Friend Zoned

Nikolai Leokov never thought he'd fall in love with the only girl he's ever befriended. Valentina Tomic has issues with commitment after the ultimate betrayal. When Tina decides to make broody Nik's day better, she never thought she would end up friends with the hard man. Nik has never had a woman be so affectionate to him without expecting something in return. Nik and Tina cordially invite you to read Friend-zoned. A story of friendship, humour and love.

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1. My Name Is Tina

 

 

Rawr Raaawr.
Damn, forgot to replace the batteries on the doorbell sensor again, I think
Now, instead of the regular Ding Dong most doorbells have mine sounds like a cat in heat.
“Good Morning, Ladies.” I smile and look over to greet my first customers of the day. “My name is Tina. If you need any help with anything, just holler.”
When I see them smile and nod back at me I go to my table of sweaters which have become a bit of a mess from the day before and commence re-folding.
Most people wouldn’t do this with a huge smile on their face but, what can I say?
I take pride in my work.
Rawr Raaawr.
I start speaking cheerfully before I see who comes through the door, “Good Morn…Oh, it’s just you! How’s it going?”
I see my not so cheerful worker girl Mimi walk through the studio and straight to the staff room without so much as a nod.
Ooookay then.
This is not unusual for Mimi. She is super surly in the best way. You can ask her anything, anything at all and she’ll only give you a straight answer. Everyone needs a friend like her.
She emerges from the staff room, walks across the studio and straight out the door again.
I see her turn left and smile to myself. I know she’ll only be a few minutes but will come back with the best Good Morning greeting anyone can get.
Re-commence sweater folding.
Five minutes later I hear the god awful doorbell again and Mimi walks over to me carrying the elixir of life in her dainty hands. I take the cup from her and sip.
Mmmmmm, Caramel Latte. I love you, Meems.
She takes her place behind the counter and logs into the register.
She looks over at me and asks, “What are you smiling at, Atomic?” Surly as ever.
She calls me Atomic because of my surname. I laugh and shake my head at her. I see her lip twitch as she looks over her day’s to-do list.
I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Tina Tomic. Actually, my name is Valentina Tomic. But the only time I ever get called Valentina is when I’m in trouble.
I manage Safira Boutique. Actually, scratch that, I own Safira Boutique. None of my workers know this. They all believe I’m the store manager because this is what I have led them to believe. Safira Boutique is my pride and joy.
I bought it two years ago. The building was in pretty good shape but I put some money into renovating. I made all the fixings more modern and added a small kitchenette in the back which holds a fridge, microwave, small two-burner stove, and a sink to wash our dirty dishes. I also had new signs put up and a brand spanking new front counter put in. It’s very modern, shiny black with a high back; this hides our register and computer. There is also a super tiny change room at the back of the store. The store room was in good condition but the overall wiring needed to be re-done. This cost me a packet, but it was totally worth it.
Safira’s is a narrow building but is long; it looks small from the front but is surprisingly deceptive.
I had it repainted a deep blue color because Safira means Sapphire in Croatian which is my ethnic background.
The store front window holds two mannequins; I change their outfits every week.
I love doing this.
We carry many types of clothing items for several occasions. Clubbing and party clothes, cocktail dresses, formal occasion wear, sexy sleepwear (ooh la la), and a crap load of accessories. Our accessories are our main seller. We have clutches, necklaces, bracelets, bangles, costume jewellery, rings, and hair accessories. The reason these are our main seller is because they don’t cost a lot, so after school hours we are packed with high school and college girls who, unfortunately, can’t afford our clothing but go nuts over the affordable things.
I love my job.
Safira has three workers; myself, Mimi, and Lola. I work full time, 9 to 5. Mimi and Lola get three to four shifts a week depending on how busy we are. We’ll soon add a fourth to our trio.
My BFF Natalie is coming to live in New York!
Excited, you ask?! 
Who, me?
Noooooo… I’m freaking ecstatic!
Although born and raised in California, I moved to New York two years ago. Natalie has been my best friend pretty much all my life. So when I moved away, it broke both our hearts. I had my reasons for moving. She understood why I left Cali but declared she couldn’t live without me because she says “Cali sucks without you”.
So, this week I’ll have a moving truck arrive at my apartment. I’ll pack the second bedroom full of her stuff and next week my BFF will not only be living with me but also working with me.
Totally awesome, if you ask me.
Mimi interrupts my thought by nudging me. “There he is again. Damn, that boy is fine. And I mean fine with a capital F.”
I look through the shop window, past the mannequins and my heart stutters. This is not the first time I’ve noticed him. And Mimi is right.
He is fine.
Super fine.
So fine he should be on a billboard or a book cover somewhere. But something about him bothers me.
***
Two weeks earlier…
Great. Just great.
A traffic jam and I have approximately six minutes to open the store. No way am I going to get there on time and this ticks me off. I open the store at nine a.m. and pretty often there are already customers waiting for me.
Ten minutes later I have my car parked at a public parking spot because I can never get a space by my store and I don’t have parking spaces under or behind the building. I’ve tried taking the bus a few times but found I value my sleep too much to get up an hour earlier than I have to if I take my car.
Four customers are waiting on me. Three of them are smiling when they see me running towards them. One of them is scowling at me and it makes her pretty face oh-so ugly.
“I am so sorry. There is a traffic jam down the street and I was stuck. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.” I unlock the door and they follow me inside.
I open the staff room door, literally throw my bag onto the kitchenette counter, and run back to the register to log on.
The scowling woman is waiting for me.
I smile and say, “Good Morning. My name is Tina. How can I help you today?”
She flicks her nails at a garment on the counter and replies, “This dress is awful.”
She has a great Jersey accent.
My smile falters and I respond, “I’m so sorry you don’t like it.” I’m trying to be sympathetic but it’s kind of hard when she’s looking at me like I forced her to buy it.
Her elbow is resting on the counter, she looks closely at her nails and says, “Yeah, well, I wanna refund.”
I look closely over the fabulous dress, smile and say, “Okay, let me see what I can do.” The tags have been removed and there are stains on the hem.
Uh oh. Great.
Shit just got serious.
I hate confrontations; they give me hives.
I clear my throat and say, “This dress has been worn ma’am. I can’t give you a refund or exchange. I’m sorry but our policies are clear. They’re on the walls and receipt.”
Her scowl re-appears. She would be so pretty if she smiled.
She leans forward and hisses right in my face, “This is BULLSHIT! That dress cost me THREE HUNDRED DOLLARS!” I know this. The dress is one of our most expensive pieces and is fab-U-lous. I really want to ask her if her daddy actually bought it but she continues. “It looks like a goddamn potato sack!”
I feel the flush rising up my neck and I so badly want to scratch at it. I say quietly, “Like I said ma’am, there’s nothing I can do.”
Her lip curls and she spits, “I wanna speak to a manager.”
I nod and respond, “I am the manager.”
She smiles almost cruelly and says, “Then I wanna speak to the owner.”
I stare her right in the eyeball and I’m thankful none of my girls are working.
I say in a firm voice, “I am the owner.”
Her face shifts into something even uglier than her scowl. I don’t know how to describe it, but if looks could kill, I’d be six feet under. She snatches the dress out of my hands and storms out of my store.
Rawr Raaawr.
Damn it.
Crap! Forgot to get batteries for the doorbell. Again.
I look out the window past the mannequins, and the She-Devil is walking across the street to a man standing with his back to me. He looks big. Not fat but built. She-Devil talks a mile a minute pointing towards Safira. The man is obviously talking back to her because she stops talking and starts pouting. Then she stomps her foot. Yes, actually stomps her foot and pushes her chest out while pouting up at his face. I can almost hear her whining. She walks off and the man turns towards Safira and shakes his head slowly. What a spoiled brat!
It takes me a second to notice the man.
Oh. My. God.
Angels must have broken out in song when this man was born. I feel like breaking out in song.
He is so handsome.
I’ll admit I can’t see his face very well from across the street but I can see enough of it to see he is hot. As in hawt. And the rest of him is just as impressive. He’s tall, probably 6’2” or 6’3”, and has gorgeous olive-toned skin. He’s dressed in suit pants and a shirt. He has broad shoulders and great arms; I can tell from the muscle definition I can see through his shirt. He has a face made of straight angles and his lips have a natural pout to them. His hair is styled in a masculine faux hawk, shaved at the sides, longer on top, and spiked up and to the left side of his head. I can’t see his eye color from where I am, though.
This makes me sad.
I want to walk up to him and hold his face in my hands just so I can get a good look at him, but that would be rude. And I’d probably get arrested after he called the cops on me.
The only turn off I can see from my vantage point is that he’s smoking.
He looks angry, too. His lip is curled as he looks into Safira’s window.
I’m scared he’ll come in here and yell at me trying to get his girlfriend’s money back for the fabulous dress she’s ruined. I just know my neck is red, I can tell from how much it’s itching.
Please, please don’t come in here and yell at me, Mr. Large Man.
Like an answer to my silent prayer he throws his cigarette butt onto the pavement (another turn off—litter bug), steps on it, and walks into a building I was told by my girls is a very popular nightclub.
From the front of the building it doesn’t look like much. The large double doors are the typical ones you’d normally see at a club. It also looks narrow. Not quite as narrow as Safira but still narrow for a club. The sign atop the door catches my eye.
The White Rabbit.
The sign is white with a whimsical feel to it. The words are written in black and it all looks very plain but artsy.
What a strange name for a club.
I’m confused.
Why would he be at a nightclub during the day?
Maybe he’s security? He’s definitely built for it.
I’m intrigued. I want to know more about him.
The week passes and I observe the man from afar. I have made mental notes. He takes three cigarette breaks a day. He is always dressed in business attire. And I never see him leave. But something about him bothers me.
I have never seen him smile.
***
Meems breaks my thoughts with, “Well?”
Uh, what?
Confusion settles over my features and I reply, “Well what?”
“Did you have a nice trip?” Mimi smirks. “You were miles away, babe”
Oops.
I cringe and say, “Sorry. What were you saying?”
She looks livid. Her blue eyes flash at me and she spits, “I said that fine ass man is out there again!”
I want to stroke her shoulder length silky sunny blonde hair but this is a no-go with Mimi. I’m very affectionate and hugged Mimi once. Once was enough to realize this is a no-go because when we parted from said hug, she looked at me like I ran over her dog.
I save all my workplace affection for Lola who is a bit younger than me and comes from an affectionate household. She gets me.
I sigh through my response. “Yeah. I saw him, Meems. He’s looking pretty good today. Lilac is a good color on him.”
Her eyes widen and she almost yells, “That’s all you have to say?” She narrows her eyes at me. “You’ve been watching him for two weeks, Tina. Grow some balls and ask the dude out.”
Um, No.
I don’t do relationships.
I’m twenty eight years old and have only been in one relationship. It was good in the beginning. It totally sucked at the end. Never again.
I’ve dated men since my relationship went bust, quite a few actually. But not one of those men broke through the thick wall I’ve built around myself. I call it protecting myself. It works and I’m sticking to it. It’s a bit lonely but at least I have my friends.
I lower my eyes, fold another sweater and whisper, “You know I can’t do that, hon. I think a new box of those linen shirts came in. Can you please steam and shelf them?”
Her face shows her frustration and she mutters, “Way to change the subject, boss lady.”
I watch her walk into the stock room but my attention is pulled back to building across from mine.
On the counter next to the register are two clear cellophane wrapped bags of candy. One has Raspberry bullets in it, which are my all-time favorite; the other holds red wax lips.
I don’t have to talk to him to be nice to him. He won’t ever know who they came from.
I set aside the wax lips on the counter and taking a piece of paper from next to the register I write three small words. I fold up my note, punch a hole in it, and tie it around the candy using the red foil ribbon we use to gift wrap items with.
I look at the time on the register.
Another hour and he’ll be back for another cigarette break.
I walk into the stock room and tell Mimi I need a break. She comes out front to man the counter for me. I walk out of Safira’s and turn left to the coffee shop next door.
I know every person who works at Winnie’s coffee lounge and they know me and my girls pretty well, too. We’re there at least three times every day to get our coffee fix, and believe me when I tell you Winnie’s coffee is the bomb.
It’s not a large coffee lounge. In fact, there is only one three seater lounge in the store because that’s all it can fit. It’s about a quarter of the size of Safira’s and I’m sure at one point our two stores used to be one.
I go in to find Sammi behind the counter.
Perfect. Just who I need to see.
I walk over to him and smile, he smiles back flirtatiously.
Sammi is eighteen; he works at Winnie’s part time and goes to college. He is cute. At least, I think he is under all that dark hair. His hair is long and brushed forward over one eye. The eye that I can see is a warm brown color.
He smiles and says, “Tina, babe, what can I get you?”
Ever the charmer, I reply, “Actually, Sammi, I need a favor.”
His face shows unconcealed surprise. A small smile forms on his lips and he says in a husky voice, “Sure! Whatever you need…” He licks his lips in invitation.
I laugh, put a hand on my chest and say, “Oh my, not that kind of favor! Sammi, I’m old enough to be your Mo…uh, older sister.”
He wiggles his brows at me and responds, “My sister ain’t a hottie.”
I can’t help but laugh. We banter like this all the time. It’s harmless and Sammi is a sweetheart.
“Can you help me or not?” I say in mock sternness with my hands on my hips.
That charming smile appears again and he replies, “Anything for you, babe.”
I explain to him what I need done and he looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. After pleading with him and planting and a wet, sloppy kiss on his cheek, he finally agrees.
I jump up and down in victory, thank him and walk back to Safira. I relieve Mimi, take my place at the counter and wait to see what happens.
A half hour passes and the beautiful man across the street appears, right on time, cigarette in hand. I spot Sammi making his way across the street and anxiety knots my stomach.
This was a bad idea. What was I thinking??! God, I am such a turd!
Sammi approaches beautiful man and hands a small brown paper bag to him. Sammi says a few words and walks away. He spies me through Safira’s window and winks at me.
I watch Mr. Beautiful open the brown paper bag and take out the candy.
He looks confused. I’m not surprised.
He tears the note off the ribbon, opens it and reads. He looks even more confused and my heart shrinks.
What I see next makes it all worth it.
His eyes crinkle and a small smile twitches at his lips.
Not great, but definite progress. This is the first smile I’ve seen grace his gorgeous face and it was nice. I can’t help but smile, too.
Yay, me! See?! Not such a bad idea after all.
A deep sigh escapes me. I feel at peace once again. I go about my work with a huge smile plastered on my face.
***
Rawr Raaawr
I inwardly cringe and glare at the damn door.
A man stands there.
He’s smiling but his eyes look at me like being a girl is a disease and you can catch it from visiting a boutique.
He is tall, probably 6’2”. Olive skin tone and amber colored eyes.
I’m mesmerised.
His eyes are like honey! I’ve never seen that eye color before. He has dark brown spiky hair and a nice five o’clock shadow.
Wow, this man is gorgeous.
He looks to be about my age. He walks over to me, places both forearms on my counter, leans in close and asks, “Can you help me, honey?”
“I. Ahh…” I’m tongue tied. His voice is as smooth as his honey eyes.
Having obviously heard a man’s voice in the store, Mimi comes to stand next to me.
She looks Mr. Gorgeous up and down and narrows her eyes. She says firmly, “I can help you.”
He looks her up and down the same way she’d done mere seconds before and smiles a big smile. Mr Gorgeous has a dimple.
My knees almost buckle and I start to sweat.
He smirks as he responds, “Great. I’m looking for the owner of this.”
I look down and feel the flush rise from my chest up. This is because on the counter sits my Mr. Beautiful note.
Mimi looks down, brow scrunched in confusion. She reads the note and I know I’m totally busted. Meems knows my handwriting.
I feel her stare bore into me, I won’t look at her.
“You didn’t…” Her voice colored with amusement.
I’m red, splotchy, and embarrassed. I look towards the man who is now looking at me with narrowed eyes, his head at a tilt. Like he’s trying to read my mind or figure me out.
Before I can stop myself, I answer with a shrill, “How did he know it was me?”
Mr. Gorgeous takes the note from the counter and turns it over. We all look down and what I see makes me even redder. I hear Mimi burst out laughing. Mr. Gorgeous quietly chuckles.
Safira Boutique.
I wrote on Safira stationary!
I. Am. Mortified.
He was never meant to know!
Mr. Gorgeous speaks, “C’mon, sweetheart. You’re comin’ with me.”
Uh, What?
I whisper, “Excuse me?”
He flicks his head to the note and says, “Boss wants to see you.”
Uh, What?
My eyes widen and I whisper loudly, “Am I in trouble?”
He looks me up and down and his lips lift a little. He answers, “I’m not sure, sweetheart.” He says sweetheart in a way that makes it sound like sweethawt.
He takes my hand that rests on the counter, pulls me next to him, and tucks my hand into the crook his arm. I know he sees uncertainty in my eyes. He looks to Mimi and smiles as he speaks, “I’ll have her back in one piece. I’m Max, by the way.”
She does a little head lift and responds, “Mimi.” She points to me and says, “That’s Tina.”
He smiles and says, “Great, she’ll be back soon.” He starts pulling me along with him and I turn to glare at Mimi.
Standing tall with eyes wide, she smiles big and lifts her hand in a wave.
Crud! I knew this was a bad idea.

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