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Gourmet Delight

by
Maggie Bayne

Sharon Leonard was anxious to begin her first day as a secretary at the Baker law firm.

As she drove into the parking lot that morning, she noticed the colorful building directly across a shared driveway. It was a modern, stucco structure with unusual angles, old-fashioned casement windows and painted at brilliant yellow.

That building stood in stark contrast to the Baker's low, brick boredom. As her little blue Chevy bumped through the rough driveway, she attempted to avoid the many potholes.

            She climbed out of her car and approached the back door.

John Simpson was standing near the door, holding a steaming cup of coffee, grinning. "You must be Sharon. Welcome to the Baker firm. We're glad to have you join us." Raising his cup, he added, "Fresh pot in the kitchen."

            Sharon smiled. "Thanks." She looked around the large, unpartitioned room. "Where is everyone?"

 "That's one of the things to enjoy about Baker. Everyone manages his or her own time. No sign in, no time clock. Just arrive at a reasonable time." He signaled toward the kitchen. "Let's get you some coffee."

            They headed toward the kitchen, one of the few rooms in the open office space which had an actual door.

            Sharon commented, "I couldn't help but notice that driveway. Looks like it needs some attention."

John laughed, "No kidding. But we share the driveway surface with the vet's office across the road.  It's that bright yellow building. You probably saw it when you drove in."

"I wondered what was in that building. I didn't see a sign."

"It's Dr. Klein's Vet Center. Run by Dr. Diane Klein. She's a good vet and nice, but always busy. Her practice creates a lot of car traffic. So, she usually pays half of the upkeep cost for the driveway, but she never seems to have time to talk about it." He smiled awkwardly. "Do you know the town very well?"

"Still getting to know it. I've been here a couple of years. I have a dog but take him to another vet across town."

"Well, you will hear Dr. Klein's name. She's fairly well-known around here. Her staff walks some of the boarded dogs out by the pond.  Did you notice our pond just off the parking lot?"

"As a matter of fact, I did. It looks lovely."

"There are a couple of little tables out there. Some of our employees and a few people from Dr. Klein's office go out there during lunch. It's pleasant."

            As the morning progressed, Sharon met the rest of the staff and found her way to and from her desk. Everyone seemed friendly and by noon, she felt relaxed. The office kitchen had a fridge, microwave, even a small-screen television. It was a comfortable space with a round table and three chairs. People came and went, rarely sitting for long. Sharon had grown accustomed to bringing a sandwich and there were few eateries anywhere nearby. By the following week, Sharon realized how tired she had grown of her white bread sandwiches. The idea of slapping ham between two slices of fluffy bread was completely intolerable. Sharon shared girl chat with Janice Reynolds, who sat at a desk facing hers about 10 feet away. The two exchanged small talk occasionally and Janice had been a great help while getting familiar with the firm and clients.

           On this morning, Sharon said, "I have to get away from this place for lunch. Want to go with me? I'm not sure where we can get served and back quickly."

"Great idea. What about Sam Wich's? Have you ever been there?"

"No, but I've heard the name. Thought it was clever."

"That's a great option. Let's do it."

            They took Janice's car and drove to Sam Wich's shop. The building apparently had once housed a service station but its remodeling had been cleverly done. The interior was decorated like a giant fish aquarium. Most of the walls were painted soft blue, accentuated with large aquatic plants. Oversized fabric fish hung suspended around the dining area, creating an effect that was cheery and colorful. Sharon and Janice approached the counter and placed their sandwich order, were given a claim number and sat down at a small table in the corner. A few minutes later, a man approached their table, carrying two trays.

 

              "Turkey Tom and Tuna Delight," he whispered.

              Sharon looked up at the server. She was gazing into a very handsome face that contained eyes the color of purple iris.

"Oh, I'm, uh, I'll have…the Turkey Tom is mine," she stammered.

He smiled and placed the trays in front of the diners.

"Enjoy your lunch," he said, and returned to his post behind the counter.

Sharon leaned forward and whispered to Janice, "Oh, my gosh. Who was that?"

"Oh, him? I think he is the owner or something."

"I've never been in here before. But he is gorgeous."

"He's OK. He's kind of old, though. Maybe 35."

"Did you see his eyes? They were the most gorgeous shade of purple."

"I really didn't notice," Janice said flatly. "He's been here the few times that I've been there. I think he's married."

"I wouldn't be a bit surprised. He's so good looking."

"For goodness sake, Sharon, eat your sandwich and stop drooling."

 

               The two sat in silence and consumed the sandwiches. Sharon casually glanced toward the counter a couple of times to confirm that the man was as handsome as she first thought. As they were leaving, Sharon said, "I haven't been here before, but you can bet I'll be coming back."

 

                Janice pushed Sharon forward with her arm as they reached the door. "Keep moving, Sharon."

Once they were inside the car, Janice said, "You seemed a little obvious to me. I mean, he was cute, but you made quite a spectacle of yourself."

"You don't get it, Janice. There are few good-looking men in this town. I have noticed that ever since I first arrived. I thought perhaps an alien transport had kidnapped all the men who would turn heads.  I was wrong." She smiled to soften the scathing rebuke of Janice's hometown.

 

                The following Saturday, Sharon went back to Sam Wich's alone. She again ordered the Turkey Tom and sat down at the same corner table. Once again, the man with the iris eyes delivered her order. Sharon looked up into his tanned face and locked onto those eyes.

"Turkey Tom?" He smiled and held the tray above his head with one hand.

"Well, yes," she said nervously. As the server set down the tray, she added, "I didn't know they had such wonderful service here."

 

                 The man crinkled his gorgeous eyes and smiled broadly, the perfect white teeth in sharp contrast to the deep tan of his skin. "You know, sometimes we get a little short-handed and I help out during the noon hour."

"Are you 'Sam Wich'?" she teased.

"I'm Todd Klein. I own this shop."

"Sharon," she said. "Just Sharon."

"Well, Sharon. Thanks for your order. " He returned to his spot behind the counter.

 

                  Sharon wasn't really hungry. The sandwiches were certainly good, but not extraordinary. However, she was intrigued by the man with the purple eyes. Who was he? Where did he live? What did he do when he wasn't working at his sandwich shop? Hopkins, Michigan wasn't a large town. She couldn't believe she hadn't run into him before. But then, maybe she hadn't been looking.

 

                   One day as Sharon and Janice sat typing correspondence for their respective bosses, Janice said, "Oh, I meant to tell you. You remember that Sam Wich guy, the one with the purple eyes? Well, he is married, like I guessed. His wife is the veterinarian who runs the clinic next door."

"Oh. How did you find that out?"

"This is Hopkins, you know. I understand that their marriage is a little rocky, too."

"Oh, really?" The subject was dropped, but Sharon filed the information away for future use.

 

                    Sharon had arrived in Hopkins, single after the end of a bad marriage. She had been in relationships with other men during her young life. But they were men looking for a certain kind of girl who required little effort or attention. She had hoped to find someone more mature. The following Saturday, Sharon was running errands and stopped at the post office to buy stamps.  As she was sitting in the car, a truck pulled up at the end of the parking lot. She glanced up to see Todd Klein walk past her, into the post office. When Sharon saw who it was, she turned to look at the vehicle he had been driving. It was an iris truck, the same color as those eyes, and painted with the motto "Sam Wich's, the Best Sandwiches" across the side. The line inside the post office was long. Near the front stood Todd Klein in a yellow polo shirt and khaki pants, his dark blond hair perfectly trimmed. He looked wonderful and completely out of place among the rest of the line. One of the things that Sharon disliked about Hopkins was that most people seemed not to care about their appearance, how they dressed or even whether they bathed. Sharon couldn't quite identify what factor turned regular people into slobs. They would rather drive a nice car than go to the dermatologist or get a decent haircut. How refreshing, it was to watch Todd Klein, someone who took pride in his appearance. On his way out, Sharon looked up and their eyes met.

 

               "Hi," she smiled.

 

               He smiled. "Oh, hi. How are you?" He paused briefly before walking on.

 

               Sharon's heart was racing after seeing this man again. She had gained another bit of information. He drove a rather distinctive vehicle and she would be watching for it. Sharon soon developed a routine. She would drive by Sam Wich's looking for the iris truck. She stopped in at Sam Wich's on a number of occasions, usually ordering the Turkey Tom. So as not to appear obvious, she often opted for an order to go. Soon she began to feel the sandwiches were a little tiresome and despite trying other menu selections, the only reason to return to the sandwich shop had nothing to do with the food. A few weeks later, Sharon drove by the shop again looking for the truck. The windows were brightly decorated and crepe paper streamers and balloon bouquets were floating gently from every post and light fixture. A banner across the front door announced, "Exciting New Menu Items." Several cars were crowded into the tiny parking lot and a line of people stretched through the door from the parking area.

 

                 She decided to see what all the fuss was about. The shop was a beehive of activity, workers running here and there, busing tables and scurrying about. Todd Klein was behind the counter and despite the hectic pace, he smiled and waved at Sharon when she passed the counter. Just as she was about to order, Todd approached the window and paused.

Sharon smiled, gesturing to the frantic pace of the shop.

 

                 "Wow, business looks great."

Todd smiled and nodded. "It couldn't be better. Ever since we put in the new items."

"New items? What are they?"

His iris eyes twinkled. "It's our secret recipe." He winked. "Why don't you try for yourself?"

New menu items were posted to the side of the counter and featured numerous specials including Roast Beef Surprise with dill sauce, Deluxe Barbecue and Brisket Du Jour.

"I'll try the Deluxe Barbecue," she gestured toward the menu board.

"I think you'll like it," he said, reaching past several staff members to make the sandwich himself. Todd piled the meat onto a soft bun.

 

                  Sharon got her drink and found a stool at the counter near the front window. Todd brought the sandwich and placed it in front of her.

 

                   "It smells delicious! What a serving. I'm glad business is doing so well."

"Yeah, things really picked up. We are pleased with the reception our new items are getting."

"I can't wait to try it."

He looked at the crowd that remained in line. "Well, I'd better go because we're backed- up behind the counter. Before you leave, tell me how you liked the Deluxe Barbecue."

 

                     Sharon picked up the soft, warm bun and drew in the aroma of the meat. The meat was sweet and juicy and she savored the unique taste. The sandwich was delicious and unlike anything she had tasted before. After she finished, Sharon took her trash to the receptacle and placed her tray on top. Just as she turned to leave, Todd appeared at her elbow.

 

                      "You're getting to be a regular customer."

She smiled, a little surprised that her pattern had grown so obvious. "Well, I like the food and I enjoy coming here."

"Well, because you are such a good customer, I have to get your opinion of the new menu item."

"Oh, it was so tender and tasty." She gazed into the iris eyes. She couldn't tell whether there was any flirtation on his behalf or whether he was just a nice person, a good businessman with beautiful eyes.  "So," she lifted her eyelids dramatically. "Are you going to share your secret?"

He replied merely, "Well, maybe one of these days. Thanks for coming in and for giving me your vote of approval. Better get back to my crowd."

 

                        A few weeks later, Sharon had worked late, preparing the monthly billing for her boss.  It was about 8:30 when she headed out of the parking lot. Next door at Klein's Animal Clinic, she noticed the iris truck backed up to the rear door. Unless Dr. Klein had driven it to work, she could not imagine why the truck was there. The clinic appeared to be dark and no outside lights were burning. Maybe she could catch a glimpse of the woman who was married to this extraordinary man. Sharon stayed in her car with the lights off and waited. Suddenly she saw Todd approach the rear of the truck. He was busily performing some task at the back of vehicle through open doors. When he re-entered the clinic, Sharon decided to take a closer look. She could see that the back door was ajar and dogs were barking inside the clinic. Poor little creatures, she thought. They were either ill or injured or being boarded because their owners were away. It sounded as though a few dogs were quite agitated, barking louder than the others, ferociously. Suddenly the barking group grew silent.

                         A few minutes later, Sharon saw Todd exit the building, carrying a large cardboard box. The lid was open, turned slightly. Something protruded from the box, hanging down over the side. It was a tall, from the length and width, a dog's tail. Even in the darkness, Sharon could see that it was two-toned, the tip dipped in white. She was so shocked that she feared she had gasped out loud. Todd placed the package in the back of the truck and shut the door, then returned to the clinic. She could hear water running and he reappeared holding a paper towel, drying his hands. He paused, turned off the light and locked the door behind him. He then drove away in the iris truck.

 

                        Sharon remained in the darkness, unsure what she had seen. Who could she tell? Who would believe her? She was trying to put the puzzle together. There was no denying that Sharon was really attracted to this man. He was young, ambitious and charming. His business was now more successful than ever. There was even a rumor that Sam Wichs was considering opening another store. New items on the menu?

 

                        "Oh, my God," Sharon said out loud. What exactly were those new items?

 

                        When Sharon got home, she sat down in the living room in the dark, trying to comprehend what she had seen. Were things as they appeared? Had Dr. Klein's veterinarian practice provided the new meat source? Were the Klein's participating in the ultimate recycling program? The following morning, Janice arrived early.

 

                         "What are you doing today?"

"Not much. The billing was finished last night but I didn't sleep very well. Why?"

"Why don't we go for lunch at Sam Wich's and check out those new menu items. I hear they're wonderful."

Maggie Bayne is a fiction writer who lives in upstate New York. Writing has shifted from a hobby to a pursuit since retirement. A life-long fan of the short story, she has found that a well-crafted adventure rarely needs more than 3,500 words to grab and satisfy the readers.

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