“I'm sorry. I have to take this.”
Chelsea Simon-Darrow's perfectly manicured hand slipped towards me between the soy sauce and the fortune cookies to reach her vibrating cell phone. After glancing at the ID on the screen, she turned away from the child beside her and scowled directly into my face.
“It's Jason,” she said, barely disguising her displeasure. “I'll take it outside.”
I adjusted my tie.
“Go ahead, Mrs. S-D. You deal with that, and I'll just get acquainted with this beautiful princess here.”
As my client wafted out of the room on a cloud of Guerlain I beamed my best smile down at the tow-head pixy in pink now sitting next to me.
“Hey, pretty lady. What's your name?”
The little girl, who appeared to be about six, looked up through her lashes, her chin on her chest. Her button nose, with its dusting of freckles, barely cleared the edge of the table.
“My name's Amanda,” she whispered.
“So,” I asked, taking in the cheesy red paper lanterns on the ceiling. “You come here all the time? This is a pretty high class joint.” I gave her one of my best good-guy smiles.
“My Daddy used to bring me here. It's our favorite, his and mine.”
She raised her chin and hit me with the full force of her huge, round, sky-blue eyes. Her lashes were moist and sparkling and her voice was full of tears.
“When's Mama coming back?”
“She's, uh, just outside on the phone. See? Look out the window. There she is.”
“Okay.” Amanda's voice was barely audible and her eyes were on the tablecloth again. She lapsed back into silence.
“Well, what's your favorite dish, then. What did you and your Daddy used to order?” I was shooting blind here. “Egg rolls, maybe?”
She looked up at me again with a world of pain in those killer baby blues. In fifteen years that look would slay a linebacker.
“No,” she whispered. “We ate Egg Fooey.”
“Egg Fooey? Is that like Hong Kong Fooey?”
She wrinkled her brow into the cutest frown I've ever seen on a chick., then shook her head so hard she loosened her pink bunny barrettes.
“Not Hong Kong Fooey, silly. Egg Fooey!”
She pointed a chopstick at the remains of the Egg Foo Yong on her lunch plate.
The corner of her mouth curved up as she peered into my face this time. Then that turned into a full smile as sparkling and bright as sunshine on water. A smile filled with hope and framed with two tiny dimples.
“Mister?” she whispered. “If I give you all my money would could you get my Daddy to come back home to live with me?”
I should never have looked down at her tiny curled up fist. But I did. Just as her mother stormed back in headed for the table, Amanda opened it and let the handful of coins trickle out onto the table.
“Could you, mister?”
She looked up at me with those hopeful eyes and, yup, slayed me. Right there.
And just like that, I had two clients.