Kate is...really confusing. One minute she's the sweetest, most amazing woman on the planet, and the next she can be super firm and scary and make me feel guilty, but then she's making me feel better about myself and I feel like curling up in her lap like a kitten whenever she ruffles my hair. She does in fact pay me for doing housework, which is ridiculous because I can't believe she trusted me in the first place to leave her house unlocked for me to get in. How did she know that I wouldn't let Mike and Nicole in and rob the place? She has all these little geeky memorbelia that may be worth tons of cash!
Still, she's the first person to make me feel like I'm worth something in a really long time, and if she has time, we really do hang out. We watch movies, we eat dinner, we talk about movies and musicals and books and college, and she sometimes helps me with homework -which helps a LOT. The next test I pass, she supplies the booze and we marathon Disney movies, singing along terribly on purpose and dancing together and laughing. I'm pretty sure I haven't laughed harder in years. And the next morning, when we wake up -me on the couch and her on the floor-, she rubs my head and giggles as I moan about my headache.
"So, you and that neighbour," Mike starts as we eat lunch.
"What?" I ask, nicking a fry from his plate.
"Whaddyou do when you go to her house?" Nicole asks. "She doesn't make you do weird kinky shit, does she?"
I roll my eyes. "No, I do housework for her when she's away. Like, clean and mow the lawn. And if she has a really long rehearsal, I sometimes make dinner for her when she gets back so she doesn't have to get McDonald's."
"So, you're like her wife," Mike smirks.
"No," I huff, my cheeks turning red. "It's my job. She pays me to do the housework."
"So, you're her maid," Nicole grins. "Does she make you wear a frilly dress and make you call her 'Master' and shit like that?"
"It's not like that!" I shout. "She's my friend, ok? She treats me like someone who matters."
That shuts them up real quick, and we finish our lunch in tense silence.
After classes are over, I head over to Kate's house and start on the dusting, my head hurting. I've been arguing with Mike and Nicole a lot lately. I don't invite them over much anymore, especially since I spend so much time at Kate's. They keep trying to dare me to do more stupid stuff, like leave firecrackers on other neighbours' lawns and go to parties to get wasted. I don't need to end up an episode of "Dateline", thank you very much. What would Kate say to me then? Probably bring me back from the dead to lecture me, then ruffle my hair and make me feel all warm inside like usual.
After I dust, I make sure all of Kate's books are standing upright, which takes a while and keeps my mind off things. I like seeing all the books she has: manga, classics, photography manuals, vegetarian cookbooks, lesbian erotica, everything I thought she would have. It all helps me understand her more.
Like how lonely she is. She hardly owns any romance novels. The erotica, that's one thing. She's a writer, she uses it for reference. But all of her other books, even most of the classics, none of them are romances. Horror, action, sci-fi, she doesn't own anything that's main focus is romance. I don't know if she was hurt by someone and it's made her a loner, or if it's just what she likes. I'm afraid to ask.
It's not like I'm afraid of HER. When she's being firm with me about my friends or a task that I didn't do right, she's never ANGRY. And she never hurts me, ever. She just lectures me, and it makes my stomach feel all knotted with shame, but afterwards, she always rubs my cheek or plays with my hair and tells me that she'll make a cup of hot chocolate or something and I feel so much better. It's sort of like she's a guardian or something. Like she's taking care of me.
The sound of the door opening breaks me out of my thoughts. I rush out to see Kate setting her rehearsal bag beside the door before she collapses on the couch. "Rough day?" I smirk, sitting next to her.
She pulls her shirt up to wipe sweat from her face. I flush at the sight of her toned stomach before she moves her shirt back down. "Oh, honey, you have no idea. Hotch worked us to the bone on the same number over and over. I'm pretty sure my calves are gonna hate me in the morning."
I giggle when she does a little dance in place. "At least you'll have the routine drilled into your heads, right?"
"At the cost of our muscles," she sighs. "How was YOUR day, sweetheart?"
I bite my lip, remembering the conversation at lunch. "It was...fine."
She raises an eyebrow at me. "You're not a very good liar, honey."
I look down at my hands, frowning when I see that I'm picking at my fingernails. "Um...Mike and Nicole, um, they were asking what I do over here. And I told them the truth! That I work and we're friends and stuff. But they kept going on and saying that I was your wife and that you were making me your maid and stupid shit like that and I was getting so frustrated and-and-"
"Hey, hey, it's ok," she says softly, wrapping her arm around me. And I lean on her and let her wipe my tears because I feel so tired and she smells a little sweaty but it's ok because she's warm and soft and she's gonna take care of me like she always does.
"Now, a few things I want you to understand," she starts once I've calmed down. "One: you are not my wife. I'm not trying to woo you. As cute as you are, I wouldn't flirt with you without you knowing about it, ok?" She waits for me to nod my head before she continues. "Two: you are not my maid. You're my housekeeper. There's a difference. A maid LIVES in the house," she smirks. "And has a uniform. Whatever those two dumbasses tell you, I swear I'm not using you, ok, Zoe?"
I nod my head and relax against her side as she runs her fingers through my hair. "I trust you."
We sit like this for a few more minutes, until we're both sure I'm relaxed. Then she gets up and goes to take a shower while I make a snack for her. And we sit back down on the couch and watch crime dramas and talk about how crazy people are. Kate never makes me feel pressured to talk, and she never cares when I sneak food from her plate. (She does the same to me, anyway.) She's the first person who has ever made me feel...normal.
My parents decide to leave me alone on Christmas break. Who leaves their only kid alone on Christmas? They left me presents, yeah, but they left me behind? Who does that? When I tell Kate that, she decides to let me stay at her house over break. "'Cause you don't deserve to be alone on Christmas, sweetie-pie."
It's the best two-and-a-half weeks of my life. It only snows hard enough once for us to play in it, and we make a couple of snowmen and have a snowball fight. She makes hot chocolate that tastes so thick and rich that I swear it was made by chocolatiers in Switzerland, and we watch all the Disney Christmas specials. We go see the community college's annual rendition of "The Nutcracker" ballet, and we play this stupid little game where we trade off hiding this plastic Christmas tree around the house and we each have to try to find it by the end of the day. Every day, Kate makes breakfast, I make lunch, and we both make dinner. And on Christmas Day, we exchange presents -books, of course, but just the fact that she got something for me makes me feel special. That night, we have a nice, quiet meal on the living room floor as we watch "The Nightmare Before Christmas".
Even the week or so after that is nice. We just sit around reading and watching TV. I try not to bother her while she's working on her blog and stuff. I go back to doing the housework -and she still pays me, even though I'm now a temporary maid since I'm living for her until after New Year's. I accidentally knock over a bunch of her books, and she makes me sit on the couch for ten minutes like I'm a little kid while she cleans it up. I feel horrible and try to apologize, but then she tells me that my punishment isn't over and tells me to be quiet and I feel even worse. When my ten minutes are up, she sits next to me and promises me that she's not mad at me for making a mistake, that it's all right and I just need to be more careful next time. Then she ruffles my hair and sends me back off to finish my work, that warmth in my chest back. How is she so able to make me feel so guilty and then so relieved in such a short amount of time?
New Year's comes so fast. We sit up against the couch with a blanket and watch the ball drop live on TV. We even drink cheap champagne and clink our glasses when it's officially a new year. I almost bring up that it's "tradition" to kiss someone on a new year, but I don't want to make it awkward, especially since she's been taking such good care of me.
And it's not like she gets anything out of it; a clean house, sure, but she could've hired someone more...I don't know..."dependable", I guess. I don't wanna make myself sound like a bad person who steals or isn't reliable or something, but just...with Mike and Nicole, and the fact that I'm still friends with them -I feel like I'm betraying Kate's trust. It's not like she outright told me to stop being friends with them -she did outright tell me that it's not her place to tell me that-, and it's not like I'm going behind her back and doing weird shit to her house anymore.
But, the more time I spend here with her, just being around her and getting to rant about my parents being gone and having her hold me and tell me that everything will be all right, her giving me things to do so that I can focus solely on those things instead of my anxious thoughts and then if I mess those up she'll make me serve my punishment but tell me that it's ok and make me feel better...I suppose it's only a matter of time before I fall in love with her.
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