"You said the carpeting and window treatments are included in the purchase price?" Patricia asked.
"Exactly. You can change those after you move in, with the Homeowner's Association approval," Bob answered, "but, essentially, the interior of each home can be decorated according to individual tastes."
Bob didn't like to dwell on Association rules, they brought death to a sale. "The builder will let you select options. If you'll look through your folder, you'll see several attractive options which can be added before construction is completed." Bob watched them. Ralph was full of enthusiasm, as always, but Patricia was going through the motions. After all the time Bob had invested, it scared him imagining the sale slipping away. The couple had no problems about the money, the engaged couple had two good careers between them, either job enough to guarantee the mortgage. And Ralph's dad was putting up the down payment!
It's got to be the bride-to-be, Bob thought, the prospective groom couldn't be faking enjoyment, sitting there, studying the folder. Every time he'd tried to get at what was on her mind, she pushed him aside with "Nothing!". If he was going to make this sale, he had to discover what Patricia was thinking. The model home he was showing was fully furnished, he'd invite the couple to dinner and get them to loosen up.
They accepted his invitation, and the meal delivered by his favorite restaurant was impressive, especially with a good red wine. Bob talked about the problems with his own marriage, trying to get them to talk. Recently divorced, Bob was having trouble getting over his wife. The thing about divorce that most pained him was discussing the most intimate things, things he should only share with his wife, with strangers. And strangers who acted like partners, when the problems were with the only real partner he'd ever been in love with His plan was to loosen the home-buyers up, and here he was pouring his life out.
While Bob was revealing his heartbreak, Patricia had quietly begun crying. "Ralph thinks I don't love him anymore. It's not true!" she said desperately.
"Yes it is," Ralph shouted, "You don't love me. I don't know what I did. I love you so very much, Patricia."
They were all a little drunk, and their voices were slurring.
"No! Please believe me. That's not true. "I really do love you." Patricia's denial was followed by dead silence until she finally whispered, almost inaudibly. "I can't marry you, Ralph."
"What?" Ralph was hoping he'd heard wrong. "Did you say you can't marry me?'
"Yes," Patricia said more firmly. "I can't. I'm sorry, honey, I can't."
"You're saying that because of the wine. You don't mean it."
"Maybe it is the wine. I mean... maybe I needed something to help me tell the truth."
The tears were streaming down Patricia's face as she reiterated, "I mean it, Ralph. I really do."
"Why? How?... How can you say you love me and do this?"
Bob felt like crawling into a hole. "I shouldn't be here," he said. "I'm going for a walk so you two can be aloneó"
"No!" a frightened Patricia shouted. "Don't go. I can't fight with my fiance about this. I'm scared."
"Pat. Are you nuts?" exhorted Ralph. "Do you think I would hurt you?"
"Oh. No, no! Oh, dear. I keep making it worse.
"I'm not scared of you, Ralph. I'm afraid I'm going to hurt you and I love you so much.
"That's why I asked Bob to stay. To help me explain."
"You really don't want me here," Bob pleaded. "This is a conversation you two should have in private."
Ralph looked at Bob closely before he spoke. "Maybe she's right," he said.
"I've been trying to tell this to Ralph for weeks now," Patricia said. "I think it's because you're here I can finally tell him."
"Like a catalyst?" Bob asked.
"I don't know what that is," Patricia went on. "But, maybe,... maybe, having someone else to talk with made it easier for me to talk."
"Okay," Bob said, accepting his role. "As the third party here, I suggest we have some coffee. I'll go get it while you two sit here and try to calm down."
While Bob prepared a tray for coffee, Patricia repaired her tear- tracked face and Ralph went to take a piss. Bob wondered whether he was getting closer or further from a sale. He was embarrassed by the intimacy of their conversation, but his conscience prodded him, he had to help out if he could. When he returned he put the coffee tray on the table and joined Patricia on the loveseat, Ralph was sitting in an overstuffed chair on the other side of the table, and all three were acting clumsy and jittery.
Not a word was said during their simple coffee ceremony,. The tinkling of the cups against the saucers sounded like simple notes of civility. As Bob restored his cup to its final resting place, he looked into Patricia's face and asked, "Pat. Maybe we can start by you explaining to Ralph how you love him but can still say you won't get married."
"Yes. You're right. I've been thinking how to explain and that's a good place to start." She put her half-finished cup down and went on, "I want to be with Ralph,... probably forever, but I'm not ready to settle down."
Ralph chuckled with friendly humor. "You have seeds to sow, Pat? I thought only men had those."
"It sounds like that, doesn't it?" she asked, confused again. "But I don't wanna go off anywhere to strange exotic places, I don't wanna do adventurous deeds or have a fabulous career.
"That's what 'sowing wild oats' is, isn't it?"
"Yeah," Bob said.
"That's not me. I got something else inside tearing me up."
"Do you know what you want?" Ralph asked patronizingly.
"Careful," Bob cautioned. "Be nice."
"Sorry. Go on, Pat."
As Patricia looked at her fiance, a sorrowful look took over her face. "Y'know, maybe you're right, Ralph, maybe it is 'wild oats' after all."
"You've got the floor, Pat" Ralph said, his fear of losing her was now plain to see.
"I'm sorry," she struggled to explain. "I didn't want to hurt your feelings but I don't see how,... maybe I'm not the right woman for you. Maybe you ought to wait."
"Maybe so," Bob asserted with unexpected force. "If you're breaking off with him, any reason you give has got to be better than no reason at all. Not for me. I'm not a real part of this. You have to tell your fiance why you want to end your engagement. You're breaking his heart!"
She stared at the floor for the longest time, struggling with her upbringing. As she sat there, her hair completely hiding her face as it hung straight down, Bob had a chance to take a long look at her. She wasn't a beauty, at least not in superficial terms, but she had this look about her that captured you. An attraction which couldn't be explained. The longer you were with her, the more lovely she became. She found enough words to continue her explanation. "I feel like a slut,... telling you this. I hate that word. It sort of embodies men's hatred for womó"
"For god's sake," Ralph screamed. "Just tell me! Don't get all cerebral on me."
And now Bob saw the differences between them.
"I love you, Ralph. I'm even ready to commit to a lifetime relationship. But,... how do I say this? I don't want to give up my freedom."
"That doesn't make any sense," the patronizing fiance said. "Getting married is about giving up your freedom. We both do it. Both of us have to give up the freedom to do whatever we want."
"Can I decide to go back to school?"
"Of course you caó"
"Can I decide to go away on a trip?
"So what freedom do I have to give up, honey?" she pleaded for the answer.
"I... You,... we give up the freedom to have sex with other people."
"That's the problem. No!... Don't... I want to explain."
When Ralph settled back to listen, she went on. "You're a good lover, Ralph. Sensitive. And even creative. But it isn't enough for me.
"I imagine us, for the next fifty years, doing the same sex acts over and over. We've gone through the repertoire. The foreplay, the arousal, the completion, and the aftermath. There's a predictability about it all that frightens me."
"You can always add different activities. Read books. Watch pornos," as much as Bob agreed with her, he thought she was giving up too easily.
"What do you want?" Ralph repeated. "Do you want to become a call girl?"
"Maybe. I'm not sure. I know I don't like the way things are, but I don't want to be 'in the business'. I don't know what I want."
"Do you want an 'open marriage'?" Ralph asked, patiently. "If I agree to that, would you want to get married then?"
"Maybe. Are you saying you'd agree?" she asked, starting to brighten.
"How the hell do I know. Do you love me? How the hell can you love me if you want to fuck other guys?"
"I do love you. And I do want to fuck other guys. Does that make sense? It doesn't make any sense to me but it's the truth."
"Ralph," Bob interjected. "Do you think people who have an open marriage don't love each other?"
The question was a stopper,... for both of them, but finally Ralph tried to answer. "Maybe they do. I guess it's possible."
The silence continued for awhile until Pat tried to explain it. "I think you can love each other that way.
"There's lots of ways for people to love: mothers and sons, brothers and sisters, and... lots of ways. Who says a husband and wife don't love each other if they want to fuck other people? Maybe...
"Maybe, after a while, I won't need other men. Maybe I just need another man now."
.... There is more of this story ...