It wasn’t that Jesse wasn’t sympathetic to her mother’s condition. The woman had, after all, just underwent an emergency appendectomy at fifty-five years old. She was laying in the hospital bed on copious amounts of morphine, was pale and quite obviously ill. Her mother was the strongest person she’d ever met, and she surrounded herself with the strongest women, thus Jesse was definitely concerned. Her mother’s request however was definitely not something she wanted to agree to.
“Mom, it’s not happening. You have a lot of girls on your staff. Get one of them.”
“I can’t Jesse. He’s really particular. He’s fired a dozen companies before mine and he’s been so pleased with our services he’s insisted he triples the amount of money he pays us. He pays triple our rate for a week full of services and I only go three times a week. I’d send Paloma but she’s at her daughter’s wedding in Puerto Rico.” Jesse almost groaned at her mother’s continued ramblings, “my children aren’t married. One dates hotdog vendors and the other got a girl pregnant out of wedlock.”
“Dated one hotdog vendor and I’ll hear about it until the day I die,” Jesse grumbled and flung herself in the metal chair next to the hospital bed while her brother rolled his eyes.
“I’d marry her mom, but she keeps saying no,” Dylan argued with his mother.
“You should have wrapped it better,” her mother said uncharacteristically. “That girl is all eyes and legs. You should have known you wouldn’t be able to control yourself long enough to put a condom on.”
“And that’s how we know she doesn’t need her medication topped up,” Jesse mock whispered.
Hector, her stepfather and the kindest man on the entire planet squeezed her shoulders reassuringly, “Perhaps we should table the conversation of Dylan and Portia and the pending baby for a later time.”
Fabiana waved her hands, almost pulling her IV out and causing the three people in the room to rush to her. “Stop, stop. I am fine! I just need Jesse to go clean Mr. Haugen’s house this morning. I had my secretary calls his admin assistant Mya already this morning to let her know I was sending someone over and she is going to meet you there to let you in.”
“I don’t want to clean some old rich white guy’s house. Rich white guys are weird.” She and her friends had been saying it for years and it had been proven true, repeatedly.
“Jesse, you’re the only one I trust to do this for me. It’s only a couple of weeks until Paloma is back.”
“Mom, I have a job. I can’t just go clean this guy’s house for two weeks.”
“You work from home most of the time unless an embassy needs you.” Dylan threw her under the bus, and she glared at him. “Has an embassy called you this week?”
“F – “
Her mother’s hiss stopped her from telling her brother where to go.
“Jesse. You cleaned houses with me all through your teenage years and well into college. It’s what paid for your schooling.”
“My scholarships paid for my schooling. Making less than minimum wages cleaning rich people’s houses absolutely did not pay for school.” Well scholarships and killing people for Bellona, she kept her thoughts private.
“It paid for your perfect teeth and the glasses you needed,” her mother argued. “Jesse, I know you know how to do this job. You will go. You will clean his house three mornings a week from six until eight and then you can go do whatever else you need to do.”
“Ugh,” she threw her hands up. “Mom, it’s already five.”
“Yes, and you can make it to Staten Island by six if you leave now. I told Mya you could be a few minutes late. She was quite sympathetic, unlike my youngest child.” She looked to Dylan, “in fact, if her brother drives her there, with the sirens on, she could get there faster.”
“And how would I get back? The bridge is going to be completely backed up,” she groaned as she made her way to the door, ignoring her mother’s wide smile. “My birthday is in a few weeks. I want two presents,” she looked over her shoulder angrily, “from each of you.”
Her ponytail swung dramatically as she threw herself out of the room and made her way to the elevators, furiously shoving her finger against the call button as if it would make it come faster. The sound of her brother’s footsteps trotting behind her set her teeth on edge. “Thanks for having my back, dickwad.”
“What did you want me to do, Jess? She had emergency surgery six hours ago. Her appendix was so fragile it actually exploded when they put it in the dish. She’s sick. She needs our help.”
“Fine, you go clean Mr. Haugen’s f*****g toilet.”
“I can’t. I have a prenatal exam with Portia this morning. I haven’t missed one yet and I’m not going to miss one now.”
As far as excuses went, his was pretty solid. “I have a stack of translation sitting in my home office, Dylan.”
“Yes, and you will expertly get through it all before whatever deadline you were given. You’re smart Jesse, far smarter than me even and I’m brilliant.” He nudged her with his hip jokingly as they stepped into the elevator.
“I’m definitely smarter than you. I’m not dumb enough to knock up a billionaire’s only child. In two more months, you’re going to be a father and your child’s grandfather will be Cam Torres. I’m surprised he didn’t flay you alive.”
“Are you kidding? He’s my biggest supporter. His greatest wish is for his daughter to get married move out and live on a cop’s salary.” He deadpanned as he pushed the button for the lobby. He suddenly let out a panicked rush of words, “Pretty sure he’s a mob hitman too. He hangs around the Russian mob a lot.”
Jesse said nothing, her work with an organization her brother knew nothing about providing her far more details on her brother’s girlfriend and her family than she needed to know. Of course, being close friends and colleagues with the wife of said hitman also provided confirmation of exactly what her brother suspected. “I don’t know. He’s a security guard. He’s big, bulky, and smart enough to land Isabella but I’ve seen the way he treats both Bella and Portia and he’s a teddy bear. No way he kills people for the mob.”
“He was a navy seal.”
“Doesn’t make him a hitman. Just because he is friends with the Andropov family doesn’t make him part of their mob story. I think your imagination is getting the better of you.” She rubbed her eyes as they stepped into the early morning air, still dark with the sun barely coming up. She stopped dead in her tracks just outside the hospital, “Dylan, I really don’t want to do this.”
“It’s for Mom. She’d do it for you.”
“She has a team of at least thirty. Why can’t one of them do it?”
“He’s particular and only likes mom. Not sure why. You heard her in there. You’ve cleaned with her for years. You know how she works, and you know what she would do. Just go in, clean the areas she said and get out. Two hours tops.”
“Here’s hoping he isn’t a crazed pervert,” she sighed as she started walking again towards the parking garage. The sound of Hector calling her name made her stop again. She looked at Dylan, “now what?”
“Jesse, you need to take the company truck,” Hector waved keys in his hand, breathing heavily as he caught up to her.
“Damn Dad, did you run down the stairs?” Jesse wrinkled her nose and put her hand out to take the keys. “I know you and mom like to do everything together but don’t go getting yourself a bed next to her.”
“The truck has all the cleaning supplies in it,” he gasped for breath, “and I wanted to make sure you had it instead of your car. I would hate for you to get there and have nothing to work with.”
She dug into her pockets and passed him her key. “The parking pass is on the front seat. Just pay it and I’ll pay the one in the truck.”
“Hey,” he pointed at her, “you’re doing a good thing for your Mama. She likes working for this man. He pays her more for two hours work than she gets in a full day for any other client.”
“She works damn hard and deserves every penny she earns. I told you both, you can retire, and I will happily support you. I’ve made really big paydays with my work.” She didn’t clarify which job was so lucrative.
“Your mother, she likes to work, and I love my work as a landscaper. Neither of us want to stop working yet. What would we do all day?”
“Dylan’s having a baby. You could play with your new grandchild.”
“No,” Hector shook his head laughing at Dylan, “the baby can come visit but when he poops, he goes back to daddy’s arms. I am not interested in dirty diapers.”
Jesse grinned at his words and laughed at Dylan’s grumble about no help from his family.
“Alright, if I’m going to get to Staten Island by six, I need to go.” She tiptoed and kissed the man’s weathered cheek, “love you Pops.” She kissed Dylan’s cheek, “you, I love you too but you’re a pain in my ass. Don’t be late to your appointment.”
She made her way to the garage leaving the only two men she’d ever loved standing in the entrance of the hospital talking. She got behind the wheel of the cube van and shook her head. Why her mother had felt the compunction to buy a van for her cleaning company was beyond her. Her mother had spent a heap on getting the name of the company emblazoned on the side. The thing was horrible on gas and stuck out like a sore thumb.
She turned the key in the engine and jumped in the seat as the sound of Pavarotti at full volume blasted from the stereo and she slapped frantically to turn it down and then slapped the stereo in frustration. Her brother tapped the window laughing, obviously witness to the scare. She rolled her window down, “she left Italy when she was nineteen. Why must she still listen to this s**t?”
“Hey, Luciano did nothing to you.”
“He just scared the f*****g bejesus out of me,” she corrected angrily, as she searched for something less annoying to listen to. “Why can’t she have a normal stereo? I just want to plug in my phone, listen to decent music and relax before going to scrub this guy’s hair off his shower wall.”
Dylan gagged at her words, “don’t you start.”
“Probably has pubes all over the walls and makes mom clean it for kicks.”
“I’d ask what happened to you as a child to make you this f*****g sick and twisted but we were both there,” Dylan exchanged a look with his sister who smirked. He slapped the door, “go. I’ll call you later.”
“Go listen to a baby heartbeat and then catch a bad guy after. Make it a great day.”
She pulled away as he stepped backwards, and she made her way through the parking garage. Looking down she almost screamed with pure frustration as the gas light came on. Could this day get any bloody worse?
An hour later she was stuck in traffic, her mother had called her twice to ask where she was, and she desperately needed to pee. Three cups of coffee while waiting for her mother to come out of surgery were catching up with her. She was hungry too. Hangry even, not having had anything to eat since dinner the evening before.
As the sounds of Italy’s favorite tenors echoed in the interior of the van, Jesse considered if she drove the van off the bridge, it could potentially be a less shitty day. Traffic finally started moving and she got to the address only twenty minutes late. The secretary Mya, a woman with grey hair pulled into a tight bun, was standing on the front steps, tapping her foot impatiently. “f**k me,” she muttered under her breath, reaching up to tighten her ponytail on her head.
“Hi, I’m Jesse,” she stepped out of the car, pulling a cleaning bucket off the front passenger seat. “My Mom said you’re expecting me.”
“Jesse, thank you so much for coming. I heard there was an accident on the bridge, and I was concerned you might have been involved. You’re, okay?” The woman opened the door to the house.
“I’m fine. Just ready to get this done.”
“How is your mother feeling?”
“High,” Jesse grinned as the older woman chuckled. “They doped her up fairly well and she’s not feeling too much at the moment. They’ll keep her a few days before sending her home. She’s to be off work for at least a month but her best employee Paloma is due back in a couple of weeks, and she’ll take over.”
“You will manage the cleaning here then?”
“Mom asked me specifically to do this. I used to work a lot with her when I was younger through school. I know the way she works and what her work ethic is. I won’t let her down.”
“I’m so glad. He’s very particular and your mom seems to know how to keep him satisfied.” The woman smiled, “I know she has developed a solid reputation and we had even tried to hire her company for the office building, but she has a waitlist.”
Jesse felt proud of her mom’s accomplishments, “she’s a hard-working woman and she demands excellence from her team. She’d rather have a handful of clients and do a job well then have too many clients and spread her team too thin. She’s a smart cookie, my mom.”
Mya nodded her agreement and reached for a piece of paper off a side table, “this is a quick layout of the house. The rooms to clean today are the kitchen, salon, the office, the powder room which are all on this floor. On the upper floor today it’s the bathroom and his master bedroom.” She motioned to the checklist, “as you can see, he likes to make lists. Each day will tell you what you need to clean.”
“This will come in handy, thank you.” Jesse smiled benignly instantly hating her life for the hundredth time today. Old men with lists were never a good sign. “Mom only comes three times per week?”
“Yes, Monday, Wednesday, Friday from six until eight. He does abhor tardiness.”
“He’s here?” she asked trying to keep the annoyance out of her voice, praying every bit of her diplomatic training rested on her face.
“He is. By the time you get to the second floor, he should be in his office, and you’ll simply rotate past each other.”
“Great. I’ll get to it then,” she did a quick perusal of the floor plan and folded it and tucked it in her pocket.
“You may want to refer to it,” Mya said seriously as Jesse shoved the paper away.
“I have it memorized already. No worries.” Jesse reassured the woman and made her way to the kitchen, the first room on the list and wondered if she was a bad person for praying Paloma’s daughter’s wedding got cancelled and she came home early.