“For the last time, Ryan, stop moving the plate! It was perfect just where it was two seconds ago,” Misha said.
“Okay, okay,” Ryan said, taking two deep breaths, “I’m just over-thinking this, right?”
Misha looked at him softly, thinking about the last time she heard him ask this question, which was just about ten minutes ago.
“Probably, yes. But if I was the one constructing a fancy-fancy dinner from scratch for my boss, well, I would have been way worse than you are right now,” she said.
Ryan sighed. He gave the table a quick glance, and saw that the time to welcome their guests was nearing. His boss would be in the driveway with his wife at eight o’clock, sharp, just like he always was in the office. Ryan, on the other hand, was always late to office. It had been more than five months since he had joined the new company, and he tried his best to make a good impression on him. But somehow things failed to come into fruition.
So, one day, a good friend and colleague suggested that he ask the boss, Mr. Pitt, to come to his house for dinner. Ryan thought it wasn’t a bad idea, but he wasn’t confident in the beginning. He talked the matter over with Misha, and she agreed with his colleague. “It would be a good time to let him know about you and vice-versa,” she had said, encouraging him to do it.
And here they were, three weeks later, a great fine dining experience ready for the boss. Misha had helped him cook the perfect chicken-with-mushroom risotto, complete with the best bottle of Chardonnay that they could manage to buy. Ryan could smell the chicken at the door, where he waited for his boss.
At one second to the eighth hour of the evening, a black Mercedes drove into the house. Ryan, who was giving the dinner table one last glance, turned to the door and called Misha to be by her side for welcoming the boss and his wife.
Misha looped her hand around Ryan’s, and they stood at the door with a smile. Mr. and Mrs. Pitt stepped out of the car and walked down the path to the door. However, something seemed amiss amongst the couple, although neither Misha nor Ryan could make out what the matter was. Still, they said their greetings to each other with as warm a smile they could manage. The guest couple returned the smile.
“Please, come in, Mrs. Pitt,” Misha said.
Ryan set the pillows straight for Mr. Pitt to sit comfortably, while Misha brought a tray with two glasses of water.
“Please, have some water, Mr. Pitt,” Ryan said, and handed a glass to him.
“Is this sparkling water?” Mr. Pitt uttered the first words of the evening.
Misha looked at Ryan with a questioning look.
“Um, sparkling wate—”
Ryan looked at Misha. He feared that he might not have passed the first test with enough marks. She, however, was determined to not let her husband fail without even trying. So she decided to strike a conversation with the boss’s lady.
“Oh, Mrs. Pitt, that’s such a beautiful necklace!” she gave a genuine look of admiration to Mrs. Pitt.
“Ah, this one? Mr. Pitt’s assistant had purchased this for me last year,” she said, causing a look of concern to flash over Misha’s face, and then continued, “for our wedding anniversary, you see. She has a great taste in jewellery than my husband himself.”
This statement made Mr. Pitt cough up a little, as if signaling her to change the topic. He then turned to Ryan.
“So, Ryan. Tell me, what has the office grapevine told you about me that you don’t already know?”
“Well sir, it’s not really huge,” Ryan shrugged his shoulders, but as he saw Mr. Pitt’s face, he understood that the question was serious. “Um, we mostly talk about the day’s meals and jobs, and whatnot. The usual topics.”
“Uh-huh. I’m sure I am the main topic of concern though,” he said, and followed it with a laugh. Ryan simply smiled.
“Shall we eat, then?” Misha asked, to Ryan’s relief.
Everyone stepped out of the living area and seated themselves at the dining table. Two of the head chairs were left unoccupied. Misha had made sure every dish, cutlery and sauce was within everybody’s reach. She poured wine for Mr. and Mrs. Pitt, and sat down beside Ryan.
Mrs. Pitt was left astounded at the soft and flavorful chicken, and she voiced a satisfied ‘mm’. Mr. Pitt, on the other hand, had not yet started eating. As soon as he heard his wife’s voice, he looked at her glaringly.
“Now that’s a fine piece of chicken, I must say. The risotto has blended in so perfectly, Misha! How did you do it?”
Before Misha could reply, Mr. Pitt cut in.
“Wait, wait. Let me bring in a notepad, so that you could take some cooking notes from the young lady, Mrs. Pitt,” he said.
Misha couldn’t bring herself to respond to this discourse. She simply ate another spoon of the creamy risotto and wiped her small mouth. When she heard Mrs. Pitt’s reply, she knew exactly what was brewing in the dining room.
“But I’m sure Ryan here must have helped her out, didn’t you, Ryan? Misha told me how helpful you were with the setting down of the cutlery, and the marinating of the chicken. She also told me how you took care of putting these beautiful flowers in the middle of the table. How helpful! Not every husband does this, you know?”
Ryan stuttered something incoherent. Misha tried to pry the bottle of wine away from the sight of the guests, for fear of an increased alcohol intake crept up her heart. It would mean more meaningless drama.
Mr. Pitt finished his glass of wine and placed it on the table with a thump. “More wine, please, Ryan.” Misha cursed silently.
“Yes, Misha. More wine for me too. After the long day that I have had with my difficult husband, I could definitely use some good quality wine,” Mrs. Pitt reasoned.
This was Mr. Pitt’s boiling point. His face became flushed with anger, and he creased his brows together.
“Difficult husband?” he leaned in to his wife as he spoke, “I am the difficult one? Who are you then?”
“I’m sure there must—”
“What did I ever do to be difficult, Bailey? Did I ever ask you to bring more money? Was I ever complaining about your late nights?” Mrs. Pitt said.
“My late nights? What do you mean? That I work late at nights on purpose?” Mr. Pitt was almost shouting now.
It was as if neither of them heard Ryan. Misha placed her hand over Ryan’s wrist, telling him to remain silent. But they couldn’t be watching his boss fight with his wife, at their house, when he had just invited them for a simple dinner. He was supposed to be impressing his boss, but things had taken an altogether different turn.
Misha watched the couple in deep thought. The more she thought about the events of the day, about how Ryan had spent half the afternoon in the kitchen helping her make the risotto after taking half a day’s leave from the office, how he didn’t want her to do everything on her own, and how he had kept arranging and re-arranging the cutlery more than fifty times. She remembered his anxious face as they had gone over more than ten recipes to decide which one would suit the famous boss and his famous wife. And she couldn’t help herself when she let out a laugh.
Everybody turned to her as soon as she laughed. The fighting couple looked at her in astonishment, and then turned their faces away in embarrassment. Ryan looked at her, a small anger creeping in his eyes. Her eyes went wide, as if shrugging at him.
“What?” she asked in a low voice. “To think that we were worried about being the most embarrassing couple in the room this evening…”