**If you haven't read the other segments of this story click here.**
“What is HE doing here?”
I knew I had to craft my answer carefully.
I coolly replied, “Oh, he was just on his way over to Christi’s house to have dinner with her and she wasn’t able to go, so I am going instead. He is on business expenses after a trip to D.C. and just wanted some company.”
He asked me when we were on the phone if there was a good place in the area to get a steak. Not having lived in the area for long, I had no idea. My friend, standing in front of me, was more familiar with the area and because she was a business person herself, I figured she might know.
“Hey, is there a good place around here to get a steak?” I asked.
“Yeah. The Strafford Inn is nice and has good food. But, I really don’t think you should be going anywhere with him. This is just not right!”
“It’s no big deal, really. It is just a business dinner and I have no intention of hiding it from Jane. I will explain the whole thing when she gets back from Germany.”
“Like I said, I don’t think this is a good decision on your part. Be sure to tell Jane when she gets home because if you don’t, I will.”
Wow, I felt like I was back in high school. I knew she would be in Jane’s ear the second her plane touched down, but what did I care. I was not doing anything wrong. Jane, Mark and I had all hung out as friends many times before. The timing may have looked bad, but it was totally innocent.
So, I hopped in the car with Mark and told him about the suggestion my friend had made for dinner. He said it sounded good and we headed in that direction. I have to admit that I was excitedly nervous, but chalked it up to getting a night out.
When we got to the restaurant we were seated at a table for two near a window at the rear of the room. It was an older inn with Victorian décor. I looked around at the fairly outdated flowery wallpaper, lacy curtains and brass fixtures. I don’t know why that made me a little suspect about whether the food would be good, but it did. The only contradiction to that assumption was that it was eight o’clock and the dining room was nearly full.
Our waiter came and introduced himself. He told us about the specials and took our drink order. We began to make small talk as we perused the menu. I quickly decided on the filet mignon, while Mark settled on the NY strip. Once the waiter took our order we started talking in a “get to know you better” kind of way. Though we had hung out in a group of friends many times, we didn’t really know much about each other. What I did know about him was that he had been married and divorced, he had a good sense of humor, he owned his own house, he had a dog named Beau and he drove a black Nissan Maxima. There was a lot we didn’t know about each other, but that is not why the conversation was so steady.
Have you ever met someone and as you talked, regardless of the topic, the conversation just flowed and was so enjoyable that you lost track of time? That is how things went that night. It wasn’t because we had a lot in common or shared a lot of similar experiences. We just enjoyed talking to each other. In fact, one of things we discovered that night was that we were bitter rivals, at least when it came to college sports. You see I attended West Virginia University and Mark attended the University of Pittsburgh. If you know anything about college sports, you know that especially in football, it is a serious rivalry.
Anyway, we talked our way through dinner and found a common love for crème brulee and coffee which we both ordered for dessert. If my mind wandered away from the conversation at all that night, it was to think to myself, “I can’t believe how much fun I am having.” Before we knew it the waiter was standing at our table with a strange, apologetic look on his face. He said, “I’m sorry to interrupt your conversation, but it is past closing time and I was wondering if you would mind paying your bill. The bar will be open for another half hour if you would like to move in there, or I can suggest some other places where you can go that are open later.” We both felt terrible as we looked around and saw that we were indeed the only people in the dining room. We had been so lost in conversation that we never even noticed people leaving, wait staff cleaning up and basically the whole place shutting down. It was 11:45 pm and though nearly four hours had passed it seemed like only minutes.
Mark paid the bill and as we stepped out into the somewhat humid night air, I was somewhat saddened that such an enjoyable evening was about to end…or was it.
To be continued…