Ryan walked out of the elevator and smack into a couple walking in.
“Oh, sorry!” Ryan said, “Wasn’t looking. Mind in the clouds. You OK? Yeah, thanks, sorry again.”
Ryan pulled out his iPhone and set it on “silent.”
“Like I’m going to get a call,” he thought.
He sloped off to the Grand Ballroom, the whirr of a floor cleaner in the background.
Ryan entered the Grand Ballroom and thought it so crowded with people he nearly turned around to go back to his room. He took a deep breath. “OK, get a couple of drinks, a snack and back to the room. Maybe grab a beer on the way out.” It was a plan.
Ryan made a beeline to the bar. “Chardonnay, please,” he said. Oh, that was good, he thought. He downed the glass in one, got another and set off for some food.
Ryan was impressed by the buffet layout. There was something for everyone, he thought, and very nicely presented. Grabbing a plate, Ryan loaded up with some shrimp, paté, hummus and some fresh vegetables. He nearly missed the Korean pork but snagged a couple.
“Now, to find a quiet place in all this chaos.” Ryan looked around, saw an empty table near the restrooms (beggars can’t be choosers) and sat down.
Ryan pulled out his iPhone and checked out his Facebook. After making a couple of updates including a photo of his buffet plate, he looked up and briefly scanned the room.
There she was. Chatting to the guy he knew as Aaron, aka Coffee Guy. Ryan’s heart sank. In the welling panic he looked at the exit, calculating how many steps to the elevator lobby and to the sanctuary of his room.
Ryan turned back to Zöe and Aaron. Zöe was smiling and laughing. Aaron took a step forward. Zöe took a step back. Suddenly, Ryan realize that Zöe was not smiling. There was terror in her eyes. She was afraid. Her smile was a feint. Aaron took a step forward. Zöe took a step back. Zöe’s eyes were darting around, and locked upon Ryan’s. Ryan looked at Zöe, and she looked at him. Later Ryan would learn that Zöe had only spotted the restrooms, intending to make her escape from Coffee Guy, but the universe had other plans.
There was no sound. No motion. No time. No past. No future. Just now. The present.
To Ryan everything was frozen. The kitchen staff stopped restocking the buffet. The waiters halted in refilling drinks mid-stream. Nobody moved. Ryan looked at Zöe. Zöe looked at Ryan.
The message was clear.
Ryan stood up and walked toward Zöe. He passed a waiter with a tray of chardonnays, grabbed one without breaking stride and without taking his eyes off of Zöe.
He stood next to Zöe, just to the left of Aaron, aka Coffee Guy.
Aaron was frozen, his face smug, his tie slightly askew. Ryan reached up and loosened it a bit more and mussed Aaron’s hair for good measure.
He then turned toward Zöe.