Thomas Bates didn’t like variety. He worked at the same job for forty-five years, and whenever a new worker tried to call him Tom, Thomas set the fellow straight. “Name’s Thomas. Always has been, always will be.”
After Thomas’s reluctant retirement, Marsha, put meals on the table at the same times every day, and they ate a revolving menu that never varied from week to week. Bedtime, rising, chores, outings, golf—always at the same times and same places, year after year. Whenever one of their television shows was cancelled or changed time slots, it took Thomas half the season to adjust.
Every weekend since their two children had left home and moved to different states, they’d eaten with the Millers, their next-door neighbors, on Saturday nights, alternating weekends at each house. If a holiday or the Millers’ vacation interrupted the schedule, Marsha set the table for four and made a toast to their missing guests. And then—tragedy. Their good dinner buddies, also retired people, pulled up stakes and moved to a retirement villa in Florida. Thomas was… Well, you can imagine.
The Millers called, e-mailed, and sent cards inviting Thomas and Marsha to visit. “It’s green and warm, and there are lovely places to visit. We’ll take you to our favorite lunch spot, right on the beach, for seafood,” they said.
Whenever Marsha showed him the invitations or brought up the subject of visiting their very best friends, Thomas shook his head as if repelling a pesky mosquito. But every Saturday evening he sat at the table with such a forlorn look on his face that Marsha made plans on her own. She purchased airline tickets and arranged the visit with the Millers. Her husband couldn’t refuse to go. Part of his routine involved never wasting money.
Thomas spent a whole week sleeping in a strange bed, eating new cuisine, and experiencing new places. The four friends dipped their feet in the ocean, ate key lime pie during the afternoon, saw an amazing sea turtle, and laughed a lot.
On the Saturday evening after their return from Florida, Marsha made dinner and set the table in their accustomed way. Thomas frowned when he looked at the extra table settings.
“We should ask the new neighbors over one night,” he said. “After all, we deserve a little variety in life.”