Oh how they stare. They know I don’t belong here, but they know why I’ve come.
A once in a lifetime trip. I’ve spent all of my savings and borrowed a fortune to get here. All for this one experience. This one event. This one meal.
The maître d’ leads me to a table and a waiter produces a chair from somewhere. I would have been fine standing but I am not surprised a galaxy-renowned establishment such as this can handle tourists.
The menu is extensive but I can’t read it. I don’t know any of the words. I look up at the waiter, helpless confusion on my face. He nods, takes the menu, and floats away.
I sit there and try to ignore the looks of the other patrons. They lounge on their hover chairs and mumble to each other. A family of three surround a table nearby. I know what they are saying, although I can not hear the words.
“Why bother?” asks the son, “She’ll only eat two mouthfuls and then she’ll be full.”
“That poor skinny thing,” says the mother, “She looks like she’s starving. Don’t they have any food on her planet?”
“All they do is swallow nutro-pills, I wonder if she even knows how to chew,” the father responds.
Finally the waiter returns with a huge platter of food. The smells are overwhelming. I take the utensil, the one called a spoon, and hold it like I practiced. The waiter is floating at my elbow and I look up at him. He suggests I try the one he calls ‘spinachsouffle.’ I scoop a small amount onto my spoon and bring it to my mouth.
The combination of texture and flavor explodes on my tongue. It is, simply, orgasmic.
In that moment I know that all the expense, all the time, all the disdainful stares, all of it was worth it. And I would suffer through it again for the pleasure of that one bite.
The Old Man insisted on calling her Marcy. Marissa wasn’t in a position to argue with him.
“I’m just reminding you, again sir, that in order to arrive at the signing on time, we need to leave in,” She glanced at the cell phone in her hand, “three minutes.”
He just kept on smiling and forked another pancake onto his plate.
“Marcy, relax. Have a pancake. They’re delicious.” He winked at the cook who blushed.
The Old Man sat at the kitchen table in the tiny B&B he’d spontaneously chosen – instead of the fancy hotel the publishing house paid for. The cook/owner bent over backwards for the famous author, but Marissa had never seen her boss so angry.
You can’t just give in to the Old Man’s every whim! You’re his handler, Handle him!
“We don’t have time, sir.”
“Marcy, sit!” The old man barked, “You’re hovering like a mother hen.”
The commanding tone took her by surprise and she sat without thinking. He took her empty plate, put a pancake on it, and put it in front of her.
“Eat!” he said.
“I don’t eat carbs,” she said, cringing at the whine she heard in her own voice. The Old Man made her feel like a teenager despite her twenty years of experience in the book selling industry.
The Old Man snorted. “Marcy, you are an idiot.”
She’d been called an idiot and worse before. But for some reason, this client got to her.
No, I’m not, sir,” she snapped. “You are a rich old man used to getting your own way and you don’t care that your actions, or rather lack of action, will make me suffer.”
“How will my enjoyment of these fine pancakes make you suffer, exactly?” He said, still smiling.
She glanced at her phone where the messages from her boss were already piling up. “If we are late, again, I will get into trouble, again, with my boss, with the signing planners, and with your fans.”
He laughed and said, “I will tell them it was my fault.” He waved his fork in the air, a benevolent wizard with a magic wand.
Marissa shook her head. “I will still be blamed. Because you cannot be blamed.”
The old man sighed around his smile and looked down at his plate, “I am sorry for your suffering.” He punctured another piece of pancake, “But I am going to enjoy these pancakes.”
He looked back up at her, a hard glint in his watery blue eyes. “I am very old. These might be the last pancakes I ever have. We will leave when I feel it is time to leave. They will wait. The world will not end if I am late. In fact, I might, if I feel like it, take a stroll through that lovely garden down there,” he gestured through the window behind Marissa, “and skip the signing altogether.”
He put the forkful of pancake in his mouth.
Marissa turned to look out the window. She hadn’t noticed the garden. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Like a picture from a fairy tale, with flowers, miniature trees, and a winding path of white gravel. She felt relaxation seeping into her bones just by looking down at it.
It would be nice to take a stroll, to skip the signing. He was right, the world wouldn’t end. She could picture herself sitting there, enjoying the sun. But she knew what came after that. Boredom. She didn’t like to vacation on the beach. She didn’t like to wander.
The stress of work made her feel alive, needed, and useful. She lived alone, her job was her life, and she liked her life.
She stood and left the kitchen. While she waited, she called her boss and let the other woman vent her frustration with the Old Man on a patient ear.
Eventually the Old Man appeared, hat in hand, ready to go. Marissa took his arm and helped him to the waiting limo, but before closing the door on his smile, she said, “We are real. We do exist. We think and feel and breathe in and out.”
He looked at her, his smile questioning now.
“Just in case you forgot.”
The smile faltered.
“I enjoy schedules and plans,” she said. “I like planning things out ahead of time. I get tremendous satisfaction out of checking items off a list. This does not mean that I am living my life wrong.”
The words came out quickly – she knew the driver was anxious to depart, and she respected his anxiety.
“There is no wrong or right way to live a life.”
She started to close the door, then stopped and said, “And at your age, you really ought to know better.”
Daily Prompt: Comfort Zone – What are you more comfortable with — routine and planning, or laissez-faire spontaneity?