Chapter no 2

The Housemaid's Secret (The Housemaid, Book 2)

During my walk from the train station to my one-bedroom apartment in the South Bronx, I keep one arm firmly clutched around my purse, and the other holding the can of mace stuffed into my pocket, even when it’s broad daylight. You can never be too careful in this neighborhood.

Today I feel lucky to even have my little apartment in the middle of one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in New York. If I don’t find another job soon to replace the income I just lost after Amber Degraw let me go (with no offer of a reference), the best I could hope for is a cardboard box on the street outside the decrepit brick building where I currently live.

If I hadn’t decided to go to college, I might have saved some money by now. But stupid me, I chose to try to better myself.

As I walk the final block to my building, my sneakers squishing against some slush on the pavement, I get the sensation that there’s somebody behind me, following me. Of course, I’m always on high alert around here. But there are times when I strongly feel like I have attracted the wrong sort of attention.

For example, right now, in addition to a prickly feeling in the back of my neck, there are footsteps behind me. Footsteps that seem to be getting louder as I walk. Whoever is behind me is getting closer.

But I don’t turn around. I just hug my sensible black coat tighter around my body and I walk faster, past a black Mazda with a cracked right headlight, past a red fire hydrant leaking water all over the street, and up the five uneven concrete steps to the door of my building.

I have my keys ready. Unlike in the Degraws’ swanky Upper West Side apartment building, there is no doorman here. There is an intercom and

there is a key to open the door. When the landlady, Mrs. Randall, rented me the apartment, she gave me a stern lecture about not letting anyone in behind me. It’s a good way to get robbed or raped.

As I fit the key into the lock that always seems to stick, the footsteps grow louder again. A second later, there’s a shadow looming over me that I can’t ignore. I lift my eyes and identify a man in his mid-twenties, wearing a black trench coat, his dark hair mildly damp. He looks vaguely familiar— especially the scar over his left eyebrow.

“I live on the second floor,” he reminds me when he sees the hesitation on my face. “Two-C.”

“Oh,” I say, although I’m still not thrilled about allowing him inside.

The man pulls a set of keys out of his pocket and jiggles them in my face. One of them has the same etchings as my own. “Two-C,” he repeats. “Right below you.”

I finally give in and step inside to allow the man with the scar over his left eyebrow to enter my building, considering he could easily push his way in if he wanted. I lead the way, trudging up the stairs one by one as I wonder to myself how the hell I am going to pay the rent next month. I need a new job—now. I had a part-time gig bartending for a little while, and I stupidly gave it up because babysitting for Olive paid so much better and the last-minute scheduling made juggling the second job difficult. And it’s not like it’s easy for somebody like me to find another job. Not with my history.

“Nice weather we’re having,” the man with the scar above his left eyebrow comments, following a step behind me on the stairs.

“Uh-huh,” I say. The last thing I want is to talk about the weather right now.

“I heard it’s going to snow again next week,” he adds. “Oh?”

“Yes. Eight inches are forecasted. One last hurrah before the spring.”

I can’t even attempt to feign interest anymore. When we get to the second floor, the man smiles at me. “Have a good day then,” he says.

“You too,” I mumble.

As he walks down the hall to his own apartment, I can’t help but think about what he said to me when I let him in. Two-C. Right below you.

How did he know I live in Three-C?

I grimace and walk a little faster up the stairs to my own apartment. I’ve got the keys ready once again, and the second I’m inside, I slam the door shut behind me, turn the lock, and then throw the deadbolt. I’m probably making too much of his comment, but you can never be too careful. Especially when you live in the South Bronx.

My stomach is growling, but even more than food, I’m craving a hot shower. I make sure the blinds are drawn before I strip down and jump into the shower. I know from experience that there’s a tiny range between the water shooting out boiling hot or ice-cold. In the time I’ve lived here, I’ve become an expert at adjusting the temperature. But it can drop or rise twenty degrees in a split second, so I don’t linger too long. I just need to wash some of the grime off my body. After a day of walking around in the city, my body is always covered in a layer of black dust. I hate to think about what my lungs look like.

I can’t believe I lost that job. Amber relied on me so heavily, I thought I’d be good at least until Olive was in kindergarten, maybe longer. I was almost starting to feel comfortable, like I had a steady job and an income I could rely on.

Now I have to search for something else. Maybe multiple other jobs to replace that one. And it’s not as easy for me as most people. I can’t exactly put an ad up on the popular childcare apps, because they all require a background check. And as soon as that happens, any job prospects are off the table. Nobody wants somebody like me working in their home.

At the moment, I’m a bit short on references. Because for a while, the cleaning jobs I took weren’t exactly cleaning only. I used to do another service for several of the families I cleaned for. But I don’t do that anymore. I haven’t in years.

Well, no point in dwelling on the past. Not when the future looks so bleak.

Stop feeling sorry for yourself, Millie. You’ve been in worse situations than this and come out of it.

The temperature in the shower abruptly plummets, and I let out an involuntary shriek. I reach for the faucet and shut the water off. I got in a good ten minutes. Better than I even expected.

I wrap my terrycloth bathrobe around me, not bothering with a pair of slippers. I track little wet footprints into the kitchen, which is just an offshoot of the living room. In the Degraws’ uber-apartment, their kitchen

and living room and dining room were all separate spaces. But in this apartment, they have all merged into one single multipurpose room, which is ironically much smaller than any of the rooms at the Degraws’. Even the bathroom there is bigger than my entire living space.

I put a pot of water on the stove to boil. I don’t know what I’m going to make for dinner, but it’s probably going to involve some sort of noodle being boiled in water, be it of the ramen or spaghetti or spiral noodle variety. I am examining my options when I hear pounding at the door.

I hesitate, tightening the belt of my robe around my waist. I pull a box of spaghetti out of the cabinet.

“Millie!” The voice sounds muffled behind the door. “Let me in, Millie!”

I wince. Oh no.

Then: “I know you’re in there!”

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