The sun was out, the breeze was just right, even the food was good. It was one grand day for a picnic. All of the standard company picnic games, (three-legged sack race, egg toss, water balloon toss, etc.), were being played by Universal Biotech employees, their spouses and children. There were softball games and volleyball games. There were people chasing frisbees. There were kids chasing frisbees. There were dogs chasing frisbees. The entire thirty-acre park area was being used. It hardly seemed room enough.
Every year the whole thing got bigger and bigger. Every year over Janet’s objections, (she was the one who had to organize this fiasco), Schimmel insisted on trying to outdo the previous year. He felt it provided a needed break for everyone and was good for morale. Bob Schimmel was good to his employees, very good. He also was used to getting his way. Everyone was expected to come to the picnic. You did not argue with the boss at Universal.
Jason was making the rounds that afternoon so that he could get back to the lab. As he approached one of the buffet tables, it hit him. He had never felt it like this before. The intensity almost made him lose his balance. He regained his composure and looked around to find where it was coming from but came up empty. Continuing his search for a minute or so he found the source. She was behind the tree closest to the retention pond. At once he reversed direction and headed straight for her, not seeing the young lady to his left. When they collided, his momentum broadsided hers knocking her to the ground, dumping the plate of food she was carrying all over the place.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry. Are you all right?
“Uh, I think so,” she said, a bit shaken. “I didn’t see you coming.”
“Oh no, please, it was completely my fault. I was distracted and didn’t see you. I really do apologize and I…uh, I uh…are you sure you’re all right?”
He was fumbling through this, flustered, and feeling more foolish by the second. When she started to brush the potato salad off of her blouse, he momentarily began to reach over to help her, caught himself and felt his face begin to flush. He just didn’t know what to do. She extended her hand and smiled.
“I’m Jason,” he responded, taking the diminutive hand into his. “Here, let me help you up.”
She was taking all of it in stride, and so he began to feel more at ease. “Well uh, now that I’ve ruined your lunch, the least I can do is replace it,” he said gesturing to the nearest buffet table.
Looking at him after he helped her up, she thought to herself, clumsy, but awful cute!
“That would be nice, thanks, but the food wasn’t my lunch. It was for one of my students.”
“Oh, so you’re a teacher with the orphanage.”
“Not exactly. I’m volunteering this summer. My real job is teaching in district 511. I teach art, k through 12.”
“Well I’m sure they appreciate the help.”
“They do, but it’s good for me too. I really enjoy working with the kids. Inviting them to this picnic was a very nice thing for your company to do. They don’t get out much.”
“No, I bet they don’t.”
“So, Jason, what exactly do you do around here?’
“I run interference for the buffet tables. Doesn’t pay much but I get all I can eat for free.” He thought it was clever but judging from the look on her face…oh well.
“Actually, I do research, been here about two years.”
As they reached the table the conversation stopped and didn’t start up again until Alison had filled her plate. Jason noticed it included small portions of potato salad, corn, green beans, and bread.
“A vegetarian I see.”
“Oh no. Like I said it’s for one of my kids. Me, I like steak.”
It’s for the girl behind the tree!Jason thought.
“Mind if I tag along?”
She looked up at him and smiled. “No, not at all.”
“You know, you insist on having this damned thing get bigger and bigger every year, require that everyone attend, and now I find you in your office doing...WORK!”
Janet wasn’t really upset, simply embellishing a bit to make her point. Schimmel put down the papers, removed his glasses, and turned toward her, looking perplexed. She had known him for nearly ten years. She had seen him angry, sad, happy, confident, (mostly confident), and on rare occasions indifferent, but couldn’t remember ever seeing him perplexed.
“I’m sorry, Janet. You’re, uh, you’re right of course. It’s just that, well, these projections on the gene manipulation research are, well they just can’t be right!”
“Look boss, I don’t know if they’re right or not. Not what I get paid for around here. I just know that we’ve had a picnic going for almost three hours and no one has seen you out there. Don’t you think it’s time you made an appearance?”
“Uh right,” he answered returning his eyes to the papers in his hand. “I’ll be right there. Just give me five minutes.”
At this point Janet Riker gave Bob Schimmel a look, that no one else in the entire employ of Universal Biotech would have dared. He quickly put down the papers, took off his reading glasses and looked, not at her but past her directly at the door.
“Well come on, let’s go,” he said, quickly passing her on his way out.
When they got to the tree, they found Sarah sitting cross-legged, with her back up against the trunk, staring out across the water. Jason looked down at Sarah, and they connected. He was overwhelmed by the depth of her mind. It was enormous.
Alison bent down to offer Sarah the paper plate of food, but she ignored it and stared directly into Jason’s eyes. After a moment, she held out her hand to him. He smiled, took her hand in his as he helped her up, and without a word they began to walk toward the water.
Alison was dumbfounded. The plate of food dropped from her hand.
Sarah, the seven-year old girl who, having no other relatives, had become a ward of the state after losing both parents in a car wreck. Who, for the first year afterward, had spoken not a single word to anyone. Who, if not for Alison, (the only one Sarah responded to at all other than on the most perfunctory level), taking a special interest in her after she saw those amazing drawings, would never have come to this picnic at all...was walking with this stranger around this pond as though they were old friends, holding hands! This just couldn’t be.
It took Alison a full two minutes to realize she had dropped the plate. She never considered picking it up. She ran full speed to catch up to them and did so on the far side of the pond. As she approached, she noticed they were not talking. Not a single word. Just walking peacefully, looking straight ahead.
What the hell was going on? Who is this guy?