30-year-old Janice Knox looked good in her pale blue skirt with the matching jacket. It looked professional, but still allowed her trim figure to show itself. The fact that it went well with her blonde hair, and that the color of the outfit matched the blue of her eyes didn't hurt at all either. She had been standing in line waiting for her table at Chez Arthur for almost 10 minutes, and was beginning to worry that she wouldn't have much time for lunch if the line didn't move a little faster.
She was lost in thought, alternating between concerns about the delay getting a table for lunch, and how she would apply the teaching techniques she had seen described and demonstrated in the morning seminar she had just attended.
In the beginning she was not sure that the week spent at the Minnesota Elementary School Teachers Convention would be time well spent, but already, halfway through the second day, she could see the value in the exercise. She was glad that her husband, Arthur, had insisted she take the opportunity when it was presented.
Arthur had repeatedly assured her that she would not regret it. Already last night, snug in her bed at the Minneapolis hotel that was hosting most of the seminars, she had told him when she called home to Duluth how right he had been.
"Excuse me, ma'am."
Somewhere the short phrase had registered with her, but aware that she didn't know anyone in this city, she assumed the words weren't intended for her. There were three other teachers from her school district who were also attending the convention, but they hadn't accompanied her for lunch.
"Excuse me, ma'am." This time the words were accompanied by a gentle touch on her elbow, and she turned quickly to see who was trying to get her attention. A rather good looking dark-haired man of about her age, dressed in a conservative dark suit, was smiling at her.
Initially she was a bit flustered by his tap on her elbow, and her momentary discomfort resulted in a slight bit of color appearing in her cheeks. "Yes, what is it?" Realizing that she was in front of several dozen other people, her discomfort eased very quickly, and he could see her visibly relax a bit.
"I couldn't help but notice that you're alone in the line, just as I am. Perhaps we could both get faster service if we took a table for two."
Her initial reaction was negative, and she said, "I don't ... think we should. We don't know each other." As she said it she realized how foolish that sounded.
The man laughed and said, "It's just for a meal. This place is very popular and very busy, and I just think we might get a table a bit more quickly if they know they can put the two of us into one slot, so to speak." He held up his left hand and pointed to the wedding ring on his finger and continued, "I'm married, and I have nothing but the most innocent of intentions, but if it makes you uncomfortable please excuse my suggestion."
His words made her realize just how insecure and excessively cautious her words must have sounded to anyone else in the line who might have listened to her initial reaction. She gave a quick laugh and said, "Sure, why not. Perhaps you're right, and we'll get seated and served a little more quickly." She stepped to the side to make room for him, and motioned him discreetly to join her.
He was at her side almost immediately, and while extending his hand said, "My name is Brent Buckley, and I appreciate your acceptance of my suggestion."
They briefly shook hands and she completed her half of the introductions. "I'm Janice Knox. I'm sorry if I seemed to not be with it when you first meet your suggestion. I guess you caught me by surprise."
Their agreement to share a table was passed on to the maître d', and it seemed to work as they were seated at a table for two very soon thereafter.
A waiter was at their table almost immediately with menus, so it wasn't until after they had each ordered, with Janice quick to mention that separate checks would be required, that they had an opportunity to talk.
Brent was the first to get started, by saying, "I really appreciate your decision to share a table with me. I have a sales meeting to get to for 1:30, and I could see my opportunity to have lunch disappearing while I stood in that line."
Janice replied with, "I know what you mean. I'm here for a teacher's convention and my next seminar is at 1:30. The other teachers I was with decided to do some shopping and then grab a hotdog from a street vendor. I just couldn't see missing the chance to eat here. I've heard it's one of the best restaurants in town."
They continued with small talk for the next couple of minutes until Brent said, "I wouldn't mind a glass of wine with my lunch. Can I interest you in one?"
Janice became a bit flustered again and said, "Oh no, I couldn't. Wine goes to my head, and I need all my faculties for this afternoon's seminars. Thank you for the offer, though."
"I'll tell you what, Janice. How about I give you a rain check for some day in the future, in case we should happen to run into each other for lunch again." He laughed slightly, showing that he realized the improbability of that occurring.
Janice chuckled as well, and said, "I might take you up on it, but not when I've got to have all of my faculties about me."
They continued a leisurely conversation as they ate the delicious light lunches they had ordered. One of the first bits of information they exchanged was information on their families: Brent had a wife and a year-old son, while Janice said that there was only her and her husband for the time being, although they planned on having a family.
"Have you been married long, Janice?"
"About a year and a half." Janice hesitated before continuing, "This is my second marriage. My first husband was in the Marines and was killed in action in Afghanistan."
Just after suitable condolences were given the waiter appeared and asked if they were interested in dessert. When the answers were in the negative, he quickly brought their bills, with the implicit expectation that they would leave the table in short order to allow two more diners to be seated.
"I'm glad to have met you, Brent. We've had a very pleasant conversation after our slightly unorthodox meeting. However, I have to get moving if I hope to be at the next seminar on time." Janice reached over and shook Brent's hand before standing.
"The pleasure has all been mine, Janice. I wish I had had a teacher in elementary school that was as attractive as you are. I might have done better work." He gave a slight laugh after saying this, and it was returned by Janice who gave him a little wave before turning to leave. Brent watched her closely as she left the restaurant, his dark eyes almost unblinking in the effort. Once she was on the sidewalk he took out his cell phone and made a brief call while watching her through the window as she walked away. After hanging up he quickly left the restaurant.
It was just after 8 p.m. the following evening, and Janice Knox was sitting at a table in the hotel bar with the three other teachers from Duluth. Two of them were single, both with a couple of years of experience. The third was about 10 years older than Janice, and like her she was married. They had decided to spend the evening in the bar to unwind after their third day of attending the seminars they each thought would be the most helpful to them. One of their intentions was to compare notes on the various topics they had covered and how they rated them for their value.
The two single women, Dana and Arlene, were keeping a close eye on the younger men in the crowd, and made no secret of the fact that they were open to the thoughts of a quick hookup if the right man came along. Janice's married coworker, Gloria, made no such statements, but seemed to have a wandering eye as she spent almost as much time as the single women in checking out the men in the bar. Janice had just entered into an intense discussion of the seminar she and Gloria had both selected to attend that afternoon when a man seemed to suddenly materialize at their table.
"Well, hello Janice. I guess the chance of us running into each other again wasn't as remote as we thought." Brent Buckley was standing there smiling at her, and once the surprised look on her face eased she replied, "Brent! How nice to see you again." She turned to her three friends, who by this time were all looking at them and said, "This is the gentleman I told you about. We shared a table at Chez Arthur for lunch yesterday."
She turned back to Brent and said, "How do you happen to be here in this particular bar? I really didn't think we'd ever see each other again."
"I'm staying in this hotel, and thought I'd come down for a quiet drink or two. I've had a successful day with my sales calls, and I thought a change of pace was in order."
Janice chuckled and said, "What a coincidence. We are all staying here too. This is the main venue for the convention we're all attending."
The other three women seemed to lose a bit of the interest they had shown in Brent as he and Janice continued their conversation. After a couple of mutual comments on how coincidental their meeting again had been, Brent said, "I guess my offer of a rain check for a glass of wine could be cashed in now, if you wish. I won't hold you to wine if you would like something else, instead"
Janice hesitated only a few seconds before replying, "Sure, why not. I ordered an Irish coffee when I came in here, and it's pretty well empty now. A glass of white wine would be nice, I guess."
"Would it be alright if I join you ladies at your table? I don't want to impose, if you'd rather I didn't do that, Janice." Brent stood ...