The Arrival of a Deal

The confused waiter laughed nervously at his own joke before backing away from the table slowly and hightailing it out of the vicinity. If looks could kill, the two people at the poor waiter's table probably would have both been dead. The girl's arms were crossed over her chest and the guy leaned casually into the corner of the booth seat, both appearing somewhat relaxed but the fire in their eyes revealed their true feelings.

"No," she said simply. The argument had come to verbal abuse only a few moments after it had begun, and there was no way now that she was backing down. It just wasn't in her blood to give up a fight without retaliation.

Damn that was good, if I did say so myself. It was definitely the best thing I had ever written, even if it was only two paragraphs long so far. Too bad it wasn't very original.

It was what I had just been through. So maybe I had spiced it up with a few fancy words and a couple of literary clichés. But the basic truth of what had happened was there.

After a very heated discussion in chemistry this afternoon, Paul and I had agreed to meet at Bella's, a tiny hole-in-the-wall Italian restaurant where we would be least likely to be seen together. But how either of us thought that we would make it through an entire conversation without exploding, I'll never know. Because in retrospect, putting me in the same place with the devil and expecting us to act civilized? Not a good idea.

~~~***~~~

"So, here's the deal. I help you, you help me, we all go home happy. Okay?"

I shrugged, absently twirling the spaghetti on my fork. "So I tell Mallory that everything I already told her about how much off an ass you are was just a joke? 'I don't really hate him, and you should totally go out with him,'" I pretended, sending my voice an octave higher.

He glared. "I don't care how you do it. Just get it done."

"Oh, that's really sensitive," I replied, rolling my eyes. "That's definitely a guy I want my best friend going out with."

"Well it's not really about what you want for Mallory, is it? It's about you getting what you want for you."

I swear I would have slapped him right then and there if the waiter hadn't suddenly appeared.

"Do you want a refill on your Cokes?"

I was so focused on my burning anger that I hardly acknowledged his presence, let alone his question. Paul didn't do any better, simply leaning back into the booth seat as if nothing was wrong.

"Nothing like some more icy Coke to break the ice!" the waiter tried, laughing slowly as if waiting for one of us to react to his joke as well. But when neither of us took the bait, he quickly disappeared, leaving us to fume at each other.

~~~***~~~

Okay, so the argument hadn't been all that intense, and it hadn't exactly come to verbal abuse, per se, but it had still left me wanting to punch a wall. In a conversation with Paul, anything that small could set me off at any moment.

But ever since I'd left the restaurant, not only had my blood been boiling, but my fingers had been twitching with the urge to write it down on paper. Once I had it down, however, I couldn't figure out how to continue it, or start it even. It wasn't like a good story could start off immediately with the conflict. There had to be some background information. Like, who were these people? What made them tick? Why were they eating dinner together if they couldn't stand each other?

I could answer those questions very easily. They were Paul and I. Everything made them tick. They were eating dinner together in order to continue their plan of help-me-help-you. It was a mess that I couldn't even begin to explain on paper.

"Ugh," I groaned, flopping backwards onto my bed.

At least I had finally come to terms with my decision. I was going through with the plan, even if I had to break them up after I got them together. After all, the ends always justified the means, right?

All I had to think about now was how I was going to do it. I had just told Mallory multiple reasons why she should not think that Paul Banks was cute, and now I had to reverse all the progress I had made on making her hate him just as much as I did? It was a nearly impossible task that I somehow had to complete, or it was bye-bye Logan Franklin as well.

"So how to go about it…" I mused, throwing an arm over my face.

"Quinn? Are you in there?"

"Yeah, Dad. Come on in." I raised myself up on my elbows, waiting for his entrance.

He opened the door and stepped hesitantly into my room, as if it made him uncomfortable just to be in my private space. "Hey."

"Hey." I stared at him expectantly. "What's up?"

"I, uh, just wanted to…" Perching precariously on the edge of my computer chair, he ran a hand over his face as he paused to find his words. "Listen, I know you went out to dinner with a boy tonight, and I just thought I should…you know…"

Then the big, ugly truth of his intentions cleared up. "Dad! Oh, God…"

"I'm your father, and I feel like it's my responsibility…"

I groaned, falling back on the bed once more. "Dad, don't. First of all, I went out to dinner with someone that I absolutely despise. So there's nothing to worry about on that front. Second of all, Sara had that talk with me a long, long time ago. So I think I'm covered."

He exhaled loudly, obviously grateful to be relieved of that particular parenting duty. "Good. Okay. So why did you go out with him if you hate him?"

I shook my head, still refusing to sit up again. "Long story, one that I don't particularly feel like sharing right now." Or ever.

"Okay." He nodded, standing up once more. "Well, if you need anything, just let me know. I'll be in my office for a while, finishing up some work stuff."

As soon as the door shut again, I decided to go through my bedtime routine, even if it was only ten o' clock. I just wasn't doing myself any good staying awake while my brain tried to come up with a plan. Maybe something would come to me in my sleep. One could only hope.

~~~***~~~

It was closing in on seventh hour, and I still had no plan of action. So much for dreaming up a plan while I slept.

I hadn't paid attention to one thing in class today. I just couldn't. I was so focused on how to initiate Operation Pallory—my covert name for the plan to get Paul and Mallory together—that I couldn't think about pastiches or body mass indexes or even binomials. Just Logan, Paul and Mallory.

The bell rang and I couldn't get out of Mrs. Hutsberry's classroom fast enough. Being her assistant was just another task that I couldn't think about today, and I was grateful to get away from her knowing smile for once. Unfortunately, I was going to have to face Paul in just a few moments and tell him that I hadn't come up with anything yet. But on the other hand, I was also going to see Logan in just a few minutes.

"Hey, Quinn."

Make that a few seconds.

I turned my head to see Logan falling into step beside me, his backpack thrown casually over one shoulder. "Hey, Logan. Did you get that chem homework done last night?"

He smiled and glanced at me from the corner of his twinkling eye. "Yeah, no big deal. You?"

I nodded, grinning like an idiot and unsure of what to say next. Thankfully, I didn't get the chance to make an idiot out of myself with an embarrassing question or statement. We found ourselves at the door to chemistry at just the right moment. And as soon as I walked into the classroom, I remembered why I had been semi-dreading this class all day.

"So? Any progress?" Paul whispered as I slid into the lab station that I shared with Logan.

I shook my head, grateful that Logan had stayed near the front of the classroom to talk to the teacher for a few moments. "You?"

He sneered. "If the answer was yes, you'd know it.

He said it with such confidence, it made me wonder if he knew something I didn't. like maybe, Logan already liked me, and I was really getting nothing out of this deal that wouldn't have happened anyway. But it was too late to back out now; then he could just do the opposite of what he had promised and make sure Logan would never go out with me. I leaned to the left towards Paul's lab one more time. "Listen. Follow me after school, and when I meet Mallory for a ride, just happen to bump into me. I'll introduce you for real, and start it from there."

He considered it for a moment before nodding his head grudgingly.

After school. I just had to make sure I didn't say anything stupid while I was in the presence of both parties.

~~~***~~~

As I walked down the hallway after saying goodbye to Logan for the day, I took several deep, cleansing breaths.

I was about to place my best friend in the claws of the devil. On purpose.

Mallory was sitting on the ledge by the stairs when I saw her, leaning back casually and probably driving all the guys around her crazy. Which was why Paul liked her. Even the devil was susceptible to her feminine wiles.

"Hey!" she called, waving to me as I approached.

"Hey," I replied, steeling myself. Just as we'd planned, Paul accidentally-on-purpose bumped into me. And when I said bumped, I meant crashed. He used the opportunity to completely ram into me with his full weight, a tiny victory on his part when I couldn't retaliate. So I settled for a glare in his direction when Mallory wasn't looking.

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said.

Liar. "Paul," I said, gritting my teeth as I spoke his name. "Have you met Mallory?"

He glanced in Mallory's direction. "No, I don't think I have. I'm Paul Banks."

Mallory offered her hand, which he quickly kissed out of chivalry. It was new to me that he even knew what chivalry was. "I'm Mallory Roberts."

He smiled. Wow, he was good. I almost started to believe that he wasn't a bad guy. Almost. "It's a pleasure, Mallory."

I saw the tell-tale blush of her cheeks as she glanced in my direction with questions in her eyes. I quickly rolled mine, but refrained from starting a fight with Paul, which was pretty damn good for me.

"Can I offer you a ride home?" he asked, pointedly directing the question at Mallory.

I shook my head reflexively, starting to speak for her but remembering that he had asked Mallory, so I snapped my mouth shut again.

Mallory shook her head, lithely bouncing down from her perch. "Actually, I'm giving Quinn a ride home, and we should probably get going. So I'll see you around sometime."

He bowed gallantly. "Sooner rather than later, I hope."

She studied him for a moment, searching for cynicism. "Perhaps," she finally settled on. But I could see the smile behind her eyes, even if she wasn't letting it touch her mouth. Even if she was trying to hide it from me.

She turned to me, waving goodbye to Paul and pulling on my arm to lead me towards the parking lot. "What was that all about, Quinn?"

I shrugged. "I told you I was going to let you form your own opinion about him. So that's what I'm doing."

She appraised me for a moment, a smile quirking up the corners of her mouth even though she tried not to let it show. "Good. Thank you."

I slid into the passenger seat of her Bug, wondering what the hell I had gotten myself into.


A/N: Okay, so I know it's been a while...okay, a REALLY long while, but still. Ever since I came home from Europe two weeks ago, I've been writing like mad. My inspiration returned! So I cranked out this chapter, the start to the next one, an entire chapter that's still like fifteen or more chapters away, and the prologue and first three chapters of my newest story Second to the Right, which is about Peter Pan. I think it's pretty original, so you should definitely check it out. ;) So anyway, I'll get the next chapter up as soon as I get it finished!

Love,
~*LovesickAuthor*~