That Is NOT What Happened
“Don’t. Don’t do it. It always ends in some kind of disaster.”
Robert tried (not very hard) to keep his eyes from rolling, but after a decade of marriage, it had become a sort of Pavlovian response and Cecilia definitely saw it. He grabbed his Pop-Tart out of the toaster, tossing it from hand to hand. She didn’t look up, but he could sense her disapproval.
“They’re organic!” They were.
“You’ve been trying to set people up since college. You’re good at other things. Drop this.”
But Robert wasn’t going to drop it and they both knew it, so Cecilia went back to grading psychology midterms. She paused as a thought brushed across her eyes.
“If one of us has the qualifications to gauge the possibility of two humans connecting, don’t you think it would be me?” She pushed her glasses down on her nose to emphasize her professorial status and raised an eyebrow.
Robert took a bite of his Pop Tart, immediately burning his mouth, doing that thing where you try to suck in cold air to cool the situation.
“Look, we have two extra seats. Allison’s been bummed basically her whole adult life since Brian broke her heart at that party a million years ago. And Dylan is an awesome guy. We’ve been killing it since he joined the company. I have no idea why he doesn’t have a girlfriend.”
Cecilia pushed her glasses back up to a practical place on the bridge of her nose and frowned at the student who used the wrong form of “their,” sweeping her red pen with the flare of someone who is well aware of her power.
“Fine, invite them. But let them know it's a fundraiser and there’s an auction.”
The dinner in question was planned for a foundation that Robert and Cecilia volunteered for to get kids out into the wilderness. They each gave time in their own way, through accounting, organizing, and other solidly indoor endeavors. Robert was excited to help his new work friend meet a college friend who had recently moved to town. Cecilia still wasn’t having it.
“I want to go on record as saying this isn’t going to end well.”
“Great!” Robert hit ‘send’ on his Blackberry, inviting Allison and Dylan to the dinner. “It doesn’t matter. They’ll be a fun addition and they both love outdoorsy activities so it’s totally up their alley.”
Cecilia rolled her eyes at 'outdoorsy' and gave the paper a B. She paused, tilted her head to one side, mumbled something unintelligible, then added a “-.”
The restaurant hosting the dinner was one of those funky, old Italian places, the walls flickered with drippy candles, tables crammed together, mismatched chairs and checkered tablecloths. The food was family style and the tables themselves tiny, so it was a great place to be if you were dining with people whom you really liked. The opposite was also true.
Cecilia and Robert were the first ones to arrive and decided to sit across one another so Allison and Dylan could do the same at the square set-up. They placed their jackets on the back of their seats and Cecilia waved hello to the other volunteers. Allison showed up next, kissing Cecilia on the cheek and giving Robert a look.
“This is not a set-up, right? I can’t anymore. The D.C. dating scene is killing me and I’ve only been here for a month. I’m going to die with fourteen cats and my gravel bike and I’m honestly fine with that.”
“No,” Robert insisted, “Dylan is just a cool dude who’s been great to work with, is super outdoorsy like you, and we thought this would make for a fun night.”
Cecilia rolled her eyes at “outdoorsy.”
“Fine,” Allison said with a questioning smile and immediately flagged the waiter down for a martini. Then Dylan showed up.
Everyone was introduced, pleasantries exchanged, appetizers delivered, and then something totally unexpected happened.
Dylan told a joke and Allison laughed so hard the olive shot out of her mouth. Then he told another. The two of them wiped tears from their eyes from laughter. Robert shot Cecilia an “I told you so,” look and she just shrugged, genuinely confused.
The banter back and forth between Dylan and Allison was so Nora Ephron-esque that Cecilia wondered for half a second if they were being pranked. Dylan continued with a story about being at college at Columbia.
“No way!” Allison interjected, “I was at Barnard.” They discovered that were only a year apart in school. And that they had friends in common. Appetizers were cleared, more drinks served, and Robert sat quietly with a smile of a man who was both thoroughly enjoying being right and had some residual burns on his tongue from a certain breakfast pastry. Cecilia could not get over her shock. She threw Robert a sweet look. The auction started,
“We have a brand new Cannondale gravel bike, donated by Jeff’s Wheels, starting bid is $200, do I hear $250?”
Dylan raised his glass, “To new friends,” and everyone toasted. ‘Hey,” he squinted at Allison, “you weren’t at James Cho’s afterparty for the John Jay awards, were you?” Dylan was a little buzzed. Allison’s face immediately darkened. Robert’s face stiffened. Cecilia leaned in. Allison drained her martini.
Her face took on the look of a grandfather about to recite his best WWII story. “Yep. I was there with my boyfriend, Brian. We were planning on moving to LA together after graduation, doing Teach for America, and adopting two cats. But, somewhere during the night, I lost him. I figured he’d just passed out on a couch somewhere since we were both good friends with James. I looked for him everywhere, like absolutely everywhere-“ Allison grabbed a waiter by the arm- “I’ll have another one of these, please.” She turned back to the table, her face flushed, “and that’s when I went into the back bedroom. His clothes were all over the floor and there he was, in bed, with a man.”
The Auctioneer kept going, “Do I hear $400?”
Allison, sighed, shaking her head, ruminating for the millionth time how she didn’t see this coming all those years ago, how blind she could have been, how silly she was for planning a life with a person who wasn’t doing the same with her. She looked up at Dylan through her eyelashes, awaiting the sympathy that usually accompanied the telling of said story.
Dylan’s mouth went hard. He stood up and threw his napkin on the table, clearly struggling to keep his voice calm. A few patrons looked over.
"That's 450! What a night folks!" The auctioneer continued.
“That," spat Dylan, "is NOT what happened.” Allison, Robert, and even Cecilia’s eyes threatened to pop out of each one of their heads.
Dylan tried to storm out of the restaurant, navigating his way through the crowded tables.
“Do I hear $500? This man looks excited to bid.”
All eyes found their way to Dylan, desperately trying to escape the restaurant.
“What do you think, sir, $500 ?”
Dylan knocked into an old couple, pushing himself towards the exit, his face red with booze, embarrassment, and exasperation with life in general.
“Fine!” Dylan shouted, “I’ll take the fucking bike!” And stormed his way out of the restaurant.
Allison sat frozen with shock. Cecilia leaned back in her seat, her face a jumbled concoction of surprise, amusement, and utter bewilderment.
“Don’t say it,” Robert muttered.
“Well,” Cecilia swirled her wine, “now he has a gravel bike. So you have two things in common.”