66. Dinner at Home

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Valerie and Lorne walked hand-in-hand along Ebury behind Chloe and Chianti. When they reached the end of the block at Lower Belgrave Street, Chloe stopped to turn and ask, "Which way, Daddy?"

Lorne glanced at his watch then pointed left. "Across here a block to Buckingham Palace Road, then follow it home for dinner."

Valerie hummed as she squeezed Lorne's hand. "You have no idea how wonderful that sounds to me."

"Oh, but I do. My entire body tingled as I said it."

"Mine still is."

"Are you guys going to get all mushy again?"

"Probably." Valerie chuckled, then she pulled Lorne into a hug and a kiss.

A while later, after Chianti had paused next to the Field Marshal Foch monument in Grosvenor Gardens, they continued along as Lorne spoke, "She usually stops there to deposit her offerings, and I often wonder whether it's her intelligence or just by chance. " He chuckled. "Is it to honour her heritage by paying respect to the French war hero? Or is it because she knows there's a bag dispensary and a litter bin there?"

Valerie snickered. "You've spent far too much time alone."

"I want you to cure me of that."

"Hmmm. What a delightful task." They continued along Buckingham Palace Road another hundred or so yards before Chianti led them into Victoria Square. Lorne unlocked and opened the door, ushering the two women in. Valerie inhaled deeply as she stepped into the foyer. "God, how I've missed George's cooking."

"Hmmm. I can smell why."

"I asked him to do his beef Wellington - he's a master with it. What have you chosen?"

"The 96 Léoville Las Cases. I brought it up and decanted it."

"I've not had the 96."

"I prefer it to the 86 and 90; it's similar to the 2000, but I think it will outshine both it and the 05 in the long haul."

Chloe had listened to the quick back-and-forth, then at a lull, she asked, "I'm confused. What sort of code is this?"

"Wine talk, Sweetheart." Lorne assisted Valerie out of her overcoat and hung it in the armoire. "Comparing the relative merits of the vintages."

"Oh! Another adult thing." She held her coat and scarf toward him. "You'll have to hang these too, Daddy; I'm not tall enough to reach."

"Yeah. Among the adjustments we will have to make. I could lift you if you wish."

"Ooh! I'd like that."

Lorne bent and put his forearm under her butt, then stood. "Now you're tall enough."

When she had finished, she wrapped her arms around his neck, laid her head on his shoulder and sighed a long hum. "I like this. May I tell you again that I love you?"

"You need no permission for that. Besides, you're showing it better than any words could convey." After a lingering hug, he kissed her cheek, then set her down. "We should go freshen up for dinner."

Twenty-five minutes later, after Grace had cleared the entrée plates and cutlery, George wheeled the serving trolley into the dining room, and he began carving the beef Wellington. "Your kitchen is a pleasure to work in, Sir."

"Thank you

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"Thank you." Lorne pointed to the flaky pastry. "You'll have to show me how you do this. Mine always ends up a bit soggy."

While George plated their dinner, Lorne poured from the decanter into Valerie's glass and his own. Then after the trolley had been wheeled out, Chloe said, "The wine is very intense. I can smell it from over here, even with my dinner under my nose. Please, may I have some?"

Lorne shook his head. "You may smell it, Sweetheart, but not drink it. Alcohol impairs the development of the brain's prefrontal cortex."

"What's that?"

"It's the part which operates the executive functions. Things such as judgment, impulse control, planning, and social skills. These don't fully develop until one's early twenties."

"So, that's why kids behave differently from adults?"

"Exactly. A properly developed adult brain responds to situations with good judgment and an awareness of long-term consequences. A young person's input comes mainly from the emotional part of their brains, so behaviour is from feeling more than from reasoned thinking."

Lorne lifted his glass and swirled it, then he put it to his nose, inhaling lightly. "One of the finest aspects of a mature wine is its bouquet - its evolved aroma." He swirled and nosed the wine again. "This one is about as fine as it gets."

He passed the glass to Chloe and instructed her how to hold it by the stem and gently swirl the wine to coat the inside of the bowl, releasing more of the bouquet. "Now, bring it to your nose and breathe in gently. What do you smell?"

"Oh, wow. Like cherry tarts and my cedar chest and mint and..." She swirled it again. "From where does all this come?"

"From fermented grapes and maturing in oak barrels, and then from ageing in a bottle for another eighteen years." He took the glass as she handed it back. "This one is from a very special piece of land with a climate which allows great wine to be made most years and superb ones two or three times a decade."

"And that's one of the superb years, isn't it?. What you and Mummy were discussing earlier."

"Yes, it is, Sweetheart. My favourite since their 1961." He set his glass down and pointed to their plates. "We should eat while it's still hot."

Valerie had watched the interaction between Lorne and Chloe in silence, awed by its gentle intensity, by the depth of the information, by the ease of sharing. Teacher and student. Father and daughter. She hummed a quiet sigh. Family, love, home. She shook herself out of her thoughts. "Yeah, we should eat."

"Mummy, I know we've already had one course, but before we begin this one, could I offer thanks for what we've been given? We haven't done that for a while, and we now have so much more for which to be thankful."

Oh, God, girl. A fine thought, Sweetheart."

The three joined hands, then after a long pause, Chloe said, "Thank you, God or whomever or whatever. This is far more than I requested, but don't worry, I can handle it, and I'm sure Mummy and Daddy can as well." She looked up and grinned, then said, "Amen."

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