One Day Maybe
by Mark C.
by Mark C.
Authors Note: This story is copyrighted by the author, and no part of it may be copied, linked to, or used in any way without the express written permission of the author. This is a work of fiction, and the characters, places, and events are not real. They exist only in the mind of the author. Any resemblance to real persons, places or events is unintentional.
I escorted James to the Daily Specials blackboard in the cafeteria and gave him a printed regular menu for those items which were always available. "Between these two, the cafeteria really does cover a lot of area, taste wise. I think they do an excellent job of constantly trying new dishes, re-inventing old standards and making it interesting to eat here. Before we changed cafe vendors, it was pretty much boring, dull fare cooked with little flair or interest." Then I showed him the salad bar area and the dessert table loaded with tempting and delectable items which looked as if they had just been put out in a French patisserie.
"Sometimes a fresh salad sounds just right to me and other days I want a more substantial lunch. Today the Chicken Tikka Masala curry smells wonderful and I was hooked when I smelled it. I don't need heroin when that curry is around. No long drawn out decision for me today," I remarked to James as I started to grab a tray and utensils for the delicious smelling Indian concoction.
"If I could, I'd just mainstream the curry directly into my veins."
"But then you would miss out on the pleasure of actually eating it and having the spices assault your tongue." James laughed at me. "I've no idea what will make my tongue happy today so I'm going to look around. Why don't you go and grab a table for us since you'll be out of here before I am."
"Sounds good to me," I replied and turned to get my mouth watering meal.
After paying, I strode over to an empty table and claimed it. I sat down situated so I could view the cafeteria area and watched James as he looked through the menu, perused the Specials board and finally began to assemble for himself a huge salad from the offerings at the Salad Bar. With a final flip of his wrist, he ladled his choice of salad dressing over his mound of greens, vegetables and croutons, then walked over to the dessert table. There he looked up, spotted me watching him, winked at me and placed two scrumptious looking chocolate mousse dishes on his tray.
His wink started a cascade of thoughts tumbling through my brain. It sure appeared he liked me, from the indications he had been throwing my way. What do I do? My track record with men has been worse than lousy and was this going to be another stop on heartache road? I know bodybuilders use the phrase, 'No pain, no gain', but does the heart respond the same way a bicep muscle does? I surely didn't think so since if it were true, my heart could bench press 500 pounds by now from all the heartaches in the past. But then the phrase, 'No guts, no glory' flitted through my grey matter and that introduced, 'Grab life with both hands' into the mix.
I watched James standing in line to pay, loaded tray in hand, and for some reason a situation in my past came to mind. There was a small local Italian restaurant near me which I used to frequent at least once a week. I never could obtain the absolutely delicious lamb shank recipe, though I had tried. Over time I became friends with the owner/chef, George, and the server, Aiden. I learned George had been working on overhauling a 50 foot sailboat for a number of years and spent many months working on it and was almost finished. His intent was to retire in two years and sail around the world. One day there was a small 'Closed' sign on the door, on a day the restaurant should have been open and a trickle of fear had run down my back for some reason. The next day Aiden called me from the restaurant, using George's phone and informed me that George had died and he was calling people in George's contact list to inform them. George thought he had had a bad case of the flu and went into the hospital and died 7 days later of acute leukemia. Boom, dream of finishing the sailboat and retirement was gone. I was stunned at the news, as often we sat when George had time between cooking other diners' courses and spoke about how much he was looking forward to sailing the world's oceans. That night, thinking about George and his unfinished dream I thought, "You never know what the future will bring so do it now." Over time, "Life" had diluted that lesson for me as the months trudged onwards via the treadmill of time.
After remembering George and his unfulfilled dream, when James had paid for his salad and desserts and was walking towards me with a smile, a bolt surged through me and I knew what I was going to do. Go me. If James was interested in me, I would pursue it. There, decision made, and I felt so light, as if I had won some money in our state lottery. It may turn out to be the smallest amount ever awarded or possibly the grand prize of millions but at least I was going to see where it all led.
"From the look on your face, either you are in gustatory heaven over the curry, or you found $20 on the floor and have decided to splurge on something sinfully decadent," James remarked as he approached the table and sat down next to me, taking his salad off the tray and then giving me one of the chocolate desserts. "This is in thanks for hiring me and acknowledging my many talents," he said with a chuckle. "Here's to a good relationship."
"Aw, shucks... Tweren't nuthin..." I joked back. "Besides, at the end, it was between you and some yahoo who thought 'UNIX' meant several castrated males. You just barely got the job." Ben almost choked by laughing on the forkful of salad he had just put in his mouth.
He managed to put his fork down and after swallowing his bite of salad, looked at me and with a smile in his voice said, "Trying to kill me off so soon? I haven't even screwed anything up yet! At least wait until I accidentally unplug a server or something."
"You can't do that, it's been done before. Anything deleterious you do, has to be new and unique, like setting off the computer room Halon fire retardant system; no one has done that yet. But don't let me give you any ideas." I grinned at him and wanted to wipe off a bit of errant salad dressing on his lower lip with my tongue. Just sitting next to him I could feel the vibration he was giving off, resonating deep inside me. Something must have shown on my face because of what he asked me next.
"Ben, I'd like to ask you a personal question if I may."
My nod yes indicated for him to continue, my partly eaten curry forgotten on the plate for a moment.
"Are you seeing anyone at the moment? Do you have anyone special in your life?"
I could tell he was seriously interested in my response by the intense look on his face and he seemed to be holding his breath for some reason.
"No, to both questions, James." Upon hearing my answer, his eyes began to sparkle and he resumed breathing. "I haven't had the best of luck lately with men and my future is beginning to include a hermit's hut out in the desert somewhere." I said that last bit with a smile but it sure seemed true at the moment. My heart waited to hear what he would say next, hovering between despair and ecstasy.
"In that case, I wonder if you would like to have dinner with me sometime this week, if you feel it's appropriate?
What I felt like doing was running around the table, my fists pumping in a "Yes" motion and jumping in his lap. What I actually did was sedately answer, "Sure James, I'd like that a lot. Nothing inappropriate about two friends having dinner." Privately I thought I would deal with any issues, if anything actually developed, later.
His resulting huge grin went straight to my heart and it took all I had in willpower not to lean over and kiss him right then and there. "Let me know what night suits you the best and how about I let you pick the restaurant since I really don't know any good ones yet in this area."
"Sounds good to me, James. What about tomorrow night at 7? I'll pick you up, if you like. That way you don't have worry about driving and I'll make sure we get home at a decent hour since we both know where we have to be the next morning."
"It's a plan then, Ben. I can't wait. It will be great to start getting to know my way around. And to get to know you better, too." That last bit was said with a vocal intensity which made my heart jump.
We spent the rest of the lunch period getting to know some more about each other as the curry made me swoon and he enjoyed the crunch of his salad. I told him about the situation with Fay and my old tutoring group winding down and my new one starting soon. In return, I was regaled with horror stories about moving including one about a smashed box and his woes in finding an apartment. I also learned he was quite a serious cook and at one point even considered opening a restaurant before going into IT, but the startup costs were too much for him so he abandoned the idea.
During the entire time, I felt at ease with James, as if I had known him for years and I knew all his quirks and personality traits and he knew mine. There were no awkward silences or times neither of us didn't know what to say. I thought to myself this feeling of "rightness" was what I had been searching for all this time. It's funny, I could not have described the feeling I had been searching for to anyone else but after having felt it here with James, I immediately knew it and would never forget it. It went beyond me wanting to kiss his entire body and make him shudder with ecstasy as we made love. It involved our souls. You see - during lunch over curry and salad - I had discovered James was my soul mate.
The revelation was not heralded or accompanied by fireworks or earthquakes, nor by Cupid doing a high-five with dancing cherubs. It was with a cell-level awareness throughout my entire body that I could not live without this man in my life and while away from him, I was diminished. The past pain and heartaches simply vanished as such love and fulfillment settled gently in my heart, a powerful force which hopefully would never leave.
"Earth to Ben...not sure you have heard the last two things I said." James was gazing at me, wondering why I had been silent and staring off into space.
"Uhh, sorry, just was thinking of something," I remarked, blushing a bit with embarrassment. I hoped he didn't ask what was causing me to space out. "What did you say?"
"I was telling you this chocolate mousse would be a great base for a chocolate dessert I'd like to whip up some time. Would like to find a star dessert for my fantasy menu."
"Fantasy menu?" I countered, trying to get back on an even keel after my earlier shock of discovering love.
"Yeah, I keep a mental menu of dishes I would create and serve if I owned my own restaurant. Sort of a game I play with myself when I see or taste something unique or delicious. I wonder how I can put my stamp on it and morph it into my own creation. Keeps me in touch with my culinary side somewhat. I can do it even while working at a computer terminal."
"Owning a restaurant is tough, James. Lots of pressure and lots of time spent there, not to mention high start up costs." I spooned my mousse into my mouth to relish its taste. I could see where a dessert based on this could be marvelous if done right.
"I know, and part of me is glad I didn't have the money to open one up but still, at times I wonder what would have happened if I did. One day maybe."
As we carried our trays and dirty dishes to dispose of them in the waiting receptacles and then head back to work, it occurred to me that James and I shared the same mantra of "One Day Maybe". Perhaps by combining forces, we could lay that mantra to rest in the future.