The smoke from the burning chips hovered in the air over the back patio. Fat dripped through the grates in the grill and sizzled.
Debbie glanced up from her cutting board as Ron poked at the wide steaks with his finger. The inch thick slabs dented under the pressure. He capped the grill, trapping the smoke under the round lid.
Debbie turned back to her tomato chopping and chewed on her lower lip. “How are they coming?”
“Ten more minutes.”
She let out a small whimper and gave him a pleading stare. “They’ll be here any second.”
Ron rolled his eyes and waved with his checkered hot pads as he came back over to the table. “You can’t rush this.”
“I know, I know.” She blew out a breath, trying to force her nervousness out with it, and set to slicing a cucumber with vigor. “I just want to make a good impression. It’s not every day you have you new boss over for dinner.”
His hand squeezed her shoulder. “And this will be great. We’ll have a chance to chat and then eat.”
“Did you open the wine yet?”
Ron drew a bottle from the ice bucket and hefted the corkscrew with a flourish. Debbie shook her head and dumped the cutting board contents into the salad, scraped down the juices and errant flecks then gave the bowl a hearty toss.
“You want a glass, now?”
“Definitely.” By the time she had set down the salad tongs he had a brimming cup extended.
“Thanks.” She took a long sip drew in a chest swelling breath. Her nerves settled a bit. “Smells great.”
Ron looked up from setting down plates at the four seats encircling the patio table. “Did you have doubts?”
“Only at the altar.”
Debbie smiled and set her drink down to help him with the cutlery.
They had napkins tucked under forks, water and ice poured and the side dishes arranged for the third time, when the front doorbell rang.
“Breathe,” Debbie ordered herself and gave her summer dress a quick pat.
“Come around back,” she called and made her way around the patio to the fence door.
She waved at the bobbing head of Jill and her husband Adam, making their way down the stone walkway abutting the house. Her fingers trembled as she unclasped the latch and swung the door wide.
She gave Jill a delicate hug in order to avoid disturbing the tray in the other woman’s hands. The vegetables making up the crudités lined the platter, encircling a violet and sage hued mound garnished with a spring of basil.
“You didn’t need to bring anything!”
“Oh, it’s nothing,” said Jill with a grin.
“She was up a four am steaming artichokes and salting eggplant,” said Adam.
Debbie laughed what she hoped was an appropriate amount at the joke. “Artichokes and eggplant? That sounds delicious.”
Jill beamed. “You find all sorts of recipes like that when you’re vegetarians.”
Debbie caught herself on the fence before she staggered to the ground. Ron’s hand cupped her elbow to give her time to find her feet.
“Of course.” Ron’s voice seemed to trundle down a long tunnel.
“Please come in.” The words mumbled out of Debbie’s lips based on some residual notions of hospitality. Ron motioned them through and she watched Jill place her tray on the table. Adam and Ron then shook hands like new best friends.
“So,” Adam said, giving the covered grill in the corner an interested glance. “What’s for dinner? Smell’s great.”