Julia glanced over at the counter and pursed her lips. With gel-slicked hair, one ear sporting a small diamond stud, and the subtle hint of a dimple in his chin, the young barista was cute. And buff too. Even from where she sat on the other side of the café, she could see the strength in his broad shoulders, the well-defined chest through his white cotton tee. And the best thing? She really liked the way he looked at her when she had ordered the decaf skinny mocha latte, an extra shot of vanilla. The slight grin, the mischievous look in his eyes, said it all, and it wasn’t about the drink either.
“So…” Across the table her friend, Kim, broke the spell. “How’s the new husband?”
This morning was their weekly therapy, a time slated for the two of them to sit down and visit—talk about the kids, the schedules and anything else that came to mind. Before she answered, Julia took a sip of the coffee and flinched. She liked her coffee hot but, jeez, not that hot. She licked at her bottom lip, feeling the instant burn, and stared back at the barista, who was now busy with another customer, a cute teenager with a ponytail and most likely a diva, too, by the looks of her. She decided next time to tell Mr. Cute and Buff to cool down her drink with a little ice.
And there would be a next time.
No doubt about it.
Placing the cup down, she realized Kim was staring at her. “Oh,” she said, “The husband, right, he’s wonderful. Good listener, well mannered, and low maintenance. No laundry on the floor, the toilet seat is down, and—”
“Wait.” Kim frowned. “He’s a squatter?”
Julia shrugged. “It’s not like I stand there to watch, you know? I’m just saying the seat’s down whenever I go in.”
Kim leaned forward, apparently more interested now.
At the counter, the young barista looked over again and locked eyes with Julia. He smiled, and she leaned back against the chair, the plans already starting to whirl in her mind—what she would ask for, how she would ask for it.
Life was funny when she took the time to think about it. And more often than not lately, she did just that. There were the subtle ironies, like some Shakespearian cosmic comedy playing out on the stage. Take the young man at the counter, for instance. If that wasn’t some twisted turn of fate—life bringing them together after she’d exchanged Husband Number One with Husband Number Two—then what was it? And there was some energy there, she couldn’t deny that. Like two planets defying God’s design, whirling out of their separate orbits and finding each other in some small pocket of the universe yet to be discovered. But now they were going to collide, and just like she knew the time had come to get rid of Husband Number One, put him beneath her feet so she could move on, she knew the time was coming for her and Mr. Cute and Buff. And probably not too far off by the way he kept—
She glanced back, found Kim staring at her with a puzzled expression.
“I’m sorry.” Julia scratched at an eyebrow, trying to hide her embarrassment. “What did you say?”
“How much did it cost and what’s the rate of return?”
The rate of...
Julia smiled. Yes, Kim was still curious about Husband Number Two, and not just in the general sort of way. Another one of life’s ironies, come to think of it—how, in a day and age when women could purchase the programmed bio equivalent of Mr. Right, women still wondered if they were getting a good deal. And Julia had a good deal, she knew. She had bargained pretty hard for it, too, complaining to the manufacturer how the first husband was flawed, demanding either a full refund or a new model free of charge. The agent finally agreed to the exchange at no additional cost, which in essence extended the life span on her first investment by five years. Not a bad rate of return at all. Still, the nights in bed weren’t what they used to be. Like when she was in school, back before stem cells, when girls hooked up with actual boys and ran the risk of stolen virginities, deflated egos, and broken hearts. Even with all the advances in relationships, however, the passion wasn’t as strong, the caressing not as satisfying.
She looked at the barista one more time and smiled.
“To tell you the truth,” she said to Kim, “I’m not so sure whether I’m going to keep Jim or not.” As advertised, the manufacturer would even program a husband's name and give him some history to talk about. “He’s a good asset in many respects, but the amortization of the intangibles is highly accelerated. In some ways, having the latest technology isn’t all that.”