“I did,” she said at last.
“I did feel that with you. I was happy. In the beginning. Before the beginning, really. Right when I moved to the city, and we started working together, and then during the divorce… I felt content and comfortable with you. It was easy.” She looked up from her dish to see Oliver looking hard at her, but as soon as she saw it, his expression shifted to a polite smile.
“It’s hard to imagine that sex like we had didn’t just improve on that.”
“Hm, well it wasn’t the sex that made you act like a useless little shit.”
“Fourth course, Chesapeake Bay lobster” (“Oh fuck me rotten,” sighed Oliver) “with clarified butter, mixed roasted zucchini, and frenched, fried potatoes, with a 2001 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.”
“French fries?” exclaimed Charlotte. “Oh, I am never leaving this place. Five star french fries. Lord love the chef!”
Two enormous lobsters joined them at the table, burning red and steaming, like angry little sea monsters come to complain about the service. Charlotte ignored the array of bibs and wipes that accompanied them and sorted through the implements until she found the cracker.
“Taste the wine.”
“I’m never leaving this place,” she repeated.
She ripped limbs from the critter and sucked blissfully at a leg, drawing the white flesh out with her teeth. Her gusto drew the eyes of other patrons, along with her dinner companion’s, but she had eyes only for the bug on her plate.
“He’s kept it quite simple, hasn’t he?” It was noise–Oliver was bleating meaningless small talk to avoid something. Charlotte knew it and wondered, as she cracked the shell of the lobster’s tail, what the something was, but she chose not to pursue it.
“It’s the secret to great cuisine,” she proclaimed. “Get the best, freshest ingredients and do as little as possible to them.”
“Spoken like a head of comestibles!”
“Oh fuck off,” she replied jovially, and cracked open a fat claw.
“Tell me you’re not bored here,” he said, suddenly intense. “Darling, look at you. You’re starving for this kind of pleasure. Tell me you’re not completely alone in this black hole of a place.”
He had hit his mark. She swallowed the succulent meat and looked mournfully at the mangled carcass before her. She took a swallow of wine, and then another.
“The wine’s nice.”
She filled her glass and tried to assemble a meaningful sentence. Complex emotions and alcohol, she thought, are not friends.
“Simple emotions and alcohol,” she said out loud, “now there’s something I can get behind. Celebration and champagne, a broken heart and whiskey, exhaustion from physical labor and cold beer…But what would you pair, Mr. Wine Merchant, with lesser-of-two-evils loneliness buoyed by self-righteous anger toward the greater-of-two-evils dickhead?”
Oliver looked at her sadly for a long moment before he drew a deep breath, took one of her hands in his, and said with gravity, “Boones Farm.”
Charlotte’s face cracked into a smile and she snorted with laughter, laying her free hand over his.
“Wine nerd humor,” she said through her cackles. “Oh my lord you are such a dork, honey.” The endearment slipped from her without thought, but when she heard it she drew her hands back to her side of the table.
They battled their monsters in silence while Charlotte weighed her options.