The restaurant on the Annapolis harbor was the size of a one bedroom apartment, allowing everyone to see everyone else. When Charlotte walked in, the room turned its head.
She searched the gawping sea for Oliver’s face. He was already at the table, a small one away from the front windows. He watched her as she strolled toward the table. She kept her eyes on him, determined not to give him the satisfaction of a blush. As she sat, his eyes wandered inappropriately and he seemed to be struggling to breathe. He loosened his tie a little and cleared his throat. Then he snatched up the wine list and began to read.
“The Shop wants you back,” he said without preamble, eyes on the wine list. Charlotte flicked open the white cloth napkin and smoothed it onto her lap.
“So you said. I said no.”
“And this is the bit where we negotiate.” His eyes stayed on the list.
“No, this is the bit where I let someone else pay for a ridiculously expensive meal, and then you go away and never come back. Don’t bother looking at the wine list, by the way. We’re getting the chef special.”
“Right. Excellent.” He snapped the wine list shut and reluctantly looked up. “What is it?”
“I have no idea. It’s six courses of anything the chef is experimenting with these days.”
“Oh yes. Well, one of them is just sorbet, presumably. And four wines.”
“Jesus Christ, darling. I realize you’re not pleased to see me, but do you intend to kill me?”
Charlotte grinned at him. “What do you mean?”
“It’s one thing to show up in that dress, but it’s quite another to ply me with drink and stuff me full of exotic cuisine. I’m an old man now and I can’t tolerate this kind of excitement.”
She tried to generate a response, but managed only a disoriented splutter. They sat in silence for a few minutes until the waitress mercifully came to the table. Charlotte ordered and the waitress went away again.
“So,” Oliver said, “Since business is off the table…How long has it been?”
“Since we saw each other last.”
Charlotte pulled her cell phone out of her bag, glanced at it, and said, “About 6 hours.”
“Clever girl. I mean since you left the city. Since you left me.”
“783 years. I counted.”
Oliver put his elbow on the table and rested his chin on his palm. “You’re defensive,” he said.
“Not really. I just know now not to trust you.”
She was surprised to see Oliver’s face change; he looked genuinely stung.
“That’s not fair,” he said quietly.
“The hell it isn’t. You say one thing and do another, which I think, if you look it up in a dictionary, is the definition of ‘untrustworthy.’”
“Let you what?” She was going to short circuit this conversation. “Let you waste my time while you try to justify being an unmitigated little shit, after six years of me waiting and supporting and caring and letting your needs come first?” Clarissa would be proud, Charlotte thought.
The waitress returned with a massive raised platter of oysters on the half-shell, four soufflé cups filled with mysterious sauces, and a bottle of 1990 Krug Brut on ice.
“First course,” the waitress announced. “Raw oysters and champagne, served with herbed clarified butter, the Trieste signature cocktail sauce, an experimental pesto, and a new vodka cream sauce.” She opened the wine with an elegant pop, filled two flutes, and retreated.