Hospitality


2007 Rodney Cox

The door bell roused Roberto Santini from his book. “I’ll get the door,” he called out to his wife, who was in the kitchen, preparing dinner. Normally they ate earlier, but a previous commitment kept them out later than anticipated.

He opened the door to find his office manager, Marla Jeager, standing at the threshold along with her young daughter, Tanya, and her boyfriend, Bill. Roberto’s face lit up. “What a pleasant surprise! Come in, come in.”

“I hope we aren’t interrupting you. I know we didn’t call ahead or anything.”

“Don’t be silly dear girl. You are always welcome,” Roberto said.

“We saw a bottle of your favorite wine while we were out and thought it would be nice to drop it off,” Marla said, presenting a bottle to him.

“Oh what a wonderful gift my dear, we can have it with dinner,” Roberto said, then called out to his wife. “Maria, we will have three more for dinner.”

“We didn’t realize you were about to eat. We don’t want to be any trouble,” said Bill.

“Nonsense. Dinner is always better when shared with friends. I’ll not take no for an answer.”

“Well, in that case,” Marla said, “We would love to join you for dinner.”

“Wonderful! Here, let me take your coats. Now sit. What can I get you all to drink?”

After getting the drink orders and putting away the coats, Roberto found himself humming while in the kitchen preparing the beverages. His wife just smiled at him. He loved to entertain guests, especially Marla, whom he thought of as a daughter. He remembered when Marla first came to town, all alone and needing help. She had been a bit under qualified, but Roberto felt that he had to hire her. She learned quickly and now was his most valued employee.

A thought crossed his mind as he finished with the drinks. He looked up at Maria.

“Yes,” she asked.

“I just realized that Marla and Bill have gotten engaged. They must be here to tell us the good news,” Roberto said.

“How do you know?” Maria asked.

“I just remembered seeing the engagement ring when Marla handed me the wine. She hadn’t worn it at work today. And it’s a bit fishy that they were just in the neighborhood to drop off a bottle of wine.”

“Well, let’s go congratulate them.”

“Wait,” said Roberto, “Don’t spoil their surprise. Let them have their moment.”

“Ok, mum’s the word then.”

As he brought out the drinks to his guests, he noticed that Marla casually tried to keep her left hand out of sight. They engaged in easy conversation for a bit. Tanya was a bit fidgety, so Roberto got some toys to amuse herself with until dinner was ready.

Soon Maria called everyone to dinner and Roberto found himself smiling again. Dinner was such a valuable time to bond with friends and families. It was one of the last remains of what he saw as social obligations. To share a meal with someone allowed a formal and structured way for people to interact that put the participants at ease.

Dinner went by quickly as they conversation touched on work and school. Finally, just as everyone was finished, Marla cleared her throat.

“Bill and I have an announcement to make and a request.”

“Oh?” asked Roberto, feigning ignorance. “And what would that be?”

“I’m getting a new daddy!” Tanya said, unable to contain herself any longer. Everyone laughed.

“We’re getting married,” Marla admitted, sheepishly.

“Oh, how wonderful!” said Maria, getting up to hug Marla. “Many blessings.”

“Thank you.”

“Let’s see that ring you’ve been hiding all evening.”

“What? You knew?”

Bill laughed. “I told you they would figure it out. You should have left the ring off.”

Marla looked indignant. “I’m not taking this ring off! I worked too hard to get it.”

When the laughter died down, Roberto asked, “So what is this request you mentioned.”

Marla sobered and reached out to take Roberto’s hand. She took a deep breath and looked him in the eye. “Since I moved here you have been like a father to me. Would you do me the honor of giving me away?”

Roberto felt a shock as he looked at Marla’s open and expectant face. Even though he had performed this service for his own daughters, it had been expected of him. No one had ever asked him to do it before. This he found very moving and meaningful. He noticed his eyes welling up.

“Of course, my dear. I would be very honored to give you away. I don’t know much about Pagan weddings, but I promise not to embarrass you.”

“You’ll do fine, Roberto.”

“Well,” said Bill, “Let me help clear the table.”

“You don’t have to do that,” Maria said.

“I insist on helping.”

“Well, alright then.”

Roberto watched Bill clear the dishes and follow his wife into the kitchen.

“You’ve found yourself a wonderful man,” he told Marla.

“Thank you.”

“He’s a good guest,” Roberto added.

Marla smiled. “That’s an odd compliment.”

“What? Oh, yes. It’s something my grandmother would go on about. ‘Roberto,’ she would tell me, ‘Always be a good host and always be a good guest. It’s important.’”

“I suppose it is,” said Marla. “A gift demands a gift.”

“Exactly. It’s good to know young people still remember the old values. A gift demands a gift. I like that.”

“It’s older than you know,” Marla told him. “That was a statement from the God Odin, written down somewhere around the 11th century.”

“I still find it unusual that as a Pagan you are so devout.”

“What good is religion if you don’t live it every day?”

Roberto nodded. “A very good point.”

Soon Bill and Maria came out with cake for desert. “Something a bit special for the big occasion.”

“You didn’t have to go to the trouble,” said Marla.

“Don’t be silly. It’s a night to celebrate,” Maria told her.

“Thank you very much.”

“You are welcome. Roberto please do the honors, if you will.”

“Of course, of course.” He cut the cake and carefully handed out slices. Tanya even got some ice cream to go with hers.

Finally it was time to go. Roberto and Maria pressed a bunch of leftover on their guests.

“What a wonderful evening,” Roberto said.

“Yes, said Maria, “I wish they could have stayed longer.”

“That’s the mark of a good guest. They don’t over stay their welcome.”

“You and your good guests. What do you do with the bad ones?”

Roberto kissed his wife. “Why, you marry them of course.”

Maria slapped his arm and laughed. “Well you were always hanging around. I didn’t know what else to do with you. It drove my mother crazy.”

“Well maybe being a bad guest can work out. My grandmother used to tell me, ‘Roberto, if you spend any more time over there you’ll have to marry that girl!’”

“Well your plan worked, good guest or no.”

“How about to make it up to you, I give you a foot rub before bed.”

“You’re on,” she told her husband and headed for the bedroom.

Roberto smiled. “A gift demands a gift.”

 


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