I knew as soon as I saw her I was in trouble.
Sitting there, waiting for me in the car port with her sassy clean white curves, functioning CD player and radio, and passenger door that doesn't squeak when it's opened.
"I'm not going to want to take her back," I told Armando, the Toyota serviceman who'd arranged for the rental while my 1999 Corolla was in the shop.
He smiled knowingly, almost tauntingly, like it was all a part of his master plan.
How could I not fall in love with a brand new version of the car I've owned since I was a sophomore in high school? A car with 125,000+ miles, a severely scratched bumper and a dirty track record that goes far beyond the new brake cylinders it needs... this time.
"Well, just let me know and I'll make sure my guys give you a good deal." Armando said, extending his arm to hand me the keys.
"A good deal." The words echoed in my head as I slid into the driver's seat, immediately noticing how the seat molded around my back, as if it was giving me a warm hug "hello."
"Crap." I said out loud. "It even has that new car smell."
My head pulsed with alternating currents of anger, lust and sadness. "It's not fair," I thought, my stomach wrenched with emotion that I usually reserve for Hugh Grant movies. "They are salting my wound!"
I glared at the warning label still affixed to the driver's side window -- a window that actually rolls up and down on command, and doesn't get stuck like mine does. I stared down the odometer with disgust, gasping when I saw that I was the first person to drive it -- the car that should and could be mine.
If I just let Armando know.
I wanted it more than I've ever wanted anything in my life. Even more than the TV I coveted for Christmas when I was in the fourth grade. The year that my mom and dad bought TVs for both my older brother and me, but made the poor judgment call to give his to him first.
I'd cried like the spoiled brat that I was, thinking they'd picked him over me. That I wasn't going to get a 9-inch screen TV that year. That the small package that was on the table in front of me was going to be a pair of socks from the Limited Too -- not the remote to my own white Toshiba TV that was just hiding in the other room.
"It's not fair," I'd thought then.
"It's not fair," I thought as I pulled the car onto the highway on Saturday afternoon.
"It's not fair," I think now, the night before I have to give her, "Camie," back.
I felt sick driving home tonight. I don't want to go back to my old car with her load groans and inferior leg room. I want to keep Camie forever.
Or at least until she needs new brake cylinders, a new CD player, a new paint job, a new fan belt, new shocks, and a new driver's side window too.
So I understood when my neighbor walked by my kitchen window this evening and stared in with lustful eyes as I prepped my lunch for the week -- a "colorful" lentil and couscous salad.
"What are you making?" She asked with wide eyes.
"I'm just sauteing some onions and peppers for my lunches this week," I responded bashfully, embarrassed that I'd been caught in one of my most sacred of rituals.
"It smells so good!" She gasped.
I nodded, knowing exactly how she felt -- intoxicated by the perfume of the salad, just as I'd been intoxicated by the smell of the new car. Wanting what she couldn't have, just as I'd be wanting what I couldn't have.
I'll eat this lentil and couscous salad -- a harmonious blend of sweet peppers and sun-dried tomatoes, laced with a tangy pomegranate molasses-based dressing -- tomorrow before I drive Camie back to the dealership. I'll breathe in the scent, let the flavors linger over my tongue and enjoy the last lunch I have before I say goodbye to the girl who's been my best friend for the past two days.
And then I'll drive back to LA in my old car, secretly hoping that by Christmas this year, there really will be a new Camie waiting for me in the other room.
Colorful Lentil and Couscous Salad with Walnuts & Herbs
Adapted from the Kitchn
Serves 3-4 (3 if you are a hungry person like me)
3/4 cup dry Umbrian or green French lentils
2 cups chicken broth
1/4 cup dry-packed sun-dried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1/2 cup whole wheat couscous
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1/2 cup flat parsley leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 cup mint leaves, roughly chopped
3 cups loosely packed arugula
1/2 lemon, juiced and zested
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
Sea salt, freshly ground pepper
Rinse the lentils well and pick over for any stones. Bring 2 cups of chicken broth (or water) to boil in a medium sized saucepan. Add lentils, bring back to a boil, and then lower the heat. Cook, covered, for 25 to 30 minutes or until the lentils are "toothsome and tender, but not yet mushy or falling apart." When lentils are done, drain and rinse with cool water to stop the cooking process.
Meanwhile, finely chop the sun-dried tomatoes and place them in a heat-safe bowl. Pour 1/4 cup boiling water over the tomatoes and set them aside to seep.
Heat large frying pan over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the teaspoon of olive oil and swirl it around to coat the base of the pan. Add the onions and garlic and saute over medium heat until onions are translucent and tender -- approximately 5 minutes. Add the red and yellow peppers, a few generous shakes of salt and pepper, and continue cooking for another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat.
Bring 1 cup of water to boil in saucepan you used to prepare the lentils. Add the couscous, lower the heat, and let cook briefly until the couscous starts to absorb some of the water (approximately 30 seconds). Remove from heat, cover with a lid, and let sit for approximately 7 minutes or until couscous has absorbed the water. Fluff with a fork.
Drain the tomatoes (reserving 2 tablespoons of the seeping liquid) and toss into the onion/pepper mixture with the lentils, couscous, lemon zest, chopped parsley and mint, and arugula.
In a small bowl, whisk together the 2 tablespoons of sun-dried tomato water, the lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Salt and pepper to taste, then toss the salad with the dressing. Either serve immediately (topped with walnuts), or taunt your friendly neighbor with the intoxicating fumes of your lunch for the next three days.