“Will sir be dining alone this evening?”
The Maître D shook Allen out of his stupor. He’d been standing in line for what felt like an hour, though in reality it was really only ten minutes.
“No. I have a reservation for two under Greenly.”
“Ah, excellent sir. Right this way.”
It had been a while since Allen had been to a restaurant like this, and judging from the menu it would be an even longer while til he did again, but tonight was about trying something new. Someone new.
The table was the same as the ones at every other restaurant in town. A long line of single booths looped all along the wall of the restaurant. Each was barely wider than the person sitting in it, and they ate from tables attached to the booth in front of them. This restaurant tried to make it a little fancier than the rest, the booths were carved wood instead of metal, and curtains were used for privacy instead of the usual glass sliding doors.
The host drew the curtain aside to reveal a small headset resting at Allen’s table.
“If sir would like to put this on I can seat you with your party.”
He slipped the band on in front of his eyes and adjusted the headphones larger. Apparently the last person who’d used this set couldn’t have been much bigger than a child. The cold metal table in front of him was replaced with an elegant white table cloth, with polished silverware and crystal glasses. His fellow diners were seated at other tables around him, though their conversation was just a simulated white noise to add to the atmosphere. The only conversation he’d be able to hear would be that of his dinner companion.
“Would you like anything to drink?” The waiter asked Allen.
“I’ll have a glasses of Pinot Noir, the Coppola will be fine thanks.”
“And for Madam?”
“Yeah, I’ll have a large, no make that an extra large diet coke.”
Allen’s date had come into focus on the other side of the table. While he waited for the waiter to bring his wine, a plastic cup with a long straw appeared in front of Diane, his date and she took a long drag.
“Sorry, just had a lot of Chinese for lunch, and that General Tso’s is giving me heartburn. You must be Allen. You look the same as your profile, only cuter.”
Allen blushed, it had been a long time since he had been on a date, and he wasn’t ever sure how react to someone as forward as Diane. Actually most people were forward, it was Allen who was unusual. Something about the anonymity of not actually being in the same physical location gave most people the license to say whatever they’re really thinking.
Fortunately he didn’t have to think of anything to say as Diane was just getting started.
“Wow, fancy place you’re going to. Must have wanted to impress me, but really I’m a pretty easy girl to please. As long as it’s meat I don’t care if it’s been ground and put between two pieces of bread, or glazed with a red wine reduction. So what do you do that brings in the big bucks anyway?”
“I’m … an accountant.”
“Wow, I’ve never dated an accountant before. Is it really as boring as they say?”
Allen chuckled, “Probably more.”
The waiter tapped Allen as the shoulder as he laughed, “I’m sorry sir, but if you could refrain from speaking out loud. The sensors will pick up your thoughts just fine.”
“Oh, right. Sorry.”
“Are you ready to order?”
“Well … my date’s having a double quarter pounder with cheese and a large fries so whatever’s your equivalent.”
“Very good, surf and turf with hasselback potatoes.”
Diane smiled, “So that was your real laugh, huh? I’ve never been a fan of those thought laughs myself. Laughter’s about an uncontrollable burst of expression. It’s not something your brain registers internally. It’s your whole body, and they haven’t made the sensor that can pick up on that.”
“No, I suppose not. So what do you do?”
“Telemarketing. Just going from one cube to another. Don’t even need to change headsets.”
“What’s it like being in so many people’s heads?”
“‘Bout what you’d expect. Half of them are thinking about what I’d look like naked, and the other half want to rip my head off. It’s the ones that want both that I worry about.”
Allen thought about laughing, and he laughed.
“See that’s not the same is it. Next time go to a place with kids. There’s no way they can keep the little buggers quiet, so you can use your real voice whenever you want.”
“You’re probably right. You’ll have that burger eaten before my steak ever arrives.”
“Well you can always share my fries.”
Allen chuckled, briefly for real, then more in his head as the waiter shot him a look.
“So which are you thinking about?”
“Hmm… excuse me?” Allen asked.
“Are you wondering what I’d look like naked or are you really just wanting to hang up on me?”
Allen smiled, “I think I’d like to hear more.”