State of the Union
Time was passing without much change. It had been five days since the funeral and Mara barely got herself out of bed to shower let alone to eat or tend the business. If there was nothing else he could do, Max could take care of the business end of it for her.
There were two employees at the Estate. One worked in the vineyard and the other tended the stables. The bloke who took care of the horses was a young aboriginal man who went by the name of Jack. He lived on the property in several tack rooms that were made into an efficiency apartment. The man who took care of the vines was an old buck who dodged every attempt at conversation. He acted as if he didn't trust Max at all but he tolerated him because the boss lady brought him here. His name was Hector Dupree and on this day Max sat at the patio table looking over the books. He glanced up just in time to see Hector dragging a hose over to the row of rose bushes on the side of the house. Oddly enough, he couldn't find any records of pay for hector in Mara's books. This presented a curiosity. Max got up from the table and walked over to the man who'd just begun soaking the peat moss at the base of the rose bushes.
"Hector. I have a question for you?"
"What is it?" The man tilted his head up and squinted against the sunlight that surrounded the man. A dogs end of a cigarette hung from his lips and though his face be brown and sun wrinkled, it was hard to miss the ice blue color of his soulful eyes.
"Have you been working here long?" Max squared himself. Damned if he'd let a peon intimidate him.
"What's it to you?"
"I was just editing the books. I can't see any indication of you being paid. I'm sure you don't do all of this for free. There must be some compensation."
Hector went back to his work. He took his time answering the question, waited until he had the hose back up on his shoulder.
"It's between me and Miss Mackenzie, mate."
Max drew a breath and let it out sharply. "Mara is not up to par at the moment. I'm taking care of the finances. If you expect to be paid than you'll have to let me know."
Hector dropped the hose. He removed the cigarette from his mouth and spat a bit of tobacco from the non filtered tip to the ground. He took another moment to pick a bit of it off his tongue.
"Don't worry none about me, mate. I'll manage on what I got. You just stay out of my way, right?"
"I can't promise you that. I won't let things fall apart for her. Whether you know it or not, I care very much for her."
Hector shook his head and turned his back on Max Skinner. He uttered something like "Bloody arrogant pom." as he walked away. Max uttered something of his own and it may not have totally related to Dupree but then again the name was French.
'Half arsed frog prick."
He went back to the books for a little while longer but he kept gazing up at the balcony off of her room. The doors were still closed and he reckoned that maybe if he went up there and opened them to let a little fresh air in, she may come around.
A few minuets later he was holding a mug of coffee and tapping lightly on her door.
"Mara, love, its past noon. Would you like something to eat?"
"No." she shot back but added a softer "Thank you."
"Come on, love. I know you're having a difficult time but you need to get up."
"Go away, please."
Max stood there for a moment. He knew that everyone dealt with grief differently. In a way his Uncle Henry was just like a father to him so he had an idea of what she felt like, though he wasn't one to let things get the best of him in front of anyone.
At this point he just entered the room. He set the coffee down on the nightstand and moved over to the balcony doors. Max drew the curtains back and opened both doors to let in the fresh early afternoon breeze. He turned to see Mara shielding her eyes against the intrusive light and though she looked like death reheated he smiled at her.
"Stay in bed if you wish but you can't rot. I won't let you. Love, I don't know any better way to tell you this but you're in need of a bath. Shall I draw one for you?"
"Very well then. I'll be sleeping in the guest room tonight. By the way, I've been going over the books. I've found some interesting discrepancies. We could discuss them if you wish or I could rectify them on my own. You're choice."
"Whatever,. Max. Could you just leave me alone, mate. I'm in no mood for all of this."
He strode over and sat down on the edge of the bed. She tsk'd at the feeling of the disruption in the mattress and turned over so he couldn't see her face.
"Mara. I care deeply for you, love. It's tearing me up to watch you deteriorate like this. I understand you need to grieve but you also need to get on with your life." He drew a breath and let it out slow as he contemplated telling her about the dream. Maybe he wasn't the most spiritual of men but he knew what he saw and felt.
"Your father spoke to me."
Hearing that, she turned around to look at him. Her eyes were swollen red and her hair looked as if the pied piper led all of the rats from Hamlin there to nest.
"Don't fuck with me. That's a cruel joke."
"I'm not lying to you. The night he passed I was dreaming, remember? I was dreaming about him and my uncle and you. You were a little girl and you had a pony."
"My pony's name was Max."
"I know, and he gave you a hard time with the bit, knocked you down too."
"Who told you that? Jack?" She finally sat up. Mara tried to run a hand through her hair but it caught in the tangles. She suddenly felt very self conscious of her appearance. Yes, the first sign of recovery!
"I've not talked to Jack. I have however spoken with Hector Dupree. I don't think he likes me much but he'll get over it."
"What did Hector say to you?" Now her stomach was growling and the obnoxious noise made Max raise a brow.
"He called me a bloody pom. All I did was ask him about his salary and it seemed to cause a bit of ire in him. Has he worked here long?"
"My father hired him before I was born. He and his wife have lived here all their adult lives. My dad gave him a few acres of land to tend in exchange for his services and he keeps all of the profits from the sale of what's produced on the land. I don't figure it to be much. You've seen what the entire vineyard earns."
"It's why you're in the red. The vineyard costs more to run than it produces in return. Mara, you really should consider selling this place. I can put you in touch with a man who'll net a pretty sum for the Estate."
She cocked her head sideways and a tear slipped down her cheek. Mara knew he was right, she knew the place was an albatross but it was all she had.
"I don't have any other place to go."
"Come to New York with me." he fired at once. "Mara, let me take care of you. Let me show you how much I ...I can do for you."
It wasn't exactly what she wanted to hear. She was vulnerable right now and needed someone to tell her something a little more promising. What was it with Max? Was he unsure of himself? Perish the thought, not Max Skinner.
"Let you take care of me? Isn't that an interesting idea? Do I look like I need a baby sitter? Have I failed so miserably in my life that I need someone to watch over me? Fuck that." she threw the covers off of her and jumped up to her feet. "I need to get cleaned up. Maybe if I run a comb through my hair...some bloke will make a better offer."
Max got up and snagged her by the arms. "What do you mean by better offer? I don't understand. I'm talking about New York, the Big Apple. A place where you can get anything you want at any time of day. The city that never sleeps, love. Can't you see that I want you with me?"
"To what capacity?" she jerked her arm away. "As your charge? I don't think so."
He obviously didn't feel what she did. Were all of his midnight confessions made just to butter her toast?
"Tell me what you want? I'll give you whatever you want. Mara, I've got more money than you could ever imagine. The world is your oyster, love."
She wiggled out of his hold and backed away. "Money can't buy what I want, what I need and apparently you don't have it to offer."
She hit him like a cold slap in the chops. He knew what she was getting at.
"Max, we both know how you got here but you don't owe me a thing. If you're fucking me out of obligation then it stops here and now. Go back to New York if that's what you need. You'll be going alone."
His phone tweedled urgently in his pocket and he quickly answered it.
"Skinner, it's Mister North to you, pal. Where the fuck are you? Itís been almost two weeks."
Max's eyes fixed on Mara and he could see the total and utter disappointment in her face. She turned to walk away."
"Skinner, I'm not fucking going anywhere but you are if you don't get your ass back here now. You've got forty eight hours to be in my office."
"No. I didn't mean you Brad ..Mister North. I was talking to someone else."
"There is no one else but me. Don't leave me hanging."
"So that's it, a woman. Get your head out of your ass and put your dick back in your socks, Skinner. You're jobs in peril."
"No wait. Bradey, I'll be there. Forty eight hours. I'll be there."
He terminated the call and followed after Mara.
"Mara, stop." He cut her off before she reached the loo "Ican give you what you need if you just listen to me. I'm going to go back to New York to tie up some loose ends, then we'll talk about this, just you and me, love."
Mara shook her head. "Forget it, mate. You're a day late and a dollar short."...and the door slammed behind her.
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