Seeking Perfection, Continued (1500Words, Round 3, Week 1, 2/18/18)
He stood frozen in the aisle completely overwhelmed by all the choices. A glance up told him that he was in the French section. Was that where he should be? Was there some other country that would be better suited? He hung his head, his shoulders sagged, and he felt nauseous. This shouldn’t be this hard. He was an adult. He had to be an adult right now.
“Can I…do you need help?”
He snapped up and took a few steps back, knocking into the shelves of wine behind him before answering, “No!” It came out too loud and sharp – he could tell by the expression on the woman’s face. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to bark. I’m just-“
“Hey, no problem. I will leave you be. You just looked a bit lost and I thought I might be able to help.” She nodded and moved past him down the aisle.
“Wait!” Again, it came out too loud. “I’m sorry,” he said in a more level voice. “I do need…I am lost. Help would be good.”
She smiled and put her basket down on the floor. As she did, he quickly checked for a wedding ring and was relieved to find one sitting on her left hand. She should be safe enough.
“I need to find a bottle of wine.”
She didn’t lose her smile as she nodded and said, “well, at least you found the right aisle. These are, indeed, bottles of wine. Step 1, complete.” Seeing him blush, she added, “Hey – that was just a little joke. To calm you down? You’re wound up as tight as a virgin on prom night!”
His eyes bulged and he took a step back. Her eyebrows shot up and she reached out a hand. “Hey, ok. No more jokes. I promise. You need to find a bottle of wine. I take it you’re not a big wine drinker?”
He swallowed and nodded. “I. I need it for dinner. I drink wine at restaurants, just not at home. I’ve never had to choose a bottle before.”
“That makes total sense.” She ignored his nervousness and focused on the puzzle at hand. “Two questions for you – how do you choose what wine to order, and what are you having for dinner?”
“At restaurants? I always order second and just get the same wine as someone else at the table. I don’t even say the name – I just point to whoever I’m going to copy and say, ‘I’ll have the same’ before the waiter moves on.” He watched her carefully for signs of another joke. It seemed safe enough to keep going. “For dinner, I’m cooking Alfredo pasta, grilled chicken, asparagus, and bread. Well, I’m buying the bread. I’m cooking the rest.”
“Sounds lovely.” She folded her arms across her chest and looked at the bottles in front of them. “When you get wine at restaurants, are you happier with the reds or the whites?”
“I’m happiest with the ones that bubble.” He felt shy offering that up and was pretty sure that was the wrong answer.
“Well, it’s most common to serve effervescent wines with an appetizer course rather than the main meal. You can do whatever you’d like though since it’s your dinner.” She looked up at him and asked, “Is this for a special occasion?”
He nodded and the blush returned to his cheeks.
“Special occasions go very well with bubbles.” She crouched down and grabbed a bottle from a low shelf. “How many people are you serving?”
“Three. Including me.” He started wringing his hands.
“Three? That’s an odd number for wines. No, no – not in a bad way!” She rushed to calm him down. “Just because of how many glasses are typically in a bottle.”
“Oh. It has to be three people. Three is why we’re having dinner in the first place.” He looked at her with an earnest expression. “It has to be three.”
The woman patted his arm reassuringly. “It’s not a problem, really. You just have an excuse to buy more wine.”
“I just want the dinner to go well. I need it to be perfect, and I need there to be wine.” He reached for the bottle she was holding. “Will this work?”
She handed him the bottle and folded her arms across her chest again. “Want to tell me what the special occasion is? It might help with choosing the right wine, especially if it needs to be perfect.”
Keeping his eyes on the bottle, he answered, “I am making dinner for my girlfriend’s mother. I want to ask my girlfriend to marry me and-“
“Oh! That’s so exciting and romantic!” The woman interrupted him and punctuated her remarks with little hand-claps. “Of course, you want the evening to be perfect. And of course, you’re nervous. What can you tell me about your girlfriend’s mother?”
He raised his eyebrows and tilted his head. “Why are you so excited?”
She gave him a big smile. “I love love!”
He shook his head. “She doesn’t. She doesn’t love me. She thinks I’m weird and that my girlfriend can do better.”
“That’s terrible!” The woman touched his arm again. “I’m sure that’s just your nerves talking. You’ll have her over for dinner, you’ll serve her the perfect wine, and she’ll give you her daughter’s hand in marriage.”
He backed up, stepping out of her reach. “It’s not my nerves talking. Nerves don’t talk. I know she doesn’t like me and thinks her daughter can do better because she’s said it. And I am weird, and my girlfriend probably can do better. I want to marry her anyway and I need this dinner to be perfect to make that a possibility. I have all the food, I just need the wine.”
The woman pressed her hands together and brought them up to her lips. She took a deep breath and said, “Ok. The perfect wine for a perfect meal. I suggest you buy three bottles. One bottle of Cava to serve as soon as your future mother-in-law arrives to set a celebratory tone for the evening and to start you off with your favorite bubbles. Then one bottle each of Chardonnay and Barbera so you can offer up a choice of red or white to go with the meal. You’ll also be serving wine from Spain, France, and Italy which will make it look like you really know your stuff. Sound good?”
He looked at her for a moment before asking, “Why are you helping me? You don’t know me.”
“I told you – I love love.” She smiled at him and added, “and you remind me of my husband.”
“Cava from Spain, Chardonnay from France, and Barbera from Italy. Thank you.” He turned away from her, returned the bottle he was holding to the bottom shelf and stood up to look at the wine bottles again with more focus. He quickly found the Chardonnay and grabbed a bottle with a label that suited him, then navigated his cart out of the French aisle and towards the Spain section without another word to the woman. He had two more bottles to find and then a meal to prepare, and he’d taken more time than he’d allotted for choosing the wine.
He didn’t notice that the woman he’d left in the aisle looked hurt at his abrupt dismissal. He wouldn’t have understood it if he had. Melody was the only one who made sense to him. She was the only one he could read – other people were confusing with their unexpected reactions and their odd facial expressions. He had one task before him and that was his focus.
Once his cart had the three recommended bottles rolling about inside it, he headed for the checkout aisles. He preferred the self-checkout lanes since he could get through without having to talk to the staff. Today he had to stay in the attended lanes because of the wine. He stood a bit back from the lines, observing the clerks so he could choose the most efficient lane when the woman appeared again.
“We meet again. I hope you found the wines you need for your perfect dinner.” Her words were pleasant and her tone was not. He looked at her, trying to figure out which was real.
“Do you hope I found the wines I need?”
The woman blushed this time. “Yes, I’m sorry. I really do hope you found the wines you need. You didn’t thank me and I let my frustration get the better of me.”
“You said you helped me because you love love and because I remind you of your husband. You didn’t say you helped me to get a thank you.” He paused and added, “thank you” before turning away to choose the perfect aisle.
The woman started sniffling and he recognized the sound as someone crying. He turned back to look at her and found her smiling while tears streamed down her face. He shook his head a bit, working hard to make sense of what he was seeing.
“You are so much like my husband.”
* This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to people or events is strictly coincidental. *