The Proposition, p.1Jessica Schlafer
By Jessica Schlafer
This novel is work of fiction, all characters, places, and events never occurred. All similarities are completely coincidental.
I would like to dedicate this novel to my son, Adam. Without you, I don’t know where I’d be. You brought sunshine into my life at my darkest hour. You make waking up every day possible. I love you with all my heart and I hope you always know that.
To my hero, my Mom. There’s so much to say, but I just don’t know the proper words. I’ll keep it simple. Thank you.
To everyone else who cheered me on and supported me (and even edited), thank you! Without that, I wouldn’t have finished. I would’ve just put this to the side, as I usually do, and added it to the collection of unfinished work I have.
Copyright February 17, 2013
As I sat in the small meeting room at the hotel, I was cold, wet, burned and trying to keep my composure. They were already 20 minutes late, but the two men finally walked into the room. The older one, Paul, I've known for many years. He smiled and gave me a curious look.
“How are you doing, sweetie? It's been so long,” he asked, leaning down to kiss me on the cheek.
The other, much younger, man smiled politely. I liked his smile.
“This has to be one of the worst trips ever,” I took a deep breath, trying not to show them how upset I was by letting my voice crack. “The plane here was delayed for 16 hours because of the weather. When I landed, I find out they've lost my luggage, which, whatever, it happens all the time. So, I get in the car you sent and it gets a flat tire. While I'm waiting, they send another car and it goes for like 15 minutes before it overheats and we end up on the side of the road. I finally asked the driver how far it was to the freakin' hotel and walked the rest of the way.”
Both men had a look of shocked amusement, “Are you okay?” Paul asked.
“Um, no, I'm not done. I'm sure you're wondering why I'm sitting here in my robe.”
“Well, yeah, I was curious.”
“So, I get to my room, ready to get out of my clothes that I just spent like a lifetime in and I put my backpack on the counter, where the bathroom sink is, and like two minutes after I open my bag, this pipe explodes with enough force to knock me on my ass, spraying water everywhere.”
“Whoa,” said the younger man, whose name I haven't been given yet.
“Then, as I was sitting there, the water started getting really hot. I was trying to grab some of my stuff out of my bag, like my phone or my iPad or my camera or whatever and I got scalded from the water.”
The amused looks went away, “Are you ok?” Paul asked.
“Yeah, I'm more annoyed than anything. All of my stuff got ruined.”
“Where did you get burned?”
“On my back and the backs of my knees, that's where it's the worst. I was wearing a dress. They put ice in a plastic bag and put that inside of a pillow case and put a wet towel on my back. I didn't want to go to the hospital.”
“Let me take a look,” Paul said, standing.
I stood up, turned around and opened my robe just enough for them to see my back. Both men gasped.
“What?!?” I cried out.
“It's just really red, like a sunburn. It's not bad,” Paul said.
“Jesus, you scared me,” I said, fastening my robe, sitting back down.
“Well, I'm glad you're okay, Abbs.” Paul said, sitting. “Oh, sorry, I forgot the reason we came here. Abby, this is Nick.”
I shook his hand, “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah, sorry about your trip. Are you like bad luck or something?”
“I guess so.” If he wasn't so nice to look at, I would've just asked to go home.
Nick Carmona was about 6'2”, very short blonde hair, very blue eyes. I thought he was thin because he wore such baggy clothes. But, I could tell that he was stronger than he looked. He squinted his eyes a lot, making me wonder if he needed glasses or if it was a nervous habit. I could also tell that he definitely chewed his nails. I'm thinking he has some anxiety problems. Who am I to judge, though?
“How is your room?” Paul asked.
“Flooded. Along with the rooms on both sides of me and three rooms below me. And, the best part, they don't have any more rooms left, some college graduation or something. They'll be happy to help me find another room, blah blah,” I made the jerkoff gesture with my hand. “So, now, I have no phone, no iPad, no camera, no clothes, and no place to stay. I'm better off going back home.”
“Nonsense, you can stay at my house. I told you that before you came,” Paul said. “Did you speak to a lawyer?”
“No, the insurance adjuster from the hotel is on his way. He's supposed to be meeting with me in like two hours,” I sighed. “I should have my clothes back by then. They took them to wash for me.”
“Listen, I'll run back home and grab something for you to wear until then. I'm sure you're not thrilled about sitting here in a bathrobe,” Paul said, looking around the very public room.
“Oh my god! Really? I would love you for that.”
“You love me already. If I was 20 years younger and still single...”
“Yeah, yeah,” I laughed.
I always liked Paul, he's a good guy, very funny. He used to be madly in love with my Aunt Lynne, rest in peace, but that was over 20 years ago. Even after they broke up, my family stayed in contact with him. No one knew why Lynne broke up with him, but we all suspected it had something to do with her drinking. Too late to question that now. Aunt Lynne passed away two years ago and Paul has been married for over 18 years to his wife, Mary. They have two beautiful girls, Carlie and Ashley, and now they lived here in Portland and owned a very successful chain of dry cleaners.
“Hey man, you mind staying with Abby for a bit while I go grab her some clothes?”
Nick had been staring at me, “No man,” he smiled. “It's cool.”
Paul kissed my cheek again, “I'll be back in 15 minutes, Abbs.”
“Wait,” I said, Paul spun on his heel. “Don’t you have something you need to talk to me about? Isn’t that why you asked me to fly all the way here?”
“Sweetie, it can wait. You’re staying for a few weeks, so, let’s get you comfortable first, we’ll talk shop later.”
And with that, Paul dashed out the door, leaving me and the very handsome Nick alone.
“Do you need anything?” Nick asked. “I'm gonna grab something out of the vending machine.”
“Yes! I’d really like a bottle of water, please!”
“Sure, I’ll be back in just a second.”
Nick stepped out and I shifted in my chair. It’s hard to look sexy while wrapped in a bathrobe, in a conference room of a hotel, in a strange city.
A few minutes later, Nick came back. “Here, they didn’t have much to pick from,” he said, handing me a soda.
“Thanks,” I said.
Uncomfortable silence, number one.
“How long have you known Paul?” Nick asked after an eternity.
“Um, like 20 years, I think. He used to date my Aunt. My family loved him and, even after they broke up, we stayed in contact with him.”
“Why did your Aunt and Paul break up?” He pronounced it au-nt, not ant, like I did.
“I don’t know, I never asked. She passed away two years ago.”
Uncomfortable silence, number two.
My turn. “What about you? How long have you known Paul?”
“I don’t know, a few years I guess.”
I started fidgeting. Nick was chewing his nails.
Why the hell is this guy here?
“So, are you from Portland?” I asked.
“No, Tacoma but I came here to go to school and I haven’t left.”
“What did you go to school for?”
Nick laughed. I liked his laugh.
“I get that a lot. I don’t know. It was like a million years ago and I thought I’d make millions. Then the market fell out, so here I am.”
“That sucks, I’m sorry.”
“Yeah, me too. But it’s whatever, you know?” His turn to shift in his seat. “What about you? Did you go to school?”
“Yeah. I went to school in Boston, majored in English writing arts.”
I thought he was going to spit his drink.
“Oh my God,” he was laughing. “And you were laughing at me?”
“I know, eighty five thousand dollars later, here I am. What a stupid 18 year old I was! That’s not even counting the cost of my Master’s.”
“You got your Master’s?”
“Not yet, I was working on my Master's in English Writing Arts when I had to leave school. Who does that?”
“Don’t you could wish you that could like just go back and kick yourself?”
“No kidding! Like, ‘Listen, idiot, you’re not going to make any money doing this. Find something else.’”
I really liked his laugh.
“My father always said I should join the army or something,” he said.
“Yeah, my family told me to be a nurse or a teacher. And what are they desperately looking for right now?”
“Nurses and teachers,” we said together, laughing.
Uncomfortable silence, number four.
“I wonder what’s keeping Paul,” I said, adjusting my robe.
“I’ll call him,” Nick said, pulling out his phone.
Before he could get his phone to the calling menu, the door opened and Paul walked in.
“Sorry it took so long,” Paul said, handing me a bag with some clothes. “Why don’t you go into the bathroom and get dressed. We’ll go to the restaurant and have some lunch while you wait for the insurance adjuster.”
I went into the bathroom and pulled on the clothes Paul brought me. Blue jeans and a tank top.
Great, and I have no bra.
I put the clothes on and walked back into the conference room, happy to have clean, dry clothes on. I noticed Nick look at my chest and smile. I crossed my arms over my chest.
“I wasn’t sure which one of the girls would be the closest fit. Looks like I picked right,” Paul said.
“They’re great, thank you,” I said.
“Let’s go get something to eat,” Paul said.
I followed the men out of the Conference Room, across the hotel lobby, stopping to tell the front desk where I would be.
Once seated at the restaurant, Paul said “Order whatever you want, it’s on me.”
“I’ll have the Cesar side salad, double bacon cheeseburger, medium rare, no tomato, French fries with cheese, and a chocolate milk shake.”
“Jesus Christ, Abbs. Anything else?” Paul laughed.
“No, I’m good.”
“I’ll have the same,” Nick said without taking his eyes off me and never opening his menu.
“I can’t eat that shit anymore,” Paul said. “I’ll have the grilled chicken, steamed broccoli, and a water.”
The waitress took the menus and left.
“Where are you gonna put a meal that size, Abby?” Paul asked.
“I like to eat,” I said, reaching for the bread in the center of the table. We all laughed. "Besides, I haven't had anything to eat but airplane food for like the past 24 hours."
They laughed again.
“So, let’s talk about why I asked you to come here,” Paul said, getting serious.
“Yes please,” I said. “The suspense is killing me.”
“Well, okay, where to begin. I know you’re between jobs right now. I heard you took acting classes in college."
"'Tis true," I said, sweeping my hair back in a very flamboyant manner.
"And you’ve grown up into such a beautiful woman…”
"Yeah, that, not so much," I laughed.
“Damn, man, get to the point," Nick said, shifting in his seat.
"Like I was saying," Paul said, sighing and shooting Nick a look. "Abby, we would like to offer you an opportunity to make a lot of money for about two months of work, you would get a new wardrobe and meet some new people."
"Oh my God," I said, realization hitting me like a ton of bricks. "I can't believe this." I was so upset, I was shaking. "This must be why Aunt Lynne left all those years ago. Oh my GOD!"
I started to push back from the table when Paul put his hand on mine. I pulled back violently, earning looks from the surrounding tables. "What makes you think Lynne left me?" He shook his head. "And just what do you think I'm asking you to do?"
"Porn! I am NOT doing porn. You fly me out here, put me up in a nice hotel, bring this hot guy here that I don't even know. You must be out of your fu..."
Nick looked at me and started laughing. "Oh my God."
"Abby, lower your voice," Paul hissed. "We're not asking you to do porn. You've got to be kidding me. That's the first thing you think of? Seriously? How long have I known you? You're my family; I don't even want to imagine that."
I was confused; I shook my head to clear it out. "What is it then?"
"We need your help dealing with the man who stole from us," Nick said.
I just stared, open mouthed at the two of them.
"Abbs?" Paul look concerned. "You okay?"
"Man, I told you this was a bad idea," Nick said, standing to leave.
"Sit down," Paul said, very sternly. Again, the people at the tables around us looked. I stared at my hands in my lap as I sat. "Abby, listen, this man, he stole money from us. A lot of money from us."
I pushed my food away. "What do I have to do?"
"The man, his name is Merritt, has an eye for women like you," Paul added quickly as I raised my eyebrow. “Smart, savvy, beautiful. He doesn't go for the stripper type. The problem is...”
“Smart chicks won't give him the time of day. The strippers are all over him because he's loaded,” Nick added.
“What is he? Some kind of toad?” I asked, for some reason.
“That's one way you could put it,” Paul laughed. “He's just disgusting. Not someone you'd want to brag about dating.”
I gave them a puzzled look.
“What we want you to do is have you pose as Nick's girlfriend. You're not from here, Merritt won't know you, it'll seem more plausible. Plus, if they look into you, they'll see you and I have history, but nothing that'll make him think twice.”
“Wait, so, what makes you think he's going to be interested in me? Especially if I'm supposed to be Nick's girlfriend?” Saying that out loud made me blush a little.
“Merritt likes to take things that don't belong to him,” Nick said, looking away.
"What does that mean?" I asked, starting to feel on edge.
"You’ll at least be a distraction to him, but now is not the time to talk about that," Paul said. "We're going to pay you for this, of course."
"I'm not some whore or something," I said, getting heated. "I don't want you to pay me to sleep with some guy who pissed you off."
"Abbs, Merritt took $8.5 million from us. That's just the cash. He's disrupted our business, costing us thousands each day," Paul explained. "We're not asking you to sleep with him. We're asking you to act like you like him for a little bit, lead him on, and let us handle the rest."
"Exactly what kind of business is this?" I asked.
"Again, now is not the time or the place to
"Will I be safe?"
"I'll be with you most of the time. If not, we'll be close enough to get to you if there are any problems," Nick said.
"How illegal is this?"
"Nothing you'll be involved in will be illegal," Paul said.
"A considerable amount," Paul started. I gave him my best 'don't patronize me' face. "I thought $150,000 would be fair. Plus, you’ll have a place to stay, a new wardrobe, and walking around money."
I tried not to jump up and down. I had been unemployed for about three months and was getting close to being evicted. I sighed, "I'll do it. But you have to promise to keep me safe."
"You'll never be in harm's way," Paul said.
"I promise," Nick said.
We resumed eating our meal, making small talk about the weather, the upcoming baseball season, some new movie that looked like garbage. Soon, though, a small man in a suit came into the restaurant and was pointed toward me.
"Excuse me, are you Abigail Moss?" the man asked.
"Yes, can I help you?"
"I'm with the hotel here to talk about the incident in your room," he said, looking down his nose.
"Excuse me," I said, standing to leave.
"No, Abby. Sit down," Nick said. "Listen, man, she had to wait for you and CLEARLY you can see that she's eating lunch right now, something your hotel didn’t even offer to her. You can wait for her to finish and then she'll come get you from the front desk."
I was frozen in place. I didn't know whether to sit down or to go off with the man. Both Nick and Paul were glaring at the man.
"Sir, I'm sorry, but this won't take long," the man said.
Paul tilted his head to the side, "No, sir, I'm sorry. You can't just walk over here, interrupt MY lunch with MY friend and think that's okay. This poor, young lady flew 3000 miles to be drenched and burned at the fault of your establishment, and then had to sit in a conference room for, how long, Abby?"
"Um, 45 minutes," I stuttered.
Nick clenched and unclenched his fists.
"In a hotel conference room, ALONE, in a bathrobe for 45 minutes, in a strange city, waiting for you. It's been, how long now, Abby?"
"Looks like about two hours and 15 minutes, if you add the 45 minute wait in the conference room," Nick added for me, rising to his feet.
"Now, you expect her to drop what she's doing because it's convenient for you? No, Abby, sit down, you were just talking about ordering dessert," Paul said.
I slowly sat down, mouth hanging stupidly open.
Nick stood, arms at his sides, looking at the man. Paul never broke eye contact with him.
"I-I'm terribly sorry, Ms. Moss. W-when you're finished, please come see me at the front desk. My name is Samuel Gibson," he said, handing me a card from his jacket pocket.
"T-thank you," I said, staring at the food on my plate as the man walked away. He was all the way out of the room before Nick sat back down. I didn't dare to look up from my plate and there was a noticeable tension at the table.
Finally, Paul resumed eating, then Nick, and finally I started picking at my food again. I really was starving, after the long, delayed flight and the incident in my room.
"Do you want dessert, Abbs?"
I turned red.
"Seriously?" Paul asked, then added, sighing. "Go ahead, then."
"What?! I've had a rough day!"
Both men laughed.
I had long ago finished my very strange lunch and had my meeting with Samuel Gibson. That was interesting, to say the least. They tried to pay the least amount possible for my damaged electronics, but Paul and Nick were with me, and, with their help, the hotel had agreed to pay a fair price for everything. The biggest argument being that my camera was salvageable because it didn't get "that" wet. That was settled as well. I would receive a check in a few weeks. Soon, I was in Paul's car, on our way to his home. Nick followed in his own car.
I had never been to Paul's home before and I was surprised to see that it was enormous. "Wow, Paul! What a beautiful home! The dry cleaning business must be really good."
"Thank you! I'll show you around," he took my backpack, which now had my only change of clothes and my damaged electronics, and went inside.
I looked around before I walked in and noticed what a fortress it was; 10' high, concrete wall, large, iron gate. There were armed security guards around and there was even a high tech security system inside the house. I saw Nick had parked beside Paul's car and was slowly walking toward me.
"What's wrong?" he asked.
"Nothing, I was just taking this all in.”
“Are you gonna go in?”
“Yes, I’m just a little intimidated.”
"Are you scared?"
"Should I be?"
Nick didn't get a chance to answer, as Paul walked back out. "Come on in, Abby. The girls are all out of town, so it'll be really quiet here."
"Where are they?"
"Australia," Paul said. "Come inside."
I followed Paul inside with Nick behind me. The inside of the house was just as impressive as the outside. I already imagined myself walking down the grand staircase in a formal gown. There was a beautiful chandelier hanging in the entryway. There was art and family photos, seamlessly blended together on the walls. The house was exquisite but homey, you could tell a family lived there.
"Amazing," I breathed.
"Mary did all this herself," Paul said, proudly. "Come into the dining room."
Paul moved ahead quickly while I stood, looking around the entryway.
I felt Nick's hand on my back, "Come on," he said, close to my ear.
He steered me toward the massive dining room, where Paul was spreading papers out on the mahogany table. The dining room was just as beautiful. There was seating for 12, another chandelier, and some beautiful works of art hung around the room. No family pictures here. This room was meant to impress. Paul gestured me to the seat beside him. I sat and Nick sat beside me, close.
"I have a lot of information for you. Do you want me to give it to you now or would you rather wait until tomorrow?" Paul asked.
"Let's do it now, that way I can have time to digest it."
"Good, we need to get started as soon as possible. Nick will need to take you shopping too, apparently," he said.
“Why is that?” Nick asked.
“Her luggage is gone, she has no clothes.”
“Oh, right,” Nick said, sounding embarrassed.
Somewhere my mind was screaming "Get out! This is not right!!" but I needed the money and I've known Paul almost all my life. I was swept up in the fantasy of it at the moment, not thinking clearly.
Paul showed me some pictures of people I should know, giving me an idea who all the major players. When we were finished, my head was swimming. I didn't think I'd remember who any of these people were.
"Abby, this is important," Paul said. "Do you think you can do this?"
"It's just so much," I said.
"You know, you've been through a lot. Why don't you go upstairs and take a break. Lie down if you want to," Paul said.
I couldn't argue with the man, I was starting to feel the weight of the situation and I was exhausted. I shook my head and Paul stood up.
"Come on, I'll show you to your room and give you the modified tour."
"Hey man, I'm gonna head out," Nick said, turning to leave.
"Be available by phone," Paul warned.
"Yeah man. Later, Abby."
"Bye, Nick. It was nice meeting you."
And with that, Nick let himself out the front door.
"Come on," Paul said, clapping his hands and jumping up. "Let me show you around."
The Proposition by Jessica Schlafer / Romance & Love have rating 2.5 out of 5 / Based on40 votes