Chapter 1: Yours...Mine...Ours?
Jesse stumbled out of bed on Saturday morning and made his way over to the coffee machine. He blinked his eyes heavily as he entered the living room area. It had been several weeks since the fire, and almost a month since Jen had painted the walls of the apartment, but Jesse still couldn't get used to the color combination that his art-historian bride had picked out for the place. She'd painted the walls a deep burgundy color, and then painted the ceiling periwinkle blue. Jen had tried to explain to him about choosing opposite colors on color wheels, and how the warm walls seemed more inviting, and other artistic sorts of things, but Jesse wasn't 100 percent sure what she'd been talking about. He was just glad that Jen had taken it upon herself to do the actual painting.
But they still didn't have any furniture. Furniture took money, and with Jen still taking out student loans for college and using her jewelry sales to pay the electricity and gas bills, and Jesse's salary mostly going for the rent and food, there was no extra cash for furniture in the budget. They'd temporarily borrowed a card table and some folding chairs from Richie and Meg, so they didn't have to eat out in the fire escape anymore. All it had taken was one autumn windstorm for that experience to go from romantic to just plain insane.
As the coffee perked, Jesse went over to the computer to check his e-mail. He was sorry he'd ever given the people in his office his home e-addie. It seemed that every weekend someone from work was sending some assignment that was "just a little thing" they needed by Monday. Jen had been really sweet about giving him the space to work when he had to, but he missed spending lazy Saturday afternoons doing nothing with her. Still, on the other hand, Jen's grades had really gotten great since she'd had the extra time to study. Of course, that didn't seem to make either of them feel better about the lack of free time together.
Sure enough, as soon as he signed on, the computer set out a little beep, and an envelope icon began flashing on and off in the corner of the screen. For a moment, Jesse considered turning the machine off and pretending he'd never gotten any e-mail, but he eventually thought better of it. A junior employee couldn't mess around -- especially with the way he and Jen depended on his salary and insurance plan.
The e-mails began piling up in his box. The first few were just unwanted spam -- a couple of ads for cheap prescriptions for Viagra. Jesse had to laugh. They definitely didn't need that. Then, there was an e-mail from Jen's mother, who had finally gotten onto the Internet and was now absolutely obsessed with the idea of talking to her daughter and son-in-law online. There was an e-mail from someone in the marketing department at work, and another from Duets.
Jesse decided to open the Duets message first. He clicked on it and watched as the e-mail appeared on the screen. A moment later, he let out an excited shriek. "JEN! COME HERE! YOU GOTTA READ THIS!"
It would have been impossible for Jen to not wake up to that ear-shattering cry. She came racing out of the bedroom, not even bothering to throw on a robe.
Jesse stared at his wife in all her naked glory, and immediately leaped up to pull the shades. "What are you doing? Trying to give the whole neighborhood a thrill?" he asked her.
Jen laughed, but made no attempt to cover up. Instead, she asked, "What's the big deal? You woke me up out of a sound sleep."
Jesse pointed to the screen. "You're not going to believe this," he told her.
Jen nudged Jesse out of the way to get a closer look. Her eyes grew wide as she read the message from Duets.
Jennifer and Jesse,
We were sorry to hear about the fire in your apartment. So were a large number of our members and sponsors. In fact, one sponsor, Le Chien Furnishings, felt so bad, they are giving you a spectacular gift: a complete home makeover, including a table and chairs, bookshelves, a computer desk and entertainment center, and a bedroom set. All you have to do is head over to one of their locations near you, pick out what you want, and give the attached coupon to the person at the register.
We're sure our members (not to mention the folks at Le Chien) would love to see what you've done with the apartment. When your home is all decorated, we'd adore it if you'd post a few pics on our site.
your pals at Duets
"Woohoo!" Jen grabbed Jesse and hugged him tight. "Do you believe this luck?"
Jesse shook his head. "What -- the fact that Duets scored free furniture for us, or the fact that I am standing here holding an incredibly gorgeous naked brunette in my arms?"
Jen kissed him playfully on the nose. "Either-or," she teased. Then she looked into his eyes. "Can we go shopping today?" she pleaded, sounding very much like a little girl begging to go to a toy store.
"I have to do a little work for the marketing department. Maybe you should go ahead and pick out at least some of the furniture on your own."
Jen shook her head. "No way, Jesse. This is our apartment now, remember. Not yours, or mine...ours. And we don't always have the same taste. You kinda freaked out when you saw the paint on the walls, remember?"
"I like it now," he told her. "Sort of."
"See what I mean?" she continued. "That's why we're going to shop together. Now I'm just going to hop in the shower and then we can head over to Le Chien."
"But what about my job?"
Jen gave him an especially sexy smile. "Oh, I have a job for you," she teased, playfully yanking on the belt of his robe. "One you're uniquely qualified for. It involves scrubbing that part of my back I can never reach while I'm in the shower."
The Le Chein store was really a huge shopping warehouse. Pieces of furniture were set up throughout the cavernous building. Every few feet there was a table with a catalog on it and order forms. Customers were supposed to take an order form and fill in the catalog code numbers of the furniture they wanted. Then an employee would go into the back of the store and pull out the large flat boxes that were filled with the furniture parts. Le Chien furniture didn't come set up. It was prefab furniture, which meant that it had to be assembled at home. Or, for an additional fee, a "carpenter" from Le Chien would come over and put it together for you.
"What kind of wood is this?" Jesse asked, running his hand over a shelf on a white armoire.
"It says MDF," Jen said, reading a tag on the side of one of the doors. "It must be a French abbreviation for something." She turned and caught the attention of one of the store employees, who was easily recognizable because, like all Le Chien sales staff, he was wearing a red beret and an apron. "What kind of wood is MDF?" she asked.
"Well, it's not any one kind of wood, exactly."
Jesse looked at the salesperson oddly. "Excuse me?"
"MDF stands for medium-density fiberboard," he explained in a whisper that demonstrated he felt he was revealing some sort of corporate secret. "It's pieces of compressed wood pulp mixed with glue."
"So it's not actual wood?" Jen asked, barely masking the disappointment in her voice.
"How do you think we keep the prices so low?" the clerk replied brusqely.
Jen had no answer for that. She simply sighed and stared at the armoire. "I like this one for the bedroom," she said, her voice lacking the excitement she'd had when they'd entered the store. "It matches the platform bed we picked out."
Jesse went over to the catalog table to look up the code number for the armoire. "The bed's called Chaussure. Sounds kind of romantic, doesn't it?" he said, trying to cheer her.
Jen shook her head. "Chaussure means shoe. Why would they name a bed that?"
"I don't know," Jesse admitted. "I guess they never expected anyone to actually translate the words. They just wanted everything here to have a French-sounding name to remind you that everything in the store was made in France. Like the entertainment center you picked out. That was called Jambon."
"Which means ham," Jen remarked, with just a slight tone of amusement as she picked up a lamp that was sitting on a night stand and glanced at the bottom. "Hey. This was made in Taiwan, not France."
Jesse put his arm around Jen. He knew how much his wife adored really beautiful things. Not expensive things necessarily, just well crafted. Jen had an appreciation for design and craftsmanship that he would never completely understand. The stuff at Le Chien was made for mass consumption. There was nothing well crafted or intricately designed about it. This was useful furniture for people who didn't want to spend a lot of money.
Jesse sighed heavily. Someday he wanted to be able to buy Jen all the magnificent things she wanted. Unfortunately, today wasn't that day. Today, they would have to settle for French furniture that was made in Taiwan from wood that wasn't exactly wood.
"Well, that's about it," Jesse said, looking at the long list he and Jen had made up.
"Unless you want that blue rug you saw."
"Periwinkle," Jen told him.
Jesse flipped through the catalog. "No. It says here it was called Gâteu."
"Cake," Jen translated the French ruefully. "No, I meant the color of the rug was periwinkle blue. Like our ceiling."
"Oh. Well, do you want it?"
"Might as well," Jen agreed. "We may never get the chance to get free furniture again."
"Okay, so let's go over to the check-out counter and give them our list. Then we'll go over to the loading zone. I think they'll help us tie all the boxes to the roof of the car." Jesse studied the big overhead signs until he spotted one that said, check out. Jen followed him as he walked toward the cashier.
"Here you go," Jesse said as he handed the clerk his order form and the gift certificate from Le Chien that he'd downloaded from the computer e-mail.
"Would you like someone to come out to the house to put this together for you?" the clerk asked. "It's one hundred dollars extra, but it's not included in this gift certificate."
"That would be worth it, though," Jen mused. "These things look pretty tough to make."
"No, they don't," Jesse insisted. "I could do it in an afternoon."
"But Jesse...," Jen began.
"Jen, have a little faith in the man you married. I'm pretty good with my hands...or haven't you noticed?"
Jen grinned. "I've noticed. But this is different."
"I can do it," Jesse told her firmly. He pulled out his cell phone. "I'll even call Artie to help so we can get this done twice as fast."
"Oh great, a businessman and a guy who's studying to be a divorce lawyer working together to put together furniture. Sounds promising," Jen teased.
Jesse shook his head. "O ye of little faith. Now, let's get the car and pull it around to the loading dock."
Jen nodded. But as Jesse swaggered off, she grabbed one of the Le Chien carpenter cards and tucked it in her pocket.
"How am I supposed to figure out anything from these stupid drawings?" Jesse barked angrily from the floor of the living room. He was literally buried in piles of MDF wood, nuts, bolts, and tiny screwdrivers. The instructions for putting the Jambon entertainment center together were spread out in front of him. "Would you look at this thing?"
Jen glanced down at the paper. Jesse was right. It would be impossible for anyone to follow the little stick-figure carpenters that were drawn on the pages of the instruction booklet. They were happy and smiling as they held up pictures of which screws were necessary to attach the shelving in the unit.
But Jesse certainly wasn't happy and smiling. In fact, he was downright snarky. Artie was even worse. He wasn't even attempting to put the furniture together anymore. Instead, he was sitting in the corner of the room with his head in his hands. "When I tie the nuptial knot, I'm going to buy custom-made furniture," he declared. "It's going to be delivered in one piece."
"Then you'd better tie that knot with an heiress," Jen suggested. "You wouldn't believe what furniture costs."
"I won't need to. I'm going to be wealthy on my own. There's always business for divorce lawyers. It's kind of like being a mortician. It's a business that everyone needs sooner or later."
"God, I hope not," Jen said, surprised.
"Not us, hon," Jesse assured her. He turned to Artie. "Will you hand me that screwdriver?"
"The one with the little X in the top of it."
Artie looked in the small tool kit that had come with the furniture. "There are three of them that have X's on the top."
Before Jesse could respond, Artie's cell phone began to ring. He pulled the phone from his pocket, flipped open the top and looked at the number. "Hey, Babe," he said into the receiver.
Jen met Jesse's eyes. "Babe?" She mouthed to him, surprised.
Jesse shrugged. The concept that Artie knew anyone well enough to call them "babe" was news to him, too.
Artie walked into the bedroom and shut the door, obviously to have a little privacy.
"What was that all about?" Jen asked Jesse.
"Maybe he was talking to a pig. You know, like the Babe in the movies." Jen giggled.
Jesse shrugged. "He said there was some assistant at the registrar's office of the law school who had been checking him out, but you know Artie. I figured it was all in his head."
"Well, that didn't sound like it was all in his head," Jen suggested. "Hey, babe," she repeated, imitating Artie's obvious attempt to be sexy when he answered the phone. The way Jen said it, she sounded like some skeevy guy in a bar.
Jesse began to laugh. Jen had Artie's act down perfectly.
"Well, you guys, I'm sorry, but I've got to say adieu," Artie announced, interrupting their laughter as he walked out of the bedroom.
Jen rolled her eyes. Artie had gone from overblown SAT words to French now. The furniture names must have been rubbing off on him. His ability to be pretentious seemed never ending.
"Felicia wants to take in a movie," Artie continued.
"Felicia, huh?" Jesse said. "Who's she?"
"Just someone who happens to think I'm a combination of Adonis and Einstein," Artie replied.
"Oh, Felicia's your mirror," Jesse teased his best bud.
"Amusing," Artie replied sarcastically. "But I've no time to guffaw. I'm off. Enjoy your construction work."
As Artie threw on his coat and walked out of the apartment, Jesse let out a frustrated groan. "Great. Now what am I supposed to do?"
"What? Artie was being such a help?" Jen asked him.
Jesse looked at the stick figures in the instruction book again. "This says a twelve-year-old could put this together," he read gruffly.
"Maybe I should go to the middle school down the block and get one to help you," Jen said, trying a little humor to bring him out of the funk he was in.
But Jesse didn't see the humor in anything at the moment. He was angry and frustrated. "Look, Jen, you're the one who wanted this entertainment center. I -- "
"Oh no, you don't," Jen warned. "Don't pin this on me. We picked everything out together. We both wanted this piece -- and the table, the bookshelves, the armoire, and the platform bed. The only thing I picked out myself was the rug. And, as you can see, I've already got that set up." She pointed toward the window, where the blue area rug had already been unrolled.
"Errrr!" Jesse let out a purely primal yelp of anger as he tried banging two pieces of wood together in a fruitless effort to at least get the damn entertainment center started.
"I don't think that's quite right," Jen said gently.
The look in Jesse's eyes was positively rabid. He held the instruction booklet up. "You want to take a try?" he demanded.
"No. I can't do stuff like this," she told him. "I know my limitations."
"Are you saying I don't?"
"All I'm saying is that maybe home improvement isn't one of your talents. You're great at other things. You're smart, you're wonderful with numbers, you're funny, and you make people want to be around you. You just aren't terrific at putting things together. Big deal."
Jesse sighed. "Well, this is just great." He looked at the pile of pressed-wood shelving around him. "What are we supposed to do now?"
Jen took a deep breath. She was unsure of how Jesse would take what she was about to say. "Well, I did sort of take the carpentry card they had at the store. Maybe we could call and set up an appointment. It says someone could come by within forty-eight hours."
Jesse stared at her. The color rose to his cheeks. "You took the card?" he demanded. "You didn't believe that I could do this?"
Jen gulped. "Well, I...I mean, I wasn't sure. So, just in case I..."
"Thank God!" Jesse exclaimed, his face taking on a huge grin. "I'm glad one of us knew what was going to happen." He took the card from her hand. "Give me that number. The sooner we make this call, the sooner we can sleep on a real bed."
Men can be so impossible sometimes. What is this macho thing about wanting to do things that require tools? I've never seen that side of Jesse before. Not that I was surprised. My dad, who's the nicest guy in the world, also turns into a raving lunatic whenever he's faced with a challenge of hanging curtains or plastering a hole in the wall. Of course, he's terrible at it. One time Dad decided to lay the blacktop on our driveway, and wound up covering the surrounding grass, sidewalk, and bushes with that gooey stuff. My mom had to hire professionals to redo the whole thing.
I guess it's true what they say: Girls do marry people just like their dads.
Luckily, we're all set up now. The carpenter came this afternoon. It took him less than two hours to put everything in place. Even though Jesse was cool about having the work done, I'm glad he wasn't here to witness that!
You can see the pictures of our freshly decorated space by opening the attachment to this e-mail. But as for me, it's late, and I'm going to bed. Jesse and I are dying to break in our new bed. I sure hope MDF is strong enough to withstand all our wildness! ;)
Catch ya later!
Copyright © 2005 by Nancy Krulik