Revamped Book

The two main characters, Dante and Sophie, are dining at his house.

“I hope you’ll like our dinner.”

“Why wouldn’t I? Are you a bad cook?”

“Oh, I’m not much on cooking, but I’d like to learn. Signing up for a cooking class, in fact.” Dante had trouble looking me in the eye. The poor guy was nervous.

Jack led the way into the kitchen. Wine glasses and the bottle opener sat waiting on the counter next to three bottles of red wine, including the one I’d brought, dinner plates with utensils, and tall water glasses.

“How about you open the bottle I brought?” Keep him busy, take the pressure off. He took the hint, picking up the fancy corkscrew with wings, studied it a moment and easily fit it on the bottle.

“Where are you taking the cooking class?” I sounded like a Dating 101 instructor. Get the guy to talk about himself.

“I don’t know yet. It was just an idea.” Dante slid the door to the lanai open. For a large space, it was sparsely furnished with a table for two and two chaise lounges at the far end. “Sit and relax out there. I’ll get the wine.”

Maybe a few drops of malbec would help ease Dante’s uptightness. I sat scratching Jack’s head, wondering how long the awkward period would last.

He carried out the bottle of wine, poured two glasses, and handed me one. “Cheers.” He put down his glass. “I’ll prepare your plate.”

“Dante?” I held up my glass in a toast. “Let’s sit for a minute, shall we?” Shall we. I sounded so formal.

“Uh, sure.” He picked up his glass and clinked mine. We each took a sip. “Mellifluous and rich with the aroma of the pampas of Argentina.” He beamed a smile at me, proud of his wine descriptor. His whole body relaxed. “I have a confession.”

“Oh, do tell.” This would be fun. “Sir, what is your confession?”

He peered closer at me as if he wanted to whisper in my ear. With that almost bronze-colored hair, the man looked like a fine statue with the musculature of an Italian god.

“I raced around to five stores today. To prepare for our dinner.”

I flinched. “That doesn’t sound like fun.” Was he trying to make me feel guilty?

“Great fun, great fun. You should have come with me. Maybe next time.”

“There’s a next time?”

“Sure. Today I got the essentials only.” He took a sip of wine and I did the same. “I moved in and bought furniture, but never got around to buying utensils. Or dishes.”

“You started from scratch?”

“Knives, forks, spoons. Plates. Couldn’t decide whether I wanted contemporary or traditional.” He chuckled. “That’s a bad joke seeing as trad’s my parents all the way.”

He was thawing out. Cute, too, that he was agonizing over his silver pattern choices even if he didn’t like his parents’ taste. I put my elbows on the table and leaned closer.

“Salt and pepper shakers. Salt and pepper. Oil and vinegar. Items like that.” He shot me a quick look and gulped his wine, then blurted “napkins!” a little too loudly. “Do you like the color? I went with a neutral.”

I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re adorable.”

“I––” He stood and gazed down at me. “I’d better rustle up our dinner before it dries out.” He rushed away.

He was back in a flash, a plastic-wrapped plate in each hand. “Salad, two kinds.” He put them in the middle of the table. “Arugula with feta and parsley. A salad with three kinds of olives and…other things.”

My eyes popped out of my head at the sight of an antipasto that could feed sixteen.

“I think I’ll serve everything else now.” He shuffled from one foot to the other. “Is it all right if I do that? Sorry.”

“What? This looks lovely.” Indeed, the salads were smorgasbords of perfection and I couldn’t wait to dig in. Just like this house, dinner was over the top.

“I didn’t plan so well and I’m afraid the chicken will get dry. And the fish.”

“Chicken and fish? Oh, my, who else did you invite?”

“You’re my first guest ever.” He chuckled at himself. “I-I guess I’m overcompensating. Hope you’re hungry.”

“Famished.” I clapped my hands, like the emoji. “I can eat for two people.” Apparently, drink for two as well. My glass was empty already. I stood and reached for the wine. Topped our glasses off.

“No, thanks. I…” He regarded the glass of wine with suspicion.

“Didn’t you want a refill?”

“Yes, absolutely. I have to pace myself, is all.”

He went back inside and brought out a tray with five plates of food, introducing each dish as he put it on the table.

“Fish with lemon sauce and chicken Milanese with pasta on the side.” He gave me a sideways glance and smiled a shy smile.

“Wow, a mound of spaghetti.” I wanted to buss his cheek. Yes, buss, one of my favorite old words that no one uses any longer.

“I didn’t know what you’d like and it doesn’t matter if there’s too much food. I’ll give Jack a treat.”

“I love leftovers.” This man was endearing. And so ill at ease I thought he’d prefer to don an invisible cloak in my company. I wondered what he saw in me—a woman who obviously didn’t have her act together. Did I have special powers over him?

“Let’s serve ourselves.” I stood and removed the cling wrap from the salads, and Dante balled it up and lobbed it in the direction of the door.

“Ut oh, I don’t have serving spoons.” He looked stricken. “I forgot.”

“No problem. Can you lift the antipasto dish?” I stabbed an olive and shuffled some cheese, roasted peppers, and a slice of mini salami onto my plate. We helped one another to the salads and the fish and chicken and pasta. Dante’s fine feast, topped off with a fruit and nut bread. I grabbed an end piece and dipped it in sauce.

“This is amazing.” I eased a piece of lemony fish into my mouth, where it melted on my tongue. Hah. As if I thought Dante had magically whipped up this meal. No matter what, I could be polite and pretend.

Dante leaned forward and forked a piece of chicken. “I bought everything at store number five, my last stop. Whole Foods. Including the cranberry walnut bread. Do you think we have enough food? It’s criminal, but I never eat at home.”

“Why not?”

“It’s a long story.” He chewed thoughtfully. “Can we save it for another time?”

“Sure. It’s not sheer laziness?”

“Partly that.” He surveyed the table. “By the way, thank you for coming to dinner. I thought you’d cancel.”

“I thought about it.”

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