The priest had begun to recite the vows and my two legs stuck to the felt, dusty carpet like molasses to paper. I eyed the church, not paying attention to what the priest had been asking of me.
Wits played their callous stir, giving odd reason, whether I should commit to her or not. Her delicate nature, yet lonesome attitude perplexed me to no end. I had to run and refuse this engaging task of marriage, but where can I go?
And he so calmly repeated, I believe for the third time, “Hanson, do you take Jemma to be your lawful, wedded wife?”
I benignly replied with the most unconventional of responses, “Maybe.”
Her bouquet hurt. It greatly did. I stood on the last step of the podium, at the ready to creep on down and make a dash for it. I felt like a mix of Runaway Bride, the male version, and An Officer and a Gentleman, (of course only for its title-worthy context). My dreams were skewed, or were they? Before flailing toward my freedom, I took notice of Jemma’s fixed grip on my nicely pressed suit.
“This tux,” I mentioned, “cost a fortune.”
Her grip only strengthened. I knew now she was never letting me go. Before I turned back to face the condescending padre, Jemma’s father offered me not one, but two middle fingers. The audience gasped when I returned the gesture. A granny in the distance began crying, as the ring bearer ate some petals off the floor, figuring no one saw. I slowly returned to my matrimonial position and Jemma let go, revealing a crease big enough to fit a shoulder pad. My ideal wedding wasn’t this. I only agreed to pay off a debt. Now, everyone is hoping this generic story comes with some ties to a drug-smuggling Mafia lord who needed his daughter to be married off and picked some Joe, or in my case, some Hanson, off the street. I sincerely apologize for the disappointment, but I am a callous man myself, a cruel, heartless individual that took this girl for a ride based on a bet.
My good Brooklyn-based friend Tony bet me twenty five thousand dollars to marry Jemma, his former college roommate. I intended to get rich, so I approached this horrible term of agreement with more haste than caution. I didn’t figure it to be realistic until I found myself buying this broad some cheap-ass roses. The champagne dinners came, the late make-out sessions lingered, I shared nothing, she shared everything including her choice to be a vegetarian. Needless to say, I found her an amusing clown rather than a potential spouse. We ate Hungarian food without the meat, she tried to convert me to vegetarianism and if not for her heaving bosom, I might’ve resorted to cannibalism. Her heaving bosom, possibly the only reason, aside from the cash, I got into this mess.
As Jemma and I exited city hall, I came to my wary, obvious conclusion: this was it! The knot was tied, the in-laws were met, the cake was cut, the papers were signed, and here I was- in the door for good. My former steady hands now shook uncontrollably, my would-be single self seemed to wave at me from a parallel universe as he walked off into the distance with two blondes on either side. I was married now, and there was nothing I could do about it.
Grocery shopping was my one and only designated chore. Jemma didn’t know if she could trust me with it at first, but decided to hell with it, and handed me the list. Enlarged to show detail read the tofu package. Our local supermarket’s vegetarian/vegan aisle helped me see that indigestion wasn’t going to be a problem; granted, I didn’t seem to eat much as it was. Suddenly, I couldn’t help, but feel overcome by the sensation of still agony and temptation. I eyed the countless granola sections, and gluten-free, “pasta” TV dinners, and then, past the numerous Luna bars, among the bean dips and Cole slaws, I saw an array of deli meats, rotisserie chickens, and mini pot roasts. My heart thumped loudly. How I wished to divest from my married ties, and inch toward freedom, toward meat and cholesterol once again, but alas, my money was at stake. One small flinch, one indiscretion, food-related, or otherwise, and I would pay for it with everything I worked so hard to get to. And so, I stocked up on my tofu and went home.
There was a frigid chill in the air and winter was nearing. I couldn’t possibly think of another season I disliked more. Just last week, Jemma compared my martyr-like qualities to winter itself. This put me on such an edge, I began to take up smoking again. Just one a week. One pack that is. I figured that after getting hitched, it would be a shame if my love for something didn’t grow, and after dilly-dallying for a while, I chose tobacco infused products over my own wife.
On my way home, I stopped at the front door and checked the mailbox, hoping some letter or note from Tony arrived. Three weeks into marriage, and no word from him. He may have acted like the sort to disregard his duties, but after getting to know him for a long while, I decided to let him in on my secrets from time to time, (making him promise never to tell another soul.) Once experimenting with these such “secrets” of mine for a couple of years, and toiling with his head, I believed he could be trusted and began investing some more profound things into our friendship. These such things included bets and gambles, and boy, had the most recent one of ours been a great deal all in itself. However, I couldn’t help but worry that this time; Tony had really done me in, and is now in his Brooklyn, rundown apartment having a good laugh at my sad and miserable expense.
Jemma’s borsht filled the air as I headed on inside.
“Hi Honey,” she said, lifting her steak knife, or what she claimed to be a “sweet potato knife”, in the air as she chopped away on some helpless vegetables lying on the cutting board below her.
“Yello,” I said under my breath.
“So this package from some guy came,” she nonchalantly mentioned, and as she said the words, my heart lumped in my throat.
“What package? Where? Did you open it? Where?” I frantically spoke.
After giving me several stink eyed looks, she motioned, with her knife, in the direction of the mail shelf, where we seemed to keep all other packages. I intended on acting more subtle should something like this ever come up, but I didn’t seem to rehearse enough. My eyes met way toward the stuffed manila envelope; her mustard-like color called to me. This was love. I reached for it, tucked it under my arm, and made my way toward the restroom, grocery bags still in hand. I instantaneously, upon locking the door first, open it.
The pounding on the door seemed to reach the inside of my head, for within seconds, I was overcome by this sudden, loud, irritating headache.
“Hanson, what are you doing in there?!” Jemma demanded to know.
“O-Oh, nothing, I’ll be out in a minute,” I yelled back as I rubbed my temples in an attempt to make the cranial pain go away.
I first thought of hiding the package under the sink or behind the garbage bin, but those ideas seemed moot since Jemma did see me enter the bathroom with the package beneath my arm.
“Hanson, I’m serious! Tell me, dear, what’s going on? Does this have to do with what I saw in the envelope? Why won’t you come out?” Jemma wailed, her pitch adding to my throbbing pain.
“Wait!” I yelled, “You opened the envelope?!”
“Why, of course. What’s yours is mine, dear.”
“NO! What’s mine is not yours,” I shrieked, opening the door and glaring her in the eye, “You had no right opening this piece of mail. What part of privacy don’t you get? This drawer, here,” I said walking her over to china closet and pointed at the drawers below, “when we moved in, I specifically mentioned for you to NEVER open it, but what did you do, Jemma, what did you do?!”
“Well, I-I used it for the napkin holders-”
“You used it for the napkin holders!”
“They were meant for personal documents, my private documents, remember?”
Her eyes grew nearly double in size and from the corner of each one, about a million small droplets formed and rolled down the sides of her cheeks.
“Oh, no…no, I’m sorry.” I exclaimed, heaving in a breath, and placing the envelope down on the ground.
My arms embraced her small figure and I held her till she stopped crying.
“It’s like I’m doing everything wrong, you know?” she wailed some more.
Upon relieving my arms from her bony body, I said, “You’re doing everything right, we just need to set some boundaries.”
“Okay,” she sniffled.
“Okay.” I exasperatingly said.
Jemma pulled her sleeve down, wiped the tears from her face, and said, “Alright, so what gives? I mean at first I thought it was this package from some dude you knew, but then I remembered that Tony’s name was written above the return address, which made me wonder why it came to you, and not for me? I was his college roommate. How do you even know Tony? And then I got to wondering why you went into the bathroom with this odd package filled with lottery tickets-”
“Hold it! Lottery tickets?!”
“Well, yeah, were you expecting something else?”
I blushed, then quickly looked away.
I had no basis for an explanation. And so I remained silent. What could I have said or done that would instantly fix the situation? Jeez, what a mess. I lifted the envelope off the floor, reached in, and pulled out a large clump of tickets. None of them have been tampered with, or scratched. This nearly brought tears to my eyes as well. I threw my hand up to the air and let the tiny colored papers float around the room. Multiple sheets landed in all different directions, some clumped to each other, others scattered separately. I never felt so defeated.
In order to explain all this to Jemma, I needed to figure out a solution for myself. What the hell was Tony thinking delivering such a poor joke? How could he have done this? We bet under reckless circumstances, it was a bad bet, ridiculous, in fact, (I don’t know, maybe we were drunk), but it was no excuse for him to not keep up his side of the deal.
I inched toward the door, Jemma’s high pitched wails following behind me. I had to figure out what was going on. Tony made decent money, he had to have at least half the payment, I knew that much. I demanded an explanation.
“Jemma, I’m going for a drive.” I stated.
“Wait!” she yelled.
“What now?” I asked.
I thought awhile, “I don’t know if you should come, Jem.”
“Oh, c’mon-we never got to go on a honeymoon, my Dad wanted us to settle in right away. Let’s go, I’m thinking road-trip, baby,” Jemma suggested.
She slowly massaged my shoulders and began blabbing all the things she’d do for me if I agreed to let her join in on my trip of would-be solitude. I thought and thought and finally decided she could come with me, under one condition.
“If we go road-tripping,” I said, “You have to promise to let me eat meat.”
Jemma’s look was of high-end disapproval. She vigorously shook her head side to side saying, “No flippin’ way.”
“I won’t be eating it for me,” I falsely defended, “just for the ‘road-trip’ experience-what do you say, Hun? Beef jerky, Baloney sandwiches, not even the occasional hot wings?”
“You committed to me in such a way, that I thought you wanted to disregard meat, and slaughter that leads to the foods you just mentioned. I am getting this incredibly strong vibe that we are slowly parting, remember? Say it with me, we-are-parting from-”
“From the same page,” I finished off.
“Okay,” Jemma blazingly said, “So in order to remain on the same page, we are going to continue obliging the respect of vegetarianism even though it takes more courage out of us than we expected, alright?”
I hated when she taunted me, like I was a child she’d run after preaching ‘don’t do this’, and ‘we can’t do that’ slurs, making me want to just crawl up into a hole and die.
Instead though, I forced my brows to lift, and nearly had to pry my mouth into a bright smile while the money-eager side of my brain passed along through me, articulating, “You bet, Jemma. Temptation almost had me there! Who needs meat, when we’ve got….when we’ve got tofu!”
Our route from Connecticut to New York shouldn’t have taken longer than three and a half to four hours, but the damn car kept giving us trouble. First we heard this awful racket coming from the inside of the hood-once inspected and fixed, one of our back tires let out. We waited for the horrific traffic to clear and this sudden nervousness came over me. I thought of what I’d do when I got there, how would I explain why she came along? Would I be able to get a private moment with Tony without Jemma’s eavesdropping?
To avoid any car games, or therapeutic ‘conversation time’ as our newlywed therapist suggested, I furrowed all my facial muscles to seem as if I was buried in deep thought. Truth be told I already was, but learning to take it to the next dramatic level, (with Jemma), had become so second nature, there was no off-switch at this undetermined point.
And yet, as if she sensed I finally found some distance between her and myself, she squealed, “Let’s play a car game!”
“Honey, I am really tired, and this traffic isn’t helping any, would you mind if we don’t?”
“Oh, okay.” She said smiling.
I stared at her astonished…she gave in! Jemma never gives in. Could this be a new side to her, I wondered.
Before I had a chance ponder on that awhile, I turned and gasped at what I saw.
My initial reaction to Jemma’s ongoing groans was an Archie Bunker approach: call her a dingbat and tell her to stifle herself. But I didn’t. I kept my cool instead of renouncing it. We were just miles from the exit, though I had to squint, the sign was quite clear-a visible, metaphorical exit, a gateway to my near freedom, my breath of fresh air, my money! For a minute there I thought I had it all, like in a corny music video, clouds surrounding me, smoke and flames. Wait…smoke and flames? What’s that now? Smoke and flames; a car about twenty, twenty nine yards ahead of ours had erupted in flames, hence the smoke. There were ambulances everywhere. Police officers were crowding the area urging drivers and passengers to, “Return to your vehicles.” I was aghast, angry in fact, how dare this careless driver halt my way to perfection? I was furious. Did this driver not get his tune-up this past month, did he forget he left something in the front hood of the car, or was he just a drunken ass?!
Jemma kept asking me over and over again what’s going on. I couldn’t understand how hard it was for her to just gather what she saw and form that into a self-explanation.
“Don’t you see?” I taunted, “It’s a car accident, Jem.”
“Oh,” she sounded.
I rolled my eyes, partly because this was the millionth thing I had to explain to her since getting married, and partly because I just gave up hope on the whole situation. I was losing my faith in everything. Nothing and no one seemed to be giving me an easier time. I tried to approach every situation with ease and gumption, but all it did was return the favor with procrastination, stalling me from the source of my happiness, my future happiness that is.
They say what you see is what you get and so I stared. I stared at the accident ahead of me, at the dingbat wife to the right of me, and at my pale skinny fingers restlessly tapping on the driving wheel. What was this? What the hell was this? I kept on asking myself this very question over and over. Up to the point I was the reason for my migraine. Every inch of my life seemed so fake, so undetermined, so petty, and most of all, so wasted. I felt empty waiting in that seat for the traffic to clear. I felt empty watching those innocent people being rushed to aid. I felt crushed, invaded, intruded on, but so alone and empty. I wanted out-out of everything I had gotten myself into. This fix with Tony, this marriage, and most of all-the tofu. How I resented that food. The one substitute for every starch and protein known to man.
I turned to Jemma wanting to tell her how I felt, how exhausted I’ve been for the past few weeks, how terribly suffocated she’d made me feel, how my love for her wasn’t in the slightest way sincere. I wanted to blurt at how much time I’ve wasted waiting…waiting for money. Yes, that green, grimy paper making way through my hands, being the buffer to all that promised rich and great, with flat-screen televisions and high-end prostitutes, all the while giving me paper cuts that I’d cherish because money was the key to everything. I wanted to tell Jemma of how I had obscenely gestured her father in the house of a supposed God, something I believed to be malarkey.
And then the traffic cleared, I felt a tear run down my cheek thinking, the gateway is clear now, my mind can choose, I took one final thought . . .
Damn, this is a tough decision, I thought. Wish I had a shot of whiskey right now. Jemma looked at me with perplexity, her large, blue eyes fluttering, blinking as though in rhythm to a Busta Rhymes rap.
“What?” I questioned, wiping my eyes, ashamed that she might’ve caught me crying.
“Um…the accident is cleared.” Jemma motioned to the empty space before me.
My reality suddenly shifted back into place. The deafening car honks from vehicles behind us drilled into my head, obscenities were gestured, and croaky vocal curses taunted, “Get a f*****g move-on, jackass!”
“Oh, God.” I rang out as I drove forward; screw morals, I thought.
Jemma rubbed my shoulder sympathetically and asked, “So, you never did tell me how you know Tony.”
“Oh, it’s a really long story.”
“We got time,” she hideously laughed.
My eyes widened out of sheer fear, I then said, “You wouldn’t think very highly of me, dear, if I told you how Tony and I know each other.”
“I don’t know, can we just get there and be silent till we do? He has something I need to pick up. That’s it, Ok?”
“My lips are sealed.”
“Zip it and lock it.”
“The doors are shu—“
“Would you just?!?!”
“Sorry,” Jemma whispered, followed by that horse trot of a laugh.
We entered Brooklyn at twilight. I parked the car in between two very unhealthy looking Buicks. Come to think of it, the entire area looked unhealthy. Clichés aside, I forced myself to think. Unfortunately, a rowdy bunch of teenagers walked past us checking out my Sedan, (making me retract my inner voice’s statement.) They reeked of marijuana. Five males, one Hispanic, three Caucasian, and one African American. Two females, both Hispanic, I memorized, processing their looks, sizes, and heights just in case we’d have to fill out a police report later. Jemma put her arm around my waist, as if my puny body could’ve protected her from any one of those 300 pounders. Their laughs echoed the empty street as they passed us, dropping their doobies to the existing litter carpeting this particular Bay Ridge street.
“They’re gone,” I assured Jemma, trying to pry myself out of her grip.
In these past few weeks I’d been pinned down, suffocated too many times all thanks to her. First, it was that God-awful diet, Jemma’s constant glares if I dared to even look at a piece of meat. Then, it was my wedding tux. And now this, this thing people call human contact, affection even, but what I translate into personal terms as ‘space invasion’.
“Ok, Jem. They’re gone!”
“I see that, but I’m cold.”
I loudly sighed. “Here’s the address.” I looked at my phone’s screen and back at the building we stood before. Google’s street view matched perfectly aside from the daytime/nighttime contrast. People were all over the place during the day. Witnesses, hipsters. Where were the hipsters with their un-prescribed glasses and their nooks? Where was Starbucks? I hadn’t spotted one since we arrived. I wanted to jump into the screen, if only to be surrounded by other folks. I felt like I was about to be mugged by a bandit, taken advantage of by a transvestite, and shot by a DeNiro wannabe all in the same existing five minutes.
“Did you bring a gift?”
“Honey, we come uninvited and not even a bottle of Sherry?” Jemma gasped.
“No wine. Nothing. We just gotta go and get what we came for!” I yelled, hearing my echo yell back at me. I shuddered.
Then, as if cliché couldn’t have gotten any more generic, “Youse two lost?” a voice in the distance bellowed.
There Tony stood, in the alley across the street, shadows from neighboring buildings covering his face. Jemma curled her lips into an oval-like grin the minute she saw him.
His arms enveloped her small figure and lifted it into the air; I could’ve sworn, it was like something out of Swan Lake.
“Hey, you look good,” said Tony, gently putting her down.
I never witnessed this sort of glee, not on Jemma’s part, anyway. She turned back and saw me just standing there in utter shock. I had that look, the rare one, the she-actually-has-some-life-in-her sort of look. As I was motioned over to join them, I began to feel something. I couldn’t quite decipher the reasoning for feeling the way I did, and wasn’t even all that sure what it was, but believe society classifies it as ‘jealously’. When he lifted her, my eye twitched. As his hands sifted through her hair, I felt my blood boil, (or it could’ve been hunger, either way). Without my knowledge, both my hands balled into fists, my legs were walking full-speed-ahead style and if it wasn’t for the car honk stopping me in mid step, I would have pulverized him, or so I choose to believe I would’ve. I regained my calm and headed across the street.
“Funny gift, Tone,” I blurted in all sorts of volumes, of course, referring to the lottery tickets.
“Keep it down,” he urged.
“No, I mean it was,” and I yelled, “HILARIOUS!”
“I’m serious, man, there are all sorts of nuts on this street.”
“Hey, Tony, what’s he talking about?” Jemma interrupted.
“Nothing,” I answered her.
“Hey, she asked me.” Tony said stepping forward.
I had forgotten how tall he was, yet kept my cool, “Alright, then you tell her what I’m talking about. I mean you might as well.”
“At 2 am? Naw! Let’s wait.”
“I’m serious, Tony.” I said.
“So am I.” He declared.
I couldn’t argue anymore; fed up, I gave in.
Whether we were drunk out of our minds when we made the bet, or as sober as the pope himself, I lost all faith in the agreement as soon as I stepped into Tony’s dingy apartment.
“I’m starved!” Jemma said, opening his refrigerator.
“No, don’t open that! Tony yelled.
“Oh, God!” she immediately closed it upon seeing a tub full of worms.
“What the hell is that?!” she demanded.
“That’s for fishing, I’m gonna go with some buddies upstate to fish this weekend.” Tony said.
“Gimme a beer!” Jemma yelled.
“In the sink, there’s a cooler filled with beer bottles.”
Gimme a beer! I thought of how she was talking, what she was acting like, and it wasn’t Jemma.
“Honey, do you mind if I talk to Tony for a short while in here?” I asked, making way into his bedroom.
Slamming her beer down onto the grimy counter top, she said, “Nope.”
“Good. Tony, a word?”
“Man, how are you living here?” I asked, closing the door as held my nose, “Holy crap, what’s that smell?”
“You really wanna know?” Tony laughed, revealing some gold teeth.
“Okay, you want the cash.” He matter-of-factly said.
“Yes! Yes, I want the cash. I want my freedom back. I want to have sex again.”
“Youse two never had sex?”
“She goes to sleep at seven!”
“Haha, that’s hilarious.” he clapped his hands.
“Alright, it’s out here.” Tony gestured me to leave the room, I heard his footsteps follow behind me until BAM!
It was dark as hell. The street lamp helped me visualize my surroundings in hopes I wouldn’t stub my toe on any furniture, though I couldn’t make out half the stuff I was already running into.
“What in the world is going on?!” Jemma yelled out.
“Honey,” I singingly said, “It’s just the lights. Um, Tony, turn them back on.”
“The bulb must’ve blew,” Tony dumbly stated.
“No, I corrected him, “then the other lights would still be on-I figure it’s the fuse.”
“Oh. So, I’d need to go to the fuse box to fix that, right?”
“Very good, Tony!” I mocked, “Now, how much is 2 plus 2?”
“Knock it off!” Tony barked.
The lights came back on about twenty minutes after Tony and I had attempted our best MacGyver skills, while Jemma snored in the corner somewhere. The truth is, we were both exhausted, outdone, and just fed up. I told Tony I needed sleep and for him to “promise to deliver the money tomorrow.”
“Sure,” he agreed.
And as I sunk deep into his shabby futon and glanced once more at the crap he lived in, I could’ve sworn my brain laughed at me and said ‘yeah, right’ sarcastically in the distance of my mind where logic and common sense used to reside.
“Rise and shine,” Jemma cheerfully rang.
“Good morning.” Tony said.
They both raised their orange juice glasses in my direction and looked like something out of a 50’s advertisement.
“Morning,” I groaned, “I’ll have a glass too.”
“It’s a mimosa, dear,” said Jemma.
“At this time?”
“It’s 2:00.” They simultaneously claimed in addition to offering me a chuckle or two.
“Dear Sir, I made reservations at the finest restaurant in town.” Tony said in a bad British accent as he crossed his arms and gently pulled at his sweat-stained collar.
“Yeah, honey, we were just catching up on old times and figure it might be fun to hang out somewhere, but if you don’t want to come, then we can go without you.”
“No, no,” I fully awoke, standing upright and said, “I’m coming too. Now, Tony, this restaurant of yours wouldn’t happen to be a McDonald’s would it?”
“Oh, no.” His phony accent transitioned into French, “This restaurant is magnificent. The people around this neighborhood call it The Salad Bar.”
“Well, of course” I played along, trying to deny the fact that my jealousy was kicking back in, “I’m gonna wash up, then we’ll go grab a bite.”
The adjective ‘filth’ wasn’t worthy to describe the bathroom in which I had just stepped into. Wet towels were everywhere, the shower was missing handles, both the shower drain and the sink drain had multicolored hair clumps stuck within them. At that moment all I wanted was a cigarette. I hadn’t had one since we stopped for gas and crept behind the station to smoke a bit. I was craving one so goddamn bad. I felt around my jeans and blouse for a ciggy.
“And would you like that in addition to anything else?” our waitress questioned as she jotted down the last of our order.
“No,” we three replied simultaneously.
Bustling with Brooklynites, The Salad Bar was an open house for vegetarians. Being a bar first and a quality based service second, there were very few tables which, at the moment, were occupied by “jackasses”, as Tony put it, available to us. And so, we sat atop the uncomfortable, faux-leather bar stools awaiting our food.
Jemma stared at me for a long while; I pretended not to notice.
“You’re fidgeting.” She pointed out.
“No, I just need…something.” I said.
“Like what? A cigarette?”
Without a care in the world, I answered, figuring she’d take it as a joke, of course, “Yes. Exactly that. Got any?”
“Why, Hanson! How could you even imply such a petty—here you go.” Jemma stuck her hand out offering me two cigarettes.
My eyes widened, “But you don’t smoke!”
“I don’t, but I know you do.”
“For how long?”
“Ever since you started.” Jemma laughed; a bright chuckle.
“Well, I never—“shockingly, I accepted and lit one up.
After we scarfed down our garden salads, (made up of tossed greens and hearty Caesar dressings), we stepped out of the bar. The wind had taken up speed.
“Jem, it’s like I don’t know you anymore!” I said, pausing mid-track, carrying the remark in a hushed tone so as not to draw attention.
“Tony, give me us a second over here.” Jemma called out.
“Sure thing.” Belched Tony.
Jemma ushered me to the side. She smiled once again at me and my heart lifted. Was this something new I’d been feeling? Was this, dare I say, love? Ugh. Love, to this ignorant turned spunky woman, love toward this unattractive turned lovely beauty? I thought awhile, grinning like an ass.
Suddenly, she slapped the side of my face hard. The sort of way a woman does when she knows you’re not who you said you were. It was like reality and karma had it in for me and made me aware with a literal slap to the face, (plus three rings.) I felt it too easy to outburst a cry and demand an explanation as to why she ‘just did that’. But I didn’t. I turned around and accepted it all. I accepted the fact that I had suffered for weeks when I simply could’ve said ‘no!’ I accepted the money which was non-existent, the very bills I’d never get a chance to roll naked in. And finally, I accepted the very beauty that stood in front of me clutching her hand in utter pain.
“Hanson, why’d you accept the bet?”
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine! The bet, the one you made with my old college roommate, to get twenty grand or so, as soon as you’d marry me. That bet!”
“Okay, okay fine. I don’t know! I don’t know why I did it. I figured it was simple and humorous and—how the hell do you know, anyway?”
“Tony told me of it after our third date.”
“That’s ludicrous.” I stated.
“What’s ludicrous is the thought that you actually believed this idiot,” she pointed to Tony who’d inched his way toward us, eavesdropping, “would reward someone for marrying a random person he picked out of an old alumni pamphlet while high on paint thinner! I mean, if he’d have chosen a guy, would you have done it then too? Well?!”
“Why are you so innocent in all this? Why’d you go through with it? If you really knew what game he was playing, why’d you comply?!”
“Yeah, he promised me money too.” Jemma blushed.
“That’s insane! I’ve never been repelled by another human being this much before. Well, maybe, except for Tony here.”
“Thanks man,” Tony said, offering a complimentary hand raise to the crowd that had joined our little squabble, in case they had trouble understanding who I was referring to.
Jemma said before she turned to leave, “I’ve had enough.”
Her eyes had this new look in them, they possessed a deceptive-like charm, but I didn’t want to know of it any longer. Not her eyes, not her hair; not her sudden perfection, I was done. As she raised her arms in retaliation, I scoffed at the thought of her giving in to…something…anything in her line of claiming everything. I’ve been living off of Jemma’s savings and her father’s pulled money for weeks, so ironically I had nothing to live off of.
Five years later, I now lay in the empty bed of my own run-down Brooklyn apartment. The rent isn’t bad, the food is delivered, (by a rat-infested take out brawl, but regardless), I have a simple life. I play my half-capable jazz instruments at Prospect Park’s center and address strangers as beautiful and kind so to get my daily change. There is little in my plate, but thankfully lots in my heart. I acknowledge life from a learning curve and finally learn a thing or two each day.
For hard cash, I work the docks, no degree necessary, (even though I do have one in Fine Arts). I don’t do the ship work, whatever that may be, I just deliver what’s put in the trucks to the food vendors, various markets, and such. My job is stress free. I’ve gone to clinical depression meetings for the free donuts when in turn, they’ve helped me quit smoking.
I currently harbor an illegal roommate, my ferret. I call him Timber, by the way his oddly obese body knocks over my stacked coffee table books as he makes his way to his food plate. When I got him checked out by the vet, Dr. Povola recommended a steady diet for Timber, but he’s too cute to deny carbs. I occasionally treat myself to ice cream and baguettes, feeling like a girl on her period as I cry and wonder where my life went wrong. The pathetic part is that I already know where it went wrong and so that’s when denial and I become great friends.
Today, the sun is bright, nothing bleak on the outside is seen or heard, cheerful folks walk down my street as children’s laughter musically drives me to my window. It’s all beautiful and transfixing that I take my jacket and head out. The mailman greets me with a gentle pat on the back and hands me my mail. And then, I freeze. There, written in big bold letters on the upper right side are the words ‘From Tony’. I open the letter and there lay a check for 12, 500 dollars with an attached post-it noting, the other exact half went to Jem. I neatly fold the envelope and stick it into my jacket pocket.
The park is lovely today. I generously feel like standing atop a bench and proclaim reign over my life, a final acceptance as to who I transitioned from. But I don’t because I know what basking in your own limelight feels like and it’s nothing like what you mentally anticipate it to be.
She hushes in my ear, “Hello.”
I turn and nearly suffer a stroke. It’s Jemma…selling hotdogs alongside my bad jazz bid. She opens her hand and tells me her name.
I take her palm in mine, and reply back, “Hanson.”
“Bottom line. This time we don’t marry.”
“Deal,” I respond and anticipate nothing, no money and no tofu! And so I smile.
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