The Arrangement (An Alternative Love Romance)

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An Eye Toward the Future

“Why do you still work here, See? I mean, you’ve got a rich fiance and you’re set for life. You should go to school – do something you love, you now,” Gina suggested. “I mean – you could do anything you wanted to.”

“I’d go back to school if I could,” Tiffany agreed. “You really should consider it. You can’t do this forever, girl – and why should you? Do something bigger with your life.”

Gina looked at Selene thoughtfully. “If you could only do one thing the rest of your life, what would you do?”

“Help people.” Selene answered immediately. “Assuming I had the resources to do it, the knowledge to make it effective, and the skill to hold it all together.”

The two women looked at each other, then turned back to Selene.

“Business Management,” Gina said.

“There are some classes also that are focused on the running of non-profits,” Tiffany added. “You might even want to take some psychology classes or something like a social worker would take.”

Gina nodded in agreement. “If anyone can do it, you can. Mrs. Robinson loves you – and she’s just one of many. It shows you are good at winning people over. That is a great thing to have for gaining donations.”

“Not to mention you’ve been out there, so you know what’s important and what’s hard to get. You have insight few others do.”

“Geez, you two,” Selene said, throwing her hands up. “I’m starting to think you don’t want me here anymore.”

“No,” Tiffany protested. “We love you. We want you to do better for yourself. I mean, this place is great, but… there are so many opportunities out there that you can take advantage of and we wouldn’t be very good friends if we didn’t want the best for you.”

That’s when realization hit Selene. There was a future she needed to start looking toward. She was getting married, they had houses, they had assets together. It wasn’t just about tomorrow anymore – it was about months and years from now.

“Oh, she’s getting it now,” Gina said excitedly.

“Wow,” Selene breathed. Suddenly, there was a whole world open to her in a way that had never existed before. “I really do need to start thinking more about all this. I never had any of those kind of options before.”

“I’ll admit to being jealous,” Tiffany told her, “but something tells me you really deserve all the breaks you can get. I also have a feeling you’re the kind of person who helps make a difference. We need people like that. Now, find me a Nick!”

The girls laughed, then returned to work as usual, though that conversation had really resonated with Selene. After a few days of pondering, she brought it to Nick to see what he had to say about it all.

“If you want to go to school, then you can go. If you want to quit working, you can. If you want to start up a charity of your own – then let’s get it set up,” he told her. “I want to see you happy and whatever career will make you happy, then I’ll back you all the way.”

Selene sat back against his chest. “I never really had these kinds of options, even in my dreams. There’s so many things out there.”

“Well, Gina and Tiffany are right. A BA is good, and you can take courses specifically for charities. You can also try doing some intern work with another charity to test it out first,” he suggested. “I’m sure we could get you a good close-up look at any number of them.”

“That would be interesting,” Selene admitted thoughtfully. “I honestly… I never had the ability to think about things like this before. It’s both scary and exciting at the same time.”

“Well, think about it and we’ll get whatever done we need to in order to make it happen. If you want, you can take some time to explore your options, too,” Nick offered. “I also know I can get you into just about any college you would like to go to, though I don’t know how much you have to brush up on some of the basics everyone needs.”

“Hmm… good point. I took my GED test when I was 16. I haven’t been to school in a while. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t work out a basic algebra problem right now,” she mused. “I should talk to Paul about this first, though. That way he can decide who will replace me.”

“I’m so proud of you,” he told her. “I haven’t wanted to push because I know there’s a lot going on, but I was hoping to address this with you eventually. After all, we’ll be getting married and you shouldn’t be limited to a menial job,” he admitted. “Not when you are capable of so much more than just an assistant manager. It’s a good job, but you could do anything. You’re incredibly intelligent and you’re a natural at handling people. Honestly, I’d like to take you with me overseas to help manage the more difficult clients.”

“That could be fun! Where do you go?”

“Well, I’ve have my 2nd handling them, but we have trips to Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Jamaica, various European countries, India, and we’ve started to look into some investment properties in a few locations in Africa. There would be some negotiations with the governments, but I think you’d be perfect to help me with that.”

“I want to do that,” she said with excitement. “What do I need to know?”

Nick laughed and wrapped his arms around her and squeezed gently. “I’ll get you someone who can teach you after I find out what the next trip is that I should attend. You can even get some sight-seeing in, too.”

“Ooh,” Selene exclaimed. “That would be really cool.”

Nick rested his chin on her head, chuckling at her excitement. “Then you need to talk to Paul tomorrow. Have you got all the gifts sorted, yet?”

Selene sighed and closed her eyes. “No. More stuff keeps showing up. I think we need more hands for this.” She looked up at him, mustering the most adorable expression she could make. “Maybe you can help me Tuesday? Gail and Rachel are already planning to be there – if you’re there, you can help get them opened and add to the list of people I need to write back.”

“I’d be happy to help.”

A few days later, Nick stared in shock at the piles of gifts that filled the better part of three rooms. It looked like Santa’s bag had exploded with all the gifts for everyone for an entire state. Not everything was wrapped, but most of it was.

“Where the hell did all this come from?”

“All over the world,” Rachel said with a huff. “Some of this is very nice stuff. There’s a whole stack of envelopes with other stuff that we haven’t touched yet.”

“How many...”

“Truck’s here,” Gail called, tying her hair back.

Nick looked between them.

“The gifts are still coming,” Selene explained.

“Ok, we’re going to need extra help for this,” Nick decided as he watched two drivers begin to unload boxes and bags of smaller boxes from the truck.

After a few phone calls, they had reinforcements. Not only did Keesha show up, but so did Tom, Angie, and a mutual friend of Rachel and Nick’s. With eight people working steadily, they actually began to start making a dent.

“I don’t recognize some of these names,” Nick commented, noticing he’d found four in a row who he had never heard of.

“That’s because you’re a public figure. Some of these are from total strangers.”

Selene made a noise of surprise. “Really? Why would they send us things?”

Rachel shrugged. “To say they did, to get a thank you card with an actual signature from someone famous… who knows,” she commented with a wry smile. “At least most of them aren’t from crazy people.”

“Maybe we should sort out those from people we don’t know,” Selene suggested. “I’d rather get to the people who we interact with before a bunch of random people.”

“Right,” Nick agreed. “This is not going to be fun.”

“Oh, come on – they’re presents,” Gail teased. “It’s like Christmas in here.”

“With hand-written notes required for each gift,” Rachel reminded her.

“That’s going to suck, but I am not part of that bit,” Gail chirped happily.

Selene groaned. “Gee, thanks for that.”

It took two full weeks to get caught up and send out cards. By the time it was over, Selene never wanted to hand write another card for the rest of her life. As part of their new security methods, they alternated which place they stayed at from night to night. Selene actually enjoyed it to a degree, mostly because they were still working on the final details and it allowed her to stay busy. On top of it, Selene was looking at what she wanted to do in the future.

Paul and Selene had debated on who would replace her, finally settling on Deana, who’d been one of his longest-term hostesses and the one who both had the most confidence in. With the extra hours she needed to take up to help with training, wedding plans, and all the other things needing done, Selene didn’t have a lot of free time. Even at home, she and Nick spent most of their time dealing with the mundane.

However, Nick would not allow all their time to be taken up with necessary tasks, considering their sexual activities important as well. After all, these weren’t just acts of lovemaking, but acts that bonded them closer together. They built up and reinforced their trust, allowed themselves to let go of everything going on, and gave them much needed time to be intimate. He pushed her boundaries and gave her the confidence and security to feel safe doing so. Her confidence grew in leaps and bounds under Nick’s attention, and it was reflected in everything from the way she moved to he way she spoke.

The woman he’d met over a year ago was gone – the woman who stood in her place was a newer, stronger, more self-assured woman who wasn’t afraid of what might happen. Instead, she was ready to face it all and put an end to all of the burdens she’d carried her whole life.

And then there was her therapist.

The woman seemed to know exactly how to make Selene think and taught her skills she needed to learn to function better in her day-to-day life. While they didn’t discuss the details of what happened, what they focused on was the most important part – learning how to live a happy life in spite of everything that had happened. How to help control the flashbacks, the sadness, and the lingering pain and fear. While it was hard, by the time Christmas rolled around, no one close to her could deny just how much better she seemed to be doing.

Between Tom and Ahmed, her doctors, and Dottie, Selene was the healthiest she’d ever been. In spite of the medical issues, the men had worked with her to help build her system up and taught her less strenuous forms of self-defense. Her doctors were impressed with her progress and encouraged her to keep it up, continuing to monitor her condition. Then, they decided to check her out to see about some pain Selene was having. That’s when they discovered the damage that had been done to her.

The repeated forced abortions, the methods used, and other activity had caused severe scarring in her uterus. The diagnosis was poor.

Selene could not have kids.

The reason she’d stopped getting pregnant earlier in life was simple: the amount of scar tissue wouldn’t allow a fetus to take hold and grow. One of her tubes was essentially blocked from scarring and the doctors were concerned they would need to give her a hysterectomy. As much as they didn’t want to at her age, there was concern that the scar tissue would only continue getting worse and cause increasing pain. While Nick took it all in stride and accepted it as it was, Selene was utterly devastated.

After lengthy discussion, it was decided they would extract some of her eggs before she would have a partial hysterectomy, leaving the left ovary to prevent her from going into menopause early. When they were ready, a surrogate could be found or they could adopt. They also left open the option of doing both. Nick pointed out a lot of kids were saved from abuse that needed homes and she would be a great influence and inspiration for someone who’d been hurt. While it wasn’t ideal, it was certainly a viable option that Selene had to admit sounded appealing. After all, wasn’t that one of the things she’d desperately wanted herself? A family to care about her and treat her reasonably well? What kind of person would she be to have access to everything materially necessary and not consider it?

By the time Thanksgiving hit, Selene was no longer working at the restaurant. She took the time to learn more about cooking and dealing with all the other things that needed finished up. Both houses were complete, the gifts had slowed down, and her routine was now far more difficult for anyone to pin down. They were mostly staying at the house outside of town, since Selene liked it the best. She had plans for a part of the 2+ cleared acres and the rest was left to exist as it was. Trees were going to be planted and she wanted a few gardens with mixed plants to provide a nearly year-round display.

They had hired a few people to do the cooking and cleaning, three of whom now lived in what used to be the servant’s quarters, which Selene had turned into what was basically a multi-room unit. Each had a private area and bedroom, but they shared a kitchen, a small dining room, and an entry. It had taken a while to get enough people who could pass the background checks and the interviews, but the trio clicked well and were amazing workers. Not only that, but they were also enjoyable for Selene to talk to. Between the security, the housekeepers, and the cook, even if Nick had to stay in town for a night or two without her, she didn’t feel alone and the feeling of being trapped had slowly faded.

For Christmas, she took the housekeepers and a few members of security to buy holiday decorations. Then, she hired some help and the entire house was decked out for Christmas. Outside there were lights, realistic-looking deer, a sleigh, and a variety of wreathes outside while the inside had garland, mistletoe, and all the fixings on the inside. She’d found a 12’ tree that sat perfectly in the living room in a corner and had it decorated with a variety of older-fashioned style ornaments, candy canes, garland, and tinsel. When Nick got home after being stuck in the city for two days, he was in love.

“You’ve done it, baby,” he told Selene, looking around the house.

“Done what?”

“You’ve turned this place into our home,” he told her, looking down at her with a smile. “It feels all warm and welcoming like a home should be.”

Selene looked around at the polished wooden floors and the ornate woodwork with all the garland, tiny wreaths, bunches of mistletoe, the lights and realized he was right. This wasn’t a house they were occupying anymore. There were pictures on the walls, there were plants on stands, and little personal touches in every room. The feeling slammed her in the chest like a train. She was settling in, getting comfortable, and making it theirs.

“It really is, isn’t it,” she asked with a tone of wonder. “It’s home. I didn’t think that was possible to find somewhere like that.”

Nick hugged her from behind. “It clearly is possible. You’ve really done that for us here. You’ve done an amazing job. The pictures, the paintings, the antiques – it feels like us everywhere here.”

“It will feel more like us when I can get things done outside,” she told him, tilting her head back so she grin up at him. “I’m plotting gardens.”

“Good. How are the wedding plans coming,” he asked as they parted and he began walking to their bedroom with Selene following along.

“I’ve got two appointments in town this week – one for the decorations, one for the dress. Outside of that, most everything is waiting for proofs to come back,” she told him, watching as he began stripping out of his suit.

“That’s good. You gals are really on top of things.”

“Well, mostly I am just making the final selection after they help narrow it down. Are we going to the cabin this year?”

Nick turned to look at her as he was tugging a t-shirt down. “I don’t know if that’s going to be a good idea. It would be hard to secure. We’d also be a long way from help if something were to happen.”

“But isn’t everyone else going to be up there?”

Nick walked over to her and wrapped his arms around her. “I can talk to Ahmed and see if we can do it safely. I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

“I don’t either, Master, but we still need to live our lives. It’s Christmas and I think we should try to do what we would always do.”

“Alright. I’ll talk to Ahmed. If he thinks it’s safe, then we’ll go.”

In spite of the fact they weren’t planning to be at the house, gifts piled up under the tree. Of course, many of them were for their friends, but both were also shopping for each other. Selene was wrapping most of the gifts herself, using videos from YouTube to help her learn how to make the best-looking gifts.

Then, at a mall with Gail, Selene saw something that caught her eye. A plastic Christmas tree was decorated with garland and had a number of cards hanging off them. Selene walked over and looked at the sign, explaining each card represented a family in need with their Christmas wishes. She looked through a few cards, noticing there were things like blankets, sheets, cookware, clothing, and shoes. There were things the kids wanted or needed as well, though most of the lists were modest.

Gail watched her with curiosity. “What are you thinking?”

“How much of this stuff do you think we could get just at this mall?”

Gail glanced over a few cards. “The majority of this stuff can be bought at one place or another,” she decided. “There’s another shopping center across the street that has other shops.”

Selene pulled out her cell to make a couple calls.

“What are you doing?”

“Getting help,” Selene told her.

Gail looked at the tree, then back at Selene. “I think we can do it by ourselves,” she suggested slowly.

Selene shook her head and grinned. “I want to do the entire tree.”

Gail’s eyes about bugged out of her head, then she grinned. “I know some people, too.”

The two women shared a smile and began calling for help.

While Gail and Tom weren’t hurting, Selene insisted on paying for everything. Once everyone arrived, they took all the cards off the tree and began sorting through the lists to see what was needed altogether. It would be easier to get things together – for example, all the bedding, then all the kitchen needs, toys, electronics, etc. After they built up a workable list, the wealthier members of the group took other people with them to buy their part of the list and bring it back. Gail and Selene took the bedding and household needs and headed to the department store with a dozen or so others to help carry and locate everything.

Once inside, Selene found an employee and explained what they were doing. Before they knew it, several employees were helping them find and collect all the necessary items, plus extras that Selene knew people didn’t usually ask for but often needed. By the time they were done, they’d made a massive impact on the store’s supply, and needed some of the workers to help haul everything back out to the tree. Once they arrived, people began sorting things out to separate the things each family needed, creating stacks before someone showed up with lawn bags, tape, and cards to label each bag with who it went to.

One by one, each group returned and, in a matter of hours, all the cards had been replaced with dozens of bags full of gifts. Feeling good about what they’d done, the group decided that they would meet three more times this week to hit other malls and repeat their efforts. Before they hit the third mall, Selene found themselves on the news, in a way.

The report stated unknown donors had filled the Christmas wishes of many families in record time and the charity running it wanted to thank them. After talking to several people, though, they decided to remain anonymous. Let them wonder – the purpose wasn’t for recognition, they were just doing something good for the sake of doing it. Plus, it was fun. Selene wasn’t a big fan of shopping, but buying for others was something she was finding she enjoyed. The best part, though, was the happy and grateful looks and words from the event organizers. Their words of thanks gave her a good feeling inside.

For his part, Nick was incredibly proud of her. Even under all the stress, she made time to do something to others. She had access to millions, yet the few thousand she’d spent had been almost entirely for other people. Even then, she was relatively frugal, but always preferred higher quality – regardless of what name was or wasn’t on the label.

As Nick watched Selene wrapping more gifts, he briefly envisioned her wrapping gifts for their kids. He could see toys in piles, with Selene happily making each one unique. Perhaps even using certain colors for each different child. He could see them – a couple of black-haired, cinnamon-skinned children with hearts like their mother. He hoped one would be a boy, to carry his name on, but the idea of two mini Selenes running around was every bit as appealing. He wanted them to have her beautiful skin and luxurious hair. Perhaps they could adopt one or two others to help round out their family.

But, there was plenty of time for that later on. Right now, he was still basking in the miracle that was his Selene.

After an assessment Ahmed had decided the cabin would be acceptable. They were planning the trip as quietly as possible to keep the Marshall from knowing what they were doing. They’d done their best to shut him out without making him suspicious. While they hadn’t seen him around much the last couple of weeks, they acted as if he was watching or could show up at any time. The FBI also had someone keeping their eye on him as they tried to gather evidence of criminal activity to prove what Ahmed’s sources had dug up on the man.

Agent Mills, Holloway, and the federal prosecutor arrived late in the evening one night in the week before Christmas for a hush-hush meeting. They laid out as much as they could related to the upcoming bust, what they’d learned about her parents, the man who’d tried to purchase her, and the rest of the case relevant to her. They expanded in places to help show the broader picture, as well as checking to see if Selene could identify anyone in a new collection of photos.

After they’d gone through all that, another plan was mentioned to throw off the US Marshall so they could catch him attempting to kidnap or kill who he thought was Selene. After the raids, Selene had to keep her head down for 2-3 weeks to ensure they caught everyone and that there would be no retaliation against her. The worry was that no one knew how many people had been informed of her existence or location.

“How long after that will the case go to court?”

“It could take up to two years,” the prosecutor admitted. “We have to talk to them, run tests on the evidence we find, determine exactly what crimes they committed and how many separate events, plus a load of pre-trial motions, jury selection, and so forth.”

Selene considered this a moment. “So it might be a while before I am needed to testify?”

“Yes, it will. However, we will take your deposition and we’ll prep you for trial. It will be closed door and the victim’s names will be kept off the official record. Other than that, your part is almost done,” she told Selene with a smile.

After they left, Selene giggled and wrapped her arms around Nick. It’s nearly over! I will be totally free of them. It will really, really be over.”

Nick spun her around, wearing a wide grin at her excitement.

“I am so happy it’s nearly over. I know how much you want to put this all behind you.”

Selene laughed, swatting his shoulder to put her down. Nick stopped spinning, but didn’t put her down, instead he pulled her up to where he could cup her butt and they would be almost eye level. He pecked the end of her nose.

“I guess this is going to be a very merry Christmas.”

“Damn right,” she agreed.

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