Ben entered a church raffle and won a dinner-for-two at Pierre's, the elite three-star restaurant near Laguna Beach. Ben needed someone to accompany him for that meal, so he decided to approach Anna, who worked in Purchasing. He'd heard she'd recently broken up with her boyfriend. During a break, he hurried to the Purchasing office.
He found her at her desk, highlighting an item on a spreadsheet. "Hello, Anna," he said.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
"I'm Ben, from Scheduling."
"Oh, yes, Ben. I've seen you around. What can I do for you?"
"Well, I was wondering if you'd like to have dinner with me sometime. I won a dinner-for-two in a raffle and thought you might enjoy sharing it with me."
"Gosh, Bob, I'm pretty much booked up most nights. Sorry."
"Ben. My name's Ben. No matter. The restaurant is Pierre's down in Laguna. You've heard of it?"
"Pierre's? My god, yes. You've got two free dinners at Pierre's?"
"Yeah. Pretty lucky, huh?"
"It's more like a miracle. Tell you what, Ben, I remember now that I'm free on Thursday night. Is Thursday night okay for you?"
Ben couldn't have been happier on that warm Thursday evening, driving down the Pacific Coast Highway with the lovely Anna from Purchasing beside him. He didn't anticipate anything more than a dinner with her, but one never knows. Ben was even more encouraged when Anna took his arm after the valet drove off in his car. Inside the restaurant they were quickly shown to a table at a window overlooking a marina. A waiter brought them menus and they ordered cocktails.
"I appreciate you having dinner with me," Ben said, after they ordered two outrageously expensive meals. Ben presented the raffle certificate to the waiter, who nodded, tucked it away discreetly, then informed them that it would take a while to prepare their two excellent choices.
"Well, I'm grateful you invited me," Anna said, "Dining in this restaurant is a once-in-a-lifetime treat."
Ben decided to try a move or two. "It's certainly a big treat for me, Anna, having the company of a charming and attractive woman this evening."
"Nice of you to say that, Ben."
"I'm serious, Anna. I'm attracted to you."
"Gosh, Ben, I like you too."
A young lady brought a basket of bread and tray of assorted hors d'oeuvres to the table. Ben thought it proper to let Anna select something first.
"Listen, Ben," she said, ignoring the food, "Someone is going to join us here for a while tonight. I hope that isn't a problem. He won't be eating with us."
Ben was startled. "Someone is going to join us?"
"I know it might seem awkward to you, but it's in my best interests. I hope you can understand that."
Ben wasn't sure he'd heard her clearly. "I'm sorry, Anna. I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Well, the fact is I have poor judgment in men. I just can't pick 'em right. Nothing personal, Ben, but all my past boyfriends have been shitty. The last one even beat me up. That's how I met Frank. He's my psychologist. I was lucky he was available tonight."
"Your psychologist is coming to dinner? This dinner?"
"He won't stay long."
"Why is he even coming?"
"Oh, you know," she said, finishing off her cocktail. She summoned the waiter and ordered them another round.
"But I don't know, Anna. Really. I don't know."
"Frank will ask a few questions. It's silly, I know. Humor me."
"Questions? What questions?"
"Oh, you know. About your childhood, your parents, other relationships you've had and why you don't have one now. Like that."
Ben wondered if he was having a horrible dream. "That sounds really weird, Anna. Frank decides what men you see?"
"Now he does. It's for my own good."
Ben shook his head. He couldn't think of anything to say. She's a nut-cake, he thought. What had he gotten himself into?
"Look, Ben, you asked me out, I didn't ask you. I don't know anything about you. Aren't I entitled to take a few little precautions?"
"I'm a love-aholic, Ben," she said. "I fall like a ton of bricks for anyone who takes me out and treats me nice. Without Frank's help I'd be in love with you before dinner was over, and when I'm in love I can't control myself. If you wanted to ravish me tonight, I'd be your sex slave. You want all my money? Fine. I'd give it to you. You wanna mop the floor with me? I won't protest. That's the way I am when I'm in love. But I'm working on it. I think I'm getting better. Really, Ben, I'm getting better."
"Well, I guess that's good, Anna. I..."
"I'll understand if you think coming to dinner with me was a mistake," she said, "No harm, no foul. If you want to leave, it's okay. We've no commitment to each other right now. But later tonight, there's no telling how intense things could get. I might have a relapse."
Later he couldn't remember walking out of the restaurant.
Anna sat alone in Pierre's, finishing her drink, then ordered another. The waiter brought a small tureen of soup to the table and a moment later Frank arrived. He kissed her on the lips before sitting down in the captain's chair that Ben had so eagerly vacated. "How was your day, love?" he said.
"Just another day, honey," she said.
"Ain't this place great? What's for dinner?"
"Something splendid. I couldn't even pronounce it for you."
Frank laughed, then picked up Ben's untouched drink. "What's this?"
"Scotch, short, with a splash of water."
He sipped from the glass. "Mmm. Single malt. The young man has excellent taste."