Slowly but surely, Liza came to realize that her feelings for Fred had gotten stronger. She looked for him at work now, and his smile and whistle and soothing voice constituted her few moments of joy. Around him, she sprang to life and he seemed to react to her presence in the same way. Their office flirting was obvious and had intensified of late.
Liza arrived late to the restaurant where they were having a “work” dinner. Fred was buying in appreciation of the teamwork that they had all managed on a recent project. She slipped a package to the waitress on her way in with instructions to surprise Big Ron at just the right moment. They had a tradition of trading smart-ass remarks and a certain aged fruitcake that was growing mold by now surely! The game had started with Liza and her Uncle Jim and when he died, she found another jovial player in Big Ron. No occasion was too somber or reserved to escape the revenge of the dreaded fruitcake! Her last pass to HIM had been at his daughter’s wedding with the help of his son. She had found it returned to her on Valentine’s Day, sitting innocently on her front porch when she got home from work. Neither of them ever unwrapped it for fear of what they would find inside!
She slipped into the only available seat that she saw which was miles away from Fred at the other end of the table. He winked at her and she said “Hey” with that girlish grin. “Way down there” he said with a little pout. He was stuck next to the mouth of the South…the biggest complainer and hypochondriac that ever lived. And boy…..was she ever yammering!
“Well, WELL” chuckled Big Ron as she slid into the seat beside he and Sherry. “And how are YOU this evening?” As a high school football coach and principal, Ron had cultivated an air of authority that could stop you dead in your tracks wondering what he was up to. Liza was used to him, and they reveled in their wise cracking friendship. “Hi Liza….never mind him” Sherry said brightly. It tickled her to death to see someone who stood up to Big Ron.
Dinner progressed with lots of laughter and small talk Liza’s supervisor Lynn and her hubby Mack were across the table. With all the talking and laughing, nobody noticed when a waitress silently placed a brightly colored gift bag next to Ron’s plate. Oh boy…It was ON! Red faced, Ron knew at once what was in the bag and realized that again he’d been had by the clever Liza. She could hardly contain her giggles as Fred and some of the others looked curiously toward Ron and his mystery gift. The history was quickly explained to the ones who did not know the story and Ron’s face remained red. ”Payback is rough” he said with an evil smile. And by golly, she knew it would be!
“We’ve got to run now” said Sherry. “The grandkids are waiting for us!” She had asked Liza earlier in the day if she would understand if they had to make an early exit. After they had left, Liza caught Fred’s eye and motioned for him to join her. “I’ll be down there for dessert” he quipped with a twinkle in his sexy blue eyes.
Key lime pie and chocolate delight provided the perfect end to the meal. “Yessir…My grandma always said that a meal’s not complete without dessert!” Fred said. He had moved down next to Liza for dessert and coffee and she could feel the electricity between them as they sat closely. “ How is Molly?” Liza asked. Fred’s only daughter Molly was a couple of years older than Lacey and away at school in the Northeast. “She’s fine….I guess!”. “ I can only hope she’s doing what she’s supposed to do.” Molly was studying Greek and Latin and was her Daddy’s biggest fan. “Lacey is trudging through school with no purpose” Liza lamented. “There’s plenty of time for a plan later” he winked. “ I’ve questioned Molly on her “career goals” with the classics. How will she ever support her Daddy in his old age??”
The crowd slowly dwindled with everyone giving Fred their thanks for the lovely meal. As they left the dining room, he followed Liza. “I’ll see y’all tomorrow” Fred said. Then, under his breath he whispered to Liza “ Unless I get a better offer”. She froze like a deer in the headlights and peeled off toward the restroom. Had she heard what she thought she just heard? Was he really that interested?
When she returned from the restroom everyone was gone. She thought maybe she was mistaken in what she heard, so she called him when she got home. “ And what are YOU doing the rest of the evening” she asked coyly. “Oh……tons and TONS of work” he replied. Liza quickly made a graceful exit from that phone call and vowed never to play his little game again.