Home alone, Maxine removed the dress she had been wearing and then sat on her bed, as her phone buzzed. Opening the message she saw it was from Cain asking her on another date. A smile crept on her lips, as her fingers poised over the keys. If she answered it straight away would she come across eager? Ready to jump into bed with him. Maxine needed sex, but was she ready to have a one night stand. She was not ready for a relationship.
She had her heart broken once already and could not deal with the pain of that, again. Pulling her dressing gown around her body, Maxine made her way to the kitchen and put the kettle on. Sat at the table, she waited for it to boil, and then made a mug of coffee.
Her phone was sat on the side, she could not help but stare at it, had enough time passed now that she could reply to him? She read the time the text arrived and decided to give it another half an hour, or at least until she had finished her coffee.
Maxine sat crossed legged on the sofa in the living room, looking around her new home; she stared at the few boxes that were still sat to one side. There was not much left in them, but she had plenty time to do it, to unpack in her own time. She would spend her next day off doing them; right now Maxine needed sleep. Her eyes were heavy, the coffee having the opposite effect it usually had on her.
Downing the last of the coffee, she then picked up the phone and sent him a reply.
Maxine: I would love to go out again.
It took less than a minute for his reply.
Cain: Are you free next weekend?
Climbing into bed, Maxine pulled back the duvet and climbed in. Sleep took her a few minutes later; she was exhausted, although she had enjoyed the date. Totally forgetting how much fun dating could be, even if Cain had spent most of it talking about himself.
The arrangements with Toby were ideal for her Sunday shift. She allowed them to have Starr overnight and either they would bring her back or she would pick her up at after her shift.
Dressed for work, Maxine applied lip balm before heading out the door for her shift. Arriving, she clocked in and made a start on the jobs she had to do that day. Lifting the box from the trolley she ripped it open and began adding the stock to the shelf.
“You look different,” Hannah said.
“Do I?” she said, turning to face her.
“You do, I know what it is.”
“Yes, you got some, finally.”
“Actually I didn’t. I am sure he wanted it, had I allowed him to take me home.”
“Yeah he would.”
“Well we have a second date, but I am not sure I am ready for that, even if I…”
“Want it, and so you should. There is only so much self-pleasure one can give herself. Am I right?”
She scrunched her nose at the thought.
“Do not tell me you don’t!”
“Well I am not saying I never, but I have not in a long time.”
“Girl, you need to love yourself first, come on, everyone does it. Those that say they don’t, I am pretty sure they are lying.”
“Okay, we should leave that conversation right there, I need to get this done. We could meet for lunch?”
“Sure, sounds good to me. The same café as usual?”
“Yes, I like the sound of that. See you later.”
The rest of the shift passed by in a blur and for half of it she was asked to go to checkouts. Maxine hated the fact they still expected her to finish stacking her shelves even though she had spent half her shift sat on a checkout. Sat on a checkout meant she had to serve the most annoying rude people. They all seemed to come to her, and want to tell her all about their problems or about their boring lives. Maxine placed a smile on her lips and scanned each item, as she asked them if they needed her to pack their bags. Some nodded and thanked her, but many looked at her offended by the question.
“Do I look like I need someone to pack for me?”
“I ask everyone that question. We have to, it is the companies policy.”
“Well, I do not now or ever need you to pack my bags. Got it?”
“Yes,” Maxine said. Taking the items and scanning them at a speed that she could not keep up with. She smiled at her and told her the total cost. The older woman glared at her.
“I am going to report you. You are rude and…”
“I’m rude,” Maxine began, knowing she should have bitten her tongue.
“Yes, look at you, you are a mess, wearing a dirty stained shirt to work.”
Maxine looked down at her shirt, and saw the stain she referred to. She had not leaked for a long time. Why now?
“And how nice of you to say that, in a non-rude way. Does the fact that I still breast feed my daughter upset you in some way?”
“It is natural to breast feed, or are you one of those who are against it.”
The woman began ranting, raising her voice as one of the managers approached.
“Is everything okay?”
“No, this woman,” she indicated to Maxine with a manicured finger. “Is rude and look at the state of her.”
“I see, why don’t you take your shopping and come with me. We can make a formal complaint if that is what you want?”
Maxine watched as the woman was led away from her. Leaving her gobsmacked, the next customer in the line was watching, tapping his foot.
“Are you going to serve me, I have places to be.”
“You know what, no I do not have to,” she said, logging off and walking away as the customer watched her leave. She needed to sort herself out, change her shirt. Her shift was not over, but she was going home, she needed to change, pulling her jacket around her body, she did not understand why she had leaked. It had not happened in a long time.
“Where are you going?” it was the boss who had sided with the customer. She had no sympathy and Maxine saw the disgust in her eyes.
“Oh no you are not.”
“Is that right?”
“You and I need to talk. My office,” she instructed.
Maxine shook her head. “Look I get it, but she was rude first. I am sorry I know we have the whole ‘the customer is always right’, but in this case she was extremely rude and I am not going to stand there and be spoken to like that. I…”
“If you leave now before your shift is over, there will have to be a meeting.”
“I understand that, but I need to change my bra, pads and shirt. I have no spare here, so I am going home to change. You have no choice; I have an hour left, so it is not worth coming back, so dock my pay. I have worked near enough all my shift. So, I am going and you cannot stop me.”
Her own manager arrived and asked what was going on. He stood before the checkout manager, and tilted his head to one side raising his eye brows.
“I am going home, I was going to come tell you,” Maxine mumbled.
“Okay, are you feeling unwell?” he questioned.
“No, I am not unwell, but there are two reasons,” she said opening her jacket and showing her manager the issue. She did not feel embarrassed about it, after all he wanted to know why she was heading home.
“Okay, of course,” he stuttered. “Of course, go home; you are near enough done anyway. I will see that you are paid until the end of the shift.”
“You will not.” The other manager said.
Angela went on to explain about the customer and how rude she was to the woman and that she had to give her a voucher to calm her down.
“Which should come out of her pay,” Angela said.
“I am sorry, but…”
“Maxine, you can go, I will sort this out. Come see me before you start your next shift.”
She nodded. “Okay, thank you. I will see you tomorrow at nine. I will make sure I have spare clothes in future, just in case.”
“Maxine, you do not have to do that.”
“I think I should, while I am still feeding my daughter, which is natural by the way,” she said turning her attention back to the other manager.
“No, but you looked disgusted at the thought that my breasts leaked milk. You know that is what boobs are for, right?”
“See what I mean, rude.”
“Maxine, you can go, I will see you in the morning.”
Maxine covered her chest and made her way to the door, as she heard him continue talking to the checkout manager.
“Angela, we can talk in my office, this way,” he said.
Maxine did not hear anymore as she reached the door, opened it and dissented down the stairs. Clocking out as she reached the bottom and then made her way back on the shop floor towards the doors that led outside.
The air was colder now as she zipped up her coat and hurried home. She should go pick her daughter up, she knew that, but she needed to get out of the clothes and change into a clean bra.
Arriving home, she unlocked the door, took a shower and changed into a clean set of clothes before heading to pick up her daughter.
The door to the home where Toby and Ivy lived was before her; she raised her hand and knocked. It was the house she had imagined living in, the home she wanted for them and dreamed off. The first time she arrived to pick her up, her heart had felt as it had been ripped out of her chest. The home was perfect on the outside, but inside, it was not what she expected. It was not as tidy at all, it looked lived in, but on the walls where pictures of them together. They looked happy, too happy.
They welcomed her in, Ivy was getting bigger and finding it even harder to get up and down and did not move from the place she was seated.
“You are getting so big now,” she said, remembering when people said that to her. It had annoyed her, comments like are you sure there is only one in there? “Sorry. I know how annoying that is to be asked those questions.”
“I know, I am sure you remember?”
“I do, but you know it is worth it.”
“I know having Starr has proved that. Of course, I am finding it harder to help with her, so Toby is having to do it all, which is good practice for him.”
“It is,” he agreed. “I am no longer afraid of taking care of this new life we created, or either of my children. So thank you for allowing me to be a part of our daughter’s life.”
“Thank you, for having her. I know having her longer would be more ideal for all of us, as I have a shift at the restaurant in a few hours, but your parents comes over to watch her and…”
“Oh, I did not realise they have her that often,” he said.
“Yes, I was going to pay for childcare, but they insisted, and I hated having to rely on them, but sadly I have to work, and this was all before you and…”
“Well we are in her life now, so maybe once our baby is born we can help out more, take some pressure off…”
“I understand, I do, I know me working two jobs was not ideal, but…”
“That is my fault. I should pay to support her too, and then you can give up one of the jobs.”
“I could not ask that.”
“Actually,” Ivy said. “We talked about it and he should do that, as they get older, we were thinking about offering to have her Friday night until Sunday.”
“We can talk about that another day.”
“Okay. She has been fed, changed and…”
“Thank you,” Maxine said as she lifted her daughter from the floor.
“Are you not stopping for a drink?”
“No I am good, thank you, I need to get going. I should get her home and ready for your parents to come over. I will consider your offer.”
“It is not an offer or charity. It is what needs to happen. I should provide for Starr. Ivy is right, I should do that and if that means you can cut down on the hours you work. I am sure that would be better for you, so you can spend more time with Starr or…”
“I would like that, but…”
“It is not as if this is a hand out, I am providing for my child.”
“When you put it like that.”
“Right, I will make the arrangements. I will set it up so you get the money direct into your account.”
“It is what I should have done from the beginning and I feel awful how badly I treated you. How I missed out on her life so far. Of course, I will be paying for the months I missed too and I…”
“I don’t know what to say.”
“Just say thank you,” Ivy said.
Maxine nodded, she had not even thought about him paying for their child, she was not after hand outs, but he was right she needed help, and she could not expect his parents and hers to look after Starr all the time.
She did not want to ask how much he would be paying her, but later when she researched it, if he was paying the going rate it would be 12% of his weekly wages. She knew what he earned, and giving up one of her jobs was something she could do with that maintenance money covering the wages.
“We will sort that soon, as I said, I will need your bank details, unless you want to set up one just for that to go in?”
“I will let you know, I best get going.” She liked the idea of a separate bank account, and decided to open a new one just for the money for Starr to go into.
“We also need to talk about playgroups and schools.”
“We, as in all of us, or you and me?”
“I like you Ivy I do, but would you want me deciding where your child went?”
“You are right, that decision is between you two, she is right, Toby.”
“I am all you, Ivy being in our daughter’s life as you are really good with her, but and those decision are ours alone.”
“I understand, but would you not like them to go to the same school, or playgroup?”
“I don’t know, it could be weird for them, us. Maybe.”
“We can talk about that another time.”
Arriving home, Maxine placed Starr on the floor, before fixing her meal and feeding it to her just as Rick and Tammy arrived to watch her for the evening.
“She’s been fed and her night bottle is in the usual place.”
“Thanks, we will be fine, won’t we dear.”
Maxine looked from one to the other, they wanted to say something she could sense it. It was then she realised it was not Toby or Ivy’s idea at all about the money. It was theirs. She should have known that.
“Toby spoke to me about giving me maintenance for Starr, was that your doing?”
“I said she would know, didn’t I dear, yes and I am sorry it is not because we do not love having her, we do.”
“I have leaned on you to much, I am sorry.”
“No, it is not that. Soon we will have another grandchild and we said, didn’t we dear, that we have to spend time with both of them.”
“We did and he should provide for her. He has not done so up to now. I told him, didn’t I Tammy, that he should do more than have her for one night. He has not paid for one thing other than the few times he has since brought when he has had her for the day, and now overnight.”
“I want to thank you, but he should have come to that realisation on his own.”
“I know dear, but he has no choice, if he does not do it now they will catch up with him. You named him on the birth certificate, so it will only be a matter of time. Besides, he can afford it.”
“I know,” she said. She did know, she knew what he did for a living, knew the money he had coming in.
“Good, well we are happy to still have her. Of course we are, but if you decide to give up one job, you can. We are more than happy to share the day time childcare with your parents.”
“Okay, thank you, and in time, maybe Toby and Ivy can have her over the whole weekend.”
“Oh so that was your idea too?”
“Ah, well it would give you a break and time to…”
“Date?” Maxine said.
“When you are ready to do so.”
“I have to go; I think this conversation is a little weird to be having with you guys. When I am ready, I will decide and maybe then go on a few dates. Right now I may go out or stay home and enjoy some alone time.” She did not want to tell them, that is exactly what she had planned to do.
“Maxine, you are a stunning girl, and you will find the right guy for you, he is out there, we are sure of it.”
“Now get going, we will see to this little lady.”
“Have a good shift.”
“I am sure it will be a great one.”
Monday morning Maxine woke up early, arrived at her mother’s house. Her parents were sat at the kitchen table waiting for her to arrive, a pot of tea set in the centre.
“Morning,” her mother said.
“Have you eaten, we can pop some toast in, if you are hungry?”
“No I am good, I cannot be late, I will be here as soon as my shift is over. I have something I want to talk to you two about.”
“Oh, can you give us a hint?”
“For one, I am not pregnant again, getting married or met someone new.”
“Okay, good, well on the pregnant part, but you should get out there. Shouldn’t she?”
“Thank you,” she said, leaning down and planting a kiss on her daughters head. “I have to go; I have a meeting before I start.”
“Oh, anything we should know about?”
“No, before you get worried I am not taking on more hours.”
“We love having her we do, but...”
“I understand. We will talk about this later. I am sorry I need to go.”
Maxine left her parents’ house and made her way to work. The spare top and bra were securely in her bag. Shifting it over her shoulder she arrived at work, placed it in a locker before heading to find her boss.
He was down an aisle, and looked up as she approached.
“Morning, we still on for that meeting?”
“Yes, don’t look so worried.”
“We will grab a coffee and go to my office.”
She nodded and did as he asked.
The coffee now in her hand as they arrived at his office, he told her to take a seat.
“I want to apologise for the way Angela spoke to you yesterday. I wanted to bring you in here, one to make her think we were having words, which by the way we are not, but you can tell others we did if you like.”
“Good. Now maybe you should have not spoken to that lady in the manner you did, but I understand how some people get under our skin, but we just have to bite our tongues.”
“Of course, I am sorry.”
“It is fine. What I wanted to let you know is that you will no longer have to go to any checkout calls. I have told her you have a job to do here and that you were never checkout trained, so really you should not be on there.”
“But I am trained.”
“I know, but as far as she is concerned you are not. That means you no longer have to go when they call for checkout trained staff.”
“Oh, okay, thank you.”
“You did clock in right?”
“Of course,” she said.
“I cannot thank you enough for doing that; we never get our work done when they do that.”
“I know, so you no longer will have to. Drink the coffee and head down, and if you need anything you know where I am. Okay?”
She nodded. “Thank you.”
“You do not have to thank me, I am doing my job and you are doing yours.”
Maxine picked up the coffee, wondering whether she should drink it there or take it to the staff room.
“You can drink it here or…” answering her silent question.
“I was not sure whether to go or stay,” she mumbled. “I should go,” she said picking up her cup and leaving his office. Entering the staff room, she sat at one of the nearby tables and finished the drink.
“There you are,” Hannah said.
“I am here.”
“Drinking coffee, before you start, won’t you get into trouble?”
“No, I had a meeting about yesterday.”
“Oh, yes I heard about that.”
“Did he slap your wrists?”
“Kind of, it is fine. I will be heading down in a minute. I have half an hour of work to catch up on though, so may only take half my lunch.”
It was then she saw Angela pass her and glare at her.
“Oh dear, she does not look happy does she?”
“No, but that is not my fault.”
“You know there is a rumour they are dating!”
“Yeah, maybe she thinks you are trying to steal her man?”
“Look at you, and look at her.”
“Hannah, you say the nicest things.”
“You have had one child and your body is still smoking.”
“Thanks, I think.”
Maxine downed the last of the coffee and carried it over to the trays and made her way down to the shop floor. Pulling a trolley of stock through to the aisle, she made a start.
The next day she sat at home with her daughter, as well as dating, she needed something for both of them. Starr was getting older and her mother had suggested that she take her to a toddler group, get them both meeting other mums and children of similar ages.
Dressed, she placed her daughter in her pushchair and locked the bungalow, before making her way down the road to the local church rooms where the toddler group was being held.
Taking a breath she entered and saw that all the pushchairs were lined up against the door outside.
“Seems we have to leave this out here, come here young lady.”
Picking up her daughter, she carried her towards the double doors and waited for a moment.
“Your first time here too?”
Maxine turned to see a young woman with red hair and green eyes, holding a toddler on her left hip.
“Yeah, I am not sure if we are ready to go in?”
“Me either,” she said. “I am Susie.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“You too. We could go in together.”
They entered and found seats together, and moments later one of the ladies who ran it approached them.
“Hi, welcome, can you fill these in, and just to let you know the first week is free after that it is £1.50 a week.”
“Okay,” they said in unison and filled in the form handed to them.
Maxine sat Starr on the floor, while Susie set Henry down and he toddled off to play with the toys without looking back.
“He is pretty good at playing with others, he has cousins a similar age, but my mum suggested I go to one of these to meet other mums who are not my siblings.”
“My mother said the same to me, which is why we are here. I have one sister myself, not that I see her much, she is much too busy and does not need to rely on our mother to help out with her children.”
“Yeah, they are in school, so no childcare needed there.”
“Oh I see, you work?”
“Yes,” she replied, wanting to ask if she worked, but had a feeling that she did not, with the face she made when she said she did. Instead she changed the subject.
They spent an hour talking, about their pregnancies and births, Maxine did not mention anything about Toby or Ivy. The woman was back asking what drink they would like, and were soon called to come up and collect it.
After the worry of not wanting to go, Maxine had enjoyed it and decided to attend the following week.
Her phone buzzed as she arrives home, a message from Cain. Excited she opens it to read that he is cancelling their date.
Maxine: Okay, we can reschedule it for the following week.
Cain: No, sorry I am not sure when I will be free. Thanks though, I had fun.
She stared at her phone; he had cancelled their next date. That did not make sense, they had had a good time, even if he only talked about him. She was more than happy to go on a second date, what changed? She wrote a reply three times, before deciding to not bother and instead, she blocked his number. His loss, she thought.
Sat watching her daughter, she wondered if he knew about Starr and somehow. If he did, how? Being a single mum, had that put him off. She should have known men were not interested in a single mum. She had not mentioned her, but maybe he saw the picture of them together on her phone. She decided that in the future she would not tell any of the men she went on a date with about Starr. At least, until they had been on a few dates with the guy, and she liked them enough to let them know about her. It was a risky move, but Maxine felt she had no choice.