The waiter put the plate in front of Hildreth and disappeared to points unknown.
Elsie and Hildreth stared at the Japanese Rice Bowl Burger sitting open-faced before them.
For a few moments, there was nothing but stunned silence. Until, at last, Hildreth broke it with a very good question. “Why’s it so pale?”
Elsie couldn’t pull her gaze away from it. “Must be the rice?”
“Did they cook it?”
“They must have. They wouldn’t toss a cold patty onto a bun and serve it.”
“Are you sure?”
“Idiot. There are regulations against that sort of thing.”
They stared and stared.
“It’s getting cold.” said Hildreth. “One of us should take a bite.”
He looked up at her. “Well?”
“Gentlemen before ladies.”
“And here I always thought it was the other way around.”
“No. You’re thinking about the age before beauty rule.” She smiled. “And you are older than me.”
“Rats! Foiled again.” He put the sesame seed bun on top of the mysterious patty.
“Shouldn’t you put ketchup or mustard on it first?”
“No. I want to see what the unvarnished creature tastes like.” He sighed a heavy sigh. “Wish me luck.”
Hildreth opened his mouth wide and bit into the sandwich.
“Is it good?”
He chewed up his piece and swallowed it. “Mmm. Take a bite.”
“What does it taste like?”
“Take a bite and you’ll see.”
“If it tastes awful—”
“I wouldn’t be offering it to you if it tasted awful. Come on. Say, Ahhh.”
Elsie was struck by a sudden vision of Hildreth in a white dress shirt and black dress slacks. No tie. First three buttons undone. He sat next to their child – maybe a girl, maybe a boy – and ruffled the kid’s frizzy black hair. “You know your mother would never make anything terrible.” He picked up a fork and stabbed it into the unwanted food. “Come on.” He smiled. “Say Ahhh.”
It took her breath away.
I want that to be real. I want it so much.
Hildreth lowered the sandwich. “What’s wrong?”
She looked at him. Him in his black sweatshirt with the word “Bonzo!” streaked across the front in 1970’s Technicolor. “I love you so much. I love the man you are and the man you will become when we have children. You will be a wonderful father. I just know it.”
He put the sandwich on the plate, dusted his hands off, and took her hands captive. “And you’ll be the world’s fiercest tiger mom. I love you so much I…” He lowered his gaze. “I don’t know how else to say it other than I love you.” His gaze came back up to her face. “And I do. I love you, Elsie Vansing.”
He raised her hands to his mouth and kissed them.
Elsie could feel his warm breath on her skin. It was a lovely, enthralling feeling. “Don’t stop.” she whispered.
So, of course he stopped.
He smiled. “You gonna take a bite?”
“The not a hamburger.”
“Oh.” She chose not to acknowledge where her thoughts had wandered off to. Instead, she picked up the sandwich and took a bite.
It was a little grittier than Elsie liked her non-meat meat. But it had a sesame oil and rice taste that she liked a lot.
She took another bite.
She looked at him and smiled back.