James Armstrong



CHEAP



This is how cheap I am. I can be bought for a burnt chicken dinner, a rented movie, and half a pint of ice cream.

I had told you I didnít want a fuss. So it was my birthday. Big deal. I had had too many birthdays already. No cake, I had said, and you honored the request. In name, anyway.

So there I was, Friday night, at your apartment. You greeted me wearing that ďKiss the CookĒ apron. I ignored the apron and sat down.

Dinner wasnít ready, of course, so I sat there on your kitchen chair, thinking about my birthday, and all my previous birthdays, and how this was where I had ended up. It wasnít a bad place to be, I supposed, but I never would have imagined it.

I canít believe you burnt the chicken. You said I distracted you, but I had hardly said a word. You did a good job, though, scraping the black parts off into the trash. You could hardly taste the charring. What had you used? A wine sauce? Leaving nearly a full bottle of wine for us to drink at dinner. You know I hardly ever drink. You made me finish the last bit by myself, since it was my birthday, and I was half afraid youíd open a second bottle.

The dinner was good. Iíll give you that. But not being a drinker, the wine left me tipsyónot drunkóbut tipsy.

We worked our way over to the couch and you popped in the movie. I made fun of you for your VCR, when everybody has DVD players these days. You were always behind the times.

I had told you which movie to rent, but when they didnít have it, instead of trying a different store, you picked something else. I guess that was okay.

Your body felt good next to mine on the couch. It was familiar. Comforting. When you put your arm around me during the movie, I knew it didnít mean anything. We were just friends, and we had wrapped our arms around each other so many times in the past. Still, it felt nice to have an arm around my shoulders, and I pretended it meant something.

After the movie was over, you went back to the kitchen for the ice cream. I had said no cake, you reminded me, but hadnít said anything about ice cream. I must have shot you some look, because you gave me those puppy-dog eyes, and all I could do was laugh.

You divided the ice cream into bowls, and I sucked it from my spoon. How lovely it was! A perfect ending to the evening. A wonderful way to spend my birthday without fully remembering it.

But I didnít want the evening to be over. I didnít know what I wanted, but I wasnít ready to go home.

I gave you a hug there on the couch, and I didnít let go. I didnít kiss youójust held you. I needed a few more minutes before I was ready to go home.

But your hands started to move up and down my back. It felt good. So I nuzzled you a bit. I knew it was dangerous, but the danger appealed to me. I wanted something to happen without me wanting it to happen.

Did I kiss you? Or was it you who kissed me? I just remember our mouths, the lips slightly parted, moving toward one another. It was a wonderful kiss. Not some nervous ritual after a first date. It was a kiss of two lovers who had known each other for years without knowing they were lovers. Afterward, it scared me, but I wanted to give everything over to that kiss.

Perhaps I would be better off not giving myself so completely, but holding back a bit, so as not to lose my whole self all at once. But that night had been so lovely, with the slightly burnt chicken and cheap wine and perfectly adequate movie. I kissed you again. And again. Or had you kissed me?

I remember thinking we should stop, but I didnít want to stop. I didnít want to go back now that we had gone this far. Perhaps it was when a hand started reaching for a thigh. Perhaps it was when the clothes started to come off. Perhaps it was when we led each other toward the bedroom. Yes. All of those times.

I knew we should stop. But I couldnít bear not to go on.

We had a long talk in the morning. It started in bed, when you said you werenít sure about things, and I said I understood. You held me in your arms, and you said I scared you, and I said you scared me too, but what I really meant was that I scared myself.

We had a breakfast of frozen bagels and sour grapefruit juice. You explained to me how wonderful the night before had been, but how you just werenít ready for a relationship, and we were such good friends anyway, so why ruin a good thing? I nodded and ate my bagel and swallowed the juice.

I got up to leave, and you looked so distraught. You told me you were sorryóthat you wished you could give me what I needed. I told you not to be sorry, and that you already had. Then I threw my arms around you and comforted you.

Why am I always the one who comforts you? Why was I stroking your hair and whispering into your ear? Why am I always the one giving?

Though you had given to me the night before. I was lonely and sad, and you gave me comfort and thoughtfulness and chicken. And in return I had given you my body.

It was then that I began to realize how cheap I really am. I began to count up the cost of the chicken breasts and frozen mixed vegetables and video rentals.

I came up with a sum that was frighteningly small. Was that all I was worth? I hadnít even held out for a restaurant and a night on the town. Give me a couple glasses of wine, a scoop of Ben & Jerryís, and Iím yours.

I smiled at you, hoping that if I smiled, everything would be okay. After you closed the door, I went home as quickly as I could. I got back to my place, rushed to the bathroom, and vomited up the frozen bagel and grapefruit juice and I think quite possibly a piece of my soul.

I am easily bought, my dear. Easily bought. But then again, arenít we all?







James Armstrongís works have appeared in Word Riot, Arts & Letters, Iconoclast, and The Rockford Review. He has a story forthcoming in Main Street Rag, and holds an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Carnegie Mellon University.







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