58 - Nice

Submitted by Ken Watts on Wed, 03/28/2007 - 10:14

Mr. Hogan continued his story.

"And after dinner my friend Sam proposed a toast to me-to me. You know what he said?"

"What?" Julie asked.

"He stood up suddenly, without any announcement or anything, and just waited—until everyone at the table stopped talking, and turned to see what he was going to say.

"He looked straight ahead, not at us. And after a moment of silence, he said:

'A man must make choices in this life.'

"Then he reached down and picked up his wine glass.

'With each choice,' he said, 'we fear the loss of what we have not chosen. William has chosen business over his art. But tonight we are witnesses that nothing is lost.'

"Then he lifted his glass toward me, and drank. And everyone there did the same. It was, well, it was incredible. All my life, I'd been searching for something, and now, when I'd finally given up on it, it dropped right into my lap.

"And while they were toasting me, I suddenly remembered something a friend had told me, almost a year before. Actually, you've met him—remember Dudley Smith? He was the man in the kitchen that night you and Tim came in late for the party?"

"Yes." Julie said, "I remember him."

"Well, we went camping about a year ago, out in the desert. And one night we were just sitting around the campfire, you know, playing bongos, and chanting, and stuff. And I had cooked dinner, over an open fire, and Dudley said to me:

'Delicious, William. And over a campfire. Absolutely unbelievable.'

"It was cool out, but not cold—perfect, really. I was savoring the scent of the campfire, and watching the flames, and the Joshua trees, silhouetted against the last light of the evening, and I said:

'The desert's so peaceful. I'm tempted to move out here-just never go back.'

"And Dudley raised one eyebrow at me, like I'd said something funny.

'I got to tell you, William,' he said, 'it wouldn't do you any good. You'd be buying this all up, developing it, and selling it off within a year.'

'I'm not so sure…' I said.

"But Dudley shook his head. Then he pointed to his chest.

'No. What you need, my friend, is a vacation from whoever or whatever you're trying to satisfy, in here.'

Julie shifted her weight from one foot to the other. William seemed to have forgotten that she was listening.

"Yes," he said.

"I'd forgotten that.

"In that moment, I knew he was right—had been right all along.

"And that night at the dinner party, after Sam toasted me, I remembered other dinner parties I had given over the years. All the good food, carefully prepared, all the people, warmed and nourished and connected to each other. I realized that I had ignored my real vocation all my life.

"I had spent my life trying to please someone else."

The faraway look faded from his eyes, and he focused on Julie again.

"So I decided to open a restaurant. To provide people with good food, with a warm atmosphere, with evenings like that one."

Julie nodded slowly, trying to take it all in. She glanced again at the plans on the easel.

Under the drawing of the building, below the plaster lion, were sketches of clown suits, designed for the waiters.

She absolutely had to be polite.

"Yes, well, that's—that's wonderful, Mr. Hogan. And you're going to be the cook?"

"Me? No. I'm hiring the best."

"Oh. Well, It's a very nice restaurant. I'm sure you'll… Tim's in his room, you said?"

Mr. Hogan came out of yet another fog.

"Hmm?" he said. "Oh. Yes. He might be."

* * * * *

William watched Julie leave the library, then turned his attention back to the plans. His eyes wandered over the clown suits, the circus awnings, the plaster figures at the entrance.

" 'Nice', " he mumbled to himself. "Nice."