The room was completely dark, and not one person spoke. Still the sound of anticipation seemed to fill the room, throbbing like a pulse. Everyone had been looking forward to this night for quite some time--they had to purchase tickets months in advance--and they were all eager to see if the "Great Psychologist" could really live up to their expectations. Yes, some people felt a bit uneasy about being manipulated by a shrink, but everyone who had gone to this event before came back with only positive feedback, happy laughs, and, of course, new, long-lasting friendships. For the past year, news articles and talks shows had been full of mentions of Psychologist Edward Dine as he traveled from city to city, state to state, and even country to country to perform his magic. He called it: The Psychology of Food and Fun. Rumor had it, he could take complete, randomly selected, strangers and turn them into life-long friends after just one dinner. Tonight, ten complete strangers waited in the dark room, ready to discover whether or not these rumors held truth.
"Alright, everyone!" The famed psychologist called to the strangers. "Are you ready for the night of your lives? Are you ready to turn strangers into friends?"
The crowd, though excitement wafted off of them, remained silent, not sure what the expected response was.
"Give me a cheer if you're ready!" Dr. Dine called, his own voice promising fun and adventure.
"Hip, hip?" he asked.
"Hurrah!" ten strangers replied, their voices loud and giddy. The experiment had begun.
"Alright, then! To begin, I want each of you to walk around and greet each of your new friends with a hand shake. And yes," he sensed the next question, "You MUST leave your blind folds on! This is to be a blind greeting!"
This was met with light laughter and then more embarrassed giggles as they went around bumping into each other and shaking hands.
"Pleasure to meet you!"
"Nice to 'see' you!"
"How do you do?"
Awkward greetings went around.
"Now!" Dr. Dine called, "Take the hand of whomever you are currently greeting, yes, like that! You are now partners. Now, make a guess. What color do you think your new friend is wearing?"
More laughter filled the room along with crazy guesses in every color of the rainbow.
"Red with lime green polka dots?" one asked with a chuckle.
"Orange with brown stripes?" guessed another.
"Definitely pink," someone determined.
"Very good! Very good!" the doctor called with a smile.
"Now, on the count of three, I will switch the light on and you will remove your blind folds. Ready? One.... two... and... THREE!
With a burst of light, all eyes were opened and gasps of laughter filled the room.
"I was right!" cried one.
"Oh, wow, I really didn't expect you to be wearing that," confided another.
"What! Blue! I was sure you were in red!" someone cried.
While the responses varied, everyone shared a laugh. Everyone, that is, but Dr. Dine. His perpetually cheerful face had suddenly gone pale, and his shocked eyes were fixed on one of the strangers. She was laughing with her "new friend," but her silver blue eyes met the doctor's. Hers sparked with challenge. Dr. Dine forced himself to look away and swallowed hard. The show must go on, he told himself.
"Alright, everyone! Who guessed right?"
A few proud hands shot into the air.
"And who guessed miserably wrong?"
Embarrassed but happy laughter lifted along with a few honest arms.
Dr. Dine forced a cheerful laugh.
"Well done, everyone! Now, I know what you are thinking, 'when do we get to eat?' No worries, you've almost made it to the first course!"
He gestured to the elegantly set table.
"But as you can see, here there are only five seats while there are ten of you."
Low "ahh's" and "ohhh's" filled the room as the guests realized a competition was needed.
"Yes, that's right! It's time for war. Now, does everyone still have their guessing partners? Good. You thought you were new friends, no? Well, now you must become enemies, for only one of you will get a seat!"
And just like that, camaraderie was traded for competition.
"Alright. You will be group one, group two, group three, group four, and last but not least, group five," Dr. Dine declared, gesturing towards the different pairs.
"Perfect! Now it's time for Tic-tac-toe!"
After five heated games of Tic-tac-toe, the winners were given seats. The losers, however, were given serving dishes and aprons.
"Mmm, this is amazing! Oh, could you pour me some more water?"
"Simply magnificent! Serve me some more of that, would you?"
"You have to try this! Oh wait, you can't!"
The winners gleefully enjoyed their spoils of war and their servers' suffering. The losers exchanged heated glances. They would make the winners pay. While Dr. Dine would usually have been analyzing each guests' behavior, he found himself easily distracted by the silver eyed woman. She sat at the winners' table and gloated along with the rest of her group. The show must go on, he whispered to himself.
"Your are steaming mad now, no?"
The losers nodded, death in their eyes.
"Well, it's time for your revenge!"
Workers rolled in carts full of red and green cupcakes.
"Losers, you are red! Winners, you're green! Let the food fight begin!"
Excited screams and flying cupcakes took over the dining hall as guests dived under the table and lifted chairs as shields. By the time the last cupcake had been thrown, though, friendship once again reigned. There is something unifying about cupcake wars.
"Ha, ha, ha! Great job everyone! Now-"
Before Dr. Dine could finish his sentence, a cupcake flew like a knife through the air and landed with a squish on his forehead.
All eyes turned to the silver eyed woman.
"It was an accident."
The night went on with silly games that forced different groups to act as friends and then as enemies. By the last course, each guest had bonded with everyone else. They now all sat around a circular table on cushioned seats, warm cups of tea or coffee cradled in their hands and thick slices of chocolate cake on plates in front of them. Stories were traded and laughter, the theme of the night, was shared.
"Now, for the last question of the night! If you had to be named after a food, what would you be called?"
"Definitely chocolate cake," one decided, taking a big bite of her slice.
"Pizza. It works with everything and everyone is always happy to see it!" another reasoned with a chuckle.
"Coffee. It's bitter, but strong and oh, so needed!" someone else argued.
"I know what Dr. Dine would be."
All eyes turned towards the silver eyed woman.
"A hot dog. Ohhh, it smells good. Even looks good. But you will never know what it is made of, not really. Chicken? Beef? Horse meat? A combination? It refuses to reveal itself. Is it nutritious? Doubtful. If you spend enough time with it, it will be sure to ruin you, make you sick on the inside. Yes, Dr. Dine. Yes. You are a hot dog."
The room, once filled with warmth, chilled. The new friends exchanged awkward glances. Dr. Dine's eyes flashed with pain. The show must go on, he reminded himself and forced a laugh.
"Well! How descriptive! Who's next?"
The room is completely dark and silent except for the measured breaths of a single man and the sound of his regrets dancing around him like moths to a lamp. "The Great Psychologist," they call him. Even now, more rumors and praise of his brilliance are being spread as new friends split ways with warm hugs and promises to stay in touch. He can turn strangers into friends, they say. A women with silver eyes smiles and nods. Yes, he can make friends from strangers, but can he keep them? she wonders bitterly. Already, she knows the answer. On paper, she is still called Mrs. Dine. In reality? She calls herself Stranger.