At a table set for two, tucked away in the corner of a restaurant whose name she couldn’t pronounce, Miss Williams slipped into the leather upholstered seat. A crystal pendant light hung low above the table, casting nightmarish shadows from the proud napkin-swans across the white tablecloth as she set down her clutch and keys.
‘Can I get the wine menu for you, Ma’am?’ The waiter asked. He was a tall slick man with not a hair out of place.
‘Actually,’ Miss Williams said with the faintest of smiles, ‘I think champagne might be in order.’
‘Very well, then. I shall bring you our best bottle.’
‘That will be delightful.’ Miss Williams shrugged off her lilac pashmina and draped it across the back of her chair. Her elbow brushed the back of the man sitting behind her. She apologised but the scowl on his face suggested she’d made him spill his drink. Turning back around, Miss Williams took a deep breath to calm the nerves swimming in her stomach.
Tonight was the night. It had to be. For Greg to bring her to such a swanky place with ambiance practically oozing from the baroque wallpapered walls on the night of their eighth anniversary, her partner could only be planning one thing. They’d often said if they could make it to five years they could make it forever. Neither had expected their love-at-first-sight meeting to be anything more than a fleeting rush of passion; the first few months had been exciting and decadent, like the bite of a rich chocolate cake after weeks of dieting.
They met in a park, she recalled, resting her head on her hands as she stared in a dream-like trance at the sparkling light suspended inches from her face. It was the type of flawless Sunday pop singers wrote their summer party anthems about: blue skies that rolled on forever, untainted with clouds of any hue. Miss Williams had been walking her toy poodle, Pogo, enjoying the fresh air in her lungs and the breeze against her face, when she tripped on a crack in the pavement. She went sprawling to her face and Pogo dashed off to avoid being crushed by her tumbling frame. Wiping the mud from her sweatsuit, Miss Williams scrambled after the runaway pup, calling his name as she raced through the trees. She could hear the sharp yaps of her dog calling out to her. Miss Williams stopped. Before her stood a man with a broad chest and a chiselled jaw, holding dear little Pogo under the crook of his arm. Sweat glistened on his biceps.
‘Is this your dog, Ma’am?’ He asked, like a police officer addressing the mother of a street vandal. Miss Williams nodded, unblinking. The next thing she remembered, they were sitting on a bench in the park drinking cappuccinos from takeaway cups while Pogo napped at her feet.
‘Your champagne, Ma’am,’ the waiter said upon his return. He popped the cork on a bottle of Dom Perignon. The burst set Miss William’s chest alight. Pale golden grape juice fizzed against the cold glass as the waiter filled her champagne flute.
‘Are you waiting on somebody else, Ma’am, or should I take away the extra glass?’
Miss William’s set her hand across the top of Greg’s glass. ‘He’s just running a little bit late.’
‘My apologies.’ The slim waiter set the champagne beside the table in a gilded silver ice bucket. ‘When you’re ready to order, just sing out and I’ll be right over.’ He bowed and backed away from the table.
Miss Williams reached across to defeather the napkin swan and smoothed it flat across her knees. She then took the bottle of Dom Perignon from the cooler and poured a second glass of champagne.
‘To us,’ she declared, raising her glass in a toast. With a chink, Miss Williams tapped the flutes together then took a long sip of her sparkling beverage. After setting down her drink, she searched for the menu, locating it propped up behind the table decoration—red roses, just as Greg requested. She opened the gold-embossed Menu folder and took a slow perusal of the extensive list, written first in French with flowery English descriptions below.
‘I’ve heard the steak is divine, but I feel in the mood for chicken.’ Miss Williams nibbled her bottom lip. ‘Chicken or steak… chicken or steak…’ Decided, she folded the menu away and caught the eye of the waiter with a small wave of her hand.
‘Ready to order?’ He asked, pulling a notebook from the white apron tied around his hips.
‘Yes, thank you.’ Miss Williams opened the menu once more. ‘I’ll have the …’ she traced the page with her finger, ‘the coq au vin and steak au poivre, medium rare, thanks.’
While she waited for the meals to arrive, Miss Williams fantasised about the night ahead. Greg had reserved the penthouse suite at the lush hotel upstairs. She had checked in alone earlier that evening—Greg was still at the office—and, after a long shower using all of the hotel’s free products, Miss Williams dressed in all her finery and sauntered down to the restaurant like a debutante on the way to her first ball.
The meals arrived. The man with immaculate hair set the coq au vin down before Miss Williams and the steak au poivre opposite her.
‘Should we keep this warm in the kitchen for you?’ The waiter asked and gestured to the empty seat.
‘No no,’ Miss Williams said, ‘Greg is here. He’s just gone to the little boys’ room.’
With an apologetic smile, the waiter retreated. Miss Williams picked up her cutlery and sliced into the chicken.
‘Oh my,’ she said, ‘how delicious. I hope Greg returns before his gets cold.’
She ate at leisure, cutting the chicken into minuscule pieces before raising them to her lips. Each mouthful was chewed slowly and with precision before swallowing. She relished every bite, washing every fifth forkful down with a sip of champagne. When there was nothing but scrapings of the rich sauce left, Miss Williams placed her knife and fork together across the plate, belly fully sated.
The slinky waiter appeared by her side once more. ‘Everything alright with your meal, Ma’am?’ He glanced at the steak. ‘Was it not prepared to your liking?’
‘Oh, not at all. It’s perfect,’ she insisted. ‘Greg seems to be feeling a tad under the weather this evening. He’s run off to the bathroom again.’
‘I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like me to go check on him?’
‘That won’t be necessary, thank you. I’m sure he’ll be back in a minute.’
‘Shall I clear the table?’
Miss Williams sighed, also looking at the choice cut of beef swimming in punchy French sauce with colourful seasonal vegetables on the side. ‘Would it be at all possible to have this packed up in a little doggy bag? Greg would love to eat this when he’s feeling better, I’m sure.’
The waiter scratched his temple. ‘Unfortunately we’re not equipped to send food off the premises. I am terribly sorry.’
‘Oh.’ Her expression dropped. ‘Well, best leave it then. I’m sure he’ll manage a bite or two when he returns from the loo.’
Alone again, Miss Williams pushed aside her empty plate of coq au vin and slid the large steak towards her. She glanced over her shoulders and picked up her knife and fork.
Miss Williams could feel her stomach straining against the satin of her cocktail dress. The seams were like to burst if she consumed another mouthful. She pressed the napkin to her lips, swallowing down a burp in case something else came up with it. Breath laboured, she slumped back in the chair, unable to muster the strength to sit upright.
The waiter seemed shocked to find the second plate of food empty and ready for clearing.
‘Managed to eat the steak after all? The waiter observed with a friendly smile. He loaded the empty plate—along with others from nearby tables—onto the flat of his forearm. ‘Must have enjoyed it, then?’
‘Thoroughly. We’re both about ready to burst.’ She patted her stomach.
‘Well, when your partner returns, dessert will be served. A special menu was ordered for this table earlier.’
Miss Williams felt warmth flush to her cheeks. This was it. Her special moment. Ignoring the sharp stabs in her stomach, she straightened up. ‘You can bring it right on out,’ she said.
‘I think it’s best to wait for your partner, Ma’am. It’s a very special dessert.’ The waiter looked flustered.
‘He’s on a business call outside, who knows how long he’ll be. Besides, my Greg is not much of a dessert person. Well? Hurry up, bring it out.’
Miss Williams’s stomach buzzed with a thousand bees as she waited for the skinny man to return. People were starting to stare, no doubt picking up on her nervous excitement. The waiter approached, carrying a silver cloche. Miss Williams’s heartbeat was so loud she was sure it must be just as deafening to those around her.
‘The special dessert, Ma’am.’
Heads turned liked screw-tops to watch as the waiter drew back the silver dome, revealing a fourteen-inch ceramic dinner plate with nothing but a velvet emerald box in the centre.
Miss Williams cupped her hands over her mouth to suppress a gasp.
‘Oh! Oh my!’ She shrieked and snatched up the jewellery box like a hungry seagull stealing a hot chip. A smile widened across her face as she cracked open the box. The ring was a platinum band with a solitary princess-cut diamond set in the centre. Without pause, Miss Williams plucked the trinket from its cushioned home. ‘It’s gorgeous!’ She held her hand up to the light of the crystal pendant, admiring the way the ring sat on her finger and how it sparkled like the most perfect rainbow.
‘I’m getting married!’ She announced to the room with a girlish squeal. Her news was met with applause, albeit a slow and confused one.
Miss Williams was still giddy as she approached the registers to pay the bill. She slipped her fingers inside her clutch purse to produce her credit card, careful to present her ring with every movement of her hand.
‘My boyfriend proposed tonight,’ she said to the suited lady behind the front desk.
‘Congratulations,’ the woman said with a smile. She handed Miss Williams back her credit card and receipt. ‘Enjoy the rest of your evening, Ma’am.’
‘Oh, I plan to.’
In the luxurious king-sized bed of the penthouse suite, Miss Williams slipped naked beneath the covers with her new fiancé beside her. She always enjoyed their intimate encounters but tonight their passion reached new heights.
‘I love you, Greg,’ Miss Williams whispered into his soft, fresh-smelling chest as she drifted off to sleep. Despite the plush, comfortable bed, she found herself waking several times during the night, each time dismayed to find the mattress beside her vacant and cold.
‘He’s just gone to use the bathroom,’ she reminded herself before closing her eyes once more.
First written in 2008; reworked 2015.
Comments and critiques are welcome and encouraged.