WILLEM SECOND EXCERPT:
“Lyra, this is Willem.”
“Oh, yes. Willem. Are you having fun?”
“I, ah, yes. I just got here.”
“Have you had something to eat? We wouldn’t want you to be hungry and there’s so much food!”
“I’ll never forget the food.”
She barked out a laugh. “You hope!”
It took me a second to catch up and remember about the memory wipe thing.
“Well, yeah, I guess I do hope I remember.”
Her grin resolved into a smile. “So tell me what you’re going to do with your life if you win, Willem.”
“You know, that still sounds like one of those what-would-you-do-if-you-got-a-million-dollars questions. It feels too unreal to take seriously.”
She nodded. “A good solid honest answer. I like that.” After studying me for a few seconds, she said, “Okay. You passed my test. Let me introduce you to Lilith.”
She turned me around when she took my arm and, as she did, I happened to catch a heated look exchanged between Harmony and Raider. It was an, “Ah hah,” moment immediately followed by an, “Oh, crap,” moment when I realized that, if I won Harmony’s sister, Raider would be my brother-in-law. I understood why he was happy enough to star in the Orientation video and babysit inexperienced canoers on the river. She was a catch and he knew it.
I decided there are worse things than being in Raider’s family. He didn’t actually finish drowning me in the river, but at the time it felt like he was trying. On the other hand, he insisted on showing me to the ballroom. And he called me ‘hero’. Who couldn’t get used to that?
I was ushered from one beautiful woman to the next and each took measure of me in her own way. It was an interview, or audition, but it was the most pleasant I’d ever experienced. Or ever would, I was sure.
Still, after an hour or so, I was getting hungry. When Bless tried to walk me to another chat, I balked.
“Hey, could you maybe give me a couple of minutes to partake of some of the amazing feast stations? I haven’t eaten and that guy in the other part of the house carving that prime rib really spoke to me.”
Bless had a laugh that didn’t exactly sound like tinkling bells, but reminded me of them just the same. “Certainly, Willem. Would you like me to accompany you?”
“That would be…” I happened to look away and notice that most of the conversational groups in the room consisted of clusters of contestants, not a witch in sight. I realized that’s what I’d been seeing the whole time whenever I looked away from the woman I was talking with. “Bless, I hope this isn’t an inappropriate question, but am I getting special treatment?”
Bless treated me to an extra big helping of her tinkling bells laugh. “Willem, you’re quite perceptive. And you’ve passed my test.”
“You know, you’re the sixth or seventh person to say that to me. Is this a gauntlet of gorgeous women in sexy red dresses?”
Again the laugh. “I love that description. You’re quite a character, Willem. You would fit in around here.” As she smiled at me, she grabbed the elbow of another beauty passing by. “Glory, this is Willem.”
When Glory smiled, I knew how she was named. “Hi, Willem.”
“He’s hungry and headed in the direction of prime rib.”
“Of course he is. I don’t see a man like this eating watercress.”
“Yes, well, perhaps you’d like to accompany him while he dines.”
Glory seemed as ecstatic as if she’d won the prize herself. “Of course! Willem. I’d be honored.”
She slipped her arm in mind and walked me to the prime rib. “What would you like with that?” she asked. “While Raleigh is slicing your rib just the way you want it, I’ll gather up something to go with.”
“Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.”
“Okay, then. Caesar salad. And did I see au gratin potatoes?” She nodded. “That should do.”
She pointed to a table at the rear of the room. “I’ll meet you right there.”
She was there with salad and spuds before I arrived with a hunk of prime rib that smelled so good it was all I could do to not face plant into the plate and tear into it with my teeth. Somehow I managed to preserve enough dignity to sit and take a few bites of salad before digging into my current reason for living with fork and knife.
Out of nowhere a waiter appeared on my right pouring red wine into my glass. That was followed with a delivery of ice water seconds later.
“You’ve eaten?” I asked Glory, who sat smiling with her legs crossed as if there’s nothing in the universe she’d rather be doing than watching me eat.
Someone appeared with a mint garnished drink that I hadn’t heard Glory order.
“I’ve decided that Wimberley must have the best service in the world. I’m certain the queen of England is envious.”
She smiled. “Don’t you know you get what you pay for, Willem?”
“So I’ve heard. I’m just a middle class boy from Alabama so I wouldn’t have much personal experience in that department.”
“You don’t strike me as someone who thinks of Golden Bull Buffet as a special occasion.”
“I had some nice times courtesy of my agent.”
“Your agent? Oh, that’s right. You were an actor.”
“How is it that everyone seems to know me by name? And, obviously, some know more than just my name. Have you memorized bios on all fifty contestants? And come to think of it, why did you say ‘were an actor’?”
“First, yes. We look over incoming guests. Second, some of us just learn names, some of us read more and have good recall. Third, you told our people in L.A. that you’re done with acting. That puts it in the past tense, right?”
“Right. So, should I be asking questions about you?”
She grinned. “You’re funny, Willem.”
“Because you have been asking questions.”
Hearing her say it out loud, I realized that was true.
“This prime rib is indescribable. And the wine, he didn’t ask me for a preference, but I’ve gotta tell you. It’s amazing.”
“If you win, you’ll eat whatever you want when you want it. As far as the staff goes, they’re very skilled at reading people and anticipating needs.”
“You’re quick, Willem. I like that. And you’ve passed my test.”