HOME BANNER CAFE by Eve Gaal
Kathy felt used and abused—not to mention fat. Even her tee shirt looked like it had been chewed by an overly eager crocodile—the type that goes for larger, meatier prey. The remnants of the Peggy Lee song, “Is that all there is?” played incessantly in her brain. Yet, at the same time, a tiny, perhaps desperate voice bubbled from the depth of her being, saying, “Snap out of it girl!” She reluctantly forced herself to focus on the here and now. Tired of being a victim, it was time she turned the tables, perhaps to hunt her own unsuspecting quarry.
After all, friends had told her to get out of the house. She had to get over the past and even her doctor had said, ‘Walking is good for your heart’. Maybe she’d lose a few pounds and meet an honest man who didn’t cheat with skinny floozies.
Headphones with Mp3 player – check. Designer jogging suit – check. Lipstick - check. Velcro fastened walking shoes - check. In her pocket, she had twenty dollars and her keys. The important thing missing--on purpose--happened to be her cell phone. Free to explore the world—free to sniff the flowers--untethered from housecleaning and responsibilities--if only for an hour.
Once around the block she drifted into Starbucks and ordered a Caramel Macchiato. Though the line was long, she didn’t mind waiting between two hunky and extremely athletic-looking men. The blond one had perspiration seeping through his shirt and on his legs, like a sprinter. He turned around and gave her a tepid smile.
“Nice day, huh?” Kathy asked, suddenly feeling maternal and matronly at the same time.
He grunted, nodding in the affirmative and the line moved forward. No ring and way too young, she quickly surmised. Behind her was a bearded guy reading the newspaper. He had a ring. Too bad the opportunities at Starbucks were slimmer than a non-fat soy latte. After a long
wait, she sat for a short time drinking her coffee and figured she better get back to her healthy walk around the mall.
The only problem with going completely around the gigantic mall was that it had some levels which created uphill walking and downhill walking. Halfway around, her legs felt wobbly and her rumbling stomach craved lunch. As luck would have it, she noticed the Home Banner Buffet Restaurant and thought about how no one would know, or care, if she splurged. She raced up to the door like a marathon runner, successfully beating out a family with two strollers. Hurriedly dashing in front of the cashier and visibly out of breath, she threw a ten-dollar bill on the counter, sputtering, “One for lunch please.”
Giant vats of oozing macaroni and cheese beckoned her for seconds as did Southern fried chicken, Chinese eggrolls and all the tater tots she could handle. For a short while, Kathy forgot her troubles. She forgot her bills, her age, her weight and the fact that she was single and unloved. She wanted romance, excitement and perhaps travel with someone special, but with a vast array of desserts like New England apple cobbler and German chocolate cake spread out in front of her, those other things, at the moment anyway, seemed insignificant. Besides, the selection of food made it seem like she was traveling the world without leaving town.
Sliding out of the red vinyl booth for a Belgian-chocolate frosted eclair, she saw him and froze. All six-foot four inches and three hundred some odd pounds of adorable man stood alone next to the soft serve ice-cream dispenser. Magnificent, sausage-shaped, ring-less fingers seemed to be having trouble figuring out how to position the dish and push the button. “Do you know how this thing works?” he asked with a frustrated look on his handsome face. Eyes, soft and beagle-like, pulled her in, almost begging for attention.
“Yes, yes!” Kathy answered eagerly. After she helped him with the ice cream, she asked whether he wanted a chocolate brownie to go with it. When he said yes, she skipped like a schoolgirl across the aisle to grab a brownie for the endearing bear. “Do you come here often?” She sized up his worn jeans, flannel shirt, red hair and thought of Paul Bunyan.
“No, first time. I live on the other side of town. My company had a meeting at the mall.” Company? Ooooh-- music to Kathy’s ears—this one has a job too. “How about you?”
Burgundy circles bloomed on Kathy’s cheeks. “Me? Well I live close by and I’ve been here before, but I don’t like coming alone. I was doing a big walk around the mall and it coincided with my lunch.” Her story sounded lame but the truth had a way of doing that.
He smiled. “Name’s Ben.” Setting down his soft-serve, he reached out a massive, hairy hand. “Nice looking lady like you shouldn’t eat alone. Come on over to where I’m sitting and join me for dessert.” She shook his hand and immediately felt tiny hairs on the back of her neck spring into action. He had warm, firm hands that she could imagine holding forever and she considered his smile, wondering exactly why it seemed enthusiastic, friendly and so astonishingly genuine.
“Ben,” she mumbled under her breath. A loud irregular beating in her chest drowned her voice. Big Ben, she repeated, convinced she’d never forget that name. “Sure, okay, I’m Kathy.” The doctor could be right. Walking might be good for her heart. She filled her dish with apple cobbler and sat across from Ben. What a man, she thought glancing at those misty, hazel eyes before he dove into a rather large portion of swirly deliciousness topped with chocolate sprinkles. Something in her chest skipped another beat and all she wanted to do was fetch more brownies for him. Anything.
“Don’t be shy,” he said. “We came here to eat, so let’s eat.”
But she wasn’t hungry anymore, and she picked at the cobbler. At that moment, she felt as if she’d never eat again. A sort of animal magnetism had grasped her soul. She had found what she was looking for—right here—near her home--at the Home Banner Buffet.