close your eyes and bow your head Who: Rafael, Alice, Gabriel, and Isobel, plus Eshan (NPC) and Robbie (NPC). What: Rafe hosts a dinner party. Things do not go according to plan. Where: #802 When: Backdated to Aug. 26.
For the last day and a half Rafael had been busily preparing both his home and his food, and at last the time had come to show off both. The table was set, the spacious apartment was cleaned, and Mr. Fishy the Second was comfortably ensconced in his brand new, lushly decorated aquarium. (He even had a small surfboard, shaped, painted, and placed carefully by Rafe's enthusiastic partner, who even now was adjusting it to ensure it looked just so.) The door was unlocked, but still shut, and Rafe caught himself glancing at it now and again as he circled the dining room table, filling each glass with chilled, unoaked Chardonnay.
Robbie, who had caught more than one of these longing looks, at last moved back to Rafael's side. "Everything's great," he insisted. "The food is amazing—"
"You've been nipping out of the pot, haven't you?" Rafe chided, shaking his head.
"Only a little. But it's great. Don't worry."
Rafael lapsed back into silence, darting about the house instead, cleaning up what didn't need to be cleaned. Let his boyfriend think his nerves were due solely to the food; let them all think he was still adjusting to his new surroundings, his new life. Better than than for any of them to guess the truth. Robbie, still sensing his unease if not its true cause, tried to distract him, plying him with wine and teasing touches. It worked, for a time, and soon the smile was back on Rafael's face.
Whether it would stay there for long was another question as two cursory knocks sounded at the front door to his apartment. On the other side were the first two of his invited guests—Gabe, with a mostly neutral Eshan in tow. After Gabe had gotten the invite to the small gathering, it had taken a lot of coaxing and convincing on his part to get Eshan to agree; the brief but still sharply felt events of the luchadore double date that was mostly stillborn left fresh unease in his mind. But Gabe did what he could, if only to create a facade (unknowingly, like his host) that there was nothing amiss. With a bottle of wine in one hand, and his boyfriend's hand in the other, Gabe had all but dragged Eshan to Rafe's to do more to reassure his host's mind rather than the person he should have been focused on.
"It'll be fun, OK?" He turned back to the fitted tee, jean-wearing man, who stood a slight inch taller than him, lingering behind him in the hall as though almost all he wanted to do was run back to Gabe's apartment.
"Yeah, I know," Eshan said, squeezing Gabe's hand in return. "So it's... your neighbor, and who else?"
"I think Rafe invited our other neighbor, Alice. Hopefully she'll be bringing some dessert..."
In answer, the elevator door dinged and a slightly disheveled red head appeared. Alice wore one of her more typical sundresses that she often donned for such occasions but her eyes were a little wider than usual, her hair a little messier, but sure enough there was a cake carrier in her hand with what appeared to be a dark cake inside. She flashed a half-hearted smile at Gabe, her distrust of him still there but a mutual understanding that they both had information on Rafael and needed to stick together, but offered a more genuine smile to his boyfriend.
“Hello!” She greeted them. “I’m glad you are out here, I thought I was running late.”
Gabe smiled wider at Alice's welcome interlude, shaking his head a little. Despite her obvious distrust of him (which he now was quite certain was not entirely undue), he felt grateful for her presence since it provided Eshan with some distraction.
"Nope, just on time. I don't think Rafe invited anyone else?" His brows rose, the question more rhetorical than actually seeking an answer.
"Just Isobel," Rafe said, opening the door wide. Behind him, Robbie cheerfully waved the hand not currently wrapped around a glass of white wine. "But I think she had to work. Come in!"
Rafe was unsure how to best greet Gabriel and Eshan, so he settled for a polite nod and a gesture toward the apartment's interior. To Alice he offered a hug, tightly squeezing her in gratitude for her presence and the doubtless delicious cake she brought along. "And what flavor is that," he asked, "unless it's a surprise?"
Robbie moved quickly to their side, making small, grabbing gestures toward the cake plate with his free hand. "I keep hearing about these desserts," he said. "I vote we make it the first course, whatever it is."
Alice grinned and hugged Rafael in return, feeling a relief she didn’t know she was searching for to see him again and happy. It wasn’t that she hadn’t seen Rafael recently, but that every time they were separated she worried about him. “It’s a death by chocolate cake!” She replied over Rafael’s shoulder as she held out the cake holder to Robbie. “It’s like a fudge cake with chocolate ganache and lots of chocolate goodies on top.”
Pulling back from Rafael, she smiled at the four men. “Hopefully no one dislikes chocolate.”
"I definitely don't," Eshan piped up, still awkwardly placed one step behind Gabe. The linking of their hands declared their status, and Gabe nodded in agreement as everyone made their way into the apartment. Gabe's gaze remained on their host, while his boyfriend's roamed the apartment, denoting his first time there; the latter man was relaxed, familiar with the space in a way that said he spent far more time than he probably should have inside of it.
"Where do you want this?" He held the wine bottle up by the neck, pointing to the kitchen and then to the dining room table. Rafael answered with a gesture toward the table, then promptly disappeared into the kitchen. "Annnd I don't think I've met this Isobel—new neighbor to the building?"
"I'm glad we're meeting other people," Eshan chimed in, smiling at Alice and the cake that Robbie was carefully carrying away. "Whenever I come over, this place seems so empty."
"Right?" Robbie agreed. "It's weird, isn't it? The rent's actually decent, you'd think people would be knocking the door down to get in…"
"You get used to it," Rafael said. He returned, wine opener in hand. He set it down beside the unopened bottle, ready should anyone want a taste of something other than the proffered Chardonnay. "Now I'm honestly not sure I'd even like it if it was more full up. It's kind of nice, and quieter than what I'm used to." Most of the time, he thought, but did not add aloud.
"So how's Molly?" Rafe asked, smiling over at Alice. "You could've brought her, you know. I don't think Mr. Fishy the Second would mind too much."
Alice smiled warmly, the frazzled look she had when coming off the elevator abating slightly. “She’s good! She’s a little love bug, she wants nothing but cuddles. I can see why people say their pets are their best friends. It’s nice to have her there when I get home.” She shrugged gently, brushing aside how silly she must have found, but turned her attention to the new fish in residence. “I wonder how Molly would react to Mr. Fishy the Second. He looks right at home in that tank!”
"Hah, well unless she can get in through the top, I think he'd be safe," Gabe commented, having drifted away from the wine and the table toward the fish tank Alice was describing. He leaned in to inspect the surfboard that hadn't been there before. "You're right, Rafe, the twenty gallon tank would have been too big. I'm glad you talked me away from it."
Eshan had started to follow his boyfriend, but paused at the scene Gabe was describing. "You helped him pick it out?"
"Mhm," Gabe replied, thoughtlessly, before straightening. He missed the dampened look on Eshan's face as he turned his attention toward Rafe. "I definitely can't wait to eat. How long should we hold off for your other friend?"
Alice’s eyes widened and her mouth thinned slightly as she stared at Gabe, then Eshan, then gave a pointed look at Rafael. He felt her eyes on him, so piercing and sharp her gaze felt almost tangible. He dared not look at her, instead only chuckling and heading off toward the kitchen with Robbie trailing close behind.
"Let's go ahead and get started," he said. "It's easy enough to warm back up when she gets here. Everyone take a seat, take a seat…"
Alice, not to give up by Rafael ignoring her, looked at Gabe and the seat arrangements before sitting purposely in the most central location. “There, room for you and...Eshan, isn't it? Then Rafael and his boyfriend here. Perfect.” She smiled prettily and tucked hair behind her ear. Eshan followed her lead easily, taking his newly assigned seat without complaint; Gabe had a small dusting of confusion in his expression, but he put a hand to Eshan's shoulder before taking his own spot.
Rafael and Robbie returned in short order, the former bearing a large pot of steaming stew, the latter with a slightly smaller pot of rice. They sat these down in the center of the table, then took their seats alongside their guests.
"That smells wonderful," Eshan commented, his own hand having gone to Gabe's thigh once his boyfriend was sitting. "Are you sure you don't need help with anything?"
Gabe's hand went to squeeze Eshan's, but his eyes were on the food, and then on Rafe, darting back and forth. He cleared his throat, keeping hold of the other man's appendage. "Yeah, if there's anything we can do...?"
"Just eat," Rafael said, "and hopefully enjoy it. And try to save room for cake. That's definitely going to be good."
Robbie took the chair across from Gabriel, casting a curious look to Alice as he did. There was a gleam in his eye that suggested he knew what she was about. He certainly did not seem opposed to it. But he looked up as Rafael returned to the dining area with serving spoons in hand and a gaze that kept drifting back, again and again, toward Gabe.
At last—spoons placed, wine at the ready, and no more fussing about to distract him—Rafe took his assigned seat: Eshan across from him, Alice to his left, Robbie to his right. He smiled at each guest in turn, now pointedly keeping those looks from lingering overlong. He glanced to Alice, holding his hand out for her plate.
Alice smiled--genuinely--at Rafael as she picked up her plate and handed it to him. “It smells really good, I’m excited to give it a try. I just hope it works well with the cake.” She looked about brightly at the men who sat around her, her gaze falling on Eshan. “So, Eshan, I don’t believe we’ve ever met. Do you live nearby?”
The man to whom she spoke shook his head as he pulled his utensil away from his mouth.
"I mean, I live in the area, but not so far south as you guys," Eshan replied, glancing at Gabe. "I'm up in Hollywood. It's closer to work for me; not all of us just get to work from home and write all day," he added, shoulder bumping the man sitting next to him. Gabe was in the middle of a sip, and shot Eshan a playful glare before putting his spoon back down.
"Eshan's a camera grip; he just finished up a project in Texas; am I allowed to say what you were working on?" He pointedly looked at his boyfriend, a smile on his mouth. Eshan shook his head again, biting back a laugh.
"No, I'm pretty sure I'm capable. It was a little indie film, not sure if anyone will have heard of it—Midnight's Mass?" His gaze swept around the table, gathering the blank but curious stares with a shrug. "It's OK, I hadn't either until a friend recommended me to the director. Was a couple of months with locations, but I'm glad to be back.
"What do you do, Alice?" He finished, spooning another mouthful of the soup toward himself.
“Um,” Alice began, a splash of color rising to her cheeks. “Well, I run a bakery nearby and a cooking blog, but I just finalized the pages for my first cookbook. I should get an ARC of it in a month or two.” She looked away shyly and reached for her glass of wine. It was still so new and shocking for her, that she wasn’t quite used to mentioning it, and she still felt as if she were an interloper in the world of publishing.
"I've already made her promise to autograph my copy," Rafael said, cheerful as ever. He scooped up another spoonful of rice and stew, blowing lightly to cool its steaming surface. "With recipes like she's got, she's going to be the talk of the town when it's published."
After a bite of his dinner, he nodded back toward his blushing friend. "We should have another party when the book comes out. Have a little bake-off, with all of us trying to recreate one of your recipes." He grinned, and Robbie shook his head.
"No way you'd want to try my attempt," Robbie said. "It'd be all burnt ends and whatever…"
Gabe laughed along with Robbie's words. "Same, I'm all thumbs in the kitchen in the best of times. I think we'd all have a hard time keeping up with you, an&endash; Rafe," he quickly caught himself, clearing his throat in the process. Before he could be called out for his gaffe or further stick his foot in his mouth, a knock came at the door.
Alice’s eyes brightened. “Oh, maybe that’s Isobel. The bakery should be closed by now!” She started to get up from her seat but paused, looking at Rafael. It wasn’t her house after all and the guest should be the one answering the door.
He nodded, wiping his mouth with his napkin as he rose to respond. "Robbie, would you get her a plate?" he asked, but his partner was already up and taking care of it all. He heard the second bottle of wine uncorked, and smiled at Robbie's thoughtfulness. He was grinning still as he opened the door, throwing it wide for Isobel to come in.
"Isobel, hi." He waved her inside; still wearing her slacks from the bakery, Isobel stepped into Rafe's apartment in a clean shirt, her dark hair around her shoulders. She waved as she looked over those already inside, and still seated. "We just got started. I'm so glad you could join us!"
Rafael gestured to those around the table, pointing out each in turn. "That's Robbie." Robbie raised her glass of wine in one hand, greeting her; the other was laden down with plate, bowl, and utensils. "And Eshan, and of course you know Gabe and Alice."
She nodded, absently chewing one corner of her bottom lip as she smiled at Robbie balancing everything in one go.
"Hi, everybody," she started, her voice soft. "Feels like first day of school all over again," she tried to laugh off before accepting the wine glass from Robbie; he insisted on putting the rest in an empty chair next to Alice. Isobel nodded gratefully, and took her spot. "I'm glad you guys didn't wait for me, and I'm sorry it took so long—someone with a special order was being, uh, kinda persnickety," she added, rolling her eyes toward Alice. "Mr. Pfeffer? You remember?"
Alice’s eyes widened then rolled as she nodded. “He’s the biggest pill.” She looked to the men at the table and continued to explain. “Everything has to be just right. If there’s a part of the icing that’s slightly uneven, he complains and wants it corrected. If one side of a tart isn’t specifically even with another, if something seems a touch too soggy or too dry. It’s always one thing or another. And yet, he always tells people to come to the bakery and he always comes back. It’s just hard to get him to leave.”
She leaned back in her chair and smiled at her friend. “I’m glad you’re here though, it seems more complete this way.” And she had a look in her eye that only Isobel could read, and perhaps Rafael if he was paying enough attention.
"Well, we shouldn't be rude to the newcomers," Isobel chided her, gently bumping her shoulder, taking a sip. Her eyes landed on Robbie, brightening. "Rafe told me a little bit about you, Robbie. Where did you two meet?"
"On set," he said, a touch too chipper, too eager to share this bit of information. He looked pointedly at Eshan as he did, an impish gleam in his dark eyes; Eshan merely looked confused, especially as his gaze drifted back to a suddenly red-faced Isobel. "I've been a fan of his for a long time. Even got his autograph one time before I got into the industry, myself." He chuckled. The color on Rafael's cheeks deepened, but Robbie kept on. "You could say he got me into the business, even if he didn't know it then. So when I got the call…" He grinned, bright and boyish. "Well. Now I get to pay him back a little. Y'know?" He laughed again, and tucked back into his food, while Rafe sat beside him burning with embarrassment.
"You two are actors? What have you guys been in?" Eshan asked eagerly, glad to finally be making a connection with seemingly like-minded people. Gabe cleared his throat.
"It's not... not that kind of acting, Eshan..." He leaned in, trying to delicately explain away the subject for those who were clearly uncomfortable with the turn of events.
"Oh, it's fine," Isobel added, clearly trying to play down her obvious embarrassment. "That's so great, though," she said, back to Robbie. "I'm glad you two have so much in common. It must be nice, Rafe, to have someone you can, uh, talk about work...with..."
Alice gave a jolting nod, her eyes large and her cheeks a shade of red that competed with her hair. She quickly found her food incredibly interesting, bringing a spoonful to her mouth as her other hand reached for her glass of wine.
Rafael cleared his throat, desperate to get the conversation back on track before Robbie could speed it along to even less savory places. "It is, thank you. Um, so, Isobel, Gabe helped me set up a new home for Mr. Fishy the Second, did you see?" He pointed to the large tank against the rear wall. The betta swam lazy loops inside, his tail an unfurling red fan. "Robbie made the little surfboard too."
Alice looked directly at Rafael. While this was a better topic than how Robbie and Rafael met, it still was dangerous territory based on the earlier conversation they had. Alice felt for a moment that it would be a blessing if Uke Mochi chose now to take over her body and fall to pieces; it’d save her from the awkward fielding of minor flirtations that were sure to follow.
Instead, she tried to steer the conversation along. “Mr. Fishy is right at home. Rafael said that Molly could have come but I’m afraid she’d try to eat him.”
"I definitely think she might," Isobel agreed, happy to latch onto the new topic. Meanwhile, across the table, an uncomfortable Eshan shifted in his seat. He leaned over to say something to Gabe, who shook his head, and reached over to squeeze his leg.
"Oh, Rafe," Isobel started, redirecting her attention as she started to rise from her seat. "Where's the wine bottle? I'm ready for a refill," she said, holding her glass up.
"I'll get it." He took her glass, then cast a quick look around the table. "Anyone else…?"
"Right here," Robbie said. He drained his glass in a single motion, then raised it up toward Rafael's hand. Rafe took it in his free hand and headed into the kitchen. As he disappeared, Robbie prepared another bowl of rice and stew for himself.
"So Isobel," he began, "you're a baker, too?"
Isobel shook her head, reseating herself. "Oh, no, I'm just working part time at Alice's; I'm sort of...between jobs right now," she replied. Hedging around a real answer, the conversation drifted off as Eshan quietly excused himself, giving Gabe a pat on the shoulder; Gabe glanced back in his direction, watching him walk away from the table but thinking little of it. His own hand came up to rest briefly on Eshan's before the other man moved away, his attention wholly on those seated.
Eshan followed Rafe into the rather spacious kitchen, moving slowly as the sound of voices grew briefly muffled.
"Hey, uh, can we...we talk?"
Rafael turned from where he stood at the counter, sucking a droplet of white wine from his fingertip. He smiled. "Of course. Did you want some?" He raised the bottle. Its contents splashed softly against the bottle's sides. There was enough left for one glass; the bottle Gabriel had brought would soon be required. Rafael reached for the wine opener still resting on the counter. "We may have to get into the bottle you and Gabe brought…"
Eshan shook his head, one hand raising to wave away the offer. He took a few steps closer to Rafe, drifting toward a counter, his hip landing softly against it.
"Yeah, he... He's pretty thoughtful," he started, eyes on the bottle for a moment, brows set against one another. "Especially when it comes... you know, to you." His gaze moved up, settling on Rafe's face. "Look, I don't know what's going on between you two, and... I don't think I want to know, but I just wanted to say, I'd really appreciate it if you backed off."
The words did not immediately sink in. Rafael's smile faded but slowly, and just as slowly he turned to face his unhappy guest. He set down the bottle, reaching for the wine key instead. He slipped it into his pocket, ready to rejoin the party still buzzing quietly back at the table, but even now he knew Eshan would not be so easily shaken off. So he made his posture as relaxed as he could, though tension remained in his shoulders, and tried to find the right words to say.
"There's nothing to back off from," Rafe said. "We're friends, Eshan. Neighbors. That's all."
Eshan's eyes narrowed, disbelief edging the lines around his mouth. "You two certainly spend a lot of time together for a couple of friends. I've talked to him about it, and now this whole... the acting thing. If you're just friends, then you'll understand it when I say I don't trust you two around each other. I would just really like..." He took a deep breath, eyes closing and opening in nearly the same beat. "I would really like it if you respected our relationship. I don't think that's too much to ask." He took a step back, his body slanting toward the sound of dinner conversation and light laughter. One of those voices was distinctly Gabe's, as oblivious to the events going on in the kitchen as he had been about so many other things.
"I do, Eshan. Obviously I do. I wanted you both here tonight." Rafe gestured to the dining room beyond, genuinely taken aback by the turn the conversation had taken. "Robbie is here. I don't… where is this coming from? Did I say something, or—"
Eshan started to shake his head, and then stopped mid-motion. "No, I... I don't really know. I just would really like it if you stopped dangling yourself in front of Gabe and... you just moved up to this floor, too, right? So, what, just living in the same building wasn't enough?" He stopped himself, taking a deep breath. "Sorry, I just, I swear I'm not accusing you of something, I'm just trying to stop anything before it starts, and there's nothing specific... But you get very handsy with him, and last time at the warehouse—"
His words were interrupted by Isobel's voice, asking if everything was OK, and, really, she didn't mind getting her own drink. She paused in the kitchen doorway, aware of the thick tension that lingered in the room. One hand came up to rest on the doorway frame, her form leaning into it like she was trying to half hide her presence as penance for the interruption.
"Um, everything all right, in here?"
Rafe looked to Eshan as if for confirmation. At once he felt embarrassed of this reaction, and turned his gaze back to Isobel. His smile was weak and faltering. "Yes, sorry." He held her glass out to her, then raised the one intended for Robbie. "We just got a little distracted. I didn't mean to keep you waiting."
He moved to Isobel's side, all but clinging to her like the lifeline she was; Eshan remained standing where he was, though he at least turned around as Rafe moved past. Rafe's shoulder brushed Isobel's as he skirted past and out the door. "I should really get this to Robbie…" He moved so quickly into the living room something was clearly amiss. He paused only to hand the glass to his boyfriend, whose expression quickly devolved from gracious to nakedly confused. Rafe kept himself too busy to be questioned, opening the second bottle of wine with subtly trembling hands. Eshan and Isobel came back in his wake, Isobel first, concern thoroughly embedded in her expression. She went quietly back to her seat, glancing at Alice before looking back at Rafe. Eshan made eye contact with no one, even as Gabe looked at him, trying to discern what had happened in the kitchen.
Alice’s eyes were on Rafe immediately, her brow furrowing as she glanced between him and Isobel as the latter returned to her seat, looking equally awkward as she felt. Getting to her feet, Alice moved swiftly around the table and came to Rafael’s side, a light hand touching his shoulder as she leaned closer to him. He leaned thoughtlessly into her. “Should I begin cutting the cake? Cake always makes people happy, right?” She said softly, squeezing his shoulder and trying to bring a smile to his face.
"Sure." His voice was unsteady, as shaky and uncertain as his smile. "Yes. That would be nice. There's, um, there's ice cream in the freezer if you want…"
Alice gave his shoulder a squeeze and disappeared with quick steps toward the kitchen. Robbie cast a quizzical look to his boyfriend, his dark gaze darting from Rafael to the other guests. "Can I help?" he asked, directing the question as much to Rafe as to Alice. Rafe shook his head and hastily returned to his seat, where he began picking at what remained of his meal.
"Yeah," Robbie said, a little too loud. "I need to finish mine, too. But then cake sounds fuckin' awesome."
Gabe looked between Eshan and Rafe, though neither seemed willing to meet his gaze. The palpable awkwardness of the situation was, somewhat finally, something he could not ignore.
"If there's anything I can do to help..." He started, his eyes falling on Eshan as he tried to figure out what it was that needed doing.
"This is really good, though, Rafe," Isobel interjected, trying to keep things moving away from whatever she'd accidentally walked in on. "Can you share the recipe, or is it a family secret?" A slanted smile fixed itself on her face as she leaned in and tried to continue pulling Rafe away from the strange issues at hand.
“I’d like the recipe too, if you could give it up,” Alice said brightly as she returned with the cake, a knife she found herself, and a stack of plates. Already she felt at home in Rafael’s apartment, having made herself comfortable as quickly as she could once he moved in order to keep an eye on him.
The question, paired with Alice's return, did bring a small, sincere smile to Rafael's face. "Oh, of course. It's very easy, I can just text it to you both."
She placed the cake on the table in what space was available and the plates to the side before pulling the plastic cake cover free and beginning to slice the cake. “Now we don’t have to eat this now but at least the slices will be there for you all when you’re ready.” She smiled, despite that it didn’t quite reach her eyes, and tried her best to produce a cheerful manner to ease the high tension of the room. Gabe was quiet, his eyes continuously drifting between Eshan and Rafe; one hand had gone to Eshan's wrist, a thumb passing over the man's pulse.
Robbie nodded vigorously, polishing off his second bowl of stew and rice. He kept looking to his boyfriend as though awaiting some sign, some guidance on how he should act. Rafael's expression provided nothing, so Robbie satisfied himself by shifting his chair closer to their host. His knee pressed to Rafe's, bumping idly into him for the comfort and consolation he could not seem to get otherwise.
Blessedly the meal was nearing its end, and the appearance of sliced cake did not seem entirely rushed. Everyone present knew the real reason for Alice's serving them, but they seemed quite willing to pretend otherwise. Rafe, his dinner largely untouched since his return from the kitchen, turned to the cake with a quirk of a smile on his face.
"This is delicious, Alice, thank you," Rafe said. "Thank you all, actually, for coming."
"Any excuse for a free meal," Isobel joked, carefully slicing into a piece of the cake. Gabe had pulled a piece toward himself, motioning to ask Eshan if he wanted one as well, but he'd shaken his head no.
"I think we'll take a few slices to go," he interjected, his voice soft. He selected two pieces and started to rise from his chair; Eshan followed suit, his gaze wandering around the table but not landing on any one specific person. "Thanks for inviting us, Rafe; we're going to have to have you two over at my place to repay you." He carefully balanced the two plates, but did not seem eager to leave the scene while Rafe remained in such a mood. Eshan noticed this, having already taken a few steps away from the table, and frowned.
Rafe did not answer. The shake of his head and immediate downturn of his gaze were answer enough. With the edge of his fork he cut a small bite from his piece of cake.
"Any time," he said, pointedly focusing on his dessert. "You're both always welcome."
Robbie, swallowing another bite, turned around in his seat to wave goodbye. His free hand fell to Rafe's thigh, giving it a small, quick squeeze, as Alice placed the knife down beside the disassembled cake and touched Rafael’s shoulder once more before returning to her seat with her own cake.
“Have a good evening,” Alice said half heartedly to the two, still trying her best to have a hostess smile. “We’ll clean up here.” She looked directly at Gabe for this, meeting his gaze as if to say I’m on it. Whatever it was. She wasn’t going to leave Rafael in whatever mood had befallen him; what if he turned to self medication as he had in the past. Turning away from Gabe, she poked Rafael’s arm. “You should have more! The host gets two, if not three slices.”
Rafael chuckled, shaking his head, one hand raised to push her away. "No, I really can't…"
A faint smile moved over Gabe's face; it was obvious he wanted to stay, and his gaze was only drawn away by a small touch on his elbow from Eshan. As if reminded of his current duties, Gabe nodded, glanced at those sitting around the table once more, and then allowed himself to be led out of Rafe's apartment by his boyfriend.
Isobel leaned forward on her elbows, one hand holding the edge of her plate while the other held its fork mid-air, watching Gabe and Eshan go. Despite that Robbie was still a variable in the room, she let out a small breath, shaking her head.
"Rafe, we can stay or go whenever you want," she offered, turning back to look at their host. "And I agree with Alice; chocolate makes everything better." As if to prove her point, she took another bite, her brows bobbing up and down as she chewed. It was clear that food wasn't going to fix the situation in its entirety, whatever had happened, but at the very least it could provide a distraction.