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The Mating Contract

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Chapter 2

October 8, 2018

The metallic ring of the cook's bell, the bold aroma or black coffee, and the sweet scent of pancakes mingled deliciously. Grabbing the smooth surface of the warm plates, I filled my black metal tray heavily, before heaving it to my shoulders and withdrawing from the overcrowded kitchen. Pushing through the kitchens double doors, my face was instantly met by cold air. The contrast between the stifling kitchen and the excessively air conditioned diner was enough to send a shiver through me. Wearing a friendly smile, I wove around the tables, other servers, and chairs. An escaping toddler, his cheeks red with giggles and a crayon clenched in his chubby fist, had me pausing before completing my trek to the tiny back corner booth.

Wordlessly, I started unloading my tray. The clink as the glass plates kissed the aged wooden table the only indicator to the three booth bound gentlemen that their food had arrived. The oldest of the men, a hulk of a man with a shiny bald head and calculating blue eyes gave me a kurt nod of dismissal before spearing a red skinned potato and roughly shoving it into his mouth. The other men at the table gave me quick nods to signal that they needed nothing else before they began eating as well. Leaving the table I dropped my tray to my side, and maneuvered my way to a new party that had been sat in my section.

After taking down drink orders I rushed back to the kitchen to grab the drinks and a hot bowl of oatmeal that one of my two tops had ordered. Dropping off the orders, I was about to turn and leave when the bald man, Mr. Frank Cross, motioned me back to his corner booth. Walking back to meet him he gave me half a smile before he stopped to really look at me. He chose to sit in my section on almost all of his visits and I could count the times the man actually saw me on one hand. "We would like our check now please, Holly." He demanded while wrapping his huge fist around his coffee mug and bringing it to his thin lips. "I'll bring that right out. Would you gentlemen like some coffee for the road?" I asked brightly. The men nodded then looked to Mr.Cross who seemed to be their designated speaker. "We would. Thank you, Holly."

Smiling I cleared their plates. Turning I almost froze when I heard Mr.Cross mutter "She's from one of the families I mentioned" to his associates. Not liking his tone, I exhaled slowly through my nose, trying to calm the anger that was now wrecking the glorious mood I had been in. Mr. Cross was the new owner of my families home which also made him our new landlord. Our town was small, and lay offs from the big factory in the town over had left many without jobs. My parents included.

My parents almost lost their home, many did, but Mr.Cross the towns mayor, had stepped in. He bought the homes, saving us from being foreclosured on and charged us what he believed to be a reasonable amount for rent. My parents did odd jobs and I worked here and at the school book store in the town over to help pay the bills and for college. The arrangement had seemed mutually beneficial at first, but then the rumors started. People were starting to talk, saying that Mr.Cross wanted us out. All of us.

Already my neighbors had started moving out. Some seemed to dissapeare over night. The empty houses on my street were starting to add up, each house one house closer to being ours. The houses never stayed vacant for long either. A few days later a new family would take over the house. All the new families seemed to know each other. Some of them waved and smiled at us, others looked at us like we were trespassing on their land, and like our mere existence was an inconvenience to them.

Filling up three disposable coffee cups, I popped the lids on the cups before slipping them into cardboard sleeves. Pausing, I took a deep breath and tried to forget the troubles at home. It would make it impossible for me to smile at Mr.Cross if I kept thinking about the possibly of him forcing my family and I out of our home.

Bringing the men their coffee and the check I turned to leave when a large hand landed on my shoulder. "Holly, thank you for your exceptional service today. You're a hard worker and it shows." Mr. Cross said to me as I faced him. Slipping a tip into my small hand, he smiled at me while his companions stood from their seats. "Thank you Mr. Cross." I smiled at him not looking at the cash he had pressed into my hand.

The men all nodded and smiled at me as they walked passed me and over to the cashier. I tucked the money into my apron before bussing the table. After dropping the dishes off in the kitchen, I was just about to check on my tables when someone called to me from over the counter. "Hey Holly! Would you mind grabbing me a coffee to go real quick?" Turning, I smiled into Garret Moores light brown eyes. He smiled back at me, flashing me perfect white teeth before running a hand through his bronze hair.

Garrett worked closely with Mr. Cross, and with his aquiline nose, high cheekbones and lean, athletic build he was a heart throb to woman young and old all over town. Being about ten years my senior, I looked but I never threw myself at him the way other women did. I doubted he would have much interest in me. We had worked together at the water booth during this summer's fair and he had proven to be courteous and charismatic. As a consequence our booth was very popular. I must have handed out dozens of water bottles to women who begrudgingly took them, mad that it was me and not Garret they were brushing fingers with.

"Coming right up." I beamed at him, filling his travel mug after he passed it to me. Handing the mug to Garrett, I noticed Mr. Cross heading to the door, eyes on us. Garett noticed as well. Turning he waved at Mr.Cross who looked at me meaningfully before leaving the diner. "Holly. . . " Garrett said, bringing my attention back to him."I'm sorry, let me ring that up for you." I responded quickly wiping the scowl off my face with a smile.

"Before you do that, I was wondering if maybe you would be interested in going out some time." "Wh-what?" I asked quietly my eyes widening. Garrett laughed at my reaction. If he had ever shown interest in me before, I must have been oblivious to it, because this felt like it was coming out of nowhere. His eyes swept over me and I shuffled, and clenched my now sweaty hand into a fist on the counter.

"You're a nice girl Holly. I think if we went out we would get a long well. I'm sorry if this seems sudden, but I finally worked up the nerve to ask," Garrett smiled at me. Pffft. The man didn't need to work up the nerve when he could be dripping in women if he wanted to be. I bit my lip. What should I say? I had been so busy with school and work that I hadn't really thought about dating, a fact that worried my mother.

"You're 25 Holly, shouldn't you be out?" She often asked when I spent my nights off at home. I usually just rolled my eyes and moved my lazy ass to my bedroom where I could be a hermit in peace. What would she think if I went out with Garrett? Swallowing I smiled up at Garrett. "Ummmm, That sounds nice. I would have to check my schedule first, but once I do, I can give you my days off." His smile went from being bright to practically beaming.

"Perfect. I'll keep my schedule open until I hear from you then," He said. We kind of stared at each other awkwardly until Rubio, the diners manager walked up. "Holly, your food is ready. Don't keep your tables waiting." He jerked his thumb towards my section. "Oh. Right, sorry," I said lowering my head and ducking behind Rubio to the kitchen. I tried to walk as gracefully as possible as I could feel Garrett's eyes on me until I dissapeared behind the double doors of the kitchen.

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