Greg situated the potted bonsai tree next to his new microfiber couch–the replacement to his old sofa–when he heard the knock on the door. There was no time to make it perfect, so he quickly adjusted the thinner side of the plant so it faced the back wall, and primped the leaves so they looked fuller than they were. It took him a few seconds longer than he had anticipated, but Mandy, a real trooper, was kind enough to remind him that she was still waiting when she knocked a few more times. Satisfied with the scene, he crossed his living room to answer the door. As he set his hand to the doorknob, he made one final check of his surroundings: couch, bonsai tree, 25-inch television, stereo system with two speakers–he would upgrade to surround sound after his next paycheck–and a brand new black leather coffee table. Everything seemed to be in order, so he opened the door.
“Greg, hey,” said the beautiful blonde, Mandy, as she reached in for a hug. “So we finally get to meet at the pad?”
“Finally? How many times have I invited you over?”
“Several,” he corrected her. “It’s just that things always kept coming up. But now . . . welcome to my home.”
Mandy stepped over the threshold into the living room. She nodded as she surveyed the area. Something about her eyes disturbed Greg. He couldn’t figure out what, but he noticed her eyebrows dipping into the bridge of her nose. It was something he hadn’t seen her do before.
“It’s nice,” she said. “Though . . .”
Greg stood nervously by the door, feeling his heart skip as he waited for her to finish her thought.
“Though what?” he blurted out.
She clutched her chin as she worked her way toward the couch. In times past, her walk would’ve been silky, with hips swaying beneath her skirt. Now she shuffled across his floor, hardly trying to contain her boredom.
“Though it seems a bit sparse . . .”
“I guess I was expecting more–I don’t know, like maybe a statue next to the television or something.”
Mandy reached the couch and plopped down. She spread one arm across the back against the wall. Then there was a pause. She crossed her knee to conceal the gap in her skirt, but she was so preoccupied with the state of Greg’s living room that she took a few seconds to remember her femininity.
“It’s nice, though,” she said, nodding slowly. “Yeah . . .”
Greg remained suspicious from that point on. He thought for certain his apartment was ready for her eyes to see, but now he wasn’t sure.
“Would you rather I had a statue?”
Mandy continued to scrutinize the room but didn’t say much more. She just kept nodding away, holding her lips pursed and eyebrows narrowed.
A few minutes later, when he showed her the furnished bedroom, she commented about how it was missing a fountain.
“It’s just that I met this guy a few days ago who had a statue in his living room, and a fountain in his bedroom, and . . .”
“And I don’t know . . . he just seemed really cool. And he had a Porsche in his garage, and he lived in a mansion, and . . .”
“And I guess I just thought you would have a palace of your own, too.”
“Even though you know I’m a college student?”
Mandy didn’t respond to this question. Instead, she stared out the window.
Greg fixed his attention on her with exasperation. He fought hard for eight weeks, or rather, for two years to get this apartment up to livable standards, and here Mandy was slamming him because he didn’t have a fountain. For the first time since he’d met her, he thought she was wrong. Even crazier was that for the first time since meeting her, he was actually proud of the state of his apartment. In just two short months, he had surpassed the wealth of his immediate family, and that, for heaven’s sakes, made him feel accomplished, if economy, in fact, even mattered.
“Well, this is my palace,” he said, “like it or not.”
Her eyes remained fixated on the window. He noticed her lip curling under her teeth as her cheeks took on a slight purplish tint. It seemed she wanted to say something but didn’t know what, so she kept silent.
“Mandy?” Greg said, to break the silence.
She lurched out of her trance.
“Are you ready to go out or shall we continue staring out the window?”
She held her breath for another moment until the weight was ready to leap from her chest. At that point she faced him head on.
“Greg, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking these last few minutes, and I don’t think it’s gonna work between us.”
Greg froze. He felt his feet touching the floor but wasn’t sure how to move them. His heart also continued beating, sort of, with the occasional independent dive every few seconds. His arms lost most feeling.
“What’s not gonna work?”
“Us . . . this . . . everything.”
“Why, because I don’t have a fountain in my bedroom?”
Mandy once again turned her attention toward the window.
“Please. It’s not because you don’t have a fountain in your bedroom.”
“It’s just . . . well, you don’t have a Porsche in your garage . . . or a statue in your living room . . . or–”
“Or a fountain in my bedroom?”
“Right . . .”
She stood there a moment, clearly trying to think of ways to escape. Greg, meanwhile, continued to hang frozen as he waited for her next move, wondering why in the world he bothered to put on his nicest shirt this evening. After at least another half minute of silence, she made that move when she turned to face him.
“I’m sorry, Greg.” Her eyes were sagging. “You’re a nice guy, and I like you, but I’m not looking for a nice guy or someone I like. I’m . . .”
“Looking for a guy who can afford you?”
She nodded sheepishly.
Greg finally recovered the energy to move his legs. The spark wakening his knees led him to step aside from the bedroom door. He also found enough life in his arms to lift one up to show Mandy the way out. The extra burst of strength in his forefinger pointed at the doorknob.
“Then I guess your dream guy is somewhere outside this door. Good luck finding him.”
Mandy lowered her eyes as she stepped toward the door. On passing Greg, she patted him on the arm.
“I was gonna kiss you tonight,” she said, bittersweetly. “But that was when I thought you were rich. I’m sorry I was wrong about you.”
“And I’m sorry I was right about you. But take care. You’ll make a beautiful gold-digger to some senile old man one day.”
Suddenly, her awkward slouch in her back straightened, and a smile brighter than the froth in her imaginary fountain crossed her lips.
“Aww, that’s so sweet.” Her voice elevated into nearly a screech. “Maybe when you’re rich, you could be that old man to me.”
With that, she continued by, walked what remained of the short path through the living room, and stepped out of Greg’s life.
Greg, meanwhile, trudged toward his bedside. There he shot his feet out from under his knees and collapsed on his soft mattress. As his face hit the pillow, he heard his living room door click shut. A moment later, he closed his eyes and wondered whether he even cared.
A month later, Greg sold most of the stuff he had bought with his massage therapy income to pay off part of his credit card debt. To his delight, eBay worked out better this time, but he still fell short when it came time to write his checks. His rent was due, which rose in price because of increasing costs of living, and his electric climbed more significantly since he had more toys to plug into the wall. All of his expenses, including credit card bills, car insurance, and cable, ultimately added up to a small fortune that even his massage therapy job couldn’t keep under control. But, despite giving waves of green to the money siphon, he didn’t let it destroy his hopes for a future this time. After all he had come through, and after all the years of having nothing to his name, somehow he still reached this point, and it didn’t really seem so bad.
The following months weren’t much easier on him. He stood strong and did his best to enjoy what he had, and sometimes that was tough. But certain successes came with matching difficulties. Throughout his journey he improved his grades, found a quiet neighborhood for taking therapeutic walks in, and bought a new 19-inch television to replace the 25-inch he had sold months earlier. He didn’t visit the club anymore, and he didn’t want to meet any new girls since the Mandy catastrophe, but after that painful experience, he thought it was for the best, anyway. For the most part, he was happy. That was when Rachel, a lower-maintenance girl, stepped into his life and showed him that some women didn’t care about wealth.
After sealing his rent check in the fattened envelope, Greg pushed it aside and took a deep breath. Like every person he knew, he didn’t want to say goodbye to his hard-earned cash, but he reasoned it was the fair price for living on one’s own. So he accepted the shelling out of income with grace. After all, he had worked hard for this place in life, this responsibility, and he had no reason to grumble over it. The walls were bare, and the couch had seen better days, but at least he had something to call home.
As he thought about his good fortune, he idly shifted his attention toward his telephone. It had been quite a while since he’d last spoken to his parents, so he called them and thanked his dad for hanging in there for all those years. His father said thanks, and then told him he got promoted to custodial manager, which meant receiving a slight pay increase. Greg said he was happy for him. Then he went over to Jeff’s house to hang out with the guys and their dates and Rachel, the best girl he’d ever known, to watch The Bourne Ultimatum on DVD.