Follows The Appetizer
Maude Standish could easily hold her own against any woman, even those half her age. When she entered a room, heads turned. Everyone's head, man or woman. Not just because of beauty, although she was by all standards beautiful. But because she maintained a presence that just seemed to command attention wherever she traveled. And it was this very presence that had every eye in the restaurant turned to watch her as she glided her way past tables to the bar area.
Paying no attention to the eyes that followed her, she sought a familiar face and, with her gaze finally settling on the handsome features of her only child, she moved toward him.
"Hello, Mother," he said as he rose, quickly setting down a long-stemmed glass containing what had to be at least a double martini. She stared at him with fine appraisal.
Lord, she did produce one heart-stopping offspring.
"Ezra, dear," she said as she bent forward to provide an air kiss on either side of her son's cheeks. "I just knew I'd find you back here. Tryin' to administer a large painkiller before my arrival?" She pointed to the almost full martini that had resumed it place in her son's hand. She plucked a plump olive from the drink and popped the gin-soaked morsel into her mouth. Her gaze then turned to the man to her left who had remained silent as he stood watching mother and son.
"And Mr. Wilmington, how pleased I am you decided to grace us with your company this evenin'," she said, her lips sliding smoothly over perfect teeth to form a stunning smile.
Buck smiled in return, white teeth shining brightly from under his dark mustache. "Why, thank you Maude, I'm touched you asked me. And please, do me a favor, it's just Buck."
"Why of course, Buck. Buck. You know, that really is an interestin' name, isn't it? Short for Buckingham, perhaps. I like that. Most certainly a family name, I'm sure," Maude mused, not really waiting for any sort of answer as she continued speaking. "Well, gentlemen, I do believe I am positively famished. I've taken the liberty of securin' our table already, you don't mind, do you Ezra? The very thought of having to spend one more minute sittin' in another dark, smoky bar..." Her voice trailed off in thought for a moment, then she turned her attention to Buck.
"Come, Mr. Wil--I mean, Buck. You may escort me to our table...though, I assume you need to settle your bar tab. Ezra? Be a dear and take care of th at, will you? Buck and I will see to our table." Maude turned to leave, wrapping one arm around Buck's and led him to the awaiting table. "You'll see I've asked for the view by the window, I can't abide sittin' in the very center of a room--"
Ezra watched the two leave, Maude's voice trailing behind her as she continued her dissertation on the whys and hows of selecting the proper table in any restaurant. Ezra grinned slightly as he caught Buck's eyes when the man looked desperately over his shoulder, feigning panic at being led away. With a small sigh, he drained his martini then dropped several bills on the bar and followed after his two dinner companions.
They seated themselves and Ezra had to admit, she had procured the best table in the dining room. As he perused the wine list, the Maitre-d' came over, leaning close to Maude as he spoke.
"I hope this is more to your liking, Mrs. Standish. I trust you will find our menu more than satisfactory. Chef has developed quite a wonderful array of original culinary delights. Oh, and please accept a plate of our oyster appetizer for your table. It is one of our house specialties, flown in fresh to us just this morning."
"Oysters?" Buck grinned, watching as a waiter placed a large plate of the things in the center of the table.
Ezra turned to Maude, who sat with a pleased smile lighting up her whole face. "And what, Mother, may I ask was that all about?"
"Oh, nothing really. I just let it slip that I was the wife of the Ambassador to Hanistan here on vacation and was dining this evening with two escorts, my son and the newly appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs. Then I happened to mention I was on the search for a restaurant with my intention being to host a rather exceedingly large formal dinner party to celebrate said appointment, and was here to sample the cuisine. Well, as it turns out, the Maitre-d' was more than happy to suggest we sit tonight at his best table. Naturally, I couldn't refuse."
"Naturally," Ezra frowned. This was so like his mother.
"Hanistan? I don't know I've heard of that country. That one that formed when the Soviet Union gave way?" Buck asked as he reached into a basket and withdrew a thick slice of warm, herb encrusted bread.
"It is now," Maude laughed. She spooned up an oyster and placed it on a small plate, handing it to Ezra. "Oyster, dear?"
He accepted the plate, staring at her as he set it down. "You know, Mother, it is not necessary to indulge in complete fabrication everywhere you go."
"Oh for Heaven's sake Ezra, there's absolutely nothing wrong with garnering a little extra service from those only too happy to provide. It was just a little tale, no harm done. As for the party, for all he knows, all that happened is I didn't ultimately choose this particular restaurant in which to hold my little soiree. But for tonight, I've made him happy and he's just more that pleased to return the favor. Which makes me happy. A little harmless butterin' up can return a lovely payoff. Haven't I told you? It always pays to pay."
"Now that sounds familiar," Buck intoned with a cock of his head.
Ezra rolled his eyes. "Mother, he only extended the extra courtesy because he believes you are someone you are not. It's all based on a lie. You are promisin' something you won't be delivering, and you are appearin' to be something you are not."
Maude scoffed, waving her hand in the air. "Don't be silly. Appearances are everything and nothing at the same time. He sees what he wants to see. Besides, isn't this what you do almost daily, Mr. Undercover Agent? Anyway, I'm not hurtin' a soul. Now stop tryin' to be so deliberately contrary and try the oysters, they're delicious." She let another slide down her throat then laughed as she turned to Buck. "You do know what they say of oysters now, don't you? They have that interestin' reputation of being a natural aphrodisiac."
Buck turned the slimy object speared on the end of the tiny fork. He was barely able to suppress the suggestive leer that threatened to form his features as he spoke. "Ya don't say?"
+ + + + + + +
The waiter returned with menus and the wine list. Ezra perused both then glanced over to his mother who seemed to be enraptured with whatever charming nonsense Buck was spewing. His mother was smiling and for a moment, his heart twinged with the idea that she was flirting with his lover. Then it absolutely screeched to dead halt when she laughed and placed a hand on Buck's arm.
Ezra reached for his goblet and it crashed to the table, spilling sparking water everywhere.
"Ezra!" Maude exclaimed, quickly pushing away from the table and spillage. Ezra leaned forward, throwing his napkin onto the wet linen to slow the flow of water.
"Sorry Mother," he apologized, then motioned for the waiter who quickly came to inspect the damage.
Maude stood, the front of her silk dress striped with dark rivers as the water raced in lines down the front. "Excuse me, Mr. Wilmington, I'll need to...freshen up a bit. Ezra." Turning away from the table, she made her way to the ladies' room.
The manager joined the waiter, both professing apologies as though the fault was clearly their own, and quickly stripped, then reset the table. Ezra exhaled after reseating himself, enjoying the few minutes alone with Buck.
"Rather wallowing in her company, I see," Ezra said quietly. He tried but couldn't seem to suppress the nasty bite of his words.
Buck arched a brow as he heard the tight remark. "As a matter of fact, I guess I am. She makes for real pleasant company, Ez."
"So I gather. I see you weren't too concerned with her hand finding its way onto your sleeve." Ezra was appalled at his own tone, yet he couldn't seem to stop. Cease this, you idiot.
"Ahh, so is that what this is about? You're jealous of your own mother?" Buck picked up his water quickly taking a sip to disguise the fact he wanted to break out in a huge smile of pleasure.
Ezra was indignant. Jealous? Absolutely not. "Absolutely not, don't be preposterous. I'm merely surprised that you'd allow such familiarity with someone with whom you are barely acquainted. That is all." There. That sounded reasonable.
Buck laughed aloud, enjoying the reason behind every word spoken, and every word not. "Lordy, Ezra, she's your mom!"
"I know she's my mother. And let me enlighten you as to--that is, I know also how she can --I mean -- it's just--" Ezra rambled, hearing himself and becoming chagrined at just how ridiculous he knew he sounded. Shut-up Ezra. Now. "Oh hell, Buck. I've lost my mind. That woman just--sets me on edge."
Buck laughed again, then stood as Maude returned to the table. She slipped into her seat and stared at her son, who seemed to be trying to hide himself by barricading his head behind the menu.
"Have I missed something?" She asked, sensing an undercurrent that was not present prior to her leaving.
"Everything, Mother. As usual, you've missed everything," Ezra said quietly.
Maude turned her attention to Buck as she chose to ignore the soft mumbling continuing from behind the menu wall.
"So, Buck. How many lovely ladies are you involved with at the moment? Any special one, or three?" Maude laughed lightly.
Ezra winced as he heard the words and crouched somewhat lower in his seat. In a way, he, too, wanted to hear, not at all convinced that Buck was strictly his alone.
Buck smiled. "Yep, Maude. Variety can be nice. But right now, I've pretty much reserved myself for just one."
"Oh, just one, is it? My, it must be one very special person to hold a place alone by your side. Tell me about this great love."
Buck smiled as he saw Ezra's menu creep a little lower to finally rest down on the table. He caught the green eyes and felt them warm his heart.
"Well. Let's see. Um, very nice, a good person. A kind heart. Attractive to most, incredibly beautiful to me. Soft and warm, nice to be near. Like curling up with favorite blanket and reading a classic. Someone to come home to on a cold night."
Maude smirked and leaned forward. "My, you are smitten. All of which is admirable, but let's get to facts and figures, shall we? What does this angel look like, I'd love to know."
"Angel, that about says it right there." Buck gazed at Ezra, not missing the look of astonishment written all over the younger man's face. "Not too tall, just the right height, I guess. Soft hair, just an ant's bridge between brown and blonde. The kinda hair you sink your face into, because it feels so right against your skin. And eyes, whoo. I'll tell you, just the exactly perfect shade of green. Sometimes calm and other times spitting fire."
"Well, that says a lot. I believe you're in the wrong profession, Mr. Wilmington. Perhaps you should have been a writer." Maude smiled at hearing the flowery description. "So, basically, I know this much. Medium height. Medium brown hair and green eyes. Could describe anyone." She laughed and picked up her menu. "As a matter of fact, that could even describe Ezra, here."
Buck reached out and placed a hand on Ezra's. "Yep, Maude. It could at that."
Maude stared at the movement, looking from Buck to Ezra and back again. Ezra made no move to detach himself from the loose grip.
Her jaw dropped open, "Now see here!"
To be continued - next course, of course