As far as overly ostentatious restaurants went, the Red Mouth lauded itself a cut above the city's other establishments. From the moment Tara left the industrial heart of Verweald and crossed the Agoura River's concrete banks into the commercial district, I regretted not capitalizing on my chance to escape this whole torpid evening. Tara parked her car in one of the district's crowded lots and led us along the busy avenue, passing several diners and eateries until—at last—we came upon our destination.
The sign emblazoned with the place's name glowed against the building's face and the modern windows. "Really?" I said to Tara, my agitation plain.
She flinched with grace but nonetheless nodded. "Rick managed to get a reservation."
"And you thought this would be an excellent choice for me? The most pretentious place in town, and I'm still partly covered in orange juice."
"Actually, I thought it'd be an excellent choice for me, and you've no other option but to come along, brat." She gave my shoulder an affectionate swat. "Besides, maybe the orange juice is an improvement. You're so...sweet now."
"You're the absolute worst, do you know that? I can't afford this, Tara."
"Don't worry about it."
Before I could protest, her arm once more linked through mine and, helpless against my well-meaning but charitably aggressive twin, she squired me through the Red Mouth's steel arch and to the maître d's station. After a brief, hushed exchange between him and Rick, the haughty host escorted us into the dining room, and while we walked my attention ambled over the stuffy interior. The contemporary design clashed with heavier elements of Baroque embellishment; rocaille bolstered the paneled walls and antique lamps hung from a sloped ceiling plastered with Postmodern art and conceptual paintings of red lips.
Overall, the effect was absurd, the kind of absurdity average people squint at while critics cock a brow and say "How interesting."
I ordered a drink as soon as I dropped into my seat. Might as well indulge myself a bit.
Dinner commenced with the standard fanfare one would expect at a place like the Red Mouth, the proportions minuscule but pretty. Mitch helped the snobbish waiter pass around the drinks when they arrived and, in a fit of guilty resignation, I forced a smile more akin to a grimace onto my face and chatted with him. I couldn't blame Mitch for Tara's bungled matchmaking attempts, after all. I imagined being on a date with a woman so painfully disinterested was unpleasant, no matter how contrived the whole experience proved to be.
When the appetizers came, I noticed a plain water set before Tara's own plate, untouched. "You can order something else, if you like," I told her as I tipped my chin toward the glass. "If you're worried about who'll drive home, I can do it. I won't finish my own drink, you know how I am." Already I'd edged the daiquiri aside after two sips, the cloying taste sticking to my tongue like syrup.
An odd expression crossed my sister's face. Almost as if on instinct, she took Rick's hand in her own and held it there atop the table's dark surface. "I can't drink, Sara."
"Because...because I'm pregnant."
Oh. Unbidden, my gaze lowered from her face to her middle hidden below the table's edge, knowing I'd see nothing different, that she looked just as she ever did, warm and genial and clever as a satisfied cat, though she would change in the coming months. An immeasurable sense of age I had no right to feel pressed upon me as I wrung my hands on my lap. There Tara sat, calm and affable, next to the man she would marry one day, carrying a promise of more family to come in her middle. She had, in a word, everything, everything that so many other women would kill to obtain: doted on by our parents, successful, well-off, engaged, and now pregnant.
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Sara Gaspard swore she'd do anything to find those responsible for her sister's death, but teaming up with the Sin of Pride is more than she bargained for. ***** Desperate and dyi...