To the outside observer, one might think the couple jogging down one of the biggest hills in Alderaan a couple -if you ignored the five other men trailing them. A tall, thickly muscled guy in running gear and a petite woman who barely came to his elbow, keeping perfect pace with her companion. Below them, the city spread out, with the red tile roofs and houses a mixture of various shades of granite, and beyond – the Mediterranean, the water a glorious shade of blue.
“We should have started earlier.” the woman said, shaking her head, “it's nearly seven.”
Ben Organa Solo chuckled as they reached a turn, “don't worry, we'll have plenty of time to get cleaned up. It's not like breakfast time changes, Rose.” he gave her a sideways look. “You don't have to come with me on this run every time.”
Rose scoffed, “there's a reason why there's a gym in the palace, your grace, and don't say it's for when it rains.”
“I don't think anyone is going to ruin your Peloton score any time soon,” he countered, “besides, this road has a better view, and no one comes along and tries to discuss politics or some other such nonsense with you.”
“It's your job.” she replied as they reached another turn. “you're supposed to be able to do it in your sleep. Although I dread to think what the country would go to if you did.”
“So dramatic this morning.” He replied, “if you want to choose a new path for us to run tomorrow, you're more than welcome to. Or do you want to skip the running and see how many times you can throw me over your shoulder?”
“Ha!” she answered, “we still have time to do that this afternoon. You can polish my Olympic medals after, too.”
“How many is it again?” he grinned, “six bronze and one silver?” Teasing his bodyguard was one of Ben's favorite things to do; along with watching her laying out prospective palace guards who judged her by her size.
“Seven gold, one silver.” she seethed. “I'd have eight if I didn't have that stupid deduction from the Russian judge.” They came to the flat and the five men behind them spread out in a phalanx, and they slowed their pace so two could run in front. “and no, I do not want to make a run for the Tokyo Games in Twenty Twenty.”
“I wasn't going to suggest it.” he wiped at his face, he'd worked up more of a sweat than he expected. “I'm supposed to meet a minister from Monaco this afternoon. Someone has the idea the two countries should team up for Eurovision next year.”
“How would we work out the whole hosting thing when we won?” Rose let out a deep breath as they went through the palace gates and the run became a walk. “That's a lot of people into two small areas. Think of the fire codes.”
“I suspect one would host the guests and the other would hold the venue.” He snickered, “though given some of the powerhouses in the contest, I'd say we'd have to turn out something borderline unbelievable to actually win.”
“You say that and watch, Vatican City will turn up for the first time with the greatest Gregorian Chant performance in history, and proceed to give all their points to a country which has never won, and let them take the crown.” she grinned, “my money is on Romania.”
“Poland.” Ben countered, “what's our time?”
Rose checked her watch. “Forty-seven minutes, sixteen seconds. We're off pace today.”
“We'll get back down to five miles in forty-five by Friday.” he came to a stop, stretching. “Time to get cleaned up and ready to face the day.”
“You best use soap and razor this morning, or your mother will give you grief about your stubble.” she rolled her shoulders. “You know she's expecting you in the dining room at eight-thirty.”
“I know, Miss Tico.” He answered as they walked into the side entrance of the palace, taking the offered bottles of water as they passed the guard standing at the door. “For the same lecture I get every other morning.” he sighed, “and yes, I know I'm not getting any younger.” They continued down the corridor until they came to a set of stairs. “and the only reason why she doesn't suggest the two of us get together is because you love your job.”
Rose downed half of her bottle of water. “I've watched your backside almost every day since you came back from college. Really, your mother should thank me for chasing off the flaky girls who are only interested in two things, neither of which is befitting of the job she was seeking.”
Ben turned into the stairwell, “Exactly. Though my mother has no one to blame but herself. You can't raise someone telling them you shouldn't expect someone to give up their job for someone, or in my case, a country, and then act all surprised I've not had a serious relationship with any possibility of finding someone to become the next princess of Alderaan.”
“This is why the gossip rags call you Prince Ben the Prude.” she snorted, “your mother is going to take a page out of Monaco's book and find someone to play the part of a princess if you're not careful.”
“Considering how much my mother admired and respected Princess Grace, that's a compliment.” he started up the stairs, shaking his head. So he was still a bachelor heading into his mid-thirties. He knew Rose had a point. Not a week went by without his mother reminding him he had a duty to his country.
The idea of marrying someone with the sole intent of having an heir still made him want to throw up. Strange how he'd known about such things since he was fifteen, maybe younger, and it always dug under his skin; and completely altered the way he looked at the opposite sex. It was the Twenty-first century, and the rules hadn't changed. Someone might argue the law could be changed, and he could simply adopt a baby – that almost felt worse.
He reached the next landing and pushed open the door, heading for his suite. “What I need is a princess who has no desire to be a princess.” he snickered, “but can act like one so flawlessly, you'd never know.”
If you asked her honest opinion, Rey Niima would tell you that painting a classic Ferrari Pinkest Pink was borderline sacrilege. But when the owner of said car was also an actor famous for donating massive amounts of money to worthwhile charities and regularly visited pediatric oncology units across the globe – and says he'll pay you double, you don't say no, you ask how soon he needs it. Her boss, Poe Dameron, gave her the task of restoring and repainting the car almost six weeks ago, and the only thing which kept it from getting done in four were delays in the mail.
Her coveralls now bore several paint smears of Pinkest Pink, a sharp contrast to the various shades of black and red already staining it. She'd lived in the tiny principality of Alderaan for almost two years, coming here after Poe found her in England, working too hard for too little pay. He'd even done a ton of the paperwork for her to get into the nation, and she still didn't know what she did to deserve the grand job.
Poe Dameron was a retired Formula One racer, and now, he owned a restoration and detailing shop catering to the people in Europe who, as she put it, had more money than common sense.
“Good morning, Sunshine.” The man called brightly as Rey finished tugging on her coveralls. “You didn't expect to see me so early, did you?”
She gave the man a wry smile, “well, not usually on days you don't open, considering I know you had plans all weekend.”
“And yet I managed to recover from all the chaos and here I am, ready to tear into another week's worth of restoration.” He gave her a once over. “You're not still painting the Ferrari, are you?”
“No.” she covered a yawn as she checked her locker, trying to remember what all she needed, “just going to give it a nice coat of wax, Mr. Alberts is picking the car up this afternoon. I wanted to get it all nice and shiny.” she gave Poe an extremely fake grin, “thank god he was talked out of getting black leather interior.”
“Well, he'll never sell enough Mary Kay to win the pink Cadillac.” he snickered, “the auction was fun, thank you for asking.”
She gave him a look, the auction for Poe's son's school, Saint Francis Academy, was something she barely cared about. The price for a single ticket just to get into the thing bordered around a hundred euros, and she definitely didn't have that kind of money lying around. “Someone fork over a stupid amount for your signed racing outfit this year?”
“It went for seven hundred, thank you.” he took a breath, “and Finn and I got you something.”
“What?” She nearly laughed, “I don't think there's anything sold at one of those events I need or want, Poe.”
“Hush.” he held out a thick white envelope. “all the details are inside, you just need to make a phone call to set up the first meeting.”
“First what?” she took the paper, and stared at the fancy calligraphy on the front, her face slowly draining of color. “Princess Lessons?” she looked up to see her boss had the most shit-eating grin on his face. She could punch the man if she wasn't worried she'd lose her job. “Seriously?”
He leaned back against the bank of lockers, folding his arms. “Look, this isn't meant as a mean spirited joke or anything...” he looked away, “it's just...”
“I'm not the princess type. I never was.” she resisted the urge to crumple the envelope up and throw it at him. The handwriting on the front was beautiful – she'd love to have that kind of skill with a pen. “What kind of person donates....” she set the envelope into her locker, “this better be something done with a protocol advisor to the royal family and not the royal family itself.” She closed her eyes, counting to ten. “And thank you, thank Finn for me.”
“It can't be all that bad, Sunshine. It's not like they'll have to keep telling you to sit up straight.” he chuckled, “the only person who sits up straighter than you is Finn.”
She rolled her eyes. “We're British, Poe.” She picked up her work gloves and stuffed them into her pockets. “I have a Ferrari to wax. And no, you can't change the play-list. You know the rules, first person in gets to choose.”
“I know, Rey.” he answered, “I've got paperwork to take care of.” He chuckled, “don't work too hard.”
She turned, “we all work too hard, Poe.”
Alderaan was only larger than Monaco by five square miles, tucked up against the borders of France and Italy. Both thrived as tax havens to the wealthy of the world, and, on paper, one might have trouble distinguishing between the two. Except the elite went to Monaco to gamble, they came to Alderaan to escape the paparazzi. Some howled that this was suppression of freedom of the press, but given the country had freedom of the press, it made little sense.
So you had to get a press permit from the Alderaanian Government if you weren't specifically a member of the press in Alderaan. In her mind, it wasn't much different than having to get a tourist visa.
Really, did the world need to see pictures of Lady Gaga relaxing on a sunny beach, minding her own business, having a good time – when there was real news to report?
Rey only knew Lady Gaga was in country because she'd seen the woman – or at least, someone who looked a hell of a lot like her – out on the beach when she herself went on Saturday, and the woman asked her where the best place for Italian food was.
She retrieved a bottle of turtle wax and a clean cloth from the supply shelf and crossed the work space, heading for the Ferrari as ‘Crazy Little Thing Called Love' started to blare out of the speakers.
She knew why Poe and Finn had done this. She owned no dresses, never wore make-up, and as far as they knew, she never did anything remotely girly. And for the most part – they were right. While she did enjoy the occasional pedicure, her idea of girly behavior involved putting on pajamas and watching movies while eating junk food. She never had the time for overly feminine behaviors, and working in a male dominated field, she couldn't afford to let her guard down.
Maybe she could get out of the thing completely. This didn't sound like a big deal at all, she'd just meet with whomever ran the lessons, explain that she didn't need them, and suggest to the host an extra long break from the rest of their job. Go do – other things, like watching a movie.
What sort of person donated Princess Lessons anyway?
Ben knew he was in for a rough morning when he came into the dining room to see his mother reading a dossier. She tried to avoid business at breakfast unless it was absolutely necessary. He squared his shoulders as he came to her chair. “Good morning, mother.” He kissed her cheek before going to his chair to retrieve his plate. “How are you?”
“Perfectly well, Benjamin. Did you and Rose have a nice run?” she didn't look up from the sheet of paper.
“Yes, afraid the cool of the morning is lying, and we're in for another hot day.” he served himself some fried eggs and bacon, along with a bowl of fruit. “Not that this significant news in Alderaan in April.”
“Point.” she took a drink from her teacup as he returned to the table. “You remember that you have a meeting with Mr. Hux this afternoon.” she shook her head, “I don't think much will come of this Eurovision venture. Neither our country or Monaco make it past the first round. We're not interesting enough.”
He shook his napkin out and placed it on his lap. “I always thought it was the fact we're of a different caliber of people. We're the Europe people want to believe is the entire continent. Quaint, old-worldly and picturesque, which, I can sort of see. Although Monte Carlo won't say it out loud, they're exactly like Las Vegas, but with dignity. All they need is a Cirque du Soleil venue.”
“And what does that make Alderaan, Ben, if Monte is Vegas?” She still hadn't looked up from the dossier.
“Sydney with better weather.” he answered, taking a slice of toast from the rack on the table. “but they have a nicer opera house.” He hated these kinds of mornings, it made him feel like he was thirteen instead of thirty-three, and his mother still had total control over his life. “Please tell me you haven't taken it into your head for us to get a reality show for me to find a wife.”
“Benjamin Organa Solo, you know me better than that.” she put the paper down, “I have more important things to do than concern myself with your unmarried status.” she let out a deep breath, “the auction at Saint Francis went well on Saturday.” she indicated the sheet.
He sliced an egg in half, “you worried you're going to get flack for the donated Princess Lessons again? It's not like it's the only thing we donate.”
“I know, Benjamin, I know.” she sighed, “I suspect I'll have a call from my secretary before the end of the day tomorrow.” she took a breath, “would you mind terribly taking care of the initial meeting? Your uncle is flying in from the States, and well...”
“Yes, mom.” he shrugged, “who knows, maybe the winning bidder has a single sister, or something.” He glanced up to see her expression change, “mother...”
“I worry about you Benjamin. Though I suppose I have little call for complaint.” she picked up her fork, spearing a piece of melon. “At least I never have to tell you to behave. I content myself with knowing every other princess or queen has told their own offspring more times than they can count 'why can't you act more like Benjamin Organa Solo?'”
He bit back the smirk, “the last royal mother with your caliber of terrifying was Queen Victoria.” He smeared his toast slice into the yolk spreading across his plate. “Good morning again, Rose.”
“Good morning, your majesty.” the woman was now all business, the crisp charcoal gray suit a perfect facade for the deadliness underneath. “good morning again, your grace.” she picked up the plate opposite of Ben. Most people would balk at the idea of one's body guard joining them for a meal, but to them, it was just – normal. “Paige asked me to tell you, your majesty, the gown is almost finished.”
“Thank you. And you know you can call me by my first name, we're not in public.” Leia gave her a warm smile, “did you two go for a run or did you take Ben for a run this time?”
“Moth-er.” Ben let the word slip out as Rose grinned and went over to the sideboard. “You know what the price is when you two gang up on me. No talk about my singleness for a whole day.”
“Your argument never works.” Rose countered, “besides, I didn't confirm which statement was correct.”
He focused on his food, “how many lessons are there again, five or six?”
“Six princess lessons, the seventh is always tea here at the palace.” Leia let out a sigh, “I'm starting to think I'm too old for this.”
“Are you trying to suggest or asking me to take over the whole lesson thing?” he winced as soon as the words left his mouth. His mother had set the trap and he'd walked right into it.
“What a brilliant idea, Ben. How good of you to suggest it.” she exclaimed, picking the dossier back up and eating another piece of fruit.
“You really should know better, Ben.” Rose intoned, taking up her seat.
He smirked. “I'd take that look off your face if I were you. If I have to do these lessons, you're coming along.” He grinned, “you can teach the girls how to defend themselves in long skirts, or you know, which spoon is the best to stab someone with.”
“Jam spoon, ” Rose answered, not looking at him as she bit into a slice of bacon. “followed by the melon spoon.”
Rey combed out her damp hair, wincing as she tugged on a tangle. Her small basement flat might lack a view, or much natural light at all, but it came rent free; the owner of the above house owned a string of hotels across the globe, (from Auckland to Zanzibar, and everywhere in between as their slogan went) and this was one of the family's private retreats. She basically kept tabs on the home while they were off doing business things, and she only saw them a few weeks during the year, if at all.
It was better than living in the flat above the auto-shop.
She sat down, cross-legged on the sofa, setting the comb aside and picking up the thick white envelope, drawing out the heavy card-stock paper from within, her eyes widening slightly at the royal crest at the top – apparently these weren't princess lessons from some old dowager or retired etiquette teacher from the palace with a Princes Diaries adoration, but lessons from the Princess of Alderaan.
Turning them down might not be possible.
“I'll figure this out.” Rey leaned back, worrying her bottom lip. Unfortunately, she didn't know any little girls; they would go crazy about this kind of thing. Given the royal family had donated them, odds were, that's who usually ended up with the lessons. Little girls who loved to dress up and pretend. “Seven lessons, once a week for six weeks, together or spaced out, based on scheduling, special event on week seven.”
She lowered the paper and grabbed her laptop, booting it up and searching for anything special happening in Alderaan towards the end of the summer. The answer was plenty; culminating in the massive celebrations during the last week of August, with a major event on the thirty-first, the country's independence day – the royal ball.
“A ball. Those things still happen in the twenty-first century?” she snorted. Well, there was the Met Gala, that was sort of like a ball, but with invitations you had to pay for. “Forget it, Niima. There's no way you'd end up at the ball at the palace.”
She stretched out her legs, wiggling her toes. “I don't even know how to dance.” she giggled, “not to mention I don’t have a thing to wear.”
Her phone started to buzz and she glanced at the caller ID before answering. “No, Poe, I don't know anything about the missing donuts. I had one, and the box vanished between the time I ate and the next time I went into the office.”
“I think I have a good idea where they went, don't worry.” her boss chuckled, “Mr. Alberts came to pick up his Ferrari after you left. Says it looks absolutely perfect, and that you were right about keeping the interior white. He also plans on telling all of his friends about our amazing work, so we should expect to gain more restoration before the summer season.”
She smirked, “I may not know girly girl, but I know cars.” she sighed, leaning her head back. “something tells me this call is about more than an outrageously pink Ferrari.”
“Quick as ever, Niima.” He let out a breath, “I got a call this afternoon from a Miss Rose Tico. She wants to bring in her Thing for a new paint job.”
“Thing as in the Volkswagen.” she asked, knowing that sometimes people simply called their car 'thing' instead of revealing what they actually had. Like people bothered tapping phone lines to learn car makes and models. Stealing an expensive car out of an auto shop was stupid – but trying to get out of Alderaan with a stolen car was next to impossible. And even if you did, you'd run straight into Italy – and about thirty miles down the road was an American Air Force base.
“Yes, an actual Thing.” he laughed, “it might also need a little engine work.”
“I think a little engine work is code for 'the suspension is shot to hell' because two thirds of Alderaan's roads are cobblestone.” she snickered, “so I take this is my next assignment.” she frowned, “and why, exactly, are you calling to tell me we're getting a new client tomorrow?”
Poe let out a deep sigh. “I'm letting you know because you're scheduled to open. The car's expected to arrive before nine.” he paused, “and the Thing is likely not the property of Miss Tico, but someone she represents.”
“I can do the check-in and question standards in my sleep. Fill this out, don't forget to initial all the blanks, when you need it by?, and what color are you thinking?” She stood up and went into the kitchen. “I may not like the color pink for cars, but it's nice to paint them in a color other than black.”
“Maybe Miss Tico will want fireballs or lightning bolts.” Poe chuckled, “I've got to go. Finn's glaring at me for being on the phone when dinner's on the table.”
“Good night, Poe. Tell Finn and Peter hi for me.” she said, opening the fridge and taking out a container of leftover pasta.
“You got it. See you Monday afternoon.” the call ended and Rey sighed.
“I don't know who Miss Tico is, but I'm willing to bet good money the Thing is really her Thing.” she took out a bowl and dumped the pasta into it, grimacing as the sauce splattered up and several drops hit her shirt. “Another day, another stain.” she made a face. “Anyone who says they can eat spaghetti and meatballs and not make some kind of a mess is a liar.” She set the timer and went to retrieve the letter and her phone.
She had princess lessons to either arrange or get out of.
“Money is the last trouble in combining our countries for Eurovision, Minister Hux,” Ben clasped his hands behind his back as he and the representative from Monaco walked down the corridor. “The problem comes from the only talent we could put together is one spectacular children's choir, and you've seen the contest, or any form of talent competition. Choirs are second place, nothing more. Perhaps a consolation prize of some kind, but never first.”
“Second place is better than never making it to the finals.” Armitage Hux tugged on the cuffs of his shirt. “But even you have to agree continually ending up at the bottom of the bottom half is disheartening. As far as the world seems concerned, the only people who live in our countries are resort and casino employees.”
“Two small countries separated by a several dozen miles, which almost no one can point to on the map, and nine times out of ten, mistake one for the other.” Ben let out a breath, “But again, it goes back to combining the talent.”
“We're fortunate the talent pool is small, but at the same time...” he shook his head at they came to the end of the hall. “Right or left?”
“You wanted to see the Rembrandt, that's to our left.” Ben rubbed the back of his neck. These supposedly formal meetings rarely turned out as formal as originally planned. Considering their two countries populations combined barely passed one hundred thousand.
“Maybe we're over-thinking the talent issue.” Armitage answered. “One of us finds a soprano, one of us finds a tenor, and we put together a glorious duet. At one point, Alderaan's respective singer slips into Italian, Monaco's into French, although I don't think the talent is for us to worry about.”
“No.” he managed a smile. “Just to keep the committees from killing one another.” he came to a stop in front of a massive painting. “Here we are.” he looked the picture over. “Some Russian duke lost it in a poker game to my great-grandfather.” He made a face. “I'm certain the man hated himself to his dying day, but considering what Russia has gone through in the past one hundred years, he's probably glad it's here instead of destroyed.”
“Point.” Armitage stepped back to make a better assessment. “Magnificent.” he smirked, “the Windsors still after it?”
“I think they've finally given up.” Ben smiled. “Landscape with River and Windmill.” he shook his head, “though I think it rather bold of them to even consider asking.”
Hux gave him a sideways look. “You're not a fool, Solo. You know why your mother arranged this meeting.” he shook his head, “the days of princes only marrying princesses are long gone. Arranged marriages are also a thing of the past. Our countries just happened to realize it before others did.” He broke into an almost chuckle. “At least you have the common sense to stay off the online dating sites.”
“I'm surprised I'm allowed to have a Twitter account.” the two of them started back down the corridor. “And that's all fun and games until the vegans come at me for eating veal Marsala.” he paused as he saw Rose coming in their direction, “would you like me to let you go, so you can flirt with my bodyguard and risk her throwing you into the pool again?”
Armitage went slightly pink. “Miss Tico may throw me into the pool, nearest fountain, or down the stairs if she so desires, any time she wishes.”
Rose glowered at Ben as she drew level with them. “I'm going to get you for this, Benjamin.” she gave Hux a brilliant smile. “oh, and you're scheduled to meet Miss Niima at the Marriott Bonvoy tea room at three thirty on Wednesday. It's regarding the princess lessons.”
“Thank you.” he stated, silently seething.
Wednesday was Rose's day off.
Rey heard the car before she saw it. A dreadful, rattle, clang, thump – whatever it was, it needed serious help. Taking a large gulp of coffee, she picked up a clipboard and put in a worksheet as an almost perfect wreck of a Thing drove into the first bay, looking as if the driver had driven on everything but a road when she got the car in Germany. The vehicle came to a stop with a bang, and the young woman behind the wheel cursed as she turned it off. “Good morning, Miss Tico?”
The woman hopped out of the car instead of opening the door. “Yes.” she gave her Thing a once over. The vehicle was primarily rust colored, but a few patches of yellow lingered here and there. “I think it needs a little more work than I originally thought.”
Keeping her face even, she came closer, afraid to ask if anything on the car was in full working condition. “I've seen worse. A guy once brought a Lamborghini in here and the only thing that didn’t need replacing or fixing was the horn and the screw cap of the gas tank.”
The woman managed a grin, pushing her hair from her face. “I'd believe it.” Miss Tico let out a breath. “do I need to pull it up further?”
“I think we're good for right now.” Rey handed the clipboard to her. “if you would like to have a seat and fill this out, we can get started.” she glanced at the car again. “I take it you're not leaving the bicycle.”
“No.” she replied, “and don't worry, I can...”
Rey didn't hear her finish as she leaned over and took hold of the custom Schwinn out of the backseat and swung it up and out, setting it down effortlessly. “You have a helmet?”
“Front seat, I can get that.” she had the oddest look on her face as she retrieved it. “I'm sorry, I didn't get your name.”
“Rey.” she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “I'm good with Rey.” she rubbed the back of her neck. “You have a time-line you need this done?”
“How long do you think it will take? A few months?” Miss Tico stuck the helmet under her arm.
She shook her head. “I won't know until I know what all needs replacing and repaired, but judging from the sounds, two months, if the mail is quick sending parts.” she let out a breath. “I'll do a preliminary assessment while you're doing the paperwork and I'll have a better idea. Did you have a color in mind, Miss Tico?”
She grinned. “Blood Orange, or as close to the Crayola color of red-orange as you can get. What's the point of having one of these if you don't paint it a crazy color?”
Rey returned the smile, “absolutely.” she walked over to the door of the waiting room, propping it open as Rose followed. “Help yourself to some coffee, if you like.”
“Thanks.” she had a seat as Rey went back to the car.
She shook her head, trying the door handle on the driver's side; just as she suspected, it was stuck. “We're in for a time.” she climbed into the car and turned it on, moving it another dozen feet forward, onto one of the lift racks. The Thing let out one more bang before she turned it off. “Yeah, this is more than cobblestone damage.” she climbed out and put the bracers up.
Rose spent more time watching the young woman, Rey, examine her car than filling out the work and consent forms. The borderline horrified look on her face as she saw something in the undercarriage almost made her laugh. She knew her Thing was shot to hell, given she had a very bad habit of missing curbs – and the car was older than her. She tapped her pen on the clipboard and looked back down making sure she hadn't forgotten anything as Rey returned to the waiting room.
“Six weeks, at the least. The only good thing I can report about is you don't have any leaks, but if you'd waited for another couple of days, you'd have had to call for a tow in here.” She wiped her forehead, leaving a streak of grease across it.
“That's fine.” She stood up, handing over the clipboard. There was no ring or indication of a ring being worn on Rey's left hand. “I can survive without it.”
Rey scanned the paper, going down the lines, reading silently. “If you want to come in during the work period to check on it, or get an update on the progress, you're welcome to, although it's best if you call beforehand to let us know.” she gave her a nervous smile, “some people tend to freak out if they drop by and find their beloved car's engine in twenty pieces.”
Rose snorted, “I don't think I'd have an issue with that.” she let out a breath. “Estimate on cost?”
“Judging from what I've seen, at least four thousand euros.” she swallowed, looking back at the clipboard. “now, if you need to set up a payment plan...”
“Cost isn't an issue.” she stated, a little sharper than she intended. “Sorry,” she'd seen the woman flinch. “you dating anyone, Rey?”
She didn't look up. “I'm sorry, Miss Tico, I'm not a lesbian.”
“Neither am I.” she cleared her throat. “I'm asking on behalf of a friend.”
Rey arched an eyebrow. “Do you normally set up blind dates for this friend with complete strangers?”
Rose picked up her bicycle helmet. “It's an extremely complicated situation, involving me, his mother, and the guy I'm not allowed to get engaged to, well, not until my friend's married or at least engaged, and I'll arrange the whole of reservations and even pick up the tab. It's one date, nothing else.”
The other woman closed her eyes, and Rose could see her mentally counting to ten before she opened them again, taking a deep breath, “I never turn down a free meal. But I'm busy tonight.”
“Not a problem.” she beamed, a plan already forming in her mind. Ben had a full schedule this week – and only one open evening. “Wednesday, seven o'clock, you okay with Mario's?”
“The place with garlic knots the size of hubcaps? Absolutely.” Rey tore off part of the paper and handed it to her. “here's your preliminary work order. We'll have a more thorough one to you by the end of the week.”
“Thanks.” she folded the paper, sticking it into the inner pocket of her suit jacket. She wondered offhandedly wondered how odd she might look to the other woman – designer suit paired with Adidas sneakers. “Oh, and is Rey short for something?”
She gave her a rueful smile. “Elora, as in...”
“Elora Danan, from Willow.” Rose grinned at the look of shock. “I know my movies. My friend's name is Ben, he'll meet you there.” she paused, “I'll tell him to look for the young woman wearing....”
“Blue.” she said quickly. “I'll be wearing blue, have a barrette shaped like a butterfly in my hair.”
“Great.” she beamed, “don't worry about a thing. The reservation will be under Tico. The owners know me well enough.” she pulled on her helmet and grabbed her bike, wheeling it out of the auto-shop.
This was going to either be spectacular or a total disaster.
She couldn't wait to see which one. And if it was the latter, there was always the girl who Ben was going to give the princess lessons to.