They finished the course without another word; Charlotte vacillated between wishing he’d keep his eyes to himself and deliberately licking her lips seductively. Her eyes focused on the meal before her as her mind drifted to images of this wine being poured, fizzy and chilled, all over her naked body, and his tongue licking it off absolutely every millimeter of her skin. Her cheeks went hot at the thought. Stealing a guilty glance across the table, she saw Oliver was in a similar state.
“Second course, fish soup. Tomato and broth base with shrimp, lobster, and haddock.” The soup was, of course, divine. Charlotte savored it happily, spinning just a little in the champagne buzz and, if she were honest with herself, enjoying being an object of desire to an attractive man.
“Does this turn you on too?” she asked a little recklessly after a particularly decadent slurp at her spoon.
“Anything that involves putting something in your mouth,” he answered.
They finished the champagne with this course. As Oliver poured the dregs of the bottle into Charlotte’s glass, he said, “Look, this is the last attempt, I promise. What would it take for you to say yes?”
She patted her lips with her napkin and swilled down the last of the champagne. Thus fortified, she looked him in the eye.
“There is nothing you could offer me that would tempt me to leave,” she said. “This is my home. This afternoon, you stood in my store, surrounded by food I created, food that people come and buy from me. This is my life. I’m truly satisfied with myself for the first time in…” Charlotte paused, thumbing through a mental catalog of her life.
“5 years?” he offered.
“No, no, it’s more than that. I’m happier than I was when I left New York, of course, but I’m happier now than when we met, even; I’m happier than I was the whole time I was married, that’s for damn sure–well, I was usually really happy with Clarissa, but with marriage…” she scoffed. “I haven’t been this happy since…college.” Charlotte gazed the flute between her fingers, marveling. “I spent more than 20 years meeting other people’s needs and now, at last, I’m meeting my own.” She looked calmly into Oliver’s eyes and said, “There is nothing you can offer me that is worth more than that.”
The realization warmed her, and she felt her defenses lower and her certainty and confidence grow. She regarded Oliver and saw, for the first time in years, the friend he had been for so long, through so much.
“Third course, lemon sorbet.”
“I confess a certain amount of ambivalence in hearing you say that,” Oliver replied after the waitress had cleared the table and presented them each with two tiny scoops of pale yellow sorbet in tall, slender crystal dishes.
“You’re not sure you’re glad I’m happy?” She made a tutting noise and picked up her spoon. “Typical,” she teased. She felt warm from the wine, relaxed by the perfect food, and surprisingly content to be back in the company of this man who had been her friend and lover for years.
“No, I am glad to hear that you’re happy. I am,” he said, and his voice had a tenderness and sincerity that stirred Charlotte. “I wish you could have felt that with me.” She smiled at him and tipped her head to one side.
“Oh shut up and cleanse your palate.”
Charlotte made a little extra effort to lick her spoon and let the sorbet melt and roll over her tongue. Oliver watched her the whole time.