The Dinner

Jennifer’s teeth scraped against her fork and it bothered Gary. This was one of Jennifer’s many quirks and foibles that needled him to no end.

“So, Gary,” Mr. Darrowby spoke just before he swallowed his mouthful, “would you step into my office tomorrow before the meeting? I have some pointers to run by you.”

Gary nodded; Mr. Darrowby had taken another bite before finishing the sentence. Jennifer had inherited that irritating habit from Mr. Darrowby, her father. She was the boss’s daughter, and though Gary had at first ignored the phrase, “Don’t dip your pen in the company ink,” he now saw its wisdom. 

Jennifer had enchanted Gary when he had met her at the company picnic. But now, almost a year later, the spell had faded. Sure, Jennifer was still as beautiful as ever, but all the little gestures he had once found charming, now annoyed him.

“Oh, honey, please don’t forget the about the dinner party tomorrow. I think you should wear the blue tie I gave you,” Jennifer directed her gaze at him. 

Gary pursed his lips and smiled through gritted teeth. She nagged. She always nagged; and he hated it.

She was always telling him what to do, how to dress, who to be. Gary often wondered why she stayed with him at all; he was not the right person for her if she always found something to correct.

Mrs. Darrowby, Jennifer’s mother, never raised her eyes from the plate. Gary often thought she hated him, but Jennifer assured him she was just a silent person, taciturn even, whose only ambition in life was to read novels all day.

Gary sighed and shoveled food into his mouth. Yet again, he was dining with his girlfriend’s family in their big ornate house, with their expensive, ornate silverware and no conversation worth having. Mr. Darrowby only talked about work, Jennifer about his minor faults, and Mrs. Darrowby said nothing.

A clock ticked in the next room. The fact Gary heard it was a testament to the hollow dinner.

Empty, Gary thought, they have all these things, their house is full, they want for nothing and yet; they are empty.

He cast his gaze over the expensive dining table, the crystal chandeliers, the antique sideboard and all the fine art on the walls. His eyes settled on Mrs. Darrowby, and Gary’s heart skipped with apprehension when he caught her gazing at him.

He avoided her eyes and glanced at the floor-to-ceiling cathedral windows which opened to a spacious terrace overlooking the perfect, manicured grounds. No wild plants grew on the Darrowby estate; all, even nature, was under control here. 

As night fell, the tall cypresses beyond the terrace cast long shadows upon it. The full moon was high in the sky and shining its bright light on the stone floor. Jennifer prattled on about something or other. Gary, lost in his own world, imagined himself living in this big house with a bottomless fortune at his disposal. What would he do with it? What did the Darrowbys do with it? Jennifer flitted from party to party; a fundraiser here, a charity ball there. Mr. Darrowby lived only for work and golf. And Mrs. Darrowby… who knows what Mrs. Darrowby did?

Gary felt her eyes on him again and met her gaze; kind and… nostalgic? Melancholy? He could not describe it. Since he had known her, she had never gazed at him that way. Her eyes had always seemed distant.

The power went out. 

Gary shrugged; it happened in the best of houses too.

Jennifer whimpered as if the world was ending. Mr. Darrowby hollered for the butler to do something about it.

Where Gary came from, power outages were the daily bread. These elicited groans, curses and even giggles, but not cries of despair. In moments like these, the difference in their upbringing was palpable. Emotions had filled Gary’s home, ranging from love to anger, with laughter and tears and sweet nothings and cusses. Jennifer’s childhood had comprised servants and tutors and money, lots and lots of money.

“Maybe a fuse blew,” Gary said, though he doubted it because the entire house had gone quiet, which suggested a general power outage.

“Daddy, what do we do?” Jennifer’s high-pitched voice cracked with fear.

“Now, now sweetie, it’s all right.”

Gary rolled his eyes while Mr. Darrowby comforted Jennifer. 

Gary’s gaze wandered to the windows; he discerned Mrs. Darrowby’s figure silhouetted in the moonlight. She remained quiet and pensive in her seat. Chairs scraped as Mr. Darrowby and Jennifer left the table. Mr. Darrowby searched for the butler, and Jennifer tagged along to give the man a piece of her mind for not fixing the power. Their voices faded into the adjoining hallways.

“Leave her,” Mrs. Darrowby said into the darkness.

“I beg your pardon?” Gary replied, taken aback.

“Leave her,” Mrs. Darrowby said, “don’t worry about Jennifer, she’s callous and she’ll get over you. She’ll meet someone else, someone like her, who loves parties and dinners and money.”

“I, I…” Gary stammered in disbelief.

“She is my daughter and I love her,” Mrs. Darrowby continued, “but she takes after her father. They are both cold and calculating. I found out the hard way there is no happiness when you marry into a life of luxury, especially when you wed someone who sees wrong in everything you do. I know you wonder whether you are right for her, but, she is not worthy of you. She won’t change, ever; no dashing knight can rescue her from this life she loves to live. Go, your happiness and wellbeing are far more important.”

The power returned and Gary noticed for the first time the sadness in Mrs. Darrowby’s bland and pale face.

Mr. Darrowby and Jennifer shuffled into the dining room. Gary’s eyes followed Jennifer as she resumed her seat.

“Eat up, darling, so we can have dessert,” Jennifer ordered. 

Gary turned towards the windows. Reflected in the windowpanes, he saw his own face wearing Mrs. Darrowby’s miserable expression; an omen of a potential future.


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