The Price of Love

Submitted into Contest #116 in response to: Write a story that centers around a parking permit.... view prompt

4 comments

Romance Contemporary Fiction

Los Angeles Preferred Parking District 13 was an impenetrable fortress overnight. During the day, it was permissible for visiting cars to linger along the curb for a couple of hours while their drivers browsed the quirky boutiques along Beverly Boulevard, or enjoyed a cup of coffee with a friend under the orange umbrellas of a sidewalk cafe. But after 6:00pm, those visitors had better clear out to make room for the residents of District 13 to pull directly to the curb in front of their hedge-lined Spanish houses, where they could unload their tired toddlers and trunks full of Whole Foods groceries without hassle. It would not do for them to park around the block or across the street. No, intruders must be banished during the cozy domestic hours. 


The comfort of residents in District 13 was guarded by a legion of signs declaring, in a schizophrenic totem of fonts: 


NO PARKING AT ANY TIME 

Except  

2 Hour Parking 8am to 6pm 

Sunday Thru Friday

Vehicles with District No. 13 Permits Exempted


The price for violating this ordinance: sixty-five dollars.


Stacy Torres was one of these intruders. “Shit,” she murmured as she pulled the parking ticket from under her windshield wiper and stuffed it in her glove compartment.


She did some mental math as she stepped off the curb, into a slow procession of morning traffic, and made her way to the driver’s side door. Sixty-five dollars. That was enough to buy sixteen lattes. Or a nice dinner out. A week’s worth of groceries. A new outfit. Three pretty good bottles of wine. Or a parking ticket. 


Stacy slammed the door shut, sealing herself away from the hum of the street, and pulled her phone from her purse. “Got another ticket, Babe.” Her finger darted across the screen. “I really can’t sleep over anymore.”


“Price of love 🤑,” Ben replied before she pulled away from the curb.


Stacy was already late for work, but she sent one more text before jerking her steering wheel to the left and claiming a space in the parade of cars on Orlando Avenue. “What’s the price of a parking permit?”


She was out to La Cienega Boulevard when her phone chirped from the cup holder. “Dunno. Like 20 bucks?” she read at the next red light.


Stacy sighed. “Get me one!!” she typed. She would have added more exclamation marks had the car behind her not started honking its horn. 


“I’m going!” Stacy growled. She hit send and inched into the crowded intersection.


“Twenty dollars…” she muttered, rolling her eyes. That was nothing to Ben. He probably spent that much getting sushi delivered to his office at lunch. Meanwhile, she was down almost $200 on parking tickets in the months since they started dating. Again she did the mental math. A day of work--more! A plane ticket. An epic girls’ weekend. Four months of cell service.


So a permit to park overnight in District 13 cost twenty dollars. “There, Ben,” she said to the empty passenger seat. “That’s the price of love.”


***


“Did you look into the permit?” Stacy asked as the waiter refilled their wine glasses that evening. She tried to keep her tone sweet and her smile steady. 


Ben took a slow drink of his Merlot before answering. “Nah, I got sidetracked today. Meetings, fires to put out. You know…”


“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I had a lot going on, too, but I found a little time to look up the permit process.” She didn’t tell him it was while she ate a vending machine lunch at her desk. “So, I think you can get me my own visitor’s permit that’s good for four months. You just have to make an account online and upload proof of residency. Then I hang the permit on my windshield and no more tickets. Viola, I’m not an intruder; I belong.”


“Sounds good,” he said. “And you do belong. You’re always welcome.”


Stacy felt her anger melt away as he reached for her hand across the table. Her smile relaxed. “Tell that to the parking enforcement,” she said, stroking the coarse hairs on his knuckles.


“I’ll shout it from the rooftops: this woman is welcome in my residence at anytime, day or night!” Ben’s voice rang out over the din of co-workers out on happy hour, power meetings between entertainers and their agents, and couples stumbling through first dates.


“Stop it,” Stacy demurred. Her cheeks tingled as she observed heads turning in the direction of their table.


“Congratulations,” The waiter said with a wink as he refilled the bread basket and refreshed the delicate balance of olive oil and balsamic vinegar in the ceramic bowl.


“I don’t care if the waiter knows,” Stacy said softly. “Just that guy in the little white parking enforcement car.”


“So are you coming over tonight?” Ben asked.


“I told you--”


“Relax. Just put the old ticket back out on your windshield. They’ll pass by. Or get a spot at one of the meters around the block.”


“Ben. Please?”


“Ok, fine. But I’m making brunch on Saturday morning. French toast, fresh squeezed orange juice.” He squeezed her hand. “I’ll serve it to you in bed, as long as you’re there.”


***


She’d believed him on Monday. He’d made a convincing show of it. Ben was charming. He’d made a business out of charm, brokering deals with a handshake and an earnest smile. But by Wednesday, Stacy started to wonder.


Her How’s it going 💞 text was met with Great. Dinner tonight? I have something for you...😈😍


It must be the permit! Stacy’s heart leapt. Of course Ben was reliable and caring and responsible. Why would she doubt?


She finished her day with a smile and her imitation Jimmy Choo heels tapped a cheerful beat as she crossed the street on her way to the night’s restaurant.


She could hardly contain her excitement as she sipped around the sediment in the bottom of her wine glass.


“Well, are you ready for your surprise?” Ben finally asked with a twinkle in his brown eyes. “A little something for our brunch this weekend…” He dug into his leather satchel and pulled out a small paper shopping bag. It was glossy and neon pink and utterly un-bureaucratic. 


Stacy deflated. She peaked inside the tissue paper at a pool of satin ribbon and waves of translucent black chiffon. “Ah. Thanks,” she said with an enthusiasm that she wrenched from somewhere deep in her body. She felt suddenly depleted. “And that other thing?”


“What?” Ben barely blinked.


“The parking permit.”


“Oh, yeah. I looked into that. They want so much information! I have to upload a copy of my lease agreement or something. Bureaucracy, right?!” He gave a limp shrug. “I haven’t gotten around to it. Just park around the block.”


“I’d have to feed the meter every four hours,” Stacy said. “Can’t you just find the lease agreement?”


“They never check. You’re good for now.” His smile never wavered.


***


Thursday morning, Stacy decided to take matters into her own hands. She went back to the Department of Transportation website.


The barriers around preferred parking permits in District 13 were formidable. Stacy copied out the list on a notepad. She’d need:


--A car registration listing an address inside District 13

--Two forms of proof of residence in District 13, which may include a valid drivers license, a utility bill, or a property tax bill/lease agreement.


Shit, she thought. He really needs to do this! Where am I going to get all of this information?


But Stacy was not the type to give up easily. She bit her lower lip and settled back into her mesh office chair, notepad in her lap, and began to circle: registration, utility bill, lease agreement. In large block letters she added, change of address. It might work.


***


Stacy showed up at Ben’s apartment on Friday evening and parked on the curb, right in front of his remodeled dingbat. A stained wood veneer had transformed the decades-old stucco into something “retro chic.” It was amazing, Stacy thought, what a little bit of surface treatment could accomplish. 


She hung the bright orange parking permit over her rear view mirror and walked into the lobby with a confidence she had never felt before. Her imitation Jimmy Choos tapped a steady rhythm across the tile floor. 


She wore the transparent black chiffon and ate the French toast and had a marvelous time, until Ben stepped down to the lobby to check the mail Saturday morning.


Shit! Stacy paced the living room floor, her bare feet tapping a relentless rhythm over the polished wood planks to match her heartbeat. I forgot to change it back


Ben walked in none the wiser, rifling through a stack of mail.


“Anything good?” Stacy asked. Her voice moved lightly, as if walking over glass.


“Nah. Bills, ads… Wait, nope. Here’s one for you.” He extended a thin white envelope toward Stacy, his eyebrows arched. “So, you’re getting mail here now?”


“Hey, that’s weird. Let me see? It has my name on it?” Stacy took the envelope and examined it.


“So, like, do you live here now?”


Stacy sighed and realized that she’d been holding her breath. She laughed. “Well...sort of?” she admitted. “It’s a long story.”


“Go on.” Ben stared at her through narrow eyes.


“Well, I needed the parking permit…” Stacy felt the words tumble from her mouth. “You were too busy, but that shouldn’t be the end of it, right? I thought I’d help you out. I know you keep a stack of bills on your desk, so I came in and got one last week.”


“How did you get in?”


Stacy grinned. “I called the superintendent and told him I had locked my keys inside the apartment. You know, your security is not great here. The streets are much more highly guarded than your front door.” She observed Ben’s incredulous, open-mouthed grin and kept going. “Anyway, the bill had your name on it, but not mine, so I scanned it and added my name in--just one little line of Photoshop. I couldn’t find your lease agreement, but I had a copy of mine. Wrong address, of course, but that was another easy fix. White square, right font, and I subbed your address in on the lease. I wouldn’t be able to change the address on my drivers’ license, but people move around all the time. They must expect that. I had to make it look like I’d just moved here, and hadn’t updated my license or registration. So I went online and changed my mailing address to make it look legit. I printed it all out, took it to the permit office in person, and bingo! They gave me a permit on the spot, not questions asked. You were right, Babe: $22.50.”


Ben laughed, a thin, wry chuckle. “You’re clever,” he said. “Okay, well there’s one thing off my to-do list.”


“I’m sorry, Babe. I hope you don’t mind.” Stacy wrapped her arms behind his back.


“It’s fine,” he reassured her, sliding his hands over her hips. “A little disturbing, but very helpful.” He kissed her forehead.


“Good,” Stacy said. “This was really important to me. I mean, I don’t want to feel shut out of your life. I want to belong here.”


“You do. I told you.” He gave her a kiss she could have gotten lost in, except for one thought.


“You told me with your words,” she corrected him when his lips released hers.


“How else am I supposed to tell you?”


“Nevermind.” Stacy untangled her arms and plopped down on the gray suede sofa. The cushion sighed beneath her. 


“So how long is your mail set to come here?” Ben turned his attention back to sorting the stack of mail on the kitchen island.


“Just a week. I forwarded it here till next Thursday. Arbitrary.”


“Are you going to stay here till then?”


Stacy froze. “Stay here, with you?”


“Yeah.” He smiled at her over his bills. “Like on a trial basis.”


Stacy’s stomach flopped. “Really? Like pretend I live here for a week and see how it goes?”


Ben looked completely unflustered for making such a big move in his life, Stacy thought. He tore open an envelope and didn’t even look up when he said, “Yeah, wanna try it? You’ve got the parking permit, and your mail is coming here. You basically invited yourself over, but what the hell. Why not?”


Why not? Ben’s invitation echoed in her ears. Why not? 


This was what she’d wanted to hear! This was mission accomplished, next step in the relationship stuff! Stacy played it all out. She would pull confidently up to the curb in front of his--their--apartment with a canvas bag from Whole Foods. They’d cook free range chicken breasts together and sautee mushrooms in white wine. Of course they would--that's how people lived here in District 13. And they’d finish the open bottle on the terrace, where feathery jacaranda branches waved over the quiet street, lightly traveled after 6pm. It was a fortress, and it would enclose the two of them, together. 


And then he’d let her do the dishes. He’d already let her pay for the groceries. In the morning, he would walk down to his BMW in its assigned parking spot in the subterranean garage, and she’d walk out to the curb, where every day she’d remember the intrigue she concocted to get that parking permit. The way he wouldn’t do it. In four months, she’d be the one to renew it. Maybe it wouldn’t be a lie this time, but she would still be the one to do it. In a few years, she’d be the one to suggest they get married, and then she’d be the one to send the birthday cards and schedule brunches with his mom. Ben took care of himself.


He cares for me, Stacy told herself. Maybe he’s even starting to love me--but he will never take care of me. I may eventually belong here, but I will always take care of myself.


That’s how she answered his “Why not?” in her head. Out loud she said, “I’ll think about it.”


The sofa cushion would sigh when he sat down beside her for an afternoon of Netflix, sigh again when he moved to lay his head down in her lap. It would offer a final sigh when she rose to go home.


“I’d have to pick up a few things, anyway, for the week,” she’d say. “I’ll think about it.”


She would think long and hard about it as she circled her block, miles south-east, in search of a parking spot. Parking was a free-for-all south of Olympic Boulevard--first come, first served. These were the rules Stacy was used to. You help yourself. Nothing is guaranteed, not even your parking spot.


She would think about it as she walked the half-block to her front door and pulled out her key. Would Ben offer her a key for the week?


She would think about it as she lay alone in bed, when she walked around her block to the coffee shop, when she answered his Where RU 😅 text. 


When she finally broke up with him, she would give him back the random clothing items he’d left around her apartment on his infrequent visits, but she would not give back the parking permit. That was hers.



October 23, 2021 01:12

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4 comments

Beth Jackson
00:25 Oct 25, 2021

Oh this is so good! I was so invested in this story - I giggled and squirmed so much as I was reading it the cat got off my lap and gave me a filthy look. Thank you for sharing! Thoroughly enjoyed it!

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Shea West
05:19 Oct 30, 2021

Ben sucks! I love how you nonchalantly had her break into his apartment though and he seemed relatively unphased by that.. I've missed your stories Ann, it was great to finally get a chance to read this!

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Faith Ogedegbe
07:59 Oct 27, 2021

Good job,A.Dot Ram

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06:41 Oct 23, 2021

This is great, definitely my kind of romance. I'm so happy it ended the way it did, that guy sucked! I loved your use of emoticons in the text messages. My only real critique is you mention her imitation Jimmy Choos tapping two different times, I would change one.

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