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Open Features: The Baker's Dozen

Ken Patterson tells a tale of a chance meeting in the Olde Worlde cafe, which is followed by a great surprise.

The last full week before Christmas was always an exciting time for me. I enjoyed it more than any part of the year, but not this time.

Most people looking at me would have assumed I was in a bad mood, but I wasn’t, not really. It was a feeling of self-pity. The more I wallowed in my misery the worse it became.

I had gone to great lengths to find a cafe where I could sit unnoticed, sulking at a table tucked away in a corner. I was equipped for sulking. I had the pet lip and was an expert at pouting. My annoyance increased when the Olde Worlde cafe became a hive of activity within minutes of my sitting down. For a few fleeting moments I felt smug about having placed my haversack on the spare chair at my table, there to fend off an intruder. I resisted questioning glances as to whether the seat was available, though I realised it was only a matter of time before someone demanded to sit by me.

I leaned forwards to check the salt-cellar, wondering whether the salt would flow. When I looked up my haversack was on the floor and the chair was occupied.

She was very attractive. That caught me off-guard. And she seemed so happy, so friendly and outgoing. Of course I would have preferred someone that could easily be ignored. Now I had to reluctantly smile at her in a way that did not invite conversation.

How was she to know that I had not gone there to laugh and feel happy? Now I was finding it more difficult to feel sorry for myself. The atmosphere had changed as soon as she sat down.

“Are you somebody famous?” she asked.

“No, why?”

“You’re so deep in thought. You have an air of importance about you.”

“That isn’t importance, it’s...''

We were interrupted by a waitress dressed as a serving wench. Her appearance gave my enough time to square my shoulders and sit up straight.

“Ready to order now sir?” the waitress asked, poised with chalk and slate in hand.

I suddenly realised I had been sitting there without having ordered. “Yes, and have been for some time,” I said.

“Sorry sir, thought you were waiting for the lady.''

The "lady'' smiled. We ordered jointly, and the waitress left us.

“I’m so sorry,” said the "lady'' "making you wait so long on my account.''

"Think nothing of it,” I said, pleased that my misery had slipped away.

“Looking forward to the Christmas break?” she asked.

Had that question come ten minutes earlier it would have provoked an irritable outburst. Now it sparked a conversation.

"Yes I was,'' I said. "Until I received a phone call this morning. Before I got out of bed. They couldn't wait to spoil my day.''

"Who are they? ”

“My so called friends. Six of them. Chefs. They took an oath ten years ago that we would get together on Christmas Day. That I would play host to them and their wives. You can imagine the planning involved in coming up with something new to surprise them each year. This year they all have other arrangements. Just to rub in the fact that I will not be playing host, one of them dropped his house keys through my letter box with instructions on when and how to feed his cats.''

"You poor thing,'' she said. "Have they just told you that they won't be with you on Christmas Day?''

"Yes, they dare not tell me earlier. They realise how much I enjoyed the ritual.''

"What a shame,'' she said. There was a hint of a smile on her lips, but she seemed sympathetic. "You are good to take it so calmly.''

"Fortunately, I’m not the kind who suffers from mood swings,'' I said, managing to keep a straight face.

“So what are your plans now?” she asked.

“Feed the cats I suppose. Though I see on the board there, this place is offering Christmas dinner for twenty-five dollars. May I ask what you’ll be doing?''

“Settling in, I suppose. I'm taking up a new appointment in the new year. I have just qualified as a vet. This will be my first job, and I am feeling nervous.''

"Me too,'' I said "and that's because I am about to ask you if a twenty five dollar Christmas dinner would appeal?”

“With you, here? Well providing I can bring the wine it appeals very much.”

I was so elated that I was unable to speak for some seconds. Eventually I said "Your name? I don’t know your name.”

“Angela.''

“Angela. Yes I like that. It suits you.''

“Thank you? And you are?”

“Sorry, my name’s Ronald, but all my friends call me Squire. Don’t know why. Tell me what time to call for you. We can feed the cats then come on here for dinner.''

***

Next day I collected Angela, and we went to my friend's house. We checked the garage, the shed and the garden, but there was no sign of the cats. No sign of any food left out for them either.

We called together. "Here kitty, kitty.''

"He must have left them in the house,'' I said. "It wouldn't surprise me if he had set a table for them in the dining room. Mouse coloured napkins, the lot...''

We unlocked the back door of the house and went in. We went through to the dining room, there to be greeted by a rousing song.

"We wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, we wish you a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year.''

There stood the six chefs, their wives beside them, shouting in unison "Surprise, surprise!''

That Christmas dinner was superb, well worth the fifty dollars I had handed over in advance to the Olde Worlde cafe.

The first toast was to welcome Angela to our group.

The second was to bid farewell to our Baker's dozen.

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