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Two Proposals

by Deborah Rochford

Table of Contents
Table of Contents
parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

part 5

He peeked into the kitchen. Josh was sipping at his wine, gazing out the window. Drat Estelle anyway. No. Drat Susan. Why wasn’t she here, helping him, instead of running off to Florida? It was her job to take care of entertaining guests, not his. He made the money and she took care of everything else. That was only fair. Now what was he going to do? He felt completely out of his element.

He took a deep breath. He might as well get on with it. There was nothing else to be done. If he could run a damn bank then he could certainly take care of preparing a meal for himself and the young man sitting at his counter. He squared his shoulders and walked determinedly back into the kitchen. Josh turned around at the sound of his entrance.

“Well, Josh, it seems we are on our own. I’m not a very creative cook but I don’t suppose we will starve,” he said, trying to make light of the situation.

Josh stood up and walked over to stand across from Mr. Lawson. “I don’t mean to boast, Mr. Lawson, but I’m actually a pretty good cook,” Josh replied with a smile. “If you want to show me around your kitchen, I’d be glad to help you whip something up.”

Mr. Lawson was stymied. The boy was a guest at his house. It didn’t seem the correct thing to do to have a guest fix his own dinner. Besides, it put the two of them on a completely different footing. He didn’t want to feel any sort of obligation or personal connection to Josh in any way going into a business deal.

On the other hand, if he had been there alone, dinner would have been crackers and tuna with a small salad to add roughage. He felt exhausted to the core and couldn’t even begin to think what to fix for the two of them. He glanced over at Josh, wishing he had taken the boy up on his suggestion to talk over the proposal in a coffee shop or, better yet, had parted ways after the tour of the theatre, clearly a tactical error on his part.

What the hell. “That would be wonderful. Let’s look through the freezer and see what’s there.”

Josh took off his sport coat and rolled up his sleeves. They found a sack of chicken breasts, the kind Susan bought in large quantity from one of those warehouse type stores. Josh thawed the breasts in the microwave and then Mr. Lawson made a salad out of lettuce and carrots while Josh sautéed the breasts, along with a whole head of garlic, in olive oil. He seasoned the meat with tarragon, parsley, salt and pepper and covered the whole thing with some of the white wine. Josh turned the heat down and covered the pan. “Should be ready in about half an hour, sir.”

Mr. Lawson rubbed his hands together in anticipation. The chicken smelled divine. He finished off the last swallow of his wine and poured himself another glass. It had been over two weeks since he had sat down with anyone for dinner. He was surprised to find himself enjoying the company the boy provided. He looked for Josh’s glass to refill it, but it was still half-full.

“Would you like me to top that off for you?” Mr. Lawson asked, pointing the neck of the wine bottle toward the glass sitting next to the stove.

“No. Thank you, sir. My hotel is in Denver and I want a clear head when I get on the road tonight.”

Mr. Lawson nodded his approval. “Good thinking. My name is Rigel, by the way. I’ll set the table. Josh, would you mind if we ate here in the kitchen rather than the dining room, since it is just the two of us.”

“That sounds great, sir. Rigel.”

Mr. Lawson was gratified to hear the respect in the boy’s voice. He was certainly well-mannered. Yes, Susan would definitely like this young man. He soon declared the chicken ready. Mr. Lawson handed him two plates heaped with salad, and Josh arranged the chicken on the plates, covering the tender meat with the thin wine sauce and cooked garlic cloves. As the two of them sat down to eat, they could hear the plows rumbling by.

“That is the sound of our tax dollars at work, Josh.” Mr. Lawson remarked amiably. “They are one of the few branches of the civil service that actually earn their keep.”

Josh smiled politely. Mr. Lawson took a bite of his chicken. It was good... quite good.

“Delicious. True to your word, Josh, you obviously know your way around the kitchen.” He took a generous drink of his wine and glanced at the young man sitting across from him. Josh was busy eating his food. He must have been hungry as well.

They began to eat without conversation, the sound of silver scraping against the stoneware competing with the sounds of the kitchen clock ticking in the background. Normally Susan carried the conversation whenever a guest was over for supper. He squirmed in his seat a little. He had never been very good at talking about trivialities.

“Where did you learn how to cook, Josh?”

The boy took another large bite of chicken before he replied. “I’ve always liked to cook,” he said, thoughtfully. “When I was small I was always in the kitchen helping my mom bake cookies, that sort of thing. As I got older I went through different phases.”

He wiped his mouth with his napkin. “When I was about thirteen, I spent the whole summer experimenting with different combinations of vegetables and peppers to make salsa. When I was a little older. it was trying to figure out the recipe for a garlic shrimp I loved at a Japanese steak house. And then I moved on to making my own noodles.”

Mr. Lawson smiled, encouraging Josh to continue. He tried to think back to when his own son was small. He certainly couldn’t remember Evan ever hanging out in the kitchen with Susan. It seemed to him Evan spent all of his free time with a ball of some sort in his hands. It seemed unusual for a boy to be so interested in cooking.

“My mom and I would make trip after trip to the market, trying different ingredients until I figured out the recipe.” Josh took a small swallow of wine. “I gather you have no interest in cooking, sir?”

“No. No, I can’t say that I have.” Mr. Lawson glanced at Josh’s hands. No wedding band.

“My wife has always done the cooking.” He scrutinized the young man across from him and then dug into his salad. “I take it you don’t have a young lady in your life to help out with the cooking?”

Josh’s unwavering gaze met Mr. Lawson’s. “My fiancée and I share the cooking, though we both agree I am a better cook.”

“Oh. Well I suppose that is how it’s done in this day and age.” Mr. Lawson felt relieved somehow, though he wasn’t sure why. “Is your mother still alive?” Mr. Lawson cringed inwardly. Susan would never have asked such an indelicate question.

Josh just smiled. “Yes, Rigel. Alive and well. She’s a teacher at a small high school. She’s retiring at the end of the school year.”

Mr. Lawson’s thoughts drifted back to his earlier comments about civil servants. He certainly was putting his foot in it. He considered bringing the topic up again, to assure the young man that he had the utmost respect for teachers. Of course he did wonder why they were always complaining about how much they got paid, especially given all of the time off they had. He gave the boy a sidelong glance. Perhaps the topic was better left alone.

He took a few more bites of his salad, mixing the greens with a bite of chicken every now and again. He would have liked to inquire about Josh’s financial situation. He apparently had very little free money at his disposal, which seemed inconsistent with the young man’s accomplishments. The problem would be to bring the topic up without allowing the conversation to drift back to Josh’s proposal.

Mr. Lawson finished his meal and pushed the plate aside. He reached for the wine bottle and poured the last of the fragrant liquid into his glass. He drank deeply, savoring the taste as well as the sense of relaxation he felt. He watched Josh finish his meal. He liked this young man, but it really bothered him that the boy’s finances were not in order. “So, Josh.” He hesitated, choosing his words carefully so as not to offend. “Have you always been involved in the arts?”

Josh wiped his mouth on his napkin and nodded his head vigorously. “Yes. Yes, I have.” He slid his plate away and pushed his chair back from the table. He reached for his wine and took a small sip. “I finished my first feature film when I was twenty-two. The film was called Don’t Fall in Love. It did pretty well. It took first in several film festivals around the country and then ended up going to Cannes.”

Mr. Lawson smiled. “I’ve been there. Beautiful city, though a bit touristy. Susan, my wife, spent hours wandering around Old Town.”

Josh relaxed into his chair. “I loved sitting in the cafes in the old section of town, watching the people. Did you make it over to the island, Île Sainte-Marguerite?”

“I did. Though my pronunciation of the name of the island is nothing like yours. Do you speak French?”

“I do.” Josh took another small sip of wine and then pushed the remaining liquid away. “I took several years of French in high school and a bit more in college. After I finished my film, I joined the Peace Corps and lived in Madagascar for fourteen months. Living in a French-speaking country is what made me fluent.”

Mr. Lawson eyed Josh with a new respect. To live in primitive conditions in a foreign country, speaking a different language was way beyond his realm of experience. It was something he would never do. It also explained why Josh’s finances were not in better shape. He finished off his wine and set his glass aside.

“Incredible,” Mr. Lawson said. “That must have been quite an experience.”

“It was wonderful. It took me out of the loop a little more than I thought it would, but it was well worth the experiences I gained.”

“What do you mean?” Mr. Lawson asked.

“After my film was shown in Cannes, I had a job offer to direct a feature film with a major studio. I turned them down because I felt I needed to get out and see the world. It seems the people who thought I was worth investing in have moved on.” Josh shrugged, “Turning them down probably wasn’t the wisest business decision I’ve ever made, but I’ve always valued experiences over money.”

Mr. Lawson stared at Josh in disbelief, his mouth turned down in disapproval. He was sure it must be a rare opportunity to be invited to direct a feature film. “How could anyone possibly turn down such an offer?” he wondered aloud.

“A lot of people have asked me that,” Josh replied, his voice quiet. He turned to gaze out the window. “Yet, if given the same choices, even knowing the outcome, I would do it again.” He turned back to face his host.

Mr. Lawson grabbed the dinner plates and carefully stacked them, placing the silverware on top. He scooted back his chair and stood, dirty dishes in hand. His feeling of warm contentment had been replaced with irritation.

“It seems damn short-sighted; irresponsible even. You have your entire life to travel once you get your financial affairs in order.” With that he walked the dishes over and placed them next to the sink.

Josh picked up the dirty wine glasses and followed. Rigel heard Josh sigh deeply and admonished himself for his outburst. He knew that many young men were impetuous. He had never been so, but most were and the boy had been pleasant company.

“Can I help you with the dishes, sir?”

“No, thank you, Josh. I wouldn’t think of it,” he said graciously.

Josh nodded and slowly unrolled his shirt sleeves and buttoned his cuffs. He put on his sport coat and gave Mr. Lawson a tired smile. “I better get on the road, sir. I still have a bit of a drive in front of me.”

“Can I make you some coffee before you go?”

“No, thank you though. I’ll be fine.”

The two men walked back through the living room to the mud room, Josh slipping into his winter coat. He held his hat in his hand and turned to look at Mr. Lawson. “I want you to know that I understand the importance of money in this country, sir, and I am in no way naïve about business, but...”

Mr. Lawson’s eyebrows arched, a silent question.

“Well,” Josh said, shrugging, “it all boils down to priorities, I guess. At the end of the day, it’s the relationships we have with the people in our lives that really matter. While traveling, I met people I hope will be in my life forever.”

Josh shoved his hat on his head and Rigel opened the garage door for him. The two men shook hands. The older man slipped into his house slippers and walked Josh to the end of the garage, stopping at the line where the snow began to pile up. He estimated the snow to be about six inches deep. He was pretty sure the boy’s car would be able to power through to the street.

* * *

Proceed to part 6...

Copyright © 2016 by Deborah Rochford

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