With that in mind, she had chosen for now not to date, not that any men were lining up to date her. She had not exactly had any luck so far, with Toby and Cain. She had scared Toby off she was sure, come on too strong and then when she had fallen pregnant, she knew he had assumed it was on purpose, but it was not at all. It was an accident. Her daughter was here now, and although she would have preferred to be with the father of a child she had, that was not going to happen. She was not in love with him, not anymore. It was clear that he was not in love with her either, maybe he never had been. It was her own fault, she had pushed it and ruined what could have been a good relationship, but if he had never loved her, marriage and a family would never have happened. Now he was in love, and Ivy was the one who made his heart skip a beat, and as much as she wanted to hate her for getting all she had wanted. To be loved and settle down, she could not hate her because Toby loved Ivy and not her. After having Starr, she knew that the feelings she had for Toby were not the same as she had for her daughter, Maxine loved her daughter, and thought she loved him, but she loved the idea of what they could have had. She hoped one day to meet the man who could be that one, but if he never came into her life, she had her daughter.
Her mother sat opposite her and placed a steaming mug of tea before her daughter.
“Thanks, mum, I need this.”
“I can see that, are you getting enough sleep?”
“Yes, of course, she is a good baby, sleeps well. I am fine, just that I need to decide if I should give up one of the jobs and if I do, which one?”
“I understand, but I think you have to decide which is right for you?”
“And you too.”
“We are fine, we love having her, we do, besides in time she will be at playgroup and then school.”
“Yes, I am aware, whatever I decide to do needs to be what is right in the long term too.”
“Yes, we are not getting any younger, and we would like to see her even if we are not taking care of her, you know, as a grandparent should.”
“Of course, I assume Gracie regularly visits not that it is any of my business.”
“She does, but you know your sister, she has her own life and…”
“A husband who takes care of her and shares the childcare, yes I know.”
“That is not what I meant, Maxine, don’t think I was taking a dig, but she understands that you need that support, the support she does not, and as much as you two don’t get on, you are more alike than you think.”
“Who says we don’t get on?”
“Maxine, you two have never really been close, I know it, you know it.”
“Well, that was when we were younger.”
“Okay, maybe when you have a day off we can all have a family meal, you know your sister has not even met Starr yet.”
“I know that I sent her a message to say I had her, she never replied.”
“Did you send it?”
“I did, honest, I am sure I did.”
“Okay, are you free this Saturday?”
“You know I don’t work on a Saturday.”
“I know, okay, let’s go out for lunch, all of us. Neutral ground.”
Maxine took the mug of tea that was in her hand and sipped at it.
“When you decide on the job to give up, you can type it up on your dad's computer, if you like?”
As she Diane said it, her father walked in carrying Starr.
“She is up, I changed her too, so have you decided?”
“I don’t know. I think it is going to be a hard choice, no sooner had I made one decision, I change my mind.”
“I am sure whatever you decide will be what is best for you and Starr, however…”
“I have already told her what we think!”
“Yes, she has, and to be honest I know it makes sense, it does, and one pays more than the other, it should be an easy choice.”
“How about you type up a letter for each job, and when you decide you can hand in the letter to whichever one you plan to give up.”
“Thank you, Dad, I can do that. Do you mind me using your laptop?”
“Of course not, let me get it, here,” he said, handing her Starr.
Letters stuffed her bag, she made her way home and got ready for her evening job. Settling her daughter down, ready for Tammy and Rick to arrive, Maxine stood before the mirror and buttoned her shirt up. She worried whatever job she chooses, they would be unhappy with her, not so much the bosses, in her day job Angela would love to see the back of her. Those at the restaurant the bosses were kind, and always listened and never got mad or angry with her had she been sick, or Starr had been. Yet she knew then she had to do what was right for them when Starr was older and in school working days would suit her better.
The letter she would hand in as soon as she arrived.
She heard the sound of the door and rushed to open it.
“Evening, how are you?”
“Good, how is she?”
“She is good, fed, and in her bed things, she should be no trouble.”
“She never is, is she dear?”
“I wanted to let you guys know before I go I have made a decision. I have not told my parents what I have decided, but it affects you more than them, I suppose.”
“You have decided to give up the restaurant?”
“Yes, I love the job, the customers and the people I work with, but…”
“The day job makes more sense in the long run, and you are right, it does. When she goes to school and…”
“I said she would pick the day job over the night one, didn’t I dear?”
“Yes, Rick, you did.”
“And she is right to do so.”
“She is, but can we ask of one thing!”
“You want to still have her during the day as well?”
“Yes, we would miss her terribly.”
“Of course, maybe you could have her one day during the week, as Toby has her over the weekend and…”
“Of course, what day would suit you and your parents?”
“I am not sure yet, I will discuss with them all of this.”
“Of course, we will let you go.”
“I will see you later, thank you for everything.”
Maxine arrived at the restaurant, placed her bag in her locker and made her way to the bar.
“Sorry to put this on you tonight, we know you prefer to…”
“I can waitress tonight. It is fine, but first I need to give you this?”
“What is it?”
“I am sorry, but…”
“Maxine, is this?”
“Yes, you have been great, you have, and I cannot do two jobs anymore, I am shattered. I…”
“We don’t want to lose you, I have a suggestion that may work for you, it means you don’t have to quit, but you also do not have to work every night you already do.”
“It means I will put you on a zero contract and if say someone is sick or on holiday and I have no one to call on, I can ask you to cover the shift. If you can. How does that sound?”
“Think about it, please!”
“Okay, I will do that. Thank you.”
She knew then if she had chosen the other job, they would not have begged to have her stay.
“The other idea is that you work during the day, instead, but not sure if that could work better for you?”
“I am more confused now, I choose the other job, because of it being days, days meaning when Starr goes to school I can work and be home with her, and…”
“Okay, you work the rest of this week on your usual hours, come in on Friday morning, we will have a chat if that is something that would be acceptable to you. Before you make a final decision.”
“Okay, I can do that.”
“Good, good, be here for ten on Friday morning.”
“I will be here, but…”
“Your daughter, yes, bring her, it is fine.”
“Of course, it is.”
Maxine made her way to the restaurant and nodded to her friend behind the bar. She half smiled, guessing she had been asked to go to the restaurant and said no. Maxine did not mind, she was happy to go.
Picking up an apron, she pulled it on and set to work, heading the first table.
She arrived home around ten-fifteen.
“How did it go?”
“I was ready to hand it in I was, and then…”
“You changed your mind again?”
“No, I spoke to my boss, and she wants me to meet with her Friday morning to see if there is something else she can offer me or put me on a zero contract, and stay at the supermarket.
“Oh, well I can see you are well liked there!”
“I guess. I did not realise they did, but well he has always been good to me.”
“You don’t think he you know, likes you?”
“No, I think his boyfriend would not like it, they run it together.”
“Oh, right, I did not know that.”
“Yeah, well they do, lovely couple.”
“Well, okay, see what they offer you before you decide.”
“That is my plan, I will let you know as soon as I know what is happening.”
The following day she arrived at her parent's house and dropped her daughter off, but before she could leave her mother stopped her and asked if she had made a final decision. At one point she had, but now she was on the fence again. Until the meeting, there was no point telling them what she had decided.
“Your sister is happy to meet on Saturday.”
“Okay, let me know a time and a place.”
“I will. Maybe we should go to where you work, that place does good food.”
“It does, but what if….”
“I am sure you two will be fine.”
“I am sure we will.”
“Tell her the other news.”
“Is she pregnant again?”
“No, but your father and I were talking with a friend of ours, and well she told us her son is single and we thought. We thought since you are both single, you could go out.”
“I know you don’t want setting up, but he is nice, you will like him. I said you would go.”
“What if I said no, what if I did not want to go? What if I don’t go?”
“You would not do that to me, would you?”
“Yes, because you never asked me, how could you set me up on a date without asking me?”
“He is taking you out Thursday evening, if you go on this date I will never ever meddle again, I promise.”
“Did you hear that Dad, if I go, she has promised to never meddle again.”
“I heard her, and if you go. I mean if you do, she can never ever meddle again, and if she tries I will remind of her this.”
“Thank you. I will go this time, but this is the last time Mum, I mean it. So who is he?”
“William, but he goes by Will, he is a manager of that wood yard your dad used to go to, you know the one.”
“Yes, I do, so Thursday night?”
“Yes, I will tell you more about it later, you better go before you are late for work.”
Maxine nodded, kissed her daughter goodbye and made her way to work, her mind now on the date with a guy she had never met. She would not allow her mother to set her up again.
The date was an hour away, she dressed in a plain dress and applied a layer of make-up, her mother had arranged this date, and she would be having Starr for the evening, overnight, if she needed it, Maxine informed her she would not need it.
The restaurant was packed, she wondered if she should go in, was the table booked under his or her name? She panicked, realising she had no idea what he looked like. Did he even know what she looked like? Then a guy smiled at her, she wondered if it was him and started to walk over and as she did the smile on his face faded and he frowned.
“You are not, Will are you?”
“He is my boyfriend,” a woman said from behind her.
Maxine apologised and felt her face redden as another man stood behind her a rose in his hand, smirking.
“I am Will, you must be Maxine?”
“Good, table for two,” he said to the woman at the desk. She asked his name, which he told her and they were soon taken to their table.
“I want to say thank you for coming.”
“Me?” Maxine said.
“Yeah, you, I am not sure if your mother and mine would have given up if we both said no. I wanted to, don’t get me wrong, but this is not the first time she has set me up and…”
“Mine too, I wish my mother would stop, she has promised this is the last time.”
“Assuming you and I don’t hit it off and settle down and get married.”
“Ha, yeah, well let’s just see how this date goes shall we.”
“I was kidding.”
“I know, but not sure about your mother, but mine won’t stop until she has me settled down and married. I wish I could find the one.”
“How much do you know about me?”
“How much do you know about me?”
“Are you ready to order?” a tall man with a beard and glasses approached them and tapped his pen on his pad.
He towered over them, she was glad he had not chosen the place she worked, her mother would have made sure not to choose that, it would be weird she realised to have her work colleagues watching her on a date.
“We are not sure yet, but I would like a beer, half a pint and Maxine, what would you like?”
“A glass of wine, if that is okay?”
“Of course, any particular wine?” the man asked.
“White, chardonnay if I can please.”
“Of course, anything else?”
“Not right now, thank you.”
The man left, leaving them to stare at the menu.
“You can choose whatever you want from the menu I am paying.”
“I think we should split it, I don’t mind paying for my share of the bill.”
The food arrived half an hour later. Maxine looked at her plate, she had not realised the portion would be so large; she swallowed and looked up at Will.
“Wow, these portions are huge,” he said, looking at his own plate.
“Yeah, I was just thinking the same thing; don’t feel you have to eat it all.”
“I will give it a good go.”
“So my mum said you have two jobs, which do you like the most?”
“What else did she tell you?”
“Not much just that you were single and pretty. Which she was right about, you are very pretty.”
“Thank you, you are not what I expected, but that is a good thing, you are easy on the eye,” she said, not wanting him to think he was unattractive, he was not.
“Thanks, I think.”
“I work in a place like this, but bartend more than I do any waitressing at the moment. I also work in a local supermarket, just stacking shelves.”
“I see, pays the bills I guess.”
“It does that.”
“What would you like to do after we eat?”
“Yes, we could catch a movie.”
“Not tonight, maybe another time, I mean if this goes well, I am not assuming we are having a second date.”
“I would say we might, the food here is pretty good. Have you been here before?”
“No, but I will come back again.”
“Maybe, we can come back again, eat and then see a movie.”
“Maybe,” Maxine said, lifting a fork full to her mouth as he watched her.
They chatted, and he was right they seemed to get on well, he was kind, and although she insisted on paying her half, he paid the bill, saying she could pay next time.
“I can drive you home if you like?”
“I am not sure that is a good idea.”
Maxine looked at Will and the reason she did not want him to take her home. After Cain, she did not trust men to not want something she was not ready to offer. Not after one date anyway.
Unless he dropped her off at her mother’s house, she could walk from there.
“You don’t have to worry, I am not going to force myself on you if it’s not what you want.”
“I know, I am gentleman, and I promise I will behave like one.”
“Okay, in that case, you can drive me.”
He opened the door, waited for her to climb inside before he walked around to the other side of the car and opened his door. The car was nice, not as new as the one Toby had owned, but it was nice inside. The car roared into life as he stepped on the pedal and set off once she told him where to go.
He pulled up outside her mother’s house and once again was at her door, opening it and helping her out.
“Thank you for a wonderful evening,” she said, planting a kiss on his cheek.
“I want to take you out again, I think we should eat and see a movie.”
“Okay, I would like that, we can arrange a second date. Good night.”
She watched him drive away, and when he was out of sight, she stepped out of her mother’s garden and walked home, where her parents were waiting for her.
“How did it go?”
“Actually really well, he is nice and don’t look so smug mum.”
“Sorry, I am glad it went well. Starr is asleep, guess we should get going, I will wake your father.”
Maxine looked over to her father and saw that he was indeed asleep.
“Shame to wake him, but he does not look comfortable.”
“You know your father, he can and does sleep anywhere.”
“Yes, I suppose he does, always has.”
Arriving at the restaurant with Starr safely inside her pushchair, she entered and made her way to the desk and asked to speak to Richard.
He led her to a table and set down two coffees and an array of nibbles.
“Richard, you did not need to do that for me.”
“Oh come on, you know me, I am always hungry, so not just for you,” he winked.
“Okay,” she said.
“I am glad you were able to come in and see me, Danny is going to join us, and he wanted to have a chat with you too.”
“Okay,” she said. She liked both men, neither had anything other than kind to her.
Danny arrived a few minutes later, carrying a mug of coffee of his own.
“Maxine,” he said, taking her hand. “We are so glad you could come in and chat with us before you make a rash decision.”
“Thank you, it was not an easy one in the first place.”
“I understand, we wanted to ask first if it was due to the evening shifts.”
“Yes, in the end, yes, because in time she will be at school and I, well my family and I thought daytime shifts would be best, as that is what I do at the supermarket. They are in school times so…”
“Yes, of course,” Richard said, picking up one of the pieces of chicken from the platter before him and taking a bite.
“Neither of us wanted to see you go, you are well liked, staff and customers like you. So we have an offer for you, the zero contract is the first offer. However, I would prefer not to offer you that, matching your shifts from your other job, days. Of course, we do not open until eleven, but if you were to work from eleven to eight two weekdays and the weekend we would love to have you.”
“Not enough hours or too many?”
“Well, I don’t want to work on a Saturday if I am honest. It is the one day when her father has her, and the only day I really get to myself.”
“Right, understandable and…?”
“And I am not sure I can for now get childcare for that long, I know as you say it is only for two days, but before I could agree I would have to ask my parents, his parents if they would have her for that long. At least until she goes to playschool and school.”
“We understand, we do. And of course, we want to keep you on so Saturday we will offer to someone else. If you can only do until 4 say, we can get someone else to do the other part, cover these shifts with someone else.”
“You would do that?”
“Of course, we said we wanted to keep you on, and if this means that you can only do certain hours, we will work with you. Maybe when she is older, you can do more hours.”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Say thank you and come and see me when you have made a decision.”
“I will,” she said, picking up her coffee and drinking it.
“Don’t make me eat all of these by myself,” Richard said.
“He will if you don’t have one or two at least, take some with you,” he said. “We will see you later for your shift tonight.”
“You will, and thank you,” she said, taking one off the plate and nibbled at it.
Leaving the restaurant half an hour later, Maxine walked out and stood on the pavement. She was torn with what to do with this new information, the offer. It was a good one, but she knew that her parents would not want to take care of her that many hours a day, even if it was only twice a week, but maybe until four. She would go to see her mother and talk to her about what to do. She made her way to her mother’s house, but there was no one home, she knocked again, tried the door, but it was locked, unless? She shuddered and made her way home, she had work in a few hours, and she would see her mother Saturday when they went for lunch with her sister and her family.
The restaurant was packed, but her mother had booked them a table, a table for eight. She was unsure if she should take her with her, but if she wanted her sister and her family to meet Starr, Starr needed to be there. She had dressed her in a little pink dress, one her mother had brought her and packed her bag ready to take her to her fathers after the meal.
Her mother was stood in the doorway, waiting for them to arrive, her sister was nowhere to be seen.
“Is she coming?”
“She is inside, waiting.”
“Okay, before we go in I need to talk to you.”
“I was ready to hand my notice in when my bosses made me an offer.”
“At the restaurant?”
“Days, they offered me two-day shifts and a Saturday and a Sunday.”
“Well, they wanted me to work eleven until eight, every shift but…”
“Ah, yes, not sure we could have her that many hours?”
“No, that is what I said, and I said I did not want to do Saturdays.”
“So he offered me to do the two days eleven until four, and just the Sunday.”
“I see, and you are not sure what to do still?”
“Well I don’t know I like working for them, they are kind and always been good to me, but…”
“I think you should also talk to Toby.”
“I think you are right, I will let you know what I decide, it has to be right for all of us.”
“It does, now come on in and let’s get something to eat, I am starving.”
“Okay, let’s go in.”
They entered the restaurant, her father’s choice and made their way to the table where she saw her sister, her family and father were all sat. Her sister looked at her as they approached. Her children were sat at the table wearing clean and neatly pressed clothes; she could imagine they were told not to move to keep them clean. They were on their best behaviour, she could see that they did not move or look up from staring at the devices in their hands. No wonder they were quiet, they were engrossed.
“Gracie,” Maxine said. “They have grown.”
“Well of course they have, you have not seen them in years. I have not even seen or been told you were pregnant, I….”
“Now now, Gracie, this is not what this is about, you promised.”
“I know but mum….”
“I knew this was a mistake, you always do this, why do you think I never bothered contacting you. Everything is always about you.”
“It is not.”
“Gracie, I know your life is perfect, perfect marriage, perfect kids. You are looking down on me, I can see it. I am not married and had a child on my own.”
“Whose fault is that mum told me you were with the father, for what three years and you could not hold onto him.”
Maxine rolled her eyes.
“See mum I knew it, she cannot do it, I tried she did what she always did. Harry, it was nice to see you again, Jason, Naomi if you can hear me.”
“Don’t talk to my kids like that.”
“I am simply asking if they can hear me since they are zoned out on those machines.”
“They were bored waiting for you to arrive.”
“Oh so I am the reason, you know what this was a mistake. Mum, I am sorry, but I cannot do this. When you have grown up, Gracie and want to be an adult, we can have this meal, I honestly thought this was a good idea, but I was wrong.”
“Maxine, stay for the kids, let them meet Starr.”
“What kind of name is that?”
“I only asked as I have not heard it before.”
“Maxine, stay and have something to eat, our treat.”
“Oh, you need mum to pay too.”
“Gracie that is enough, you are embarrassing yourself and your family,” Harry stood and told his wife to sit down. “Maxine stay, take a seat, please not for her, or me, but them. Jason, Naomi, put them away now please.”
Both children looked at their father and put their devices down.
“Okay, I will.”
The children were out of their seats and came over to where Maxine sat and peered into the pushchair.
“Is that your baby?” Jason asked.
“Yes, she is your cousin.”
“Yes,” Maxine said.
The rest of the meal went well, her husband it seemed kept her in line, she barely spoke for the rest of the time they were there.
As they were ready to leave, Harry pulled her to one side and told her he wanted the children to see each other. They were family, he would deal with Gracie. She was not sure but nodded in agreement. It was not the children’s fault, he was right; they should get to meet each other. Even if she was not on good terms with her sister.
The meal over she walked over to Toby’s explained the situation about the job offer, and he told her they would back her decision no matter what she chose.
“Thank you, I appreciate that.”
“I will see you tomorrow, little lady.”
Sunday morning Maxine woke early, with Starr at her fathers she was able to get showered and ready for work without interruption. Soaking in a bath, she closed her eyes and recalled her friend’s words about giving herself pleasure, it had been a while, she was by herself, why shouldn’t she?
Dressed and ready for her morning shift, she made her way to work, clocked in and set to work filling the shelves.
She was minding her own business when she heard a voice.
“Oh they did not sack you, they should have.”
Maxine turned around and saw the woman from the other week.
“Well I was not sacked, as you can see, have a nice day,” she said and turned her back to her. Ignoring the comments that she mumbled.
“You are just as rude as you were that day, how dare you turn your back on me.”
“I am sorry, is there something you wanted, needed to find or are you just going to insult me?”
“Yes, I have work to do and if you need my help to find something I will do that, but if not, I need to get on.”
“I will lose your job, I promise you that.”
“Really, I would quit before the sack me, if it means putting up with people like you. I don’t know what your problem is, but I do not have to serve you.”
“Is that right?”
Maxine rolled her eyes and grabbed her cage, pushed past her.
“What was that all about?”
“I have no idea, but this is the second time she has tried to get me sacked. I don’t need this, I was planning to give up one of my jobs anyway, and now she has helped me make the choice I needed to make.”
“Really, you will leave us?”
“Yeah, I am, it is not worth it. I am going to hand my letter in right now.”
It was as if a weight had been lifted off her shoulders as she made her way to the office, knocked on the door and handed the letter to the manager of the store.
“Thank you,” Maxine said.
“I am sorry.”
“I have loved working here, but my time here has come to an end. I will work the next week, but after that, I am done.”
“There is nothing we can say to change your mind?”
“I don’t think so.”
There was no we can see what we can do to help you stay, take a break from the job, just thanks and shut the door on the way out. Maxine knew then she had made the right choice. She felt relieved.
Lunch time, Maxine made her way towards the front of the store ready to walk across the street and head to the café and saw Will walking towards her.
“Hi,” she said.
“Were you looking for me?” she had told him she worked there and wondered if he had come looking for her.
“Actually in a way yes, it was an excuse to come and get a few bits for mum, and if I saw you that would be…”
“Okay, well I was on my way out.”
“Oh, you done for the day?”
“No, break, lunch in fact.”
“Do you mind if I join you?”
“Of course not,” she said as they walked to the café and entered, taking a table by the window.
“So you were looking for me?”
“I wanted to see if this Saturday worked for you?”
“It does, any thoughts on what you wanted us to do, or is a meal and a movie still the plan?”
“Yes, I thought so, but wondered if you wanted to go to the movie theatre out of town as it got the best seats. Better than the ones at our local cinema.”
“Perfect.” She wanted to suggest it herself, the seats were part of the reason, but also they would not bump into anyone who knew her, who knew she had a child, she would tell him if they got to a third date, and then only. She had no idea if the mothers had told him about Starr, he had not mentioned it and nor had she, if he knew he was not acting as if he did.
Maxine ordered a tea and a jacket potato.
With work over for the day and the decision about the job decided, Maxine left the supermarket and made her way to Toby’s to pick up Starr. She had missed her daughter and looked forward to spending more time with her and dating.
Arriving at the house, a lump in her throat, she realised the car was not in the drive. She knocked on the door, but no one answered. She realised something was up, she pulled out her phone and saw she had a ton of missed calls and voicemail. Listening to it, she realised the baby was either here or almost here.
She made her way to the hospital.
They would not let her into the maternity ward. She understood that she was not family, but she needed to pick up her daughter. A few minutes later, Tammy carried her daughter in her arms and handed her Starr.
“Wow, nine months flew by didn’t it,” Maxine said.
“Yeah, now this little one has a brother, he was born just ten minutes ago.”
“A boy, tell them congratulations, I will take her home, and tell them that they do not have to have her for a little while I can make arrangements.”
“He said you would say that, but no, they want to have her still. So she can get to know her brother from an early age. She has seen him, not sure what she makes of the baby since she is still on herself, but…”
“I can imagine.”
“Tell them congrats, and I will come to see them when they are home.”
“Of course, they would like that.”
“I will walk you out, the pushchair is in the car, I have the keys, let’s walk.”
Maxine followed Rick to the car.
“I just wanted to say, just because we have another grandchild now, we do not love her any less.”
“I know, Rick. I have made a decision about my job too.”
“Okay, which one?”
“I am staying at the restaurant, they have offered me days and a Sunday, but the Sunday is a long day, but I think for me it’s the right choice.”
“Okay, about the days?”
“Originally they wanted me to do eleven until eight the same as the Sunday, they also wanted me to do a Saturday, but I said no to that one. I am now doing a Monday and Tuesday, eleven until four. They are hiring someone else to do the other half of the shifts.”
“They did that for you?”
“They did, I never expected it, but it’s perfect for us, means even when she is older, I can take her to school, for two days someone will need to pick her up and look after her until I arrive, but that is a while away.”
“It is, plenty of time, and we meant it, we will have her one of the days for you. We want to have her. Let us know which one, and we will do it.”
“Thank you.” There was nothing else she could do or say, they had been there for her when Toby had not and still were.