"So where is this guy?"
Manny looked at his watch nervously. He carried this most wondrous watch ever, with a calculator and a chronometer and selectable time zones and probably a compass too, one that worked in outer space just as well. Actually, the best way to make friends with Manny was to admire his watch.
"It's not even time yet, is it?"
"Of course it is time already.", Manny said mimicking the woman's tone. "It has been for over 4 minutes now. Almost 5", he said with sudden pride, and in his own tone, checking his wondrous watch again.
"You sure that watch of yours is even on time?"
"Of course it is on time. It is precisely on time", Manny said turning visibly red around the cheeks and the forehead and the back of the neck, the way people hatching a massive stroke look. "I check it periodically and it never was wrong yet."
"And that is no reason to presume it wouldn't suddenly start being late one day", John spoke in a very quiet tone. That man had a strange manner of speaking as if he never opened his mouth, or drew breath, and one always had to proceed deductively to identify who was speaking whenever it was him.
"That is a horrible thing to say", a visibly horrified Manny squeaked. "Things do not just break down for no reason, that's just not how the world works. Why even carry a watch if it's just going to explode whenever you need to tell time?"
"Well anyway, 5 minutes isn't that much, it's not like we are in any terrible hurry."
"It was 5 minutes, now it's 13 and a half", clarified Manny, after checking his watch once more.
"We have a copy machine at the office that never works. There was a very nice girl that used to handle that but then Mr. Hinkle-Bailay fired her because she was always late, although she never was all that late, and sometimes she was really on time, and she could work that machine somehow. And ever since we keep calling maintenance and they keep coming and fixing it and then the next day or the next hour or very soon it will break down again and swallow pages and print a whole stack of paper with random junk. And one day it nearly caught on fire for some reason or other. I think one day somebody will just dump it out of a window... "
"Well she should have been on time and that would have taken care of everything. Punctuality is the essence of good manners, I always say."
But John didn't really notice Manny and continued his own thoughts for himself..."Except windows don't really open at the office... and then it might fall on somebody's head and they would be injured and maybe couldn't go back to work and run whatever machine they are running there, and his office will be stuck calling maintenance every day or anyway very often, and the thing will never work any, regardless."
Peggy had moved a little closer, trying to make out the words the bashful character was mumbling, with limited success.
"Well it's 20 minutes past now, and I really think we should be getting organized before we waste any more time waiting on doubtful members", said Manny, stepping in to take control of the situation.
"Now, now, that is a bit too harsh, I'm sure he is doing the best he can."
Fred had been sitting in a chair and studying the other refugees, trying to grasp something of their mind and manner. He once read in a self-improvement book that is how a leader should behave, and since he never before had chance or cause to try that out, he was doing it now. Of course it was all a bit hazy, after all it had been a while since he read the book, and he didn't pay that much attention then either.
At this point the authors would like to say the following :
The original point of this chapter was nothing like it came out. It is all the fault of these pesky characters that do whatever they feel like. It is actually very annoying. It is going so far that we are no longer entirely sure we can even get this book anywhere near an acceptable ending. If, in fact, we do manage to bring it to some ending at all.
We are terribly sorry. Proceed at your own risk and leisure.
Manny took a deep breath, preparing a sharp retort when the door flew open and in rushed Ralph. Bursting with energy, Ralph disrupted the quiet scene, blurting out a string of excuses for his tardiness.
"So sorry I am late, this has been an absolutely awful day... first there was this huge sale, the parking lot was so crowded... I had to park outside the fence, then I couldn't find my car, because you can't really take notes for outside the fence. By the time I got to the sale, all the stuff I went for was gone! They were putting out all the junk that didn't sell last time. But I didn't buy most of it anyway."
"You kept us here, waiting for a sequel sale to end? It's been 24 minutes now!"
".. and look, I got this really great painting which will fit just right above the big sofa, over there."
He bounced over towards the rose-colored sofa dragging the paper wrapped object he had carried in and began ripping it open. Peggy moved closer, anxious to see what treasure Ralph might have found. Triumphantly Ralph removed the last of the wrapping and held it up for all to see.
"ahhh" "oooo" "hmmm" "eechk" "uuuh".
The cacophony of sounds made it impossible to tell who had uttered what. The group just stood there gaping, as Ralph held aloft a painting of a dusty street in an old western town. The street was complete with saloon, horses, cowboys, and of course a wooden Indian denoting a barber shop.
Fred was the first to catch his breath, "Ahh, yes, well, we can see about that later, now I suppose we should get started since we are already a bit late."
Ralph looked a bit crestfallen, but quietly leaned the painting against a wall, took a seat along with the others and looked somewhat expectantly to Fred.
"Ahem", Fred cleared his throat a bit nervously, he had of course carefully planned a speech for this moment, but now that it was here, he couldn't recall a word he had intended to say.
"Uh, as you all know, I hope for this club to be a nice friendly place we can all come to just relax and talk, or whatever. But, I also thought that maybe we should try and organize some activities. You know, things we can perhaps all enjoy doing together, and that might encourage more people to join, too." Fred paused for a breath and the ever exuberant Ralph jumped in.
"A dance, if we pushed all this furniture back a bit we could have a nice dance place here, and I have lots of CD's with really good dance music."
Everyone was silent for a moment, not sure how to point out to Ralph that the current membership of 4 men and 1 woman would make for an awkward dance.
At last Fred cleared his throat again and said, "Ahh, yes, well I am sure a dance might be a good idea eventually, but perhaps that should wait just a bit."
Everyone was silent, shifting a bit uncomfortably in their seats. The silence seemed to stretch on for an eternity, but in truth was probably no more than 30 seconds or so. At last, Peggy took a deep breath and spoke softly,
"What about a games night? Something fun a bunch can play, like Monopoly? Her eyes brushed over the dusty chess set in the corner and she shuddered slightly. "Or maybe even Bridge, does anybody play Bridge?"
Manny grinned, "Yup, Bridge, that's a great way to really get to know people. If fact I just heard this great story, about two people that ..."
"story. we used to tell stories the first night at camp. scary stories. i thought it was fun. but the girls would get all scared and not sleep. it might be fun to pretend we are all kids again and have stories, but then if somebody gets too scared, and doesn't sleep, and can't go to work the next day on time, they might end up being late and get fired. and that would really be sad, because...". John's little speech sort of trailed off and he blushed when he realized everybody was looking at him.
Again it was Peggy who broke the silence, with a large bright smile she said, "But John, that's a lovely idea, stories make for interesting conversation, we could all have a good time, no need to have scary ones you know."
Slowly, a bit grudgingly, the others nodded agreement.
"Alright, that's two pretty good ideas for starters. Manny would you like to make up a schedule and post it for us?"
"Sure, does anybody have particular nights that are not good for them to come on?" Manny spoke as he reached into his pocket to retrieve a notepad and pen.
With that, the meeting broke into several low conversations among the various members. John, seeing his chance, rose and escaped to the corner behind the bookcase again.
Manny was deep in conversation with Fred, working out details on schedules and posting things and all sorts of equally important stuff. That left Peggy and Ralph, facing each other, each wondering just how to start a friendly conversation. Finally Ralph broke the silence, "Have you seen the new gadget that peels eggs perfectly in mere seconds?"