Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Best Man

          "If you need a dependable used car, reasonably priced," Cindy said over the phone, "Sam Brownlee's the best man in town to see."
"I know everyone says that."
"It's true, Laura. If you think you'll feel funny seeing him again, forget that thought. Sam wasn't to blame, anyway."
"Your're right."
"Go, girl. You won't be sorry."
That afternoon, Sam Brownlee smiled the instant he recognized me browsing among the fifty or more shiny used cars, trucks, and SUVs gleaming in the sun at his Kar Korner lot.
"Laura?" he said, strolling up to me, hand extended.
"Wow! This is a surprise. And a pleasure." Tall, lean, and blonde with midnight blue eyes, he shook my hand. My heart hit an unexpected speed bump, and my face felt warm. "Looking for a car?"
"I am. And everyone says you're the best man—" I halted. Smiled sheepishly. "I'm sorry. Poor choice of words..."
"How long ago has that been?" he said. "Over a year, probably?"
"Eighteen months."
"Have you seen Rick? He's working in Dexter, but I thought maybe he'd come back. Try to patch things up."
"I haven't seen him since he walked out, leaving me at the altar."
Sam's smile was soft and sympathetic. "His backing down—me, his best man—I had no idea what was going on with him, I swear. When it came to crunch time, he simply walked."
"We eventually talked things through. He said it wasn't me—he just wasn't ready for marriage."
"You were lucky," Sam said. "You could've married the wrong person."
"I know." Then I smiled and said, "You think I could get even luckier buying a used car?"
"You bet! We'll find you something you can trust, I promise."
As we meandered from car to car, I explained to Sam I'd been hired as a full-time teacher in Lancaster. My first full-time job after working three years as a sub. But Lancaster was thirty miles away. I didn't want to move, so I needed something better to drive than the ancient Ford Tempo I now owned. My commute would be sixty miles, round trip.
"Have you done your homework?" Sam asked, as we stood in front of a gorgeous red Ford Fusion. "What kind of car would you like? Have you checked blue book values? How much money are you willing to spend?"
"I'm not sure."
"Let me help. First thing you've got to know is how much money can you afford. Don't budge. Be firm. Or you'll end up with payments way over your head."
"I don't want that."
"Once the money question is settled, we'll find you the best car to fit your needs and budget."
This guy is awesome, I thought. "All right."
We inspected a host of cars—all low-mileage, moderately price cars.
I finally settled on the Ford Fusion that I'd like from the beginning.
After I thought I'd made up my mind, Sam said, "Now's the time when I should tell you to take the car home and drive it around for a few days because I know you'll fall hopelessly in love with it, come back and buy it no matter what the price. But that's not what I'm going to do."
"I'm going to tell you to take it, shop around, and see if you can find a better deal."
"You're kidding? You might lose a sale."
He shrugged. "Remember, stay firm about your budget."
That night I talked to Cindy again on the phone.
"Isn't he something?" she said. "He's not married, you know."
"I'm lookinmg for a used car, Cindy. Not a husband." Then I told her how great he'd treated me. And about the car I liked and his letting me keep it a few days while I shopped around.
"Told you he was the best man," Cindy said.
I spent the next day, Saturday, shopping around, as Sam had advised.
Unbelievably, I thought I'd found a better deal at Larry's Used Car Lot. Chuck, the salesman, said he could he could sell me a Honda Civic that had fewer miles on it and was a newer model than the Ford Sam had loaned me—for less money.
I realized I'd be a fool not to accept the offer.
"But I've got to talk to my boss, Larry, first," Chuck said. When he came back, all sad-eyed, he said Larry wouldn't let the car go for that low price, but I could take it home and drive it for a day or two to see if I liked it.
I smiled politely. "No thanks."
When I drove back to the Kar Korner, I walked into Sam's trailer office—he was alone, sitting behind his desk—and said, "You've got a deal."
"You looked around?"
"I did," I said, and told him about my experience at Larry's.
"That's the good guy/bad guy ploy," Sam said.
I sunk down in a chair in front of his desk. "Let's do the paperwork."
As we filled in the proper forms, Sam kept glancing at me nervously.
I couldn't imagine why. Was he selling me a lemon? Had is conscious suddenly sideswiped him? This couldn't be.
Finished, he leaned forward and laced his fingers on his desk. He seemed hesitant. "Look, I want you to know I'm a reputable used car salesman..."
"The best man, I've heard," I said, and smiled.
"I never ever date customers, but—well..."
My heart sped up, then suddenly seemed to skid, headed for a ditch maybe.
"Would you like to go out tonight?" Sam said.
I grabbed a breath and slowed my heart to idle speed.
A date with the Best Man. Could it be?
I plucked the extra keys to the Honda from the top of Sam's desk and said, "All right. "I jiggled the keys in my palm, smiling again. "Pick me up at seven. I'll let you test drive my new car."