It takes forty-five minutes to get to Lakeside on a bike.
I timed myself.
The houses are neatly aligned, with huge private driveways, balconies and freshly cut front gardens. I have to keep remembering to close my mouth every time we turn into another street, because most of the time it’s hanging open in complete amazement.
As I’m riding through Lakeside village, I realize just how different life is here compared to Barnett. The roads are wider and they even have bike lanes. The houses are tall, with open bay windows that give you a quick glimpse into the kind of life Lakesiders have. It does feel like I’m trespassing, especially when it’s pretty obvious I’m not from around here.
One thing I notice is how quiet the area is. There’s hardly anybody around. Back in Barnett, the streets are loud and flamboyant. The streets at Lakeside are dead – lifeless even. Do people even live in these houses or are they there just to look pretty?
Once we’re away from the public roads, we find ourselves along a gravel path. I’ve always cycled alone, so this does feel weird, in the sense that Rory is keeping me company.
I’m not used to spending time with anyone and deep down, it’s what I’ve always feared. I don’t like being on my own, it can be a lonely place. But I have had to get comfortable with it.
The wind is whipping my hair into a frenzy, and I don’t care that Rory is around to witness my moment of dishevelment. I let the air fill my lungs as I pedal faster.
The reason I enjoy riding a bike so much, isn’t just because of the freedom it brings. It’s because I get to see the universe on a larger scale, showcasing how beautiful the world is. Even though mankind has destroyed it technically, I am still able to see life through a different lens.
I can pretend I’m not Skye Clemons – the girl with all the problems. I can pretend that I’m just a girl riding a bike, searching for my next destination, with no worries to speak of.
When we make it to the house, Rory gets off his bike to press the buzzer on a gate.
A man’s voice is introduced seconds later. “Hello?”
“It’s Rory Keaton. I’m here to clean the poolside.”
After a few seconds the gate opens and we walk through.
There are skeletal trees everywhere and I can imagine how beautiful they must bloom in the summer. The house looks like it’s completely brand new and that nobody has been living in it. There’s a marble fountain peeking out from behind the trees, creating a melodic soft gurgling sound.
This house could make you fall in love with it at first sight.
“Wow,” I say to myself.
I stay where I am, unable to move from this spot.
12 Crescent road, Lakeside.
Rory glances back at me and chuckles to himself. “My reaction was the exact same as yours when I first saw the place.”
I suddenly feel very sheepish. I’ve only ever seen houses like this in movies – never up close. The people that live here are super lucky. I don’t want to walk any closer in case I damage something that I’ll never be able to pay for.
I’m finding it hard to swallow and the nerves continue to eat away at me. This is a home people like me only ever dream of owning. And everything about it is over the top expensive and intimidating.
Rory jogs up the steps and knocks on the door. It opens to reveal a man in a tuxedo. It’s so startling that I have to do a double take. Are we in Bruce Wayne’s mansion right now? Is this the real Alfred?
“Hey George, just here to do my job for the day,” Rory greets him.
Ah, never mind then. George is not Alfred in disguise.
George invites us inside and I’m instantly blinded by the white shimmering tiles, cream carpets and open space planning. I’m scared to breathe in here.
Rory keeps glancing over his shoulder to check that I’m still following. I give him a quick thumbs up, to let him know that I am doing okay. That’s until the owner’s dog comes charging towards me and I’m forced to back up against the wall.
I shriek and try to scramble away as the dog continues to jump up at me. “Ugh!” Dog breath. “Down boy. Down.”
George is quick to intervene, “Ernie, no,” he simply instructs.
Miraculously, Ernie dips his head and runs in the opposite direction.
I glare at Rory and hold a hand over my heart. “You could’ve warned me about the dog.”
“You’re right... I could have.” He breaks into a smile. “But, where’s the fun in that?”
I grind my teeth together as we walk outside. My mouth opens again and this time I’m unable to hold in my gasp. A huge pool covers the area, along with a courtyard, tennis court and sun loungers. It’s the most beautiful garden I’ve ever seen in my entire life.
George turns to us both. “You can start whenever you’re ready. Mr. Swain is currently working in his office, he’s very busy. Please try not to disturb him.”
I almost miss what he says, because somewhere in that sentence I’m sure I heard him say Mr. Swain.
As he leaves us alone, I turn to Rory with a worried expression. “Wait a minute. Whose house is this?”
“It belongs to Mr. and Mrs Swain. They also have a son but I’ve never met him.”
My entire mood drops. I’m going to be cleaning up after Grayson Swain’s house party? This can’t be happening. Why can’t he clean up after himself?
“I – I think I should go. This was a bad idea.”
Rory’s eyebrows draw together. “What? Why?”
“Because I didn’t realise we were in Grayson Swine’s house...” I quickly correct myself, “I mean, Grayson Swain. He’s going to get the shock of his life when he realises I’m working for his father.”
I’ve clearly confused him. “Why would he be shocked? How do you know him?”
“Some of the Lakesiders joined our class a few days ago and Grayson happened to be one of them. We’re not exactly friendly with each other.”
“Sounds a lot like our relationship to be honest.”
I shake my head. “No, this is totally different. He thinks he’s more important than everybody else. You’re not like that... you don’t look down on people.”
Rory listens carefully. “Hm, maybe that just means I need up my game then.”
I playfully nudge his shoulder. “Seriously Rory, I don’t want him to use this against me. He’s only going to rub it in my face.”
Rory stares at me for a long second. “It’s up to you what you want to do Skye. But, I wouldn’t worry about it. I’ve never seen him here when I’ve been working. I’ve just heard his name floating around that’s all. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
He’s making sense and my mother has to come first. Even if Grayson did see me today, I know my reasons for being here and that’s what matters the most.
“Alright. Let’s get this over with.”
I didn’t realise how long it would take to clean a pool but it’s been a couple of hours. Rory is working extra hard and I’m finding it difficult to concentrate because he’s taken his top off.
I hate how my eyes keep falling into the same old trap. I can’t help but check him out from across the pool. It’s like I’m doing it subconsciously.
I pick up some of the empty crisp packets and cans of beer that have been left on tables and stuff them into the bin bag. It’s a warm day and I seriously wish I hadn’t worn a jumper and tracksuit bottoms.
I can only imagine what it’s like to live in a place like this. Grayson is so lucky. I wonder what Mr. Swain is like to work for. I bet he’s exactly like his son – arrogant and bossy – a complete know it all.
“Skye, can you come here for a sec?” Rory shouts over to me.
I lower the bag and rush over to him. “What is it?”
Before I have time to react, he aims the hose pipe at me and some water shoots out of it, lightly spraying my clothes. I shriek and quickly reach for the hose pipe, until we’re basically tip-toeing around each other, playing a game of tug and war.
“Stop it Rory! Give it to me,” I demand.
“Am I finally at the top of your hit list again?”
I scoff under my breath. “You’re not far behind, trust me. We’re here to work, not mess around.”
“Stop being so uptight. Don’t you ever have any fun?”
I tug even harder, but that just seems to bring him even more amusement. “This is serious to me.”
His smile drops slightly. “And what? Are you saying it’s not serious for me?”
“Well, you don’t seem to take anything seriously so excuse me for assuming the worst.”
He sighs and I watch his eyes fall to the ground. I instantly feel like I’ve offended him, but why? Rory isn’t offended by anything. And it’s true what I said, right? I mean, he’s always been the class clown - the joker at every party or social gathering. I don’t see how that comment could be taken the wrong way.
“You’re right, because you know me so well after all…” he says, tightly.
I don’t notice his grip loosen on the hose pipe and somehow, in the midst of trying to reach for it and defend myself, I lose balance and end up falling straight into the pool.
The coldness of the water hits me and I burst out of the pool, rubbing my eyes. “Argh! Oh my god! It’s freezing!”
“Do you make a habit of throwing yourself at things?” Rory laughs, almost in tears.
I clutch onto myself, teeth clattering. “You are so dead! I hate you!”
“No, you don’t. Hate is a strong word.”
“Trust me, I hate you.”
“What is going on out here?” a third voice joins us.
Rory stiffens, his entire expression changing. It’s only when I look up, I notice that a woman is standing there, a look of disapproval sketched across her face. Neither of us saw her come outside.
She looks down at me and crosses her arms. Something about this woman scares me in every form of the word. You can tell she’s Grayson’s mother just from a single glance. She’s dangerously beautiful. I can see where he gets his looks from. But at the same time, she got this powerful presence about her and has all the authority in the world.
I’m relying on this job to get me and my mother out of a sticky situation. If I get fired because of Rory, I will seriously kill him.
“Get out of my pool,” she orders.
It takes me a second to realise she’s talking to me.
I quickly hurl myself out of the water and stay as close to the edge of the pool as possible. Water drips from my clothes and I feel a wave of embarrassment heat my face.
“You can leave now. The pair of you. You’re fired if you haven’t already guessed.”
Rory steps forward with a sense of urgency. “Mrs Swain, please don’t fire us. I can’t afford to lose this job. It’s the only thing that’s keeping me afloat.”
I never thought I’d ever see Rory beg for something. This must be really important to him.
“I don’t want to hear your excuses,” she snaps. “You are here to do a job. This is not a playground.”
“Look, I really am sorry. Please reconsider,” Rory says, pleading with her. He’s really trying but it’s obvious Mrs Swain is not going to change her mind. She reminds me of a stubborn ox, except she’s way prettier to look at.
We seem to be standing there for the longest time, before another voice cuts through the air. “What’s going on out here? I’m trying to get work done in the office and all I can hear are people shouting.”
My eyes snap to the man striding towards us down the path. Oh no. If Grayson’s father is anything like his mother, then we’re about to engage in an even more hostile and uncomfortable conversation.
Mr. Swain’s entire presence has the power to turn heads. He’s wearing a designer suit that probably cost him a fortune. His eyes are startlingly blue and I can’t stop staring into them.
He stops when he notices me and more heat creeps up my neck.
Linda is quick to fill him in on what happened and I can’t bear to listen to it. She makes us sound so immature and outright ridiculous.
“I caught them fooling around and slacking off on the job. Are these really the kind of people you want working for us Michael?”
“We weren’t slacking,” Rory says, defensively. “We were just taking a break that’s all.”
I keep my mouth shut because I honestly don’t think that anything I say right now will make a difference, or that it’ll be enough to convince Mr. Swain that we’re innocent... at least, that I am anyway.
I prepare myself for further humiliation, but then the most miraculous thing happens. Mr. Swain smiles at me. It’s not one of those fake, overly done smiles. It’s genuine.
“I don’t think we’ve met, have we?” he says, politely. “Rory mentioned he was bringing a friend with him to work today, but I think this is the first time we’ve been introduced.”
I nod my head repeatedly, confusion working its way into my brain. “Uh, yes.”
“Do you live in Barnett as well?”
I don’t understand why he’s asking me this. Why does it matter where I live? I thought I was just another outcast to these people.
“I do,” I answer him, clearing my throat.
“What’s your name?”
His eyes widen a fraction and then he just continues to smile at me. For some reason, I don’t find him so intimidating anymore.
“Lisa, I doubt they were trying to cause trouble here. I keep a close eye on all of my employees. I know who is coming in and out of this house at all times and there are cameras everywhere. I don’t see how this situation could be considered an issue. They were just having a bit of fun. I can’t fire them for that.”
I can’t believe I’m actually going to say this, but Mr. Swain isn’t such a bad guy.
“We hired them to clean the garden Michael, not to take advantage of our property.”
“I know that, but this is probably just a small misunderstanding. Rory has been a very reliable employee and he’s good at what he does. I don’t think we should be too hasty here.”
Mrs Swain keeps shaking her head in disagreement. “Well, you’re the one that hired him so I guess it’s your decision.” She hesitates and then storms back inside, slamming the door behind her.
I let out the breath I’ve been holding in and stare back at Michael Swain. I seem to be under his watchful eye and I don’t know whether that should scare me or not.
“Sorry about my wife. She just gets paranoid sometimes... We’ve had some unreliable staff working for us in the past. I guess she just doesn’t want history to repeat itself,” he says to us both, apologetically. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to fire either of you.”
We both sigh in relief. “Thank you, sir,” Rory says.
“Yes, thank you.”
Mr. Swain looks at me and we seem to be locked in a staring contest for a couple of seconds. He’s the first to break away.
“Do you need a fresh pair of clothes to change into Skye?”
I’m starting to think that Mr. Swain is not Grayson’s biological father because he’s actually really kind and Grayson doesn’t have a single kind bone in his body.
“I don’t want to be a bother,” I say, sheepishly.
“Nonsense! It’s no bother at all. I’ll tell our butler to get something prepared for you. We have plenty of clothes in the guest house.” They have a guest house too? What don’t these people have?
“Oh, okay. Thanks.”
Mr. Swain reaches into his wallet and I get a quick glimpse inside. There are lots of notes and a few bank cards in there. He’s got money up to his eyeballs.
I watch as he hands Rory a cheque. His eyes are nearly bugging out of his head when he reads the digits.
“What the—” he swallows down the excitement. “This is double what you paid me last week!”
“Consider it a bonus. You’ve been working hard. It hasn’t gone by unnoticed.”
Rory kisses the cheque and fist pumps the air. “You are officially a legend Mr Swain.”
I suddenly feel guilty. Not all rich people are jerks. This guy is the exception. “Wait here and I’ll get some clothes for you to change into Skye,” Mr. Swain tells me.
I thank him quietly and watch him head inside. Rory is bursting with energy from beside me.
“This is the most money I’ve ever made in my entire life!”
I hit him across the shoulder and he winces. “Ow! What was that for?”
“For making me look like a bloody idiot and for nearly costing us both the job!”