Monday, September 26, 2011

The Best Money I Ever Spent

So, fantastic Agent Courtney is running a contest for a critique of your bio paragraph. And since I asked the question that sparked the blog post that sparked the contest (there's a wart on the bump on the frog on the log on the bottom of the sea ...), I had to enter, right? Right!

So here we go - and I didn't mean for it to be this long, but once I started, I couldn't stop. :)

The Best Money I Ever Spent:

I remembered, just a little too late.

Writing a check for twenty five cents is humiliating. But then, when you don't even have a quarter in your pocket, buying things you don't need to bring your total to a respectable price isn't really an option either.

Gritting my teeth as I scrawled my name across the miniature line, I steadfastly ignored the are-you-kidding-me­ look on the bookstore clerk's face. I snatched my blue exam book from the counter, flashed a nasty smile in response to his smirk and with as much dignity as a college freshman could muster, booked it for my final.

I did alright – taking standardized tests happens to be a strong suit for me. Guess it really is okay to write a check for twenty-five cents provided a good enough reason. Turns out, not recording it in your checking book is not.

So, here I am, once more facing off with a smirking clerk behind a counter – this time at the bank.

"I can't be over-drafted forty five dollars. I don't buy anything that expensive." Impatiently tossing my bangs out of my face one more time, I focused on keeping my voice at a reasonable level. Behind me, a laundry line of irritated customers waited for their turn to brave the bank's brand of over the counter condescension. Well, they could keep waiting. This was the difference between eating ramen tonight and … well, not eating at all.

"Let me see." Click-clack-clack. Her precise nails snapped across the keyboard, each letter punctuating the hopelessness of my situation. "Your account number again."

"Oh for the love of –" I choked off the stream of expletives dying to escape, bit my lip hard enough to warrant a piercing and very-very-very slowly repeated the numbers. Again.

"It says you're overdrafted forty five dollars, Miss."

And I was done. Completely out of patience, while Ms. Boutique-bought-blue-suit-better-than-you did the Mexican Hat Dance all around the sombrero of my last nerve.

"Really? You're kidding! I had no idea. Oh, no – hold up a minute. I did know that. Hence me starting out interaction this fine afternoon by saying, 'Excuse me, my account seems to be overdrafted by forty five dollars, and I need to know why.' Which resulted in me telling you my account number five times." I stepped closer to the shiny, clean counter, clutching my purse like some kind of club and trying to convince myself bloodshed was uncalled for. "Now is the part where you are supposed to tell me why."

"Um, well … let's look at your transaction history."

Swear to god, if she asks for my account number one more time, I will not be held responsible for my actions.

"What's your pin?"

I counted to ten, then repeated it. "Ma'am, is there someone else I can talk to? A manager, maybe?"

"Manager's on break. He won't be back for an hour."

Maybe my next question should be how to get a job here. It apparently required no skill at mentally retaining numbers, no finesse at customer service and came with hour long breaks and reserved parking.

"Here it is. You bounced a check."

"I did not!" I would never do such a thing! I have great respect for my little paper checks and the money I have – or do not have, as the case may be – in my account. No way I did that."

"Yes, you did!" She pointed at the screen like it was a mugger trying to snatch her bag. "Check number 3721 for …" Her face split into the widest smirk yet. I could see every one of her professionally whitened teeth. She better hope I didn't find out her last name. My family was full of expert grudge-holders."Twenty-five cents."

"Yes, I did." I did that. I wrote a check for twenty five cents. And apparently, it bounced. I ignored the ripple of snickers in the line behind me. "Can you explain how an over-draft of a quarter becomes forty five dollars?"

"Well, first they try to resubmit the check twice. There is a fifteen dollar fee for every time a check bounces." Her cherry-red lips twitched with amusement. "Then, there is another fifteen dollar fee assessed for a negative account balance. Daily."

"You charge fees because I don't have enough money?" Sigh. Of course they did. My last sixty dollars had become a huge, gaping, negative forty-five hole in the ground. Blood-sucking, bottom-feeding, money-hoarding vulture of an institution – that's what a bank was. "Doesn't that seem counterproductive to getting my account back to a positive balance?"

"Is there anything else I can do for you?"

Funny – that was the question I was about to ask her. "There's no way to fix it?"

"Pay forty-five dollars."

"I didn't know it was over-drafted. It was a mistake." All haughty anger draining from my spine, I fought the urge to beg. I was hungry. I was broke. My parents were on vacation in the outback. In other words? I was royally and utterly twigged. I croaked out desperately, "I need there to be more money in this account."

"Well, miss. So do we.  Have a nice day." She turned to the next customer in line with the finality of a nails driven into a coffin. I was done.

I slunk back outside, proverbial tail between my legs and settled on the curb next to my car. Without the money I had expected to be in my account, I couldn't afford the gas to get home. I covered my eyes with one hand, searching my bag for my last smoke with the other. I plucked it from the box, set it in my lips and realized my lighter was out of juice. I was going to buy a lighter at the gas station on the way home.

I fell back on the cracked concrete, messy hair spilling across the blacktop. "Oh, fuck me."

"Well, if you're offering …" The honey-whiskey vibrato swept over my ears like the first warm breath in your house on a cold day.

I looked up at six feet of leanly muscled perfection.  Espresso brown eyes, gilded skin and cocoa-colored hair falling in an artfully disheveled manner over the most beautifully sculpted face I had ever laid eyes on outside of a museum. My mouth hung open, but for the life of me I couldn't begin to think of anything to say.

Tall, dark and oh-my-god sat down next to me. "Having a rough day, sweetheart?"

"Like sandpaper TP." My cheeks heated. The quaint little colloquialism was courtesy of my Appalachian father. But when trying not to look like you're poorer than dirt, Appalachian lingo didn't tend to improve people's opinion.

"Me, too." He chuckled and pulled out a lighter. Rolling it across his designer distressed denim-clad knee, he lit the zippo and offered the flame.

"Thanks, Prometheus." I lit the cigarette, grateful for anything to do with my face and hands that was less awkward than drooling over him.

For a second, surprise flashed across his chiseled face but he quickly disguised it. "My car broke down."

"Sorry to hear that. What's wrong with it?"  I knew a lot about cars. I grew up next to a mechanic shop and every friend I had worked there.

"Hell if I know." He took my cigarette, inhaled, and handed it back to me. His mouth was so beautiful exhaling the smoke, it didn't occur to me to mind. "But I could give you some gas money, if you'll give me a ride home."

"Okay." I swallowed a lump of humiliation rising in my throat. "But I'm going to have to put it directly in the tank before I can take you anywhere."

"No problem." He stood and offered me a hand. When he pulled me to my feet, it didn't occur to me to let go. He didn't seem to mind.

He held my hand up to his lips, brushing the soft, velvet pair across my knuckles. "What's your name, sweetheart?"

"Maggie. Maggie Hatfield."

He smiled ruefully. "Boyd McCoy."

I grinned. "Well, that's one way to settle a feud, ain't it?"

So he bought me gas and I took him home. He made us dinner and I gave him my number. I fixed his car, he showed me how to balance a checkbook. Five years down the road, we were married. And that was the day I ended the Hatfield-McCoy feud, for the price of twenty five cents.

Best money I ever spent.

**Author tidbit: I am actually a direct descendant of the Hatfield clan. And in case you're wondering - the Hatfield temper isn't just a legend. Trust me. :)

1 comment:

Danielle said...

I can't believe no one has commented on this. I was so enraptured in the story! (I didn't even know there was a Hatfield-McCoy feud) I love your writing. It's so amazing