Nearly 3 months ago, Joanna helped Antonio with his LinkedIn profile, correcting typos and making clarifications. For instance, she changed “Fish proficient” to “Well-versed in the FISH! Philosophy of customer service, as popularized by Seattle’s Pike Place Fish Market.”

Antonio wanted a solid LinkedIn profile because he was afraid he’d be caught in his company’s rumored downsizing, and he knew prospective employers would check it out.

Last week, Antonio sought out Joanna at the bar; at the time she was helping Tara clean a stack of Stenny’s dinner menus.

“Joanna! I got a new job!” he said, beaming.

Joanna was genuinely pleased. “That’s great, Antonio!” she said, as she sprayed a cleaning solution on the “Family Recipes” page of the menu in front of her. “What will you be doing?”

“Dispatch for a big plumbing company. I want to thank you for helping me with LinkedIn. The recruiter said my profile is what got me in the door.”

“It was my pleasure. I’m sure it was your experience that really did the trick,” Joanna said modestly. “And you’re so personable, I’m sure you interviewed well.”

“I guess. But I owe you. I’d like to buy you and Matt dinner. Can we make a date to eat here? Maybe in the dining room for a change of pace?”

Joanna knew that there was no use demurring–Antonio will insist no matter how often she said That’s not necessary or You don’t have to do that or words to that effect.

So she said “That sounds great, Antonio. Is there a night next week that works for you?”

They settle on Monday, and Monday has now arrived, as have Joanna and Matt. Hostess/owner’s wife/spy/snitch Mary Ann seats them in the dining room, saying, “Unusual for you two to sit in here, is it not?”

Matt taps Joanna’s hip, which means Be nice, so Joanna says “We’re meeting Antonio, to celebrate his new job.”

“Up to you, I’m sure,” Mary Ann says, which results in Matt double-tapping Joanna’s hip. Joanna literally bites her tongue and says nothing.

“God, what a witch,” Joanna says after Mary Ann leaves.

“Surprised you didn’t say bitch,” Matt says.

“Witches are worse than bitches in my mind.”

“She is unpleasant, for sure. Oh, there’s Antonio. Who’s that with him?”

“He mentioned he might bring his daughter,” Joanna says. Antonio is divorced and has no significant other at the moment. “I guess that’s her.”

As established a few seconds later, the young woman is indeed Antonio’s daughter. She is strikingly beautiful, with clear olive skin, a perfect brow, and amber-flecked hazel eyes. Her name is Sophia and Joanna, as she is apt to do, makes an immediate assessment, which boils down to She’s odd, I bet she has Asperger’s.

Nothing Sophia says or does during the evening, which Joanna will come to think of as Our Hellish Stenny’s Dinner, changes this assessment. After Antonio pays the bill and heads out into the December night with Sophia, Matt and Joanna make their way to the bar, where they know Jim and Leigh are perched.

“So what happened?” Leigh asks. Joanna had surreptitiously (she hoped) texted Leigh mid-way through the dinner with the cryptic This is fucked-up.

“Have you ever met Antonio’s daughter?” Joanna asks.

“No, I don’t think so.”

“So you haven’t. You’d remember her if you did. She’s literally the strangest person I have ever met. But gorgeous.”

Jim is listening too, and looks at Matt for verification.

“She’s a bit off,” Matt says.

“Enough generalities,” Leigh says, on the verge of boredom. “Specifics.”

“I’ll give one, and then Matt will. We’ll call it The Sophia Game.” Joanna claps; she likes this sort of rat-tat-tat back and forth. “She made no eye contact with Ryan when she was giving her order.”

“Oh, he’s a darling boy,” Leigh says.

“Matt, your turn,” Joanna says.

“She insisted on keeping her menu through the whole meal,” Matt says.

“She only ordered sides—broccoli rabe, quinoa, that crappy vegetable medley no one ever eats,” Joanna says.

“And onion rings,” Matt says.

“You just added to mine,” Joanna says. “That doesn’t count. It’s still your turn.”

“Wow, Joanna is strict,” Jim says.

“Be quiet. Matt, go,” strict Joanna says.

“She had a weird phrase that she used a couple of times. I think it meant she was confused.”

“Oh yeah,” Joanna says, laughing. “She’d say ‘That’s ponderously unatrickable.’”

“What was said that precipitated that?” Leigh asks.

“Let me think.” Joanna ponders for a few seconds. “She said it when Ryan told us the kitchen was out of veal.”

“Well, for an Italian restaurant, that is ponderously unatrickable,” Jim says.

“She also said it when Matt complimented her on her necklace,” Joanna says. “He said it looked lovely against her skin.”

“I like necklaces. They’re sexy. Joanna never wears them,” Matt says.

“Maybe that has something to do with the fact that you told me once I have the neck of a fullback.”

“I was kidding. Your neck is fine,” Matt says.

“Is there anything else?” Leigh asks, edging even closer into full-blown boredom.

“There’s the Mrs. Brown thing,” Joanna says.

“Mrs. Brown, you have a lovely daughter,” Jim says.

“Nice song,” Joanna says. “But it’s a different Mrs. Brown.” Joanna thanks Tara, who has just served her an amaretto on the rocks. “Matt, you tell.”

“Sophia told a story about a neighbor named Mrs. Brown. It was hard to follow, I think it had something to do with Mrs. Brown growing tomatoes. I thought we were having a conversation and said something about liking tomatoes much more than Joanna does. My mistake. As soon as I finished the sentence, she said, ‘Can we get back to Mrs. Brown now?’”

“I tuned out at that point,” Joanna says.

“That’s no surprise,” Jim says. “What was Antonio doing this whole time?”

“Oh, that’s the other thing. He’s already started his new job. His shift was over but he kept calling plumbers he had dispatched earlier, to check on their progress. I think he was trying to impress us, but I’m sure he was pissing off the plumbers.”

“Yeah, poor sons-of-bitches knee deep in shit and Antonio calls to make sure they’re where they’re supposed to be,” Matt says.

They all realize The Sophia Game has fallen apart, and it’s time to move on.

If you like this story, please check out my completed book, “Butts in the Seat”; one reviewer said it was “amusing, entertaining, and provides therapeutic value.”*Version*=1&*entries*=0



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