Of course it was on Bethany to call to make the reservations for dinner at 7pm. Because Bethany works Monday through Friday 8-5 in an admin position with a dental office. Tyler travels for work, Erin is in law school, Shelly just started her internship with the Women’s clinic, Logan was working from home, but never wakes up before 12, and Jake?
Jake made Bethany’s heart flutter.
Jake may or may not have a job. He barely answers the group texts; he doesn’t answer Bethany’s phone calls, or acknowledges Tyler’s postcards that everyone else hangs up on their fridges and affectionately touches before packing their lunches for work.
All that being said, Jake always made a point to join Family Dinner Night.
Which is why, with a heart that was fluttering like a brand new butterfly, Bethany was calling Tommy’s Steakhouse. The group had voted in the below text messages yesterday:
Hello! :) :) :) Family Dinner Night is coming up in two weeks! Any ideas on where we want to go?
I’ll be back in town by 6, can we push dinner to 7????
Tyler then sent in a selfie of him posing on a mountain side, his long curls billowing in the wind. He was grinning ear to ear. The group all began sending in their heart emojis and liking the photo.
OMG! You look soooo good! I’m cool with 7.
Me, too. :)
Bethany’s smile was plastered on. It wasn’t really fine with her to push to 7. She liked to be home binge watching a reality TV show with her new kitten, Tomcat, by 8.
If I agree to 7pm, I want tacos.
‘Sup guys??? Sorry I’m late to the party. But tacos???
Logan then sends over an emoji of a green puke face. Logan has always hated eating the same thing over and over. Last Family Dinner was Taco Night at Shelly’s.
OK. Not tacos, how about Chinese? We could order in? I’d be happy to host.
Or we could go Downtown and just wander around looking for food trucks?
Her heart began to beat more wildly at the idea that she might get to have Jake in her home! But it sank like an anchor when she realized that Jake hadn’t sent a single message confirming if he was going to join.
Or steak! Pleeeeaasseeee???
She loved steak and always imagined a Valentine’s date with Jake across the table from her, their glasses singing like opera as they cheersed to the holiday.
I’d be down for a ribeye.
Bethany’s phone pinged throughout the day as each of her friends agreed to a steak dinner. During her lunch hour she scrolled through the photos of Tyler’s adventures, Shelly’s Hump Day Jokes, and her own texts checking in on everyone. Jake hadn’t texted since last month when he confirmed he’d be at Shelly’s by 6 with tequila.
Text us the address and book the reservation Beth-for 7, please.
Bethany had stared at the little black number, “6” for hours. Her phone lit up her darkened bedroom in an eerie, blue glow. The group had always made a rule to clear the bringing of significant others to Family Dinner Night before anything was actually planned. There was Cassidy who had been Erin’s on again, off again girlfriend over the last year. There was Tyler who Tyler dated for three whole years simply because they had the same name, or so said Bethany. There was Sammie who signed her name with a heart over the I on all of the Valentines she sent the friend group last month despite the fact that she supposedly dumped Logan after his disaster of a New Year’s party where he was caught making out with some random girl in his bedroom-Sammie’s picture of them on the bedside table. Her eyes, stuck behind a pane of glass. Her smile, glowing as she watched the love of her life with someone else. Everyone in the group was sad to see her go.
But Jake had never “brought a girl home.” Sure, he had dated. His social media pages always had numerous photos of girls he had met, dated, hooked up with, etc, but never “brought home.” The idea that he had met someone was a slap in Bethany’s face because she always imagined he’d invite her out for drinks after Family Dinner Night…one of these days…
She considered texting the group demanding details on Place Setting Six, but Erin beat her to the punch. Jake didn’t respond. On Thursday, during lunch, Bethany made the reservation and texted the group to confirm.
Everyone sent back thumbs up emojis, except Jake.
Bethany arrived at the restaurant. She had showered, slapped on some red lipstick, and agonized over her outfit before settling on the little black dress she wore to her sister’s engagement party six months ago.
It wasn’t new to her, but she was certain it was new to the group-to Jake.
The hostess with the pretty blonde curls tied up with a red bow led her through the main dining room which was loud with chatter over soft country ballads, to a side area which had two large tables in it. Bethany shot bright green lasers of envy out of her eyes at the bouncing ponytail. The hostess indicated the table to the right and Bethany chose the seat pressed against the cream colored wall that was adorned with the painting of a cowboy and his horse so she could watch the door. She smoothed her long black hair nervously. Shelly and Logan arrived at the same time. The girls hugged and squealed. Logan offered a side hug. He smelled like BO, mostly because he never changed his outfits on account of his career path. It made Bethany crinkle her nose. The two of them sat on either side of Bethany.
They dove into the best part of their meal- filling each other in on what they missed. Shelly was just talking about how she has been trying not to take her work home with her when Erin arrived. She looked the most adult out of all of them in her black stilettos and matching black power suit.With mock seriousness she took her seat next to Logan and then took her glasses off. She shook out her long black hair from its prison of a bun.
She cleared her throat and proclaimed, “First round is on me!” Tyler arrived shortly after and blew kisses to everyone. He looked slightly flustered and Bethany noticed dark circles under her eyes. Tyler mumbled out an apology as he negotiated taking his seat. After the waitress, named Monica, took their drink orders and walked out, the group all turned to watch the door in anxious silence.
“We usually tell the group before inviting someone new to Family Dinner,” quipped Bethany from her seat at the head of the table.
“Yeah, fuckin’ Sammie had to be vetted over, like, a month,” complained Logan as he took a sip of his beer.
“Have you been talking to Sammie?” inquired Shelly like a nosy mother who watched the girl she thought would be her daughter in law walk out the door in the cutest black sweater dress.
“No, Mom,” replied Logan rolling his eyes dramatically. The table all chuckled.
“Well you should. We all liked her, didn’t we?” Shelly asked the table. General mumbling of agreement and eager nods came from everyone at the table.
Erin feigned a surprised face, “Did everyone get that super cute Valentine she sent?”
”Yes!” squealed Bethany. “I got a bear on mine! With cute little ears!” She added while reaching for her phone to show Logan. The other friends also pulled out their devices, knowing this was a planned topic of conversation.
Logan scoffed, “Well maybe I’ll just call her tonight!”
The table erupted into laughter and chorused, “You better!”
The laughter died off quickly when Jake walked in. The girl on his arm was young, short, with a doll-like face. Her big, round, blue eyes were framed by the cherry red headband she was using to push the blonde curls back from her face. The majority of her maine had been combed into a cheerleader ponytail. She had on a pair of high rise skinny jeans and a white spaghetti strap crop top. Her sweater, long and white, billowed like a cape behind her. Jake stood proud next to his girl. His hand rested on her hip and he had shaved. Bethany noticed the cologne and gel in his hair as he offered hugs and introductions to everyone. “You can pick your jaw up off the floor anytime, Logan,” scolded Shelly as she took a huge sip of her cocktail. Erin cleared her throat and offered a hug.
Jake offered Bethany a hug which she returned nervously. “Beth, This is Taylor,” he said while pulling the girl close to him like a child reaching for their doll as they slept.
“Bethany,” corrected Bethany.
“Beth,” pleaded Jake.
Bethany blinked rapidly back at him and repeated her full name, “Bethany.”
The group watched them nervously.
“Whatever,” mumbled Jake as he moved to take his seat. He dramatically pulled out the chair beside him and Taylor shed her sweater like the snake in the garden of Eden. “How is everyone?” asked Jake. He took a sip of his water.
Shelly, ever the peacemaker, dove into talking about her internship and how she hoped that it would blossom into a full time position. The rest of the group waited for the waitress to return with the drinks. She took their entree order as Bethany reminded everyone smugly, “Dinner’s on me tonight.” She dramatically pulled out her wallet and placed it on the table. “Even for the new girl,” the sarcasm dripped from her lips like venom.
“Bethy! Play nice,” hissed Tyler. He mockingly slapped her on the wrist.
She attempted to swallow the boulder in her throat.
“I’m sorry,” Bethany said, tucking a lock of ink black hair behind her ear. “Where are my manners?” she asked and gestured to the table. “Tell us all about you, Taylor. What do you do for work?”
“Oh,” Taylor said and set the piece of bread she was buttering down onto her plate. “Um, I’m a nurse,” she pressed her lips together. Then, she placed her order with Monica.
“That’s so cool!” Shelly exclaimed, “I’m an intern at the Women’s Clinic!”
“We know!” huffed Bethany.
“Bethy!” Tyler turned to his friend who was now very red in the face.
“She’s been talking about it all night! We get it!” defended Bethany before guzzling down more alcohol.
“Sweetie, do you think you might want to go to the bathroom?” suggested Erin. She began to stand.
“No,” protested Bethany, “Look, the food is coming.” Monica, followed by two skinny boys dressed in penguin suits had arrived with their trays of food. It smelled amazing.
Slowly, everyone’s food was delivered. Except, Taylor’s.
Monica explained that the prime rib just takes a minute longer. Everyone stared at their plates. Erin’s stomach growled and she blushed sheepishly.
“Go ahead and eat, guys,” offered Taylor. The group waved her off.
“I’m sorry,” whispered Bethany. She stared down at her steak, hot tear pricking the back of her eyes. She heard the chair scraping the floor and felt Shelly’s big, warm, arms around her shoulders.
“No harm, no foul,” she assured Bethany in a low whisper just as Monica arrived with Taylor’s dish. Shelly took her seat. The occasional quip praising the food could be heard over the sound of cutlery on plates that began to fill the room. Monica diligently refilled drinks and scooped up plates that were bare, all but a few drippings, until only one person at the table was left eating. Taylor took little bites. Tiny bites.
She used her steak knife to shred the life out of her well done prime rib, delicately dipped her meat into the au jus, and lowered the morsel onto her waiting tongue. It had to land in the center every time so as not to disturb the heavy layer of pink gloss that coated her lip filler lips. Every four bites she took a long sip of her cocktail.
Bethany’s green lasers grew stronger with every single glance.
“Sorry I’m holding everyone up,” said Taylor. Her mousy voice was met with the general pardon of everyone at the table. Bethany snagged a piece of bread from the basket and began chewing it aggressively. She waved Monica over and offered her credit card for the meal. She offered hugs to Shelly, Erin, Logan, and Tyler. She waved half heartedly at Taylor and Jake.
Can we just please agree to clear invites to family dinner night by the group in advance??
Bethany’s fingers slid over the send button before she rubbed her eyes and turned out her bedside light. In the morning, she awoke to a private text from Erin.
We should talk. Coffee? At the old spot?
Bethany arrived at the cafe across from the high school first. Her feet drug slowly on the pavement as she remembered countless mornings with her friends here. She laughed at the dumpster which Tyler knocked over that year he got really into Parkour. There was the tree that Logan kissed Missy Edwards beneath-she was two years older than them and his first girlfriend. They all ate a whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s when she broke his heart. And the navy blue bench outside the cafe where Jake put his arm around Bethany’s shoulders as she cried because no one sent her any school Valentine roses. The next day, a card and box of chocolates was waiting for her in home room. Her memory brought tears to her eyes.
She ordered a vanilla latte with an extra shot at the counter with the barista who looked like she used to-glasses, long hair braided, too much makeup. The sight made her smile and think of Tyler-he proudly wore his blue apron behind the counter and made a better latte than anyone else on earth. Bethany found a table with a nice big window. She was scrolling through her phone when Erin arrived…with Shelly. Her two best friends offered half hearted hugs and pulled out their chairs. The legs scraped painfully on the linoleum floor. Bethany closed bloodshot eyes gingerly.
“Soo…” whispered Shelly. She was fidgeting with a cheap fake ring that she not doubted bought at Target.
Bethany ran a hand through messy hair and drank a sip of coffee. “You think we can do Mexican next time? That ribeye was expensive,” she said.
“What? It’s that girl’s first time out with us and she picks a rib-eye. I mean, it’s preposterous! Don’t you think?” exclaimed Beth. Her hands were thrown up in the air, but were met with silence and a look exchanged between Erin and Shelly. “Don’t you think?” she repeated her question.
“Ummm…”Erin started to speak, but Shelly laid a hand on her friend’s arm. Erin fell quiet.
Bethany fell back in her chair-tried to use another gulp of coffee to swallow the lump in her throat. “Bethy, she was nice,” whispered Erin.
“Look, Sweetie, you and Jake…it’s never goin g to happen,” said Shelly. She stared into Bethany’s glassy eyes as brutal honesty poured like the liquor from last night.
“I’ve loved him since third grade,” whispered Bethany. She sprayed a bit of spiderweb spit out with each word.
“You need to just…let him go,” urged Shelly gently. She laid an open palm on the table between them.
Erin leaned forward in her chair, catching Bethany’s eyes and watching the hot tears fall. “Or you’ll risk losing all of us,” she said.
Six Months Later
Of course it was on Sammie to call to make the reservations for dinner at 7pm. Because Sammie was the newest member of the group. Logan had called her up out of the blue and invited her out on a dinner date “just to talk.”
Sammie was proud to say they hadn’t stopped talking since.
It took her three months before they added her to a group chain. The first week had been thrilling! Memes were exchanged, emojis filled her screen, the occlusion GIF. When she had asked if Family Dinner Night was still a thing and Logan had shrugged her off, Sammie took it upon herself to start the conversation. Which is why, with a heart that was fluttering like a brand new butterfly, Sammie was calling The Golden Palace. The group had voted in the below text messages yesterday:
Hello! :) :) :) I know I’m new to this, but does anyone wanna do a Family Dinner Night?
Sure, I’d be down. I’m in town next Friday.
Tyler then sent in a selfie of him posing in his office with its white walls and framed photos of his adventures. He was grinning ear to ear. The group all began sending in their heart emojis and liking the photo.
OMG! I’m so glad you’re finally writing a book. Please, please, please bring copies of the manuscript for us! See you at 6! :)
It was working. Her heart filled with joy at the thought of Family Dinner. Sure, they had gotten a bite to eat with Jake and Taylor, but never once in the six months of their time together as a couple, had Sammie gone to dinner with Logan’s whole friend group.
Kinda want Chinese
Logan then sent over an emoji of a shocked face. He was relieved Shelly wasn’t suggesting tacos.
Chinese, yes please!
OK. Should we invite Bethany?
The question was a boulder on Sammie’s shoulders. Her eyes blurred over from staring at the screen so intently. She pressed her lips together. During her lunch hour she scrolled through the photos of Tyler’s cover photo options, Shelly’s Weekly Affirmations, and her own texts checking in on everyone. The room had gone cold around her when noticed immediately that the chain included six people. Sammie began to click on the bubble with all of their names to read through and check for Bethany, just as a text came in.
No, Taylor will be there.