“Keep them closed,” said Alice. She gripped Jim’s hands as she led him along the sidewalk, walking backwards in her heels.
“I feel ridiculous.”
Alice winced and gave his hands a squeeze. “We’re almost there.”
Jim shook his head and let out a sigh.
Alice checked over her shoulder, her heart thudding beneath her slim dress. The twinkling lights around the restaurant’s awning glittered like a far flung galaxy. Through the open windows poured light-hearted chatter, the clink of dishes and silverware and buttery waves of tantalizing entrees.
“Ok,” she said, halting at the front door laced with beaded strings and open against the summer heat.
Jim opened his eyes and his face froze. “What’s this?”
Alice fought to keep her smile. “The Underground.” She shrugged her near bare shoulders. “I thought it’d be neat. Something different.”
Jim stiff expression lingered as he met her eyes. “Isn’t this the place that does things with,” he lowered his voice to a whisper, “you know…bugs?”
Alice rolled her eyes and slipped her arm through his. She pushed aside the beads and they passed through.
“Welcome,” said the maitre’d. Alice matched his broad smile.
“Reservations for Tate.”
He scanned down the fat book and hand written notes on the pedestal. “For two?”
Scooping up a pair of canvas backed menus, he gestured inside. “This way.”
“Alice,” said Jim, tugging at her elbow.
She sighed and tilted her head. “There’s than that on the menu. I checked.” She pivoted and strode after the maitre’d.
“Will this be alright?” he asked, motioning at the candlelit table tucked against the tan wall. The light flickered on a black and white photograph of a farm-scape and the crystal water glasses.
“Wonderful, thank you.” Alice tucked her dress under her as she took the chair the maitre’d pulled out. She accepted the menu with another nod. Jim settled in across the table and held the offered list of dishes with both hands, as if the rectangle might warp into something vicious.
“Martin will be with you shortly. Just to let you know our specials for this evening are a tomato stew with squid and rack of goat with a fungus glaze.”
“Sounds interesting,” said Alice. Jim gave a gruff snort.
“Enjoy,” said the maitre’d. He drifted back through the intimate clusters of tables, the hum of the diners blending together in his wake.
“You really didn’t have to go through all this,” said Jim, lowering the menu and his voice.
“I just made reservations,” Alice said with a shrug as she perused the offerings.
Jim lifted his glass of water to the light, seemed to judge the liquid fit to drink and swallowed a gulp.
“I hear they do great things with potatoes.”
“I don’t like potatoes.”
“Maybe you’ll like these.” Alice glanced over her menu, her head cocking to the side. “At least take a look?”
Jim let out a long breath before turning his gaze to the options. A few sips of water punctuated their reading until Alice set down her menu with a resurging smile.
“What have you decided?”
“The Verte Crisp I guess.” Jim tossed the menu back to the table and cross his arm between his cutlery.
“Yeah, the salad.” He frowned. “Everything else has weird things in them. You can’t tell me you’re going to have one of those?”
“I was going to try the ravioli and that tomato soup special.”
“The soup with the squid and that pasta with crushed seaweed and urchin?”
“Yes. I think it’ll be interesting.”
“At least it doesn’t have beetles or something.”
“It’s better than a plain old salad.”
“Hello there,” said the waiter swooping to their table side with a burnished grin. He set down a basket of chestnut dark bread. “My name is Martin and it looks like we’ve made our decisions for this evening?”
“Yes,” said Alice. They relayed their choices to Martin’s approval and he swept back toward the kitchen as if in the midst of a ballet, their menus clutched in his arm.
Alice reached across the table and placed her finger tips on the sleeve of Jim’s suit while his hands twirled his spoon. “Live a little.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he asked with a scowl.
“Try something new. Live.”
“I do live. Didn’t we spend last weekend on Daniel’s boat?”
“With every other person in the state.”
“Oh so I just need to live differently than everyone else?”
“I don’t know,” said Alice, shaking out her napkin as she shook her head. “I just…”
“I don’t want to turn into Daniel and Marie.” She looked up and found Jim’s frown settling in deep ravines. “I don’t want to be in the same rut week after week, day after day. They’ve got the money to do anything and yet they’re always on that damn boat.”
“It’s a great boat.”
“This isn’t about the boat.” Alice rubbed at her temple then matted down the disturbed tendrils of her honey hair. “I just want something different.”
Jim sighed and leaned back in his chair with a toss of fondled cutlery. “I don’t know if I can do different. I mean, besides this,” Jim swept his hand at the restaurant, “things are great. Job’s great. Condo’s great. I thought you were ok with it all.”
Alice took a deep breath and folded her hands in her lap. “I don’t think I am, Jim.”
“Here you go,” said Martin, carrying a round tray at shoulder level. He set down the ruby soup before Alice, then the large salad in front Jim. “I’ll be back with your ravioli in just a moment.”
Alice nodded her appreciation and Martin swirled back to collect the promised dish.
Jim stabbed at his salad without look up. He pierced a tomato and while chewing, shoved the other ingredients aside.
“What the-.” He lurched back, forktongs poised as if to land a killing blow on whatever hid in the leaves.
“What is it?”
“It’s like a larva or a maggot or something.” Jim scooped up the offending critter with his spoon.
“Is everything alright?” asked Martin. He set an amber cluster of ravioli beside Alice’s soup.
“What the hell is this?” asked Jim, thrusting his spoon at Martin’s nose.
“You didn’t have that on the menu.”
“Well, it’s just a garnish really,” explained Martin. “Part of the dressing.”
Jim tossed the clump into the greens and raised both his hands from the dish. “I don’t want it.”
“Come on, Jim,” said Alice with an apologetic smile to Martin. “I’m sure you can eat around it.”
“Who know what else they’ve snuck in here?” countered Jim.
“It’s all organic and completely safe,” interjected Martin.
“Right,” said Jim, he raked his napkin across his mouth as if to take away a layer of skin.
“Maybe you can order something else?”
“Let me grab a menu,” said Martin, deftly taking Alice’s suggestion as a way out. He trotted toward the kitchen like a skittering rabbit.
“Screw this,” said Jim, rising to his feet with a scrape of his chair against the earthen tiles. “I’m leaving.”
“Fine, go.” Alice gripped her spoon as she stared up from her seat.
“You’re going to say?”
“Yes I am.”
Jim tossed his napkin on to the table as if throwing away a poisonous rag. “Enjoy your something different.”
Alice gazed down at her soup as Jim stormed passed the tables. The beads clacked against one another as they settled across the entryway behind his exit. Meanwhile Alice took a tentative taste of the first dish. The blend of tomato and faint touch of the sea blended on her tongue, tickling each taste bud.
“Let me take this.” Martin, his face full of concern and shoulders hunched like a wounded dog, reached out for the salad.
“No, please leave it.” Alice gave him a wide grin and found herself giggling like a school girl. “It looks delicious.”