My girlfriend Freya sees the future. There are certain advantages to dating a clairvoyant. It’s not as straightforward as either of us would like it to be. “It’s less vision, more feeling,” she explained three months into our relationship when she first told me about her gift. I took the surprise of it well and then asked if she’d known that I would, and she laughed and said she had a feeling, and it was never clear if she meant one of her psychic feelings or just the plain intuitive feelings everyone gets.
We haven’t won the lottery or changed the world or anything. I’ve come to understand it like this: Her gift lets us know how to be in the right place at the right time and how to avoid the wrong place at the wrong time. A week ago, she knew that if I left my bike on a certain corner outside the restaurant where I serve that it would get stolen. I didn’t warn the bartender, Nick, not to lockup his bike on that corner, and he suffered the fate originally intended for me. I don’t like Nick much. Like I said, there are certain advantages to dating a clairvoyant.
Four hours ago, she texted me not to meet my best friend Blair tonight. I didn’t have plans with Blair at all yet, but Blair isn’t really a plans girl, and I like that about her. We have twinned tendencies for impulsivity. Blair bartends at the restaurant between film gigs, and when we work shifts together, post-work glasses of wine have been known to stretch into bottles of wine into cocktail recipe testing—Blair loves a good boozy experiment—into shots into bar-hopping, pool shooting, sidewalk dancing, table dancing, party til the sunrise honey-dips the skyline fuckery. Freya used to join us for some of these all-nighters, but she quickly grew tired of them, especially when she had to wake up the next day to go to her early morning job at the bakery around the corner from our apartment. More and more often, she had bad feelings about Blair. This morning was far from the first time she warned me not to see or talk to my best friend. There’s a part of me that thinks she just doesn’t like Blair. Blair who has known me at my most selfish and most self-destructive. Blair who sees me as piercingly as a premonition.
“All your friends are just drinking buddies,” Freya accused once. I slept at Blair’s that night out of spite. I wondered if Freya already knew that I would. I’m always wondering if she knows precisely when I’m going to fuck up. She apologized for the dig at my friends, but keeps her distance from Blair.
The explicit ban on seeing my friend makes me want to see my friend. I’ve been pushing back on Freya’s good and bad feelings more and more, either explicitly not taking her advice or, worse, putting myself intentionally in precarious positions to see if her gift will save me. The latter impulse comes with alcohol. Like the time Freya took me to a party with her friends, who I mostly like but who also reminisce way too much about shared college stories for me to ever really feel like part of the group, and I premeditated a plan to drunkenly argue with her best friend. I wanted to know if Freya would have a feeling about the party and say we should leave before it could happen. She didn’t. She let me shout at Gina about who even remembers what; Gina’s stuck-up and easy to fight with. Then again, maybe Freya did know the night would sour and just didn’t want to stop it.
It’s my day off, and honestly, meeting up with Blair someplace is the exact thing I’d like to do. It’s well after noon, and Freya will be home from work soon, but I’m just now making breakfast, frying up eggs in leftover bacon grease, topping them with matchsticked scallions and chili crisp. There’s coffee leftover in the glass pour-over pitcher from before dawn when Freya made it, and I pour it over ice with cream.
I haven’t answered Freya’s text yet. I’m about to when I see she’s typing.
I’m serious. It will sound like a nice time, but it won’t be.
I put my phone back down. Yes, there are certain advantages to dating a clairvoyant, but there are certain annoyances, too. She’s always talking in broad strokes like this. A nice time, but it won’t be. Once again, I wonder if the prediction is even real or if she just wants to drive a bigger and bigger wedge between me and Blair.
I have my eggs and coffee on the couch in the living room and watch my phone light up. Three more texts from Freya. Then, like clockwork, one from Blair. I read Blair’s first.
Bitch you’re never going to believe our dinner plans tonight
Again, Blair and I don’t have dinner plans tonight. But just like that, she decides that we do. I know she wants me to respond before the big reveal, so I do.
Franco said we can come to the restaurant after closing and have a fucking PRIVATE DINNER PARTYYYYY!!!! he’ll cook for us and pop bottles!!!! don’t have to bring anything! Freya can come too
So this was it, the invite Freya had warned about. Only, I can barely think about that, because I’m recalling Blair telling me her boyfriend Franco’s family owns one of the oldest Italian restaurants in the city. A private after-hours dinner party in an old-school red sauce restaurant. It’s some Hollywood shit. It could be one of those magical moments that brought me to the city in the first place, the kind Blair and I are always chasing. I’m hungry for it.
I read Freya’s texts next.
Are you up?
Have you talked to Blair at all?
Just a heads up that I am meeting up with Gina and some other people tonight out at her new house and might just crash there so I don’t have to take the train back late. Do you want to come?
I don’t even pretend to weigh my options. I text Blair back and tell her I’ll be there. I’ll come up with something to tell Freya.
You’re hanging out with your best friend and I’m hanging out with mine it’s as simple as that
That’s how I put things to Freya after letting her know I wouldn’t be joining her out to the suburbs to spend time with her snobby friends. At least I didn’t lie. It would have been easy to lie. Besides, I’m pretty sure she hatched plans at Gina’s house as a way to lure me as far as she could from Blair tonight since she certainly knows how impulsive I can be when I’m told not to do something, so she’s the one being manipulative. She’d replied with one of her wispy clairvoyant statements, something about it not being simple, nothing ever is, choices and ripple effects and blah blah blah. Then she called the dinner party cursed and didn’t text me again.
The sun’s down now, and I’m back in bed killing time before I have to meet up with Blair at a restaurant down the street from Franco’s for drinks while Franco’s closing up shop. I keep thumbing open my texts with Freya wondering if she’ll text more or if I should. I know we’re both being stubborn about merging our friend groups, that it’s something that should’ve happened by now, two years into living together. But I told her early on, right away actually, that I need my independence. That I need to not feel tethered to her or I’ll lose it. Separate friends isn’t so bad. In fact, I think it’s pretty healthy of us. And she’s a clairvoyant. Wouldn’t she know if our relationship were doomed?
I’d given her the option to join, but just like we both knew I would choose Blair, we both knew she would choose Gina. As a last-minute assurance, I told her I’d bring Russ. She likes Russ. Russ is safe. He’s called cars for me a million times when my phone was dead, always makes sure I get home safe. He works a boring office job and has extreme dad energy. If Freya’s worried about me getting into any trouble with Blair, Russ is a pretty solid trouble buffer.
I should get ready to go out, but I send one last text to Freya first.
I think everything will be fine. It’s just dinner. If anything goes wrong, I’ll let you know
She texts back immediately.
I already told you things will go wrong.
When I get to the first stop, I’m shocked to see Blair already posted up at the marble bar in the front of the restaurant. I love my best friend, but she’s perpetually late. She’s probably nervous about me meeting Franco, and she should be.
One thing Freya and I do agree on when it comes to Blair is that she has horrible taste in men. My tragically straight best friend loves charming demons. Freya and I often joke that Blair’s gift is the opposite of clairvoyance: She ignores all signs always. Blair recently told us she’s seeing someone new, and no one needed psychic abilities for Freya and I to have matching senses of dread. What fresh hell would this new guy bring into Blair’s life?
Blair’s sitting all the way at the edge of a bar stool, both arms on the marble top, already chatting it up with the woman behind the bar. Blair’s wearing an emerald wrap dress with a slit all the way up to her knee, which bounces while she talks. She’s got costume jewelry on. Earrings so big they look like beacons beckoning me toward her. And a necklace that sprawls across her sternum like a glittering web. It was her idea to dress up for dinner, and I followed suit with a suit, the velvet burgundy one I wore for my first anniversary dinner with Freya. Freya loves the suit, thumbed the velvet just above my wrist throughout dinner and didn’t seem to realize she was doing it. It’s cute when she gets lost in her own head. Except when I’m trying to talk to her, which happens a lot.
Blair throws her arms around me the second I approach and rubs her body against the velvet making oohs and ahhs at my look. She introduces me to the bartender Karissa and there’s no way to know if they’ve known each other for years or just met tonight. Blair’s good at making friends.
I eye Blair’s half-finished negroni and order one for myself, light on the vermouth, the way Blair likes them, too.
“Freya sends her regards,” I say. Karissa sets my drink down, an extra large ice cube swirling around in its red-orange pool. “But Russ is excited.”
Blair doesn’t know about Freya’s gift. It’s not my secret to tell. But a part of me wants to tell her that our dinner is supposedly cursed. Blair would love that shit. She’d probably lean into it, try to summon the devil or something.
“It’s better this way anyway,” Blair says, and I’m not really sure what she means, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Blair isn’t Freya’s biggest fan. Freya isn’t always good at hiding her judgement.
We order second drinks. I check my phone one last time before putting it away for good. Nothing from Freya or from Russ, who’s going to meet us at Franco’s because he wanted to power nap between work and meeting up. I guess not everyone is built for a post-midnight dinner. Blair and I are practically nocturnal. Most people at our restaurant are. Karissa brings over our negronis, plus three shot glasses that she pours an amber liquid into.
“Cardamaro,” Karissa says. “Something sweet before your big dinner.” We cheers and down the syrupy-thick drink, and I immediately warm all over. I feel good. Freya’s feeling could have been about anything, I think. She can’t always distinguish between the really bad things and the kind of bad things. Her gift is powerful, but it’s imprecise. She herself describes her feelings as clouds. Or mist maybe? Something that can’t be held. It could be about anything. It could be as simple as me noticing how hot Karissa is and my mind wandering to her peeling off my blazer and unbuttoning my shirt and licking my neck. Maybe her bad feeling was merely about me mentally cheating. It could be as harmless as that.
Blair and I walk arm-in-arm up the block to Franco’s family’s restaurant. An old sign hangs in the front, NICOLETTA’S spelled out in painted red letters. I’ve passed this place many times but never been inside. It’s always busy and looks expensive in that old-school way, one of the city’s icons that can get away with charging whatever because part of the experience is merely stepping across the threshold.
Russ stands beneath the sign, wearing a gray wool coat. It’s chilly enough that the restaurants have all put their vestibules up, interrupting the sidewalk. But it’s not quite cold enough for Blair and I to wear coats ourselves. We always put off coat-wearing as long as we can into the season. We like being able to move freely. Plus, I’ve accidentally lost costly coats by leaving them behind at bars. Plus, a couple of negronis is as good as a coat.
Hours before, some of the vestibules would have been lit up with candles to light the way for diners. But it’s one in the morning now and most of them have closed up shop. Karissa let us stay past closing, the manager and servers bustling around us as they went through the mechanics of shutting down the place. I tried not to think about the fact that I have work tomorrow.
Russ swoops me into a hug and then goes for Blair, who doesn’t put her arms around him and slithers out of the hug quickly. It’s a weird move for her. She’s known for giving too-long hugs. But Russ doesn’t notice and instead turns to me.
“I see you two got a head start,” he says, and we must look a little tipsy, which we are. I punch him in the arm, and Blair guides us into Nicoletta’s.
All the lights are off in the front of the restaurant, but the narrow space that makes up the main dining room glitter-glows with flickering pillar candles. The chairs have been put up on the tables, and framed photos line the walls, smiling faces of diners through the years blinking in the candlelight, and I’m not gonna lie, it does look a little haunted. But in a delightful way. Bring on the curse, Freya. I feel the excitement of the evening’s potential already humming in me as we follow Blair. The back opens up to a private dining room. A round table has been set in the middle of the room, which flickers with more candles and a massive chandelier giving off dim, warm light. A vase sits in the table’s center full of orange and peach roses, yellow puffs of craspedia, goldenrods, and spidery blue thistle. The arrangement looks like a burst of sparks. The walls of the back dining room are blood red, and an iron wine cage towers to our left. Music pipes in overhead, the kind of stuff Blair likes, old jazz and crooning voices.
Franco emerges from a hidden staircase in the corner. He clasps his hands together and flour dusts off like snow. He has dark hair and wears a cream apron. He smiles as he walks to me and goes in for a hug.
“Jess, it’s nice to finally meet you,” he says
He turns to Russ and shakes his hand. “Sorry, Blair told me your name and I’ve already forgotten.” Franco waves his floured hands in an apology.
“Russ. I’m Jess’ plus one for the evening. This place! It’s your family’s?”
Franco nods and tells us about his grandmother Nicoletta who never lived in the U.S. but whose recipes make the menu’s foundation. It sounds extremely rehearsed, like a nightly spiel for tourists who come in. He must be nervous. Blair watches him the whole time in wonder, and I recognize the look. She easily charms, but she’s also so easily charmed.
Russ is in full dad mode already asking questions about the restaurant’s history and Franco’s family, and Blair and I make our way to the table, drawn to the food that’s already on it. All we’ve had tonight is drinks. She calls out to Franco and gestures to the table, and he clasps his hand together again and hurries over.
“Yes, let’s get started!” Franco says, and the three of us sit while he continues his script. “Let’s keep it casual,” Franco says. “I’m going a little off book tonight. You can start with this.” He points to the salad bowl in the middle of the table. Next to it, a wedge of parmesan sits on a blue ceramic plate with a small grater. Franco tells us he’ll be up and down the stairs that lead to the kitchen all night but to make ourselves at home, eat things as they come out, request anything we like. It still feels like he’s acting a part, but he’s good at it. And then he’s gone again.
The table’s already been set with wine glasses and a chilled bottle of lambrusco, and I snap into server mode, uncorking the wine and pouring for everyone. Blair heaps salad onto everyone’s plates, shaving cheese on top.
“Exceptional service!” Russ jokes.
We all cheers and take big swigs of the bubbly wine before digging in. The salad is simple. Arugula and watercress dressed in lemon and coarse salt. It’s bright and bitey, and the sweetness of the wine softens it. I look up from my plate and realize Blair and Russ are laughing at me.
“You have that look,” Blair says.
“No one looks at food like you,” Russ adds.
I wipe a stray piece of parmesan off my chin and smile. “I know. Freya always says my food face looks more like an orgasm face than my orgasm face looks like an orgasm face,” I say.
Russ laughs, but Blair doesn’t, which is weird. She’s definitely acting weird tonight. Maybe something’s wrong. She’ll tell me by the end of the lambrusco bottle probably.
Franco resurfaces with several small plates. “Some more snacks,” he says. “We have a lot of courses.”
“How many?” I ask, and he just winks.
He sets down the plates. Fat white-bellied anchovies with charred peppers drizzled in olive oil. Baked littleneck clams stuffed with breadcrumbs, herbs, and red pepper flakes. Tuna and cannellini bean salad with diced red onion. Fried zucchini blossoms. It’s enough food for a party twice our size and apparently there’s much more to come. He walks over to the wine cage and pulls something out. Blair squeezes my leg.
“Doesn’t this feel special?” she asks, all breathy. I squeeze her back. It does.
Franco returns with a bottle of Barolo and an empty wine glass and turns it toward me.
“Want to do the taste?” he asks.
I nod and look at Blair, who’s thrilled. Franco opens the wine and pours a splash. He hands me the glass.
I do it the way Freya taught me. I look at the wine, tilting the glass away from me over my white cloth napkin so I can better see its color and legs. I tilt it back toward me and sniff. I take a small sip and chew it, letting the wine touch every part of my mouth. I take a second sip. It’s delicious, but to be honest, I’m drunk enough that I know I’m not really discerning any of the nuances of the wine. The tasting was more of a performance. We’re all leaning into the pomp of the evening.
When we first started dating, Freya was studying to be a sommelier. Freya loved to talk about how pastrywork wasn’t all that different from winework. It’s about the layers, she said. But not long after I met her, she abruptly halted her somme studies. Later, she told me it had something to do with one of her feelings. I wondered if she was using her gift as an excuse to quit something she was afraid of failing at.
I let Franco know that the wine is perfect, and he pours for the rest of us.
“Hey man, sit with us,” Russ implores, but Franco holds up his hands.
“It’s my pleasure to cook,” he says. He heads back downstairs, and we dig in. I eat the anchovies with my hands. Their oils slick my fingers. I plunge a spoon into the clams and scoop out their salty good insides. I can’t tell yet if Franco is as bad as the rest of the guys Blair finds, but the guy can cook, that’s for sure.
Blair asks me to come explore the wine cage with her, and I hop up to join. Russ overpours himself a glass of the barolo, killing the bottle.
“We’ll bring some back,” Blair says. “I know which ones we’re allowed to open.”
At the wine cage, Blair and I both pull off random bottles to look at them. I’m full of food but ready for more. More of everything. The wine, the food, all of it. This is a night for indulgence.
“Hey, so, kinda awkward, but I may have sorta told Franco you and Russ are like together together,” Blair says. It feels like a slap.
“He just kind of freaked about Russ coming, and it was easier to tell him that. Especially since Freya isn’t here.”
“Why would he freak about Russ coming?” My hands start to shake, so I place the bottle I’m holding back in its spot. I get a bad feeling in my core and wonder if that’s how it feels for Freya. But isn’t that a feeling everyone gets sometimes? Is clairvoyance just heightened intuition?
“He just always assumes every guy I hang out with is an ex,” Blair explains. Only it isn’t much of an explanation.
Blair does hang out with her exes a lot, which I hate, because they’re all jerks who try to get her back by pretending they’ve changed. She hangs out with a lot of men in general, which isn’t always my favorite thing. Russ is my only real guy friend, and I’ve known him since high school. But Franco taking issue with Blair having guy friends has a different flavor to it. It sits soured in my mouth, and I swear I can feel the anchovies coming back to life, swimming around in my belly. I should slow down on the drinks, but Blair’s weird lie just makes me want to drink more, to push through it. I don’t want Freya to be right about this dinner.
“Capeeeesh?” Blair says in an exaggerated voice, trying to make light of it all. Like she often does. Like I like her to do.
“I’m not gonna like hold Russ’ hand or anything,” I say.
“Of course not! You don’t need to do anything at all! Just maybe don’t talk about Freya or whatever,” she says, selecting a bottle of montepulciano.
I follow her back to the table, not sure what to say, desperate for more wine. I definitely don’t want to talk about Freya tonight regardless. But now this all feels like an even bigger betrayal. Blair hands the wine to me. I uncork it and take a swig straight from the bottle myself before pouring for her and Russ. Franco did say it was a casual dinner after all.
Blair goes downstairs to check on Franco, and I contemplate telling Russ what she just unloaded on me, but he talks first.
“It’s too bad Freya couldn’t be here,” he says. Some breadcrumbs from the stuffed clams stick to his lips, making him look like he kissed sand.
“What? Oh, yeah.” I realize I haven’t looked at my phone in a while and pull it out of my pocket, but there’s nothing from Freya, so I set it on the table face-down.
“It’s a lovely night, but she would liven up the conversation a bit,” Russ says. “If you know what I mean,” he adds.
I don’t really know what he means, so I push, pouring more wine for both of us.
“Blair’s fun, but it always feels so surface-level, you know?” he says, and the way his voice hitches at the end makes me realize he’s tipsy, finally caught up to the rest of us.
“What are you talking about?” I ask, ready to get defensive the way I often have to do about Blair.
“Never mind,” Russ says.
“No, tell me, what exactly do you mean? You’re talking shit about my best friend,” I say.
“You’ve known her for like less than five years,” Russ says.
Freya’s judgments about Blair have always been obvious, but it’s the first I’m hearing from Russ on the matter. He’s not wrong about the timeline. Blair hasn’t been in my life that long technically. But in that time, she saw me through two bad breakups. Both of which were completely my fault, but Blair never made me feel like shit for it. And once Blair came into my life, it was like she’d always been there, like she was the voice in my head always pushing me to be spontaneous, to take risks, to go with my gut. Sometimes it got me in trouble. Sometimes Blair gets me in trouble. But I can’t imagine life any other way. I need unpredictability. I need to never know exactly what’s coming next. Fuck, I’m drunk.
Before I can get into it with Russ more, Blair reappears, the dreamy smile she’s been wearing all night wiped away.
“What’s up?” I ask as she sits.
She mutters something about Franco and her phone and a password, and I can’t make it all out, and then Franco’s with us once more, his apron removed to reveal a tight black t-shirt underneath and gray jeans. In his arms, he carries four new plates.
“I’ve got more work to do down there, but I thought I’d join for this course,” he says.
“Hell yeah, man, I was hoping you could get off your feet,” Russ says eagerly. Maybe he hopes Franco will provide the deep conversation he’s apparently craving.
Franco sets the plates in front of each of us. On each of them sits a long, curled octopus tentacle. I half-expect mine to wriggle. The tentacle is fiery red, flecked black with char marks. I’m barely listening to the chatter of the other three while I cut into it with my knife. The skin snaps crispy at first, but then my knife slides through like butter. Oh fuck, this is going to be good. I slide the bite through a creamy orange sauce that dollops the plate and pop it into my mouth. It’s smoky and salty and perfectly cooked. I hack more off the tentacle and, before it’s even gone, I long for more.
Everyone’s making fake orgasm sounds about the octopus, and Blair pretends to lick her plate clean. She disappears to the candle-lit front of the restaurant and returns with concoctions for everyone. Some sort of amaro cocktail that’s slightly effervescent and tastes like winter.
Suddenly we’re talking about masturbation, and I make the same joke I always do, that no one fucks me like me, or something like that, but it doesn’t come out right, but everyone laughs anyway.
“Don’t you guys think it’s like a little weird to think about the person you’re dating when you’re jerking off though?” Blair asks. “I mean isn’t the whole point that it’s a fantasy?”
“I don’t really think about anyone in particular,” Russ says.
I’m surprised he’s not more uncomfortable with the conversation. Blair and I talk about sex all the time, but it doesn’t really go with Russ’ dad vibe. Then again, I haven’t seen Russ this drunk in years.
“Maybe some hazy images from porn or something,” he adds.
I remember the conceit of the night. That Russ and I are supposedly here together. And I wonder why Blair would wander into such dangerous territory talking about sex when she’s the one spinning this big lie. Then again, I wouldn’t be surprised if she forgot her own lie. It’s not the first time I’ve experienced Blair off-handedly lying, but it’s the first time I know of that I’ve been at the center of it.
“Well who do you think about?” I ask Franco.
“Blair of course,” he says.
I guess that’s something Franco and I have in common. Not that I exclusively think about my best friend when I get off. But it has happened. A few times. Maybe more than a few. It’s not like I do it on purpose; these images just wiggle their way in. Blair on her knees. Blair’s tongue on me. Blair’s tits, which I’ve seen in real life plenty of times because Blair’s the type to just change an outfit in front of anyone without even really thinking about it. Even Freya’s seen Blair’s tits, and she didn’t seem to mind.
“That’s weird!” Blair says, and I worry she somehow read my thoughts until I realize she’s talking about Franco.
“I think it’s how it should be,” Franco says. “Do you really want me thinking of other girls?”
“It’s not like it’s cheating,” Blair says.
It’s starting to sound like the continuation of a previous argument for them. Freya and I do that, too. Poll our friends when we have disagreements. It’s tricky when we can’t really talk about her gift though. I love that we share this secret, but it’s a burden, too.
Blair’s standing now, walking around the dining room with a glass of wine in hand and her phone in the other. I can’t even remember what varietal we’re drinking anymore, but I drink more from my glass and study Franco. The thing about all the assholes Blair dates is that I never actually see them angry, but I know they’re capable of it. I’ve seen it in Blair, the way she talks, in her eyes, on her body. I’ll tell her I’m having some communication problems with Freya, and she’ll tell me a guy threw a mug against her kitchen wall like it’s at all the same thing.
Franco says something about Blair helping him with the pasta, and then the two are gone again, and it’s just me and Russ. Blair’s poured us another mini cocktail, and this one has a kick to it. Blair’s always making drinks that taste like a punch to the face. Her favorite concoction is all fresh ginger and hot pepper and mezcal. We call it the Blair Flare, and it absolutely lights you up.
I feel restless.
“Let’s explore,” I say to Russ. We take our drinks to the front of the restaurant where the candles still burn. I notice wax dripping onto part of the wood bar and know it’s going to be a bitch to clean up, almost head behind the bar to get a warm rag before deciding to just let someone else deal with it.
“Do you get bad vibes from Franco?” I ask.
Russ shakes his head. “He’s a cool guy,” he says. “And this food is unreal.”
Maybe Russ has been talking to Franco more than I have tonight. All I’ve really seen is the performance. But I know there’s something off about the way Blair is with him.
“I’m kind of pissed at Blair,” I say.
Russ looks confused. His head tilts back and forth like he’s trying to parse something out, and the shadows shift on his face. God, there are so many damn candles in here. And every time I look at Russ, he looks drunker.
“I thought we were all having nice time,” he says. He’s slurry now. Are we all this messy?
“I thought you wanted more depth,” I throw back.
“Yeah, sorry, that was a dick thing to say.”
He leans his arm against the bar next to us, and I tell him about Blair’s lie, and he laughs, and it’s loud, echoing in the empty part of the restaurant. I want to go back to the dining room now, but I don’t move. Despite all the candles, it’s chilly, and I feel frozen in place. I laugh with Russ.
“Absurd, right?” I ask.
He stops laughing and tilts his head oddly again. Maybe he’s having trouble staying awake. We’re hours past his bedtime.
“I mean it’s not that absurd,” he says.
“You think it’s okay for Franco to control Blair like that?”
“No, I mean you and me, it’s not like it’s that fucking crazy,” he says, and I’m not sure what he’s trying to say at all, and then I’m unfrozen and bolting back to the private dining room, because I think Russ just tried to kiss me. No, I know it. His head stopped leaning side to side and instead leaned directly toward me, close enough for me to smell the food and the wine on his breath, close enough that if I’d leaned in at all myself or even fucking slipped then my lips would be on his, but instead I’d leaned away and shouted something, maybe what the fuck or maybe fuck you, and then I turned and ran, and now I’m back in the red-walled dining room, looking at our table full of dirty plates and food scraps and wondering how I can get out of the next course, how many courses could there possibly be? But when I palm the table looking for my phone, it isn’t there, and then Blair and Franco are walking up the stairs again, brandishing full plates.
Russ is the one who comes up with an out. Just as Blair and Franco reemerge, he does, too, hurrying over to the table for his coat and giving a rushed monologue about needing to get home, about needing to be up early. Blair’s trying to stop him. Getting people to stay for one more hour, two more songs, three more drinks is a gift of hers. But Russ is insistent, and I’m furious that he’s the one who gets to dramatically flee. Franco doesn’t join Blair in trying to get him to stay. He seems pleased that Russ is leaving. Maybe her lie didn’t hold up after all.
And then Russ is gone, and I feel like I have a million things I want to say but can’t, and Blair, Franco, and I are eating mafaldini with tomato sauce creamed pink and drinking more and chatting as if Russ had never been here at all. Someone has turned the music up. We’re all talking as loud as if we were in a full restaurant instead of an empty one in the middle of the night. The pasta is so fucking good, as good as fucking, and I’m happy Russ is gone but what the fuck was that?
“Has anyone seen my phone?” I ask, mouth full of pasta, and Blair says it’s in my pocket, but it isn’t, and Franco’s busy talking up the final course, the massive grilled bass that will melt in our mouth and that’s slathered with his grandmother’s secret sauce. I need to find my phone, but the way Franco talks about food sure has a rapturous sound to it. Like he’s casting a spell.
Then he’s gone again, and Blair spins me around the dining room in a haphazard waltz. Despite all the food, I feel light on my feet. I won’t think about Russ. He’s an idiot. It doesn’t make sense, what he did. Where the hell did that even come from? I won’t think about Russ.
I focus on Blair. She’s freed her hair from its loose braid, and it hangs around her, swaying as we move. Her dress has pasta sauce on it, and I thumb it off and then suck my thumb, and that makes us both laugh so hard that we have to lower ourselves to the ground. We’re laying on the floor of the restaurant, and I know neither of us cares how ridiculous we look, and this is one of the things I love about Blair the most. She embraces mess. Even when I’m the mess.
“Freya can see the future,” I say. Low to the ground, it feels like we’re alone in the world. It feels briefly safe. We hook our heads in each other’s shoulders. The chandelier above looks like an exploding star.
“Of course she can,” Blair says.
“No really,” I say. I need her to hear me. Instead, she switches subjects. I can never keep up with her.
“Franco thinks he should have my phone passcode,” she says.
“Because I have his,” she says. “Because he doesn’t want there to be any walls.”
“How do you have his?” I ask.
I feel her shoulder press up against mine in a shrug.
“He gave it to me. I wanted to check the weather or something and didn’t have mine. But I think he gave it to me on purpose. So he could turn around and ask for mine.”
“That’s manipulative,” I say.
“He’s mad,” she says.
I’m surprised, and then I’m not. Franco has seemed perfectly fine when upstairs with us, but who knows what he’s been like when it’s just him and Blair down below. The music’s loud enough that we can’t hear anything from down there. They could be screaming at each other. Hurting each other. Now that I’m thinking about it, every time Blair checks her phone at the table, Franco looks pissed.
I’m about to ask her more, but then Franco’s standing over us with his hands up, pantomiming taking a picture of us, and I’m not sure if it’s because we look stupid or beautiful. Blair flashes a smile and holds out her arm to be pulled up by him. I search for any signs of anger in his face, but he just looks amused. He offers to pull me up, too, but I wave away his hand in a way I hope isn’t too unfriendly and push myself up off the ground.
“I really need to find my phone,” I say, lifting dirty plates from the table.
I spot the finished fish set on the table. It’s magnificent, the stretch of its body flecked with herbs, white flesh peeking from beneath its surface where Franco has done little cuts to show off the insides.
“This one’s always on her phone, too,” Franco says. I don’t like the way he calls her this one. It’s too familiar and too dismissive all at once. Blair pours more wine, and I’m not sure what number bottle we’re on, and I know that drinking more is going to make it even harder to find my phone, but I take the glass from her anyway.
“Freya might have texted,” I say, still poking around for my phone.
“Who’s Freya?” Franco asks, and I answer honestly, say the words my girlfriend even though I haven’t actually forgotten about Blair’s lie. And it’s not that I want to out her as a liar to him necessarily, but maybe I also do. Hurt her back a little bit.
“I knew it,” Franco says. “I knew you were gay.” Only I think he may have thrown an extra word in there. Maybe said a gay, which is absolutely something I should raise hell about because where the hell does he get off making it sound like an accusation, like something wrong, but I’m too focused on finding my goddamn phone to push back. Blair asks if she should call it, maybe wanting something else to focus on, too. But it’s on silent and probably dead by now.
“I think I should go,” I say.
“You can’t,” Franco says, and I look up at him. He and Blair are already sitting down at the table, next to each other, looking in any other context like a gorgeous couple, both smiling, a little too widely, like they’re about to feast and I’m what’s on the platter. I look at them. Is he really saying I can’t leave? Should I make a run for it?
But then Franco says “the fish,” and I ease. Freya’s gotten in my head. Yeah, she was technically right about this dinner party being cursed, but my best friend and her boyfriend aren’t about to eat me. This isn’t some fucked-up fairytale. It’s just a shitty, messy, soured night of good food and bad vibes. And at this point, it can’t really get worse. Unless I never find my fucking phone.
“Let’s eat and then I can help you find it,” Blair says.
“The fish is getting cold,” Franco adds.
I sit, and then we’re eating the fish, scooping flesh from bone with big spoons. The food is the only thing that hasn’t gone wrong tonight. Franco has a gift of his own. And I wonder if he ever uses it to distract or deflect the way Freya sometimes uses hers. All day, I wondered if she’d lied about her prediction for this evening, wondered if she just wanted to keep me from Blair. Even now, I don’t want to tell her she’s right, and that helps me chill out about the phone. When I find it, I’m just going to have to talk to her, and then I’m going to have to either lie or tell the truth, and I can’t decide which is worse yet. The fish melts in my mouth, swimming in wine.
Blair changes the music to something newer, some humming synthy stuff that echoes off the walls. This whole night I’ve had trouble deciding what’s haunting and what’s lovely. An empty restaurant in the middle of the night. Romantic or haunted? I shouldn’t have gotten so drunk. I watch Blair start dancing again, and I watch Franco watching her, and I try to picture him mad, wonder if he throws things, wonder what the kitchen looks like down below. Is it too dark or too bright or just right? What did they say to each other down there?
And then Franco’s asking me how I’m getting home, says I can stay with them if I want, and I think you two don’t even live together. He hooks his lip up in a smile of sorts and announces that Blair’s moved in with him, and it’s news to me, but I also can’t remember the last time I went to Blair’s place, which is a different place from the one she was in just a few months ago. She moves a lot, but she always lands somewhere, has never asked to crash with me even though she knows I’d let her. It’s probably Freya that keeps her from ever asking.
“That’s okay,” I tell Franco. And I’m too tired to pick a fight with Blair for not telling me she moved in with him, especially in front of him, especially if it’s going to turn into a whole thing that gets him riled up or something. I like to keep Blair’s guys at arm’s length, try my best to stay out of the storms Blair makes for herself.
“It’s no problem at all,” Franco says, and now he sounds pushy, and I look at Blair for some help here, like why is her boyfriend trying to get me to stay over, and doesn’t she think that’s weird, and can’t she tell him to back off, but she’s in her own world, looking at the wine cage again, swaying a little too the music or because she’s too drunk to stand still, and when I look back at Franco, he’s holding up my phone.
“Found it!” he announces, and I reach for it.
“Where?” I ask. It’s warm. Like it’s been cooking. Like it’s been in someone’s pocket. He just shrugs and points to the floor.
There aren’t any texts or missed calls from Freya, and I’m annoyed, even though I hadn’t wanted to deal with her quite yet. If she was so sure the night would turn out bad, isn’t she worried? Didn’t she want to check in? There’s nothing from Russ either, and I wonder if he’ll ever acknowledge what happened or remember it the same way or remember it at all.
There’s a smudge of pink sauce on the phone, and I wipe it away, but it just smears more, a film of pink spreading across the photo I have as my background. One of Freya from a couple years ago, covered in flour and chocolate and laughing after making a mess in the kitchen while filling doughnuts she’d made from scratch. Her gift had told her to make the doughnuts. She woke up with a vision or a feeling or a cloud or whatever it is that she gets, and then she spent all morning rolling out dough and mixing ganache and deep frying the sweet little pillows. The whole kitchen was chocolate-dipped and sugar-powdered, and so were her face, hair, hands. The thick smell of oil hung in the air. We ate a doughnut a piece and then two more each. We ate doughnuts and drank milk all afternoon, and we should have felt sick to our stomachs, but we didn’t. We were practically drunk on sugar and mess, laughing every time we looked around the destroyed kitchen, and then we fucked in it, too, had sober daytime sex for the first time in a while, and then fucked some more in bed, and then that night, we sat on the roof and saw a shooting star. It shouldn’t have been possible, not in a city where lights drown out most stars and turn the night sky into a hazy, suffocating gray. But we both saw it, and we gasped. Right place right time. I asked her what would have happened if she hadn’t made the doughnuts, and she said we’d probably have fought about something stupid, and I asked if she knew that because of her gift or if it was just a guess anyone could have made, and instead of answering, she kissed me, all sugar-sweet. Even though we’d spent the whole day tasting each other, the kiss surprised me. I love a surprise. There are certain advantages to dating a clairvoyant, but I’d rather not know what’s coming next.
I slip the sauce-smudged phone in my pocket. It’s time to get the fuck out of here. I wonder if I’ll ever be back. I wonder how Blair will tell the story of tonight. I know it’ll be some chocolate-dipped, sugar-powdered version.
“Don’t go yet,” Blair says when I stand and try to begin my performance of thank yous and goodnights. She touches my arm, and then Franco touches hers, and I pull back as if he’d placed a hand on me.
“Don’t go,” he also says.
I should have left when Russ did. I shouldn’t have come at all. Blair tugs at my arm again, and I almost want to shout at her to let go, want to swat away my best friend and tell her to just go back to her fucking boyfriend’s apartment and stop getting her mess all over me.
“I’m leaving,” I say.
“Wait,” Blair says. She pulls my arm, hard. Or is it Franco’s hand on me? I feel trapped like I did with Russ.
“Wait,” Franco says now. “There’s still dessert.”