A gentle sea breeze caresses me as a light appears in the distance, piercing the dark night. Some time later it is directly abreast; I see the ship glowing with lights and hear the faint sound of music. I spot a person waving at our ship—maybe even at me. Minutes pass and the light turns to a glow in the distance and then disappears.
I reflect whether that waving person could have been the one—my best friend, my lover, my world. I will never know the answer—we were two ships passing in the night.
Yet, at unexpected times, in the right place, at exactly the right time, with the right two people, a tiny spontaneous spark ignites an emotion. Whether that tiny flame instantly vanishes or becomes a roaring fire of love is in the hands of the gods... and in ourselves.
I was standing behind a woman at Andre's when I heard the maitre d' say, "I'm very sorry madam but we are completely booked this evening. There is no chance that a table will be available for tonight."
He was talking to a woman who had asked for a table for one. She had her back to me, which revealed a nice, but not a great figure. She turned to leave the restaurant; the candles on the decorative tables highlighted her face. The disappointment was obvious, but her features were quite nice: chestnut hair, high cheekbones, green eyes, and generous breasts pushing against her dress. She was about five-foot-seven and was not thin, but not fat either—I imagine that the appropriate description would be the start of a middle-aged figure. I guessed her age to be in the mid to late thirties.
On impulse, I stepped into her path. She stopped and looked at me in confusion. I said, "I have a dinner reservation for one. I heard the maitre d' say there was no room for you. If you want, you can share my table."
She looked into my eyes. Confusion gave way to understanding. She paused and then replied, "I've been trying to eat here for a long time, but it's so pricy and I just now thought my cash drawer was full enough for my next splurge. I agree on the condition that you let me pay for my part of the meal and—so there is no misunderstanding—this is just sharing a table at a restaurant. Nothing else is implied. Do you agree?"
I stared into her green eyes and replied, "I often eat dinner at restaurants by myself. Maybe with two of us we might enjoy the dinner more as we test more of the menu items. Your conditions are accepted."
I continued with my first lie of the evening, "Of course I will let you pay for your meal if you wish."
I turned to the maitre d'. "You have a reservation for Jack Wilson for one person. Would you please make that for two?"
He smiled at the two of us and said, "I no longer have a table for one available, but I have an exceptional table for two. Please follow me."
Classy move on his part, I thought as I indicated with my hand for my dinner companion to proceed me to the table.
I wondered what caused me to be so impulsive—I'm forty-nine years old, divorced for five years, and out of the blue I ask a stranger to share a meal with me.
The answer hit me square in the face—I was lonely, but what had I gotten myself into?
The maitre d' led us to a far corner of the restaurant, which was in the top floor of a sixty-floor office building. He pulled the chair out to allow my dinner companion to slide into her seat; my chair was facing her. She was looking out through the large windows that framed the exterior wall of the restaurant; she could see the sparkling lights of the city on this clear night. It was an excellent, private table. I was facing her and a wall.
Fair enough, I thought.
The silence was uncomfortable so I said, "My name is Jack Wilson. I'm semi-retired at forty-nine and now only take on a consultant contract if there isn't too much travel or time involved. I love good food so I make it a point to eat at one good restaurant every two weeks or so—which is why I'm here tonight. I'm glad you accepted my offer."
"I'm Cindy Collins. I want to thank you for your offer to share your table. I'm embarrassed that I might be a little awkward tonight; I'm not used to sharing meals."
After a short pause she continued, "You seem very young to be retired. Do you miss working?"
How honest should I be... why not?
"During the stock market boom I was working full time for a very large financial company. I was the vice-president of risk management, and my job was to monitor and evaluate the financial derivative positions that our traders had booked. I was good at it. At the same time—because there was not a conflict of interest—I was able to trade in the stock market. I was making a lot of money at the time and there was only my wife and I, so that year I bet a very large sum of money on long-term call options. All that meant was that if the stock in the companies I bought went up, I would make a lot of money.
"It was like the gods decided to take their shot at me—the very best and the very worst happened to me in the next twelve months."
Cindy was listening intently and she asked, "Tell me the best first."
I responded, "Well the best was that the stock market went straight up that year—'irrational exuberance' one person phrased it. And I made a very large amount of money on my call options. I no longer needed to work.
"But then the worst came and hit me from behind. My wife was seven years younger than me and I guess she was bored with my work hours and intensity. She asked for a divorce to marry a senior manager at the company that employed me. She didn't even want any money since her new companion was many times richer than me; she just wanted to be free from me.
"I was upset; then embarrassed. I told her she was free to go; the next day I quit the company. So now I'm not overly busy, but I'm not bored to death either.
"But Cindy, I'm doing all the talking, which is a terrible fault of mine. Do you live in the city and what do you do?"
"Yes," she answered. "I graduated from the state university and moved here immediately after college. My major was art and I beat around the fringe of the art market until I started illustrating children's books; I work out of my studio in my home.
"It's a niche job—the really good artists can't make enough money in the field and the publishers don't want junk. I just kind of fit in there over time. My client list has grown large enough that my income is steady and more than enough for me. Now that I can afford it, I enjoy an occasional meal at the five-star restaurants."
The waiter came to the table for drink orders. I ordered Jack on the rocks while Cindy ordered a glass of the house white wine. He left menus on the table.
Our conversation was a ballet of communication. Neither of us blurted out our past history, but bits and pieces of our personal jigsaw puzzles started to fit. Cindy had never been married. She was "happy" living by herself.
The food preparation and presentation was extraordinary. We shared appetizers of escargots and Coquille St. Jacques. My sole meuniere was prepared perfectly while her lamb chops were equally good. We passed on dessert, but settled for an after-dinner drink.
The bill arrived. I reached for it and so did she. Our hands touched and she withdrew hers quickly. I could see her blush of embarrassment and gave her cover by saying, "Cindy, I really enjoyed our meal. I'll make you a deal—let me pay for this one, if you agree to pay for the next one two weeks from now."
She blurted, "Where do you want to go?"
I answered, "It's your decision... you're going to pay for it. Let's exchange phone numbers and sometime between now and then, call me and tell me where and when we should meet."
She hesitated and then said, "I agree. The meal was fun tonight; more fun than I usually have, so why not try it again?"
I paid the bill and we left the restaurant together. On the street we exchanged phone numbers and then there was an awkward pause; Cindy finally shook my hand and thanked me for a wonderful meal. The valet brought her car and she was gone.
Shook my hand. I mused. What a strange way to end an evening that I had found very enjoyable compared to a solitary meal. What baggage was Cindy carrying?
Cindy called early in the second week. I was gone, but my voice mail was working. She told me the name of an excellent Italian restaurant and said she had made reservations for seven o'clock on the following Thursday night.
Our second dinner together went even better than the first. She talked more freely, but still guarded, while I seemed to be telling her the story of my life. I let her pay for the meal on the condition that in another two weeks, I paid for the next one. She agreed.
Again we parted with a handshake.
The following week I called Cindy, and she answered the phone. I suggested that my choice of restaurant was an excellent Chinese establishment that cooked in the Shanghai style. She immediately agreed and said she had wanted to try that restaurant for years.
As the phone call was ending I said, "Cindy, instead of taking two cars, why don't I pick you up at your home?"
She hesitated—the pause was more than a few seconds—and finally stammered, "I... I think that would be okay. Here's my address."
On our "date night" I stopped the car in front of a simple, ranch-style home in a quiet cul-de-sac. I rang the doorbell and the door opened almost instantly; Cindy had been waiting for me. She asked, "Would you like a drink before we go?"
I answered, "A glass of wine would be great if that's what you're having."
.... There is more of this story ...