The Arrangement (An Alternative Love Romance)

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The Plan

“Oh, my god See, did you see who was just seated in your section,” Tiffany asked with wide eyes and flushed cheeks.

Selene looked at Tiffany blankly. “No, I didn’t. I only just got the ping.”

“Nick Saber,” Tiffany almost squealed.

Selene’s expression remained the same.

Tiffany huffed and rolled her eyes. “The most eligible bachelor in the state?”

Realization dawned on Selens’s face. “Oh, right. He’s a friend of Paul’s,” she said. “He was here last week,” she elaborated at Tiffany’s blank look.

“Oh! Did you get to serve him?”

Selene shook her head. “It was the night the POS broke down.”

“Oh, that’s a shame. He’s a great tipper, though he usually has a woman with him. Not tonight, though,” Tiffany babbled. “Usually a different one each time, though I didn’t get the impression he was as fond of them as they were of him.”

Selene chuckled. “That figures. I imagine a guy with a load of money has women ready to jump on him at the first chance.”

Tiffany nodded with a disappointed look. “Yeah, probably. That has to suck.”

Selene grinned at Tiffany. “At least we’ll never have that problem.”

“Not at these wages,” Tiffany concurred with a roll of her eyes.

The two parted and Selene went to do her job. She had a table that needed attending and customers don’t like to wait. She put on a smile and stepped back into the dining room. She pulled out the small tablet they used when the system was working. It didn’t take her long to spot the newcomer.

“Good afternoon! I’m Selene and I’m be serving you-,”

“Please, skip the script,” Nick said as he locked his gaze with hers. “You and I have met before; we’re hardly strangers.”

“Yes, Sir,” Selene responded quickly. “What can I get for you?”

“A double whiskey – Amrut Fusion, water, and..,” he paused, glancing at the menu. “The duck, I think sounds good today,” he concluded.

Selene tapped the pad, then put the liquor order under ‘special’ and wrote it in. “Anything else,” she asked, looking back at him.

“Well,” he began, pausing, then shook his head. “No, I think that will be it,” he decided, offering her a smile. “Thank you.”

Selene flashed her best smile and nodded. “Of course, Sir. I’ll be back soon with you drinks.”

Nick caught her wrist gently, catching her eyes again. “Just call me Nick, please?”

“Alright, I’ll try to remember that,” Selene responded with another smile.

She went to fetch a pitcher of ice water and a glass, before heading to the bar to collect the drink he’s ordered. She had barely reached it when the bartender placed the drink in front of her. Taking the drink, she smiled at the bartender before she turned around to deliver the drinks.

Nick watched her as she moved around, quickly becoming fascinated. She moved with the grace of a ballerina. Her hips shifted as she maneuvered between tables, patrons, and other members of staff without losing her stride. He could see her working her way down a runway or playing with kids.

At the thought of kids, he snapped the line of thought down. That wasn’t happening. This wasn’t romance, this would be business and perhaps friendship, nothing more. Neither he nor Selene, at least from what he could gather from Paul, weren’t looking for relationships.

Moments later she was there with a smile, putting his drink in front of him before placing a pitcher of water and a glass on the table just to his right. He lifted the whiskey before he looked back at her. He couldn’t even get a word out before she was gone again. Not that he knew what to say. He wasn’t quite sure how to approach her just yet. He needed more information. Perhaps she was interested in something he enjoyed or would find interesting. But what would a woman like her enjoy?

He couldn’t just buy her something; she was not that kind of person – Paul had made that clear. With a sigh, he smelled the whiskey before taking a sip.

“You look like the weight of the world is on you, darling.”

Nick looked up to see Angie taking a seat across from him. Her blond hair was still as golden as ever and you could hardly see any difference between her in the 30 years he’d know her. Especially that warm smile. It always brought out his own.

“Hello, Ang. Looks like life’s been good,” he responded. “You’re still as lovely as ever.”

“Oh, you flatter me, Nick,” she answered him. “Paul tells me you’re trying to get yourself one of the waitresses to pose as your girlfriend,” she revealed quietly. “I imagine you’re going to need some help. Am I right?”

Nick sighed and nodded. “I am not so sure how to do the approaching. She’s so different from the women I’m normally around. I even followed her a couple times to see if anything caught her attention, but nothing.”

Angie nodded slowly, tapping her nails against the cloth tablecloth. “I get your problem. I also understand you can’t really approach her here,” she continued, squinting at him. “You need to run into her in public and not dressed like that,” she added, waving a hand to indicate his suit.

Nick raised a brow. “I thought suits made a good impression.”

“Not for a blue collar worker, dear,” she informed him. “You’re better off dressed casually when you do it. Jeans, a t-shirt, and sneakers or boots. Actual casual.”

Nick nodded slowly. “I have some things in the back of my closet from college. I suppose that could work.”

“Perfect! Now, you need to run into her somewhere in public,” she told him.

Nick looked at her in expectation. “Where might that be? I don’t know where she goes.”

Angie laughed softly. “You may have to have someone follow her for that information or ask people who know her better. I can’t do it all for you.”

Nick sighed, but nodded. “Well, at least I have a place to start. I wouldn’t have thought about the suit at all.”

“I know, darling. That’s why I told you. However, I can give you another clue that might help you along,” Angie began, waiting before Nick indicated for her to continue. “Women like her don’t often get valuable gifts, so don’t go overboard. Also, she’ll prefer your time to some trinket that she sees as frivolous. I haven’t talked to her much, but I’ve noticed she never wears jewelry and even on her off days when she comes in for her check, her clothes are very basic.”

“So, fancy clothes and jewelry are out.”

Angie nodded. “It would probably just endanger her in that part of town, anyway.”

Nick suddenly had an idea. “Maybe I could ask her if she would be a live-in housekeeper. You know, just to straighten up and stuff.”

“I thought you had Dottie?”

“I do, but it could take some work off her. She likes spending a lot of time with her grandchildren. I don’t doubt she’d be happy to have some extra time off,” Nick explained. “Then the whole girlfriend thing would just slide in easier.”

Angie tapped her fingers on the table again before shaking her head. “Probably not the best approach. It might turn her off, thinking you want something else.”

Nick sighed. “So I’m back to figuring out where she might hang out or go shopping or something. I was hoping there was a way to make this easier.”

“No luck, tough guy. It’s time to man up,” Angie teased him with a wink. As she saw Selene approaching, she slid from the chair and to her feet. “I’ll let you enjoy your dinner, Nick. I’m going to go see what my husband’s up to,” she said, perhaps a little louder than necessary.

Selene smiled brightly when she saw Angie, but only gave her a nod before she placed Nick’s lunch out in front of him. When she was done, she stepped back and looked at him, the smile turned professional.

“Is there anything else I can get you?”

“No, thank you, Selene,” Nick said, watching her expression.

He noticed her smile changed slightly, looking a little brighter. “You’re welcome. I’ll check in with you in a little while.”

Nick smiled to himself. If he could make her smile, he could befriend her. Perhaps that was the key to all of this. Briefly, he had to wonder why he was so focused on her, but there was just something about her. The fact that Paul thought highly of her only made her more appealing. After all, Paul was one of the best judges of character he’d ever seen. Nick supposed that made her a pretty safe choice. With the crap he’d dealt with lately, a safe choice sounded to be just what he needed. His last girlfriend had cost him more money than the average person makes in 4 years and the drama had been never-ending.

Sure, the sex had been great, but that wasn’t everything in life. Perhaps it was because he was getting older that he was starting to see these things, or maybe it was just being tired of the same old, same old. Either way, he needed more, but he needed time to get there. He barely noticed the succulent taste of the duck as he remained lost in thought.

“Is everything ok,” he heard a familiar voice ask to his left. He looked up and saw Selene with a look of concern.

Nick chuckled wryly. “The answer to that is long and complicated and I don’t think you’ve got the time right now.”

Selene chuckled and shook her head. “You’re right, I don’t. But. Maybe something sweet will cheer you up a little.”

Nick raised a brow. “Dessert?”

Selene nodded with a grin. “Chocolate is comfort food.”

“Chocolate isn’t a food,” he pointed out.

Selene quickly put her finger to her lips, shushing him “You can’t say that, it’s sacrelidge. You’ll get us in trouble,” she whispered conspiratorially.

Nick began laughing. The seriousness of her expression and those glittering eyes just cinched it for him. After a moment, he managed to eye her with unabashed humor. “Thank you. Maybe I will have something chocolate then. What do you recommend?”

“The sea salted caramel and chocolate torte. It is to die for,” Selene said with a little look of pleasure.

When her eyes rolled up like they did and her head tilting back, Nick’s eyes drifted to her neck before raising to her lips. It only lasted a second, but the image remained in his mind long after she left to get him the treat. He wondered how close that look was to what she did when she was having an orgasm, allowing the thoughts to linger for a couple of minutes. He envisioned her under him and nude as he thrust into her. Nick shoved those thoughts aside, though, quickly. Now as not the time or place to think about something like that. Besides, that was not going to happen. She wasn’t even quite the drinking age, yet.

When Selene returned, she picked up his plate and placed the dessert dish in front of him. It was certainly nice looking, but once he took a bite, he was sold. He nodded as he looked at Selene’s expectant face.

“It’s really good.”

She grinned at him. “Now, by the time you finish it, you’ll be feeling better,” she told him before she finished collecting his plates.

“Thank you, Selene. I actually am starting to feel better already,” he admitted.

“Good. I’ll be back with your check soon. Would you like anything else before I print it up,” she asked, a pleased smile on her face.

“No, I think you’ve got me covered quite well. I know who to come to the next time I’m in a bad mood,” he teased her.

Selene’s smile turned into a soft laugh, her head tilting back. Nick watched her, enjoying the delight on her face as well as the fact he’d managed to make her laugh. When the laughter ceased, she looked at him again, then winked.

“You do that,” she told him with a wave before she carried his dishes away.

Nick sat back as he watched her walk off, a sense of relief and… something that sort of resembled giddiness. He’d made her smile and laugh all in the same day. He supposed that was an excellent start. After all, from what Paul and Angie said, the connection had to come first.

He felt like a small child again, trying to win over a girl he had a crush on. Only, this wasn’t a crush. This was making a friend. A real, genuine friend like he’d formed in school. It had been a long time since he’d formed a connection with anyone. Most of his relationships were either business or superficial. The rest were almost all casual acquaintances. People he spoke to at parties or events. There were only a handful of people whom he really trusted, like Paul.

A fake girlfriend would need to be someone he could trust. Someone who wouldn’t ruin it by opening their mouth and didn’t demand everything under the sun from him. He was rich, but he wasn’t the kind of man who liked to flaunt it excessively. He’d planned on arranging an allowance, sort of like pay, that she could use for whatever. Something about Selene, though, told him the money wouldn’t be wasted.

By the time he finished his dessert, he had to admit he felt amazingly better. He’d even started working out a plan to get to know Selene better. Seeing her laugh had given him a great idea, he thought. He would come in a least two or three days a week, sit in her section, get acquainted better, then offer for her to join him for a night at a comedy club. He’d have to find out who would be showing up when and see if he thought he could find someone who’d really entertain her for the night. Dean would know the best places to go.

“Well, you look much happier,” Selene pronounced when she returned with his check. “I guess the chocolate worked.”

Nick stood from his chair and took the checkbook gently from her hands. “It was perfect. You were right. Though, seeing you smile and hearing you laugh certainly helped as well,” he told her, bending to kiss her cheek quickly before he headed over to the counter to pay.

Selene was so surprised she stood there, frozen for nearly a minute as her brain processed what had just happened. When she turned, he was at the counter, a wide smile on his face. When he caught her attention, he winked at her before he mouthed ‘I’ll see you soon’. Selene chuckled and shook her head, picking up the last of the dishes.

There, tucked under the plate, was a crisp one hundred dollar bill. Selene’s eyes almost bugged out of her head. Her first thought it was a mistake, but then realized it had been tucked under his plate. That had to be intentional. Perhaps she should ask Paul about it, just in case it was an accident. For a check just over a hundred bucks, it was a massive tip. People here were often generous, but not usually that much. With a soft smile, she tucked it in her apron and finished collecting the dishes to take them to be washed.

At her break, Selene had barely entered the break room when Tiffany and Gina all but pounced on her.

“Ok, I saw him laughing, I heard you laughing, and he kissed your cheek! What gives,” Gina questioned with intense curiosity.

Tiffany stood next to her, waiting to hear the details with an expectant look on her face.

Selene rolled her eyes. “I said something he found funny, then he said he’d be back the next time he was in a bad mood because I cheered him up. He kissed my cheek in thanks, I guess,” she added with a shrug. Selene found a seat and sat down, leaning back to stretch out her back. “Ugh, it’s not a big deal,” she added, feeling the stares from the other two women.

Gina scoffed and took a seat next to her. Tiffany sat on the other side, elbows on the table and hands laced together to rest her chin on.

“He was being awfully friendly AND he asked specifically to sit in your section,” Gina accused. “Something’s up.”

Selene chuckled and opened her eyes, sitting back upright. “He was here the other night when the POS was down and I stayed late to help Paul with the paperwork. They were chatting while I was working. It wasn’t any big deal.”

The two eyed each other a moment before Tiffany looked at her again.

“It looked like a lot more than that.”

Selene shrugged again. “I don’t know what to tell you.”

“So, what’s he like,” Gina finally asked, her curiosity brimming over.

Selene shook her head. “You are so nosy.”

“Yes, I am. Now spill.”

With a sigh, Selene decided to just answer and shut her up. “He seems nice. Kind of intense, but polite and friendly.”

Tiffany and Gina looked at each other before Tiffany began to shake her head. “Oh, honey. That is in no way like he normally is. He’s usually stiff and gruff.”

Gina thought about it a moment before she snapped her fingers. “It’s like old widow Robinson. See’s just magic, is all.”

Tiffany nodded after a moment, agreeing. “That has to be it. It’s the only thing that explains it. From now on, I’m going to tell the hostesses to send you all the grouchy ones. You will keep them all happy and save us from ripping our hair out.”

The trio started laughing at about the same time, continuing until they had tears leaking from their eyes. After they’d had a chance to collect themselves, Selene finally shrugged.

“I’ve dealt with assholes all my life. I guess I just know how to deal with difficult people with all that experience,” she offered by way of explanation.

Gina shook her head, a grin on her face still. “I still say it’s magic. You’re just that good.”

The girls started laughing again, though soon everyone had to get back to work.

For Selene, the rest of the day and evening flew by, especially after 5 p.m. when the dinner rush hit. Dinner was her favorite time to work, she just hated the walk back. Not that it was much safer during the day, but the real creeps came out at night. Fortunately, most seemed to consider her one of their people and left her alone. With her dark skin and hair, she pretty well blended right in. It still didn’t mean she was safe, though. Especially since she’d lost enough weight she looked almost frail, even to herself. But, she almost had enough to put the deposit and first month’s on an apartment, the utilities, and to buy the necessities. Once she did, she could get into a better, less dangerous area.

Right now, that’s as far as she dared to dream. She’d long ago learned that she could only take one step at a time. It might take some time, but she’d get herself into a better place in life. Selene didn’t want to live in poverty her entire life. Low middle class wouldn’t be bad, though. It’s not like she needed much. She’d never had much to begin with, so she didn’t feel like she was missing out on anything.

At then end of the night, Paul had her do what she knew of the end of day paperwork. He then began explaining other parts of the form and what to enter. Selene loved learning new things, so she didn’t mind staying late to do this. It might come in handy to know at some point later on with another job at some point. Either a second or to replace this one. Right now, her hours were a bit over the place, since she’d been filling in for others to make more money.

The sooner she could get out, the better. Preferably with a security door to the building to keep strangers out. The motel was as good as she’d been able to afford, but she needed somewhere that was also not in a shit part of town, where she could be more easily located. Selene was hoping to find something near her favorite bookstore, since the area was relatively quiet, there was a park nearby, and she loved that bookstore. She was almost certain it was the very last used bookstore in the state. Maybe further than that.

It was nearly midnight before they were finished, and Selene was finally able to go collect her things. On the way out, Selene nearly ran smack into Paul.

“See, I called my buddy Nick to take you home. I feel guilty about keeping you so late,” Paul told her. “He’s waiting out front.”

Selene was taken aback for a moment, a mixture of gratitude, flattery, and anxiety flashing through her. She tried to thing of a way to reject the offer, but she couldn’t think of a way without offending the two men. “You mean, the guy that was here that other night?”

Paul chuckled and nodded. “And was here earlier.”

Selene nodded, remembering it suddenly after being reminded. “That’s so nice of you. You didn’t have to do that, though.”

Paul waved that response away. “Don’t you worry about that. Nick’s happy to take his bike for a ride, anyways. He hadn’t been on it for a while,” he explained.

“A bike,” Selene asked, her attention more focused.

“Yeah. He’s got an old Harley he fixed up in High School. He hardly rides it anymore, but he got excited about the prospect of taking it out tonight,” he told her. “He’s also a good man. You can trust him. We’ve been friends since elementary school.”

The anxiety fled. Something about Paul and Angie made her trust them, and she’d heard that Paul had a legendary nose for people. If he said someone was good, then that was the end of the story. Selene gave Paul a nod and a smile.

“Thanks, Paul. I really appreciate it,” she told him with sincere gratefulness. “I’ll see you tomorrow, right?”

Paul nodded. “You will. Now, get on home.”

Selene giggled and walked by him, giving him a wave as she hurried toward the front. As soon as she exited the doors, she saw Nick. He was sitting on what she guessed was a 70’s or 80’s model Harley with well-worn jeans and boots, a leather jacket that was well broken in, with a NIN shirt underneath. She had to admit, he was well built and the look suited him well. She could feel her own heart picking up speed. Tiffany and Gina would lose their shit right about now, she knew, which the thought of that brought a smile of amusement to her face.

Nick looked over at her and flashed a crooked grin. “You ready for a ride?”

Selene tried to contain her laugh of delight as she hurried toward him. Shifting her purse to rest on her back. “I guess I’m in the bitch seat,” she joked, while accepting an extra helmet he’d brought.

Nick looked her up and down before a wicked glint appeared in his eyes. “You could sit in front of me, but I cannot be held responsible if I react physically to your rear against me.”

Selene’s eyes widened a moment before she began cracking up. “I suppose that would be a bit awkward.”

Nick chuckled as he watched her put her helmet on. “Yes, it would be. I don’t want you thinking I’m trying to molest you.”

Selene took her place on the back of the bike and patted his shoulder. “Yes, that would be a little awkward for both of us. Don’t worry, I’m well familiar with how to ride in the back.”

Nick started the bike up and turned his head to look at her as best he could. “You better hang on, Selene.”

Selene barely had time to wrap her arms around him before they were on their way. She gripped him around the waist, resting her cheek against his back. At the first intersection, he pulled to a stop.

“Which way are we going,” he asked, speaking over the rumble of the bike.

“It’s just the other side of Commerce Street.”

Nick nodded and flashed her a grin. As soon as the light turned green, he hammered it and they raced off. While he was driving at far higher speeds than was legal, Selene was hanging on and laughing at the feeling of the air racing by then and the wind whipping the back of her hair in the air around her. It was an exhilarating feeling – like freedom. She closed her eyes and allowed the sensation to wash over her.

The ride seemed to come to an end too soon, but once in her neighborhood, she had to give him directions. When the crunch of gravel sounded under the wheels, she showed him where to let her off. When he stopped, he helped her off before he put down the kickstand and climbed off. He took the helmet from her and placed it in a saddlebag before he turned to look at her. He couldn’t help the grin that came at seeing her flushed cheeks, windblown hair and shining eyes. She looked happy.

“I take it you enjoyed the ride?”

Selene nodded, looking over the bike. “Yeah. It was a blast,” she admitted.

“Good. We’ll do it again. Just have Paul ring me if you’re working late,” Nick offered.

Selene felt her face warming up, though she wasn’t quite sure why.

“I’ll hit you up, then,” she told him quickly with a wave.

Selene turned away to walk to the door of her room. She could feel Nick watching her, but as soon as the door closed behind her, he was off. She smiled to herself as she dropped her purse on the dresser. Tonight was actually pretty fun.

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