Daniel, the main character of DANIEL~THE ONE WHO GOT AWAY, has a mother… well sort of. Here in an excerpt from the novel, is your opportunity to get a view of Daniel and Sheila’s relationship in action.
“Later that morning, Daniel returned Sheila’s call. Yes, she wanted a reservation, but no, not for lunch. She was coming for dinner, she was bringing special clients. There was a big deal brewing. Could Daniel make sure that everything would be just right tonight? He bristled at this. “I make sure that everything is just right for everyone, every day, all the time,” he shot back.
“Well of course you do, Daniel. Of course you do. Thanks so much.” She hung up without any further chit chat, as usual.
He tried to calm down, but she could always get to him. It was her attitude of dominance over something that was not hers, so imperious. It was his restaurant. She had no clue about how he ran it or how much of himself he put into it. And, she did not care. Finally, he brushed it off and spent the rest of the day there, serving as host at lunch, which was very busy and pleasant. People loved the specials and were commenting on them, especially the new Brussels sprout cole slaw. Lots of talking, lots of people coming and going.
After lunch, he visited with the staff in the kitchen. They rested their tired feet perched on the kitchen stools, talking and eating bowls of the chowder. Then he went on into the office. His office was small and neat, windowless, with red glossy-painted walls and English antiques. His glass-topped desk was small and immaculately clear of papers and mail. On the credenza behind the desk, wicker dividers held all the essentials and current paperwork, neatly filed. A small Oushak rug in gold, tan and red accented the floor. Henry was dozing there in his basket. Daniel listened to some music for a while, with only one table lamp lighting the room. Then he stretched out on an old brown velvet sofa he had there for just such a purpose between service hours. He seldom went back to the condo during the day, especially on Fridays and Saturdays. Today, he had a sound nap but woke feeling groggy. A mood of anxiety had dropped onto him. He tried to analyze it. There was his father to think of, and his illness. There was the problem of Thomas, which he had been successfully shoving to the back of his thoughts, ignoring his growing discomfort in the relationship. Then there was the on-going irritation with Sheila. He knew he needed to address these worries, but not now. It was time to get going for the Friday dinner crowd. He went to the private bathroom just off the office and freshened up. Then he went out onto the dining floor and began preparing. Most people wandered in after 5:00 PM to start with cocktails.
At exactly 5:30, Sheila and company came through the doors. Daniel saw her come in. He was near the kitchen doors, putting away a cart and did not immediately come out to greet her. She had brought along Mary Ann, her secretary and Jeff, her assistant. Apparently, the important clients were meeting them there later. Daniel took the opportunity to silently assess Sheila as she moved along to her booth. She never sat at the bar. She was a short, one might say petite, woman, 50ish. Maybe petite was not the right word for her as she was fine-boned but curvy, with a round pretty face, a small waist and rounded hips, rather busty, with shapely legs. Fine-boned, but strong, full of energy. She always wore the most impractical high heels and he could not remember ever seeing her in pants during the business week. Her preference was a fitted, tailored suit, the skirt falling right at the knee. Today her suit was collarless in baby blue light wool. Her hair was exactly the same ash brown tone as Daniel’s, but unlike his fine straight hair, hers was a short cap falling in loose curls. She had the same large, wide, gray intense eyes. In a whimsical frame of mind, he sometimes compared her with the classic cartoon character, “Betty Boop…” Yes, a fair haired version of “Betty,” right down to the face-framing curls. Quite a feminine appearing woman. This, however, belied her nature and personality, which included a stern outlook on life, dogged strength and a razor sharp wit. Adorning the whole image was an array of stunning and very expensive jewelry, most of it Italian.
Her movements were dainty and somewhat darting, like a swallow. She would swoop in, find her place, all the while engaging in a fast friendly banter. Once seated, she “reigned” with a calm authoritative manner among the staff and with her people. Watching her, Daniel could not deny the strong physical resemblance he bore to Sheila, the creamy skin, the hair, the gray eyes, and something about the nose, but that is about as far as any feeling of affinity with her went. She had always been an enigma to him.
Still, Daniel knew that Sheila was proud of him, proud of the restaurant, though she never said as much. He knew she talked him up among her clients and sent him a lot of business. She was a regular client, coming in about twice a week, usually for lunch on Friday.
Finally, he went over to greet her at the table. He put on his welcoming smile. She smiled back. Mary Ann and Jeff looked up from their menus and greeted him too.
“Good to see you, Daniel. You are looking well.”
She had put on her cordial face to match his smile, but he could see her mind was preoccupied.
“The halibut is special tonight,” he offered. “And the Sole in Papelotte is always good too.”
“Oh! The sole sounds wonderful,” Sheila replied looking over the menu.” We will have a hard time deciding. We’re waiting for our guests first, of course.” She smiled up at him again, a dazzling smile. He was dismissed.
“I hope you have everything you need,” he said. “Just let us know when you’re ready.” No sense of familial relationship had been expressed.
He moved away, mentally shrugging his shoulders, leaving her party to the waiter. “That’s enough said,” he thought. A few minutes later, he saw the clients arrive. A man and a woman, mid- fifties, sophisticated, dressed with a somewhat East Coast dark formality. They huddled over their drinks and business. He left them to it. Soon they had ordered and were laughing it up over dinner. Daniel watched Sheila do her magic, as she held their attention with stories and expressive gestures. Her face and jewelry were sparkling. They were mesmerized. He shook his head and went on to the foyer to say goodbyes to departing diners.
Sheila’s party stayed late, relaxed now and slowing down their talk over coffee and night-caps. Soon, they made their way all together out to the doors. They had enjoyed their time and the food, Mary Ann and Jeff said. Sheila turned to him with a flourish. She introduced her clients briefly, now having linked arms with them both.
“And, this is my son, Daniel,” she said. “We owe our lovely dinner to him and his staff. He is the proprietor here.” Still smiling, she swept her arm around the room. “Don’t you love the drama of this theme?” she said, “Daniel designed the décor himself.”
He smiled and nodded. “Please come again, won’t you. You are always welcome at The Prow.”
The clients glanced around again appreciatively and murmured their thanks for a lovely evening… And then they all departed together, conversing intently.
Daniel picked up a glass and napkin left there on a bench in the foyer. The same old emptiness came over him. As usual, he felt like a little child, looking in from the outside on the life of his mother and the things and people which were important in her life, as she swept by, not ever having really seen him. Or so it seemed to him. Sometimes, he wished she just wouldn’t come at all. This was his place.”