The dinner party itself went off beautifully. Leo added three folding chairs to the furniture collection, and Franny had purchased some large cushions at a local shop. Everyone was able to find a comfortable perch to eat the supper Franny anxiously served.
Although Leo claimed he had no girlfriend, he brought a woman – one of the local eccentrics who gravitated to his nonjudgmental friendship. This eccentric was an older, semi-retired art professor at the college, and she was eccentric because of the type of art she did – giant paintings of giant squids, pulsing along the sides of any building she could find. Her own garage was the best example, but she had also painted giant squids on the shops and garages of several friends around town. One garage door she’d completed early in her squid phase, she explained with a giggle, hung in a gallery in New York City. The art professor wore her gray hair clipped short, and combined with the bright red frames of her oversized glasses, the effect convinced Franny of the truth of her story. New York City would love an old art professor like her.
Leo had met the art professor, Marilyn, years before, when he posed for the anatomical drawing classes she taught. “Posed in the nude, of course!” Marilyn proclaimed to the party guests, slightly embarrassing every one in attendance except for Leo, who simply flexed an arm and laughed as he described the difficulty of holding still long enough for the students to do their assignments.
Alison’s boyfriend decided not to be grumpy at all, or perhaps, Franny considered, he never was, and Alison’s embarrassment at locking herself out of her apartment was all in her own mind. He was charming and praised the hostess. Franny’s pasta and steamed vegetables were cooked perfectly, seasoned to a T, and dressed in delicious tomato and garlic sauce that every guest wiped off their red and white plates with slices of the crusty bread Leo and the art professor brought with them. Alison contributed a bottle of very good red wine, and Franny hid her surprise at the thought that Alison was old enough to buy alcohol, much less to know good wine from bad.
“It could be dumb luck,” Marilyn whispered to Franny when Alison excused herself to use the ladies’ room. “She might have bought it from the sale rack at the Grocery Outlet and lucked into a good label. Or perhaps someone gave it to her as a gift, and she didn’t know enough to enjoy it herself.”
“Or she’s generous enough to save it to share,” Franny whispered back, but she smiled, recognizing a kindred spirit in the art professor’s cynical take on life. To atone for their whispered conversation, both Franny and Marilyn made a profuse show of thanks to Alison about the wine after she returned.
There was just enough food that everyone felt sated but not overfull, and just enough wine for them to share a lightly buzzed sense of well-being. Leo joked about dessert, causing Franny a moment of panic, as she hadn’t thought to make any. Marilyn came up with an idea that turned out to put the perfect coda on the evening.
“Ice cream!” she cried. They stared at her, shivering at the thought of frozen dessert in the subfreezing outdoor temperatures. But she insisted, and they all bundled up and walked to the newly-opened ice cream parlor, one that served ice cream made by a dairy that had been in the county for generations, in a hip new coffee shop setting intended to draw in the college students.
At the ice cream parlor, Franny scooped her vanilla out of the dish, as Leo sidled up to her. “Vanilla,” he said, clinking his dish against hers. “It’s the only ice cream flavor you need.” Franny beamed at her guests, who beamed back at her.
Home, she thought.