Does chocolate go with champagne? Nick wasn't sure, but he knew that Gretchen loved them both. He put the bottle of Dom Perignon in the refrigerator, took out the chocolate torte, and placed it on the counter to bring it up to room temperature.
Six-fifteen. He walked through his apartment, trying to see it through Gretchen's eyes. He wanted everything to be perfect. If everything was perfect, then nothing could go wrong. He straightened and smoothed the bedspread and plumped the pillows and turned the overhead fan to low. He rearranged the flowers on the Mexican tile table by the front door. He put a vintage Smokey Robinson LP on the turntable.
He had made a reservation at Platanos, Tucson's priciest restaurant. Would Gretchen like it, or would she find it too pretentious? Maybe Caruso's, inexpensive and familiar, would have been a better choice.
No, it had to be Platanos. Tonight was too special for Caruso's. Tonight he would celebrate two years in business and six months with Gretchen. They would have a marvelous dinner, then back to his place. For chocolate and champagne.
He checked himself in the bedroom mirror: long-sleeved linen shirt the color of strong coffee, dark olive chinos, suede Bally loafers. He slipped into his new sport coat, a natural-color vicuña/silk blend, casual but elegant. He turned away from the mirror, then quickly looked back, catching his reflection by surprise. Was his hair too long? Was he trying too hard? Was he too vain and shallow, or just vain and shallow enough?
The telephone rang, saving him from himself.
It was Gretchen. "Nicky, I just got back from Marana." She would be wearing grubby jeans and work boots and a sweat-stained T-shirt.
"That's okay," he said. "Our reservation isn't until seven-thirty."
"I just got your message. Nicky, I'm sorry! I forgot we had plans tonight."
Nick's heart shrank. "You're doing something else?"
"Yes. No. I'm doing something with you. Remember I told you my dad wanted to meet you?" Now she would be smiling, her teeth bright white against freckled tan.
"You mentioned that, yes."
"Well, I set it up for tonight. He's expecting us for dinner at seven-thirty. I guess I forgot to mention it to you. I'm really sorry. I know you wanted to celebrate your two-year anniversary."
"And our half-anniversary. You and me."
"Really? It's been six months? Now I'm even sorrier. Can we do it another night?"
"I suppose." Nick tried to sort out his immediate feelings. This isn't so bad, he told himself. Besides, he should meet the parent. Get it over with.
"Or I could call my dad and tell him we can't make it."
"No, no. I'd like to meet him. I really would."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure. Where does he live?"
"Out on the east side, just off Old Spanish Trail."
"I'll swing by around seven."
Nick hated it when plans changed, especially his own. He liked things tidy and predictable. How odd that he was with Gretchen, whose plans shifted with the desert breeze.
He called Platanos and canceled the reservation, then sat on his black leather sofa and stared at the flowers by the front door, feeling completely ridiculous in the vicuña jacket and two-hundred-dollar Bally loafers. Who did he think he was trying to impress? Gretchen hardly noticed his clothes anyway. What did she like about him? It was a mystery. Sometimes he thought she viewed him as a curious specimen: Homo sapiens, male, early-twenty-first-century clothing salesman. And how did he see her? Nick smiled and felt his internal temperature rise a degree or two.
He would wear his vicuña sport coat to meet the father. He would be charming and attentive. They would have a nice time. The chocolate torte would keep for a day.
Still, it was a disappointment.
The telephone rang again.
"Hello. Is this Nicholas Fashon?" The voice was unfamiliar.
"Yes it is," said Nick.
"Caleb Hardy's grandson?"
Nick hesitated before replying. No good thing had ever come to him through the agency of his grandfather, but he could see no way around it, so he answered, "That's right."
"This is Hardesty Chin, Jr. I'm an attorney working out of Bisbee. I did some legal work for your grandfather?"
"He never mentioned me?"
"Not that I recall."
"Oh. I have some...Are you sitting down?"
Nick heard the lawyer clear his throat. "I have some very sad news."
Copyright © 2002 by Peter Hautman