It was 8:08 on the dot when Donna had a cab driver drop her off at The Sandalwood. Donna was always impeccably on time but when it came to dinner dates (if that's what you could call this, she thought) 8 minutes late was her rule. Eight minutes was just late enough to keep him waiting and build up anticipation, but not late enough to where a man could be annoyed, even for a stickler for punctuality like Harvey.
As she stepped out of the cab to pay the driver she saw no sign of Harvey or his car. She noticed that the restaurant abutted the edge of a creek, the building made largely of Mahogany and glass panels. Though the exterior design of the building was pristine with clean cut lines, the string of lights that hung from the trees above and the large oversized rusted milk cans that displayed bundles upon bundles of white hydrangeas gave the location a rustic and romantic air. The building seemed very much fused into its natural surroundings.
She looked around once more before deciding to check in with the hostess. She hadn't received any call or message from Harvey saying he was running late so it was possible he was already inside. It was only when Donna stepped into the restaurant that she was hit, not with the smell of an agglomeration of different foods being prepared at the same time but instead with a musky, woody scent. It wasn't overpowering but it gave the room a warm and welcoming feel. Donna likened it to wrapping yourself in a warm blanket straight out of the dryer on a cold winter's night. It was soothing and relaxing and helped untie some of the knots she had been feeling in her stomach.
"Welcome to The Sandalwood! My name is Rebecca, how can I be of service to you tonight?" a young hostess, possibly in her mid-twenties, greeted Donna warmly.
Sandalwood! Donna thought, that was the scent. This realization distracted her for a moment as she looked around trying to find the source.
"Ma'am?" the woman called out again.
"Oh, Sorry!" Donna apologized, "You said sandalwood and that scent is just so fixating. It's not too strong; in fact, it almost leaves you wanting a little more."
The hostess, Rebecca, smiled back at Donna in understanding.
"Well, that's essentially the idea," she responded, "Here at The Sandalwood, we want our guests to relax and enjoy their dining experience as well as the atmosphere. We want you to be able to focus on your own experience here and not the hustle and bustle going on around you. So part of the experience is having you relax from the minute you step through those doors. Throughout the restaurant you will see panels of sandalwood on the walls, they are known for their smooth and enduring fragrance. But we guarantee you that the scent, rather than inhibiting or distracting you from your dining experience here, will greatly enhance it instead."
"Wow," Donna said, "well, it sounds fantastic to me."
"Excellent! Well Ms. … …I'm sorry I didn't get your name."
"Paulsen, Donna Paulsen," she responded.
Fantastic! Well Ms. Paulsen, are you ready to begin your experience with us tonight?"
"Well," Donna said with a slight crinkle of her brow, "I know I am but I am meeting someone here, a Harvey Specter. We had reservations at 8; would you happen to know if he's checked in already?"
Rebecca looked down at her computer screen.
"Hmm…No, it does not seem that he has checked in yet. However, your table is ready so I can seat you if you'd like and notify Mr. Specter when he arrives that you are already here."
"That sounds great, thank you," Donna replied.
Rebecca led Donna down a short hall that led to the dining room. It was then that Donna took sight of the interior that could not be seen from the front entrance. At the center of restaurant stood a magnificent maple tree, aglow in vibrant reds, oranges, and yellows from the mid-October air.
Though the tree remained outside, the glass panels that surrounded it and the elevated floor plan, allowed you to feel as if you were sitting amongst the sweeping branches. Donna looked down and noticed that scattered around the hardwood floor were glass tiles that provided glimpses of the ground below. In some areas she could spot flowing water, where the creek ran beneath the restaurant, all adding to the feeling that you were floating above the ground and sitting within the tree. She had never seen a structure quite like it. It was, in one word, breathtaking.
"Watch your step here, Ms. Paulsen," she heard Rebecca say as they approached a small set of steps that took Donna up to a little nook where their table was located.
"Would you like me to send out your server with some waters while you wait on Mr. Specter to arrive?"
"Um…yes, that would be great, thank you," Donna said still taking in the room around her.
"It's my pleasure. James will be your server tonight. He will be out with some waters shortly."
Donna gave the woman a small smile.
"Thank you, Rebecca," she said as the hostess took her leave.
Now that Donna was seated she was able to get a better view of the restaurant. She noticed that the restaurant was in fact busy; all tables in her eyesight were occupied. Tables for two and four were scattered into their own nooks, as though they were each on a spoke of a wheel. Occasionally she spotted tables of 6 or 8 for larger parties, but in restaurants such as this, those were few. This was the kind of place that afforded the dining party with privacy and intimacy.
Moments later, the server, James, had arrived with a tray of bottled waters and glasses.
"Good Evening, Ms. Paulsen. How are you this evening?"
"I'm great, thank you for asking," Donna said with a warm smile.
"Excellent. My name is James and I will be serving you this evening. Would you care to start off with some sparkling mineral water, San Pellegrino? We also have flat spring water as well."
"Sparkling, please," Donna replied.
"Is there anything else I can get for you right now, ma'am? Drinks or appetizers to start?" he asked.
"No, thank you James," she said with a small smile, "I'll wait."
"Not a problem. I will be back then when the rest of your party has arrived but should you change your mind, please let me know."
"I will, thanks," she said as he turned and disappeared back into the kitchen.
Donna pulled her phone out from her clutch and looked at the time, 8:29; still no message from Harvey. She looked around nervously wondering where he could be.
After another ten minutes, James made another round of dining room, surely checking whether Harvey had arrived. Donna began feeling a new type of knot forming in her stomach. It wasn't the kind of knot you got when you were excited; it wasn't the butterflies. It was the kind of knot you got when you start to realized that you've been stood up. It was the same sinking feeling she experienced earlier in the day when she had run into Scottie in the city.
Earlier as she was getting dressed, Donna had gone back and forth multiple times on whether or not to just cancel the dinner with Harvey. Her encounter with Scottie had deflated some of her excitement and she figured that once Harvey had spoken with Scottie, he'd want to cancel anyway. She figured she'd save them both the trouble. But when he sent her a message saying that he was on his way and to meet him at 8, she felt some of the excitement flourish and decided to go along with it after all. Right now she was wishing she had canceled. This was why she had her 8 minute rule and not a minute more, because one of the worst feelings was that of sitting alone in a restaurant drinking water, waiting for someone who may or may not show up.
When it was 9:00, Donna saw Rebecca approaching her table. She had a feeling she knew what was coming.
"Hello again, Ms. Paulsen," she said with a smile as friendly as the one from earlier that evening when she greeted her at the door.
Donna gave her a tight smile as she was finding it difficult to smile at the moment.
"Do you have any news on Mr. Specter, ma'am?"
"No," Donna answered with a bitter sigh.
'What are you doing, Donna?' she scolded herself inwardly, 'How much more of your life are you going to waste waiting for Harvey to NOT show up!?'
"Rebecca, do you have a bar in this place?"
"Yes, ma'am. And it's very well stocked," the hostess said with a sympathetic smile.
"Fantastic. Well, Rebecca, if Harvey Specter does show up then you can tell him that I may or may not be at the bar."
"Will do, Ms. Paulsen."
"I'm sorry about wasting that reservation," she said regretfully, "This is a beautiful place."
"Oh, it's all right. We hope that you will end up dining with us though but if you follow me I can take you down to the bar."
Donna gathered her belongings and followed Rebecca down to the opposite end of the restaurant that housed the bar. She pulled herself onto one of the high chairs at the bar and waited as the bartender made his rounds.
"Hi there," he said, "what can I get for you?"
"Macallan, neat. Thank you."
Donna has spent so much time around Harvey that drinking single malt whiskies had become her drink of choice most of the time.
The bartender returned with a tumbler of amber liquid and set it down before her. She took a sip and let the warm liquid work its way down slowly. She turned to look around the room and noticed several people, some in groups, some in pairs, and others on their own. Going home was an option she considered but after the trouble of going shopping for that dress and taking the time to get dressed, she was determined to at least have an earth-shattering hangover in the morning in order to forget the night ever happened.
Shortly after taking her seat, Donna noticed someone approaching in her periphery. He took the seat next to her even though there were plenty of empty seats elsewhere at the bar.
"Hi there" the voice said to her.
Donna turned slowly to face the stranger beside her.
It was nearly 9:30 as Harvey pulled into the lot of The Sandalwood. He wasn't sure Donna would still be there but he had to try. He threw his key to the valet and ran into the restaurant.
The hostess at the front was beginning to greet him but he cut her off.
"I'm sorry, I am really late, is there any way you can tell me if—" he began but the hostess cut him off.
"You must be Mr. Specter, correct?" she asked.
Harvey nodded silently. The fact that the hostess knew who he was could only mean that he was the only asshole of the night to not show up.
"Ms. Paulsen asked me to let you know that she may or may not be at the bar. But between you and me sir, I think she's still back there as I escorted her there about 30 minutes ago. Would you like me to escort you there?"
"No, Thanks, I know where it is" he said as he took off in a hurry toward the bar.
As he came into the bar, he spotted her on the opposite end, her back to him. As he approached he noticed she was talking to a man beside her. The man next to her was leaning in too close for his liking.
She found herself staring into friendly pair of hazel-green eyes. She sized him up briefly before answering. No ring. Athletic build. Handsome face. Clean cut look. Charming but friendly smile.
"Hi there? Is that the best you've got?" she asked, eyebrows raised.
"Well," he said with a smile, "I've got plenty of cheesy one-liners but you look like a woman who'd swat those away like flies. So I figured I'd cut past the bullshit and just say hello."
How refreshing, she thought to herself, a man who just wants to cut past the BS and get to the point.
"Ok," she said, intrigued," so if we're cutting past the bullshit, tell me, do you kill people for a living?"
"God, I hope not, since I went to school for the exact opposite reason," he said with a chuckle.
"Doctor?" she asked.
He took a sip of his drink, nodding slightly before responding, "Pediatrician."
"Do you like kids then?" Donna asked, really cutting to the chase to find the fault in this guy.
"I do. I can be a big kid myself sometimes, so kids and I…we understand each other," he said with another warm smile.
"Do you have any of your own?"
"Oh…no. I've got plenty of nieces and nephews though…and plenty of patients in that category too."
Donna nodded silently. His smile turned into a wide grin then.
"I'm Ethan," he said extending his hand out to her."
"Dr. Ethan," she said with a small smile, taking his hand.
He nodded easily and said, "I may be a doctor but I'm no psychic...so are you going to tell me who you are?"
Donna considered for a moment. He seemed like a decent person and after the night she was having, she wouldn't mind having a nice encounter with a stranger who seemed like a perfectly good guy.
"I'm Do—" she began but the voice that spoke her name was not her own.
"DONNA" the voice boomed from behind her. She didn't have to turn around to know who it was.
Ethan looked momentarily confused as he stared at the man standing behind Donna. Donna shut her eyes and took in a deep breath before turning around to look at him.
"Harvey," she said stoically, waiting for him to say something more.