Collette Maxwell answered the door. The man on the other side was tall, unshaven, and although his clothes weren't rags, they'd obviously not seen the inside of a washing machine for some time.
"Yes, how can I help you?"
"I'm looking for work, Ma'am; any odd-job. I'm not looking for charity; I work and you pay me what you think I deserve."
She looked him up and down. She'd always considered herself a fair-minded person and a good judge of character, and there was something about this man that made her decide to give him a chance.
"Do you have a name?"
"George Turner, Ma'am."
"Okay, Mr Turner, I think we can do each other a good turn. But can we drop the 'Ma'am'—you can start off by calling me Mrs Maxwell; and before I find you something to do, come into the house and I'll make you a cup of tea and a sandwich; by the look of you, you don't eat regularly." She sat him down at the kitchen table, then proceeded to set about getting his refreshments.
"So, tell me, Mr Turner, how did you come to be knocking on people's doors, like you do?"
"I believe it's called being proactive, Mrs Maxwell. I was made redundant from my last job and since then I've applied for virtually everything I've seen advertised. However, for whatever reason, I don't seem to have the skills that people are looking for. So, as I said to you, I only want the chance to work and I'll do practically anything that I can—the only thing that I've ever turned my nose up at is cold-calling and sales. I'm afraid that I have some scruples, and I definitely don't have the temperament for selling."
"I think I would have to agree with you there! I'm afraid I can be quite rude sometimes when people try to sell me things that I don't want. Here's your tea, Mr Turner—and I hope you like bacon sandwiches."
When he had eaten, she showed him several roughly hewn tree trunks and branches, which she wanted chopping into more manageable size pieces for the house's wood burners and fireplaces. While he was doing that, Mrs Maxwell went upstairs to see her daughter.
"I think I might have found someone, Lexi: he seems nice, honest, and hardworking. Would you like to meet him—after all, you will be having the most to do with him?"
"Let's just see how he gets on today, Mum, and then you can sound him out about the other thing."
"I expect you're right, Dear! I can always ask him to come back tomorrow."
At half-past-one Mrs Maxwell went outside to see how George was getting on.
"You're doing a good job there, Mr Turner. Come inside when you're ready, I've got the kettle on." She noted how he wiped his feet when he came indoors.
"Is there somewhere to wash my hands, Mrs Maxwell?"
"The sink will be fine, Mr Turner." After he'd washed, she invited him to sit again.
"I'm afraid I'm a bit sweaty, Mrs Maxwell."
"That's all right, Mr Turner—there nothing wrong with sweat, if it's earned honestly! Here's your tea, and would you care for some home-made cake?"
"Yes—please! And I have no objection to you calling me George, Mrs Turner."
"Very well, George! I meant to ask you, George: do you have a family?"
"If you mean a wife and children—no, Mrs Maxwell. I was married once, but it ended several years ago. I don't even know where my ex-wife is now; I think she moved south."
"And while I'm asking all these personal questions: how old are you, George?"
"I'll be thirty-four in September."
"And just one more question—if you don't mind. Where are you living at the moment?"
"In a B&B the social services pay for. It's pretty basic—but better than nothing."
"George—aren't you curious about why I'm asking you all these questions?" He shrugged his shoulders.
"You have a right to know who you're letting into your home, and I have nothing to hide." She smiled.
"And what would you say if I said that I might have a job for you here?"
"I'd say that I was interested in hearing more." She made him more tea and them she sat opposite him at the table.
"I am a widow, George, but I don't live here alone. Just over two years ago, my husband was killed in a car accident. My daughter, Alexis, was with him in the car; she survived, but she suffered quite terrible injuries to both her legs. She has had many operations to rebuild them, but it is taking a long time for them to heal. The doctors think that in time she will walk again; but she refused to stay in a rehabilitation centre, preferring instead to come home. But of course I can only do so much for her on my own, and apart from looking after her personal needs, we need to be taking a more active part in her recovery.
"In short: we need someone that we can trust, and I believe that that person could be you, George! I can't offer you a lot of money, but you can live and eat here, and I can pay a small wage so that you will have some spending money of your own. But I must stress that the final decision is Alexis'. If you would like to go home and think about it, you can come back tomorrow and talk to her."
"I would like to do that, Mrs Maxwell. If your daughter is anything like you, I think we'll get along fine."
She took a £20 note out of her purse and handed it to him, but he declined.
"No—that's too much for a few logs! Have you got anything smaller?" She had a £5 and a £10; he took the smaller note. "Thank you! What time shall I come back tomorrow?"
"Whenever it's convenient, George. How will you get here?"
"I'll walk—It's not far. Thank you very much, Mrs Maxwell. Do you need me for anything else while I'm here?"
"No, that's all! We'll see you tomorrow."
George walked back to his temporary home. His spirits were soaring at the thought of coming off State benefits and doing something useful again. He had a reasonable suit that he kept for interviews—if he ever got any, that is—so he used some of the money he'd just earned to buy disposable razors and other toiletries.
He got up the next day in plenty of time to eat the breakfast provided for him, then he did the best he could to make himself presentable, before setting out for Mrs Maxwell's house. Fortunately, it was a pleasant, balmy day, so he walked steadily and got there in just under an hour.
"Good Morning, George! You're looking very spruce today—I hardly recognised you! Shall we go straight up to see Alexis."
George followed her up a wide staircase. Mrs Maxwell knocked, then went straight into her daughter's room. He hadn't really known what to expect—but it certainly wasn't what he saw! Alexis Maxwell was thin and her complexion overly-pale, but she had long and lustrous raven-black hair and emerald-green eyes; and she was by far the most beautiful woman that he thought that he'd ever seen! She held out her hand and smiled—and if they had said to him, 'We'll pay you in Monopoly money', he would still have taken the job.
And perhaps only her mother would have noticed the difference, but the light in Alexis' green eyes seemed to shine a little brighter when she first saw George. It may also have been the fact that Alexis hadn't seen many men apart from doctors and orderlies during the last two years, but she was sure that she felt her poor, thin, scarred legs tremble when she saw his tall, muscular frame, his curly blond hair and his blue eyes.
"Please have a seat, George. Will you get George some tea please, Mum." Mrs Maxwell smiled as she left the room.
"I think my mother has already told you something about the job, George. As you can see, I still can't do very much for myself, so I need people to help me and I can't afford to let considerations of modesty play a part, if you understand what I mean."
"Yes, I know what you mean. And your mother said you need help with the therapy on your legs."
"Yes! Would you mind pulling the covers back for me."
He didn't think that he'd ever seen such scars on a person: her legs had been sliced from pelvis to ankle, and although the flesh was pink and warm, indicating good blood supplies, the muscles were wasting with inactivity.
"Not a pretty sight, are they! But in theory they are still functional. Go on, touch them, George—if you are going to help me, we can neither of us avoid it."
"Are you in any pain?" he asked before he touched. "Do I have to be careful how I lift you?"
Alexis was glad that he was taking this practical, matter-of-fact approach. Like a lot of people in her position, she had always detested being pitied; it was what it was, and there was no need to dress it up prettily. She preferred to just get on with it.
"No, there's no constant pain any more, although they do ache sometimes and I take painkillers occasionally."
George took off his jacket and rolled up his shirt-sleeves, then he gently lifted her knees and slid a strong arm underneath them. Alexis put an arm around his neck and he supported her back. They could smell the warmth of each other's bodies.
"Is that comfortable?" he asked, as he lifted her off the bed. She put her other arm around him and pulled herself into his neck. Alexis could feel her heart beating faster in her chest—she hadn't felt this excited in a long, long time!
"Yes, that's very good. Am I heavy?"
"No, I can hardly feel any weight; but I expect you'll get heavier as we get your muscle tone back." She was thrilled by his positivity and she was suddenly feeling the most optimistic that she'd been since the accident.
Mrs Maxwell came back with the tea. She was a little surprised, but not disappointed to see Alexis being carried around by George.
"So are you happy with George, Dear?" Alexis smiled.
.... There is more of this story ...