Neither one thought five minutes wasn't enough time to sneak out for a joint; "Fuck it!" Sister Bernice said and Sister Sara nodded her agreement.
The Youngstown Repertory Company was staging 'The Sound Of Music' and the two women had drawn the parts of nuns in the chorus. Ellen, Sister Bernice, and Susan, Sister Sara, didn't mind the supporting roles, they'd just finished playing leads in the last production. Susan's part in the playbill was Sister Sophia, but, privately, Susan changed that to add more color; Sister Sara was the role played by Shirley Mclaine in the movie, where the nun turns out to be a prostitute in disguise. "El," Susan asked, "Can we do something a little outrageous after?"
"I want to go out for a walk later, just the two of us."
"Suze! What are you up to?" asked Ellen, the glimmer of the answer already illuminating her imagination.
"I think Sister Agatha and Sister Sara deserve a night out on the town," she answered, her hand over her mouth was ineffective at suppressing the giggles.
"Sister! What... " But Susan, overcome by the giggling, waved her to silence as each took a final hit on the roach before returning to the rehearsals.
So, at ten when the director had had enough, Susan and Ellen ducked out before anyone else could notice. The nun's clothing, habit, they wore was extremely old-fashioned, accurate for pre-WWII Europe; both women assumed that no one they'd meet would be able to appreciate the anachronism.
"Where do you want to go?" asked Susan.
"I'm hungry. Let's eat."
"McDonald's... Taco Bell... what?"
"No, fool. Let's go to a restaurant. Let's do something different." It had become clear to Susan that Sister Sara needed to lead this expedition.
"What kind of restaurant?"
"Dear, there's only one kind, the expensive kind."
"But... Dear... We don't have any money," Ellen tried to reason.
Susan made a gesture she'd seen priests use during mass, left hand on her breast, she brought her right hand before her face, palm facing left, raised it up, lowered it then with box corners brought it to her left and then to her right. She'd described a Catholic cross in the air; she'd made a blessing. "Dear Sister Bernice, The lord will provide."
And the providing began. The theater was located in a cluster of establishments devoted to evenings on the town. There was a selection of fancy restaurants all within walking distance, and each with its unique cuisine, there was shops catering to people with a little extra to spend. Strolling along, looking in windows, playing their roles. It wouldn't do to stop and look at lingerie, but it was alright to pause at women's dresses. To add to the color, they spent some time looking in a drugstore window, as if that spelt the limits of their worldliness; Ellen and Susan were accomplished actresses, brilliant at improv, and they were playing to an imagined unseen audience. It hadn't slipped their minds that they were trying to decide which bistro to bless with their blessed presence, and they became increasingly concerned about meeting real nuns or a Catholic priest. Their act could easily be discovered.
"I like this. Let's eat here," Susan said, as they studied a menu in the window.
"I hope it's expensive enough," agreed Ellen. "I still don't understand what you're planning to do when the waiter hands us the bill. Are you gonna pray?"
"That's a wonderful idea! I'll add that to my list.
"Let's do it," she said, as she opened the restaurant door.
It was an attractive little bistro, tastefully decorated, in keeping with its inflated prices. The reception area featured a large, decorative fish tank, with a multitude of decorative fish. There was several potted plants that seemed natural, and vines growing towards the skylight. An attractive hostess was eying the strange looking entrants with indications of major distress. The indications were realized when she was joined by an attractive 40-year-old gentleman who she introduced as Franco, one of the owners.
"Sisters!" he said, wringing his hands as if ready to go to work. He was an attractive, man, well dressed, and the two nuns smiled in appreciation. "How can I help you?"
"My goodness," said Ellen, taking the lead. "We certainly didn't intend to disturb you. We saw your restaurant and it looked so inviting that we just had to stop here for dinner."
"Yes, Mister... umm,... Franco," continued Susan. "You have a lovely restaurant and we couldn't resist coming in. But I'm sure the young lady can take care of us. You must have more important things to do."
Power surged through them, the two actresses felt it. At improvisation, they did their best work without discussion, and this improv was going good. They didn't think the owner had anything more important to do, that's why they told him he did.
"Give them a nice table with Henri."
The table they selected may not have been very nice, but it was certainly out of the way. "Do you think they're trying to hide us?" whispered Susan.
"I suspect having two five-and-a-half foot penguins in the middle of their restaurant might put the diners off their meals," Ellen whispered back.
But their plan didn't include outrageous behavior so the two nuns conversed in whispers. It was a nice atmosphere, a bar with four stools and a bartender was situated against the other wall. There was about fifteen tables, with half of them occupied, and two waiters providing service. A waiter, presumably Henri, arrived and offered them menus. "Do you have a wine menu?" asked Sister Bernice.
"Of course!" Henri responded, and returned in a moment with the requested list. When he returned, Ellen looked it over and selected a small bottle of a tasteful, moderately expensive wine. At least it seemed moderately expensive but, without prices listed, it was impossible to tell. Susan hadn't told Ellen that the nicest thing on the menu was all the missing prices; if she'd known Ellen certainly would have objected but she certainly would have guessed.
The food was excellent, and the two nuns attacked it with gusto, barely pausing, now and then, to remark on this and that. It wasn't until they'd finished their coffee, and the waiter brought the check, that the two of them were completely struck dumb. The final sum came to just over one-hundred dollars.
"Oh, good heavens," gasped Susan, trying to keep to a whisper. "Umm... umm... could we please speak to the manager?"
"Is something wrong?" asked Henri.
"Oh. This is terrible. I had no idea. Please can we speak to the manager?
"Of course. I'll get him right away. But he's not the manager. Franco is one of the owners."
But in a moment Henri returned alone with a message for the nuns. "Mister Luchierro,... Franco, asked me to ask you and your friend to join him in his office. He said it would be a lot more comfortable discussing this in private."
"Of course," said Susan, as the nuns got up from the table to follow Henri to the restaurant office.
"Have a seat," Franco offered, indicating a small leather-covered couch that barely fit in the small office. As he closed the door behind them, gesturing for Henri to return to his duties, the actresses found themselves alone in the small room. In contrast with the pleasant atmosphere outside the door, the office was strictly business. In addition to the couch, the office contained a desk with telephone and computer, two 4-drawer file cabinets which couldn't quite contain the boxes of files stuck in a corner, and one harried owner sitting in a chair scowling at the nuns. He tried to adopt a puzzled, helpful look that couldn't fool two trained actresses. "First, before we begin, my name is Franco Luchierro, my brother and I own this restaurant, and you are... ?"
"Oh!" Ellen replied, as if she been jolted out of a restful calm. "I'm Sister Bernice, and this is Sister Sara."
There was a slight pause, which was broken after Ellen turned towards Susan to continue with the charade. "We are very, very embarrassed, Mister Luchierro, butó"
"Franco," he offered attempting an insincere smile.
"Yes, of course, Franco. Ummm. My associate and I have been attending a conference on hospice care," continued Susan, surprising her partner with the silliness of the melodrama. "You understand, we're from a small order in Montana, and we... well to be frankó
"Oh, excuse me Franco. How silly of me. To be completely honest, we almost never go to a restaurant, even in Whitefish, that's the town where our hospice is, well,... we have never been to such a nice restaurant as yours, and we had no idea...
"I mean. I wanted to invite Sister Berniceó
"Did I mention that I'm Sister Sara and this," indicating her co- conspirator, who sat somber faced, staring hopefully at the other nun's cowled face. "This is Sister Bernice. Well, we had no idea things could be so expensive."
"So! Sisters. What this all means is that you don't have the money to pay for your bill?"
"How much do you have?" he asked, glancing at the hundred-dollar- plus tab.
As Susan searched through her voluminous skirt, looking for a pocket, Ellen sat, cowed, in suspense, waiting for her cue.
"Both of you together, Sisters," Franco said, providing the missing cue.
Now Ellen began the search just as Susan withdrew her antique clasp change-purse from which she withdrew her folded dollars. "I have... Let me... I have twenty-three dollars.
"You see, we had a little spending money for our trip, andó"
.... There is more of this story ...