WHO: Tali Robards, Romilda Vane WHERE: The Spinks/Robards place aka not Paris WHEN: Friday, April 25, 2002. Evening.
It was a couple of weeks later and Taliesyn felt brave enough to try again. Still, it was often helpful to recite one's plans aloud, to make sure every detail was perfect and nothing overlooked, but to avoid talking to himself he used Watson as a sounding board.
"So, I've made dinner - yes, Watson, I know you recognise that word, it's not for you, calm down - it's for Romilda. It's a throwback to that very first meal I made for her, that Sunday lunch. That's kind of sweet, isn't it?"
Watson's tail wagged. Tali gave him a pat.
"Yes, you are right. It is sweet. Because I am sweet. And I shouldn't let people tell me otherwise." Five-second pep talk over, he went on.
"Well it isn't exactly the same. It's a bit more fancy because it's dinner instead of lunch, and Ed and Dot aren't here, but the main aspects are the same."
Tali had persuaded Ed to take himself and Dot out that evening so he and Romilda could be alone. He didn't need to replace the pressure of Paris with the pressure of an audience. Ed had prodded a bit so Tali lied about it being their six-month anniversary. Then Ed understood completely, and graciously left, but not without first imparting a cauldronload of romance tips and trying to find some scented candles that didn't have chew marks.
He was unsuccessful in that endeavour.
"Ooh, Watson, there is also one other crucial difference." Tali whipped out the ring box and cracked it open, putting it on the table for all to admire.
"Tada! Isn't it great? It's very pretty and shiny and perfect. Uh uh, Watson, don't do that. Don't - I said, don't.
"Leave it," Tali said sternly, and Watson finally sat down obediently, after several attempts to nosebutt the ring.
"You can look but you can't touch, alright? Now, she'll be here any mome-"
An alarm suddenly went off in the kitchen. That wasn't supposed to happen! Tali sprang to his feet. Then the doorbell rang. He froze in indecision.
"Ah, ah, ah...puddings first!" He dashed to see if they needed rescuing - they were OK - before answering the door.
Outside, Romilda frowned as she could hear something of a commotion inside. Was that an alarm? Oh, and now Watson was barking. Just as she was wondering whether she ought to just let herself in - they'd been together long enough for her to do that, she thought - when Tali answered the door.
"Hello, handsome." She smiled crookedly. "Everything alright in there?"
She greeted him with that moniker often these days. She could use it a thousand times more and Tali would still get butterflies (the nice kind) every time.
He tempered his grin and gave her a quick kiss. "Yeah, everything's fine. Just fine." He stepped aside to let her pass.
"Dot and Ed won't be joining us. They went out because..." he racked his brain, "..they had things to do. I don't know more because they didn't tell me more than that."
"Well, I guess it's none of our business what they're up to," Romilda said, shrugging off her jacket. "I heard Watson. I guess Dot didn't steal him away for the evening."
Smiling, Romilda pulled him close for another kiss. "Something smells good," she murmured. "Do you need any help in the kitchen?"
"Noo....I mean, I've already prepared everything. Just come take a seat, make yourself comfortable. Do you want some wine?"
Truth be told, Tali could definitely do with some liquid courage. The tension had returned and seemed to increase with every step further into the house. He took a deep breath and forced himself to relax. This wasn't Paris, this was his domain - OK it did look much tidier and smelt nicer than usual, but still - and Romilda had been around for dinner many times before.
"Wine would be lovely," Romilda said, releasing him. She let out a small pleased sigh. "I feel spoilt. Lucky me." Following him through the house, Romilda saw that the table was already laid for two. There were even candles with only minor doggy gnawing. Tali really had gone all out.
Grinning, she teased, "I haven't missed a special occasion, have I? Hey, Watson. Are you going to come and say hello?"
Watson zoomed past Tali's legs with barely any acknowledgement to nose Romilda's instead. Tali hid an eyeroll as he turned away to pour out the wine.
"No, no special occasion," he answered, voice tight. "It's not just to spoil you. I mean, I like food and candles and using the good china too."
He added a quick apology for having to leave the table to fetch the dishes. Well, she probably won't twig, he told himself. It was a while ago and only lunch. He couldn't even remember the reason for the invite. Not the "official" reason anyway.
Still, when he returned, he watched Romilda's reaction carefully.
"The good china makes a nice change," Romilda agreed. She and her sisters didn't really have good china in their house: that wasn't really their sort of thing. The closest they got were probably favourite mugs.
She waved off his apology, sure that she could entertain herself with wine and corgi nosebutts until he came back with dinner.
As Tali returned, Watson slunk under the table. "This all looks great." Romilda took a sip of her wine. "You must have been cooking for ages."
"Nah, not really," said Tali. He bent down to frown at Watson. He'd much rather shoo Watson out of the room, but he didn't want to look brusque in front of Romilda, and...Watson seemed a little subdued, not at all like he was going to beg for a taste. Merlin knows he has extorted enough tastings during the cooking process.
Watson could stay. Tali sat up with a sigh.
They were pleasantly well into the meal, indulging in the kind of easy chat and warm atmosphere that Tali hoped he would be enjoying with Romilda for years and years to come, when he put his cutlery down and cleared his throat.
"I may have been fibbing earlier when I said it wasn't a special occasion."
"Really?" Romilda put down her wine glass, raising her eyebrows. "You're getting better at lying. Which is… probably a good thing?" Maybe it wasn't.
Then again, he hadn't had to make up any excuses, which was where he usually fell down. "So what's the special occasion?"
"Every occasion spent with you is a special occasion," he said. OK, bit of a false start, playing his hand before he was quite ready. He giggled, both out of nerves and his own cheesy joke.
"Um, uh, sorry, no, that's not it. I mean, it's obviously true, but there's more."
He put his hand into his pocket and there was nothing there. Panic overtook him. The smile disappeared from his face and he stared into distance, wide-eyed.
Romilda blushed, laughing softly. She fell quiet, though, when she saw Tali's expression. Like a shocked rabbit, frozen in a moment of fear. Oh dear. Sighing, she decided to take a drink before doing anything because there was always a chance that he might snap out of it himself.
"There's more?" she prompted gently.
Tali blinked. It wasn't gone. He'd just left it in the other room, that's all. "Could you excuse me a minute?"
He strode into the living room. The box was on the floor. Oh no. Not good. He pounced on it. It was empty. Very not good. He threw himself onto the carpet. Please, Merlin, have it be under the table, the couch... He scanned the entire floor and found nothing.
So where the hell was it? He thought back to when he'd last seen it. His gaze darkened. Motherfucker!
"Watson!" He bellowed.
Romilda winced as she heard Tali yell. What on Earth was going on? Watson emerged from under the table. He looked at Romilda - hoping for some food, she thought - then trotted out of the room.
Pushing back her chair, Romilda rose and followed after him. "What's going on? And why are you on the carpet?"
"I just remembered I hadn't done any push-ups today," said Tali. He hastily shoved the ring box out of sight, under the sofa. He made a lunge for Watson, who yelped in surprise. "Cm'ere, you."
All sorts of surreal scenarios popped into his head. Could he retrieve it by sticking a hand down Watson's throat? If he shook Watson like a piggy bank would it fall out?
"Watson has eaten something he shouldn't have and needs urgent medical attention," he declared.
Baffled, Romilda looked from confused corgi to anxious owner. "What? Oh, Merlin. Watson, you silly billy." Tali seemed to be angry more than concerned about his dog's condition, which was a bit strange. "Is he going to be alright?"
"Yes, soon as he gives it up," Tali said in almost a growl. He picked Watson up. "We gotta see Gwen."
"Oh, yeah. Of course." Romilda stepped forward to give Watson a scratch behind the ear. He didn't look unwell, which meant he probably hadn't scoffed his weight in chocolate or anything along those lines. "Do you need me to come with you?
"No, please don't. I mean, no, thank you. I mean...the clinic isn't even open right now." It was Friday night. The last thing he wanted to do was disturb Gwen for let's face it - not a dire emergency. What if she was at the Grotto? What if she just got the ring out right there and then? Then everyone would know, including all of Romilda's coworkers, and he was sure they would blab.
"Actually, you know what, I guess it can wait. I'm sure it'll um, reappear on its own sometime, eventually. Let's just finish dinner and..." Tali sounded more despondent with every word and could not even finish the sentence.
Romilda frowned. "Oh, sweetheart. If you're really worried about him, you should try to get hold of Gwen. I'm sure she'd understand. Animals don't really keep office hours."
"No, I don't want to bother Gwen. I may have overreacted a bit. I'm sure Watson is OK. There's nothing toxic in here. Let's just have some pudding. The pudding is perfect, you know." Tali said everything in monotone. He put Watson back down and shuffled back to their table.
As Tali sat down at the table, Romilda moved to give him a hug from behind. She kissed his cheek. "He'll be fine," she said, trying to sound confident. "Watson could probably eat barbed wire and still have that silly smile on his face."
She slipped back onto her own chair. "What were we talking about before?"
"I forget," said Tali. "I don't think it was anything important."
He pushed bits of food around his plate morosely before giving up on the main and fetching dessert. He tasted one of the extras he had made. Heavenly, he thought glumly. Perhaps it would've been better to let it burn a bit. He sighed.
Well, at least if he had an attack of the wobbly lower lip that evening no explanation would be necessary. He was upset about Watson.