A Deal for Half Her Heart

I sat across from Angie, even more entranced than I was three days ago. Tonight, her black hair cascaded like a waterfall down her back. Usually, it fell in waves to her shoulders. I realized that with her hair straightened, strands of gray shone under the dining room light like natural highlights. Last weekend, while we were out for coffee, an elderly man who passed by us wobbled in his gait. His cane fell from his hand. Angie was out of her chair and holding the man’s elbow before I could put my cup down on the table. At that moment, I wanted to marry her even though we’d been dating for only three months.

“Everything’s happening too fast, and there’s so much going on, it’s getting overwhelming,” Angie said.

“Did you tell your manager you have too many patients scheduled?” I asked. She worked full time as an occupational therapist at the Veterans Hospital.

Angie bit her lip after sipping the water that the server had poured in our glasses. Then it hit me, and my palms went cold and sweaty. It wasn’t about work. I moved the empty champagne flute in front of me away so I could look at her fully. My stomach fluttered, as if I were about to lose to a competitor and I had just found out about it.

The salesman in my veins sprang up. “You met someone else?”

“No,” Angie replied.

My mind sprinted through ten different thoughts before I told myself to settle down and channel what I would do were I in a meeting and a potential client suddenly seemed to be having second thoughts.

“What’s on your mind, Angie?” I asked. “Spill. I want to understand what’s going on.”

She looked down as her hands swept imaginary crumbs off the cloth-covered table. She said, “You know I still support family members in Manila, right?”

I nodded. “You buy stuff on sale and send a care package to them every Christmas. You call it something else, though.”

Balikbayan box of gifts. Balik means return, and bayan means town,” she explained. “That’s one part of it. But it’s more than that, Dave. Last month, my two nieces graduated from college in Manila. I paid for half their tuition for four years, and it’s finally over.” Angie sighed with obvious relief.

“That was very generous of you. Glad to hear they’ve graduated,” I said. “When they find work, they can pay you back.”

Angie shook her head and smiled, although the corners of her mouth did not lift much. She said, “That’s not how it goes. Since I earn in dollars here, I’m looked upon as some kind of financial well my family can tap into.”

“Are they aware that your rent, insurance, food, and electricity are also billed in dollars?” I asked. “What happens if you need funds for yourself for an emergency expense?”

“They can’t help me like that. They won’t be able to return the money.”

“But since your nieces graduated, your responsibility is now finished,” I said as I adjusted my ass on the chair, dug in, and prepared for a long conversation.

Memories of us shopping together—all the items she picked up, be it food or clothing, were the ones on sale. I assumed she was simply frugal. But now I had a clearer picture of a single woman living in America by herself who had responsibilities abroad. Still, I remained unsure why her adult relatives would ask for money without paying it back. I grew up in the Midwest, where I started earning my allowance with a newspaper route when I was ten. It would be interesting to delve into a different family dynamic. But Angie’s smile distracted me.

She nodded. “For a little bit. I feel I have to be ready as we age, because I don’t know what kind of help will be needed from me. But I have this window of time now, maybe three years, when they won’t ask. I want to take advantage of that. I’ll use the extra cash I earn for things I’ve dreamt about doing for many years,” she said. Her eyes flickered with excitement.

“Like what?”

“First, I want to study poetry,” she admitted, a blush on her cheeks. “It’s crazy, I know, someone whose first language isn’t English and who works as an occupational therapist at the VA wanting to learn to write poetry.”

“Not at all. You quoted Robert Frost the first time we met,” I said. Two roads diverged on a yellow wood, and sorry I could not travel both—

Get to her… pain points and requirements.

“Selfishly, I want time for myself outside of work, Dave. I want to study and write. I have to research about a living will. My coworker told me she has one, and we’re in the same boat, she sends money back to Manila to support family over there. Then I want to visit Europe because I haven’t been—”

“How much time do you need, Ange?” I blurted out, because I wanted to solve the problem before she could say she was breaking up with me.

I looked at her as she remained silent. My question must’ve caught her off guard. That was my opening to push forward.

“I want to spend time with you, but now that you’ve shared this part of your life, I totally understand taking advantage of this break from family obligations to fulfill your dreams.” I said, with barely a second to inhale before continuing. “So how much time do you think you’ll need to study and get your affairs in order? If you say there’s no one else, I have some stuff to do too. There’s pickup basketball with my guys and renovating the half-bath near the kitchen, but I’d still like to see you.”

I didn’t want to start with too low a number. “Can we get together on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays?”

A slight frown appeared on her forehead. It wasn’t the reaction I expected. Dammit.

She took her time in sipping water. Meanwhile, my mind teetered on the brink of second-guessing what I’d offered.

She said, “Do you really want to spend your time with someone who’ll be reading sonnets and writing badly metered lines and who’s on the hook to pay for this and that expense for family members abroad?”

I heard a tinge of sadness in her voice, and it bothered me as a splinter would. It seemed she had the raw end of a deal because she lived and worked in America, but I didn’t have enough information. Her situation certainly piqued my curiosity.

I nodded. “I’m more interested now about whatever it is you’re dealing with. And I can look at the situation with a different perspective, right?”

She stared at me with those beautiful brown eyes.

“What are you comfortable with, Ange? The suspense is killing me,” I teased and made a funny face, but it was the truth! My shoulders froze and my legs tingled as I waited for her response.

She exhaled and said, “Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.”

I nodded. “I’d love to see you on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays.”

Three nights a week—it wasn’t the deal I’d proposed, but that was enough— to show her I was good for a fourth night, and a fifth day, and a trip to Europe again, this time with her.

I said, “You promise I’ll be first in line to read your poems?”

I watched her shoulders relax as blush spread from her cheeks again. I suppressed a loud sigh of relief and instead, took a deep breath. I hoped I appeared chill, even though beads of sweat rolled down my back. I finished my full glass of water as the server conveniently returned to take our orders.

Twenty years ago, as a timeshare seller, I would ring a bell in a convention hall filled with potential owners and sales staff after I got a contract signed. Tonight, I settled for a cold beverage. Angie wasn’t breaking up with me.

The server gained my attention with a voice eager to submit our order to the kitchen. “Something to drink?”

“Yes, I’m in the mood for iced coffee, if you have it,” I said.

Coffee was for those who closed their deals.


J. Elizaga was born and raised in Manila, Philippines. After immigrating to America in 1997, they now reside in Santa Clara, California where they work in training programs and make time to write stories that include Filipino characters or the culture in some way. This is a debut publication.