Laura arrived at the restaurant first and sat down. The host sat her at a table towards the back; she wondered if it was because he thought she was eating alone. The waiter then walked over with a small drink menu, but Laura knew what she wanted. She ordered a strong Belgian beer. The waiter came back with the beer. Laura took her first drink and tasted the slightly sweet, almost like bubblegum, flavor of the top of the beer mixed with foam. She was waiting for about ten minutes, slowly sipping the foam away, when Adam arrived.
“Hello, you drunk.”
His face was clean-shaven, which made his nose look more pointed than it usually did. She wasn’t sure if that was a good look for him. His cheeks were slightly round and stubble made him look more distinguished. She’d have to tell him that again at some point.
“I figured, why not?”
Adam sat down and fixed the collar of his shirt. He looked a little droopy in the heat. She imagined that she must look the same way—she felt very sticky all over.
“What are you drinking?”
“Chimay? You haven’t drank one of those in a long time.”
“The heat reminded me of it.”
He looked at the drink menu. “What should I get?”
“I don’t know. You like beer. Maybe have a cocktail.”
“I think I will.”
When the waiter came over, he ordered a Manhattan.
“I don’t know if that will keep you cool in this heat.”
“They have enough A/C in here.”
The waiter came back with the Manhattan and set it down on the table. The glass was frosted and thick. Adam took a drink, nodded, and then rubbed his chin.
“Thanks again for everything,” she said.
“It’s no problem. That’s what friends are for.”
She laughed. “I don’t think anyone had this in mind when they invented that phrase.”
“Well no one was donating their eggs back in those days.”
She laughed again. They saw each other at least twice a week and usually spoke every day, but they hadn’t seen each other since he had taken her for her appointment. She felt as though there was a slight distance between them, but then she was sure that she was probably imagining it.
“Cheers,” Laura said.
They clinked their glasses and took a drink. The waiter returned and they decided to order dinner. They ordered mussels and an arugula salad to start and share and they each got strip steaks and fries for dinner. They both loved to eat meat, but Laura usually ate more than him overall. She didn’t want to, but she couldn’t turn away a good ribeye when she passed it in the market or some fresh soppressata when she walked past the Italian butcher near her apartment. It was nothing a little bit of jogging couldn’t take care of. She just had to set the alarm and leave the sheets a little earlier than she liked.
“So did you go out with your girl again?” she asked.
“How’s it going?”
“Oh, come on! You said you liked her.”
“We fooled around a little bit.”
“You always say that. I never know what it means!”
“Just fooling around.”
“Did you or what?”
“We fooled around.”
She threw her napkin at him and he folded it and slid it back to her.
“Act like a lady.”
Laura shook her head.
“No,” Adam said. “But I don’t think I’ll be seeing her anymore.”
The waiter brought out the arugala salad and the mussels with a very small basket of bread. The bread was warm and they ripped pieces off and dipped it in the side of the mussel bowl and sopped up the white broth with the translucent onions. She slid the salad over to him and he took a few forkfuls onto his bread plate. They each picked apart their mussel shells and used one side for spooning up more broth. Laura liked the white wine broth; it fit the summer. However, she wondered maybe if she felt more in the mood for the red broth.
They finished the salad and the mussels and each ordered another drink, sitting back looking at the black shells discarded in the remnants of the broth; little leaves of parsley stuck to the bowl.
“I can’t believe its over.” Laura said.
“All the tests and doctor visits. The whole thing.”
“You did what you wanted to do.”
Laura nodded. The restaurant had started to fill up and someone dimmed the lights slightly.
“Now some infertile woman somewhere is going to be a very happy mother,” Adam said.
“Don’t be an ass.”
“No, I’m serious. At least I think I am.”
She laughed and leaned in.
“Did I ever tell you that Sophie had her eggs frozen?”
“Lots of women do it now.”
“I don’t know. I guess it makes sense.”
“I don’t know where she gets the money.”
“Where do either of them get money?”
They were quiet for a second.
“Well,” Adam said. “Now I know where you get your money.”
She nearly spit out her drink. “That’s terrible,” she said through her laughter.
The waiter brought the steaks and then asked them if they wanted cracked pepper. He cracked the pepper on Adam’s steak first, then hers. Adam took just a little of the cracked pepper on his steak—Laura held out for a few seconds, letting the seared meat get a light coating. She liked the warmth of pepper for some reason. As she took her first bite, she laughed to herself.
“What?” Adam asked.
He chewed his steak and took a drink of his Manhattan.
“I don’t know about Sophie and Keith being married.”
“It’s almost two years now. I think they’re fine,” she said.
“There’s someone for everyone.”
“You think so?”
“I guess. I mean we’ll all have to find somebody, right?”
They finished eating their steaks and the salted fries and the waiter cleared the table. He brought out the dessert menu and handed one to both Laura and Adam. They looked over the small, finely cut pieces of stationary.
“What do you think?” she asked.
Adam stood up. “I’m going to go outside for a cigarette. Why don’t you order whatever you want and we can split it?”
“Get me a scotch too?”
“No, just the scotch. Any kind. They have all good stuff here.”
He walked away from the table and outside to have his cigarette. Laura ordered the flourless chocolate cake and a cappuccino for herself and ordered Adam his scotch. As she sat at the table, she thought about picking up her phone and checking her e-mail, but she decided she didn’t want to give in to the impulse, didn’t want to seek the gratification of finding a text or an e-mail on her phone—she just wanted to sit.
Over her left shoulder, she noticed that a woman was sitting at a nearby table by herself. The woman was on the phone. Just over the noise of the restaurant, she could hear the woman slightly crying on the phone. Laura looked over her shoulder again. The woman was closer than she thought. Laura noticed that the woman was thin and beautiful and her face was somewhat tight and exotic looking. She could see the woman’s exposed legs underneath the table and in the dim light, Laura thought she noticed bruises along one of her calves. Laura faced away from the woman but strained to listen.
“He just said he wasn’t prepared to love me, but that he would always need me. I don’t even know what that is supposed to mean.”
The waiter came back and placed a dessert spoon in front of her and across the table at Adam’s empty seat. She thought about what she had actually done; what she had actually just gone through. The science of it was complicated and surreal and the economics were just strange. Her eggs were a commodity. Men did it all the time, but it seemed strange to her, now, that a woman like her would do it. Yet, she knew that other women did it all the time. It was just so much easier for men and the price reflected it.
She strained to listen for the woman’s voice, but she could only make out a low murmur. The restaurant was starting to get louder. Laura looked around the room and then settled her gaze on the doorway. What would it be like to run into the mother or the child? It was impossible, but maybe one day she would recognize a child in the park playing with its mother. It would be something sudden and intuitive—a jolt to the brain and maybe the stomach. She would know that it was her child; but that sort of thing was impossible.
She saw Adam walk back into the restaurant. He walked towards the table with his loping stride. His collar, which had gotten crisper during dinner, was now droopy again. Light sweat stuck along his forehead.
“It’s still so damn hot out there,” he said.
The waiter brought the cake, the cappuccino and the scotch. Adam took a drink of the liquor as Laura lifted her spoon.
“Why don’t we take a walk after?”
“It’s not pleasant.”
“I need to burn some of this off.”
She nodded. “I’ll give you a drink back at my place.”
Laura lifted her spoon and delicately scooped a curve of the cake off the plate and into her mouth. It was slightly warm and chocolatey, but not too rich. It filled her with warmth and she took another spoonful without regret. The froth of the cappuccino gently steamed in front of her and she thought about how she had always been prone to moments of weakness.