Chapter no 49

The Housemaid

Step Eight: Find a Replacement

I can’t pick just anyone.

First of all, she has to be beautiful. More beautiful than I am, which shouldn’t be hard since I’ve deliberately let myself go the last few years. She has to be younger than me—young enough to give Andy the children he so badly wants. She has to look good in white. He loves that color.

And most of all, she has to be desperate.

Then I meet Wilhelmina Calloway. She’s everything I wanted. The dowdy clothing she wears to her interview can’t conceal how young and pretty she is. She’s desperate to please me. And then when the simple background check I run reveals a criminal record, I know I’ve hit paydirt. This is a girl who will be desperate for a decent, high-paying job. “I am not on board with this,” Enzo tells me when I come out to my backyard to ask for the name of the private

detective he knows. “This is not right.”

When I told him my plan a few weeks ago, he was not happy. You would sacrifice somebody else? But he didn’t understand.

“Andy controls me because of Cece,” I say. “This girl has no children. No attachments. Nothing he can hold over her. She can leave.”

“You know it doesn’t work that way,” he grumbles. “Will you help me or not?”

His shoulders sag. “Yes. You know I will help.”

So I hire the private investigator Enzo recommended to me using some of the remaining money I had squirreled away. And the detective tells me everything I need to know about Wilhelmina Calloway. He tells me that she got fired from her last job—and they were close to calling the police on her. He tells me she’s living in her car. And he tells me one other tidbit that changes everything. Right after I hang up with the detective, I call Millie and offer her the job.

The only problem is Andy.

He won’t want a stranger living in our house. He has reluctantly allowed people to come in for a few hours to clean, but that’s it. He never even allows anyone to babysit for Cecelia except for his mother. But the timing works out very well. Andy’s father recently retired and after taking a bad fall on a patch of ice, they decided to move down to Florida. I could tell Evelyn was not enthusiastic about the idea and they decided to retain their old house for the summer, but most of their friends had relocated to southern Florida by now. And Andy’s father was looking forward to spending his retirement playing golf every day with his buddies.

What it comes down to is that we need help.

The trickiest part is that Millie’s new bedroom will be in the attic. He won’t like that at all. But it has to be that way. He has to see her up there if I want him to think of her as my replacement. I have to entice him.

I set the stage before I spring her on him. I wake up every morning complaining of migraines that make it impossible for me to cook or clean. I work hard to leave the house a complete mess. Another few days and our house would be ready to be condemned. We need help. Desperately.

Still, right after Andy discovers I’ve hired Millie, he corners me outside my car. His fingers bite into my biceps as he gives me a good hard yank. “What the hell do you think you’re doing, Nina?”

“We need help.” I lift my chin defiantly. “Your mother isn’t around. We need someone to watch Cece and to help clean.”

“You put her in the attic,” he growls. “That’s your room.

You should put her in the guest room.”

“And where will your parents stay when they come to visit us? The attic? The living room sofa?”

I see his jaw working as he considers this. Evelyn Winchester would never sleep on the living room sofa.

“Just let her stay for two months,” I say. “Until the school year is over and I have more free time to clean, and your mother will come back up from Florida.”

“Forget it.”

“So fire her if you want.” I blink at him. “I can’t stop you.”

“Believe me, I will.”

Except he doesn’t fire her. Because when he comes home that night, for the first time, the house is clean. And she serves him a dinner that isn’t burned. And she is young and beautiful.

So Millie stays in the attic.

This will only work if three things happen:

  1. Millie and Andy have a mutual attraction.
  2. Millie hates me enough to sleep with my husband.
  3. They have the opportunity.

The attraction part is easy. Millie is gorgeous—even more attractive than I was when I was younger—and

although Andy is getting on in years compared with her, he is still devastatingly handsome. Sometimes Millie looks at me like she can’t quite figure out what he sees in me. I do my best to pack on the pounds. Since Andy doesn’t have the option of locking me in the attic, I dare to skip my hair appointment and let the darker roots start to show.

And most of all, I treat Millie like crap.

It doesn’t come easily to me to treat her that way. Deep down, I’m a nice person. Or at least, I used to be before Andy wrecked me. Now everything is a means to an end. Millie might not deserve it, but I can’t do this anymore. I have to get out.

She starts hating me on her first morning at our house. I’ve got a PTA meeting in the evening, and I march into the kitchen first thing in the morning. I have left a mess over the last couple of weeks, and Millie did an amazing job cleaning up. She worked really hard. Every surface is shining.

I feel terrible about this. I really do.

I rip the kitchen apart. I pull out every dish and every cup I can find. I throw pots and pans on the floor. Just as Millie arrives, I’m getting to the refrigerator. Growing up, I was responsible for my fair share of chores, and it’s physically painful for me to take a milk cartoon and throw it on the ground, letting the milk spill out everywhere. But I force myself. Means to an end.

When Millie enters the kitchen, I turn around and look at her accusingly. “Where is it?”

“Where… where is what?”

“My notes!” I bring my hand to my forehead like the horror of it all might make me faint. “I left all my notes for the PTA meeting tonight on the kitchen counter! And now they’re gone!” And then accusingly: “What did you do with them?”

I do have notes for the meeting. But they are safely tucked away on my computer. Why would my only copies be

here in a pile on the kitchen counter? It makes no sense, but I keep insisting it’s true. She knows I didn’t leave the notes there, but she doesn’t know that I know that.

I yell loud enough to get Andy’s attention. He feels sorry for her. His heart goes out to her because I’m accusing her of something he knows she didn’t do. He’s attracted to her because I’m turning her into the victim.

The same way I was the victim when I got yelled at for my breasts leaking milk all those years ago.

“I’m so sorry, Nina,” Millie stammers. “If there’s anything I can do…”

My eyes sweep down to the disaster I created on the kitchen floor. “You can clean up this disgusting mess you left in my kitchen while I fix this problem.”

And at that moment, I have accomplished all three of my goals. First, the mutual attraction: her in skinny jeans and effortlessly beautiful. Second, Millie hates me. Third, when I storm out of the room, they have an opportunity to be alone together.

But it’s not quite enough. I have one other ace up my sleeve.

Andy wants a baby.

It won’t happen with me. Not with the IUD sitting snugly in my uterus. And Andy is going to discover I’m barren, because the private investigator Enzo found for me managed to get a few great photographs of the fertility specialist with a woman who isn’t his wife of twenty-five years. All the good doctor has to do is tell Andy there’s no chance I’ll ever get pregnant, and those photographs go in the garbage.

The day before our appointment with Dr. Gelman, I give Evelyn a call down in Florida. As always, she seems less than thrilled to hear from me.

“Hello, Nina,” she says drily. What do you want from me? is implied.

“I just want you to be the first to know,” I say, “that my period is late. I think I’m pregnant!”

“Oh…” She pauses, torn between wanting to be excited for her first biological grandchild and hating the idea that I would be the mother of that grandchild. “How lovely.”

Lovely. It’s probably the opposite of what she’s thinking. “Hopefully you’re taking prenatal multivitamins,” she

says. “And you need to follow a strict diet when you’re pregnant. It’s not good for the baby if you have lots of calorie-laden treats, like you usually do. Andy is lax about letting you get away with it, but for the good of the baby, you should try to control yourself.”

“Yes, of course.” I smile thinly, delighted that Evelyn will never be the grandmother of my child. “Also, I was wondering… It would be so great if you could send us some of Andy’s old baby stuff. He was talking the other day about wanting to pass on his old baby blankets and stuff like that to the new baby. Do you think you could send it?”

“Yes, I’ll call Roberto and ask him to send over the box.” “Lovely.”

Andy is shaken by the revelation from Dr. Gelman. I watch his face in the doctor’s office as the bombshell drops. I’m afraid Nina will never be able to carry a pregnancy to term. His eyes fill with tears. If he were anyone else, I might feel sorry for him.

Then that night, I pick a fight with him. And not just any fight. I remind him of the very reason why he will never father a child with me.

“It’s all my fault!” I summon tears to my eyes by remembering the time when he locked me in the attic and turned the furnace up full blast, until I was clawing at my skin. “If you were with a younger woman, you could have a child. I’m the one who’s the problem!”

A younger woman like Millie. I don’t say it, but he must be thinking it. I see the way he looks at her.

“Nina.” He reaches out to touch me, and there’s still love in his eyes. Still. I hate him so much for loving me. Why couldn’t he have chosen someone else? “Don’t say that. It’s not your fault.”

“Yes, it is!” The rage builds up inside me like a volcano, and before I know what I’m doing, I’ve smashed my fist into the vanity mirror. The crash echoes through the room. It’s only a second later that my hands sting with pain, and I notice the blood dripping from my knuckles.

“Oh Jesus.” Andy’s face turns pale. “Let me get you some tissues.”

He grabs some tissues from the bathroom, but I resist him, and by the time he gets my hand wrapped, there’s blood all over his hands as well. When he goes into the bathroom to wash it off, I hear the sound outside the door. Did Cecelia hear our fight? I hate the idea that my temper tantrum might’ve scared her.

I pull the door open, but it isn’t my daughter standing there. It’s Millie. And I can see all over her face that she heard every word of our argument. She notices the blood on my hands and her eyes become saucers.

She thinks I’m insane. It’s become a familiar feeling.

Millie thinks I’m crazy. Andy thinks I’m too old. After that, it’s just a matter of opportunity. Andy will want to get me tickets to Showdown after how much I’ve talked about it—he loves to do things to please me, alternating with the horrors he subjects me to. But it will be Millie who will see the show—not me. The show and then the hotel room overnight. It’s almost too perfect. And it gives me a chance to get Cecelia out of the way to camp, so Andy can’t use her against me.

When the GPS tracker on Millie’s phone registers that she’s in Manhattan that night, I know I’ve won. I see the

way they look at each other after that. It’s over. He’s in love with her now. He’s her problem.

I’m free.

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