The discount bottles of wine lining the shelf looked completely unappealing; random bottles from unknown wineries, each having their own tale of mediocrity. The unflinching glare of the florescent lighting beamed down over the sparse collection, juxtaposed with the canned meats and boxed dinners, a mere afterthought to appease the alcoholics. If she had the proper funds, she could’ve gone to a nicer store, complete with its own designated section of wine, with the bottles shimmering in the soft warm glow of the recessed lighting. But ambiance was a luxury she couldn‘t afford, and instead reached for the bottle within her price range. She examined the label and read the contents knowing full well that she didn’t have the capacity to appreciate them, but did so anyway.
As she opened the passenger door to her car, her husband Tom attempted a smile, but only managed a smirk. She handed him the brown bag containing the wine as she slid into the seat and fastened her seatbelt.
“It’s for them.” she advised. He looked to her and flashed the same smile that had once captured her heart. A sense of nostalgia briefly overcame her as his action transported her back to the time when his smile was enough. She wanted to believe in it once more, and not as the transparent means of achieving his desired outcome that she now recognized it to be. “Don’t get any ideas.” she added as more of a distraction to the thoughts she wished to avoid.
“You’ve got me all figured out, don’t you?”
“Considering your track record, I’d say that’s an accurate statement.” she responded as he laughed. She knew the laugh very well. It was a cheap guise to mask his irritation. He reached down and shifted the car into drive and inched out of the parking spot. The car’s fan belt screeched loudly in protest. He saw her wince out of the corner of his eye. “Careful…” she eased.
“You’re right Court, putting the car in drive and barely pressing the gas was so irresponsible. I really should take more care with how I drive.” he said letting his sarcasm reign. She couldn’t afford to shut down at this point. They had the whole night ahead of them. Instead she stared at him until he looked away from the road. He made eye contact briefly before returning his focus.
“You’re right. I’m sorry.” she said. He reached over and rested his hand on her thigh. She placed her hand on top of his as they drove on in silence. Instead of staring out the window, Courtney opted to close her eyes and revel in the fleeting moment of solitude between them. She traced her fingers on the back of his hand as he continued to drive. If only the moment would last. In the brief space of time, she felt as if they were castaways on a tiny island, clinging to the rare respite, with the treacherous waters of reality swirling about, taunting them, and waiting for the slightest provocation to hurl them into the water to drift slowly apart.
“How long do we have to stay?” he asked, ending her reverie. Annoyed at his intrusion, she tucked her hair behind her ear, giving him enough time to return his hand to the steering wheel, thus trouncing the moment of stillness.
“Not too late. I just…I really like Sarah. I think we could be really good friends.”
Tom and Courtney’s car screeched to a stop and shuttered once or twice before being switched off. Courtney consulted her phone once more to determine if they had arrived at the correct destination. Surely the sprawling house, replete with manicured lawns and cherub statues lining the stone walkway to the porch, where the white pristine bench swing hung like a trophy of domestic achievement, couldn’t belong to Sarah. A small explosion erupted in Courtney’s heart as ripples of discontent oozed forth, seeping into her nervous system, projecting itself to every inch of her, filling her with a sadness that she couldn’t seem to reconcile.
“Nice place. What is it that her husband does again?” Tom asked.
“Let’s just go home.” she said, the defeat evident in her voice.
“Are you kidding me?”
“It’s just a charade.” she explained as Tom sighed deeply, allowing every ounce of breath to escape his lungs before he inhaled.
“It’s more like a fantasy. You read too many beauty magazines and watched too many romantic comedies as a child.” he said. The sadness she felt dissipated into rage as she knew she was at the precipice of one of his psychoanalytical rants. “You’ve been brainwashed by modern culture to believe that the pinnacle of adulthood must be achieved via vapid dinner parties with other couples to project some image of a perfect reality that we both know doesn’t exist. We don’t even drink wine!”
“What else was I supposed to bring? A bag of weed? Would that be more appropriate for us?”
“Yes! At least it’d be more authentic then pretending to be someone we’re not.” he said as she seethed in anger. She inhaled slowly; desperately clinging to what she knew was a crumbling foundation. He was right, and she hated him for it. She looked to him, this man in the seat beside her with contempt in his eyes and graying hair at his temples, and fought hard against the tears that threatened to spill out of her watery eyes. As she sat in her clunker of a car with a man she could barely look at, she looked to the house in front of her that stood in mockery of her ambitions, and realized, this was it. This was her life. Her eyes settled on the crumpled brown bag sitting in her lap containing the discount wine; a pathetic attempt at culture. The trajectory of the hopes and dreams of her lost youth had completely outstretched her current reality. The overwhelming sense of frustration nearly suffocated her. She had to get out of the car. “I thought we were going home!” he said as she opened the door.
“Just leave. I’ll walk!” she said as she slammed it with the angst of a pouting teenager.
“Fine!” he said as he turned the key in the ignition. He put the car in reverse and slowly backed out of the driveway as she remained, glaring at him, her chest rising and falling rapidly with each indignant breath.
“Courtney?” She tore her eyes from her husband to see Sarah standing on the porch, her red apron billowing in the evening breeze. She slid her hand out of the red velvety oven mitt and smoothed back her blond hair and smiled. The door was open and the faint scent of baked bread percolated the air. Courtney reflexively hid her frown and replaced it with her best disingenuous smile and greeted her.
“Is that your husband? Where’s he going?” she asked. Courtney stared helplessly at Tom as he backed out of the driveway.
“Um…he…” before she could finish the sentence Tom parked parallel along the curb in front of their house and got out of the car with the brown bag containing the wine.
“You must be Sarah.” he said as Courtney’s heart slowed to a tolerable pace as he approached them. “We weren’t sure if it was okay to park in the driveway, so Courtney made me move.”
Courtney secretly admired the crystal water glass as she slowly brought it to her lips. The ice cold purified water soothed her throat, quelling the screams that had threatened to erupt just moments earlier. She avoided eye contact with Tom as he sat directly across from her at the robust mahogany dinner table that had been fancily set for four. The muffled murmurings of Sarah and her husband in the kitchen was the only sound. The staccato of Sarah’s giddy laughter pierced the walls in the song like rhythm of a fulfilling marriage. Courtney found it nearly unbearable as she managed to steal a glance at Tom as his gaze was transfixed on the perfectly formed stemware. He felt her eyes upon him and made eye contact with her just as Sarah and her husband emerged from the kitchen. Courtney and Tom’s glum expressions immediately morphed into warm smiles as Sarah set a stunning platter of roast atop golden buttery potatoes, and glistening carrots at the center of the table.
“Courtney, Tom, this is my husband Sam.” Sarah said gesturing to her husband who was in the process of uncorking a bottle of red wine. He smiled as he liberated the cork from the bottle and gingerly brought it to his nose and inhaled ever so slightly.
“Hello.” Tom said.
“It’s nice to finally meet you. I’ve heard so much about you from Sarah.” Courtney said.
“Don’t believe a word she says.” Sam instructed. “Women, no telling what they’ll say when they get to clucking. Am I right?” he finished looking directly at Tom. Tom smiled uncomfortably at the forced male camaraderie. Undeterred by Tom’s latent smile, Sam laughed heartily as he divided the bottle of wine amongst the four wine glasses on the table. Courtney pretended not to notice that the wine was not the bottle she had given them.
“Sam, didn’t you see the bottle that they brought?” Sarah asked as she took her seat.
“I sure did honey. But if you and our guests don’t mind, I would like to save it for dessert. I think it will pair nicely with what you’ve prepared.” he answered as he handed everyone their respective glass. He took his seat at the head of the table and smiled to his wife and guests.
“Perfect.” Sarah said, returning his smile.
“I wasn’t familiar with the winery. Is it local?” Sam asked. Courtney nervously gulped down a drink of wine and cleared her throat.
“Actually, it’s from out of state. I read an article about the winery in this magazine and I liked their practices regarding the sustainability of their harvesting. So I had a few bottles shipped out.” she explained, oddly impressed with her ability to fabricate such a falsehood. She avoided Tom’s penetrating stare of incredulousness. Her overwhelming need to conform to the social stratum of her counterparts was a subject he attacked quite regularly. With slight satisfaction, she watched him choke down his objections with half a glass of the dark wine.
“Interesting. I’ll have to read the article.” Sam replied.
“Oh yes, it was a great article. What magazine was that in again?” Tom asked with a goading smile.
“You know, I can’t remember. Perhaps it was online.” she countered, with a chilling smile that had been steeped in years of a struggling marriage. There was a brief moment in which nobody spoke. To Courtney the moment seemed to drag on, forcing an uncomfortable silence. Her eyes settled on the polished cutlery adorning the table as she fought the urge to spontaneously combust, and nearly lost. Her eyes moved to the steaming platter of roast and her heart sank once more. She briefly closed her eyes as literally the sight of anything in the house seemed to point out the inadequacies she grieved the most about herself. She was reminded of the semi-prepared box dinner she served her family the night prior and how it had more than satisfied her pedestrian palate. She was suddenly very aware of her culinary debilities as Sarah’s display of domestic supremacy sat before her, the tantalizing aromas filling her nostrils.
She opened her eyes to see Tom staring at her. She couldn’t bring herself to meet his gaze and instead stared at the button up shirt that she had forced him to wear earlier that evening. She liked the way it made his eyes appear bluer than normal and he hated the way she chose his wardrobe when she dragged him to events such as these. Courtney looked closer at his shirt and noticed a stain near the collar that she hadn’t seen earlier. How delightfully fitting. She tried in vain to thwart her self-conscious from drawing the comparison between herself and Tom representing the stain on the fabric of Sam and Sarah’s nauseatingly perfect societal tapestry.
“Shall we pray?” Sam asked bringing her back to reality. With slight surprise she looked to Sam and Sarah as they each reached for her and Tom’s hands and bowed their heads. Both Courtney and Tom obliged them and simultaneously bowed their heads. “Dear Lord, we thank you for your blessings. Thank you for this glorious dinner we are about to eat, and thank you for blessing my wonderful wife with the amazing ability to cook. Please bless our new friends Tom and Courtney. And Lord, please do what you can about the Farmington estate, it would really mean a lot to Sarah and I if you could send us a buyer. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.” he finished.
“Amen!” followed Sarah.
“Amen.” Courtney said and glared at Tom who was having trouble hiding that smirk of his. Courtney kicked him under the table.
“Amen…” he mumbled.
“Well, I hope you two brought your appetites!” Sarah said as she rose and began to dish out the food.
“Everything smells delicious.” Tom said.
“So Courtney, Sarah tells me you two met at the gym?” Sam asked as he popped a roasted potato in his mouth.
“We did. We always managed to do cardio at the same time. I was always impressed with how long Sarah could run for. Before we actually started talking, she was my motivation to keep running.” Courtney said smiling to Sarah who grinned in return.
“I didn’t know that.” Sarah said.
“That’s my girl! If she keeps it up, she’ll be able to qualify for the Boston Marathon.” Sam said as Sarah looked down at her food, embarrassed at the attention.
“Oh, I don’t know.” Sarah stammered as she pierced a carrot with her fork.
“Well definitely not with that attitude. Don’t be afraid to share your success honey.” Sam responded as he pulled his phone from his pocket. An awkward silence ensued as Courtney struggled for a topic to bring up. At a loss of material, she brought the edge of her fork down on the slice of roast on her plate. The tender fibers yielded to her pressure, making her knife obsolete. She took a bite and couldn’t recall the last time she had had such a deliciously prepared roast.
“Sarah, this is fantastic. The roast is so tender!” she offered, though it nearly killed her to admit it aloud. Sarah smiled and swallowed her food and attempted to speak.
“So Tom, what is it that you do?” Sam asked before Sarah could respond. Tom swallowed his food and wiped his mouth with the linen napkin.
“I own a record store.” He answered.
“Seriously? People actually still buy records?” Sam said not hiding his surprise.
“Not as many as I would like, but yes.”
“That’s a dying business friend; you should find a way to get out.” Sam advised as Courtney garnered another sideways glance of annoyance from Tom. “I’m in real estate.”
“Yeah, I heard you chatting about that to God a moment ago.” Tom said. Sam and Sarah looked to him, both attempting to decipher if his tone was mocking or simply awkward wording. They gave him the benefit of the doubt, unlike Courtney who knew better. “I heard the market is still a mess out there.”
“It’s slowly getting better. But I’ve actually been supplementing my income with another company. We should chat about it, since you’re a business owner.”
“Sure.” He said offhandedly.
“Yeah? Well alright then.” Sam said as he winked to Sarah, who nervously looked away. Sam cleared his throat and set his napkin next to his dinner plate and rose from his seat. “I’ll just get my lap top then.” He explained as he walked into the kitchen. The moment he was out of ear shot, Sarah’s bright smile began to flicker with dread.
“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She whispered.
“What are you talking about? Everything’s fantastic.” Courtney said, completely baffled by Sarah’s sudden transformation. “I’ll have to get your recipe.” She added knowing full well there was no way she could replicate what Sarah had made.
“You don’t understand…” her sentence trailed off as Sam reentered carrying his lap top. He took his seat once more. Courtney looked to Sarah, to find that her expression had been restored to its radiant glory. She looked closer and saw that the desperation remained in her eyes, as her mascara was slightly smudged. Sam cleared his throat as all the attention was now on him.
“Tom, can I ask you a question?” Sam said in a blatantly rehearsed fashion.
“Uh…Yeah, okay.” Tom answered awkwardly as he took a bite of roast.
“How would you like to increase your monthly income by 50 percent?” he asked with the sincerity of a used car salesmen. The pace at which Tom chewed his food slowed considerably as he stared blankly at Courtney, his eyes brimming with abject disdain. Courtney smiled sweetly to him, her eyes wide, as an indication to behave himself. Tom took a swig of wine, swallowed with great effort and replaced the glass on the table.
“I’d say that sounds pretty good Sam.” He said as Courtney groaned internally as she knew she was the only one who could detect his sarcasm. Buoyed by Tom’s manufactured enthusiasm, Sam grinned and launched into his spiel.
“Well listen, I’ve got some great tools to help you achieve that goal.” He explained as his thick fingers jabbed forcefully at the keyboard. Courtney looked to Sarah who had taken on the characteristics of a deflating party balloon as she sullenly pushed her food around on her plate in an aimless fashion. Her attention was drawn back to Sam who had begun playing a promotional video about a vitamin enhanced supplement that was poised to revolutionize the health industry. Tom’s eyes had completely glazed over as he sat in his chair begrudgingly watching the video of khaki clad men in sports cars, spewing testimonials of their financial success with the product. Courtney realized this would most likely be the last dinner party that Tom would attend with her for quite some time. Upon the conclusion of the video, Sam transitioned seamlessly into the respective business plan, which if followed correctly, would generate the additional 50 percent increase of income. Consumed by his own zeal, Sam resembled a televangelist passionately delivering a fiery sermon to his flock that was peppered with colorful euphemisms like multi-level marketing, and warm calling. He paused momentarily to wipe the sweat that had beaded up on his forehead. Courtney briefly glanced at Sarah as she remained in her seat, her desperate smile now bordering on maniacal. Sam’s enthusiasm was not contagious.
“What you have before you is an opportunity to invest and get in on the ground floor. I mean once this product goes mainstream, that’s it. It’ll be flooded with investors. So Tom, Courtney, what do you think?” Sam finished. Tom took yet another sip of his wine and smiled to Courtney.
“I don’t know honey, what do you think?” he said reveling in his transference of obligation. Courtney’s objections of the sheer idiocy of the proposal balled up in the back of her throat preventing her from speaking. Instead she cleared her throat, took a sip of water and smiled.
“Has it been approved by the FDA?” she asked. Tom shook his head ever so slightly. The action was overlooked by Sam and Sarah, but quite obvious to Courtney. She had failed the test he had given her. She knew Tom had deferred to her opinion as the chance to redeem herself from this ridiculous situation she had gotten them into by saying no to what was undoubtedly a pyramid scheme. The moral crossroads she found herself at only made her sick to her stomach.
“We’re still awaiting approval from the FDA, but were confident that the results will speak for themselves.” Sam answered.
“Hmm. Well Sam, I really appreciate this opportunity you have given us, but I’m not sure how comfortable I am investing in a product that lacks FDA support.” He said building his case on what Courtney knew was a bogus claim. Sam had a hard time hiding his disappointment.
“But I just told you, the product will speak for itself once the consumer loyalty has been established.” Sam explained.
“I’m sorry Sam, but I’m afraid we’ll have to decline.” Tom said straining a smile.
“May I ask why? I mean what are your concerns; perhaps I’m not explaining it properly.”
“Oh no, you’ve explained it quite thoroughly.”
“Then what’s the holdup friend?” Sam pressed, furthering Tom’s consternation. Tom broke eye contact with Sam briefly and smiled awkwardly and chewed on his bottom lip. Courtney’s anxiety rose as she knew it to be the signal that Tom’s tolerance of absurdity had reached its threshold.
“Specifically, the idea that I would then have to host awkward dinner parties with acquaintances and then try to recruit them onto my team all the while convincing them that no, this is not a pyramid scheme.” He explained as Courtney felt the blood drain from her face. Sam tilted his head to the side as if he were absorbing every word Tom had just uttered. He leaned back in his chair as the corner of his mouth upturned in the subtlest of sneers. Sarah immediately sprang into action, rising from her seat dishing up more food onto everyone’s plate.
“Now don’t be shy you two. We’ve got plenty more in the kitchen.” She said failing to strain the shakiness from her voice. She plopped a spoonful of roasted potatoes onto Courtney’s plate in an unfocused manner causing them to scatter, rolling off the plate into Courtney’s lap. Courtney caught the potatoes in her hand and tossed them back onto the plate hoping no one would notice. She looked to Tom, who she knew at this point was beyond reproach. She didn’t have a look dirty enough in her arsenal to communicate to him just how livid she was. Not that such a look would have mattered; at this point they had lost their currency with him if his clenched jaw was any indication.
“Well, I’m terribly sorry if this has been awkward for you.” Sam said smugly as he began to gather up his plate and utensils. Sarah took her seat once more and stared at him in horror.
“What are you doing?” she asked as he stood.
“Well honey, it appears as if I have made our guests feel awkward. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll just finish my dinner in the office.” He said.
“Sam!” Sarah exclaimed on the verge of tears.
“You misunderstood me.” Tom explained “It was more a comment about how I’m not the right type of person to be successful within the framework of the plan.”
“Sam! Please sit down.” Sarah begged as Courtney anxiously pushed a potato around on her plate in complete denial of the unraveling situation. She took the flat side of her fork and crushed the potato, the steaming matter protruding itself through the four pronged bars, a visual encapsulation of the evening’s events. The heavy tension swirled about the room, nearly choking out the oxygen, leaving the inhabitants struggling for air and the proper words necessary to alleviate situation. Courtney distracted herself by thinking of the hot bath she would take when she got home to help her mentally rid herself of her and Tom’s epic failure of socializing. Sam reluctantly took his seat as sounds of clinking of cutlery and the gulping of wine permeated the silence.
“What kind of seasoning did you use on the potatoes?” Courtney asked Sarah, desperate to break up the intolerable silence with mild conversation. Sarah was grateful for the fodder as her eyes lit up as she smiled.
“I just used a little paprika and rosemary.”
“Well they’re fantastic.” Courtney said, cringing inwardly as she realized her overuse of the word fantastic.
“You’re welcome.” Courtney said as the conversation lulled once more.
“But it’s not a pyramid scheme!” Sam barked, startling everyone at the table. Sarah dropped her fork on her plate and stood up quickly.
“Who wants dessert?” she asked desperately.
“Dessert sounds fantastic!” Courtney said once more, cursing inwardly at yet another utterance of her favorite f-word.
“Sam, would you mind helping me get the platter from the top shelf?” she said as Sam rose from his seat and followed her into the kitchen.
“Have you lost your Goddamn mind?” Courtney hissed at Tom once they were alone.
“So just so I’m clear, you’re upset with me for saying no to the world’s most ridiculous pyramid scheme. Is that correct?” He said. She hated the way he always interjected his own connotations to her anger.
“Yeah, but you didn’t have to be such an asshole about it!”
“Oh come on Courtney! You saw me! I tried to say no very politely, but he wouldn’t come off it!” he said. Courtney shook her head slowly. The silence was filled with the muffled arguments of Sam and Sarah from behind the kitchen wall. The intensity of their argument rose to the point that their shrieks now became audible to Courtney and Tom.
“You only suggested I invite them over so you could pitch to them! Admit it!” Sarah cried.
“Well I certainly didn’t invite them over for their conversational skills.” Sam countered as Tom shook his head vehemently.
“That’s it, we’re leaving. I’m done with this.” He said rising.
“We can’t just leave like this!” Courtney protested.
“Jesus Courtney, what’s so great about these people? Why do you crave validation from them? Huh? Why does it matter so much to you?”
“Because it doesn’t matter to you!” she screamed, as her rage had completely saturated her brain. “It’s like you’re perfectly happy living our lives on this…perpetual plateau of mediocrity! You have no aspirations of a better life for us! And just for just one evening, I want to forget about our meager existence and at least pretend that we belong here, that we are capable of socializing. Is that too much to ask of you?” she said nearly out of breath. He sat back down in his chair, all the while keeping his gaze on her.
“Why must it always be a competition with you? You really think these people are the measure of success?” he said laughing dismissively which only further infuriated her.
“God Tom, it’s like you don’t even hear me anymore.”
“I hear you loud and clear. And I’m confounded by your assessment of our lives. Is that really how you see us?” he asked quietly.
“Honey, I’m sorry if that’s how you view things. But I should point out that you may be confusing my lack of ambition with contentment. Don’t you understand that you and the kids are enough for me? I don’t need any outward approval of our life; I don’t need to compare it with anyone else. It doesn’t matter! So of course I would rather be at home with you and our family than going through these ridiculous social pretenses.” He said softly. His words cut straight to her heart, the verbs and adjectives filling in the cracks, making it whole once more.
“Alright who’s ready for some cake?” Sarah said behind her tear soaked smile as her and Sam barged out of the kitchen. A two tier chocolate cake rested atop the glass platter she was carrying. Courtney couldn’t take her eyes off Tom as she was still reeling from his statement. A miraculous change was occurring in her as every ounce of rage evaporated leaving nothing but a warm tingling feeling. His actions had now been put into a perspective that she had not considered. Under this new scope, the realization of what an incredible husband Tom truly was became painfully clear. She was overcome with embarrassement as she now viewed her superficial quest from his eyes. Sarah placed the cake at the center of the table as Sam forcefully set Courtney’s bottle of wine down hard on the table, causing the water in the glasses to wobble. Like a pair of repelling magnets, they both took their seats at opposite ends of the table avoiding each other’s gaze. “So where were we?” Sarah asked as she sipped her glass of wine.
“Look, maybe we should be getting home.” Courtney said.
“So soon? But you haven’t even tried the cake.” Sarah pleaded.
“Sarah, if they want to go home, let them. No need to hold them captive.” Sam said.
“But they haven’t had any cake!” Sarah screamed with the shrillness of a small barking terrier. Courtney and Tom were riveted by her outburst. Sam abruptly stood and fumbled for the large serrated knife as everyone at the table gasped. Before an explanation was given he stabbed the cake down the center. “What are you doing?”
“Giving our guests a slice of cake, what does it look like?” he said using the knife in a hacksaw fashion roughly cutting through the moist layers. He divided the circular cake into four quadrants and then awkwardly transferred each of them a piece by hand, littering the table in chocolate crumbs. He served Tom last, plopping down the huge slice of cake over his roast and potatoes. Tom stared at the mess on his plate and began to laugh.
“Jesus Christ, are you kidding me?” he said laughing.
“What’s so funny?” Sam said as he sat back in his chair.
“Come on, this has to be a set up or something. Nobody behaves this childishly. Are there cameras hidden somewhere?” Tom said looking to Courtney who shook her head, but couldn’t shake her smile.
“How dare you.” Sam said, shaking his head slowly at Tom. “How dare you come to my house and mock me! How dare you come with your Dollar Tree bottle of wine and stained shirt and have the audacity to ridicule me? Someone who was trying to give you a lift up out of poverty, and to be a part of the next big thing. How dare you!”
“That is enough!” Sarah screamed as she stood with such intensity her chair fell over backwards. “I am so sick of you!”
“First of all, the Dollar Tree doesn’t even sell wine. Second, I apologize profusely for showing up in a stained shirt, but my son spilled soup on me just before we left. So excuse me for having kids!” Tom spat. Sam’s expression froze as he looked to Sarah to gauge her reaction. Sarah immediately broke down and began to weep. She reached for her chair, set it upright and collapsed into it, hiding her face behind her hand.
“Way to go. Way to remind my wife that we can’t get pregnant.” Sam said glaring at Tom.
“Excuse me everyone. I’m so sorry.” Sarah said and fled from the room.
“Sarah, wait!” Sam said running after her leaving Courtney and Tom to only stare at each other in bewilderment. Tom smiled first.
“Can we please go home?” Courtney said smiling genuinely for the first time all evening.
“Thank God. Come on; let’s hurry before they come back!”
“You mean, like leave, right now? Without saying anything?” Courtney asked knowing full well that there really was nothing left to say. Tom removed his linen napkin from his lap and set it on the table. He took his bare hand, snatched up the large slice of cake and transferred it to the center of his napkin and then folded it up. “What are you doing?” Courtney asked.
“Have you tried this cake? It’s…how should I say this…fantastic!” he said winking at her. “I’m not leaving it behind!” he said as Courtney couldn’t help but laugh. They smiled at each other as the sound of approaching footsteps from Sam and Sarah were heard. “Come on! They’re coming! Grab your cake and go!” Tom said excitedly as they both shot up from their chairs. Courtney clumsily grabbed the cake and wrapped it in her napkin as Tom excitedly scampered from around the table grabbing Courtney and making a break to the door. Courtney stopped to grab her purse as Tom suddenly turned and raced back to the table.
“Tom! What are you doing? They’re coming!” she whispered as Tom grappled for the bottle of wine they had brought. He tucked it under his arm and raced to the open door where Courtney stood grinning at him.
“Good call.” She said as she rushed out the door as Tom followed. She turned and closed the door as softly as possible as Tom hurdled one of the cherub statues and sprinted across the lawn to the car, as his swift footsteps left their imprints in the soft dewy grass. Courtney turned to follow but stumbled off the front porch step and collided with the porch swing. The act dislodged the chocolate cake from her grasp sending it tumbling down onto the white bench swing smearing dark chocolate icing everywhere.
“Shit!” she gasped as she attempted to clean up her mess but only managed to smear the brown substance further. She began to panic as the thought of Sam and Sarah discovering it played out in her brain. Not only had they stolen half their cake, they had then used it to deface their property. She could only imagine the conclusions they would come to regarding her and Tom. But then, in a moment of spontaneous enlightenment, she realized she no longer cared.
“Court! Let’s go!” Tom beckoned from the car. After several false starts the ignition turned and the car rumbled to life. Courtney ran as fast as she could to the car, giggling as her adrenaline bubbled over. Tom forced the passenger door open moments before she got there allowing her to slide in and slam the door behind her. He floored the gas pedal causing the car to fishtail in their hasty escape.
The city lights peppered the dark landscape as Courtney and Tom sat on the hood of their car taking in the view. Tom had pulled the car off the road near a cliff overlooking the city so they could properly absorb and digest the night’s events before returning home. Courtney licked the chocolate frosting from her fingers as Tom pinched off a piece of the cake and popped it in his mouth.
“Too bad we don’t have a wine opener.” He said.
“I think it was a twist off bottle.” She said as he rose and retrieved the bottle from the car. With a few firm twists of his wrist, Tom removed the cap and took a swig of it as he resumed his position next to Courtney. He handed her the bottle and she took it in her hands and observed the label once more. She took a sip and was surprised to find that she didn’t hate it.
“Not bad.” She said.
“It’s good enough for me.” Tom said flashing her that same smile. And she realized, it had always been enough.