It's early evening and we are walking through the used car section of Fred Hamilton Ford in the eastern suburbs. The long string of colored lights hung around the lot gives the place a festival feeling, but Melinda is serious as a heart attack. Her little Escort died yesterday and she needs a new car. I begged her to go with me to Toyota and get a little red sportscar but she glared at me.

"My dad has always bought Fords and his family has always bought Fords and that's the deal. If I came home with some Japanese car he would disown me."

I know not to argue when she gets like this-serious and somber, writing numbers down in a notebook like we are charting down research on an epidemic. She is sure that her Escort is worth thousands in trade, despite the fact that the transmission is shot and it has over 100,000 miles on it.

He:it looks kinda done over, don't it? Her: "It has NEW tires!"

I try and make some comment about length of loan contract but she shoots me a look of don't you EVEN say anything, and I stop in mid sentence. I wander over to look at the Mustangs. I walk over to one with a convertible top and instantly a saleman appears, like a genie-knowing my wish. I tell him nope, not me, just window shopping and he just grins that oily grin that used car guys have-the one that says, yeah, but you'll be back....

Melinda is in the sales trailer working out the details. I wait outside and drink a Mountain Dew, an expectant father, pacing. She comes out, looking sheepish, with a stack of paper and the keys for a dark blue Escort.

On the way home she apologizes, but says she can't really concentrate when she's doing business things. I just stare out the window and tell her OK and that I was trying to help, is all. Mutual silence for a while.

We pull up at her apartment, our apartment , and we just sit in the quiet car for a while, soaking up the air fresheners and staring out separate windows.

"OK. Here is the deal. If we aren't married it shouldn't be you and me shopping for big grownup things. If I bought a car you wanted and had to explain it to my folks and told them it was your idea I would have to tell them who you are and why you get to choose and why you have that say and all that. I don't know. I don't know if I should include you or exclude you. I didn't want the car to be attached to

She stares at her hands, which are busy picking at imaginary loose fingernails. I grab them and hold them still. She looks up, expectant.

I love you, OK. I love you alot. I don't give a damn about the car you drive.

She hugs my neck and whispers

I love you, too!
in my ear and cries a little. She pulls away and gets out of the car, wipes her eyes as she locks the door.

"Don't ever make me buy foreign cars, I'm not kidding about that."

I knew that.

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