They followed the hostess to their table, a quiet booth in a dark and candlelit corner of the restaurant. They paid little attention to those they passed, but they couldn’t help but notice the couple across the aisle. He was an imposing man, well-dressed and seemingly used to getting his way. She was, to Evan’s eye, stunningly beautiful, but also well-spoken and intelligent. There was something off about her.
The conversation between Evan and his wife Shelley went smoothly. It was an anniversary dinner – 20 years ago, in this very restaurant, at this very booth, he had proposed to her. And she had turned him down.
She insisted that the fact that she was pregnant was no reason to get married. And over the course of the evening, he convinced her that she was right – but there were dozens of other reasons for them to get married. Before the coffee was served and the check delivered, she had said yes. It was the happiest day of his life.
The conversation across the aisle heated up. The man grabbed the woman’s arm, squeezing it as he made his wicked point, and she backed down. As he took his hand away, Evan saw huge bruises on her wrist before her sleeve fell back into place.
Shelley wanted the shiraz, so Evan ordered it along with the calamari. They held hands and talked about all the times they had been here, every year at this same booth, and how the restaurant had changed inside and out. Even the street had changed in both directions. And their love had changed, growing stronger. He smiled at Shelley, and they leaned in for a kiss, meeting each other halfway both physically and metaphorically.
The man’s voice growled from the other table, muffled in all directions but the one facing Evan and Shelley. He belittled the woman and grabbed her arm once again. She was on the verge of tears, but he would not let her leave. Shelley excused herself and went to the restroom, glaring at the man as she passed. He was unfazed. With only Evan to watch, the man slapped the woman across the face. As she cried softly, the man stared directly at Evan as if daring him to do something about it. Evan held the man’s gaze, but looked away first. He didn’t want to give anything away.
The server took the orders of the couple across the aisle. Evan saw the man kick the woman under the table, warning her to stop crying and compose herself. The man ordered the porterhouse and a lobster – an order that did not surprise Evan in the least. The man also ordered for the woman, a pasta dish. She did not look happy, but Evan couldn’t tell whether it was because of his choice for her or because of the man himself.
The server came to take their orders, and Shelley ordered the steak, while Evan ordered the pork chop. It was the same combination they ordered every time they came, and Evan was glad they still had the exact items. It was as though the restaurant had kept those items just for them, as though it remembered and welcomed them. Evan poured wine for Shelley, and then himself, and they drank to their marriage and their health, their family and each other, and their lives together.
After several minutes, Evan saw the server approaching down the long aisle with the dishes for the other couple, and excused himself. He walked up to the server and asked what the dishes were. The server described each one happily. Evan pointed to a dish in front of an elderly woman, expressing some confusion. The server looked carefully at the woman’s meal, and then turned back and explained that she had a different lobster dish. Evan thanked the server, and continued to the restroom.
While in the restroom, he disposed of the tiny vial in his hand. It was too easy to misdirect everyone while he emptied its contents on the man’s meal. The man had been too predictable. But it was easy to predict what someone would do when you had been watching them for weeks.
Evan returned to the table, kissing Shelley on the cheek as he passed. She was pleasantly surprised. As usually happened, the meals were already on the table. Evan and Shelley ate their own meals and also shared with each other. They ate bites of each others’ food, arms intertwined, and smiled at each other blissfully.
Shelley’s phone rang, and she excused herself to take it. Evan glanced over across the aisle as the man’s voice grew angry, and saw him stab the woman’s hand with a fork. She cried out, and he grabbed her face and ordered her to be quiet. She was reduced to whimpering, and glanced at Evan as she seemed to notice him for the first time. He looked at her seriously, and then smiled and winked. He carefully mouthed the words “be strong”, and the woman’s eyes opened wide. Shelley returned, and gave Evan a sly smile, nodding slightly.
Suddenly, the man began gasping for breath, and then fell over clutching his chest. Shelley immediately called for paramedics, and then alerted the staff. The paramedics came surprisingly quickly, and after attempting to revive him (and failing, of course) they strapped the man to a gurney and wheeled him out. One of the paramedics gave Evan a wink as he passed, and Evan saluted in return.
Evan made a point of asking for the checks of both his table and the one across the aisle, shooing off the woman’s attempts to object. Evan asked about the woman, but she insisted she was fine – very well in fact. She wondered aloud what she would do. Evan told her that she could do whatever she wanted to now. She was free, and she was in control of far more than she realized. Again, her eyes grew wide, but this time they narrowed again, and the woman touched Evan’s arm, nodded at Shelley, and walked out quickly.
Shelley smiled at Evan warmly and admiringly. Evan just rolled his eyes and pointed at Shelley, shaking an imaginary vial. Shelley conceded the point. Her phone rang again, and she answered. She listened, nodded and hung up. They stood up and kissed warmly and passionately, but not for too long. Their next assignment awaited them. It was truly a most memorable anniversary.