|Isobel Brandt \\ Persephone (praxidike) wrote in paxletalelogs,|
@ 2017-03-31 13:01:00
|Entry tags:||charon, hades, persephone|
had a dream that within a celebration of sin
Who: Obed, Isobel, and Carver
What: Isobel meets her fiance's oldest friend.
When: Friday, March 31st, 7:30 p.m.
For the third time that evening, Obed walked through the apartment, reassuring himself everything was in place. The wine was opened, the table set, Hanni brushed and as impressive-looking as such a small thing could be. He firmly expected his friend to comment upon the wee beastie, but Obed was prepared for that; he loved the dog more than he had anticipated, and that would be the end of the discussion.
He moved behind Isobel, wrapping his arms low around her waist. "I'm glad you'll finally get to meet him," he said, picking up a thread of conversation abandoned for their busy work. "He's been in the family so long he feels like a brother." He kissed her temple, smiling softly. "So do expect a little prickly teasing, as any brother would do. I promise, he always sounds a lot gruffer than he is."
To say Isobel was on edge was an understatement. Once she'd learned that Ray had finally acquiesced to her oft-sent dinner invitation, she'd spent the better part of a weekend planning the menu carefully. Beef Wellington, with a side salad and perfectly cooked potatoes, paired with a Merlot from Obed's stores. She relaxed against Obed as she'd finished double checking the meat in the oven; the pastry was starting to brown nicely, and it looked as though everything was well in order. Despite that, she could not stop her hands from shaking, and had to take several lengthy pauses throughout the making of dinner so she didn't accidentally bleed on the food.
"I'm just glad he finally agreed. I hope he likes the food. Do you think I should have done chicken instead? Beef can be so heavy..." Her thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the door, and she started away from Obed to smooth down her dress, then straighten Obed's collar. They weren't overly dressed, veering on business casual, but Isobel was too nervous to allow jeans and sneakers. She gave Obed a light peck on the side of his mouth, smiling despite herself, and sent him to answer the door. She quickly busied herself, double checking the plate setting for the umpteenth time.
Obed swung the door wide, the beginnings of a smile already curving the corner of his mouth. Framed by the doorway, Carver was handsome yet somehow rumpled in a smoke-grey suit jacket, shirt and jeans. Tall, solidly built, his blond hair was not quite in order, beard gone a day past three o’clock shadow. He hovered a moment just outside, and then stepped into the apartment, wiping his feet carefully. He thrust a supermarket bouquet of tiger lilies at Obed’s chest -- “For the little miss,” -- and brandished a bottle of whiskey in the other hand -- “and something for you too, boss.”
"Well look at you." Obed turned the bottle in his hand, glancing briefly over the label. "Charming as ever." Now smiling in earnest, Obed closed the door behind his friend, welcoming him deeper into the apartment with a sweeping gesture of his arm.
"Ray, this is Isobel. Isobel, Ray. He comes bearing gifts." He moved smoothly past her, brushing her arm with his own as he did. Though he disappeared for a moment, the quiet clink of the whiskey set down, then further sounds of his rummaging through cabinets for a vase, filtered out to hostess and guest.
Isobel watched Obed go, a not that small tremor of anxiety filling her as she was left alone with Obed's friend, quickly bringing her gaze back to their guest. She extended a hand toward Ray, a not-quite-confident smile on her face.
"It's so great to finally meet you in person, Ray. Is it all right if I call you Ray? Obed's told me so much about you."
Carver’s glance at Obed as he managed the lillies was not quite subtle. But he was all dimples and charm as he sketched her out a half-joking bow. “And I’ve heard plenty about you. Nice to finally see you in the flesh.” He took her hand; his grip was firm, tipping towards too firm, a businessman’s shake to test his opposite’s worth. His gaze flashed over her, unapologetically assessing.
Turning back slightly towards Obed after he released her hand, he raised his eyebrows and mouthed, “Ray?!”
The arch of Obed's brow was so sharp, his lips gone so thin, he may as well have said be nice aloud. The lilies now sat in a polished silver vase, a riot of color above the nearly mirrored surface. He set them down on a nearby table, considerably brightening a room full of muted earthtones and shades of grey. One flower had fallen; with a gentle motion Obed moved it back into place, or at least what he felt was an aesthetically pleasing arrangement.
A quiet clicking of small claws announced Hanni's arrival. He did not bark, but he did trot immediately up to Carver's side. He sniffed one shoe, an appraising look on his tiny face. "And that's Tiny Hannibal Lecter," Obed explained. "Hanni." The dog yipped his own greeting, his fluffy tail wagging wildly. Carver regarded it skeptically.
"He's very well behaved," Isobel quickly added, her nerves on full display. She worked to keep her hands from clasping in front of her. "Can I get you something to drink? Dinner's almost ready; I hope you like beef. We have wine, beer, or there's always water?" Her words stumbled over themselves, and she took a breath to try and calm herself.
Taking a step in the direction of the kitchen, she paused long enough to glance at and acknowledge the flowers. "And thank you, for those, they're lovely. Where did you pick them up?" She did not comment on the appropriateness of the meaning behind the flowers, unsure if Ray had intentionally picked them or if he'd grabbed something at random.
He shrugged. “Oh, nowhere special. Store down the road. Can’t be anything fancy compared to what I hear you’ve got growing.” He smiled. “And a beer would be great, thanks.” He regarded the dog again, and then looked around the apartment. The warm smile faded from his eyes while it remained on his lips; he glanced at Obed again, but whatever had come to mind never emerged aloud. “You really didn’t have to go to such trouble on my behalf, honest. I’d be happy with some shitty takeout and a paper cup full of whiskey.”
Isobel shook her head. "Nonsense, I wanted to do something nice. It was no trouble at all." She disappeared into the kitchen to get the requested beer.
"Besides, the whiskey is dessert," Obed said. Hanni, apparently satisfied with his assessment of their guest, darted off into the cavernous living room, there to settle atop the armrest of the couch, watching the dinner party unfold.
"I've even got a few Cuban cigars to go with." Obed tapped Carver's shoulder with the back of his hand, plainly pleased with his own suggestion. "Partagas Serie D, I think... I think this occasion calls for a little celebration, don't you?"
“You know me, would never say no to a good Cuban.” Carver crossed his arms. He lowered his voice, his pleasant expression never changing as he leaned in closer to Obed. “Seriously, boss, we shoulda just done this in a bar with the game on. She’s nervous as a long-tail cat… winding me up.”
Obed shook his head, his smile still firmly in place, though perhaps a bit smaller than before. He clapped a hand on his friend's shoulder, giving him an almost teasing squeeze. "Give her time. You're the first family she's met. And maybe I talked you up a little. She just wants to make a good impression, like we all do." He shrugged, pulling away, peering into the kitchen to see if he could be of any further help. For the moment it seemed he could be of best use here, acting as a sort of buffer between fiancée and friend.
"The bar next time. I promise."
Isobel re-entered the fray, carrying the promised bottle, which she offered by the neck to Ray. He took it with a little nod. "Let's move to the dining room? I'll get the salads together; Ray, make yourself comfortable, and Obed, if you could come help me carry plates, that would be great." She felt more in control orchestrating people's movements; it left her doing more than talking, which was where the issue lay. But all too soon they were sitting around the table, friend and fiancée on either side of the host to make a strange little picture.
"Ray, Obed tells me you travel often? Is it all just work related, or is that a personal interest?" She started them off, trying to be as polite as possible. She'd skipped the wine, excusing herself as feeling a little light headed, and opted for water, hoping no one would question the decision. Surely some food would help the conversation get underway and smooth out the initial awkwardness; she adjusted her glasses, wishing she'd opted for contacts.
“Little of both. I like to keep moving, you know. So the b-- So Obed indulges me.” Carver picked up his fork and began pushing the almonds in the green salad with cranberry vinaigrette off to one side as he talked. “The journey as much as the destination. You travel much?”
She shook her head, her own fork swimming through the greens on her otherwise untouched plate. "Uh, no, only places I've been are Texas and California," she replied, suddenly worried she sounded boring; she wondered at the swift change in names but let it be for the moment. "That sounds like a wonderful arrangement, though. Is it something you were interested in in college? That's how you both met, right?"
“Aw nah, this old bastard and I have known each other longer than that. In fact, if it weren’t for him I probably wouldn’t have ever gotten that fancy pants business degree.” Carver chuckled, slapping Obed on the arm. “What, he didn’t tell you about him, me, and that little fight over how to drain the dishwater?”
Isobel blinked, surprised at the sudden language. Carver was about as far from what she'd initially imagined, in simple comparison of who she assumed Obed might fraternize with.
Obed only laughed, rolling his eyes over the old argument. "You're still wrong and you know it," he said. He pointed the lettuce-laden tines of his fork at his friend, his shining gaze darting between both of his companions. "He was unlucky enough to come work for me when I was first starting to manage anything. No idea how he put up with me then, and then to stick around ever since? I think he's a masochist."
She glanced between them, their camaraderie both warming and slightly intimidating her. "I dunno, Obed, I can see how you two get along so well," she started, before her face went pink and she abruptly switched the topic. "Um, I mean, it's always a fight to get him to clean something properly. I'm glad we have a working dishwasher, because I don't think I've seen him touch a dirty dish once. I kept saying the maid service is a bit much, but with an apartment this size..." She shook her head, internally winching for having accidentally swerved onto the old topic. "I've just never lived anywhere this big before. Pax is so far outside my old tax bracket," she added, as though that would help.
“Aw, don’t tell me Obed’s the first rich a-hole to sweep you off your feet and put you up all fancy. Pretty girl like you?” Carver shook his fork at her, his smile making it a joke. “I don’t believe it.” He paused, spearing a forkful of greens. “Seriously though, why play Miss Modest? Karl said you were the best in the area. You must be turning a pretty buck or two. Now you’re just living up to your reputation.” He gestured around them. “Right?”
Her blush deepened, though Isobel at least had the good grace to meet Ray's gaze. "He is," she said evenly. "And just meeting one or two orders hardly merits....extravagance." She took a deep breath, trying to not let her anxiety get the better of her. "Not that I don't appreciate it. I do. It's just not what I grew up with, so I'm adjusting. I guess a larger paycheck is something you've come to enjoy? Obed is a very accomplished businessman, so I'm sure you must be enjoying a bump up from being a dishwasher."
Carver chuckled, although the coolness of his gaze intensified. “Ah yes, I guess we both can call him ‘sugar daddy’ now.”
Isobel flung her napkin over her plate, her chair scraping against the hardwood floor as she made a clumsy motion of removing her plate to the kitchen to hide the hot tears welling up around her eyes. It would buy her the time she needed to pull herself together.
Obed did not watch her go. His gaze was leveled at his friend, his tongue tracing his teeth as he worked to tamp down his increasing annoyance with them both. He set down his salad fork and raised his wine glass instead.
"Really?" A deep furrow creased his brow as he grumbled at Carver. "Maybe we should have gone to a bar. You two could just duel with pool cues and be done with it."
“What? Hey, I wasn’t picking a fight. Karl made it sound like she was some bigshot doing very well for herself, and you fell all over yourself to get her this fancy ass place, so I assumed she was -- how’d she put it? In a higher tax bracket. So, oops, turns out she wasn’t. Or has some guilt complex about her money. I don’t fucking know. She’s the one who got shitty about it.” Carver snorted. “‘Enjoy a bump up from being a dishwasher.’ Like you carried me through b-school. Fuck that.” He shifted in his chair and pushed the salad away from himself, as if it irritated him as much as its maker.
"She didn't mean it like that," Obed said, though the moment the assertion crossed his lips, he realized he was not entirely sure. Carver certainly had the right of other things, after all: the haste with which they had moved, the guilt his financial comfort seemed to lay on her. He frowned, steeling himself with a generous sip of wine.
"She's nervous and you're not helping."
The soft sounds of plates clinking could be heard from the kitchen as Isobel seemed intent on moving the dinner along, despite its speed bumps. She'd paused, taken her glasses off and wiped her eyes with a tissue, then focused on preparing the next and main course.
"Obed, can you please come help me?" Her voice was loud enough to be heard, and clearly straining to stay calm.
“Her nibs calls,” Carver murmured to Obed, not looking even a little guilty.
Obed pursed his lips, pointing a finger at Carver as he rose, as if in warning. He swept Carver's salad plate and his own from the table, disappearing into the kitchen. There he set the plates down, drifting close beside Isobel, his hand hovering just above the small of her back. He pressed a kiss to her cheek.
"What can I do?"
"I just need some help carrying these out to the table," she said, sniffing. She put her glasses back on, fingers still wiping at her eyes. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have said that. You know I always say stupid things when I'm anxious. I'll apologize." Though she stayed near him, she picked up a fork and pricked at the potatoes on the plate. "I really hope these aren't undercooked. Here," she continued, putting the fork down and picking up one of the plates. "You can take Ray's, I'll carry yours and mine? Or...I don't know. Maybe you should pick what we talk about next, too."
"It's okay. Really." He took up two of the plates: his own, and what he assumed was meant to be Carver's. "You talk about whatever you like. You'll be more comfortable if you do, don't you think?" He took a step away from her, tipping his head toward the dining room beyond. "Come on. We're halfway done. I'll distract him after dinner if the food doesn't shut him up."
She collected her own plate, nodding, and seemed to take a moment to steel herself. They walked back out to the table, Isobel waiting until Obed had served Carver his plate.
"I just wanted to apologize, Ray," she started, one hand on the back of her chair. "I didn't mean anything by my comment. How about we just... we start over?" She sank back into her chair, trying not to look as timid as she felt. "What are some of the places you've enjoyed visiting?"
Carver looked from Isobel to Obed, and back again; his smile held, but he shook his head, as if in some silent judgement. Then he shrugged. “India was pretty amazing.” He paused and tipped his head. “...if you pretended not to see the slums. Tibet. If you ignored the Chinese oppression. Hawaii… though I suppose there's an ugly side to their history, too. Or maybe they're all gorgeous and interesting because there's all that less than pretty reality behind that beautiful view.” He chuckled. “I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. Obed too, ain’t you, old man?”
A dark twist of a smile played on Obed's lips. He settled down into his seat, calmly taking up fork and knife as though Carver's words did not bring to mind a wealth of secrets he yet hid from her. The ugly reality behind his own impressive facade.
"The truth is always more interesting," he said, after a pause. "Usually a lot messier, too. But we take the good with the bad, don't we. And I'm sure you found plenty of ways to enjoy all those seedy underbellies, too."
“Of course,” Carver said, grinning.
Isobel started cutting into her meal, though her gut was telling her it would be as touched as her salad had been. Most of her wanted to get up and leave the table, but she forced herself to stay, trying to stay in the conversation when she felt boxed out.
"Hawaii would be nice for our honeymoon," she tried, bringing the topic back into an arena she had more control over and only with the slightest tinge of passive aggressiveness toward Carver. "I was thinking it might be a little overdone, but there has to be a reason it's so popular. Which island would you suggest, Ray?"
“It’s popular because it’s got sun and sand and beautiful, friendly people. But I don’t know what you like. A big fancy resort? Then follow all the tourists to Waikiki. Or if you want something more off the beaten path, you can go full jungle in Kauai.” Carver had forked a careful space between the components on his place, and finally cut into the potatoes. “Anyway you two ought to have plenty of time to do your research, right? You just started this whole ‘living together’ experiment.”
"We do, but word of mouth is helpful. Recommendations from friends," she replied, pointedly, taking a small bite of beef. "It would be nice to not make anyone feel alienated. We do have yet to figure out the finer details of the wedding, but we're excited, right, Obed?" She reached out with her left to brush fingers near Obed's elbow where it sat on the table.
Obed's mouth softened from its thin, hard line. Nodding, he caught her hand in his. He gave her fingers a brief but tight squeeze, a small attempt at providing some assurance. "We are," he said, the comment pointedly directed at Carver. "It will all come together just fine. And if you have any helpful suggestions while we're making our plans, we'd both love to hear them. I imagine that's part of what the best man should do anyway, right?"
“I’m always helpful.” Obed’s sudden declaration was noted only by the arch of one brow, briefly, as Carver replied. “And my helpful advice is maybe you two lovebirds shouldn’t sink any money into wedding cakes and honeymoons until you’re sure you’re not about come after each other with kitchen knives come first real nasty argument you have. Not starting shit,” he raised both hands, “just stating it how I see it. I know you had a bad situation--” he nodded at Isobel, “--and that Obed wanted to give you a hand out of it, but when the hormones wear off--”
The small smile that had appeared on Isobel's face erased itself completely, fleeing just as much as she wanted to. She pulled her hand back from Obed's, folding each into a careful fist away from each of her utensils that lay stabbed into food on her plate as though to immediately reject his assertion.
"Maybe you shouldn't be so quick to judge," she shot back, pulling her hands off the table as they started to shake. "Or is this some jealous thing about Obed being happy, and you being alone?"
Obed's own fork and knife dropped to the table with a clatter. "That's enough, both of you." The look he shot to each of them in turn was colder than it should have been; naked frustration showed in the hard line of his jaw. "Was an hour of civil behavior really that much to ask? Jesus Christ."
Carver regarded Isobel coldly. “Honey, if I want company I get company. And if I didn’t read people quick, I wouldn’t be shit as a businessman.” He set down his utensils carefully. “Now all I said was maybe you two ought to think about slowing things down. Hasn’t even been nine months yet. If that’s got your claws out, I have to ask--why?”
"Because of comments like yours," she shot back, her voice cracking a little. "Because I know what people will think." Her anxiety pounded in her head and Isobel reached forward for her water glass. Rather than appropriately grabbing and lifting it to her mouth, her fingers fumbled around the stem and spilled liquid everywhere. She muttered her first obscenity of the night, rising immediately to blot at the water with her napkin.
“What? That you’re a poor girl in a bad situation out to hook herself a fat rich man to save her? Rushing things along only makes that worse, don’t you think?” Carver leaned back in his chair, fingers lightly steepled, almost as if he were interviewing her.
Isobel's fist tightened around her wet napkin, glancing at Obed as if she expected him to at last say something in her defense; then her mind rolled over that thought. She threw her napkin over her plate and excused herself, saying Hanni needed a walk. As if on command, the tiny pom appeared from the living room to scurry after his mistress into the kitchen, and then back out to the apartment's entry way.
Obed remained in his seat. Silence seemed the best of his extremely limited options; he was certain anything he said now would only make matters worse. They each needed time and distance to make sense of this mess. It would pass, and they could all move forward with the air thoroughly cleared. Or so he hoped. He sat back in his seat, raking a hand through his short hair.
Carver stood up, looking at Obed hard. “You know. If you’re really going stick with this fucked up plan to marry the girl despite all the reasons not to - as I’m sure you will, because I know you - you should at least stick up for her, boss.”
With that, he started to leave, stopped, grabbed his still-full plate, and with it, marched out of the apartment, leaving Obed to his thoughts.