After leaving the bookstore Tom headed for the Bus Stop Diner where he usually had supper. It was on the way to his apartment.
Snow began to fall with a cold wind blowing the icy snowflakes in his face. He wiped the melting flakes away from his eyes as he squinted to see. The diner was only half a block away. By jogging he was soon at the front door.
The familiar smell of stale coffee and greasy food made him nauseas. Standing inside the doorway he stopped for a moment. Across the street was Café de France, a restaurant he always avoided. It was too expensive for a student like himself with a part time job and an ever-growing student loan.
The excitement of getting away with stealing the book put him in the mood to take a chance, to try somewhere new even if he could not afford it.
“What’s the worst that could happen?" He asked himself.
He went back outside into the cold to cross the street. Pushing his way through the heavy wooden doors of Café de France, he found himself in the vestibule. It felt good to be inside away from the cold snow. When he passed the second pair of doors a comforting warm burst of air filled with the sweet aroma of various foods deepened his hunger.
A tall attractive woman in her late forties dressed in black greeted him at the door. She looked him over doubtfully a few times. Then she asked him if he had a reservation.
“Well, I didn’t plan on coming here. That’s why I didn’t make a reservation.”
“I don’t think we can seat you,” she said.
“The place is half empty and it’s snowing out there.”
“I’m sorry but,” she began to ask him to leave when a waitress came to the door and whispered something to her.
The waitress was about his age, in her mid-twenties. She was attracted to him when she first saw him come into the restaurant. He reminded her of a lost dog that needed to be rescued.
“Oh, all right but I don’t see why you want to bother with him.”
The woman reluctantly escorted him to a small table at the far end of the restaurant near the kitchen.
“We usually save this table for one of the staff when they take a break, but I’ll let you sit here.”
She tossed a menu on the table before turning her back, returning to the front door. Tom managed to catch it before it slid off the table. When he opened the menu, he saw it was more than could afford.
The waitress who got him past the woman at the front door came to the table with a smile. For a moment he forgot why he was there. Everything in the room faded away until it was only the two of them.
“Do you like what’s on the menu? You have a choice of an appetizer, a main , and a dessert. The house salad and bread come with the meal. Tonight’s special is a roasted Cornish hen with the chef’s special sauce. We also have salmon or the usual steak. Can I bring you something to drink?”
He loved the sound of her voice; not paying attention to what she was saying, only listening. She was not a blond, blue-eyed cliché. Her smooth white complexion was framed by wavy, shoulder length, almost black hair. Her eyes were dark blue, dark enough to appear black in dim lighting.
“What’s your name?” Tom asked in a firm yet friendly tone.
He was surprised at himself. He usually spoke in a low, almost inaudible voice. His boldness in coming into an expensive restaurant, his confidence when speaking to a beautiful woman, he wondered if stealing the book was somehow responsible.
“Angela. What’s yours?”
“Tom,” he said. He loved how well her name suited her.
“It’s nice to meet you Tom.”
“Angela, I have a bit of a problem. I’m a part time student with a part time job and a large student loan. Anyway, I’m not sure why I even came in here.”
“I know how it is. I’m a student too and I work here part time.”
“Listen if you can’t do it, I’ll understand. I’ll quietly leave. I don’t want to cause any trouble, especially for someone as nice as you. You see I only came in because I pass this place every day. I was curious. I didn’t realize how expensive it is here. Is it okay if I only get some coffee with a small piece of dessert?”
She gave him a warm smile.
“Let me talk with the chef.”
Tom watched her walk past the swinging door next to his table, which led into the kitchen. He got ready to sneak out, but she returned just as he stood up.
“Going somewhere?” She smiled in a teasing lighthearted manner.
“Sit down. You’re very lucky tonight. Mr. Snider, he’s one of our best customers but he’s also hard to please sometimes. He ordered the Cornish hen then changed his mind. Now he wants salmon. The chef is fussy. He’d never cook the hen then warm it up again if someone decides to order it later. It would be a waste to throw it in the trash. Besides, part of my pay includes having whatever is left over in the kitchen. He agreed to let you have a meal on the house.”
“You saved me much embarrassment. How about having dinner with me sometime to thank you?”
Tom was prepared to accept her rejection gracefully.
“I’d love to. How about tomorrow? It’s my day off.”
“Excuse me Tom, Mr. Snider wants me. I’ll be right back.”
It seemed too good to be true. She was going out with him tomorrow night. He realized it must only be pure chance but, in a way, taking the book did lead him into this restaurant, which allowed him to meet Angela.
Angela smiled at him while gracefully balancing a stack of dishes on her way back to the kitchen.
“I’ll be right back,” she said.
She was back a short moment later. Her speed impressed him.
“Here is your salad and bread sir. I hope you don’t mind I put the house dressing on the salad, a light sweet olive oil and vinegar mixture. And here is small plate with olive oil to dip the bread.”
“Very good. Will the appetizer take long?” Tom said playing along, pretending to be a demanding customer.
“I’ll bring it out right away sir. Sorry for the delay.”
“What about my drink?” He asked feigning irritation.
“Again, I must apologize. What would you like to drink?”
“Oh, nothing; the water will be fine.”
Angela smiled, and then playfully smacked the back of his head. He reached for her waist, but she was too quick for him, disappearing through the swinging doors into the kitchen.
Surprised and pleased with his new personality, Tom was sure the only difference that could account for this change was the book.
Angela brought out the appetizer of three types of cheese and the Cornish hen at the same time.
“It’s slow tonight so I can sit with you for a few minutes.”
“Great, I love your company.”
She smiled. Taking his fork, she helped herself to a piece of cheese before taking another piece and bringing it up to his mouth. When he opened his mouth, his tongue reaching for the cheese, she pulled it away. They both laughed.
She took a tiny nibble from the end of the cheese before bringing the fork toward his mouth again. This time he was quick enough to bite the cheese before she could pull it away for the second time. Again, they both laughed.
“Here, I’ll let you eat in peace,” she said handing him the fork.
“I’ll be back with dessert and coffee.”
It was one of the best meals of his life. Angela made it special. She sat down with him for coffee and dessert. They exchanged phone numbers.
“Angela,” Tom hesitated for a moment, losing his train of thought. He loved the sound of her name, gazing into her soft welcoming eyes, and...
“Yes? What were you about to say?”
“Oh…ah… I mean you live so close to me; I wonder why we never met before.”
“I know. It does seem a bit strange at first, but we work different hours and go to different schools. This is the only time we had a chance to cross paths, that’s all.”
She walked with him to the front door. He pulled her close, gave her a tight hug and kissed her on the cheek. The softness of her skin against his lips and the sweet scent of her body filled him with passion.
He expected her to pull away from his embrace, tell him the date was off, and maybe even slap his face. Instead, she hugged him back and lightly pressed her lips against his cheek. Her dainty hug, the touch of her lips, their physical closeness, all increased the fire in his soul beyond anything he had ever experienced.
They slowly pulled away from each other. Tom took her hands in his. She smiled, slightly blushed then looked away for a moment before gazing deeply into his eyes. They were both lost in a state of wordless fascination.
She watched him leave the restaurant. Once outside he hugged his shoulder bag with the book inside close to his heart. It brought him such good luck. He planned to go back to the bookstore in the morning to explain how he “forgot” to pay for it. Only instead of returning the book, he would keep it after paying what he owed.
(Chapter Three is Next)