negotiation

2000

Body and Brain agree to meet at midnight, in a greasy spoon downtown. It's a 24-hour joint, the kind with old-fashioned glass sugar dispensers instead of crinkly pastel packets - that makes Body happy. And it's empty on weeknights, which makes Brain happy. He doesn't want to be seen. They take a booth at the back and order a pot of coffee.

"Cream, not milk," specifies Body, ignoring Brain's exasperated look. "And--would you mind?" She hands the waitress a half-empty sugar pourer.

"Are you kidding me? There's plenty!" objects Brain, but Body leans back and casually points to a clock on the opposite wall.

"You're the one that wanted to meet at midnight. As far as I'm concerned, it's a new day. Counter resets to zero, amigo. Now let's get started, yeah? I'm exhausted, and I'm sure you are, too."

She's feeling cocky tonight, Brain muses. Must have made a killing. He reaches into his coat and pulls out a ball point pen and small pad of paper. Uncaps the pen and scratches a number on the pad, then tears the sheet off and passes it, face down, across the table to Body. They silently hold eye contact while the waitress pours them each a cup of steaming black coffee.

"You didn't even have to think about it, did you?" Body asks, without touching the paper.

"Oh, I think about it all the time. Some days it's all I think about." Brain slumps in his seat, weary, anticipating the fight ahead.

Body flips the slip of paper and reads the number written there. Immediately she starts shaking her head. "Impossible." Brain starts to speak but Body repeats herself, voice rising in anger: "Impossible!"

"Not impossible," says Brain serenely. "You've been there before."

"When I was nineteen!" Body is blinking fast, shaking. She takes a gulp of coffee with unsteady hands then gestures for Brain to give her the pen. Nearly knocking her mug off the table, she slashes a line through Brain's number and writes a new one below it. She pushes the paper roughly back across the table to her adversary.

Brain considers. It's a fair number. A decent number. But he knows she can do better. As if to mock his confidence in her, Body dumps several seconds' worth of sugar into her drink. She raises it in a sarcastic toast.

"That's not going to help, you know, whatever figure we decide on." His tone is soft. He knows what he's asking of her.

"We," she replies dryly. "Whatever we decide. You do realize I'm the one killing myself on that treadmill every day, right? In the canyon, in hundred degree heat? One more mile, you whisper, as if it's so goddamn easy. Ten more minutes. Don't you want that bikini to look amazing? Well you know what? Fuck you and your impossible standards. Fuck the magazines you read and the other girls you look at, and fuck the mind games you play with me. The guilt and the shame and--"

"Stop."

"No, I'm tired of chasing some--"

"Just stop." Brain reaches across to Body. Gently squeezes her wrist. "We do this every time. You say the same thing, every time." He pauses, looking at her intently. "Then you remember how happy you would be, if only." He picks up the pen. With careful, deliberate strokes he crosses out her counteroffer. Writes his own beneath it. "You can't lie to me, Body." Slides the paper slowly back into her hand. "I know what you want."