Negotiating the Terms
by Gretchen Johnson
Gretchen Johnson received an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Texas State University in 2006. She currently lives in Beaumont, Texas, and works as an English Instructor at Lamar University. Her work has appeared in The Blue Bear Review, Poetry Harbor, Spout Press, The Sow's Ear Poetry Review, Words of Wisdom, and The Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry.
I'm alone at the café, sitting at my usual location with a stack of books to look over. A couple walks in, disappears to order coffees, and sits down at the table across from me. She looks about twenty, is wearing black leggings over a hot pink top, has dark hair with a few golden strands in the front, and is thin all over with a pleasant face. He is probably in his sixties, wears the kind of jeans that are marketed to high school guys or young adults, and sports a tight black t-shirt to accentuate the fact that he obviously works out. He's short, but his cowboy boots add a little height and bring him eye to eye with his companion.
"I've been thinking about it, and I want a cat," she says.
"If you want a cat, I'll get you a cat. No problem." She smiles. "I'm really glad we're doing this. I thought about it a lot the last couple of days, and I know we're both going to benefit." She smiles but shifts uneasily in her chair. "We talked before about you being okay with this, but I want to briefly revisit that subject. It's important for me to know that you're okay with this. Is there anything that scares you?"
"No, I'm just still getting used to everything."
"Totally understandable," he says. "It's normal to feel that way. That's why I wanted to meet. I want to get everything ironed out before the wedding."
"Yeah, I know. You're right. It's a good idea to talk about it now," she says.
"What are some of your concerns?"
She pauses. "I hate cleaning. My parents always want the house clean and neat, but I'd rather be doing something else," she says, and pulls her hair back into a ponytail.
"Oh, sweetie, no. Don't you worry about that. I have a cleaning service come every week. No pretty little wife of mine will have to clean the house."
She smiles and sits back, noticeably more relaxed. "I like that idea," she says.
"Another thing I want you to know is that I like shopping for you. A lot of people have a hard time believing that, I know, but I do. It's like I told you that night we met—it gives me pleasure to dress a beautiful woman."
"Yeah, I liked the clothes you bought me last time. Shoes are good, too, and purses are good."
"That reminds me. I was gonna ask you about this. What is the big deal with the Louis Vuitton thing? I got no problem spending that kind of money. You know that. Like I told you, I got no problem spending two thousand on clothes for you, but I'm just curious what the big deal is with these purses."
"I don't really know. It's just a status thing, I guess. I just like them," she says and shrugs her petite shoulders.
"I got you. I got you. By the way, winter's coming, and I want you to have a really nice coat, something stylish. Would you like that?"
"Sure. Why don't you just get me a gift card again?"
"Sure, or I could come with you," he says.
"You don't have to do that. I saw some nice ones at Dillard's."
"I'm on it, sweetie. I'll put a little extra on the card in case you want some shoes too."
He scans the room, maybe searching for familiar faces, and says, "Let's talk a little about your allowance. Feels funny calling it that, but I guess that's what it is. What do you think is fair?" She shrugs her shoulders. "Okay, okay. I'll tell you what I was thinking . . . does six grand a month seem okay?"
She looks disappointed. "I guess so."
"Okay, okay. We'll make it seven." She smiles. "Now as far as travel is concerned, I like to go on several trips a year, some of them international. We'll have to get you a passport. Are you okay with being my travel companion?"
"I also want you to know that your parents will be taken care of. I don't want you to stress about their financial stuff anymore."
"And, of course, if we happen to have children, they'll be taken care of too. I'll arrange everything."
"Okay," she says and takes out her phone. She appears to be typing out a text message. She puts the phone back into her pink purse and says, "Would it be okay if I went to college?"
"Sure, sure, of course, but let's leave it at that. I really don't want you working, sweetie. No, I wouldn't like that. It's better if you can just relax."
"I'm not arguing with that," she says.
"Also, I prefer a peaceful home. You know what I mean—no loud music, no crazy parties, that kind of thing. But you're not that kinda girl anyway, right?"
"No, not really," she says and giggles.
"And let's do the faithful thing, okay? I'm a pretty jealous guy, and my temper can be bad sometimes, so it'll be better that way." She looks at her phone again. "And if you do have to spend time with someone else . . . I guess things happen sometimes . . . but if you do, I don't want to know about it. You see what I'm saying? Keep it out of my sight."
"How are you doing with all of this? Is this going okay? Do you feel comfortable?" he asks.
"I'm kinda hungry. Would you get me some ice cream?" she asks.
"Sure, sweetie. What kind you want?"
"Get me some vanilla soft serve with strawberries on top."
"On my way," he says and disappears for a few minutes. I start to focus on my book again, and he's back. "Here you go, sweetie," he says and hands her the small dish.
"Thanks." She takes a dainty bite of the soft serve.
"Now that you have your ice cream, I need to bring up the awkward thing," he says. She looks down and giggles. "This is something I should've straightened out with my ex-wife before we got married. It would've saved a lot of trouble." She keeps her eyes on the ice cream and slowly works her way through the dish. "I'm just gonna go ahead and say it. I'm a man. I need sex." I notice the older couple at the table on the other side of them has stopped talking, and it's comforting not to be the only eavesdropper. "I think twice a week is a decent expectation. What do you think?"
She shifts in her chair and says, "Sure. That should work."
"Okay, now that we got the awkwardness out of the way, where would you like to eat tonight? I know you need more than that little dish of ice cream."
"Harrison's was good. I really like their steak," she says.
"Then we'll do that again." He looks at his watch. "Do you want to go to the mall after?"
"We'll get you that coat. Would that be okay? I'd like to help you pick it out."
"And you're going to need a good one. I'm thinking about a trip to Banff this winter."
"It's in Canada. A real pretty town . . . mountains and skiing and all that."
"Cool," she says.
"Hmm . . . I wonder if we can get you a passport in time. I almost forgot about that. You need a passport for Canada now. Well . . . if we can't, we can always go to Colorado. Ever been there?"
"No," she says.
"You'll like it, sweetie. We'd stay at a real nice lodge with an indoor pool and hot tub. Now, that's real relaxation."
"Cool," she says.
"Are you just about done with that?" he says and nods toward the ice cream.
"Yeah, I don't really want the rest . . . now that I'm thinking about Harrison's."
"Yeah, me too . . . me too. It's nice to have a little something sweet, though," he says and playfully pinches her shoulder. They get up, he takes her dish over to the trash can, and then they are gone, out into the world beyond my earshot.
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