The hostess waited, her smile becoming forced. “Sir?” she prompted John. “I asked if you had a reservation.”
Collecting his thoughts, John's eyes focused on the pretty young woman talking to him. “A what?” he asked.
“A reservation, sir.”
“You need a reservation for... for this place?”
The hostess arched her eyebrows and nodded in the direction of the dining room. “As you can see, sir,” she explained, “we're very busy.”
“I didn't think...”
“Very busy,” she repeated emphasizing “very.”
“I didn't think...”
“You never do,” his wife goaded.
John frowned at his wife and turned back to the hostess. “Is this some sort of special occasion?” he asked.
“Everyday is a special occasion, sir,” the hostess responded cheerfully. “This is the Birthday Place.”
“Daddy, daddy, can we go see the donkey?” Johns children chanted in unison, tugging at his pants leg even harder.
“Uh, no, children...” John began, but his wife stepped between him and the hostess, and interrupted.
“We'll wait,” she said. “How long?”
The hostess checked her seating chart and the waiting list on a nearby clipboard. “At least an hour,” she replied. “Maybe more.”
John took his children's hands and began to turn them away. “Come along,” he said with a glance at his wife. “Let's go to McDonalds,” he added cheerily.
“No, we wanna stay here,” the children whined and tugged towards the dining room.
“We'll wait,” John's wife informed the hostess.
“Your last name?” the hostess asked with her pen poised over the waiting list.
“Radin,” John's wife replied. “R-A-D-I-N.”
“Party of four?”
The hostess added their name to the end of the list and smiled at Mrs. Radin. “The children can play while you're waiting,” she announced. “There're lots of games for them.”
“They all look like birthday games,” John observed with a mild look of displeasure playing on his lips.
“Of course, sir,” the hostess responded, ignoring his annoyance. “This is...”
“Yes, yes,” John interrupted. “The Birthday Place.”
The hostess smiled, again ignoring John's reactions as she explained, “Where everyday is a birthday party. It's someones birthday everyday, isn't it?”
John forced a brief smile and led his wife to a seat by the door.
“Daddy, daddy,” the children shouted, hopping in front of their parents. “Can we play?”
“Go ahead, children,” John's wife answered for her husband. “Have fun.”
The children disappeared into the dining room where games were interspersed with dining tables before the last words left their mother's mouth. Their first stop was a giant statue of a donkey with tails attached all over it with stickum.
John and his wife sat quietly for a few moments. John kept his eyes straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with his wife who was glaring at him.
He knew what she wanted to say. She knew that he knew. Still, she said the words. “You could have invested in this.”
John pretended not to hear her.
Another mother sitting next to John's wife exclaimed to no one in particular. “Isn't this wonderful?”
John's wife turned in the woman's direction. Before she could say anything, the woman continued, “It's like this every night.”
John's wife turned back to glare at her husband and shook her head. “Genius,” she said with contempt.
John finally met her eyes. “How was I supposed to know?” he asked pleadingly, with a shrug of his shoulders.
His wife harrumphed and turned to look for her children.
The woman sitting next to John's wife turned to her with a child's smile. “And, do you know what they serve for dessert?” she asked.
John's wife smiled and the woman answered her own question. “Birthday cake!”
John kept his eyes straight ahead, staring at nothing. “Wonderful,” he murmured to himself. “Just wonderful.”
John's wife patted his arm. “Don't worry, dear,” she said with a sly smile. “You won't be getting any. Not tonight.”