Monday, September 10, 2018

What Tomorrow Brings by Charles Tabb

Jenny waits for her boyfriend at her favourite restaurant, and she does not expect what tomorrow will bring; by Charles Tabb.

Jenny Fremont sat alone at the small table in Mama Guali's, her favorite restaurant. She and Bob had discovered the small Italian diner one night when a sudden rain storm had forced them to find refuge. Now here she sat once again, waiting for Bob.

While she waited she thought of how she had fallen in love with the simple ambiance of Mama Guali's the moment they had dashed in from the cloudburst. Tables with just enough space between them to prevent crowding while promoting coziness dotted the dining area like small islands. Each was draped with red and white tablecloths in a cliché checkerboard pattern, while wooden chairs gathered around the tables, keeping them company until someone sat down to join the party. Colorful, net-wrapped globes of glass on each table held a lit candle and squatted beside a drinking glass offering stale bread sticks. Aromas of tomato, basil, oregano, and garlic melted from the kitchen into the dining area, making mouths water. Yes, simply being here made her smile.

Then she thought again of Bob. She could not understand how anyone could be late every single time no matter what, but that was Bob. He lived in his own time zone. She had long ago given up trying to change this bad habit. Three months into dating him she decided it was something she would either have to accept or it would ruin the relationship. She was nearing thirty, though, already twenty-eight back then, twenty-nine now, so she opted for acceptance. Her finger, however, was still without a ring. Oh, she had rings, just not that ring. The one she hoped to get tonight.

She looked at the door each time the tiny bell dangling above it jingled, hoping it was finally Bob walking in. He had insisted they meet there, the restaurant they called their "special place," saying he had an important question to ask her. She could think of no other question he might ask that absolutely required they meet at this one diner, so she felt certain tonight would be the night. She was willing to forgive him his many bad habits if only he would make more permanent plans. The subject of marriage had come up, just without any hint as to when he might take the next step toward matrimony. Maybe her mother had been right about that "Why buy the cow if you get the milk for free?" argument.

Ding-ding! She glanced up and was finally greeted by Bob's smiling face, his thick mustache and blue eyes making her breath catch. He plopped down opposite her as if he had run from work to be there.

"Have you ordered yet?" he asked.

"No. I was waiting for you."

"Okay. Sorry to keep you waiting."

She smiled at him. In a way his tardiness was cute, almost endearing it was so reliable.

"I'm used to it by now," she chirped.

The waiter brought Bob some water as Jenny took a sip of her own.

"Bud Light," Bob told the waiter, who nodded and turned to take care of another customer nearby.

"So, how was your day?" Jenny asked.

"Oh, the usual. One woman bought a pair of pumps that, if she'd waited until tomorrow, would've cost half that."

Jenny's brow furrowed. "You didn't tell her?"

"Honey, I work on commission."

"That doesn't mean you have to gouge people."

"That's not gouging. Gouging is charging more than they're worth. The shoes are worth what she paid."

"Still," Jenny said, squinting, "it doesn't sound honest."

"Well, it is. Besides, I need the money for... something."

"Oh?" Jenny's brows shot up.

Bob picked up the menu as if he hadn't read it a dozen times before. Mama Guali's never changed the menu. It suggested a permanence Jenny loved.

"Why do you need money?" she asked. "Have you been saving up for something special?"

"Hmm?" he asked, still studying the menu as if it were an ancient tablet of hieroglyphics.

"I said, have you been saving up for something special?"

He looked at her as if he only now noticed she was there. "Oh, well, sort of. I guess it depends."

"On what?"

"As it happens, on you."

"Oh, really?" She leaned forward and conjured her most seductive tone. "It does?"

"Yes. You see, I have a question I need to ask you."

"Ask away," she said, wiggling the fingers of her left hand. "I'm all ears." She hoped her smile was as seductive as her voice.

"Well, you see," he began. The waiter stepped up with his beer, putting it on a napkin before turning away again. Lifting the beer, Bob picked up the salt shaker and salted the napkin.

"You're wasting their salt," Jenny said.

"I'm sure the cost of my beer covers it. You know I hate it when the napkin sticks to the bottom of the glass."

She sighed. "Go on. You were saying?" she prompted.

"What?" he said, sipping his beer and leaving the foam mustache clinging to his own.

Jenny cringed. "You said you have a question for me?" She wanted to scream. The beer had ruined the moment.

"Oh," he said, clearing his throat, "well yes." He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I was wondering if you would lend me twelve thousand dollars."

Jenny felt her smile falter, droop and disappear. "What?"

"Yes, I need twelve thousand dollars."

Jenny lifted her left hand and stared at it. "You want me to pay for -"

"Oh, no! You won't be paying for anything. It's just a loan. I'll pay you back."

"Well, that's a relief," she said. Her voice had changed from seductive to puzzled to sarcastic in seconds. She wondered for a moment if she would get arrested if she punched him.

"Yeah, I want to make a down payment on a house."

She felt the chair back press against her shoulders as she leaned back. Why are these chairs so damned uncomfortable? she thought. "A house?"

"Yeah."

"Oooo-kay."

"Good. Thank you," he said, raising his beer in a silent toast.

She looked at him as if he had thrown a rock at her. "No, that wasn't an 'I'll lend you the money' okay; it was an 'I get it now' okay."

Bob's eyebrows furrowed. "Are you upset?"

"I'm sorry. It's just I've never had a guy ask me for money before."

"Jenny, I'm not just a guy."

She looked at him, wondering. "I'm not sure what you are, actually."

"I'm your boyfriend," he said.

"For now."

"What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, grabbing a bread stick and snapping a bite off.

"It means for now you're my boyfriend. Who knows what tomorrow may bring?"

"I want tomorrow to bring a house. I know you have the money. You told me about that sixty-thousand dollars your grandmother left you that's been sitting in a bank doing nothing for two years. The most expensive thing I've ever seen you buy was my birthday dinner."

"Can I help it if I'm careful with my money?"

"You've never even come into the store to buy a pair of nice shoes from me," he said. "You buy your shoes at ...Shoe Town." His face wrinkled in disgust at the word, as if he had swallowed something awful.

"Your shoes are overpriced, so you do gouge your customers. Anyway, that money's my rainy-day fund."

"Rainy-day fund? That's a hurricane fund! And we live in Connecticut!"

"Shh. You're shouting."

Bob looked around at the faces turned toward him. Blushing, he turned back to Jenny and said, "We've been dating for over a year now. I'd think you'd trust me by now."

Jenny thought for a moment. "Only one year? I thought it was longer," she said, frowning and trying to figure out what that meant.

"I've borrowed from you before and you had no problem with it. Remember that time I forgot my wallet and you paid for dinner? I paid you back."

"That was forty dollars. This is twelve thousand! How do I know you'd pay me back?"

"I give you my word," he said. He stared at her.

"Your word? You wouldn't even tell a woman she could get the same shoes for half price if she waited a day."

"That wasn't the woman I love," he said, sitting back. "Let's look at this logically. Worst case is you end up owning ten percent of a house. That's house, land - property, Jenny - that will appreciate. If I sold it for a hundred-thirty-thousand, you'd realize a one thousand dollar return on your investment!"

"Does it have to be an investment, Bob? What happened to the idea of maybe getting married one day? And what's wrong with your apartment?"

"It's too small," he said.

"You live alone, Bob. Still."

He sighed. "As this woman who's careful with her money once said, 'Who knows what tomorrow will bring?'"

"Well, it's not bringing twelve thousand dollars."

"So you won't lend me the money?"

Her eyes flashed fire. "For a shoe salesman, you're pretty bright."

Sitting back, he took a deep breath and looked around. "Where's the waiter? Typical service for this joint." He took a large swallow of his beer, grabbed another bread stick, and glared at her. "Are you ready to order? I suggest you have the crab."

Crossing her arms, she stared at him, trying to think of a retort that would fit. She considered several until the perfect one occurred to her. When it did, her mouth curved into a wicked smile. "I suggest you have the spaghetti." She stared at him, waiting for him to make the connection.

He stared back at her, his face questioning. She could tell he knew there was an insult in there somewhere if he could only find it. With sudden understanding, his jaw dropped. "That's below the belt, Jenny."

She continued to smile, but there was no humor in it. "Exactly. Anyway, if the shoe fits."

They sat staring at one another, like boxers looking for a weakness to exploit. The waiter approached them, his steps tentative as if he expected one or both of them to explode.

"What will you have tonight?" he began. "We have a special on -"

"She'll have the crab marinara," Bob said, interrupting him.

"He'll have the spaghetti," Jenny snapped.

"Um... okay," the waiter said and backed away, his eyebrows arched.

"I'll be back," Bob said. He stood and marched toward the bathroom.

Jenny sat in what was becoming an increasingly uncomfortable chair, fuming. She snatched up a bread stick and took a bite. Stale. Why can't this place change out the bread sticks once in a while? she thought.

She felt a tap on her shoulder. Startled, she turned to see her friend Donna McGee. To Jenny, sharing the misery felt like the right thing to do, even if it was with Donna, the girl with the perfect figure, perfect hair, perfect teeth. Perfect everything.

"Hey, girl!" Donna said, grinning.

"Hey, yourself," Jenny said, her mood evident in her tone.

Donna frowned. "What's wrong?"

"Bob."

Donna's eyebrows twitched upward. "What about him?"

"You'll never believe what he just did!"

"What?" Donna asked, sitting in Bob's seat.

"He asked me for money."

"How much? Is he short and can't pay for dinner? Doesn't he have a credit card?"

"I could handle that," Jenny said, nearly in tears from anger and frustration. "He wants to borrow twelve thousand dollars!"

Donna's jaw dropped and her eyebrows arched. "Holy... really?"

"Yes."

"What does he need that much money for?"

"He needs it for a down payment on a house."

"For the two of you?"

"Not yet," Jenny said, holding up her left hand. "You see any rings there?"

"Calm down, Jenny. You aren't giving it to him, are you?"

"Do I have 'stupid' printed on my forehead? Of course not. But what am I going to do? I never had a guy ask me for money before. At least not that much. Not even close."

"Honey, if it were me, I'd send him packing," Donna said. "Once a guy stoops to asking for money, it's all over if you ask me. The nerve of some guys!"

"Really? You think I should break up with him? I mean, it's a lot of money, but we've been dating for a year."

"That's all?" said Donna. "It seems longer than that."

Jenny frowned, still trying to decide what that meant. "Yeah, I thought so too."

"Next thing you know, he'll be asking for help with the mortgage payment." Donna's voice dropped an octave. "Honey, I'm a little short this month. Can you help out with my house payment?"

Jenny's eyes widened as she listened. "Oh my God! You're right! He'll probably bring up that I own part of the house anyway since I doubt he'd ever pay me back. He's already talked about that tonight when I turned him down for the loan." Jenny's panic boiled to the surface as she considered the possibilities. "He might even say I owe ten percent of the house payment every month!"

"There. You see? Breaking up is too good for him!" Donna said, folding her hands over Jenny's, which now appeared to be wrestling each other.

Jenny's face flashed determination. Donna was right. Why stay with a guy like that? She was still young, after all, only twenty-nine. Why waste more time on a guy like Bob? And hadn't she been appalled that he wouldn't tell that lady about the upcoming sale? He was a cheapskate. If she lent him the money, she'd never see a dime of it. If she didn't, he would resent it forever.

"I'll do it. I'm going to break up with him as soon as he gets back."

"And no going back either. If you take him back next week, you've given him title to your principles." Donna sat back, her own anger flashing like sparks. "The nerve of that guy!"

As Bob came out of the bathroom, Donna saw him and rose. "Good luck," she said. When Bob approached the table, she said. "Hi, Bob! Enjoy!" Then turning to Jenny, she said, "Talk later, okay?"

Donna got the waiter's attention, and he seated her at a nearby table.

"Bob, we have to talk," Jenny said as he sat.

"Yes," he said, his voice calmer. "Listen, why don't you come look at the house. At least do me that favor."

"No, Bob. This is about more than the house. It's about more than the money."

"Then, what is it about?" Bob's face fell.

"Bob, I think we should... get fresh starts. You know, with other people."

Bob stared blankly at her. "You're breaking up with me?"

"Well... yes, Bob. I'm breaking up with you."

"Just because I asked for a loan?"

"It's more than that, Bob. We've, well, we've stagnated. I mean, look at us. We keep coming to the same lousy restaurant, and -"

"I thought you loved Mama Guali's."

"I do, or at least I did. It's sort of like I used to love you." Those words hit her as having been true for some time. "But I don't anymore." She looked at Bob. "I'm sorry."

Jenny picked up her purse, took out a compact, and checked herself in the small mirror. Standing, she said, "I have to consider my future. We're not going anywhere. My mom keeps warning me about my biological clock, and I feel it's in overdrive right now."

Turning, she walked out of what had once been her favorite restaurant without turning back.

Bob sat there, staring at the door. The tinkling of the bell over the door as Jenny left sounded like a death knell. He noticed Donna sitting beside him.

"What happened?" she asked, concern coloring her features.

"Jenny just broke up with me," he said.

"She did? What for? I mean, any girl would feel lucky to have a guy like you." Reaching out, she took his hands in hers. Her voice soothing and soft, she said, "Tell me all about it."

As he launched into his story, Donna smiled. She figured within a month she could get him to move into her spacious condo and share the rent. It would work for both of them.

6 comments:

  1. Confession - I could see that coming when Donna joined them.

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  2. I like how the restaurant started off as being so great and charming and then as the realization of the relationship deteriorating was revealed, the characters also started to notice how the restaurant had flaws. Donna seemed disingenuous and pushy, but I didn't see the end coming.

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  3. You let me read this a while back, yet when I started reading it again, I couldn't stop!!

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  4. Bob and Donna are a good match. Hopefully they’ll get what they deserve (each other).

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  5. Thank you for your comments! I never considered that the end of the story would surprise anyone, actually. The idea came about after overhearing a conversation in a restaurant between a young man and his mother where the young man wanted an "early inheritance" to buy a house. I just changed the situation a bit and thought the way I ended it would be believable while saying something about false friends.

    I'm glad everyone seemed to like it, even my brother. :)

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  6. Nice twist at the end. I loved it.

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