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“Do we really have to go tonight?” Todd asked. “Claire and Tom are just… so…”
“Todd,” she interrupted. “Don’t.”
Todd took a deep breath and sunk back into the couch before taking a deep breath in through his nose. Todd knew that she knew that the only reason he didn’t want to go was because he wanted to watch football with John in the comfort of their apartment, but unbeknownst to him, she had made these dinner plans a month in advance.
“They have such a busy schedule,” she added while Todd still sat in silence. “You know, between her art exhibit in San Francisco and his bi-weekly tips to Shanghai, they’re hardly ever around. I mean, we’re lucky they weren’t already busy when I texted her about getting together tonight.”
Todd reached forward, grabbed the IPA she had poured for him in a mason jar, and took a sip.
“Alright, I’ll shower.”
“I mean, had I known you were making duck for dinner, I wouldn’t have made a quail appetizer,” she apologized.
“Seriously, girl,” Claire assured her, “don’t even worry about it — here, let me top off your wine.”
They hovered over the kitchen island exchanging recipes and cooking tips while Todd and Tom sat somewhat silently in the living area of their apartment. Frankly, Todd was amazed by the detail that went into decorating their spot. Deep down, he thought they had their apartment in order, but the crown molding and recessed lighting of this place put their apartment to shame.
“Quite the place you’ve got here,” Todd said awkwardly to Tom. Tom was pretending to watch a football game but based on his commentary, Todd knew that football wasn’t something Tom was inherently interested in. Todd appreciated the hospitality, but didn’t find it necessary.
“Yeah,” Tom said while looking around, “It’s nice. We’ve been looking to buy elsewhere in the city but I’ve just been spending so much time overseas that it hasn’t made sense. And Claire, well, I’d love to get her a nice studio somewhere but we just haven’t found a spot that’s completely her.”
They heard a laugh from the kitchen.
“Sorry,” Claire yelled over to them, “Girls will be girls!”
She then leaned over and whispered, “Tom would be so embarrassed if he knew I just told you how much he hates football — he just finds it so… juvenile.”
“Ugh, don’t let Todd hear that,” she responded with softness, “I made him go shopping for China a couple weeks ago solely because I was tired of sitting around the apartment while he yelled at the TV.”
They laughed again.
Claire turned around with her wine glass in hand and turned on the stove. “Ever cooked duck before?”
Looking at Claire, who wore a chunky turtleneck sweater, she thought about attempting to lie as if she had done it numerous times over. But against her instincts, she admitted, “Well, no… I’ve always been a bit afraid — teach me?”
Todd looked over and saw them hovered over the stove. Frankly, he wanted to learn too. He had seen his uncle do it after hunting once or twice but had never bothered to learn himself. He saw Tom arise from his leather chair and hoped he was heading to the kitchen to help put the final touches on dinner, but he went to the bar cart instead.
“Nip of Japanese whiskey before dinner, Todd?” he asked.
Todd had never had Japanese whiskey, nor did he know if he would even know the difference between that and the Kentucky bourbon he’d guzzled at the Derby.
“Sure,” he smiled, “Why not?”
Todd immediately stood up with his glass and put it in front of him before seizing the opportunity to head to the kitchen island where the girls stood over a cast iron pan.
“…and then you finish it in the oven,” Claire finished. “Voila.”
Todd sighed knowing that he’d just missed the tutorial because of Tom’s pretentious foreign whiskey.
“Claire is such a chef, Todd,” she said while putting her arm around his back, “We’re totes gonna make duck one of these days; it’s, like, so easy.”
With the salad and roasted carrots already prepared and set on the island, Tom finished setting the table. Ensuring a spot where he could see the television, Todd promptly set his double old-fashioned glass down.
“Babe,” he said turning away from the table, “Should we open that Cabernet we brought for them? I feel like it will pair well with the duck.” Todd had no idea if it would pair well or not, but it was an expensive bottle they had received in the mail from one of their wine subscriptions in Napa.
“Ohhh, good call,” she responded. “Claire, do you have a corkscrew?”
Claire walked over to the same bar cart and grabbed a wine key with an antler handle. “This is Tom’s from when he went hunting in Africa,” she explained while walking back.
Todd, who was leaned over the island, felt a small pinch on his butt as Claire breezed by. His neck tensed up and his head cocked to the side. Did he just feel what he thought he felt? It felt inappropriate and the entire situation could’ve been cured by an acknowledgment from Claire, but instead, she handed the wine key over pretending as though it had never happened.
“…and dinner is served!” Claire announced while setting a cutting board down next to the rest of the food. “Dig in, guys,” she told them.
“After you, babe,” Todd said.
“Seriously,” she said, “thank you so much — this all looks uh-maze-ing, Claire.”
Todd followed directly behind her as she put two pieces on her plate. They were the first two to arrive to the table while Tom and Claire served themselves about fifteen feet away in the kitchen.
Leaning forward over the table, Todd whispered, “Babe, how are you doing?”
She brought her face close to his — “Fine, but why are you whispering?”
Before Todd could answer, Claire and Tom approached the table and began sitting down. “Let me see…” Claire trailed off, “Are we missing anything?”
Everyone shrugged and seemed content.
“OH!” She exclaimed, “The wine!”
As she walked back to the kitchen counter, her fingertips lightly swept across Todd’s back. Looking across the table to see if anyone else had seen what happened, he looked more than puzzled.
“You okay?” Tom asked. “Look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Todd looked over to his fiancée who was delicately cutting her first bite of duck. “Mmmmmm,” she groaned, “This is divine.”
“Your glass looks pretty empty there, Todd,” Claire said while pouring some Cabernet into it. “Drink up.” .