Helen was late. Helen was always late. Every single year. Ângelo considered scheduling the luncheon a full hour early just so he could arrive at the regular time and not have to wait, but that just wasn't in his nature.
The new guy was already there, smiling. He rose to greet Ângelo.
"Hi, I'm Happy," he said, pumping Ângelo's hand vigorously.
"Yes, you guys always are. Ângelo. Nice to meet you."
Ângelo sat across from Happy and grabbed a menu. He perused it for something to do while they waited. He always ordered the same thing.
"My counterpart is always late to these little conferences. I'd tell you to get used to it, but . . ."
"You mean the lovely Helen? She is not late. She just went to the ladies room. Ah, here she is now." Happy rose, again, and waited for Helen to sit. In his surprise, Ângelo did not extend the same courtesy.
She was dressed in red, but a more muted red than was usual. The latest fashion, of course, or more accurately, in the coming year's fashion. Surprisingly modest, Ângelo noted. He clasped her proferred hand. She flashed a gorgeous, charismatic smile.
"You look marvelous, Ângelo, as always. Simply divine. So good to see you. Happy New Year!"
Ângelo was wearing the same suit he had worn to these meetings for ages. Helen was the master of the complisult, but her words seemed genuine. "Happy New Year, Helen."
"I see you've met Happy. Smiles a lot, doesn't have much to say. Not yet. Naturally. I took care of the outgoing in our usual manner. No need to discuss that. Have you seen the specials? I can't decide if I want the Eggs Benedict with Smoked Salmon and Spinach Feta Quiche, or even be a little wicked and have the Mushroom Goat Cheese Crepes. Ooh! Maybe I'll have the crepes, you have the eggs benny and Happy can try the Warmed Plum Pudding."
"No thank you, Helen. I will have eggs, sunny side up. As always." Helen always tried to order for them all, and the Happy was usually happy to eat whatever.
"Of course, dear. And no coffee, correct? You will have apple juice?"
Ângelo nodded. She usually argued and then insisted and made a commotion, but today she just nodded and went back to the menu. Knowing her, she would have a thousand questions for the poor server and then be unsatisfied with whatever she wound up ordering, sending it back for something else. Ângelo just hoped to get his breakfast in a timely fashion, and always tried to avoid doing anything to risk having his meal tampered with in various unpleasant manners. Helen always seemed to expect special treatment. The Happys were always . . . happy.
Somewhat astonishingly, when it came time to order, Helen had no questions and, though she still ordered for them all, at least acquiesced to their desires. She was entirely pleasant to the server. She didn't even try flirting with her.
Traditionally, they engaged in small talk until the meal came, and reserved business until after everyone was done their meal. It was often awkward, as the Happy rarely had anything to say, and Ângelo wasn't always at his ease with Helen. But he was in no hurry to carve up the fate of the world for this coming year, so he said, "Helen, if you don't mind me saying, you seem different today. Radiant. I mean, you're always stunning, of course, but . . . you're smiling more. You were perfectly polite to the waitress. You arrived early!"
Helen's grin got even wider. "Thank you for noticing, Ângelo. It's my New Year's Resolution. I've decided- we all have, actually- to turn over a new leaf, and to demonstrate gentility and graciousness in all our interactions. For the New Year."
Ângelo's jaw dropped. This was unprecedented. "But, surely, goodness, I- wait," he sputtered. "What about the Cosmic Balance? Pray tell you don't expect me to go the other way. I will not. None us will. There's no way..."
Helen reached over with a serviette and dabbed Ângelo's mouth. "It's quite unnecessary, good sir. No need. While we were waiting for you to arrive I had a very productive meeting with young Happy here. In fact, if you'll excuse the atrocious breach of protocol, I believe I will depart. We have much to do. Don't worry about the check, I took care of it."
She blew a kiss at Ângelo, got up and left.
It took Ângelo a moment to regain his composure. He looked over at Happy. "I'm afraid this is completely unacceptable, sir. We, the three of us, the treaty! What about the treaty?"
Happy grinned. "Helen was very nice."
"Certainly, but you can't just let her decide the coming year without any input from us. It's just not right."
"Happy New Year," said Happy. He smiled once more, got up and left.
- Nathan Waddell