Con fluence of Personalities
Phyllis saw the young scruffy looking boy through the mall's sliding doors, leaning against the exterior pillar and her self protective instincts kicked in immediately. Don't make eye contact, keep your car keys in your hand, move your purse to the opposite shoulder, walk directly to your car.
Yet somehow, when the kid called out to her, he gained her reluctant attention as she was going out the door headed to her car and then to her next errand. While he was tall, taller than her 5 ft. anyway, he was so thin that she estimated she was easily double his weight. She could step on him if he caused her any trouble. His clothing was ill fitting, with his pants legs showing his ankles, and his sleeves not covering his wrists, yet he looked clean.
"I just want to get something to eat," was all the boy said staring at her with big blue puppy dog eyes. She had just had too much lunch and it weighed heavily in her stomach and so the plaintive request hit her right in her guilt button, not that she had anything to feel guilty about except what to tell her doctor or herself when she next dared to step on a scale.
While it was a busy day, Phyllis still had a little time to spare, enough to do a mitzvah, (a good deed) and it was a family tradition she upheld whenever the opportunity presented itself.
"I won't give you any money but I'll buy you a meal," she said to the kid.
Startled, he smiled at her. "Really?"
"Yeah, really. No fancy restaurant. I'm not going to pay for ambiance. But there is a food court in the mall. Also, it's got to be something healthy. When I buy a meal for someone I want them to benefit from the food, not get something that will kill them. There's a fresh salad place. You can get anything you want, something to drink and a desert if you want it."
"I know the place."
"Good. Come on."
Phyllis had to rush to keep up with the boy's long stride but he slowed and waited for her to catch up, yet it only took a couple of minutes to get to the vendor.
The boy looked down at Phyllis again. "Anything?" he checked.
Oh, those definitely were puppy dog eyes if she'd ever seen them. "I said anything and I meant anything. Get two salads if you want."
The boy ordered the super large Cobb salad, and checked with Phyllis for her approval of his choice. However, when he was about to order a soda she insisted he get milk or juice instead and he happily complied and stood next to Phyllis as she paid the bill.
"Well, bon apatite," she said turning away.
"Hey, aren't you going to get anything?'
"No, I ate earlier."
"Won't you join me then? I'd like the company."
Phyllis was startled. Her own nephews and nieces were always happy to have her pay for food and entertainment, rarely even said 'thank you,' and would never want to sit with her. She was pretty much 'the wallet,' to them and nothing more.
On the other hand, she was suspicions of ulterior motives in the invitation.. However, anyone who stole her purse needed the contents more than she did and the kid really didn't look like a threat at all. In fact, he looked like he was about to fall over, if not just a bit lonely.
Quickly thinking about when her next appointment was and what errands she had to get done; she figured she still had about 20 minutes she could spare.
"Okay," she got herself a bottled water and joined him at a table.
"So what do you like to be called?" Phyllis asked.
"That's a strange way to ask for my name."
"If you want to give me your name, that's great. Let's just say that this way, if you don't want to give me your real name, I won't take offense and you won't have lied."
The boy looked offended.
"Why would you assume that I'd lie?"
Phyllis smiled, "You could not be more than 15 and school hasn't let out yet for the day. You look like you've been fending for yourself for a while and that means that in one way or another you're probably ducking the authorities."
He smiled at her and it was a smile to die for. Wow, he already was a heart breaker. Though he was no more than a teen there was a promise of maturity to his face that would only increase his appeal. She didn't know if she wished she was about 45 years younger and 100 lbs. less or old enough that a face like that wouldn't phase her. Damn, any woman, no matter what age, would have to be dead not to fall for that face, and when he smiled, oh mama.
"I call myself Neal, but that's my name too," he held out his hand.
She reached for his hand and was startled when she felt something like a spark of electricity jump from his to hers, and reminded herself that she was a member of AARP. "My name's Phyllis, glad to meet you."
Neal's manners seemed impeccable. He unfolded his paper napkin, spread it on his lap, cut and buttered his roll neatly and removed the straw for his drink from its paper package.
Picking up his fork and knife, he asked, "So, what do you do that you can be out shopping in the middle of the day? You don't look old enough to be retired and I don't see a wedding band or even a line which means you've got to fend for yourself as well."
"Observant, aren't you? I like that. I hate when people just assume things about strangers. I'm a freelance journalist."
Neal dropped his fork. "Well, thanks' for the meal," and made to leave.
"Hey, calm down and finish your food. You're not a story, okay, and you approached me, remember?"
Neal relaxed back into his seat and slowly took some food. Before long he was shoveling it in faster than he could chew. He had to have been starving.
When he was about two thirds through the salad he took a breath. "So, if I'm not a story, what do you write about?"
Phyllis smiled; she loved talking about her work basically because it was about the only thing she had to talk about. "Pretty much everything except sports though I've covered a few sports related stories in my time."
"So why wouldn't I be a story?"
Phyllis leaned forward, "because even when I'm writing an expose, my purpose is to help people, not hurt them. If you thought a story about you would be helpful to you, you wouldn't have gotten upset when I told you what I do."
"I thought, if it bleeds, it leads."
"I prefer providing information over sensationalism."
Neal sat back for a moment. "For someone who values information, you haven't asked me anything about myself."
"If you wanted to tell me your true story, you'd do it without me asking. The longer it takes for someone to answer a question, the more likely they're figuring out how to frame an answer so that they can tell you what you want to hear and not what they're trying to hide."
Neal's eyes went wide. "You're a smart lady."
"No, just old enough to know better."
Neal cleaned his plate and finished his drink with a satisfied sigh. "You know Phyllis, if I were 20 years older…" Neal trailed off.
"You'd be just about old enough to be my son," Phyllis smiled at him and checked her watch. "I've really got to go. Will you be alright? Is there someone I can call for you?"
"You want the truth?" Neal smiled.
Phyllis took out a twenty from her purse and her business card. "Buy dinner on me and if you ever need someone to put in a good word for you, give me a call."
"What makes you think I'd ever need that?" Neal said pocketing both.
"Because Neal," Phyllis struggled out of her seat, "you're a heart breaker and way to charming for your own good."
But before she turned to leave, Neal was out of his seat, he hugged her tightly and gave her a kiss on the cheek. It made her happy for the rest of the week.