- The Arrangement 5
I’m a sucker. His words crumble what’s left of my will. “All right. I’ll see you later.”
He nods and kisses the back of my hand. Before I step outside, I turn back and ask, “Are you, uh, still tormenting hookers for fun?”
Sean gives me a strange look, then he steps toward me. “If you mean, will I be having company before you come over, the answer is yes. I won’t do those things with you, but I still need it.”
I lower my gaze. It feels weird. I knew he didn’t stop. I just wished he had. I wished that I was enough to pull Sean back from that, but I guess I’m not. There’s too much darkness in him.
Sean rubs the back of my hand lightly. “It’s better this way, right? We both get what we need, and share the best part of us with each other.”
I nod in agreement, but I don’t agree. The thing that pulled me to Sean was the darkness, the enormous stain on his soul, and the reason was simple—it matches mine. Sometimes I feel like we’re linked, like our pain is so intense when we’re alone, but when we come together it cancels out. Maybe I’m dreaming. Maybe it’s not really like that. Maybe we’re both destined to be alone.
I blink and look up at Miss Black like she has two heads. “You want me to see Henry again?”
Miss Black is standing by the glass table in the corner. I’m seated and staring at Henry’s file. He was really sweet, but I don’t understand why I haven’t been reinstated. Henry wasn’t into sex, he just wanted a date for a business meeting.
Miss Black touches her temple gingerly, like I’m giving her headache. Gabe walks by slowly and shakes his head once, very carefully, so Miss Black doesn’t see. I’m not sure what he means, so I take it as a sign to shut up, tell Miss Black thank you, and get the hell out of there.
“Avery, quite honestly, I don’t know what to do with you. Your first client is stalking you and your second client appears to be equally infatuated with you.”
“Mr. Ferro isn’t stalking me.”
Miss Black turns and raises a perfectly plucked brow. I shut my mouth, and she continues. “I don’t know what is going on with you. Either, you’re very good at your job or you’re a train wreck. There’s no middle ground with you.
“Gabe watched you manage the disastrous date and said you handled it extremely well. All parties left the restaurant without killing each other. Actually, Gabe said both men left happy. How you did that is mindboggling, because whenever we speak, it seems like you have no idea what you’re doing. It’s almost as if you’re completely inept right up until the moment that you’re thrown into the situation. Frankly, it makes me nervous, which is why I’m handing you back to Mr. Thomas.
“This isn’t for arm candy this time, Miss Stanz. It’s the full package. I want to remind you that your preference sheet has no limits. Do you want to update it?”
My heart is pounding. Gabe’s warning is playing through my mind. I can’t lose this job. I shake my head. “No, I’ll leave it.”
Miss Black smiles smoothly, like she’s pleased. “There are only two women who work with me that have their preferences wide open, and you’re one of them. I’m pleased with your decision. Remember to wear your bracelet. Have you been taking your birth control pills?” I nod. I’m not an idiot. “Good. I don’t want you knocked up just when you get the hang of things.
“Gabe will be discretely overseeing the first part of your evening, tomorrow. Check in afterward. If you do well, I’ll give you another client this weekend. Do you have any questions?”
I shake my head and keep my eyes down. My fingers twitch by my sides. I’m nervous. This whole thing makes me anxious. It’s real now, so much more so than when I accepted Sean as a client. I’ve agreed to be with two different men this weekend, and to do anything they want. I must have lost my mind.
Miss Black hands me a card. “This is the fee for tomorrow evening. Assuming you complete this contract, you’ll be paid the next morning. The rate is higher because of your preference sheet, and because your services become increasingly expensive if the same client keeps asking for you.” Miss Black snaps her fingers and turns. She strides toward her office, saying, “Follow me.”
When she shuts the door, I stand in the middle of the room. Miss Black sits behind her desk. She looks stressed. “Come on. We don’t have all night. Show me what you’re going to wear tomorrow.”
“The dress is for the date and…” I slip off the tight red cocktail dress and show her the lingerie. My heart is pounding. This feels so strange. I thought it would get easier as I came in here more often and talked to her, but it’s getting more uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because my outfits are becoming more hookerish and less Averyish.
Miss Black’s eyes sweep over me as I turn once. When I look back at her, she laughs and shakes her head. “You do some things perfectly. This is perfection. I like the crystals. If you had more, you’d look like a showgirl, but just the way they are is classy. Well done.” After opening a desk drawer, Black shoos me. I don my dress and bolt.
When I get to the elevator, I press the button and wait. When the doors open, Gabe is inside. He doesn’t say anything as we ride down, but he walks me outside.
When we walk through the door, he says, “You’re on thin ice with her. Be careful.” He nods at me once and walks away.
I know I have to make Henry the happiest man alive tomorrow night. I just don’t know how to do it.
After my classes are done on Friday, I meet up with Mel and Marty at the diner. Having money is nice. I can afford to eat.
We’re well into our meal when Marty says, “So, who’s hooking tonight?” He puts down his huge glass of milk and grins at us. Mel is sitting next to me in the booth. She kicks him under the table. “Owh!”
“You have no class,” Mel says and takes another bite of her BLT.
Marty straightens and clears his throat. He presses his hand to his puffed up chest and says in a bad British accent, “I’m sorry, dear lady. Will you be entertaining gentlemen callers this evening? I’m asking because my weekends have gotten dreadfully dull since you both endeavored into the business of ill repute.” He breaks character and adds, “Well, except for last weekend when we thought Avery was a road pancake.”
“No class at all.” Mel puts down her food and shakes her head. “No wonder you can’t find a boyfriend. You’re too dense to notice when you’re offending the more delicate sex.”
Marty laughs once, loudly. Putting his hands on the table, he leans forward, “Nothing about you is delicate, Mel. You’re all thorns and nails. Piss and vinegar is too mild to describe you.”
I’m lost in my own little world while they go back and forth. I don’t like the idea of seeing Sean after he’s been with someone. I don’t like the idea of being with someone while he’s with someone else. We should be with each other. I wonder about Sean, about what he’d do to me and how far he’d push me to get what he wants. The thought scares me. Sean honed in on my claustrophobia quickly. If he tied me up and threw me in a closet, I think I’d cry. It’s not sexy. I can’t connect the two. They don’t fit together.
Marty stops grinning and looks at me. “Are you nervous, kitten?”
I blink and look up. I didn’t realize he was talking to me. Marty and Mel have been arguing since we sat down. I haven’t said much of anything. “No, I’m just not looking forward to it.”
“Is it someone new?” Mel asks.
I shake my head. “No, same guy as last week.”
“Well, that should be good, right?” Marty looks at Mel and then back at me. “Someone fill me in if it’s not good.”
“It’s awkward, that’s all,” I say, and poke my salad.
Mel glances over at me. “Wanna do something after work? I need some chillaxing time with my girls.” Mel tilts her chin up toward Marty and adds, “That includes you too, fruit cup.”
He gives Mel a girly grin then lifts his glass. “I wanna bring my new nightie!”
Mel rolls her eyes and looks over at me. I haven’t said anything. “So, you up for it?”
They’re both looking at me. I need to lie really good and I suck at it. My brain flashes my blank preference sheet at me. The words are rolling off my tongue before I can blink. “I’ll have to take a rain check. I’ve got an all-nighter, so I doubt I’ll be back until morning.”
Mel smiles at me and nods. “Good for you. That’ll be good money, Avery. You’re back on track. No distractions.”
Marty grins. “I think she had a bit of a distraction when we were shopping the other day.” I blink at him. If he knows and tells Mel, I’ll kill him.
Mel’s gaze is burning a hole in the side of my face. “I told you to stay away from him! Avery, damn it. Do you need a helmet? Are you that mentally impaired? Fuck girl, I—”
Marty flinches when he sees Mel’s reaction, and cuts her off. “Back off, psycho. I was just kidding. The saleslady thought me and Avery did it in the dressing room. As if.” He makes a super gay gesture and winks at me, like it’s the most preposterous thing he’s ever heard.
Mel’s still tense. She snaps at Marty some more. I can’t stand the two of them fighting, not when I feel so strung out. I slip out of the booth and throw some money on the table. “I need to go get ready and if I don’t beat Amber back, she’ll lock me out of the room. I’ll catch up with you on Sunday. We’ll do IHOP.”
Mel grins and rubs her hands together. “Pancakes!”
“You are such a pancake whore.” Marty giggles at Mel and she winks at him. They both start laughing as I walk away from the table.
I dress quickly before Amber gets back from dinner. The little red dress makes me feel exposed. I run down the back staircase and push out the back door before I look around for Gabe. He’s picking me up until I figure out what to do about transportation. I don’t have any credit and I don’t have enough money to buy anything. Black told Gabe to pick me up in the meantime.