Maxine counted down the days until her date with Will. Even though she had been reluctant to go on a date with him, she had enjoyed his company. After all, it was their mothers who had set them up. He seemed nice, and she found herself thinking about what to wear.
After her date with Cain, she had been nervous about him taking her home, which was why she had him drop her off at her parent's place. If she had refused to go on a date, her mother would never have given up, and she would have missed out meeting a really nice, cute guy. Even if the date ended and they never saw each other again, not that happened, she was not sure they would become more than friends, after all, she was not after replacing Toby, even if he had replaced her.
Arriving at one of the last evening shifts at the restaurant, Maxine placed her coat and bag in her locker and made her way to the bar. It was already busy, it was five and many arrived for the meals at that time. Ordering drinks and taking them to their tables. The bar was busy with non-restaurant customers too. She smiled at the regulars as she approached the bar, Richard stood before her.
“Maxine, do you have a moment?”
“Of course,” she said as she followed him to an empty table.
“I won’t keep you long.”
“You’ve changed your mind?”
“No, we wanted to know if you made a decision about our proposal?”
“I did, I handed my notice in. I finish on Sunday.”
“Good, we are so pleased you decided to stay?”
“Me too. Thank you again.”
“Did we tell you what days we were offering you?”
“No, you did not, I should have asked.”
“Yes, you did.”
“Good, if it’s okay with you, we would like you to start next week. Does that work for you?”
“It does. Thank you, I cannot thank you enough, you have been so kind to me.”
“You are more than welcome.”
“I assume I am on the bar as usual tonight, unless?”
“No, the bar is fine tonight; thank you. We have not had anyone call in sick tonight.”
“Okay, I better get on then.”
Reaching the bar, Maxine joined the others.
“I hear you are leaving us?”
“Not exactly leaving, just switching to days.”
“Oh, I see, how did that happen?”
“I wanted days, was going to leave and stay at the other job, as it would be better for childcare and when Starr starts playgroup and school.”
“Right, so they offered you days?”
“Nice. Got to do what works for you and your family.”
“Not going to lie, but we are going to miss you a lot.”
“Thank you, going to miss you too.”
“At least we are not losing you completely.”
“Are you two gonna make out or serve us?” a man with red hair and a neck tattoo said.
“We…” Tiffany said, moving closer to Maxine with her lips inches from hers, she turned to look at the men and then shook her head. “Like we were going to make out, guys you would love that wouldn’t you?”
Neither said a word.
“Right, what can I get you?”
Maxine stared at her friend and chuckled, before turning to the woman who was standing before her with a disgusted look on her face. It was then she realised who it was, and took a deep breath.
“Wow, you are the lowest of the low.”
“Excuse me?” It was then Maxine realised who the woman was and took a deep breath, but before she could say a word, she started ranting.
“So this is where you work. Do they know what kind of girl you are?”
Maxine opened her mouth to speak when Tiffany stood before her.
“If you want to order a drink, you have come to the right place. If you have come here to insult my friend well…”
“No, she is a friend, that was a joke a bit of fun, lighten up. Here, have a drink on me,” Tiffany said, pouring her a glass of wine.
“I don’t need handouts, thank you and I do not drink cheap nasty wine.”
“Of course, you don’t.”
“What is taking so long?” a tall man with a suit that looked expensive.
“It’s her that girl from the supermarket, the one that was rude to me seems she works here now.”
“Actually, I have worked here for as long as I did at the supermarket and before you start being rude to me again. I have work to do.”
“You cannot talk to my wife like that.”
“Actually, I just did what your wife forgot to mention is what she said to me and why I reacted the way I did. I don’t have to serve her or you there or here.”
“Is that right? I could get you sacked here too, would you like that?”
Maxine ignored her and turned to the woman’s husband. “I am not sure what she told you, but I am sure you are aware that breasts are more than something men love to leer at.”
He opened his mouth, but before the words could escape them, Maxine continued.
“Mine produce milk, and on that day mine leaked, it happens. I don’t know when or why it did that day, but it happens. Your wife was rude about it and made me feel that feeding my child is disgusting, which I am sure if you had children, you would know. Now before you say another word. You can stay and be polite, or you can leave and never come back.”
“I am sorry, I did not know that. You never told me that,” he turned to his wife.
“We will take our drinks and go to our table. I am very sorry.”
“Thank you, apology accepted.”
“I do not condone my wife’s behaviour. I just think you need to understand why.”
“I don’t think I need to know.”
“Do not say a word,” she hissed at him. “Let it go, I will be good.”
“Take your husband’s advice, take your drinks and sit,” the voice belonged to Richard.
“I am sorry.”
They left drinks in hand, and took their table, not looking back.
“I am sorry,” Maxine said. “I can explain.”
“You do not have to.”
“I know, but I want to.”
Maxine explained the situation briefly and returned to serving drinks for the rest of her shift. Her boss had patted her on the shoulder and told her if she spoke to her in that manner again there, she would be banned from the premises.
“So that is the woman you were telling me about?” Tiffany said as Maxine got ready to leave at the end of her shift.
“Yeah, delightful,, isn’t she.”
“Yeah, well, we are going to miss you on nights, but I do have a few day shifts covering holidays and sometimes if people are off sick. So I will still see you occasionally.”
“Of course, I will come see you when I can unless I have a date of course.”
“You are dating. Good for you.”
“I am putting myself out there.”
“Well, someone will snap you up for sure.”
Maxine thanked her before leaving and making her way home.
Maxine arrived home and entered and found his parents sat with Starr wide awake, being rocked by Tammy.
“Is she okay?”
“Yes, she might be cutting a tooth that’s all.”
“Oh, she is?”
“Maybe, I am not sure. I cannot feel anything, but she is dribbling a lot and needed more cuddles than usual.”
“Oh, hey sweetie,” Maxine said as she went to her daughter.
“I cannot thank you enough for watching her,” she said, lifting her from Tammy’s arms. “Maybe you are right, I will keep an eye on her, I am sure I have some calpol in the fridge.”
“We thought about giving her some, but…”
“It’s fine, you did the right thing.”
“We meant to tell you that Ivy and Lewis, they called him Lewis, did we tell you that?”
“No you didn’t, but it is fine, I did not want to intrude on their family time, I will go see them in a few days, but…”
“They understand, but wondered if you wanted to take Starr to see him on Saturday, they still want to have her overnight.”
“I am not sure that is a good idea.”
“I knew you would think that way, didn’t I say she would.”
“Well, they want to have her, at least take her down to meet Lewis before you decide.”
The next morning, Maxine woke early hearing her daughter’s cries. She fed and changed her before deciding she should do what his parents suggested. After all, she had a date later that night with Will, and if she wanted to go, she needed someone to take care of her daughter. If Toby wanted her to stay the night, so be it. If they decide two babies is too much, then she would ask her mother to have her. After all these dates were happening due to her mother’s meddling. Not that she was complaining.
“Well, better get them a gift. What would they not have?” she asked herself. “Nothing.” She pushed her daughter inside the first shop, deciding on a card and gift card.
Both now inside her bag as she made her way to their house.
Knocking on the door, Maxine waited a few minutes before it was opened by Toby. He allowed her to enter, he looked tired, Maxine realised, was adding to this a good idea?
“Wow, you look like you could do with some sleep, Toby.”
“I never knew how much a tiny baby could cry and…”
“Yeah, imagine doing it on your own.”
“Please don’t make me feel guiltier than I already do.”
“Sorry, that was not what I meant by that.”
“Come in, do you want a drink?”
“I think I should make it, you sit before you fall down.”
Maxine entered the living room where Ivy sat on the sofa, looking even more exhausted than Toby; she looked up as she saw her enter and gave her a weak smile. The house was even more untidy than usual. Then she saw the tiny baby in the mosses basket. She walked over and looked down at her daughter’s half-brother. Lewis.
“He is beautiful, look at him Starr, this is your brother.”
“Lewis, we named him Lewis.”
“I like it.”
“This is the first time since we brought him home that he has been quiet, he has had us up all night.”
“Are you breastfeeding?”
“Is he latching on properly?”
“I don’t know, I think so.”
“If you are not sure, ask the midwife to help show you. I know when I started, it was not easy. I only feed her at night feed and the morning one now, most days. She is being weaned off as I think it’s time to do so, for the both of us.”
“Toby can you make us a tea.”
“I can, do you want one, Maxine?”
“If you are sure I did say I would make it?”
“No, it’s okay, I can make it.”
He nodded and left to make them a tea as Lewis began to cry.
“Do you want me to get him?”
Maxine placed Starr on the mat on the floor and picked him up, he was searching for food, a motion she knew so well. Although her daughter was bigger, she missed this stage and how small he felt in her arms.
“He is hungry.”
“We have given him a bottle as I was worried he was not getting enough.”
She handed her the child before he attempted to suckle on her.
“I could show you, but it would be weird for the both of us.”
“You feed my son?”
“No, of course not, that would be weirder.”
“Yes, of course. I could show you with Starr if you like. Or see how you attach him and advise you if that is not too weird?”
“It is weird, but if I can feed and settle him without a bottle, I would like that, prefer that.”
Maxine watched as she attached him and saw her wince.
“It should not hurt; if it does, it’s not quite right.”
She felt odd showing her how, but the only way without touching another woman’s breasts was to show her with her own child. Starr was more than happy to suckle and latched on without a problem, she showed her how and Ivy copied.
Hearing the child suckle and gulp, Maxine saw the relief on her face.
“I can tell already he is getting more milk than before.”
“Good. If you do that each time he will feed and sleep better. I hope. Every baby is different.”
“I know she is so good, but he has only been with us for a short time, and I am already exhausted.”
“I can see that I know his parents said you two wanted to have her overnight, but at least this weekend I think we should leave it. Allow you to get a routine going.”
“I want to have her,” Toby said as he entered and saw them both with their breasts on display.
It did not bother Maxine.
“Toby, it’s not like you have not seen my boobs before.”
“Oh well, I…”
Ivy chuckled. “Or mine, so we are even.”
“Are you two going to gang up on me now?”
“No, but it is true, boobs are than just your playthings. Not that…never mind.” Maxine shook her head.
“I know that, but I still think she should stay as we do not want to mess up her routine either.”
“I am not sure.”
“Maxine, we will be fine, now you have shown me how to latch him, I am sure we will get more sleep. If we feel we cannot do it, we would not offer.”
“Okay, if you are really sure, I am only a phone call away.”
“We know. We love having her, don’t we Toby?”
“We do, we really do. And if we have any issues, we will call you.”
“I will say if she does not settle as she normally does. She may be teething, so give her a little calpol. She had some about an hour ago, I put some in the bag for her if she needs it.”
“Okay, of course.”
“I should go,” she said, detaching her daughter and covering herself up and then placed her on the floor.
“Drink your tea first at least!”
“Of course, oh and I got you this, it is not much,” she said, handing the card to him.
Home she sat alone in her bedroom and stared at the clothes she had pulled out to wear on her date. A dress seemed too much for the cinema. How dressed up should she go? She was not sure. A pair of jeans and a nice top that should do it, she decided after taking a shower, touching her breasts they felt tender under her hands. An extra feed had not been a good idea, but it had helped Ivy. She touched her nipple; it was very sensitive and leaked a small amount of milk. She decided that two pads would be needed while she was out. She did not want a repeat of what had happened at work.
Her phone beeped, Will wanted to pick her up at her place, instead of meeting there. She panicked and realised it meant she would have to be at her mother’s house. How could she do it, without being seen?
Maxine: Could be easier to be picked up at the top of the road?
Will: Sure, that works. See you at six.
Maxine looked at her clock on the wall and realised she still had a few hours before she needed to be ready. She decided to take a long hot bath; she could take these when she was home alone. Even if Starr was asleep, she could not allow herself to soak in the tub, just in case.
Maxine reached the top of her mother’s road, stood watching out for his car, she wondered how her daughter was, how Ivy was coping with her newborn son and her daughter too. She knew she would be fine, but still, Maxine worried. As a first time mother, it was hard. Being a single mother was harder.
She watched the cars pass her by. Then he was there, pulling up beside her, she waited for him to fully stop, before opening the door and climbing inside.
“Still happy to catch a movie as well as something to eat?”
“Sure, I was not sure what to wear?”
“You look stunning.”
“You are far too kind.”
“I say how I see it.”
“Where would you like to go to eat?”
“I think we could go to that place near the cinema if it saves going to two locations.”
“I like your thinking, okay.”
He was quiet the rest of the way, until he pulled up outside the restaurant and turned off the engine.
The whole date went well, she sat silent, watching the screen, his arm beside hers, but not once did he try and touch place his hand on hers or kiss her at any time during her date. She wondered at the time if she had read the evening wrong, until he drove her home, pulling in a layby before taking her home, he turned the engine off.
“I wanted to say thank you. That I really enjoyed tonight, I want us to go on more dates, get to know each other, but…”
“I wanted to kiss you all night, but…”
“I am not sure if you would slap me, I wanted to take your hand in the cinema, but I was nervous and…”
So she had not read it wrong, they both leaned over and banged heads.
“Sorry,” they said in unison.
“Can we try that again,” he said.
Maxine swallowed and nodded as he placed his hand on her thigh, she allowed him to leave it there, she liked how it felt, but he did not attempt to wander higher up. He just kissed her, a hot passionate kiss. She had not been kissed like that in a long time. Even if she wanted more, she could not, not yet. Her breasts throbbed, wanted to be touched by his hand, but she could not allow him to, if she leaked during this make-out session, he would run, and never look back. She gently pushed him off taking a breath.
“No, please don’t be sorry, that was some kiss,” she said.
“It was,” she repeated breathlessly.
“I should take you home!”
“No, I mean, yes, but drop me off at the top again. It’s easier than turning around and…”
“Okay, when can I see you again?”
“Next week, I am in the process of changing jobs, well, sort of. I won’t be at the supermarket anymore after tomorrow. So can go out next Saturday and we go from there if you like?”
“I would like that.”
It had been two months since their first date, and she had planned to tell him about Starr. Yet, every time she wanted to bring it up, they were having a good time and she did not want to ruin things with him. Even when he wanted to go back to hers, for a coffee after their date, she had to decline, making up excuses. Maxine knew in time he would get fed up with it, how she could tell him that place he had dropped her off at since the opening belonged to her mother.
Taking him back to her real home was not an option. Not until she had told him about Starr, as there was a lot of evidence of daughter and her life with her.
Her new job on days was so much better for her and helping Ivy with breastfeeding had been a good thing. Lewis was settled and always latched on now. Ivy could not stop thanking her. He had taken to sleeping six hours at night, meaning they were both more rested. Expressing some too, so Toby could feed their son and having Starr every weekend was good for them. The children bonded and now that Maxine had stopped breastfeeding and her boobs had dried up, she knew if they were to take that step now, she would not leak. He would not know she had a child.
Lying to him was not what she wanted to do either. It had never been her intention to let it go on this long, but she liked him, liked how he made her feel. What if she told him about her and he walked away, would her heart get broken, again?
Dropping Starr off, Maxine made her way to work, it was a long shift, but she liked it, people were kind to her. Sometimes Tiffany joined her, and they worked alongside each other.
The day was going as it usually did for a Sunday, the customers were seated, they both took orders and carried out the food once it was ready.
As she stood at the next table, she realised that her parents were sitting at the table, smiling up at her.
“Sweetheart, do you want to join us?”
“I am working?”
“You get a break, don’t you?”
“She does!” Richard said.
“Not for another hour, I don’t.”
“Sit have a drink and knock it off your break later, if you like, or take the hour now.”
“I couldn’t do that?”
“You can sit.”
It was then she saw Will arrive and join them.
“Did you set this up?” she looked over at Will.
“No, would I do that. I happened to say we were going out for lunch and you might be there and…”
“They insisted you join them?”
“Well, you never tell us anything about where this is going.”
“We are enjoying each other’s company, right Will?”
“Yes, we are.” He turned to face her and mouthed he was sorry. It could have been worse, his parents could have joined them too, she looked towards the door, and the table was only set up for them, no extra seats. She sighed with relief.
She wanted to be angry, but the way he smiled at her made her heart melt, they may not have taken the relationship any further than heavy petting, but she really liked this guy, liked him more than she realised. As she looked back to her mother, she saw she too was smiling.
“I will talk to you two later, now I only have an hour of break, so I will have something quick, I would have loved to do this when I was not working, but I do have to get back as soon as I have eaten,” she said.
“I understand, maybe when you finish, we can go get a drink, I can wait for you.”
“I finish at eight that is a long time to wait around for.”
“For you, I would do that,” he said.
“Aww,” her mother said.
“Sorry,” she said.
Tiffany stood before them, “Can I take your order?”
“I am not sure,” her mother said.
“Can I have a jacket potato, with coleslaw and a salad, and a glass of water?”
“Of course,” she replied, winking and indicating to Will.
“Anything for the rest of you?”
“Can I have the steak, medium rare, chips, salad and a side of order of onion rings.”
“I will have the same,” her father said.
“Okay and for you?”
Her mother reeled of the food she wanted, and Tiffany was gone, returning a few minutes later with the drinks. Followed by the meal for Maxine.
They were halfway through eating when she heard a familiar voice, a familiar cry. It was her daughter, with Toby and Ivy. Crap.
They caught her eye, and before she could stop them, they were at their table. Starr in her father’s arms, the moment she saw her mother, she leaned towards her and made mum mum noises. She could not pretend, she took her daughter in her arms and held to her and looked over to Will.
Toby looked at Will too, their eyes locked. He stood, shaking his head and without a word, walked out of the restaurant.
“Did I do something wrong?” Toby asked.
“No Toby, this is my doing, I….”
“You didn’t tell him about Starr?”
“Mum, Dad, this is your fault, I wanted to do this my way, but you had to bring him here. Don’t tell me you suggested they come here for lunch too?”
“Well no, I…”
“You did, didn’t you?”
“You always have to interfere, don’t you. We have not been seeing each other that long and it’s still new. I did not want to ruin a good thing. What if things didn’t work out between us and…”
“No, mum, I planned to introduce him if things worked out. How can you not understand that?”
“You are seeing someone?” Toby said.
“I was, but thanks to all of you I think I see that is clearly over. Who in the hell wants to date a single mother, with a child that is not theirs.”
“Maybe if you told him, he could have made that decision for himself.”
“Instead of discussing any of this with me, you come to my place of work and make a scene, well thanks. I am sorry,” she said, handing her daughter to Toby. “I have work to do. If I still have a job, and you can pay for lunch,” she said, turning to her mother.
“Well, we were…”
“Good, Toby, Ivy, I am sorry you got dragged into this. Please take a seat, table for two, plus a highchair?”
“Yes, sorry and thank you,” Ivy said. “I knew it was not a good idea, but….”
“My mother can be very persuasive.”
“She can, he is very nice looking.”
“He is, and I liked him, and now…”
“I understand why you never told him I do, but…”
“I know, and I did plan on after our third date.”
“How long have you been seeing him?”
“A few months, and don’t look at me like that. Why would I introduce him to her if things did not work out, but I guess I should have told him? I ruined it like I ruin everything.”
“No, don’t think like that. With me, you wanted more than I was ready to give. It seems this time you were scared to do that, and that is my fault. I did not handle any of it right either, so I have to take some of the blame.”
Maxine saw Danny watching her. She excused herself and walked over to him.
“I am so sorry about that, it won’t happen again.”
“He is handsome?”
“The man you were having lunch with!”
“Yeah, he is, but…” Maxine paused. “I never told him about Starr.”
“Can I ask why?”
“I guess I was scared too!”
“You can leave early if you need to work this out,” Danny said.
“You are not firing me?”
“Hell no, we did not bend over backwards to keep you, to fire you.”
“I am sorry I…”
“Sweetheart, we want you to stay, that little show was nothing compared to the fireworks of the night I caught Richard with another man.”
“You did not?”
“He did,” Richard said as he passed them and winked at her.
“Well turned out that man was his brother, I caught them hugging. I was super jealous, and the argument I started was loud. He forgave me, of course, knew it was because my ex cheated on me.”
“And he knew I loved him, my brother found it funny, but we got through it. So that one is your ex, Starr’s father and the new misses?”
“Yes, Ivy, she is nice, really nice.”
“I am glad to hear that, now I have some paperwork to do, Richard you joining me?”
“Oh, well if you insist,” he said following him.
Maxine watched them, did that mean what she thought it meant? She half-smiled as she went back to work and finished her shift.
Ready to leave, Tiffany suggested they had one drink, she looked as if she needed it. As they reached the bar, she saw why she wanted her to. There stood Will at the bar with a drink in his hand. Her heart skipped a beat.