Hey y’all. The weekend is upon us, and I will be editing my fanny off so I can finish “Paying For It.” Meantime, please enjoy this unedited snippet. Here Charlie and Tunie attend their first dinner party as a couple. Things don’t go well…LOL Lemme know what you think! – SS
“Now Tom Monahan is a long-time client. He has these dinners two or three times a year to remind everyone how well to do he is, and to show off any new art he’s procured. I might be impressed by the art, since he does have some beautiful things, but it’s patently obvious he doesn’t appreciate the paintings and is only buying them because they’ll add value to his collection not to his life.”
“Is that it?”
“Pretty much. He’s been divorced for awhile and engaged once since then, but I suspect he’s too annoying for any decent woman. That and he’s getting more obnoxious with age. He also has a tendency to drink too much. By the end of the party he’ll most likely be saying completely inappropriate things, so don’t pay attention to anything that comes out of his mouth after 9:30.”
“Got it. Drunk, braggart, rude, rich, obligatory appearance.”
He winked. “That’s my smart girl.”
She rolled her eyes at him.
Things started out fine… Monahan was gracious when Charles introduced Tunie, shaking her hand and immediately handing her a glass of champagne from a passing waiter’s tray.
“You do like Vueve Cliquot?”
She winked at him. “I’m not a big drinker, Tom, but I know VC is the best, so I’m sure it will be fabulous.”
“Okay, already,” Charles whispered in her ear. “Tone down the charm a notch will you? I don’t want the old fool to try and fight me for you.”
She burst out laughing, a lovely happy sound that attracted eyes and smiles around the room. Charles grinned and pulled her closer to his side. Just in case any of the single fuckers here did get the wrong idea.
They talked and mingled their way through cocktails. And Charles was amused to see Tunie amass quite a circle, and they were all the smartest people in the room, thirsty for conversation about the news, politics and happy to listen to her ideas about education reform and the problems with taxes and the middle class.
Tunie wasn’t shy about stating her opinions, but she was very clever about keeping the conversation light. When things got too heavy, she’d crack a joke and skillfully change the subject. He wanted to ask her where she’d learned to work a room, but he suspected it was natural. She was just an instinctively gracious person and exceedingly well read.
“Where did you find this one?” Rhoda Grant, one of his long-term clients and one of the few people he respected, asked.
“In a coffee shop,” he admitted.
“Ah, you bonded over soy lattes in a long line?”
“No, Tunie was working there.”
She blinked. “That girl who just dissected the race-related marketing problems of the Sochi winter Olympics and then launched into a layered argument over the dangers of misogynistic song lyrics to young women’s development was working in a coffee shop?”
Charles laughed. “Careful Rhoda; your preconceived notions are showing.”
Unrepentant she glared at him. “I’m sure you’re right. I’m going to ask her what she thinks about the states unilaterally raising the minimum wage.”
Charles just shook his head, and seeing Monahan heading his way, quickly followed Rhoda. He was having a good time; he had no desire to spoil it by dealing with his host’s bullshit.
Eventually the butler came in and announced dinner. They migrated to the dining room, and he and Tunie quickly found their place cards. Charles wasn’t happy to see they were sitting across from each other at the big table, but when she shook her head at him, he subsided.
Later he realized the seating chart had been genius. From his position across from her he could watch as she laughed and charmed her seatmates, and he grinned when her foot found his beneath the table.
“Careful,” he mouthed, and grinned when she winked at him.
He also got to watch her enjoy the food. She preferred to cook, liking to control her diet and the quality of her food, but she appreciated the restaurants he took her too, and he could practically see her analyzing the different flavors in the American-Mexican fusion cuisine they were eating.
“You can’t take your eyes off her,” said the older woman to his right. “It’s charming to see. What does your girlfriend do?”
“Tunie is an artist,” Charles said proudly. Unfortunately Monahan heard him.
“Are you now, Tunie. And what medium do you prefer to use?”
There was a rather uncomfortable pause, one Charles was sure Monahan drew out deliberately. Then the man said, “Fabric,” as though she’d answered, “Excrement.” “Does that mean you sew?”
Tunie laughed. “Well, I can sew, but for art projects I use the fabric in place of paint or charcoal or clay. I also use buttons, string, fur.”
“How, interesting.” He grimaced, then appeared to rally. “Where do you source your materials?”
“Thrift stores mostly.”
“And have you sold any of these recycled masterpieces?” Monahan laughed, his condescension obvious.
“Why, no,” Tunie said softly. “I consider it a hobby. Charles is the one who thinks it’s art.”
“She’s done one portrait of her mother that is just stunning,” Charles put in softly.
Monahan laughed, and nodded at him, a poorly executed move designed to show Charles he meant no harm. “Well, that is wonderful, my dear. You must take photos and share them with us so we can all appreciate your little hobby.”
Tunie just laughed, and the tension that had filtered around the table dissipated. Except for Monahan. He clearly did not like being dismissed, and that’s exactly what Tunie had done in a very elegant way.
She winked across the table at Charles, and grinned when he winked back.
But old Monahan wasn’t through. He waited until he was good and liquored before he delivered his next zinger.
“So, Tunie. What do you do, when you’re not recycling buttons?”
“I’m between jobs, at the moment.”
“And what did you do before? We’re a varied lot here by industry. Perhaps someone has a connection for you, if you’re looking.”
“I worked in a coffee shop.”
“Where we met,” Charles interjected, a warning tone in his voice that his host utterly ignored.
“Ah! Old Charles rescued you, did he? He’s good that way. Known for taking in sundry strays and cleaning them up for public consumption.”
There were several gasps around the table, but Tunie just smiled.
“Oh, yes,” he told her with great glee, either not seeing or not caring that Charles spoon had just hit his bowl with a clatter. “He seems to prefer a certain kind of,” there was a pregnant pause while he pretended to look for the right word. “Companion. We’ve often teased him that he should apply for a medal as the patron saint of lost causes, or lost women.”
“Well, really,” said one woman sitting nearby, but Tunie was unphased.
“Oh, dear,” she said quietly. “Is that what I am? Well, I suppose you know best. You’ve known him longer than I have. How lucky for me to have found my way into his orbit, and yours, of course. Such a gracious welcome you’ve given me. I feel positively at home, though my apartment is a tad,” she paused delicately, “warmer. But you might want to put that glass down, Tom. Since we’re exchanging confidences I think I should tell you, you’re starting to slur your words.”
And, unconcerned about the bomb like quiet that followed her little speech, she kept eating the lemon sorbet they’d been given to cleanse the palette after a rich chocolate mousse cake dessert.
Monahan, meanwhile, had turned a florid red, and many of his dinner companions were trying unsuccessfully to hide laughs in coughs and behind napkins and wine glasses. One couple didn’t even try, the woman laughed openly and her husband turned his mirth into her neck, but his shoulders shook visibly.
“Well, everyone, it’s been an evening,” said Charles, rising and contemptuously tossing down his napkin. “Put that down, darling. There’s a lovely carrot ice cream I’d like you to try at the Four Seasons.”
Tunie obeyed and said a pleasant goodbye to the table. “Tom,” she said, smiling at their host, her large almond eyes even more slanted than usual given the depth of her grin.
Monahan said nothing. Just glared at them as they walked from the room hand in hand.
“Lovely couple,” Charles heard someone say as they were leaving, and he squeezed Tunie’s hand. She kissed the back of his in return.