On Wednesday afternoon, Ellen D'Este met her best friend Sydney Greene for lunch at Wah Sing, a favorite Chinese restaurant of theirs in downtown Pearl River. It was Ellen's day off and she knew that something was up because when Sydney had called and asked her to meet him, he had said there was something he wanted to talk to her about--in person. Sydney holding off a discussion was as likely as Ellen drawing her eyeliner on straight while driving. Something was definitely up.
Ellen didn't have to wait long. Seconds after the arrival of their steamed dumplings, Sydney held her gaze and blurted, "I want you to meet someone."
"You've got a new fellow. Well, I'll be!"
"No, no, not like that, though I certainly wouldn't mind." He leaned back, pushed his yellow-framed glasses up his nose and measured his words. "Would you come with me to meet someone on Saturday?"
Ellen cringed. "I'm not the blind date type, Syd. Mike and I have separated, but that doesn't mean I need help arranging my social life." Anger replaced regret as handsome Mike's image popped into her mind.
"Not meet, meet, silly." Sydney raised his hands in frustration. "It's Miss Wendy I want you to see." He picked up his chopsticks and poked nervously at his food.
"Miss Wendy?" She tried to place the name.
He aimed a finger at her. "Give me a chance to explain before you say anything. I know I've told you about her before."
Sydney's words came at her in a torrent. She narrowed her eyes, steeling herself for the onslaught. "Miss Wendy can make you a believer, Ellen. She'll show you that there's something bigger than yourself." He pointed a chopstick at her. "Don't look at me like that! She could make a difference in your life if you'd let her. At no charge, too. I know how you are about that. You have to come with me to see her Saturday!"
Ellen rolled her eyes. "I've heard this type of pitch so many times from you." No wonder he'd wanted to speak to her in person. She'd have hung up on him if he'd dared to ask her on the telephone.
"This is different." Sydney speared a pot sticker, driving the point of his chopstick into the heart of his dumpling. "She's different. You've got to give her a chance. She's going to reveal things to you that you never realized were there." He leaned toward her and whispered, "She'll make you believe in God."
"Syd, the only revelation I've ever had on one of these spiritual jaunts is the sight of my VISA bill growing larger. That happens every time we go on one of your excursions in search of meaning. I can't believe that this is what you wanted to ask me." She glowered at him and took a sip of beer.
A chomping Sydney met her gaze and leveled the now empty chopstick at her chest. "You're coming with me, Miss Smarty Pants. You need this as much as I do. Something in us all cries out for people like Miss Wendy."
"Oh, please! Spare me!"
Sydney shrugged and handed her several leaflets with a woman's beaming face on them. "You should read these before you go."
A dour waitress delivered a steaming platter of moo shu pork and a stack of pancakes. Wordlessly she rolled each of them a serving of the dish, folding the pancakes into neat rectangles. The tiny woman placed the remaining ingredients on the table and left them to their next course.
"If I did agree to come with you Syd, it wouldn't be for any reason you'd like."
"All I care about is that you come and maybe hear something that will get through that wall of yours."
"If I come it'll be to prove that you're wrong about her, wrong about all this bullshit that people keep feeding you."
"You are such a broken record. Say you'll come with me." He bit into his moo shu pork.
"We've been having this discussion about what's out there since first year of college. That's almost fifteen years. I respect your opinion. Honest. Can't we agree to disagree? I thought we'd reached a truce."
"I still think one day you'll see the light."
He leaned back in his chair. "Will you come with me to see her? Please?"
"Fine! I'll come with you to Miss Wendy's." She wanted to grab the words back as soon as they flew from her mouth.
Sydney leaned over the table and hugged her in victory. "You'll see. No one tells you what matters better than Miss Wendy. She's inspirational!"
Ellen wiped her mouth with her napkin. "I have to hand it to you, Syd. It looks like you've finally found something larger than both of us." She pointed at the beaming face of Miss Wendy on the flyer; a huge beaming face.
"Hah, hah." Sydney wrapped himself another moo shu pork. He took a large bite and chewed with his eyes closed, savoring his food.
"Didn't you tell me once that she weighs four hundred pounds or something like that?" She toyed with the last of her dumplings.
Syd waved at her dismissively. "She knows what matters. That's what counts. I adore listening to her." He smiled mischievously. "And I'd adore hearing about your massage clients too if you'd be willing to spill. You must hear and see some incredible things in your job. Touching all those men..."
She shook her head. "Give it a rest, Syd. What happens on my table is confidential, otherwise no one would be willing to hire me."
He sniffed. "You are such a goody two shoes." Suddenly, Sydney let out a yell and dropped his neatly wrapped pork onto his plate. "Oh God, oh God, oh God!" A look of horror spread over his face, which went from white to green in a matter of fascinating seconds.
"What the heck is wrong?" Ellen looked around the almost empty restaurant. The few patrons in the place shot nervous glances in their direction.
Sydney squirmed in his seat and moaned. He pointed at his plate and Ellen studied it. There, amidst the pork and egg and bits of shredded vegetables, wiggled an unmistakable cockroach.
"Hell, Syd, you've seen your share of roaches. You going soft on me?"
The insect backed out of the wrapper onto the porcelain plate and it was then that Ellen saw Sydney's great cause for distress. A cockroach was disgusting enough to find in your food. This was half a cockroach.
Sydney raced in the direction of the stairs leading to the bathroom, and Ellen did what any higher life form would do. She reached for the fried noodles bowl and heard a satisfying crunch as she smashed it into the table, flattening for all time the revolting insect.
"You and your progeny be damned. That's one less of you to survive the nuclear holocaust."
When Sydney returned from the bathroom pale and shaking Ellen pushed a cup of tea toward him. "It might settle your stomach."
"We're leaving. Hurry, hurry."
"Fine with me. Wah Sing's food was pretty crummy today even without the roach. I'm glad I never got to the moo shu."
"You'll come with me, Saturday, won't you?"
"I've said I would."
"Please, Ellen. I want you to hear her, so no last minute cancellations, no emergency massages."
"I'm tired of hearing about this damn fat seer. Why the hell is she so fat anyway? Can't she see her future and what'll happen to her if she keeps on stuffing herself?"
"I'll meet you outside." He dropped a twenty on the table. "I can't bear to be in here any longer." Sydney turned and headed for the door, his yellow scarf pressed to his lips.