t always so overwhelmed.
But I couldn’t do that for long. I had to hold it together for the sake of everyone around me. There were meetings with lawyers and insurance companies, police and coroners, teachers, schools, funeral homes, neighbors. While my parents were always just getting by, they were well liked in the community, and everyone was grieving.
I don’t feel like I even had the chance to grieve. I went to a thera-pist here in town but even that was a bit much since she was friends with my mother. So I’ve just dealt with their death the way I’ve been dealing with it.
Including breaking down in tears between dropping my siblings off and getting to work. It’s only a ten-minute drive from one end of town to the other, but I feel it’s the only time I have time to myself, time to think.
Inevitably, my thoughts turn to my mom and dad and all that I’ve lost.
In some ways, it’s good to be insanely overworked and busy at all times because you don’t have to feel the grief as much but when I do find those moments alone, in the car or in be-d at night, sometimes it can overwhelm me. Instead of a slow trickle, it’s a tidal wave.
This morning though, I’m running late for work. I have no time to reflect and feel sad or wallow in self-pity.
I got my old job back as a housekeeper at the local La Quinta h0tel but at least I’m a step above where I used to be when I was a teenager. Actually, I’ve taken over my mom’s old position, which is totally morbid, but hey it keeps food on our table.
I park the van in my usual sp©t, gr-ab a spare uniform I keep shoved in the glove comp@rtment (because of course I forgot mine in the washing machine at home), then climb into the backseat and get dressed. I’ve become a pro at this, like Clark Kent changing into Superman in a phone booth, except I’m turning into a maid in a minivan.
Then I’m rushing into the h0tel throu-gh the back entrance, hoping to head straight into housekeeping without being sp©tted.
Of course, I run right into Juanita, my boss.
“Five minutes late, Maggie,” she says to me in her no-nons-en-se voice. “This better not become a problem.”
“I know, I’m sorry,” I tell her, frantically tying my hair back. I hate that this has happened so often.
“You really oughta get that brother of yours to be dropping off the kids,” she says, the stern features of her face melting into sympathy. “I honestly don’t know how you do it.”
“I ba-rely do it and you know that,” I tell her wryly. “Also, I wouldn’t be able to do it without this job. So thank you, it won’t happen again.”
She just nods and I get out of her way and right to work.
As one can imagine, there has been a gargantuan learning curve when it comes to my new life, but thankfully everyone has been really supportive and un-derstanding, Juanita included. I just know that their sympathy won’t last forever. In the end, I’m either cut out for something or I’m not.
I’m still not sure what the verdict is.
I just know I can’t afford to fail.
Even though being a housekeeper at a h0tel isn’t a glamorous occu-pation, especially a no-frills one by the highway that counts their breakfast waffles as a selling point, I don’t hate it.
Okay, that’s a lie. There are many p@rts of it I hate, but they aren’t what you think. The whole cleaning up after people, washing the $h!t out of the sides of the toilets (literally), finding used c0nd0ms, dealing with the overall grossness of errant b©dy hair and fluids, that’s tolerable.
Maybe it’s because I grew up in a big family, maybe it’s because I used to have this very job when I was a teen.
What I do hate is something that didn’t even cross my mind when I was younger. When I was younger, being on the poor side didn’t affect me as much as you would think. This isn’t a prosperous town and there are many families struggling to make ends meet. My story isn’t anything new.
But now that I left, that I’ve lived in New York, that I’ve seen the world out there, the world I could have had…I hate how society looks down on people like me. Housekeepers, cleaners, waitresses, blue-collar jobs, we’re only given a fraction of the respect that we deserve.
This is most apparent when you have br@zen businessmen (and women) treating you like dirt when you’re on the job, ma-king snide comments, giving you dirty looks when you’re just trying to get by, complaining about a non-existent mess that maybe another housekeeper did and then, of course, not ti-pping.
Today I work as quic-kly and efficiently as possible, keeping my mind free of distractions as best I can and just lose myself in the process. I have to admit, there is something rewarding about it, the fact that when you step into a room that looks like a bomb went off and you manage to make it look completely new again, you’re able to see the process. And at the end of the day, I can look upon the work I’ve done and feel like I’ve accomplished something.
I’m at the last room in my section on this floor and knock quic-kly on the door.
“Housekeeping,” I say loudly.
I knock again and notice there is no “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob. “Housekeeping,” I say again, getting out my key.
I slide it in and the door opens with a beep.
I step inside to do my overall inspection, just to make sure that there isn’t anyone inside. Happens more than you’d think.
And as I do so, I nearly run into a man walking out of the bathroom.
A tall man. Like, a fv¢king giant.
A giant, n-ked, beast of a man.
I freeze on the sp©t and g@sp and the guy keeps walking away from me down the room. He doesn’t seem to hear me. In fact, I swear he’s got swagger. h0t, n-ked-guy swagger.
I know I should quic-kly run out of there before he turns around and sp©ts me. This might even be one of those encounters that I’ve heard about from other housekeepers, where there’s a n-ked guy who “pretends” he didn’t hear you knocking and your best bet is to leave immediately.
But this guy…
I can’t take my eyes off him.
I really, really should but he’s just so…tall.
Smooth tanned skin, impossibly broad shoulders, sinewy muscles that ripple down his back.
Then his as-s.
Oh my god, his as-s.
The fact that there’s a bit of a tan line against his tawny skin makes it seem extra firm, like a ju-icy peach I just want to get down on my knees and bite into and–
He turns around.
I ba-rely have enough time to re-move my eyes from his neither regions and bring them up to his face where I glance those damn wireless earbuds in his ears.
He’s listening to music.
Of course he is.
And he’s staring at me, these beautiful, sky-colored eyes open wi-de in shock.
“I’m so sorry,” I blurt out, fighting like hell to keep my eyes at his level and not at his d!¢k, which he’s attempting to hide with his hand and even though it’s only in my peripheral, and he has large hands, his attempt is futile. You cannot hide that thing.
“I didn’t hear you come in,” he says loudly, a hint of an accent on his words, and then he takes out his earbuds with his hands, leaving his d!¢k to hang freely.
Don’t stare, Maggie, don’t stare.
Instead, I gawk.
That’s one hell of a d!¢k.
I swear I even see it twitch un-der my gaze, this long, dark meaty looking python that has it wishing I could drop to my knees and svçkhim off. I’ve never had a d!¢k that large and beautiful near the vicinity of my mouth before but I bet I could figure out what to do with it.
And while I’m staring dumbly at it, my key card slides out of my hands and onto the floor.
“$h!t.” I snap out of it and bend over to pick it up.
Just as he bends over to pick it up.
Frightened by the proximity of his giant d!¢k, I flin-ch and straighten up.
ban-ging the t©p of my head against his jaw.
“I’m so sorry!” I yell again while simultaneously backing up, holding the t©p of my throbbing head.
He’s even more dumbfounded than before, gr-abbing his jaw with one hand, staring at me in confusion.
“I’m so sorry!” I say again, aware that I’m yelling and I manage to turn around and head toward the door before I can as-sault him again.
“Uh, Miss,” he says just as I’m almost free, “your key.”
I turn around and see him walk toward me, that fv¢king d!¢k of his swinging freely like a battle-axe, holding out my key between his long f!ngers.
I sl@p my hand over my eyes so I can’t see anything at all, manage to gr-ab the key from his f!ngersand then quic-kly turn and scuttle away. I’m pretty sure I mumble something like “I’m sorry,” as I go, but thankfully I make it to the hallway and pu-ll the door shut.
“Holy $h!t,” I mutter to myself before pushing my housekeeping cart down the hall as fast as I can, my face burning up. “Holy $h!t.”
God, I hope he doesn’t lodge a complaint. Says that I’m some maid that tried to see him n-ked or something. There was no “trying”–I couldn’t help not seeing him even if I tried.
You should have tried ha-rder.
And I’m right. I should have. I guess it’s a testament to either how lonely or hor-nyI am.
My S-x-life, my love-life, it’s all been put on the backburner ever since I moved back to Tehachapi. It wasn’t even anything great in New York, but at least then I had gone on a few d@t£s, gotten la-id a few times. Now, I’ve been a S-x c@m£l for the last year and I think it’s starting to weigh on me. Apparently strange, n-ked men are enough for me to lose my fv¢king mind.
But he wasn’t just some average man. He was well over six feet, with hands bigger than my face and a b©dy that looked sculpted from bronze. He had eyes that reminded me of the sky on a summer day, an accent that spoke of a refined upbringing somewhere far more interesting than here.
He was honestly the most gorgeous, beguiling man I’d ever seen and that’s not even including his d!¢k.
I lean against the wall outside the housekeeping room and try and shake some s-en-se into myself, shooting up a silent prayer. Hopefully that’s the last time I see that guy.
“Who listens to their earbuds when they get out of the shower?” Annette says to me, sm-irking over her beer as she does so.
“To be fair, I don’t think he just got out of the shower,” I tell her. “He wasn’t we-t at all. He was completely dry.” And smooth. And clean. Every taut and tawny inch of him.
“Even so, it’s weird ok” she says. “Who wants to walk around n-ked in their h0tel room listening to music?”
She shudders and I reach over and lightly punch her on the arm, almost ma-king her spill her beer. “Hey. I clean those rooms. You can ru-b your n-ked bu-tt up and down that carpet, it’s clean as a whistle.”
“I’m only joking,” she says with a tsk of mild disgust, picking up a napkin and wiping down the side of her beer bottle. “I guess I should watch what I say around you today, Miss s-en-sitive.”
I roll my eyes and take a sip of my glas-s of wine. “I am not Miss s-en-sitive. I just had an off day.”
“Which is why we’re here,” she says brightly, gesturing to the Faultline Bar. The Faultline is one of the nicer bars in town, nothing fancy but at least the drinks are good and staff is polite.
Bonus points for not crawling with prison workers and ex-convicts. Not that I ever went in those bars before but I definitely couldn’t handle it now. That’s where you’d often find my dad after his shift and I’m sure I would feel him in the walls, not to mention the patrons there would probably love to talk about him to me, bringing up the ghosts.
Not that I often come out to the bars anyway. I don’t have the time or the money. But I haven’t caught up with Annette for a few weeks now and she said she was buying me a drink and Pike said he’d watch everyone while I was out. He didn’t even hesitate. Maybe the stress is causing my face to crack.
Annette is in her fifties—she’s actually my mother’s best friend. Or was. It’s always ha-rd to talk about that because do you really st©p being someone’s friend when they’re dead?.
She’s never st©pped being my mother’s friend, even though she’s not here anymore.
Anyway, I’ve always known Annette and always liked her, despite her being cras-s and crude or maybe because of that.
After my parents died, we started getting closer. She’s a great person to talk to because she’s still grieving in the same way I am, plus she’s going throu-gh a bitter divorce and can use a friend. Her soon-to-be ex also works at the prison as the warden and he’s very respected and I think Annette is slowly losing her friend pool in this town, with most of them siding with him.
I sigh and lean back against the booth. “I nee-d to get out of this town,” I tell her and then I’m immediately hit with a million pangs of guilt and regret. There’s no leaving, not now.
“You know, anytime you want time off, you can go,” Annette says. “I’ll keep saying it until you believe me, but I would be more than happy to watch the kids for a weekend. Go drive down to LA and live it up. Act like the twenty-three-year-old that you are. You’re too young to have to deal with all of this.”
“I can’t take time off work,” I tell her.
“Bull$h!t,” she says, tapping her h0t-pink nails against the table. “You’ve worked there for a year, you can get your two weeks. You just nee-d to take them.”
“But I’ll probably nee-d them for an emergency,” I tell her. “What happens when April graduates and wants to go to college and I have to take her there, wherever that is.” I pause. “fv¢k, she probably won’t even go to college. She won’t get a scholarsh!p, not with the way she’s been acting and we all know we can’t afford to pay right now. She might not even graduate.”
“Regardless, Maggie,” she says with emphasis. Even though she quit smoking years ago her voice still sounds like she smokes five packs a day. “That’s the future, and you know there’s no point in getting upset about something that far ahead. Things change.”
“But they don’t change,” I tell her. “Callum is only seven. I’m his guardian for another eleven years. Tehachapi is my prison until then.”
“Look, Maggie, it’s a prison for a lot of people. Literally.”
I don’t want to talk about it anymore. It feels futile and more than that, I feel rotten for even wanting to leave. Without me, my brothers and sisters have no one to keep their lives running. We’re all in this together, whether we like it or not. And not one of us likes it. Every one of us wishes and prays every night that we could get our parents back, but wishing and praying doesn’t change a thing.
“So how is your writing going?” Annette asks, quic-kly changing the subject.
It’s not a better one. It’s literally the worst question you can ask a writer.
“It’s going…okay,” I say slowly after I take a gulp of wine. It’s a lie. It’s not okay. Every night after everyone goes to sleep I try and steal an hour for myself and write but it’s becoming ha-rder and ha-rder. I’m not inspired–I’m tired.
“And you’ve given up on the local paper?”
Ah yes, the local paper, The Tehachapi News. Not exactly what I was aiming for when I went to NYU but now I’d die for an opportunity to write for them, even if I’m just covering the local mountain bike races.
But as many times as I’ve shown up at their office and emailed my resume and samples and enquired about writing for them, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. I get the brush-off in a form letter without so much as an explanation.
“I’ve given up on a lot, Annette,” I tell her, smiling as I do so because I don’t want our outing to turn into gloom and doom. Quit complaining and live in the moment, I tell myself. Enjoy this time out of the house and with your crazy friend while you can.
“Looks like you’re not the only one who has given up,” she says, nodding to the bar.
My eyes drift over to a man who is hunched over on the counter, seemingly slee-ping or pas-sed out. I had seen him earlier when I walked in here, my mind registering him as piece of the background.
But now that Annette has brou-ght him to my attention, I find myself focusing on him differently.
……………………T. B. C………………………
🌹🌹The Swedish Prince 🌹🌹