As soon as Mrs Cunning heard Rilah's request, she was only too happy to oblige. She gave Rilah a job at the supermarket on one condition; that she'd wait until she finished writing her exams. Rilah talked to Florence about being excused from home until 5:30pm as she had to work at the 'local library'. Rilah knew that Florence would never set foot into the library and neither would Tyron. Even if they did, they were so loud they'd probably be thrown out in a second.
Florence grudgingly agreed after stipulating that she'd receive ninety percent of her earnings and Rilah was not allowed to slack off her home duties at all. Naturally Rilah told Florence that she'd be earning a very low amount of remuneration. Of course Florence didn't care, as long as most of the money would come to her.
Sylvia was very surprised when Rilah told her that aunt Florence had agreed to let her work. "Why the hell would she agree? Was she too high?"
Rilah smiled wistfully. "Quite the opposite really. She's clean these days, so she's much more amicable. Almost like her old self, like the woman who adopted me." She shook herself out of her stupor. "But she will never be like that again."
Sylvia watched as Rilah returned to stacking the canned goods in aisle three. There was a lot behind her statement, Sylvia could tell that much but she knew that Rilah would not answer her questions. So she let her be. Sylvia was getting ready to go to one of the tills, where she worked three shifts a week. Schools had closed for winter and Rilah had settled in quite well. Sylvia had introduced her to the whole staff, making sure to mention that Rilah didn't like to be touched or asked too much questions about her personal life.
This established a clear border between Rilah and the others, and they got along pretty well. Rilah worked almost all days of the week, and took on extra shifts when someone was unavailable. With the money she earned from the extra shifts plus her weekly remuneration, she earned around four thousand rands each month. Of course about seven hundred went to Florence, but luckily she didn't question anything.
Her acquisition of a job wasn't the only good change that happened to her. As she entered her second trimester, the morning sickness stopped. She found herself craving lots of different weird foods, and she discovered a strange appetite for Greek yogurt. She started reserving a small amount of money for the awesome goods each day. Her body still hadn't changed except that she needed the bathroom much more frequently and there were strange spider web marks underneath her navel. They unsettled her because they probably represented a bulge about to appear soon. God, she hoped not. As it went, she could do nothing about it except cover it up as best she could.
She gestured to the next person waiting in line. She had finished stacking up cans and was now covering for Tony, a young blubby woman with flaming red hair. Tony had an explosive personality; she was always so hyper and could be depended on to brighten up someone's mood. It had taken her a lot more than others to respect Rilah's boundaries and it had resulted in a lot of accidental hugs and overreactions from Rilah. Eventually, though, Tony had managed to tone down her enthusiasm and she and Rilah now had quite an agreeable relationship.
Rilah watched the lady in line push a huge trolley forward. It was full of groceries and baby foods. Inside the trolley, a toddler played with a juice pouch, chewing on it and then pointing it to his mother, talking in inaudible gibberish. Well, it was inaudible to Rilah, since his mom shook her head and said, "No, you can't open it."
She smiled apologetically at Rilah and started loading the grocery onto the table. When she had loaded a significant amount of items, she pushed the trolley away from her a bit to reveal a huge rounded tummy. One could hardly tell when her stomach was concealed; she looked gorgeous.
Rilah scanned the goods and smiling, she conversed with the woman. "He's so cute! How old is he?"
"He's in his terrible twos; thinks he's the boss of everything. We've already got a cat in the the house - most sassy creatures you could find, and now to pair her with Matthew here, it's a loud house. Mostly because of me shouting." She laughed and told little Matthew to give the juice pouch to Rilah. After some consideration, where they both laughed at his deep-in-thought expression, he handed the juice to her. She scanned it and handed it back to him, awarding her a huge grin.
"And he's about to become a big brother! To a girl or boy? Do you need paper bags or those big grocery bags?"
"No thank you. We're having another boy. I'm becoming outnumbered."
Rilah smiled sympathetically as she scanned the last two items. "How far along are you?"
The lady swiped her card and punched in her pin. "Last push of eight months. I'm buying all this food so that I can prepare it and freeze it. It makes the first weeks after labour easier, 'cause Matt here won't stop being a toddler just because there's a baby in the house."
Rilah contemplated this. "If you don't mind my asking", she asked slowly, while handing the lady her receipts. "When did you start showing?"
Rilah watched as the lady's face scrunched up in confusion, but she answered, "About four months, there was a slight bump. At five months, it was a noticeable bulge and people noticed it easily. At six months, I ballooned up. And here I am at eight months. Why do you ask?"
"My cousin is in school and pregnant. She's hoping she can finish this year without showing. Right now she's four months along."
The lady shook her head, and clicked her tongue. "It's highly unlikely that she'll finish the year without showing. Good luck to her. Bye. Say 'bye' Matthew."
Matthew, whose juice pouch had been opened for him, waved absentmindedly at Rilah and Rilah waved back.
After the woman had gone, Rilah took a deep worried breath. Looking at her progress, Rilah could guess that she'd show a little later than that lady. At best, she'd start showing at six months, at worst she had a month's deadline. Brushing aside her worries, she called the next customer. She grabbed a damp, sanitised cloth and wiped down the counter. The customer placed two large Greek yogurt tubs on the counter, cleared his throat and said in a deep reverberating voice that turned her legs to jelly, "Fancy seeing you here."
Rilah looked up abruptly to behold Charlie. Her heart was beating frantically, whether from fear or happiness and shock, she wasn't sure. He had changed; he was much more muscular - evidence of days spent lifting weights and perhaps running. He was paler but not too much. He certainly looked taller than when she'd last seen him but maybe that was because of her current position. His dress style was now also different; like a mix of a new and old style. He wore dark blue jeans with a black polo neck - a polo neck! You could never have caught Charlie in a polo neck jersey - and a long black coat. Except for pockets with shiny black buttons, it had no details. It was as plain as could be but shone with the radiance of expensiveness. On his feet, he had on bright coloured sneakers, which lit up his whole getup. One thing that hadn't changed though was on his head. His hair peaked out from a gray woollen beanie with a white pom-pom on his head.
Rilah's anxiety eased a little as she noted that the woollen beanie fashion statement hadn't changed. She thought of the last time she'd seen that hair; it had been wet and darks as midnight and she'd been running her fingers through it. She muttered an incoherent insult as a flush of colour crept all over her face. Why did she have to remember that? In front of Charlie, no less.
Charlie smirked as she blushed fiercely and she turned more scarlet, this time with anger - anger that he'd noticed and had the nerve to smirk. That smirk full of endearing arrogance, or confidence as he insisted on calling it. That smirk that was so familiar and loved. That smirk that was so Charlie, the boy that she loved.
She looked away quickly, putting the cloth away and schooling her features into professionalism.
"Hello, Charlie. When did you come back?" Good, she didn't sound out of breath.
"Just came back - my bags are in the car. Thought I'd make a quick stop to buy these", he gestured to the yogurt tubs.
"Since when do you eat yogurt?" Stupid question, she thought. Since when did he wear polo neck jerseys? Since London of course.
He shrugged. "You know you are slacking off? There are people in line."
Charlie picked up the yogurts at the same time that Rilah made a grab for the tubs and she pulled her hand away hastily as a little shock went through her. Charlie smiled sinisterly and pushed the tubs to her. Rilah scanned them quickly and held out her hand for the money. Charlie handed her a hundred rand note, taking extra care to make sure that their hands didn't touch.
"So what time are you knocking off?" That deep voice startled her again.
"Um . . . Anytime, really. I'm just helping out, it's not my day in." She put the tubs in a small paper and handed it to him.
"Good. We'll be waiting in the car."
"No, that's not what I meant. I still have some other stuff to do. I can't just leave!" She gave him the receipt and change. He shook his head at the change and told Rilah to keep it.
He didn't give her a chance to protest as he said, "You work for my mom, and as her son, I say you are knocking off right now."
He looked around her work station, got the card written 'CLOSED' and he walked to the line of customers and told them to pass it to the last customer. Then he walked back to Rilah with an air of confidence.
"You are so arrogant! Why'd you do that?" She folded her arms and frowned.
He smiled, put his hands on the counter and leaned into Rilah. "For the last time, it's confidence, not arrogance", he said, with a grin.
Unfortunately for Rilah, Charlie's stance of dominance and his deep voice frightened her and she was reminded of her recurring nightmare. She leaned back, scared and her body stiff. Charlie noticed and he became anxious and remorseful. "Rilah, sorry. I didn't mean to scare you or anything." He tried to hold her hand, reassure her but Rilah leaned further backwards and shook her head. Charlie was dismayed and at a loss of what to say.
"M-move back, p-p-please", she stuttered. Charlie moved back quickly and lamely kept apologizing. Rilah nodded and said, "I have customers to attend to. I'll meet you in the car."
"Rilah . . . " Charlie tried pleading.
"Please. I'll see you in the car. Go." She wouldn't meet his eyes but when he tried saying something, she had already called the next customer.
He walked out of the shop, feeling deflated and extremely guilty. Not even an hour since he'd come back and he'd already messed things up with Rilah.
Hello, readers. I'd like to let you know that this novel is a first draft so I might be making minor changes in different chapters. If I make major changes that will impact the book as a whole, I will let you know.