“Tanzania Peaberry, medium roast,” she said, pouring, “and an assortment of condiments.” She slid a tray containing various pitchers and bowls onto the table. “Enjoy.” She smiled and left them to it.
Charlotte and Oliver dove into their soufflés. Charlotte sucked possessively on her spoon, savoring every molecule of the diffuse richness. She took a sip of coffee, then a sip of wine.
“Did I mention that I’m never leaving here?”
Oliver grinned and glanced at her between bites, clearly enjoying her enjoyment as much as he was enjoying the chocolate.
“I think the whole function of the other courses,” she said, “is to get you just drunk enough, slowly enough, to make the soufflé an explosive experience. I’m sure this would be tasty without a bottle or more of wine in me, but holy mother of god.” She gave her spoon another licentious suck.
He sipped the sweet wine, warm and redolent of roses and peaches, and watched thoughtfully as the legs of the wine trickled, golden and sticky, down the wall of his glass.
With a glance toward Charlotte, he said, “Coffee, you know, has over 800 flavor characteristics–twice as many as wine. And it’s influenced by many of the same things wine–soil, climate, how long the berry sits on the tree, and then there’s the whole process of roasting, which is more or less coffee’s equivalent to fermenting.”
“Is this your way of shifting the conversation somewhere less stressful?”
“No, this is not a non-sequitur. Once coffee is roasted, that is essentially the end of its cycle. It may get stale, its moisture level may change, but it won’t improve. Coffee does not age.
“That is why I prefer wine. In the barrel, it changes quickly, from infant to child. You put it in a bottle as one thing–an adolescent–and a year later it’s something else entirely. Another year passes, and it has changed again, grown more complex, more refined.”
“If this is not a non-sequitur, then it’s a metaphor.”
“Yes.” He leaned forwarding his seat, elbows on the table. “It’s been five years since I saw you, after seeing you nearly every day for about 10 years, sharing a bed with you for six. Here I find you, with many of the same characteristics–sweet, spicy, full bodied. Leggy. With a long and intense finish, if I remember correctly.” He grinned licentiously. “But five years in this barrel has brought out your earthiness. Maybe not more mellow, but definitely less harsh, more elegant, more substantial, more sophisticated. More intoxicating.” He paused. “More precious.”
He watched Charlotte’s gobsmacked expression and offered his first plainly friendly smile of the evening. “It really is wonderful to see you again.”
“You can’t drive home.”
“Nonsense I’m fine. Jesus!” She toppled off her shoe as the heel caught in the cobblestones. She yanked it out of the crevice, looked at it perplexedly, then waved it reproachfully at Oliver. “Okay maybe not, but then neither can you, smart guy.”
“I weigh at least 4 stone more than you. I can–”
“What the fuck is a stone? Christ on a stick, that shit is pretentious. You’ve lived in New York for, what like 15 years now–can’t you fucking assimilate already?” she hollered affectionately. Charlotte listened to herself rambling and realized he was right. She was a walking DUI – or really a stumbling DUI limping on one 4 inch heel.
“I’m driving you home,” Oliver said.
“Well. Beats walking I guess. Or dying tragically.”
“Or killing someone tragically. Come on.” She allowed him to take her arm and steer her in the direction of his rented car. Charlotte obeyed dizzily. His body was powerful and warm against hers. She doubted the wisdom of this move, but the doubt was quickly overwhelmed by the aroma of aftershave and wine in his jacket. Something told her events were conspiring against her.
He opened the door for her and settled her gently into the seat. She took off her other shoe and pulled her seatbelt across her chest as Oliver got in his side. The silence in the car buzzed around her. She realized he was watching her. She turned to look at him.
“Do you feel all right?” he asked. His face was serious, an expression so incongruous with her own state of mind that she snorted a little when she laughed.
“Are you kidding? I feel great.” He laughed too. “But it’s sweet of you to ask. Let’s go home.” She left this deliberately ambiguous sentence hanging in the air between them, felt it slide into Oliver’s body, felt his confusion and desire, and felt a thrill in her own chest and belly. Definitely a conspiracy. And what harm would it do? One night? She was a grown up.