The Best Deal

 

"Let's just get it done with. It's not working, okay? Your constant nagging, and now this 'meet my parents' thing, it's just getting too heavy, okay?"

"What?" She gaped at him.

The car slowed down and came to a halt on the side of the road. With his hands still on the wheel, Jeff turned to her, his expression vague in the darkness. "You heard me. Just get out."

"Here?" She glanced around. The small street was poorly lit and almost all the shops looked closed. "Are you nuts? At least take me home."

He jerked his head impatiently. "Get a taxi. Or just freaking walk. Losing a few pounds will do you good."

When his car's taillights disappeared round the corner, she stood there for a while, shivering in the cold night air, expecting him to come back and apologize for his stupid joke. But minutes ticked by, and nothing happened. Of course, Jeff could be rude sometimes, but could he really break up with her like that, literally dump her on the side of the road?

She shook her head, took a deep breath, and got her phone out. No service.

"Damn," she whispered. "Just perfect."

She looked around the empty street, trying to calm her racing heart. The unfamiliar stores and warehouses stood dark and silent. The only light came from a second-hand clothing shop further along the street, and she headed there.

The dusty window was plastered with posters screaming 'SALE!' Dim yellow light outlined a few headless mannequins in the background. She pushed the door open and entered a small room stuffed with clothes and boxes—one of those poorly kept second hand shops she usually avoided.

An old man on the other side of the counter looked at her over his newspaper.

"Hi." She forced a polite smile. "Are you closed?"

"We are, but I wouldn't turn away a customer." He stood up and smiled at her. "Business isn't that good nowadays. How can I help you?"

"Could I use your phone to get a taxi?"

"Oh, of course." He hastily reached under the counter and retrieved a heavy, old fashioned phone. "I'll get you one. Take a look around in the meantime."

"Sure." She took a few steps, carefully making her way among the boxes and the furniture. Old, crumpled dresses hung along the wall. Pants and tee shirts were piled in the boxes on the floor. The lineup of awkward, heavy shoes completed the picture. She could see why his business wasn't good.

"There." The man put the receiver down. "Five minutes. Picked anything?"

"Not really." She smiled apologetically. "Not my style here."

"'I see." He wrinkled his forehead and looked around. "Maybe not clothes? How about jewelry?"

"I don’t wear it much."

"Home appliances? A microwave? A refrigerator?"

"Don't you only sell clothes?"

"No, I've got pretty much everything." He gestured around. "Just haven't got enough space to display it all. But do tell me what you want. Perhaps a yacht? A house?"

She giggled. "Yeah, right."

"Love? Happiness?"

"I wouldn’t mind if you got my boyfriend back," she said. "He just left." It sat on the tip of her tongue, and this old man with his silly jokes looked kind enough to spill it out to him.

"Ah," he said. "Sounds to me like what you want is a marriage."

She nodded, grinning. "How much is that?"

"Two bucks," he said. "But perhaps you should get happiness, it’s only three bucks and it usually includes marriage. Also, I can offer you world domination. It's five dollars, but for that price you'll have anything you want for the rest of your life. All the goods in the world and all the people as your servants—a unique offer, really, just because I'm selling out."

She stared at him, her smile gradually fading. The old maniac wasn't joking. She was stuck one-on-one with a crazy person, and if something happened to her here, nobody would even know where to look for her. For all she knew, the guy could have a box in his back room full of dismembered customers who'd refused to play along.

"Okay," she said slowly, reaching for her wallet, praying that she had some cash. Her fingers probed inside and found two dollars. "A marriage, please."

"Are you sure you don't want world domination?" He looked disappointed. "It's not all that expensive."

"I know," she said. "I'm just out of cash."

"All right." He pretended to put something invisible in her hand. She pretended to take it from him. "Enjoy your marriage!"

"I will." She smiled weakly and backed to the door, keeping him in sight. He waved goodbye and picked up his newspaper again.

Outside, she turned away, hoping that the taxi would not make her wait. Thankfully, headlights washed over her immediately, and a car stopped by the side of the road. The door slammed, and she saw the driver approaching.

"Baby," he said, and she stepped back in surprise as she recognized Jeff. "I'm so sorry, okay? I just freaked out, all right? But I love you so much, will you please forgive me?" He took her hands and suddenly sank to one knee. "Will you marry me? Please, marry me!"

She stared at him for a long while.

"Have you got five bucks?" she said at last. "I really need to buy something."