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Romance Funny

 It was so terribly cold. Snow was falling, and it was almost dark, when out of the blue, my wife called me at work. "We're going to Niagara Falls for the weekend. I got us an awesome deal!"

We had both been working at our first "full-fledged" jobs for a year and had reached that moment after graduation when you suddenly realize you can't make that impact on the world your student enthusiasm once promised. At first, I just sighed. It was the dead of January, and I had already expended all my energy on a week of inconsequential stress. I just wanted to collapse on the couch for two days. Sarah felt a similar weary exhaustion. I could tell. Her tone was more hopeful than excited, but she had dreaded the routine we were sinking into and was trying her best to pull us free.

I looked to the ceiling and adjusted my telephone headset. At that time I was working at Stats Canada on the tele-query desk. I took a deep breath and, as convincingly as possible, said, "Sounds good." I don't think she bought it, but we went nonetheless.

This was Niagara Falls before the casinos when there was a very distinct off-season. When we got to the hotel, we were given the details of our "lovers' special". One dinner to be used either Friday or Saturday, two breakfasts, a roll of tokens for the arcade, 10% off some "4D" movie ride experience, and a 2-for-1 coupon to Max Tussaud's. I guessed it was Madame's nephew? We also got a bottle of sparkling wine in our room and chocolate treats on our pillows. I was impressed. It sounded good.

When we got into our room and saw the "bottle" of wine - basically an aeroplane-sized glass and half - and the chocolates - "fun wrapped" Oh Henry's left over from Halloween - we both started to laugh. The tone for two wonderful days had been set. We decided to cash in on our dinner coupon right away.

The restaurant off the lobby had hopes of being better. There were huge panoramic windows that promised a view of the gorge. Unfortunately, they had some winter moisture problems that day, and it felt like we were defrosting amid the dripping streaks and foggy patches. The decor was your standard booths and tables though the "romantic" lighting was unique. Dollar store battery-powered tea lights were lodged inside thick tumbler glasses and shed a muted pleasantness in a "what a great idea for a craft" sort of way. I had a feeling they were created by our waitress since she was the one who always seemed to be fussing with them. Only one other couple was in the dining room, so she attended to us immediately.

"Can I get you something to start?"

"Sure." "Thank you, that would be nice." We both responded simultaneously.

"And what would the lady like this evening?"

Sarah smiled at the flattery. "I think I'll have a glass of white wine." She glanced over at me to see my reaction. This was a subtle cue of the mood to follow. Diet Coke was usually the beverage of choice. She didn't normally drink alcohol. One glass numbed her nose and made her giggle far too easily. When she did drink, however, it meant she was comfortable with my company and open to anything to follow. I raised my eyebrows in a debonair way.

"And for the gentleman?"

"Do you have Foster's on tap?"

"Yes we do."

"I'll have a pint please."

Sarah smiled at the happy memories I invoked. At university, Foster's was my signature beer. It was at a time when Crocodile Dundee was a known name, and Australia was inexplicably cool. 15 cent buffalo wings and a pitcher of Foster's was the Tuesday night special at the London Arms pub. There the Classics Club would meet and, as a group, circle the wagons and drink ourselves into extroverts.

As soon as the waitress left, Sarah smiled at me. She reached out and held my hand across the table. With my gaze on hers, she slipped her foot from her shoe and slowly began sliding it up my pant leg.

"I got a pedicure this morning." She announced seductively.

I nodded and pretended I didn't notice her invitation. "What colour?" I asked.

"I'm not telling." She teased. "You'll just have to find out later." Her devious little smile was gorgeous.

"Mmmm. I can't wait."

When the waitress returned with our drinks, we immediately retreated to our personal spaces as if we had been discovered by the chaperone. Sarah opened the menu and began to salivate at the variety.

"Can we add an appetizer to the package dinner?" Her question seemed innocent enough.

"You're on the package?" Our friendly waitress disappeared, and we were no longer a lady or a gentleman. She ripped the menu out of Sarah's hand and took mine before I had even opened it. She then scurried to her podium and brought back a tattered, grease-stained, photocopied page that we had to share. We both burst out laughing.

The waitress was flustered that we were not as bothered as she was. "The drinks are NOT included!"

"What choices do we have?" I asked, expecting the usual chicken or fish. I had been on many packages before with my parents.

"Coffee or tea." The waitress snapped.

Sarah and I looked at each other in amused disbelief.

"I'll have coffee please." I didn't even flinch at the ridiculously limited package. I was eager to get my order in early.

"And I'll have the tea!" Sarah followed my lead. "Can I have some milk with that?"

"Yes." The waitress snarled.

"Fantastic!" I enthused.

"Yes, great! I'm glad we got the package, Honey." Sarah joked.

The waitress stormed off and returned sometime later with our lettuce-only salads drowned in Kraft's Italian dressing and our chewy chicken dinners, which she had thoughtfully allowed to cool. She tossed the plates on the table and left us to peacefully devour our deal. We didn't see her again until we requested the bill. For some reason, we found it amusing to leave a generous tip, which of course, defeated the purpose of the package, but we didn't care. It was fun.

The rest of the holiday was marred with similar off-season products and services. The wax museum was only half open, so we couldn't see the pop stars of the seventies. I didn't think it was a problem, but Sarah pouted playfully. She really wanted to see young Bowie. Meanwhile, the arcade was particularly stingy about spitting out coupons. So much so that Mike, the scraggly-haired repair guy, ended up escorting us from game to game and repairing the devices on demand. In no time, he was acting like an old drinking buddy. He joked and laughed, then, out of the blue, revealed that working at the Niagara Falls Fun Centre wasn't his career choice, that his dream was to be part of a travelling carnival. He desperately wanted to see more of the world, he explained and socialize with a greater variety of "wildlife." Mike winked at Sarah to punctuate his meaning, then began advising her on which games to play.

Sarah was partial to Skee ball and clearly had career potential in the sport, but Mike quickly pointed out that the token-to-coupon payout was not the best. In a furtive whisper, he revealed that The Storm Stopper was your best bet, provided the arcade had left it on its original factory settings. He assured us the ones here were "cool." The game had lights that ran around the outside in opposite directions and you had to hit the button at just the right spot to win. It looked impossible, but Mike was right; if you calculated tokens in versus coupons won, it was the best deal. It only took a little practice to win a minor jackpot every 5 or 6 times.

We would cheer each win as if Toronto had won the Stanley Cup. I would give a quick fist pump and a full lung "Yes!" while Sarah would jump up and down screaming, "WhoooHooo!" Of course, in the end, when we cashed in, "Mike's secret" only bumped us up from a key-chain flashlight to a "deluxe" nail beauty set. Mind you, it did come complete with clippers, scissors, a file AND a cuticle scraper. Not only that, it was all neatly packaged in a paisley-patterned pink and green plastic vinyl case. Mike was so pleased to give us our prize and to be honest, we were thrilled to win it if only to see his broad chicletted smile. It was more of a trophy than a grooming set.

That night, I made reservations for us at a fancy Chinese food restaurant - the Bamboo Garden. When we arrived, we had half-expected renovations of some sort. Instead, the place was immaculate. Gentle pools teeming with goldfish highlighted the epic black and red Ming dynasty decor. Real candles flickered on crisp white tablecloths. Again, the restaurant was virtually ours. The reservations on my part were entirely unnecessary. In fact, as soon as we entered, they knew us by name and guided us directly to our table. A live lounge piano caressed the air, its notes danced vaguely around familiar harmonies until finally, as if prompted by our presence, a song emerged immediately accompanied by the velvet voice of oriental karaoke. It was our song remastered.

March 17, 2023 19:09

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2 comments

15:25 Mar 23, 2023

Enjoyed this story, John. I loved how the couple made the best of a substandard situation and went home with good memories.

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Scott White
05:23 Mar 23, 2023

You story has a natural feel to it that is enjoyable to read. I wonder, was this based on a real trip to Niagara Falls?

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