Blitzed by the BillionaireBy: Alice Ward
Ben pulled out my chair and Uncle Walt settled down across from me. A tall, bald waiter approached us with a bottle of wine.
“Your Riesling, Mr. Kinkaid,” he announced. He pulled the cork and poured a splash into a long stemmed wine glass. Uncle Walt swirled, sniffed, and sampled it before nodding back at the waiter with a smile.
“This is fantastic, Kevin, thank you.”
“Are you ready to place your order, or would you like a few more minutes to look at the menu?” the waiter asked.
Uncle Walt looked from me to Ben and back again. “Do you know what you want?”
We nodded our heads simultaneously. Market Seafood was my uncle’s favorite restaurant; we could all recite the memory by heart. We placed our orders and Keven gave us a final nod before disappearing.
“So how was your first week of school?” Uncle Walt asked.
“Hectic.” I leaned back in my chair with a long sigh. “Most of the kids in my class have older brothers and sisters, so they understood the concept of school when they arrived Wednesday morning. But I had a handful of kids who seemed terrified they’d never see their parents again. Most of them settled into our routine by yesterday afternoon. But I’m expecting a little regression when we show up again Monday morning.”
“You have the patience of a saint,” my uncle insisted. He took a sip of his wine and turned to Ben.
“And how was your week? I imagine you have an easier time of it. Emily here spends seven and a half hours a day trying to keep the kids still, and then they get to run loose for half an hour with you.”
“Ben isn’t the recess monitor, Uncle Walt,” I broke in, my voice firm. “I explained to you that The Day School puts a strong emphasis on physical fitness.”
Walt held his hands up in mock defeat, a smile spreading across his tan face. “Easy, Em. I was just teasing. I know Ben’s job is important. I didn’t mean any offense.”
“None taken,” Ben insisted. “Honestly, I love my job so much, it doesn’t feel like a job.”
“It doesn’t pay like one either,” Walt muttered under his breath.
Ben took a long drink of his ice water and we both ignored my uncle’s comment.
“Enough about us,” I announced, changing the subject. “What’s going on with you? How long are you in town?”
Before he could answer, Kevin arrived at our table with a platter of appetizers. He promised our entrees would be out soon, checked our drinks, and moved on to the table beside us.
“This looks delicious,” Walt announced, filling his small plate with crab cakes, calamari, and spicy shrimp cocktail. I studied him while he dunked a forkful of crab cake into remoulade sauce and savored the first bite.
My uncle and I could have easily passed for father and daughter. We had the same high cheekbones, blue eyes, and chestnut hair, although his was tinged with gray around the edges. I realized then that Walt was tense about something. He was smiling, but his shoulders were taut and I had a feeling his mind was somewhere else.
“So how long are you in town?” I asked again, filling my own plate with food.
Walt swallowed a shrimp and washed it down with another sip of wine.
“Actually, that’s why I wanted to see you guys tonight. I have news.”
Ben and I both set our forks down, giving Walt our full attention.
“Well?” I pressed as he sat there silently. “Don’t keep us in suspense.”
“I’m retiring from the airline… have retired, to be more precise.”
“What?” I asked, sure I’d heard him wrong. Uncle Walt loved his job; the sudden early retirement didn’t make any sense. Panic grew in my chest while I waited for him to continue.
It’s his health. He’s been grounded. It’s the only thing that makes sense.
“Is everything okay, Walt?” Ben pressed, his voice full of concern.
“Everything’s great,” he assured us. “In fact, they couldn’t be better. I know this will come as a shock to you, Emily, but I’ve met someone. Her name is Claudia and she’s a pediatrician here in Portland.”
I stared at him for a moment, processing his words. “You’re quitting your job for a woman?”
“I’m leaving the airline for a lot of reasons,” he replied, popping another shrimp into his mouth. I felt Ben relax beside me, but I was more wound up than ever. Uncle Walt announcing he was in a serious relationship was twice as shocking as his retirement announcement. I was too impatient to wait for him to swallow and continue.
“What are the other reasons?” I demanded. “When did this happen? Where did you meet her? Why am I just hearing about all of this?”