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The Dinner Check

Jensen surveyed the restaurant. Saturdays were normally busy but tonight they had some unexpected guests. He had not only seen the movie star and his entourage enter the restaurant, but had heard the staff whispering in the back. Professionalism was one of the traits his father had stressed when he ran the restaurant and had drilled that into his son from the time he was a busboy until the day he retired, six months ago. It had paid off since the only gawking and murmuring, at least from the employees, had been behind the kitchen door. As far as Jensen was concerned, the celebrity was just another patron who deserved the same respect as his other guests.

Very few famous people came to Newcross. They all stayed in the resort town about an hour's drive away. He'd once heard his father mention a hall of fame football player who dined there back when Jensen was a toddler. However, tonight the room was full of locals except for the actor and his party of six.

The restaurant was the nicest in the small town. Crisp white linen table cloths, crystal vases with fresh flowers, charger plates that changed color with the season, and silverware arranged in the proper order atop a clean white napkin greeted patrons. It looked high end but wasn't so lofty that the average local family couldn't afford to dine. 'Good food, pleasant atmosphere, and reasonable prices,' were some of the other virtues his father had preached.

As manager Jensen not only supervised the staff but made the rounds at the tables chatting with townsfolk and discovering the origins of the occasional tourist. He had inherited many traits from his father and everyone enjoyed coming to a restaurant where they were always made to feel welcome and appreciated.

He waited to approach the celebrity's table until their meal was over. If there had been any problems or complaints the staff would have consulted him immediately and since no one had, he was merely dropping off the check and thanking them for their patronage.

"How was your meal this evening?" Jensen addressed the movie star directly.

"Excellent," replied the man, enthusiastically. "Top quality food."

Jensen smiled. The recipes had been in his family for generations. Nothing too fancy, but good wholesome food presented well. 'If people wanted sloppy looking food on spotted tablecloths they could just as well stay home,' had been another of his father's frequent comments to the staff.

"I'm glad you enjoyed it. We pride ourselves on using fresh, local ingredients. Thank you for coming this evening," was all Jensen said as he discreetly placed the folder containing the check on the table. He was only two steps away when he felt a hand on his shoulder.

"You have a really nice restaurant here," the star said as Jensen turned to face him.

"Thank you."

"You, uh, do know who I am," said the man in something near a whisper.

"Oh, yes, sir. I've seen several of your movies. You're a very talented actor."

The man smiled and nodded. "Most places, well," he produced the folder, "they kind of overlook this sort of thing. It's good publicity and all, you know."

Jensen smiled warmly and the man smiled in return, probably assuming they had come to an understanding. Instead, still smiling, Jensen asked, "Sir, how much did you make on your last movie?"

He was rewarded with raised eyebrows. Jensen didn't really care about the answer, nor was he against a gratis meal now and then. 'It was good for business,' his father had told him. However, when they did provide complimentary meals, it was usually for a good cause.

"See that couple over there in the corner," he said to the man in a low voice. "It's their 30th anniversary. He asked her to marry him in this restaurant and they've been coming here on this day every year since." They both glanced over at the couple who were laughing and enjoying themselves. "This time, though, that's water in those wine glasses and their meal consisted of an entrée that they split and the dessert you see them sharing. You see, she was diagnosed with breast cancer about two years ago. It was a pretty bad case and the insurance company wouldn't cover most of the experimental procedures. The good news is the treatments were successful. The bad news is they had to sell their home to pay the medical bills."

You'd never know by looking at the couple that they had gone through such difficulties. They gazed lovingly as they spooned bites of the chocolate mousse into each other's mouth, savoring each smooth, delicious bite.

"It was an extravagance for them to come here tonight, but the husband insisted," Jensen continued. "They had been dining here every year for their anniversary and even if wasn't entirely conventional, that didn't mean they shouldn't celebrate such a momentous occasion in the same place they had for so many years." Jensen had already offered them the additional meal and dessert, but they had politely refused. They knew he had sent more than a few meals to the house while she was undergoing treatment.

Jensen turned back and looked the man in the eye, "I really do appreciate your patronage and am glad you enjoyed our food; but whose check do you really think I should comp tonight?"

The celebrity smiled warmly this time and nodded. He patted Jensen on the shoulder then reached into his breast pocket and handed him a credit card. "Put theirs on my tab too," he said. "And throw in a bottle of your best wine." As he was about to walk away he turned and added, "Oh, by the way, it was ten million."

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