Emery started moving about the kitchen quickly but with purpose, and within five minutes the garlic was sautéing in olive oil in a skillet, a pot of water was heating on the stove top, the chicken was washed and dredged in flour and several other ingredients had been laid on the counter top for later use.
Sean sat in a chair by the kitchen table and watched, impressed by Emery’s concentration. Once the chicken was placed onto the pan, Emery turned to face Sean. “Why’d you come visit me at my work today? Not that I’m complaining, but I thought I’d have to work a lot harder at convincing you to give us a real shot.”
It wasn't the question Sean expected. “You want the truth?”
“I forced myself.” Heat flooded his cheeks at the boldness of his admission.
“Pardon me?” Emery stood, tongs in hand, facing Sean.
“Dating is like going to the gym for me. The first few times I go I try to come up with any excuse not to. It’s uncomfortable and I worry about the pain. But in my head I know it’s good for me so I make myself do it. Eventually, I look forward to workouts.”
Although the analogy was perfectly clear in his own mind, the blank expression on Emery’s face suggested he didn't share the same clarity on the topic. “Let me explain better.” He searched inward, trying to identify what he’d felt prior to hopping in his car and driving to Emery’s work. Panic and excitement.
Emery continued to wait, ignoring the cooking chicken. Sean stood and took the tongs from him, walking to the stove top and flipping the chicken breasts. “Well, you already knew I was worried about starting something up because we work together. That alone is something my dad always warned me about. I believe his exact words were ‘Don’t shit where you eat’. So I was already breaking one rule. And then I shared the fact I’m positive with you, someone who I have professional contact with, which is something I've never done before. So that was a second rule I broke. And somehow the combination of both those broken rules felt like I was breaking a third rule which was never break rules number one and two.”
The explanation was lame and Sean knew it, but Emery seemed to soften. “Alright. But that doesn't explain why you chose to come to my work.” Sean grabbed the cutting board and the knife he had been using and walked to the portion of the counter where the potatoes were sitting in a plastic bag. He began quartering them as he continued.
“Do you have a platter for the finished chicken while I put fresh pieces into the oil?” Emery handed him a plate and Sean removed the fried breasts and placed new chicken in the pan. “The bottom line is I don’t like taking risks which could result in major problems for me. This, what we’re doing, is one of those risks and my head is telling me to run. But my heart, or maybe it’s my gut, but something inside that isn't attached to my rational thoughts is telling me this could be something amazing. So I hopped in my car and drove over and waited until you came out of the building. Each time I thought about changing my mind, I pictured the two of us on the bridge and it helped maintain my resolve.”
Emery checked the pot on the stove top, nodded, then dropped the cut potatoes into the boiling water. “So let me get this straight. If I’m catching your analogy, dating me is like going to the gym?”
Since Emery was now standing next to him, Sean gave him a nudge with his shoulder. “Something like that.”
Silence settled between them. Not an uncomfortable silence filled with tension, but a natural one. The only sounds in the kitchen were those of chopping, sizzling, or the whir of the microwave as Emery melted together butter and cut chives along with a couple tablespoons of minced garlic he’d set aside. Once all the chicken had been fried, Emery placed the pieces back into the skillet and poured a bottle of Marsala wine and freshly diced shitake and baby portabella mushrooms into the mix. He then covered the dish and placed it into the oven.
Grabbing two wine glasses from the cabinet, he offered one to Sean. “I bought a few bottles of Berenger reserve Cabernet from the private collection a few years back when I went to Sonoma. It’s the best wine I've ever had. Honestly, it’s worth another trip out there since it’s cheaper to buy at the vineyard.”
Sean wasn't one to turn away a glass of wine, but he’d done his fair share of wine tasting and private reserve bottles tended to be pricey. “Are you sure you want to waste a bottle on a dinner?”
Emery stopped his movements and faced Sean, capturing him in an unwavering stare. “I don’t want you to ever question your worth when you’re with me. If I say I want to break out the good stuff, it’s because I want to break out the good stuff. The fact you’re willing to give this a shot, willing to push yourself out of your comfort zone, it’s better than I dared hope for and I think it’s cause for celebration.”
Sean raised his hands up in mock surrender. “Okay, okay. Remind me never to question you again.”
Emery’s mood softened as he rummaged through a drawer and procured a corkscrew. “Good. So long as that’s squared away we shouldn't have any problems.” A hint of a smile crept into place on Emery’s face, setting Sean at ease.
A glass of wine later, which really was one of the smoothest and cleanest glasses Sean had drunk in a long time, and the kitchen had filled with the smells of their dinner. Emery pulled the chicken out of the oven and the scent of garlic, Marsala, and mushrooms intensified. He set it on the counter top and then drained the potatoes, returning them immediately to the pot from without rinsing them. The butter/chive/garlic concoction was added to the potatoes along with a dash of salt and pepper, about a quarter cup of milk, and two heaping tablespoons of sour cream.
By the time all was plated and set on the table, Sean’s mouth was watering. For the next ten minutes all that could be heard in the room was the clink of utensils on ceramic. When Sean finally came up for air, his stomach was full and his body utterly relaxed. “Well. I can honestly say I haven’t had a meal like that since the last time I went home to Massachusetts. And I definitely don’t get the treat of the pre-dinner festivities when I’m home.”
Emery placed an exaggerated look of horror on his face. “I hope not.” He stood, taking his plate with him. “Would you like some more?”