The Dinner

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Jennifer's P.O.V:

Margaret and William were coming to dinner the next night. The timing was bad, I thought, as I labored all day over a complicated French ragout not only was the situation with Matthew unsettling, preoccupying, but I had just been given a new commission for some fashion illustrations from an exclusive shop in Philadelphia that had a deadline in two weeks, and couldn't seem to concentrate on it.

By the time Matthew got home that evening, I was a wreck. The ragout was tasteless, the consommé wouldn't clarify and the chocolate cake layers sagged ominously in the middle when I took them out of the oven. It was six o'clock, I hadn't dressed yet, and when Matthew strolled into the kitchen I was near tears.

'Something smells good,' he said pleasantly.

I brushed the heavy fringe of smooth black hair away from my damp forehead and eyed the caved-in torte with dismay. The kitchen was like an oven. What had got into me, I wondered, to tackle a heavy French menu in the middle of July?

I turned and glared at Matthew. Somehow the sight of him standing there at the doorway, so cool and neat in his lightweight tan trousers and short-Sleeved white dress shirt infuriated me, and I vented all my anger and frustration on him.

'Well, that's good,' I snapped, 'because the dinner is ruined.'

He only raised his dark eyebrows and walked slowly to me, looking down at the offending cake layers lying on the draining board. His close proximity only upset me further. The jacket of his suit was slung casually over one shoulder, hooked into his thumb, and his bare forearm brushed lightly against mine as he reached out to pick up a few crumbs.

'Chocolate,' he murmured appreciatively. 'My favorite it tastes good, what's wrong with it?'

'What's wrong with it?' I cried, pointing. 'Just take a look at it!'

He did so, then murmured, 'I gather it's not supposed to, um, droop like that in the middle'.

I could tell he was trying hard not to laugh, and this only infuriated me even more. 'It's not funny,' I snapped.

It made me uncomfortable to have him standing so close to me, if we were really married, I grumbled to myself, I could turn to him for comfort, cry on his shoulder, and we could even laugh about it. What's a ruined dinner when you're in love?

But we aren't in love, she thought glumly as she turned to the stove and stared down at the pan of consommé simmering there, still clouded and muddy. We only sleep together once in a while. My eyes burned with tears of self-pity, which finally began to spill over.

'Hey, Jennifer,' he called me softly now. 'It's not, worth crying over. After all, it's only William and Margaret, not Mr. and Mrs. President. They don't care.'

'I know,' I sniffed, trying to muffle my childish tears.

His arm came around me then, pulling me towards him. At this unexpected sign of affection, the dam burst, and I turned and sobbed wetly into his chest, soaking the white shirt with my tears.

As the outburst subsided, I began to feel better. What difference did a silly dinner make when Matthew was there to hold me, to comfort me? I longed to stay in the shelter of his strong arm forever, forget the dinner, forget William and Margaret, forget the whole world.

His hand was moving in a gentle soothing motion over my bare arm, and as I quieted down, the movement began to lull me into a mindless enjoyment of his touch. My pulses started to race as the pressure of his hand increased, became less comforting, more sensuous.

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