Abe ignored them, turning back to Chris. “Anyway so are you from Wyoming or not?”
“No, I’m from the Midwest but I went to Northwest College in—”
“Cody! Of course! My dad’s alma mater! In the Bighorn basin!”
“You know Northwest College, too?” Chris was kicking himself. This was a problem.
Courtney interjected, “Abe loves Wyoming. He even dragged us all out there to see it. Pretty, but really? Boring.”
Rick shrugged. “I didn’t think it was boring. Sachi wants us to retire there. All that natural beauty.”
“Hold on a sec, I got snaps!” Abe slid his iPhone from his back pocket and started touching the screen.
Chris turned to Courtney to change the subject. “So Courtney, what do you teach?” he asked, though he already knew.
“French.” Courtney smiled. “I started here five years ago, after I got married.”
“Look!” Abe interrupted, holding up his phone across the table, showing a photo of a rock formation around a body of water. “This must bring back memories, doesn’t it?”
Chris plastered on a startled smile of recognition. “Man, that’s great!”
Abe turned the picture around. “It looks like a lake, but it’s not. I had my first kiss there—with a woman and a man! Tell ’em what it is, Chris! Everybody went there to make out, didn’t they? That’s what my dad said.”
“Not me, I was a good boy. I studied hard so I could grow up, become a teacher, and eat double-decker grilled cheese.” Chris took a bite of his sandwich, then acted as if he’d gotten food stuck in his throat. Suddenly he pushed away from the table, fake-choking, letting his expression reflect mild alarm, between hairball and Heimlich.
Rick’s blue eyes went wide. “Chris, are you choking?”
“Oh no, drink something!” Courtney jumped up with a water bottle and hurried to his side.
“Chris!” Abe rushed around the table and whacked Chris on the back as Rick, Sue, and Linda came rushing over.
Chris doubled over, fake-choking as heads began to turn. Each teacher’s face registered concern, then fear. He kept it up while Abe, Sue, and Linda clustered around him, calling “Oh no!” “He’s choking!” “Do the Heimlich maneuver!” “Call 911!”
“It’s okay, I guess it went down the wrong pipe.” Chris acted as if he’d swallowed his sandwich, fake-gasping. The last thing he wanted was someone to call 911, bringing the police. They could start asking questions, which could ruin everything.
“My God!” Abe frowned with regret. “So sorry, I should have let you eat!”
“Not your fault, Abe. It was the sandwich.”
“Let’s sue the district,” Abe shot back. Rick and Courtney laughed, and the other teachers broke into relieved smiles, then went back to their tables.
Chris smiled, but he knew that the Wyoming questions wouldn’t go away forever. Abe would want to reminisce and compare notes.
Which presented a problem that he needed to solve.
Heather Larkin stood by the entrance to the Lafayette Room, scanning the tables in her station, four eights in the left corner. The luncheon was for the Auxiliary Committee of Blakemore Medical Center, and fifty-two well-dressed women had been served their appetizer, mixed-greens salad with goat cheese crumbles, beet shavings, and walnuts.
Everything was going smoothly, and the room looked perfect. It was storming outside, but indirect light poured from Palladian windows and the occasional clap of thunder didn’t disturb the chatter and laughter. The lights were low, emanating from tasteful brass sconces on the ivory damask walls, which matched the ivory tablecloths and slipcovered chairs. White tulips filled the centerpieces on each table, and the air smelled like costly perfume and raspberry vinaigrette dressing.
Heather kept an eye on her tables, since it was a club rule that members shouldn’t have to wait for service. She wondered if they knew how many eyes were on them, waiting on them so they didn’t have to wait. Waiters. Waitresses. It was even in the job name.
Heather’s makeup was light, and she’d pulled her straight, brown hair back into a low ponytail. She had on her uniform, a mint-green dirndl with a drawstring bodice intended to show her cleavage to golfers on their third Long Island Iced Tea. She hated the uniform and the required shoes, which were white with a stacked heel. But she picked her battles, and her uniform wasn’t one of them.
She had waitressed at the Central Valley Country Club for fifteen years and was excellent at her job. But lately she’d been wondering if she’d gotten too good at waiting. Patience was a virtue, but there were limits. She wondered if a decade of waiting on people had trained her to wait for things to happen, rather than making them happen, or to meet other people’s needs instead of her own, like an expert codependent.
Still Heather was lucky to have the job, especially as a single mother. There were cost-of-living increases, pooled tips at Christmas, plus full benefits that she and her son Jordan were eligible for. Jordan was a junior in high school, hopefully heading for college on a baseball scholarship. But what was she heading for? She only had two years of college because she quit when she’d gotten pregnant. Still, she never thought of her son as a mistake. Marrying his father was the mistake. Divorcing him corrected the mistake.
Heather scanned the tables. The women looked so nice with their highlights freshly done, and they had on pastel pantsuits with cute cropped jackets, undoubtedly bought at the mall. Club members didn’t shop at the outlets, so they didn’t have to hide the Sharpie mark on an irregular or the pulled thread of a defective garment. Heather had stopped wanting to be them, but would have settled for being somebody who wore her own clothes to work. She wanted a desk and chair, so she could sit down. She wanted a job that went somewhere, with a brass nameplate with her full name, instead of a name tag, HEATHER.
“Heather,” said a voice behind her, and Heather came out of her reverie, turning. It was Emily, the new Food & Beverage Manager. Emily was still in her twenties, but her heavy makeup made her look hard and her short brown hair was stiff with product. She had on a mint-green polo shirt with khakis, the uniform upgrade for management employees.
“I need you to stay until six tonight. The luncheon is going to run late because they’re going to do the silent auction and raffles after the speeches.”