3: Unexpected Turns

It wasn’t often that Kim was caught off-guard, at least that was the lie she told herself time and again as life threw one curve ball after another. But standing in front of the tall, broad shouldered Elliot McKenna, the forty year old woman’s knees were trembling like a teenager on prom night– even so, she managed her best smile. “So, did you have to pay to have your name changed when you turned eighteen or was it just a happy accident?”

A flash of confusion rippled over his bronzed face, yet the way his features crunched up in bemusement only managed to swell his presence. His toned body was barely contained in the creases of his immaculate blue dress shirt and traditional khakis, couple that with a haircut that accented the best parts of his forty something years. “What’s that?”

Kim paused for the briefest second and gave her best winning smile, “well, you know how in olden times, a person’s last name reflected someone’s trade?”

“I didn’t, but go on,” Eliot offered a good natured smile.

“Ah, well. . .” she cleared her throat, her courage vanishing under the weight of the man’s warmth. She couldn’t risk this job with one of her stupid jokes; she needed a different tact. “I was going to suggest you were probably born Elliot Centurion after the Roman officers. . . You know, military and all.”

It sounded lame to her ears even before it left her mouth but Elliot gave her a faintly reassuring smile, motioning to the table. When they sat down, he introduced Sylvia with a motion. She’d gone back to her tablet, though, clearly more interested in whatever she was reading. When it was clear she wasn’t going to participate, Elliot looked to Kim. “So you mentioned you didn’t have any experience housekeeping professionally. . .”

“Ah, no. No, but you’ll find I’m a very fast learner. I once– uh. . .” she cleared her throat. “Like I said, I’d be willing to work for a week for you, no obligation to pay me if you’re not satisfied.”

His gaze swept over her casually, thoughtful. “What were you going to say?”

“Oh, nothing. I was just rambling– I do that when I’m a little nervous.” Kim tried for her best winning smile even though she didn’t believe it in the least. There was no way someone like this would just hire anyone. He was successful and cool enough that he didn’t have to settle for anything but the best.

As if reading her thoughts, he cupped his glass of coffee and drummed his fingers against the side, still assessing Kim. His gaze lingered for a moment longer than strictly necessary, perhaps measuring something in his mind– she straightened subconsciously to try meet his expectations; she arched her back a bit to really emphasize her generous bust, smiling faintly. Pride had gone out the window with the damned pickle jar.

“I’ll be honest,” he said, “I’m not sure what you would think of our requirements. . . You see, I have a thing about people telling the truth and speaking their mind. So, when I ask someone what they mean, I kind of hope they’ll give me the respect I give them.”

Well, that was unexpected. . .” The look he wore wasn’t frightening in any way, just firm, but something tingled in the depths of Kim’s soul; she’d been around enough artists to know consistently weak people when she met them. But Elliot?

He was a different breed altogether.

Kim actually had to work herself up to meet his gaze, finding it warm and even slightly playful, not at all what she would have expected. “Ah– well, sure. Fair enough. . .” What was the point in lying? “A couple of years ago I forged a CV, references and a diploma to apply for a chemical engineering job. I actually got it, too. . .”

Elliot arched a brow. Even Sylvia glanced up, curious.

“I ah, I held it for about a week and a half.”

“You got found out?” Elliot sipped his coffee.

Kim felt a familiar heat rising on her cheeks. “No, I completely wussed– erm. That is to say, I decided I was better off not doing it. I was keeping up with the project, I mean I spent a lot of nights studying. But in the end, I just didn’t feel right.”

It was Sylvia who broke the momentary silence, “what was your team working on?”

“Ah, bio-plastics using a crystalline structure. They were meant for linings in things like tankers. They were making some pretty awesome strides, too, but–”

“No, see. The right answer is ‘I had an NDA’ and can’t talk about it.”

Kim’s cheeks flushed even hotter.

“I don’t think this is going to work,” the woman with the dual colored eyes went back to her tablet, having passed her judgment. Elliot gave her a brief glance before he looked to Kim with an apologetic expression.

Was that it? Really?

When no one said anything, Kim held her breath. Another beat passed and no one spoke. She shook her head. “That’s hardly fair, I barely know you, but–”

“There’s a certain level of discretion we’d need from a potential housekeeper, miss Williams.” Elliot said over the rim of his cup. “I’m afraid she’s right, I just don’t want to have to wonder if–”

“It was public knowledge.” Kim lied. “They were working with grants from the local college and humanitarian agencies. The idea was to develop a cheaper coating for use in third world nations for stuff like biological waste.” The blonde spread her hands on the table. “I write a lot more stories than I tell, so when I say that not only can I do the job but I can keep my mouth shut about it, you can be assured I can. . .”

Elliot leaned back in his chair looking at her for a long moment. The air was so thick she could have strangled it and she found herself wanting to– she needed this job too badly to just let it slide by. But in his eyes he saw a lingering doubt. Even before he said “I think Sylvia and I will talk it over and get back to you, miss Williams. We still have a few other emails to go through.”

“S- Sure. Sure, I understand.” Kim exhaled a steadying breath as she rose. “Ah, I’m nearby if you decide you want another meeting in short order,”

“We won’t,” Sylvia supplied without looking up. Elliot leaned towards her and murmured which met with a sharp glance from his wife.

Reluctantly and as though her entire body was made of lead, Kim hauled herself up out of the chair. She pushed it in neatly and made sure to thank them both again for their time on the off chance it would do any good. Her mind was swimming with doubts and fears when she turned to leave– so much so that she didn’t even see the man eating his breakfast in a chair behind her. She bumped into him causing him to drop his fork. Without thinking, she bent to pick it up and muttered an apology on her way by.

What the hell was she going to do for food? For gas for the Pontiac? God, for rent?! Kim hugged herself, rubbing her arms as her mind worked furiously to come up with ideas. But before she made it back to her car she heard Sylvia’s firm voice behind her. “Kim.”

“Yeah?”

The woman strolled up to her with a folded scrap of paper. Their gazes met, a flicker of annoyance in Sylvia’s. She offered the paper. “Be here in an hour. I’ll show you around.”

Kim blinked.

“There’s a uniform, I’ll give it to you at the house–”

“A- Are you sure about this? I mean, not that I’m complaining, but–”

“Don’t interrupt me. You’re going to have to learn how to conduct yourself, but if it doesn’t work out after a week, I’m not going to pay you, simple as that. That’s what you offered, right?”

“Y- Yes, I did! Thank you so much. I can’t wait to get started.

“I’m sure,” Sylvia said, already turning away. Kim couldn’t help but notice that subtle flash of curiosity, of interest, that lit those mismatched eyes for the briefest moment before the 30 something looking woman looked away. It wasn’t Elliot’s appraising gaze. It was the gaze of a triumphant panther who’d just caught herself a cougar.

Kim bit into her lower lip in the wake of the younger woman’s retreat into the cafe, wondering just what she was getting herself into with this couple. More than that, she realized it wasn’t just the relief of having food money that warmed her spirits; she was genuinely curious to see what would happen with this woman. It seemed like it was going to be a day of possibilities.

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