an intimate dinner at home.

by s.m.

She was finishing dressing when she heard the low growl of his Maserati pulling into the courtyard announce his arrival.  A moment later he was knocking on her door, and she gave herself one more quick glance in the hall mirror before she opened it to greet him.  She was wearing a simple Chloe dress, navy blue, with grey suede Bottega pumps and her coral pendant.  It had been too difficult to fasten jeans with only one hand.  She answered the door.

Paolo wasn’t wearing jeans either, which struck her as unusual, although she conceded she had only seen him a couple of times.  Instead he wore dark grey pants, a tailored white shirt, and a skinny black tie.

“You didn’t have to get all dressed up for me,” she smiled, kissing his cheeks.

“I was expecting to see you wearing an apron,” he grinned.  “But not a cast. What happened to your wrist?” he asked, frowning.

“Oh,” she said.  “We were coming home from a party on a scooter and had a little accident.”

“What do you mean, we?  Since when do you ride scooters?”

“Timo and I were riding.  That’s how you get around in Capri.”  It came out so easily, so glibly, the lie.  She paused, trying to gauge his anger.  “I’m going to be fine,” she said.

“I’ve been to Capri,” Paolo said, and she couldn’t tell whether he was indignant or joking.  “I know you have to ride scooters.  I just couldn’t see you on a scooter.”

“I know you’ve been to Capri,” she answered, and she didn’t say it was because she’d seen the photos on the internet, him leaving a club as the sun was rising with a gorgeous blonde.  “I used to go there every summer when I was younger.”

She quickly changed the subject.  “I’ve been slaving over a hot stove all day.  Let’s go eat.”

As she led him into the dining room, she watched him looking around her flat, registering the pictures on the walls, the books on the shelves, the same way she had analyzed his flat.

“I like your place,” he said.  “It’s not what I expected.”

“I know what you mean,” she said.  Federica had offered to set the dining room (Francesca had told her Cristina was coming for dinner; another easy lie to add to the list) but Francesca demurred, preferring the cozy intimacy of the kitchen.  She had laid out linen napkins, her old silverware she had inherited from her grandmother, clean white china plates.  A cluster of short candles in the center of the table.  Federica had left her instructions to keep the lamb on the stove at a simmer and the risotto covered in the oven, warming.  She had made Francesca a French salad, though Francesca had insisted she could do the simple task of tearing lettuce.  She gave Paolo a corkscrew and directed him to open a bottle of wine.

“It’s not very fancy,” she said apologetically, as she pulled the risotto out of the oven.  “Just the kind of thing I used to eat growing up.”

She ladled the lamb into bowls, drizzled the salad with oil and vinegar, and they sat to eat.

“You could have told me you’d broken your arm,” Paolo said.  “I would have brought a pizza.”

“A pizza?  Rather than this masterful display of culinary prowess?  Never.  I wanted you to experience the fullness of my skills.”

“I still could have gotten that later,” he grinned.  “So what’s in this magnificent lamb?”

She wrinkled her nose.  “It’s a family secret,” she stalled.

“Really.  So how much garlic do you use?”

“I can’t tell you that,” she answered.

“There’s no garlic in here,” he said.  “Who cooked?”

“Come on!  That’s not fair.  You’re jumping to conclusions.”

“Cesca, you’re a beautiful woman.  You’re very smart, you’re very talented.  If you had actually cooked this meal I would have thought you weren’t human.”

“Well, I’m glad you’re enjoying it,” she said, refusing to admit to anything.  She lifted her wine glass to him and smiled.

He winked.  “I can’t wait for dessert.”

“I’m not much at pastries,” she replied playfully.  “I hope chocolate will be enough.”