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The proposition, p.17
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       The Proposition, p.17

           Jessica Schlafer
 

  Chapter 16

  On the fourth day, I got up and took a shower. Nick was doing some work in his office, so when I found him and I was dressed, he was shocked.

  "Hey," he said. "Are you back?"

  "I think so. I can't feel sorry for myself anymore. No, those aren't the right words. I guess I can't let him make me feel bad anymore."

  Nick stood and came around his desk to hug me. "I'm happy to see you up and around."

  "I'm so sick of soup, though. Do you think we could go out and get something to eat?"

  "Absolutely! Do you wanna go now?”

  “Please, before I lose the nerve.”

  Nick grabbed the keys and we headed out the door. Nick drove us around the block before we decided we’d go to his favorite food truck and get a burger and fries. We sat at a picnic table and ate our lunches.

  “This is so good,” I said. “I don’t even think I’ll be able to finish it.”

  “I’ll finish it for you,” Nick said, with a mouthful.

  “Like hell you will,” I laughed. “I’ll take it home and eat it later!”

  “Oh, I was gonna order two more to save for later.”

  “Well, in that case, I suppose you could finish it.”

  I slid my tray over to Nick, who devoured the remains of my burger and fries. True to his word, he stood in line and ordered two more meals for us to take back to his house.

  “Hey, can I drive?” I asked.

  Nick looked at me, shocked, “Yeah, of course.”

  He handed me his keys and got in the passenger side. I still didn’t know my way around Portland, although I was learning familiar landmarks, so Nick had to give me directions. I wanted to go to a grocery store and get some food for Nick’s house. I felt like I was always eating everything in the house.

  We were finally back at Nick’s house and had the groceries unloaded.

  “Nick, let’s go swimming.”

  “I can’t, Abby. I have to go meet with Paul.”

  “Oh,” I said, feeling defeated.

  “You can come with me to Paul’s place.”

  “Okay, I guess I can go swimming there.”

  “I have a surprise for you. Close your eyes!” I closed my eyes and Nick took my hand and led me through the house. “Okay, open.”

  I opened my eyes and I was in a small room with a view of the field behind the house. There was a desk with a computer and printer.

  “Oh Nick, what is it?”

  “It’s an office! I know you were a writing major and you haven’t had a chance to do much writing here, so I gave you a space to do some writing!”

  “Oh my…Nick….you did this for me? When did you have the chance?”

  “Um, you were in bed for a few days. I did it all then.”

  “Wow, Nick. I can’t believe it!”

  “You like it?”

  “I LOVE it!”

  I jumped up and hugged him, holding tightly and kissing him all over the face.

  “All right, crazy. I’m glad you like it!”

  “You’re amazing, Nick.”

  “Abby…” Nick looked into my eyes and held me in place. He sighed. “I have to get ready to go to Paul’s. Do you think you’re gonna go?”

  “Yeah, let’s go.”

  Back in the car, we drove to Paul’s house and met Paul in his office.

  “Abby, sweetie, how are you doing?” Paul asked.

  “I’m okay. I’d like to go swimming while you guys meet.”

  “By all means, mi casa es su casa. My home is your home.”

  I waved good bye and went to my bedroom. I changed into one of my bikinis and went to the pool. It felt like it had been ages since I swam, so I really enjoyed my swim. The water was warm, the sun was shining, and I had a wonderful day.

  It had been several hours, so I went inside to find Nick and Paul. I found Paul in his office still. Nick nowhere to be seen.

  “Hey Abbs, how was the swim?”

  “Great,” I said. “Where’s Nick?”

  “Oh, I had to send him to take care of something for me. He should be back in a couple days.”

  “Oh.”

  “What’s wrong?”

  “He didn’t say good bye.”

  “He had to leave right away. I didn’t give him any time for that.”

  “Oh, okay. I guess I’ll go take a shower and get some dinner.”

  “Okay sweetie,” Paul said absently, as he looked over some papers.

  I had showered and changed my clothes when I went to the kitchen to make some dinner. Paul’s guard, Diego, was in the kitchen.

  “Oh, hello, Diego, right?”

  “Yes, Ma’am.”

  “How are you tonight?”

  “I’m fine, Ma’am.”

  “Hey, I don’t know what the rules are, but my name is Abby. Please don’t call me ‘Ma’am.” He smiled. “I’m gonna make some dinner, you’re welcome to join me.”

  “What are you gonna make?”

  “I don’t know,” I trailed off, looking in the refrigerator. “There’s some chicken and some cheeses. I’d wager to bet there’s pasta…”

 

  “There is,” I heard Paul say as he came into the kitchen.

  “Oh, hey, Paul. I was just telling Diego that I was gonna cook some dinner and he’s welcome to join me.”

 

  “That sounds nice,” Paul said. “What are you making?”

  “Well, with chicken, cheese, and pasta, I think I’ll make some chicken Alfredo.”

  “That sounds delicious,” Paul said. “Am I invited?”

  I playfully slapped in Paul’s direction, “Of course, Paul, it is your house. If you guys give me about an hour, I’ll have an edible meal for you.”

  “Edible?” Paul asked, raising his eyebrow.

  “I’m not the best cook, but I’ll put in the effort. Are there any other guards here that would be, um, allowed to eat with us?”

  “Hmm,” Paul thought, “I think Bill is on house duty, right, Diego?”

  “Yessir.”

  “Ask him if he’d like to join us.”

  “Yessir.”

  “I’ll see you in an hour, Diego,” I called after him.

  “Anything I can do to help, Abbs?” Paul asked.

  “Yeah, take this stuff,” I put a bunch of veggies on the counter, “and chop it up for a salad.”

  “Got it.”

  “Oh, leave me the broccoli. I’ll add it in with the sauce.”

  I spent the next hour preparing a meal for Paul and two of his guards. I decided that Diego and Bill must be the closest guards. I set the table and, right on schedule, Diego and Bill joined us.

  “Abby, I don’t know if you’ve met Bill.”

  “I remember you from the boat trip,” I said, shaking his hand.

  “Yes, Ma’am,” he said.

  “Please, my name is Abby.”

  He smiled politely.

  The men devoured the pasta and I was pretty happy because I made up the recipe as I went along. All seemed to enjoy it. Paul and I drank a bottle of wine while the guards stuck to water.

  Afterward, I cleaned up the table and kitchen.

  Chivalry, my ass!

  I kissed Paul good night and I went to my room to catch up on emails and phone calls. I even had a video chat with my mother and then my father. When I finished, I felt very lonely because Nick wasn’t around. I decided to send a quick text.

  “Thinking of you, A.”

  There was no response that night.

  The next morning I got and early and went for a run on the treadmill. I puttered around in the kitchen, deciding that I wanted to bake that afternoon. I went to look for Paul, but it was obvious that he was out, so I went to look for Diego.

  “Hey,” I called when I found him in the driveway. “Do you think you could take me to the grocery store? I need to get a few things?”

  “Yeah, Abby. I
m in the middle of something right now, but if you give me 20 minutes, I’ll be able to take you.”

  “Thank you, Diego.”

  I went to wait on the front steps, sending Nick another text.

  “WHERE R U?”

  About 10 minutes later, Diego motioned for me toward the car. I ran and jumped into the front seat.

  “Mr. Centanni usually sits in the back.”

  “I get motion sickness,” I said.

  Diego smiled. “Do you have a preference on which store you’d like to go to?”

  “Not really, I usually just go wherever they take me. I don’t know much about Portland.”

  “Okay, what are you shopping for?”

  “I’m gonna bake some cupcakes and cookies. I just need some baking supplies and fresh fruit.”

  “Okay.”

  Diego drove me to a grocery store that had an amazing selection of fresh fruit. I found myself buying a lot more than I’d ever use. I paid for my supplies and Diego drove me back to Paul’s house. I thanked him for the ride and went inside to start baking.

  I don’t know what came over me, but I made four different kinds of cookies and six different kinds of cupcakes. My original plan was to make some for Nick, as a welcome home gift. But, after making so many, I decided to take them out to the guards. I put them into containers and went outside to find Diego and Bill.

  “Hey, guys,” I said, finding them near the fountain. “I got a little crazy when I was baking and I made way too much. I’d like to donate them to you guys and the rest of the guards.”

  “Thank you, Abby,” Diego said.

  “Do you have like a break room or something? I’d like to drop them off.”

  “Sure, come with me,” Diego said.

  Bill isn’t much of a talker.

  I followed Diego and Bill across the yard, behind the pool house. There was another building that I hadn’t noticed before and another entrance through the concrete wall.

  “Wow,” I said. I had no idea this was back here.

  “That’s the point,” Bill said.

  We went inside and there were four other guards sitting around a table, playing cards. There was a tv on to a baseball game.

  The moment they noticed me, all the men stood up, obviously thrown by the intrusion.

  “Guys, this is Abby, she’s Mr. Centanni’s guest.”

  They nodded.

  “Hey, um, I was baking in the house and made way too much. I thought maybe you guys would like some because you work so hard.”

  I put the containers on the table and opened them. All of the men looked surprised and more than a little eager to devour the treats I put out. They restrained themselves and didn’t take anything.

  "Please, help yourselves," I urged.

  None of the men moved so I picked up a cookie and ate it. Diego hesitated and finally took a cookie.

  "Wow," he said, reaching to take another and a cupcake.

  That was enough for the other men, they dove into the treats with gusto. I waved from the door with all the men eating and thanking me with their mouths full. I walked back into the kitchen and finished my clean up.

  I went back to my room, desperate for any kind of human interaction. I checked my phone to see if there was anything from Nick, but there was still nothing. I had prepared a large platter of cookies and cupcakes for Nick that I stashed in my room. There were still a lot in the kitchen.

 
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