The wine list sat in the middle of the table with a plate of bread and olive oil next to it. Todd peered across the table to his dad, who squinted at his phone with his glasses perched at the tip of his nose.
“Honey,” he said, “Why won’t this thing turn on?”
She rolled her eyes. “I don’t think it’s on,” she responded. “Put it away, we’re at dinner.”
He looked at it for a few more seconds before handing it to Todd’s mom who promptly put it in her handbag.
Todd’s dad reached across the table and grabbed the wine menu. Todd didn’t want to touch it because, well, he knew his dad would pick out a more expensive bottle than he would have. His glasses remained at the tip of his nose as he perused the menu up and down trying to find something suitable.
Todd’s mom turned the conversation to the opposite side of the table. “So tell me,” she began, “Are you still looking for work?”
Todd looked to his left, wondering how she was going to handle the situation.
“Um, well,” she stuttered, “you know how the job market is these days.”
Noting how uncomfortable she had just made her, Todd’s mom decided to nip the conversation in the bud. “It’s okay, dear,” she told her while placing one hand atop hers, “I’m sure something will come along.”
She took this as a passive-aggressive comment from Todd’s mom. After all, outside of her stint as a salesperson at Lululemon, she had been out of work for a year with no real prospects in the pipeline for employment. She wondered whether Todd had put her up to it, or whether Todd’s mom simply disapproved of her current lifestyle.
Todd noticed how visibly uncomfortable she was. “Babe,” he told her, “tell her what you told me the other day.”
Unsure of what Todd was talking about, she looked blankly back at him. This only made things worse. With her eyes, she coaxed him into revealing more about what he was referring to.
“You know,” he said, “About Junior League.”
“Ohhhhhhhh,” she remarked. She turned to Todd’s mom who visibly perked up after Todd’s comment. “So yeah, I’ve def been thinking about getting way more active in Junior League. With all the time I have on my hands, and with our schedules being so open over the next few months as fall nears, I just think it would be a super positive distraction. And, like, the networking opportunities it gives me will definitely open up some doors in the future.”
“I think that’d be great, dear,” Todd’s mom told her. “You know, I was in Junior League back in my day as well.”
Unconcerned with the conversation, Todd’s dad interrupted. “Red or white?”
“Phew,” she thought to herself. She was looking for any reason to get the spotlight off of her. “You know,” she told Todd’s dad, “I’m kind of in the mood for some red.”
“We could also do some champagne,” Todd added, immediately getting a look from the female contingent at the table. “A cause for celebration?” they both silently wondered.
“No,” Todd’s dad halted him. “We’re not doing champagne with dinner. Let’s do a bottle of this Sojourn Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon from 2014.” Todd’s decision to relinquish the ordering duties seemed to have paid immediate dividends considering the bottle just sounded expensive.
Todd’s dad snapped his fingers to get the attention of a waiter who was walking by their table after bussing another.
“Honey!” his mom shout-whispered. “Don’t snap at the help!”
“Mom,” Todd interjected, “Maybe don’t refer to them as ‘the help.'”
“So we’re going to do this Cabernet right here,” Todd’s dad said while pointing down at the menu.
“Right away, sir,” the random waiter told him. “Great choice. Four glasses?”
Todd’s dad nodded affirmatively.
The dinner had an uncomfortable air to it already, but no one could put their finger on it. Todd’s parents had decided to come to the city for pleasure, not business, and offered to take them out to dinner about a week in advance before Todd had told her that they were initially coming. She, on the other hand, still had a glimmering hope that they had come into town for a celebration. An event. An engagement. But red flags still loomed. If her future engagement was going to go like she wanted, she wanted her family to be there. More importantly, she wanted it to occur pretty much anywhere but a restaurant.
She looked down at the martini she’d ordered while the restaurant prepared their table. There was about one sip left in it, but given how the dinner was going, she would’ve preferred there to be a pitcher of it in front of her. Her nerves were visible to Todd who reached his hand under the table and grabbed hers. He considered texting her to see if she was okay, but given that his mom had just scolded his father for having his phone out, he thought it prudent to keep the technology timeout in place.
“Wait,” she told Todd. “Is that Katie?” She looked across the dark restaurant and saw Katie walking in with Finn.
Todd turned and looked. “Huh,” he remarked, “Yeah, I think it is actually. Are you going to go say hi?”
She looked around the table before asking, “Do you mind if I step away for a moment? Katie is one of my best friends so I want to go talk to her real quick.”
Todd’s dad, who clearly didn’t care, deferred Todd’s mom. “Go right ahead, dear,” she told her. “We’re not going anywhere.”
Folding her napkin and setting it on her chair, she shuffled in her heels in the general direction of Katie who had just sat down at a two-top in the corner of the restaurant. Unintelligible pleasantries were exchanged (and heard by the rest of the restaurant).
Meanwhile, Todd’s mom immediately asked, “Everything okay, Todd? You seem tense.”
“Yeah, everything’s fine,” he assured her. “Can you maybe pump the brakes on the job front with her, though? It’s something I need to confront but I don’t think we need to talk about it here.”
“Honey,” Todd’s dad intervened, “Now’s probably as good a time as ever.” He gestured towards her bag where she had put his phone just moments earlier.
Todd wondered what the hell his dad was referring to. His mom sitting opposite to him, he had no idea what was about to occur from beneath the table. His mom looked across the restaurant to ensure they had at least a moment to talk.
Like one does when the want to have a secretive conversation in public, Todd’s mom lowered her head closer to the table and brought her hand up so it was visible to Todd. She was holding a small velvet bag.
“Todd, I have to be quick because I don’t want her to see,” she started.
A bead of sweat formed on Todd’s brow. It suddenly became clearly evident what he was about to be handed.
“You two have been dating for two years now,” she told him, something Todd knew and had thought about a million times before. Give or take. His mom’s eyes looked to make sure she still had a few moments to talk, which she did.
“This is your grandmother’s ring,” she continued. “I’m going to give this to you, and what you decide to do with it is your decision. But just know that you have our blessing should you decide to use it.”
“And here, we have the 2014 Sojourn Vineyard Georges III Cabernet Sauvignon.”
With her eyes intently fixated on Todd, the voice came out of nowhere. “Jesus Christ,” Todd’s mom shouted, “You scared the living shit out of me.”
“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” the waiter apologized. “Please forgive me – would you like to taste?”
Todd’s dad waved the waiter over using two fingers. “They’re in the middle of something,” he told the waiter. “Give me a try.”
Todd’s mom reached across the table and handed him the velveteen bag. Todd’s eyes must have been wide given how his mother was looking at him.
“What the fuck am I supposed to do with this right now?” he wondered. Given that it was summer, he didn’t even have a jacket pocket to put it in. Just the front of his pants.
He frantically shoved it in his front pocket and turned his head to see where she was. “Jesus,” he said, “Alright, she’s coming, stop looking at me like that,” he told his mom.
Blocked by the waiter who was pouring glasses of cabernet for the table, she waited to sit down until he wiped the neck of the bottle and placed it in the center of the table. Todd looked up and nervously smiled at her while she had one hand on his back. As the waiter exited the scene, she took her seat and surveyed the clearly nervous mood of the rest of the table.
“Soooooooooo,” she began, “I miss anything?” .