“Love?” Sanders asked. “You are refusing to be my mistress because you are in love? Is this a joke? Did Clemons put you up to this?”
“I don’t really know Mr. Clemons but I do love someone, so I can’t be your mistress,” replied Dala.
“Nonsense. It will be you and that is the end of it.” Sanders stood and dropped his white linen napkin on the red china plate in front of him. “Now get up. We are leaving.”
“But we haven’t eaten yet, Shiftmaster. You must be hungry,” said Dala.
“I am hungry but I will not buy you an expensive dinner until you stop being difficult.” Sanders looked at the young brunette sitting across from him. She was attractive enough but obviously mentally impaired. He made a note to do more extensive background checks in the future.
Dala looked down at her empty plate. “I’m sorry, Shiftmaster. I don’t mean to cause problems.”
“If that were true, we would not be having this conversation … and call me Sanders. I am only the Shiftmaster when we are at work.”
“Yes, Shiftmaster Sanders.”
“Good God! Where do they find you people? They must be scraping the bottom of the quarries for miners these days. Just call me ‘Sanders,’ Dala, and by the way – who is your lover?”
“His name is Corris Misgravo. We’ve known each other for twelve years. I met him when I was ten. He was in my class at education camp.”
“How sweet and how senseless. If he is a fuel miner like you, he has no money and no future.”
“I mean no offense, Shift … uh … Sanders. I only want to be with the man I love.”
“You are making me sick, truly sick. I am going to vomit on this plate. There is no love, only survival, only loyalty and obedience and refuge from pain. I am offering you all of this and you are insulting me by throwing this dirty miner of yours in my face.”
Dala bowed low over her plate. “Sanders, please forgive me. I can’t help the fact that I love Corris. I’ve loved him since I was a child. He’s all I know. If he wasn’t in my life, I’m sure I would be with you.”
Sanders smiled. “So if Corris were not in your life, you would accept my offer?”
“No, I’m with him and … you and I, we can’t.”
“I see,” Sanders said as he sat down. “Thank you for explaining the situation so clearly. I feel much better now. Shall we have some dinner?”