The Millionaire Next Door
Copyright© 2020 by Lazlo Zalezac
After taking a sip of his root beer, Tom sat down at the dinner table. He put the frosty mug down on the table and rubbed his hands together. He had returned the previous day from college, and had headed over to Dan’s house for a meal at the first opportunity. He said, “I’ve been looking forward to one of your pizzas ever since I went to Austin.”
“Sorry, but we’re not having pizza tonight,” Dan said with a smile.
He knew that he was going to get a reaction out of Tom on that little announcement. Tom looked over at the materials that Dan had in the kitchen. It looked like the same stuff he used for making pizzas.
He frowned and asked, “What’s that?”
“We’re not having pizza, tonight,” Dan said knowing that Tom was having a little trouble accepting the news.
“What are we having?” Tom asked looking over at Dan as if he had just announced that the Pope was a woman and had converted to Islam.
“We are having calzones,” Dan answered. He glanced over at the timer and then checked the oven. The calzones looked good. Initially he’d had a tendency to over cook them.
“What’s a calzone?” Tom asked.
Dan laughed and said, “Think of it as a pizza that has been folded over on itself.”
“I’m not sure that I’m going to like it,” Tom said looking down at the bowl of steaming marinara sauce that Dan had set in front of him. Gesturing to the bowl, he asked, “What’s that for?”
“That’s to dunk your calzone in when you’re eating it,” Dan answered.
“Okay,” Tom said. He watched Dan move around the kitchen. It seemed to him that Dan was a lot more comfortable in the kitchen than he had been in the summer.
“You don’t seem very confident in my cooking abilities,” Dan said with a smile.
Grinning over at his friend, Tom said, “Oh, I remember some of your early pizza experiments. You’ve got to admit that my concerns are justified.”
“I’ll grant you that,” Dan said with a laugh. Some of his early sauces had bordered on being toxic. Fortunately they had tasted so bad, it wasn’t possible to swallow enough of it to have long term health effects. He asked, “So how is your pursuit of happiness going?”
More than happy to discuss his four months at the university, Tom said, “I discovered that I really like chemistry. I even got a part-time job in one of the labs. All I do is wash test tubes, but I enjoy the work.”
Looking at the expression on Tom’s face, Dan asked, “What do you like about it?”
“There’s a kind of demand for precision that I’ve never experienced before. You measure everything. If the formula calls for a hundred milliliters of water, it means one hundred milliliters and not ninety-nine or a hundred and one. You have to check and double check everything. I kind of like it,” Tom said.
It seemed to Dan that no time had passed since Tom had headed off to Austin. Their conversation just picked up right where it had left off. Dan said, “It sounds like you truly enjoy it.”
“Yes, I do,” Tom said, “It’s a lot like you with the pizzeria. I can tell that you’re enjoying putting that together.”
“I am enjoying it,” Dan said. The timer went off and he went over to the oven. With a quick move with the pizza paddle, he had three calzones out of the oven and on the counter. He shouted, “The calzones are done!”
As the rest of the family arrived in the dining room, Dan removed the last two calzones. He made a couple of trips from the counter to the table delivering the calzones. As he set the plate in front of his father, he said, “Here’s your Italian Sausage calzone.”
“Thanks,” his father said eying the golden brown treat.
Dan set down a plate in front of Diana and said, “Here’s your spinach calzone.”
“I love the spinach calzone,” Diana said with a smile. The first time that Dan had made calzones; they had tasted a bit of each kind. Not surprising anyone, they all had a different favorite.
Watching Diana examine her calzone, his mother asked, “You made the broccoli calzone for me?”
“You bet,” Dan said putting the plate with the calzone on it in front of her.
Tom said, “You didn’t ask me what kind I wanted.”
“That’s because I know what you want,” Dan replied going back to the counter for the last two plates.
“I don’t even know what a calzone is. How can you know what kind I would want?” Tom asked.
Looking over at Diana, Dan said, “Tell him.”
“You want the pepperoni calzone,” Diana said looking over at Tom.
Tom gave up and said, “You’re probably right.”
Dan put a plate down in front of Tom and then took a seat. He noticed Tom watching him as he cut a slice of his calzone off. Tom asked, “How did you know what was inside each calzone?”
“I use a different mark on each kind,” Dan said with a smile. He had mixed up the different calzones until he had worked out a set of simple cuts that allowed him to distinguish them from each other.
“Clever,” Tom said. He tried the calzone and was suitably impressed. He said, “Hey, this is pretty good.”
Dan looked over at Tom and said, “It’s good to have you back in town.”
Dan and Alison were seated on the couch at Alison’s parent’s house late in the afternoon after she had arrived home. She winked seductively at Dan and said, “It’s a shame you have to work tonight.”
“I’d call it a tragedy of Biblical proportions,” Dan said looking over at her. It was hard to believe that she looked even better now than she had when she left for school.
She laughed and asked, “Biblical proportions, huh?”
“That’s right,” Dan said with a lopsided grin.
She thought he was particularly cute when he grinned at her like that. Smiling at him, Alison said, “I’ve missed your humor.”
“I’ve missed you a lot,” Dan said.
Believing that she knew what he had missed, she winked at him and said, “You missed the sex.”
Dan shook his head and said, “No. I missed you. I really enjoy our times together. You’re a breath of fresh air. I like your straightforward manner. There are no games.”
“You say the nicest things,” Alison said. He had always said that he appreciated her friendship and that the benefits were just icing on the cake. She believed him. He never pressed her for more than what she was willing to give.
“So can we go out to dinner tomorrow night?” Dan asked.
Satisfied with the idea of having him come over to her house for dinner, Alison didn’t really want to go out. She asked, “Where were you thinking of going?”
Dan said, “I’d like to take you to the Crabby Steak.”
The reminder of the first place that they had gone out reminded her of something that she feared would become a problem. Frowning, she said, “There’s something that I have to tell you.”
“Okay,” Dan said wondering why she suddenly got so serious. He shifted on the couch so that he was looking directly at her.
“I have a friend with benefits at college,” Alison said. She bit her lower lip afraid of his reaction.
Dan looked at her wondering when she was going to tell him something bad. Finally, he said, “Okay.”
Alison looked at Dan still waiting for some sort of reaction. When she realized that he was still waiting for the bad news, she asked, “Aren’t you jealous?”
“No. Am I supposed to be jealous?” Dan asked. He had fully expected that she would find a boyfriend there. If she didn’t find a boyfriend, then he was pretty sure that she’d find a friend with benefits.
“No,” Alison answered feeling a little let down despite the fact that this conversation was going better than anticipated. She had expected a big scene and had hoped that he’d not react too poorly. She looked at him and asked, “Aren’t you bothered at all?”
“Alison, I knew when you went off to college that you’d find a friend there. You aren’t happy without a good friend in your life. You enjoy ‘benefits’ as much as I do. I’m not surprised that you found a friend with benefits there. I would have been surprised if you hadn’t,” Dan said.
Stunned at how well he knew and understood her, Alison said, “Oh.”
“So what do you say about dinner tomorrow night at the Crabby Steak?” Dan asked.
Dan did do grand gestures, but only on rare occasions, to let her know that he appreciated her. He was consistent, though, in doing little things that let her know that he always considered her happiness. Even more important was the fact that he accepted her as she was.
She smiled and said, “That would be great.”
Dan was hard at work in the kitchen helping Jimmy cook. It was a few minutes after eleven, and the restaurant was busier than usual for that time of night. Christmas was in three days, and all of the stores were open late; most of them weren’t closing until ten. A lot of the sales clerks had stopped by for something to eat before heading home. Most of them looked tired.
Alison entered the restaurant and was immediately greeted by Rob. She talked to him for a few minutes before he led her to the counter. He called Sandy over and introduced the two of them before returning to where he usually waited to greet customers entering the diner. He looked over at Alison and shook his head.
Sandy brought over a cup of coffee to Alison and then leaned on the counter. She said, “You say that Dan is a friend of yours.”
“That’s right,” Alison said.
Sandy frowned and said, “The last person who claimed to know Dan wasn’t very nice. We threw her out of here.”
Alison got the impression that Sandy was more than willing to throw her out of the diner if she wasn’t nice. She smiled and said, “That person wasn’t his friend. Dan’s friends are all very nice people.”
“Are you here to talk to him?” Sandy asked. She glanced over in the direction of the order window.
“No. I’m here to meet some of his female friends,” Alison said.
Sandy raised an eyebrow and asked, “Why?”
“I worry about him,” Alison answered. She looked around the room and said, “He hasn’t had a girlfriend or a friend with benefits since I went off to college. He needs a good friend while I’m away.”
Sandy asked, “Were you his girlfriend?”
-Alison shook her head and said, “No. He’s never had a girlfriend. I’m a friend with benefits.”
Raising an eyebrow at the young woman’s candor, Sandy asked, “Are those benefits what I think they are?”
“I’m sure you know exactly what benefits I’m talking about,” Alison answered looking Sandy in the eye.
“So why are you here?”
Alison looked over all of the waitresses on the floor. She leaned over to where no one except Sandy would be able to hear what she said. Once she was sure that she had Sandy’s attention, she said, “I was hoping that maybe one of his female friends might be considering adding some benefits to the relationship. I’d like to talk to her and suggest that she’d really enjoy the benefits.”