I do my best not to roll my eyes. “Making breakfast.” I try to make my voice sound cheery.
Mh yourself, Mister. Looks like my savior isn’t exactly a morning person.
He looks around the kitchen, as if he can’t quite believe what he’s seeing. “What can I do to help?”
His question takes me aback. Roger never asked me what he could do to help me, even before he started drinking. The small kindness makes my heart ache in a strange way. I swallow against the lump in my throat and hold out the plates and cutlery. “Set the table. And tell me your name, so I can thank you properly for saving my life.”
He blinks at me before taking the plates and cutlery out of my hands. “I’m Burke.”
The name suits him.
“Well, thank you for saving my life, Burke. I’m Daisy.”
He furrows his brows, as if he can’t quite believe someone could be named after a flower.
He grunts before setting the table while I busy myself scrambling eggs.
When we sit down to eat, there’s an awkward tension in the air. I don’t know what to say. How do you go from someone saving your life to effortless, superficial small-talk? Especially when that someone seems to be about as talkative as a rock. He’s not even looking at me.
“Thank you again,” I say, unable to think of anything else. “I’ll be out of your hair soon.”
He looks up, and I can’t interpret the expression in his dark blue eyes. They’re the color of a darkening summer sky, when the bright blue is tinged by inky black.
“Where will you go?”
I shrug. “I don’t know. Wherever I can find a job.” One step at a time, I remind myself. Get to a city that’s large enough to swallow me whole, find a place to stay, find a job. I can do this.
He snorts. “You’ll need a place to stay. And you don’t have any money.” He says it matter-of-factly, as if he’s talking about the weather, and not my shitty life.
“What makes you think I don’t have money?” Despite my best efforts, I can’t keep the defensiveness out of my voice.
He sets down his cutlery with a clank. “Because you wouldn’t have been walking down a road in the freezing cold if you had any. Without money, you won’t be able to afford a place to stay. Even if you find a job immediately, it’ll take a couple of weeks until you get paid. Where are you going to stay until then?”
I bite the inside of my cheeks and cross my arms in front of my chest. “I’ll figure it out. If push comes to shove, I’ll stay in a homeless shelter.”
I can see the muscles in his jaw working. “A homeless shelter isn’t safe for someone like you.”
I raise an eyebrow. “Someone like me?”
A blush creeps over his tan skin, and he picks up his fork and stabs at a cherry tomato. He chews it slowly, not looking at me, his strong brows drawn together.
“What do you mean?” I ask again. Part of me thinks I know the answer, but I need to hear him say it.
He lets out a frustrated grunt, avoiding my gaze. “Because you’re very… pretty.” He says it likes it’s a bad thing. Still, his words warm something inside of me. How long has it been since a man called me pretty? Years. And I didn’t realize how badly I needed to hear it until he said it. It seems silly in my situation; frivolous, unimportant. But his words are like a soothing balm to the wounds caused by years of being with a man like Roger.
“I have no choice. I need to do this.” The defensiveness has left my voice, and even I notice how tired I sound.
He looks at me again, and the intensity of his gaze makes me feel naked. It’s like he can see everything I try to hide; the pain, the anger, and, maybe worst of all, the hope that refuses to die.
As a kid that went from foster home to foster home, I’ve always dreamed of a better life. When I met Roger, I thought I’d found it. I was wrong, of course, but that hope never stopped burning in my heart, now matter how hard Roger tried to snuff it out.
“You can stay here,” he says, and I’m sure I must have misheard him. I blink at him wordlessly.
“You can stay here,” he says again, louder this time, his stunning eyes never leaving my face. “I’ll pay you to cook and clean. Once you’ve saved up enough money, you can go on your way.”
I blink, wondering if I’m dreaming. He can’t be for real, can he?
“Are you serious?” My voice sounds hoarse.
I expect him to roll his eyes, but he only nods. “I’m busy this time of year, and I could use the help.”
I pinch my arm, hard. But no, nothing changes. He’s still looking at me, his expression solemn but earnest, and I realize this is actually happening. I swallow drily. “I… Yes. That would be fantastic. Thank you. I don’t even know how to thank you.”
He shrugs, glancing at the clock hanging on the wall next to the fridge. “Good. I need to get going. I’ll see you later. We can hash out the details then.”
He stands up, leaving behind his half-eaten plate of food, grabs his jacket and car-keys, and is out of the door before I can ask him what his job is, or even fully comprehend what just happened.
But once I’ve finished my food and cleared the plates away, it sinks in, and a smile spreads over my face. A real, full smile, not the polite smile I’d give customers at the grocery store. And the spark of hope that was nearly snuffed out last night blooms into a flame; small, but steady. Life has given me an opportunity, and I intend to seize it with both hands.