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Lunches

by Martin Green


     Paul Lerner had just settled down with his second cup of morning coffee and the Wall Street Journal when his wife Sally appeared in the living room door. “Don’t forget the lunch today,” she said. Like most of the women in their retirement community, Sunrise Oaks, Sally was addicted to lunches, and she always wanted Paul to go with her to them.   He usually did go, grudgingly; lunching with a bunch of women wasn’t his favorite pastime

     “What lunch?”

     “The California History club’s spring lunch.”

     The California History club, all women who’d attended a California college, was one of many clubs at Sunrise Oaks. Paul wrote a column called “Observations” for the senior newspaper that went to Sunrise Oaks’ residents every month, and one of his early observations was that when any two of them who had some common interest met they immediately formed a club.  

     “You never told me about any spring lunch.”

     “Yes, I did. Right after I joined the club.”

     “That was months ago.”

     “Only two months. And I reminded you last week.”  

     Paul could see where this was going, but he said, “Is there going to be a speaker I have to sit through?”

     “No, it’s just a lunch. Besides, you like California history.”

     “I like to read about it, not hear somebody spouting off about it.”

     “Well, there’s no speaker, just a lunch.”

     “But why do you need me to go with you?”

     “I like your company.”

     Paul knew it was a losing battle, but he made one last try. “I’ll be the only man there.”

     “I’m sure there’ll be some other husbands. Besides, I’ve already signed us up.”

     Already signed up. That clinched it. He was going to the lunch

                                                                             

     The lunch was in the ballroom of the Lodge, a building which was the center of most community activities. Although it was to start at noon and they were there a little before time, Paul and Sally were among the late arrivals. Another of Paul’s observations in his column was that older people had a compulsion to be early, and if you came to any Sunrise Oaks event on time you were bound to be late.  

     Paul and Sally found their designated table. As Paul had expected, the great majority of people at the lunch were women, with only a few men scattered here and there. None were at his table, just three women, none of whom Paul knew. They sat and Sally made introductions. The lunches had been pre-ordered. Each place had a slip of paper with the order on it, Paul’s said “chicken salad.” There was an empty chair beside Paul’s, although a lunch slip was on the table. The women began to talk, first about the club’s next speaker, then about the upcoming club election, then about golf, which some of the women played. One asked Paul if he played golf. Almost all the male residents at Sunrise Oaks played golf. Sally replied for Paul that he didn’t play golf, his game was tennis. The women then had a long discussion about someone they all knew, trying to decide if she dyed her hair.  

     Paul had resigned himself to a long, boring lunch when a woman came up to the table and sat in the empty chair. He noticed at once that she was younger than the average resident and also quite attractive. She had long brown hair (not dyed, he was sure), large dark eyes and nice features in an oval face. In her younger days, Paul thought, she must have been a beauty. She looked around the table and said, “Sorry I’m late, I was at the tennis courts and didn’t realize it was getting so late. I’m Kit Davis.”   

     After Sally had introduced everyone, Kit Davis turned to Paul and asked, “Are you the one who writes that column for our paper?”

     Paul told her that he was.

     “I love it. That’s the first thing I look for when I get the paper.”

     “I’m glad you like it,” said Paul.

     “I really loved the column you wrote on how nice it feels to be home after a trip. I love to travel, but that’s just the way I feel when I get back.”

     At that point, a waitress brought their lunches, but Kit Davis continued her conversation with Paul. She told him she also liked his column on life’s little annoyances and the one on how many of the things they now had that were supposed to make life easier actually made things more complicated.  Paul had written many human interest stories for the local newspaper before becoming a columnist so he was an experienced interviewer and good at drawing people out. He soon learned that Kit was originally from Southern California, that she’d done some modeling (he wasn’t surprised), that she’d gone into real estate when she married, that her husband had regretfully passed on a year ago, and that she’d moved to Sunrise Oaks a month ago.  

      While he was having this conversation, Paul was aware that Sally was directing disapproving looks at him, but he pretended not to notice. Finally, Sally interrupted, asking Kit if she was interested in becoming a club officer. Kit said she’d think about it and Sally described the election process in some detail. By this time, the lunch was drawing to a close. The club president (Paul realized this was the woman with the dyed red hair they’d been talking about) thanked everyone for coming, told everyone to be sure to come to the next club meeting and encouraged everyone to become a club officer.   Paul said good-bye to Kit and told her he’d see her next week. He could feel Sally’s eyes boring into his back.

     When they’d gotten into their car for the drive back, Paul said to Sally, “That was a pretty good lunch.”

     “I noticed you were having a good time with your new friend.”

     “Just trying to make her feel welcome.”

     “Well, you didn’t have to talk to her exclusively all during lunch. You never said a word to anyone else.”

     “Was I doing that?” asked Paul innocently.

     “You were. And what’s this about seeing her next week? Did you make a date with her?”

     “I wouldn’t call it a date. We’re just going to hit some tennis balls around.”

     “Hah!  Let’s face it, you acted like a high school kid with the prom queen.”

     “You’re exaggerating. Anyway, I didn’t like her that much.”

     “You didn’t?”

     “She’s a little too gushy for my taste. She ‘loves’ everything.”

     “You could have fooled me. But you still have a tennis date with her.”

     “I’ll tell you what. You know how I hate it when you drag me to those lunches of yours. I’ll break my date, as you call it, if you promise you’ll let me pick the lunches I want to go to and the ones I want to skip.”

     “Hmm. All right, I suppose I can do that. But you can’t just leave her in the lurch like that.”

     “I won’t. I’ll get Joe Patrick to sub for me. He’s a younger guy and he’s single. Who knows what might happen.”

     “Paul, you’re a schemer.”

     “Just trying to make everyone happy.”

     When they arrived home, Sally went to change and Paul returned to the Wall Street Journal. He knew that when the next lunch came around Sally would still want him to go with her. But at least he could remind her of her promise and he’d have a fighting chance.

           


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