Best Laid Plans

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Chapter 7

Cora and I always spend our lunch breaks together. I used to pack my lunches for work, but Cora told me that was a waste of food and time, because she found the best place near work to get food. Every day at noon, Cora meets me at my desk and we walk to Benni’s Bistro, a quaint restaurant with garden seating. We have our favorite table in the corner. Cora picked the table the first time we came here for lunch, a stark difference from the bar that Cora and I go to for happy hour on Fridays. The green shrubbery and white rose bushes create an English garden feel, the tables are draped with white cloths that flow to the grass where the tables stand, and white fairy lights line the wall and are strung back and forth creating a blanket of lights overhead. We’ve never been here in the evening, but something tells me this place is magical when the sun sets.

We sit down and the waiter brings us the menu, though we already know our orders. In an effort to save time on our lunch hour, we always order before the waiter has a chance to leave us with the menus. Most of the wait staff knows us by now, but our waiter today seems to be new here. Benni’s Bistro is known for their tomato bisque and grilled cheese sandwich and very delightful macarons. I always get a lavender flavored macaron to go. Cora orders two of the soup and sandwich combo, and unsweetened iced tea for each of us. Every time Cora orders for me, I feel like a child, but I appreciate the gesture.

“Hold on, let me get this straight, you went hiking and then last minute agreed to get drinks? And he only gave you an hour to get ready?” Cora cannot believe it.

“Yes, but Cora, it was amazing. He showed up in a bright blue button down that accentuated his eyes. They were piercing through to my soul. He made me laugh so hard, I cried. I had mascara running down my cheeks!” I gush on and on.

“First, what have I told you about mascara? Always wear waterproof! Second, I am so happy you had a good time. It sounds like you’re made for each other. The mere fact that he does volunteer work and that you both were drawn to the same dog for that matter, makes him sound like a sublime prize. I highly recommend that you don’t let this one get away, Luce.” When Cora mentions the commonalities between Dominic and me, I realize that he really does seem to be absolutely perfect. Though, I don’t believe anyone is perfect.

“We hit it off really well and Ludo seems to be happy with him. I feel like he is a really good person with the best heart, you know? He helps his sister with his nephew who has Autism, that can’t be easy on the family. And honestly, this may sound a little crazy, but I feel like I’ve known him forever, like we are connected on another level,” I wait for Cora to process what I just said. By the look on her face, she seems like she is gearing up to cut me down for this feeling. Cora doesn’t trust men straight off the bat. The night when we first met Kingsley, she accused him of being a player with one thing on his mind. I still can’t fathom how stupid I was to think Kingsley was looking at me that night.

I debate mentioning my confession to Dominic the other night, but I ultimately decide to tell her. “And guess what, Cora?”

“What?” she says with piqued interest.

“At the bar, I felt like someone was hiding in the restroom while I was in there. It seemed like the person in the stall was being extra quiet to watch or listen to me. It made me realize that I should be upfront about my paranoia, so I told him. I gave him a chance to bow out and instead, he reassured me and then he taught me a little self-defense.” I sit with anticipation for her response.

She sips her tea and takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, and when she opens them they are sparkling. Her green eyes look even greener with the shrubbery backdrop. “I’m so happy for you Luce, it’s great that you found Mr. Right. What you described, that’s exactly how I felt when I first met Kingsley. Our connection was undeniable and our first kiss was electrifying. When our hands brushed for the first time, I felt a tingle sensation on my skin long after the accidental brush. It sounds like you found a keeper, and what a rare man to not flee when you gave him a fair chance to do so,” Cora smiles.

This was the first time she has ever brought up the night we met Kingsley. Funny how our memories of the night seem to be skewed from one another’s. Maybe I’m wrong and Cora is in reality, a hopeless romantic. I did have a lot to drink that night. After Kingsley came back to our table with drinks in hand, we all laughed and had a good time. That memory is clear as day. I remember Kingsley excused himself to go to the restroom, and Cora excused herself shortly after. I never thought about the fact that they came back from the bathroom together, arms around each other as though they were a couple.

Relief falls over me when she has a supportive reaction. I try to steer the conversation away from my love life before my luck runs out. “Enough about me and Dominic, tell me what’s been going on with you and Kingsley?” I ask her.

“Oh, you know, fabulous as ever,” she flashes me her pearly white smile. “He took me to dinner at Edge the other night. Have Dominic take you, it’s to die for.”

“Edge, I’ve never been! Isn’t it expensive? Seems like the prices would push me over the edge,” I snicker. Cora rolls her eyes at my corny joke. She just doesn’t appreciate good humor, I tell myself, while still giggling.

“Yes, hence having Dominic take you. A man is supposed to treat at a restaurant like Edge. A woman should never pick up the bill. And don’t forget, he needs to initiate the next interaction you have.” Cora strongly believes in chivalry during a time when dating has evolved into phone apps and social media. I am always telling her that modern dating isn’t the same as it was before she met Kingsley, but she tells me the right person for me will be a gentleman regardless of how we meet. After my first date with Dominic, I’m starting to be of the opinion that she is right, chivalry isn’t dead after all.

We finish our meals and walk back to work. I sit at my desk waiting for Dominic’s text. I remind myself, a watched pot never boils, so I refocus my attention to the computer screen and the data entry that is mind-numbingly boring.

“Snooze fest!” Cora says as she walks up to my desk, “I’m over this, I’m leaving for the day.” Must be nice having the freedom to leave work whenever the want arises. I wave to her and watch as she exits the office. I sigh and return my gaze to my screen. My cell phone buzzed on my desk and I look at the screen in time to catch a glimpse of Dominic’s name. I start to feel happiness radiate through my veins.

Hi, Lucy! I had so much fun the other night. You’re all I can think about. When can I see you again?

I’m open most of the time, with the exception of Thursdays and Fridays.

How about Wednesday night? I would love to cook you dinner. You’ll be so impressed, you’ll beg for me to marry you on the spot.

Those are some big words, mister. I’m in!

Excellent! Come to my place around 6:30 p.m. What’s your favorite meal? I want to make sure I actually cook something you like.

Lobster macaroni and cheese.

I set my phone down and realize I have been sitting at my desk smiling ear to ear. I cannot believe he mentioned marriage in his text. I know he meant it as a joke, but no other man I know is comfortable making marriage jokes. He sends me his address and I save it into my phone for Wednesday night. My phone rings and it is from a blocked number. I’m not expecting a phone call, so I let it go to voicemail. A minute later, I realize the flashing light on my phone that indicates that I have a voice message is flashing. I dial into voicemail and listen. My heart beats frantically in my chest, who called me? The message is heavy breathing for about ten-seconds. It’s probably just a sales call and I’m overreacting, I reassure myself. I hang up the phone and go back to my data entry assignment.

After what feels like the longest day, most likely due to the mundane work assignment, I finally get to go home. I gather my chapstick, phone charger, and water bottle, the only personal items I deem worthy of packing for work each day, and I grab my purse to leave. As I exit the building to the parking lot, I look under my car, in my car, and look around to observe anyone suspicious parked next to my car. I run a quick checklist in my mind and I am good to go. I unlock my car, get in and I don’t hesitate to lock my doors. If anything, Dominic’s tips may have enhanced my paranoia, but at least I feel safer for it. I start the engine and head for home. My cell phone connects to the car’s bluetooth, and I am set. I enjoy using my driving time to make phone calls. I usually call my mom and catch up with her, but today, I want to call Ellie and fill her in on my new romantic interest.

Ellie is pre-set as a favorite on my dashboard. I reach for the contact button on the screen, but before I hit it, a call comes in. I don’t recognize the number. It’s probably a sales call or a scam. Over time, I have gradually learned not to answer calls I am not expecting. I remember once when I went on a trip to Costa Rica, my parents received a call from someone who claimed to have me held hostage and demanded ransom. The person used fear to control my parents. The caller kept them on the phone while they withdrew money at the bank. Thankfully, the bank teller working the desk that day caught on to the situation and stopped the transaction in its tracks. While my dad was on the phone with the scammer, she had my mom call me separately and when I answered and reassured her I was fine, they hung up on the scammer.

I decide to answer the call, just in case it was someone I knew with a new number.

“Hello?” I say, but no one answers on the other side. I hear breathing, some shuffling, and the phone call ends suddenly.

Must have been a wrong number, I convince myself.

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