“Ladies and gentlemen: please nominate a table head,” the MC calls out.
“Ooh. Me, me!” cries Mia, bouncing like a child in her seat. “In the center of the table you will find an envelope,” the MC continues. “Would everyone find, beg, borrow, or steal a bill of the highest denomination you can manage, write your name on it, and place it inside the envelope? Table heads, please guard these envelopes carefully. We will need them later.”
“Here.” I give a hundred-dollar bill to Ana.
“I’ll pay you back,” she whispers.
I don’t want that argument again. Saying nothing because a scene would be unseemly, I hand her my Mont Blanc so she can sign her name on the note.
Grace signals a couple of servers standing at the front of the pavilion and they pull back the canvas, revealing a picture-postcard view of Seattle and Meydenbauer Bay at dusk. It’s a great view, especially at this time of the evening, and I’m glad the weather has remained fine for my parents.
Ana gazes at the cityscape and its reflection in the water with delight.
And I examine it anew. It’s stunning. The darkening sky ablaze with the setting sun mirrored in the water, the lights of Seattle twinkling in the distance. Yeah. Stunning.
Seeing all this through Ana’s eyes is humbling. For years I’ve taken it for granted. I glance at my parents. My father clasps his wife’s hand as she laughs at something her friend says. The way he looks at her…the way she looks at him.
They love each other.
I shake my head. Is it weird that I’m having a strange and new appreciation for my upbringing?
I was lucky. Very lucky.
Our servers arrive, ten of them in total, and as one they present the table with our first course. Ana peeks at me from behind her mask.
“Very,” she replies, with serious intent.
Damn. All other thoughts evaporate as my body responds to her bold statement and I know she’s not referring to the food. My grandfather diverts her and I shift in my seat, trying to bring my body to heel.
The food is good.
But then it always is at my parents’ place.
I have never been hungry here.
I’m startled by the direction of my thoughts and I’m glad when Lance, my mother’s friend from college, engages me in a conversation about what GEH is developing.
I’m acutely aware of Ana’s eyes on me as Lance and I debate the economics of technology in the developing world.
“You can’t just give this technology away!” Lance scoffs.
“Why not? Ultimately, whose benefit is it for? As human beings, we all have to share finite space and resources on this planet. The smarter we are, the more efficiently we’ll use them.”
“Democratizing tech is not what I’d expect from someone like you.” Lance laughs.
Dude. You don’t know me very well.
Lance is engaging enough, but I’m distracted by the beautiful Miss Steele. She moves beside me as she listens to our conversation, and I know the kegel balls are having the desired effect.
Perhaps we should go to the boathouse.
My conversation with Lance is interrupted a few times by various business associates offering a handshake and the odd anecdote. I don’t know if they’re checking out Ana or trying to ingratiate themselves with me.
By the time dessert is served, I’m ready to leave.
“If you’ll excuse me,” Ana says suddenly, breathless. And I know she’s had enough.
“Do you need the powder room?” I ask.
She nods, and in her eyes I see a desperate plea.
“I’ll show you,” I offer.
She stands and I start to get up, but Mia stands, too. “No, Christian! You’re not taking Ana—I will.”
And before I can say anything, she grabs Ana’s hand.
Ana gives me an apologetic shrug and follows Mia out of the pavilion. Taylor signals that he’s on it and trails behind them both; I’m sure Ana is unaware of her shadow.
Fuck. I wanted to go with her.
My grandmother leans in to talk to me. “She’s delightful.”
“You look happy, dear.”
Do I? I thought I was sulking at a missed opportunity.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen you so relaxed.” She pats my hand; it’s an affectionate gesture, and for once I don’t withdraw from her touch.
I test the word to see if it fits, and an unexpected warmth flares in my gut.
Yes. She makes me happy.
It’s a new feeling. I’ve never described myself in those terms.
I smile at my grandmother and squeeze her hand. “I think you’re right, Grandmother.”
Her eyes twinkle and she squeezes mine back. “You should bring her to the farm.”
“I should. I think she’d like that.”
Mia and Ana return to the pavilion, giggling. It’s a pleasure to watch them together and to witness my whole family embrace my girl. Even my grandmother has concluded that Ana makes me happy.
She’s not wrong.
As Ana takes her seat, she gives me a swift carnal look.