Raul sees Bettina waiting for him on the lawn with a St. Bernard on a leash as he pulls up the curb.  She gives him a quick wave as she stretches.  He’ll slobber and drool on your nice clothes if you come too close, Bettina tells Raul as he approaches.  Raul stops as he sees the dog pull on the leather leash.  Runt stay, she commands.  Come here, she tells him, and digs in her pocket for a treat.  Sit.  The dog does.  She gives him the treat and gets drool on her arm, which she wipes on the grass.  Good boy.  She lets go of his leash as she does a hamstring stretch.

How are you, Bettina?  Before she can answer, the door opens and Lana comes out wearing her white floral dress with her hair up.  The big dog lunges to his feet to greet her, and Bettina isn’t able to grab the leash in time.  The happy dog runs over to Lana and slobbers on her nice floral dress as he rubs his head against her leg to get petted.  Lana pats the dog on the head, as Bettina comes running up.  I’m so sorry.  Bettina says, he got away from me.  It’s alright; I’ll go change.  Keep him company so he doesn’t drive off.  She’ll be right back, Bettina tells Raul as she walks over to him.  Runt loves Lana.  I can see that, Raul comments.  What are you doing tonight?  Just going for a walk with Runt.  Then I’ll probably wait up for Lana, she says grinning at Raul.  Sam told me that you and Simon are an item now.  An item, Bettina muses and sighs.  I got carried away in the moment, Raul.  Then we got a free ride in a police car, and I came to my senses.  Raul raises his eyebrows.  They booked Lana and let us go on bail.  It was really awkward without having Lana around, Raul; she and Simon get along so well.  I told Simon that we’d talk about what happened when Lana was out and I was back home.  And that he and Tim should go shooting like they were planning to.  Then come find me.  I’d be here if I were him, Raul says grinning.  Bettina smiles at him.

Lana comes back out in pale faded jeans and a long sleeve red tshirt, with her hair down.  She’s holding a hand towel.  My dress is hanging up on the bathroom door, she tells Bettina, who nods.  Lana puts the towel over Runt’s snout and then scratches the sides of his face for ten seconds.  Hop in, she tells Raul.  I’ll get my own door once I release the kraken.  Bettina laughs.  Have fun, she tells them.

You look nice, Lana tells him.  Did I make us late?  How about we hit up Auggie’s instead?  He responds.  She nods.  He calls the Italian restaurant and cancels the reservation.  Booth or a table, he asks Lana.  I don’t have a preference, Raul, she tells him.  He calls up Auggie’s and asks for a table for two.  I’m going to stop by my place and change if that’s alright.  Sure.  They drive in silence.

I got to meet your partner, he tells Lana when he gets back in the car.  Did he tell you about it?  Lana shakes her head no and doesn’t follow up.  Samantha says that he’s able to read minds.  Lana nods, and looks out the window.

There’s a line out the door, as Raul and Lana walk in.  The hostess glances up with a relieved look on her face.  I am so glad you’re here, sir.  Amy just quit.  And Estefan didn’t show, and Emilie’s babysitter bailed on her.  Raul looks stricken.  Lana grabs his hand and squeezes it.  It’s okay, she tells him.  Let’s go with it.  We’ll go for a walk after.  What can I do to help?  Pull the fire alarm, Raul mutters.  Hey, Lana says, tugging on his arm.  Everyone is looking to you here.  Be a man of excellence.  I only have one waiter for the whole restaurant, he tells her.  Get me an apron, and draw me a map of the tables in my section, Lana says.

An hour later, Bettina’s father and Captain Ron and their two golfing buddies are shown  to their booth by the hostess and handed menus.  Bettina highly recommends this place, Tom tells his friends.  Raul comes to their table with waters.  Good evening, gentlemen.  I’m Raul; I’ll be your server tonight.  He announces the special and the soup of the day, and suggests that they leave room for dessert.  What wine would you recommend?  One of the foursome asks him.  The house Pinot Noir, sir.  The men nod in agreement, and Raul leaves.

What is Radley doing waiting tables?  The Captain asks Tom.  What?  The captain points and Tom turn around and looks across the restaurant and sees Lana going back to refill a drink order.  He frowns and pulls out his phone and texts Bettina.  Lana is waiting tables at Auggies.  He puts his phone away and comments, Bettina told me that Lana had a hot date tonight.  I’m going to meet the man at church on Sunday.  That’s pretty sad, one of the foursome says, deceiving her roommate.  Tom frowns at this commentary.  His phone beeps.  He pulls it out.  They left two hours ago.  Student play at the college.  Tom looks at the others.  Bettina thinks I’m losing it in my old age.  What is she wearing?  He asks Ron.  Red long sleeve shirt tucked into pale blue jeans, studded leather belt.  Tom texts this to Bettina and grins at the others.  His phone beeps.  10-4.  What did she say?  10-4, Tom replies.  That means she’s processing this, he tells the others.  Raul is the manager of Auggies, Bettina texts thirty seconds later.  Which play?  Tom types back.  Death of a Salesman.  Tom puts away his phone.  The plot thickens, he tells the others.  Her date, Raul, is the manager of this restaurant.  Our waiter, Ron says.  Tom nods.  So there must have been an emergency and Lana offered to pitch in, Tom declares.  That’s pretty impressive, one of the guys comments.  What is Bettina up to these days?  Ron asks, changing the subject.  This stays kept, but Senator Johns wants her as his spokesman for his Presidential campaign.  The man doesn’t stand a chance, one of the foursome comments.  Ron shakes his head no.  The press will tear her apart.  Bettina can hold her own, Tom replies.  She’ll draw the crowds; more people will want to meet her than him, their other companion says.

Are you ready to order?  Raul asks, his hands clasped behind his back.  This is all on one, Tom says.  Raul nods.  The men order.  I’ll have your soups right out to you, Raul declares, and stops at a vacated table to clean up the plates.  He comes back a minute later with a wet rag and wipes it down, and then gets refills.

***

Bettina and Runt are almost back to the apartment when Jax’s Hellcat pulls up alongside the curb.  Riley rolls down the passenger window.  Just coming to see you, he tells her.  Hi, Riley.  Bettina says.  Hi, Simon.  Can we join you?  It might be better to wait till I get Runt back home.  He’s very protective of me, Bettina says, patting the St. Bernard’s massive head.  We’ll wait at the curb, Simon says, and drives away.

C’mon inside, Bettina tells the guys.  Glass of water?  She asks them, Simon nods.    Please have a seat at the table, Bettina tells them.  She washes her hands in the kitchen sink, then gets down two glasses.  Ice?  Nah, Simon says.  Bettina goes to the fridge and slices a lemon, and hangs a half on each glass, and hands them to the guys.  Then she goes back to the counter and mixes a recovery drink in a blender bottle, and joins them.  It’s good to see you again, Riley, she says smiling at him.  You too, Bettina.  He replies.  Where’s Lana?  She’s out tonight.  Working?  Yes, she’s waitressing at Auggies.  Let’s go, Riley tells Simon.  Hold your horses, Bettina tells him.  She’s technically on a date.  What?  She and Raul were going to see a student play at the college after dinner, but my dad texted me that he saw Lana waiting tables at Auggies.  Raul is the manager there.  So something must have come up and she pitched in to help.  Let’s all go, Simon says.  I’m staying in, Bettina tells them.  I’ve got a 5k benefit run tomorrow morning.  Be here at six thirty if you guys want to run with Toni, Sam, and I.  Is Lana going? Riley asks.  Yes, but she’s going to be on the clock.  She and Tim are doing security for Senator Johns and his wife, who are going to participate.

Simon and Riley look at each other.  Let’s go, Riley tells Simon again.  Simon stares at Bettina.  We’ll talk later, she tells him, and clasps his hand briefly.  Can I use your bathroom?  Riley asks her.  Of course.  Riley gets up and leaves Simon and Bettina alone.  Will you run with me tomorrow?  She asks him.  Sure.  We’ll go slow, but Simon, if we don’t beat Senator Johns…they both break out laughing.  Riley?  She asks.  He broke up with Jillian.  Bettina bites her bottom lip.  He’s infatuated with Lana.  I don’t know what to tell him, Simon admits, so I haven’t told him anything.  They hear the toilet flush.

Let’s ride, Riley tells Simon.  My turn to use the bathroom, Simon says.  This might take awhile.  The candle and matches are in there for a reason, Bettina tells Simon.  Lana disabled the smoke alarm.  Good to know, he tells her.

So Riley, Bettina intones, where are you staying while you’re in town?  Simon found a place on Airbnb a couple blocks away.  We’re renting that.  Show me.  He pulls up the listing on his phone.  I know where that is, Bettina says.  Looks really nice.  What do you have planned?  Just some away time; Jillian and I broke up.

And her friends are no longer your friends, and all the places that you used to go are associated with her.  Bettina says.  Yeah, something like that.  Been there, she tells him.  Well, welcome to N’Orleans; we need smart transplants, she says, grinning at him.  What do you have on your plate, Bettina?  I thought you were going back to being a reporter.  She grimaces.  I’m just not excited about it, Riley.  I’m thinking I should hang it up before my schtick gets stale.  He looks at her and doesn’t say anything.  Senator Johns asked me to be his press secretary for his Presidential campaign.  Riley shakes his head no.  It’s a crowded field; he doesn’t stand a chance.

I agree - if he’s not able to get his message out.  I can help him with that.  What’s his issue, Bettina?  America First.  What does that mean?  Basically it’s taking up a hemispheric defense posture, and using the savings to improve the lives of our own citizens.  I don’t know what that means.  Short answer is bring our troops home.  Abandon the Middle East.  Jettison NATO, and leave Korea to stand on its own.

I don’t think it’s as simple as you’re making it out to be, Riley tells her.  Russia, China, and Iran are expansionist empires.  We pull back, they’re going to fill the void.  I agree with you, Bettina tells him.  Play it out though, Riley.  If we push back on China when they annex Taiwan, we risk losing a carrier group, maybe two.  There just isn’t any defense against hypersonic missiles, other than scorching the earth ahead of time.  Then it’s World War III and nuclear winter.  Here we have peaceful neighbors, North and South.  And oceans between us and Eurasia.  And we have leverage.  We are the world’s biggest consumer market.  You want to sell to us, you play by our rules.  It’s more nuanced than that, Bettina.  Supply chains are global.  Until they’re regional, Bettina replies.  Simon comes back into the room.  Alright, let’s go see Lana.

***

Bettina is super liberal, Riley tells Simon when they get into the car, and explains what they’d talked about.  Maybe on foreign policy, but I know that she and Lana are ultraconservative on social issues, Simon says.  Senator Johns isn’t going to be able to outpromise the Democrats. Free shit, everybody; Simon’s paying for it with his taxes.  Riley breaks out laughing.  What does Lana think?  Simon shrugs.  Lana doesn’t talk much, Riley.  She talked to me on the plane.  Yeah, about you.  But did you learn anything about her?

***

Seat us over in Lana’s section, Riley tells the hostess. It’ll be a twenty minute wait. That’s fine.

Hello, Riley, Simon.  She tells them the special and the soup of the day.  Can I get you started with a drink or an appetizer?  Chicken fingers, Simon says.  And a beer. Try the grapefruit shandy, he tells Riley.  I don’t like fruity beer.  What’s dark and on tap?  Oatmeal Stout.  She tells him.  I’ll try that and an order of onion rings.  I’ll have that right out for you.  She goes to another table and brings them their check. Please come back and eat here again, she tells them.  And goes to the next and gets empty soda glasses for refill.

She’s good at this, Riley tells Simon, as they watch Lana scuttle back and forth.  And she looks good, Simon tells Riley with a grin.  Where’s the boyfriend?  Tall Hispanic guy, blue oxford shirt, chinos over in the other section.  I see him.  This place is packed.  You going running with Bettina and I tomorrow?  Simon asks.  Yeah, I want to see Lana and Tim in action.  Maybe I’ll make a campaign donation to the man.  What Bettina said sounds good; I just don’t think it’s actionable.

Lana returns with their beers.  When do you get off?  Simon asks her.  I’ll finish what I started, Simon.  Raul will bring me home.  I always get the fried onions here too, Riley.  I’ll go see if they’re done.

She stops by the other tables in her section, and sees if they need anything on the way to the kitchen.

Lana comes back three minutes later with their appetizers.  Enjoy.  Would you like another beer, she asks Riley, seeing that he’s drained his.  This is delicious.  Bring us a pitcher, please.  Riley tells her.  She goes away and cleans up a vacated table nearby on her way to the kitchen.  Two minutes later she’s back with his beer.  Fifteen minutes later, she comes out with their pizza.  Where’s the bathroom, Riley announces, as he gets up unsteadily and feels his head buzz and weaves on his feet.  Lana grabs his arm quickly and steadies him.  Are you okay? Heads spinning.  Come on, she puts his arm around her shoulders and takes him to the bathroom.  I got it from here, thanks Lana.  No problem, Riley.

She goes back to her section and goes up to a bunch of college kids taking up a booth.  Hi, I’m Lana, and she gives them her spiel.  Can I get you any drinks or appetizers while you decide on your order?  What’s good here, a girl asks.  Chef Ronaldo’s desserts.  Tonight he has a banana cream pie on a homemade graham cracker crust, his signature tiramisu, and his pumpkin loaf, which the staff has been devouring faster than he can bake it.  I meant like a meal.  I’m Catholic, so I cannot recommend anything but fish on Fridays, Lana replies.  The clam chowder is our most popular appetizer tonight.

We’ll look at the menu, one of the guys tells her.  What’s on tap?  Let me see some ID, Lana tells him.  He pulls out his wallet and shows her.  Anyone else?  No one else volunteers.  Do you play Nvidious, Tony?  Lana asks him.  He nods, all the time.  Riley over there created it.  She turns around and gives him a head nod.  He nods back.  Cool, Tony says.  He’s drinking Oatmeal Stout, Lana tells him.  I’ll try it, Tony tells Lana, grinning up at her.

Was that who I think it was?  One of the girls asks her boyfriend.  Lana Radley.  She looks good, one of the guys says with a grin, and his girlfriend elbows him.

Lana comes back a minute later.   We’re ready.  I’ll try the pumpkin loaf for an appetizer.  Life is short, she tells her friends, who gawk at her.  Me too.  Another girl says.  Why not, their other girlfriend says.  I’m so sorry, we only have two slices left, Lana says.  The last girl pouts.  I’ll do the clam chowder, a bowl.  One of the guys announces.  Same.  Same.  The other guys chime in.  I suppose I’ll have a cup, the left out girl says.

Yelp top review the next day.  Auggies, New Orleans: Worth the wait to get in.  Lana Radley was our server!!!  She did a fantastic job and was spot on with her recommendations: pumpkin loaf, clam chowder.  Riley Mac – creator of Nvidious -  was there drinking their Oatmeal Stout by the pitcher.  He got up and gave a drunk talk that left everyone speechless.  What he said made perfect sense to me, but then I was drunk too.  It’s called Stout for a reason, folks.  –Tony P.

***

Thank you Lana.  Raul tells her as he locks up.  You’re welcome.  She yawns.  Rain check on the walk? Raul asks.  I’ve got to get up early tomorrow, Lana admits.  I’ll rest on Sunday.  I got to meet Bettina’s father.  I tried to comp his bill, but he wouldn’t have it.  Lana grins.  I saw your friend Simon waiting to be seated in your section.  Who was that with him?  His friend Riley Mac.  He’s a computer genius, created the most popular multiplayer game on the market.  He and his girlfriend have this tiny dog.  It rode right up on the center console, and she carried it with her into a restaurant and no one said anything.  So what was the highlight of the trip?  The whitewater rafting.  We had to portage at one spot, and then jump back into the river off a twenty foot cliff.  Who was first?  Simon, he’d done it before.  Then Bettina stood on the edge and turned around to face me, and did a back flip into the water.  It was so amazing.  Then she swam over to Simon and kissed him.  What did you do?  Raul asks.  I didn’t kiss Simon.  Raul laughs.

Thanks again, Lana.  Goodnight, Raul.