Ann wished she couldn’t find her keys. She scowled one last time at the woman in the mirror, her sophisticated alter ego. The little black dress and up-do were flattering. She had applied more makeup than she usually wore in the hopes of gaining some self-confidence from this mask of elegance. It wasn’t working.
What are you thinking, Ann? She glared at her reflection. You’re just going to make a fool of yourself.
Ann had purchased her ticket months ago, when the idea of attending a banquet honoring Ralph Fenworth, her favorite author, seemed fun. Now that it was today, the reality of spending an evening among high-class strangers filled her with dread like a lump of cold oatmeal sitting in her stomach. As she drove downtown to the old hotel, she recalled a recent effort to make a new friend. She had shared what she thought was a hilarious joke with a witty punchline about death. The would-be friend had frowned, observing that her recent battle with cancer had forever removed her ability to laugh at death. Ann sighed. She had better keep her mouth shut tonight.
Don’t try to be clever, Ann. You’re not clever. Don’t forget that. You’re not “Anne with an e;” you’re just Ann.
Walking into the banquet hall, she was immediately struck with two observations. This was a small gathering. She had hoped she could hide in the crowd, but no. She was sure to be noticed among this intimate group. All the place cards were hand-lettered and carefully positioned, six to a table. And the buffet was loaded with decadent, carb-laden foods. She would have to pick and choose very carefully so as not to exceed the limitations of her tight dress.
Ann tried to swallow her fear, silently berating herself for coming and swearing she’d never do anything like this again. She remained aloof during dinner, careful not to give her table mates any encouragement to engage her in conversation. They were all so smart, obviously having studied every page Fenworth had ever written. She felt foolish by comparison, like a fraud nibbling daintily on her carrots. When she excused herself to the restroom, she congratulated herself on her success so far.
Okay, Ann. So far you haven’t said anything stupid. Now you just have to make it through Fenworth’s speech and then you can escape back home—where you belong.
Ann would have been mortified to hear the remarks her table companions made in her absence:
“That lady sure isn’t very friendly.”
“She certainly isn’t enjoying herself. I wonder why she’s here? She doesn’t seem to be a fan of Fenworth.”
“Poor thing. Perhaps she’s just shy.”
Ann tapped her lips as she surveyed the options in her closet. This was a formal banquet so she had to dress up, but it was a dinner so she wanted to make sure she had plenty of room to eat her fill. She settled on a long skirt and loose-fitting blouse. She also selected an oversized bag so she could bring her notebook. It wasn’t every day she attended a fancy event featuring her favorite author, and she wanted to write down every word he said.
She was a little nervous. She had bought her ticket on a whim and she didn’t know anyone else who was going, but she was determined to have a good time and make the most of the opportunity. She coached herself on the drive to the venue:
Now Ann, remember—these are all people who love Fenworth as much as you do—maybe more! You might even make a friend. So let’s give it your best.
She winced as she remembered her last attempt at making a friend, which had backfired when the woman took offense at a joke. Oh well, she wasn’t going to let that stop her from trying again.
Walking into the banquet hall, she was immediately struck with two observations. This was a small gathering. The tables were set with six places each, so she would get to meet at least five interesting people. She looked forward to discussing Fenworth’s work with other fans. And the buffet table was loaded with decadent, mouth-watering foods. Her stomach growled audibly as she surveyed the heaps of food and rich sauces, topped with a towering trifle. She closed her eyes, breathing in with delight, and determined to get her money’s worth out of this event.
All through dinner, Ann ate with her notebook beside her plate, convinced she had the best seat in the house—her table mates were obvious Fenworth scholars. She asked them questions, some of which elicited jolly laughter. Ann didn’t care; the conversation was fascinating. As she made a quick trip to the bathroom before Fenworth’s speech, she marveled at all she had learned in one hour. She couldn’t wait to reread her favorite Fenworth book in light of the nuances she had gleaned.
After the speech, Ann’s table mates insisted on introducing her to Fenworth. She scraped up the courage to ask him for an autograph and a photo. Just when she was thinking the evening couldn’t have gone any better, two of the women from her table invited her to join their book club.
Ann went to sleep that night with a smile on her face.
The featured image is courtesy of Julie Jablonski and is used here with her generous permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
Athena Williams is honored to serve as the Director of Online Publication for Cultivating Magazine. She is currently working towards a master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling through Liberty University online. Athena considers writing a privilege and a wonder, and hopes her work will encourage each reader to lean in to the shaping work of God. athenawrites.com
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