Christen definitely believed in signs.
Those things the universe gave you to let you know you’d gone on the right path. A front-row parking spot at the grocery store. A packet full of only pink Starbursts. Your lucky numbers listed on the back of a fortune cookie fortune.
She believed in these sorts of things because there had to be something bigger than herself in this world. Something divine.
So when it started pouring rain while Christen walked down Main Street in Napa, California, one hour after she’d finished moving the last box into her new house, she took it as a sign.
A sign she was meant to come here because rain was divine.
Except as it poured rain around her and she went to open her umbrella, her umbrella broke. In half.
That was a sign too, and Christen wasn’t entirely sure what it meant. Or maybe she did, and she really didn’t want to read into it.
Running through the rain, Christen looked around for the restaurant she’d googled, the one that stayed open late while the rest of the restaurants closed for the night. She looked for the wooden sign and the market lights, and then she saw it. A block and a half away.
With a deep breath, Christen continued her hurried pace through the rain, getting completely soaked as she made her way to Napa’s Table .
Finally, she arrived and pulled open the front door, a small bell jingling and signaling her entrance. But as she looked around the space, she saw the tables with chairs on top of them and no patrons sitting around the space.
Another sign. Another not-so-great one.
“Damn,” Christen sighed under her breath, running a hand over her face to try and get the water off of it.
“You need a towel?” a waitress asked from the corner of the room, her hands on a chair and her eyes crinkling in slight amusement.
“Yeah, that would be great,” Christen nodded, offering the woman a small smile.
“Why don’t you take this table, and I’ll go see if I can catch one of the chefs before they leave,” the waitress offered.
“That’s okay. You’re closing up,” Christen waved off, her feet squishing in her shoes as she fidgeted at the door.
“It’s pouring. We’d be pretty inhospitable if we sent you back out with an empty stomach,” the waitress shrugged, setting the chair down. “I can at least get you something to drink.”
“Got a wine list?” Christen asked, smiling again and just deciding to take the offered table.
“Got a wine list,” the waitress scoffed, as she pulled a lighter out of her pocket and relit the candle on the table. “You do know where you are, right?”
Christen laughed and made her way across the tiled floor, over to the table.
“I’ll be back with water and some menus,” the waitress said, moving away from the table and toward the kitchen to convince a chef to stay behind and make something for this poor woman who was soaked with rain.
“Thank you,” Christen offered, dropping her broken umbrella next to the chair and taking a seat. She pulled her hair up into a wet, messy bun and looked around the restaurant.
It had a very homey vibe. There were exposed wooden beams on the ceiling, exposed stone behind the bar. The floor was a light tile meant to match the color of the exposed stone. The lighting was dim and warm, but the windows were big, allowing Christen to watch the storm outside.
Soft music filled the space, and from the sounds of it, it was The Beatles, making Christen smile just a bit.
The waitress walked back out with a wine list, a menu, a towel, and a glass of water, putting it all down in front of Christen.
“Kitchen staying open?” Christen wondered, using the towel to wipe off her arms and face.
“Yes, but I can’t promise they’ll have everything on the menu. Just tell me what you're most interested in, and we’ll do our best to get you something similar.”
Christen slid the wine menu towards herself. She flipped through the pages, smiling softly at the names she recognized and the ones she’d tried before.
“Can you find a dish that’ll pair nicely with a glass of Montepulciano? The Cirelli, 2018.” Christen asked, closing the menu and offering the waitress a smile.
“Sure,” the waitress nodded. “That’s a good choice. Any allergies we should know about or foods you absolutely hate?”
“Whatever you do, please don’t let them pair it with anything too sweet. It’ll kill the wine,” Christen replied.
“I’ll let them know,” the waitress chuckled, taking the wine list and menu and putting it across the table just in case Christen wanted to look through them again.
“Thank you…” Christen trailed off, looking down at the name tag pinned to the tailored, black button-up the waitress wore. “Tobin. Thank you, Tobin.”
“No problem. I’ll talk to the chef and be right back with your wine,” Tobin said, turning to head back into the kitchen.
“Did you kick her out?” Alyssa asked, rinsing her hands in the large sink, the only one left in the kitchen now that everyone else had gone home.
“Nope,” Tobin shook her head, already opening a fridge and looking at the possible options she had.
“Umm...but we’re closing. The kitchen’s closed,” Alyssa replied with a furrowed brow, drying her hands on a towel.
“I’m opening the kitchen,” Tobin replied, grabbing some beef and eggs and flour, her arms full and her brain working a mile a minute.
“Is she a critic or something?” Alyssa wondered.
“No,” Tobin mumbled, putting the food down on a counter and pouring out a pile of flour.
“Then why are you...making her some kind of pasta?” Alyssa asked, narrowing her eyes at the ingredients and utensils Tobin was getting out and setting up.
“It’s pouring outside. She’s drenched. We’re the only place open. I just couldn’t kick her out,” Tobin said, making a well with her hands and cracking eggs into it.
Alyssa sighed and rolled her sleeves back up, grabbing the beef from the counter. “Want a beef ragu to go with that?”
“That’s the idea,” Tobin grinned.
“Don’t mess up my pasta machine,” Alyssa warned with a smile.
“I would never,” Tobin gasped, beating the eggs as she spoke. “I’m gonna get her some wine and be back in a second.”
“Stay out there if you need. I think I can handle pasta. Tagliatelle? Linguine?” Alyssa wondered, setting some pans onto the stovetop and getting them warm.
“Tagliatelle,” Tobin hummed as she gradually mixed the flour into the eggs, stirring until it formed a ball of dough.
“Go, I got it,” Alyssa instructed.
“Sorry. Thanks for staying,” Tobin said, rushing to the nearest sink and washing her hands.
“Dude, you’re my ride home. Of course, I’m staying,” Alyssa grinned.
“I kinda screwed you, didn’t I?” Tobin teased.
“Did she pick a good wine? Tell me it’s not a white,” Alyssa said, working the ball of dough.
“Montepulciano. Cirelli 2018,” Tobin replied as she dried her hands and put a hand on the kitchen door.
Alyssa blew out a whistle and nodded. “A good choice. Not gonna break the bank, not gonna disappoint. Approachable. Pairs well with this hearty pasta dish. She knows her wine.”
“I’ll tell her you approve,” Tobin laughed, pushing through the door and heading to the bar, her eyes glancing over at the beautiful stranger who was looking out the window at the rainy street.
Tobin carried the bottle and the wine glass over to the table and poured a taste for Christen.
Christen swirled the small pour around in her glass for a few moments to aerate it. She then lifted the glass and took a deep inhale, nodding a bit at the freshness of the wine, the notes of balsamic vinegar making her smile.
She then took a small sip, letting the red wine roll across her tongue, finding herself agreeable to the dry, fruity taste.
“Sure you grabbed the 2018?” Christen asked, all without opening her eyes.
“Positive,” Tobin replied, looking down at the bottle again and reading the date.
Christen cracked an eye open and saw Tobin checking the label. “I’m just messing with you. It’s great, thank you.”
“Oh,” Tobin blushed. “Sorry, our sommelier already went home.”
“Have you ever tried a Montepulciano?” Christen asked, finding herself charmed by the blushing waitress.
“A taste,” Tobin nodded. “We have restaurant meetings every week to try everything. They want to make sure we can truthfully recommend things to guests.”
“Grab another glass. I’ll take the bottle and you can have more than a taste. This is a particularly good vintage,” Christen offered, her love of wine fueling her words and her offer.
“Um...I probably shouldn’t,” Tobin said, a goofy smile slipping onto her lips at this guest’s request.
Christen looked around and then playfully leaned toward Tobin. “Is your boss here or something?” Christen whispered.
“Definitely not,” Tobin nodded slowly, pouring Christen a glass of the wine.
“Then grab that other glass,” Christen replied, sitting back in her chair.
“You’re a bad influence,” Tobin hummed.
“Generous pour,” Christen observed with a small smile. “You’re a bad influence too.”
“You seem to have had a day,” Tobin said softly, pointing out the window at the rain.
“Just a little rain,” Christen shrugged, not bothered by the torrential downpour outside. Not when it had led to this restaurant and this waitress and this wine.
Tobin hummed, moving to the bar to grab a wine glass and pouring herself the tiniest bit of wine before setting the bottle on Christen’s table.
Christene tsked and picked up the bottle, pouring more into Tobin’s glass. “You seem to have had a day too,” she observed.
“Just a little rain,” Tobin repeated, completely caught off guard by this customer and her more than pleasant demeanor.
“It doesn’t do this often here, right?” Christen wondered, taking another sip of her wine, humming softly at the taste.
“No, not often,” Tobin shook her head. “Are you visiting?”
“Just moved from Southern California,” Christen replied.
“And you’re in the wine industry,” Tobin guessed.
“What gave me away?” Christen asked with a smile.
“You taste wine like it’s the most important thing, like it’s what you’ve been waiting to do all day,” Tobin shrugged.
Christen sat back in her chair and laughed. “Wine is the most important part of my day,” she agreed.
“I’m glad the Montepulciano is good, then,” Tobin replied.
“Will you grab another glass for whoever you roped into sticking around to cook? I feel bad still that you’re staying open.”
“She didn’t have a choice. I’m her ride,” Tobin admitted as she moved to get another glass. “And she’s the junior chef, so it isn’t like I convinced the executive chef to stay.”
“I’m sure it’s going to be great,” Christen said, grabbing the wine bottle and pouring a glass for the junior chef in the kitchen. “Thank you, again. For this.”
“Of course,” Tobin nodded, taking both the glasses Christen had poured in her hands and stepping away from the table. “I’ll go check on your food.”
“Thank you,” Christen repeated with a smile.
Tobin stepped back into the kitchen, feeling like she was on some episode of What Would You Do? and John Quiñones was gonna jump out and tell her she was a good person for letting this stranger stay and eat.
“She gave us wine,” Tobin said, her voice expressing the confusion she felt.
“She gave us some Cirelli?” Alyssa asked, stirring the ragu sauce over low heat.
“Yeah, she bought the bottle and told me to pour us glasses,” Tobin answered, placing the wine glasses on the counter near Alyssa and walking over to where Alyssa had rolled out the pasta dough and sliced it into the right sized strips.
“What’re you doing talking to me for? She sounds nice. Go chat her up!” Alyssa replied.
“She is nice, but I don’t wanna annoy her,” Tobin shook her head.
“Fine. Throw that pasta into the water I’ve got boiling.”
“Yes, chef,” Tobin teased, putting the pasta in the water and setting a timer for three minutes.
“She cute?” Alyssa asked with a shit-eating grin, adding a pinch more salt to her sauce.
“She’s gorgeous,” Tobin said with a blush.
“Okay, get out there right now. I’ll bring the pasta out,” Alyssa laughed, shooing Tobin away from the stove.
“No way,” Tobin shook her head. “I don’t have anything to bring her.”
“Umm...bread! We have bread,” Alyssa offered.
“We don’t serve bread unless people ask for it,” Tobin said with a laugh.
“She doesn’t know that,” Alyssa replied, waggling her brows and smiling.
Tobin sighed, pursing her lips in thought. “Fine, don’t overcook my pasta.” She moved around the kitchen, warming up the bread that they served with muscles or when customers specifically asked for bread.
“Please. Pasta’s my specialty,” Alyssa scoffed.
Tobin gathered some butter, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, not sure what the guest would want to eat with her bread. She waited for the timer for the bread to go off and then piled it into a basket.
“Enjoy your wine,” Tobin grinned, heading to the door with her arms full.
“Enjoy your gorgeous, generous stranger,” Alyssa quipped, continuing to stir the sauce with one hand and picking up her wine glass with the other.
“It won’t be much longer, but if you’re interested, we have some assorted breads,” Tobin said, placing the basket in the middle of the table along with the small bowl of butter and an empty plate that Christen could use for the olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
“Any particular one you recommend?” Christen asked, happy that the waitress was back.
“I’m a fan of the focaccia,” Tobin answered, pointing at one of the breads. “Our ciabatta is good too. I also brought olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Everyone seems to prefer something different on their bread.”
“Focaccia it is,” Christen replied with a smile.
Tobin nodded again and then busied herself by picking up the two menus she’d left on the table, unsure of what more she could say or do or ask. Normally, the restaurant was busier and she had someone else to check on.
“Are you the one behind the music?” Christen wondered, watching with amusement as Tobin awkwardly moved around the space, adjusting chairs on top of tables.
“It is a bit hodge-podge, isn’t it?” Tobin smiled sheepishly.
“I like it,” Christen replied.
“I um...hijack the speakers to clean up,” Tobin admitted.
“I won’t tell your boss,” Christen chuckled, letting out a low hum when she tried the focaccia. “About the music or the after-hours meal.”
“Or the wine,” Tobin said with a grin.
“Wine? What wine?” Christen joked, finishing off the piece of focaccia with a smile.
“That’s all Alyssa’s gonna talk about on the way home,” Tobin laughed as she wiped down the bar.
“Junior chef in the back?”
“Junior chef who doesn’t have a car, otherwise I’d be here alone making you something much less amazing,” Tobin nodded.
“I somehow doubt that. I bet it’d be pretty amazing. And I do hope you both enjoyed the wine. When it rains like this, a glass of wine just hits the spot,” Christen hummed, sipping her wine again, her eyes tracking Tobin’s movements.
Tobin laughed again and moved behind the bar to put away some clean glasses. “I always thought it was hot tea or coffee for rainy days. You’re definitely in the right business.”
“Give me a Grenache over hot tea any rainy day. A Grenache is like...a great jazz album. Calm and smooth. Perfect rainy day company,” Christen replied with a warm smile.
“I’ll ask the manager to play you some jazz next time,” Tobin said softly, double-checking that everything that needed to be in the fridge was put away.
Alyssa pushed through the kitchen with a steaming plate of pasta, and walked past Tobin with a smirk.
“Junior chef sans car?” Christen asked with a smile and an arched brow.
“Alyssa,” Alyssa chuckled, placing the plate of pasta in front of Christen.
“Christen,” Christen introduced herself. “Thanks for staying open and for this incredible dish.”
“Of course,” Alyssa hummed as she stepped back from the table. “If the noodles aren’t perfect, you can blame Tobin. We hope you enjoy.”
Christen looked between Tobin and Alyssa with a small smile. “I assume there’s about a portion and a half left in the pan?”
“You know, you’re not a typical customer,” Alyssa said with a grin.
“I’ve been on the other end of the apron. Why don’t you plate it and join me? I hate eating alone,” Christen replied, gesturing at the two chairs propped up on the table nearby. “And you already have the wine.”
“She’s really twisting my arm, Tobs,” Alyssa said, obviously hesitating to say yes.
“Did I mention I’m new in town and got absolutely poured on an hour ago?” Christen chuckled, knowing that was going to be what put Alyssa over the line.
“I am really starving,” Alyssa said, practically skipping back to the kitchen.
“Hope that was okay,” Christen said, looking over at Tobin, who had gone pretty quiet.
“Of course,” Tobin replied, trying to focus on being a decent server despite the complete change in dynamic.
Once Alyssa returned with two plates of pasta and Tobin had pulled two chairs up, Christen topped off their glasses and offered the two women at the table small smiles.
“Thanks again. I really appreciate the hospitality,” Christen said, running a hand over the hair on her head to try and control the frizz she could feel starting.
“That’s kind of this restaurant’s goal,” Alyssa said, slowly twirling pasta around her fork.
Christen smiled at that and then settled her napkin in her lap. She picked up her plate of pasta and held it up, taking a deep inhale, her smile growing.
“Did you decide on this dish?” Christen asked, opening her eyes and looking at Tobin as she put her plate down.
“Yes,” Tobin admitted, bracing herself slightly for it to be the wrong choice.
“Excellent pairing with a Montepulciano,” Christen complimented. “The fattiness of the meat will really bring out the tannins in the wine. Really excellent choice.”
“You just scared her,” Alyssa laughed. “We get a lot of wine snobs here.”
Christen let out a sigh and shook her head. “This feels like the epicenter for those kinds of people.”
“Welcome to the Valley,” Tobin mumbled with a lopsided smile.
Christen returned her smile and took a bite of pasta, finishing with a sip of wine. She let her eyes fall shut in appreciation of the blending of flavors for a moment before she continued eating.
“We get a fun mixture of people though. We get wine snobs and very drunk bachelorette parties,” Alyssa commented.
“Wine is a love language everyone should get to speak. Not just the snobs,” Christen observed.
“Well, you’re welcome back any time,” Alyssa said with a happy sigh.
“I might just make this a weekly stop,” Christen replied with a chuckle, sharing a smile with Alyssa.
Tobin wanted to chastise herself for the way her heart fluttered at that thought. She focused on the pasta in front of her, not wanting to give anything away by looking up at Christen. She was a guest, a paying customer, and Tobin’s job was to be professional.
“But maybe during actual business hours next time,” Christen added, making Alyssa laugh.
Tobin felt her smile fall slightly at the meager tip the large party had just left. They’d had her running all over the restaurant, grabbing more wine, adding to orders, and sending back a steak that was definitely medium rare like they’d requested.
She carried the receipt up to the register and set it aside before moving back to the table and picking up as many dishes as she could, a stack that had gotten taller and taller the longer she worked at the restaurant.
She easily weaved through tables, skirting past Ali and pushing into the kitchen where the executive chef was shouting out directions to a stressed-looking Alyssa. It was a typical, busy, loud Friday night, and Tobin was certain that she and Alyssa would need a drink after this shift.
“Welcome to Napa’s Table ,” Mal said, pulling out a menu. “Will it be a table for one tonight?”
“Yes, please. Is there any way I can request a section to sit in?” Christen replied, looking around the very crowded space for a familiar face.
“Oh...um no one has asked me that before,” Mal said, unsure of the answer to that question.
“It is a weird request huh?” Christen said with a sheepish half-smile. “I ate here last week and had great service so...I’d love to sit in her section again.”
“Do you know your waitress’s name?” Mal asked, looking at the iPad on her podium that had tables.
“Tobin,” Christen replied with an easy smile.
“Okay, we actually just had a large party leave. She’ll have to separate the tables if you’re willing to wait. Otherwise, I can seat you in a different section,” Mal said, tapping her finger on the iPad.
“I’ll wait,” Christen assured, stepping to the side and letting the next patron step forward, pulling out her phone to distract herself while she waited.
Tobin moved out of the kitchen and through the dining room with new tablecloths. She cleared everything off of the four tables that had been shoved together, moved them apart, and then put clean cloths on them, topping them with candles and lighting each candle.
She moved with ease, stopping at a table to pick up a fallen fork and promising to bring a new one back. She took an empty wine bottle away from another table, handing it to the sommelier behind the bar and telling him which bottle the table had requested to try next. She was so busy, checking on everyone that she didn’t notice the woman near the front door who’d made her shift the previous Friday completely turn around.
“Your table’s ready,” Mal announced, taking a menu in her hands and leading the way to the table in the corner of the room.
“Amazing, thanks so much,” Christen beamed, following the hostess.
“Of course. Thank you for coming back to see us,” Mal said, pulling out the chair for Christen and placing a menu down on the table. She offered Christen the wine menu and then listed off their specials for the evening. “Is there anything I can get you before Tobin comes over to serve you?”
“Nope, thank you...Mal,” Christen said, nodding at the young woman as she walked off.
She turned her attention to the wine menu, trying to decide which direction she wanted to go in tonight as she waited for the sweet waitress who’d brought the sunshine to her cloudy day last week.
Tobin moved across the room, suddenly forgetting about the poor tip she’d just gotten or the shattered dish she’d had to clean up after a customer knocked their appetizer plate off the table. Her lips quirked up into a smile, immediately recognizing the dark curls and the delicate way the woman in her section held the wine menu, skimming her finger over each line.
“Good evening. Welcome back,” Tobin said softly, pouring Christen water as she spoke.
“Made it before closing this time,” Christen grinned, looking up from the wine menu.
“You have perfect timing,” Tobin hummed, offering Christen a smile.
“Do you think I could get a glass of any Poulsard your sommelier recommends?” Christen asked. “And a taste for my waitress, of course.”
“I’m not sure he would be a fan of the second request, but I’ll ask him what he recommends,” Tobin said with a small chuckle.
“The new sommelier at Flora Winery is making the request, so hopefully he is agreeable,” Christen replied with a smile.
Tobin just nodded and made her way to the bar, explaining to the sommelier what Christen had asked for. He first looked impressed and a little awestruck that Christen was the sommelier at Flora Winery. Then rolled his eyes slightly when Tobin mentioned her request that Tobin taste it. He then grabbed two different bottles of Poulsard and two glasses, brushing past Tobin and heading to Christen’s table.
“Welcome to Napa’s Table ,” he said as he approached Christen. “It’s an honor to have someone from Flora here.”
“The honor is all mine,” Christen replied breezily.
“These are two Poulsards that I highly recommend. Would you like to taste them both?” he asked, holding out the bottles to show Christen the labels.
“I’d like my waitress to decide, actually. You can pour her two tastes,” Christen replied, not even bothering to glance at the labels. She hated sommeliers like this. Arrogant and cocky, thinking they were above everyone else.
Tobin had a complex palette and would be able to make the choice for her. She was confident in that. She was also confident the request would smack that smarmy grin off the sommelier’s face.
“I’m not sure what she told you, but Tobin isn’t really the most knowledgeable,” he explained, nearly wrinkling his nose at the idea. “She’s only a waitress.”
Christen pursed her lips and just waited. She waited for the sommelier to realize she meant business. She waited for him to set the bottles down and step aside. She waited and she waited.
And finally, he got the hint.
Tobin approached Christen’s table again, forcing herself not to smile, since she knew Gavin was watching. She opened each of the bottles and poured a small taste into each glass.
“He’s really not gonna like me now,” she murmured so only Christen could hear.
“He gives somm’s a bad name. It’s a teaching role and you clearly know wine well enough for me to be impressed,” Christen replied with a smile.
“I wouldn’t say that. You picked the wine,” Tobin hummed, picking up one glass and swirling the wine in it.
“And you picked the meal. So tonight I’m picking the meal, and you’re picking the wine. I’m planning on having the pork chop,” Christen said, sitting back and watching Tobin work.
“Good choice,” Tobin said before bringing the glass up to smell it.
“What do you smell?”
Tobin couldn’t help the slight smirk that spread across her face. “I feel like I’m back in high school taking a test.”
“Sorry,” Christen laughed, holding up her hands. “It’s a habit to ask. That winery...that year...you’re probably getting notes of black licorice? Brown spice?”
“That’s creepily accurate,” Tobin said, taking a sip from the glass and letting the wine sit on her tongue.
“It’s kind of my job,” Christen teased. “Would it pair nicely with the pork?”
“I think so,” Tobin shrugged. “But I’m not the expert here.”
Christen cracked a smile at that. “How’s the other one taste?” she wondered, nodding to the second glass.
Tobin repeated her actions with the second glass, letting it sit on her tongue. “It’s earthier. I really don’t mind getting the sommelier,” she added, feeling underqualified.
“I want your opinion,” Christen said softly. “Which one do you recommend?”
“I think the first one would go better. The second one would get lost,” Tobin said, really hoping that Christen would actually like the first choice.
“The first one it is then. Two glasses, please,” Christen ordered with a smile, agreeing with the choice based on the winery.
“You’re a very persistent person,” Tobin chuckled, removing the tasting glasses and the bottle of wine that she hadn’t chosen from the table.
“Life’s too short not to share good wine,” Christen chuckled. “And if I have to eat alone, at least I won’t have to drink alone,” she added.
Tobin quickly moved back to the bar, handing Gavin the bottle of wine that she hadn’t picked and ignoring his glare. She brought back two clean glasses and poured a glass for Christen and a second glass with half the amount of wine.
“Would you like a few minutes to look at the menu, or are you settled on the pork chop?”
“The pork chop, please. And some of that delightful focaccia,” Christen replied with a grin.
“Of course,” Tobin said with a soft smile, taking the menus from Christen’s hand and moving away from the table.
It became a tradition in the absolute best way possible.
Every Friday night, Christen would show up and request a table in Tobin’s section. And every Friday night, she came in with a new type of wine she wanted to try, and Tobin would pair it with a dish on the menu for her.
After two months, Christen had gone through almost the entire menu and over half of the wine list.
After two months, she’d gotten to know her waitress pretty well. She knew that Tobin wanted to be a chef. She knew that Tobin had grown up in New Jersey and moved to Napa to try and work in the French Laundry, only she hadn’t made the cut based on a bogus decision by upper management. She learned Tobin’s favorite meal to cook was fish en papillote, specifically a salmon dish that she’d perfected with herbs and lemon, something that she’d been a fan of since first starting culinary school, something Christen knew would pair nicely with a Sauvignon Blanc or a Burgundy Chardonnay.
And after two months, her family was finally in town, and Christen knew exactly where they were going for their first meal on Friday night.
“Christen!” Mal said, her smile growing and her eyes shining as Christen walked through the door. “Welcome back.”
“Hey, Mal. How’s school?” Christen greeted, leading her family into the restaurant.
“I’m questioning why I’m majoring in Hospitality Management,” Mal admitted. “I’m really thinking about your suggestion to switch to Viticulture.”
“Let me know if you need a letter of recommendation,” Christen replied with a smile.
“Thank you very much. I see it’s not a table for one tonight,” Mal said, offering the people with Christen a smile.
“Table for five please,” Christen nodded. “Family’s in town.”
“It’s lovely to meet you. I’ll have Tobin put a couple of tables together for you all,” Mal greeted, moving away from her spot by the door and catching Tobin to tell her to prepare for a party of five.
It only took a few minutes for Mal to come back to the door with a large smile. “Right this way please.”
“You sure you don’t work here?” Tyler teased, linking her arm with Christen’s. “They know you like you’re here all the time.”
“I’m a regular,” Christen chuckled, following Mal and leading her family to the back corner of the restaurant that had become her weekly spot.
“Christen’s our favorite,” Mal said with a tiny smile as she handed out menus and a few wine lists, listing off specials while she moved.
“Don’t flatter me too much in front of the family,” Christen joked, offering Mal a wink.
“Would you like me to get anything before Tobin comes to serve you?” Mal asked, her script still similar to the first time she’d met Christen.
“I think we’re good, Mal. Find me after for the recommendation,” Christen replied.
“Oh my gosh, really?” Mal gasped, clutching her iPad to her chest.
“Of course,” Christen grinned.
“I’d hug you if that wasn’t totally unprofessional,” Mal nearly squealed.
Christen laughed and nodded at Mal as she backed away from the table.
“Have a lovely dinner. It was great to meet you all,” Mal said, ducking away from the table with a beaming smile on her face.
“Sooo,” Channing started.
“Who’s Tobin?” Tyler finished.
“The waitress,” Christen replied with a shrug, moving her attention to the wine list.
“And is she always your waitress?” Tyler asked.
“Mhm,” Christen hummed distractedly, skimming the wine selection like she hadn’t memorized the menu already.
“Do you request her?” Channing asked with a smirk.
“Chan, Tyler, no ,” Christen said, looking between her sisters. “Stop.”
“Is she cute?” Stacy asked, jumping in to tease her daughter as she skimmed her own menu.
“Mom!” Christen scoffed with a small huff of laughter.
Cody scanned the room with a hum. “Is that her?” he asked, pointing out one of the other waitresses.
“That’s Ali,” Christen replied with an eye roll, somewhat regretting bringing her family to this restaurant now.
“I didn’t think she was your type,” Cody chuckled. “What about that one?”
Christen moved her gaze to where her dad was pointing and felt a small smile tug at her lips. Her dad had found Tobin, who was busy entertaining a table nearby.
“I’m thinking a white wine tonight. Is that okay with everyone?” Christen asked, ignoring her dad’s question.
“White wine sounds great,” Stacy agreed, putting Christen out of her misery.
“Oh my God she’s coming over,” Tyler whispered, trying to get her younger sister flustered.
“Do not embarrass me,” Christen warned with narrowed eyes, tousling her curls just a bit as she watched Tobin wind her way through the table.
“Do you like her?” Channing asked.
“She just did the hair fluff,” Tyler mumbled. "She totally likes her."
“We’re...sort of friends. Now please , don’t embarrass me,” Christen repeated, almost pleadingly.
“Good evening, everyone. I’ll be your server this evening,” Tobin said, offering Christen a smile before making eye contact with everyone at the table.
“Awesome,” Channing mumbled under her breath, making Tyler laugh.
Christen glared at her sisters and then turned her attention back to Tobin, ready to engage in their typical wine-food pairing banter.
“I’m assuming you’ve picked out a wine for tonight?” Tobin asked.
“Riesling. It’s versatile, so my dad can get steak, and my mom can get fish, and it’ll still work out decently well,” Christen replied with a small smile.
“Excellent choice,” Tobin nodded. “We have a limited edition Riesling from a local vineyard.”
“Year?” Christen wondered, tilting her head to the side, not remembering that from the menu.
“2018. It’s a lot more complex than most rieslings if I do say so myself,” Tobin responded.
“Would you recommend it?” Christen wondered.
“It’s my favorite as of right now, actually,” Tobin answered, smiling softly.
“We’ll take two bottles,” Christen said with a grin, closing the wine menu without needing to go back and look for another riesling option.
“Fantastic. Is there anything else?” Tobin asked, making sure to look at everyone at the table, not just Christen.
“Six glasses,” Christen hummed, arching a brow, almost challenging Tobin to push back like she always did before eventually caving.
“I don’t think wasting a glass of this stuff is a good idea,” Tobin chuckled.
“It’s not wasting it to me,” Christen pointed out, completely focused on Tobin.
“Of course,” Tobin said with a slight blush, moving from the table, past the bar, and to the stairs that led to the wine cellar.
“Oh my God. That was the weirdest flirting I’ve ever seen,” Tyler snorted, sending Channing into a fit of giggles.
Christen sighed and picked up the menu. “Tyler,” Christen said with a shake of her head.
“Honey, she’s very cute,” Stacy whispered, pressing a kiss to Christen’s temple.
“The cod is particularly good here, Mom,” Christen observed, wanting to get them off this topic of conversation. “And the wagyu beef sliders are to die for, Dad.”
“That sounds great,” Cody said softly, reaching out and squeezing Christen’s hand.
“Do you always share a glass with the waitress?” Tyler asked with a smirk.
“Tobin,” Christen corrected, thumbing through the menu.
“So...is that a yes?” Tyler pressed.
“She knows wine. So, I share. Better to drink the good stuff with company, right Dad?” Christen asked, smiling over at Cody.
“Absolutely,” Cody said with a warm grin.
“So it’s a yes,” Christen nodded at Tyler before looking back at the menu.
“The scallops look good,” Channing said, finally moving away from the Tobin topic.
“Should pair nicely. Good choice, Chan,” Christen hummed.
Tobin finally made her way back with two bottles, already chilled, a tableside cooler, and six glasses, somehow held in one hand. She carefully placed the cooler down, setting a bottle in the cooler and a bottle on the table. She then placed five glasses around the table, keeping one near the cooler.
She hesitated after opening the bottle, not sure who to offer the first taste to, but since Christen had ordered, she went ahead and poured a small amount into her glass, waiting for her opinion.
Christen offered Tobin a small smile before lifting the glass up and taking a deep inhale. Her eyes fluttered open in surprise and she looked up at Tobin with a delighted sparkle in her eyes.
“This smells delightful,” she observed, almost surprised by the aromas.
Tobin nodded with a slightly dopey smile, knowing for a fact that Christen would like this choice of wine.
“Green apples...white peaches...something floral I’m annoyed I can’t pick out, and...honeycomb?” Christen wondered, taking another moment to smell the wine.
“It’s a complicated riesling,” Tobin repeated, a fond smile settling on her face.
Christen nodded and took a sip, already smiling as the first bit of wine touched her lips.
“Very layered and textured. It just grows on the palate and- wow. Great choice, Tobin,” Christen complimented, setting her wine glass back down.
“I’m glad you like it,” Tobin said as she picked up the bottle and poured everyone at the table some wine, pouring the tiniest amount in the sixth glass near the cooler.
Christen sighed and gave Tobin a look, glancing down at the sixth glass and then back up at Tobin’s eyes.
“I’ve had it before. You all should enjoy,” Tobin said, not shying away from Christen’s pointed look.
“Tobin,” Christen said challengingly.
“Christen,” Tobin replied, sticking to her guns with a lopsided grin.
“Ooooh she’s not backing down,” Channing chuckled, making Tyler snort.
“Hi, I’m Tyler, the older sister, and you’re my new favorite person,” Tyler teased, holding out a hand for Tobin to shake.
“Nice to meet you,” Tobin laughed.
“Channing is next to her. And this is my dad Cody and my mom Stacy,” Christen said, completing the introductions before narrowing her eyes at Tyler.
“It’s nice to meet all of you,” Tobin said, reaching out to shake more hands.
“Pour yourself some more, honey. We can get another bottle if we need,” Stacy said with a warm smile.
“I see where you get it from,” Tobin said, her eyes crinkling slightly in amusement. “I’m afraid I might upset Gavin. He also loves this wine,” she added, nodding her head toward the sommelier who gave her a hard time regularly.
“He’s definitely not getting a glass,” Christen scoffed.
“Do you all need another few minutes to think about what you’d like to eat?” Tobin asked.
“We don’t, but we need a minute to chat about how great you are. So come find us in a little bit,” Stacy grinned, causing Christen to run a hand over her face and groan under her breath.
“Would you like me to bring some bread over when I come back?” Tobin asked, trying to push the blush out of her cheeks and failing.
“Yes please!” Channing nodded.
“Great,” Tobin said, collecting the wine menus from Cody and walking away to check on another table.
“Are you dating her?” Stacy asked quietly.
“No,” Christen replied with a small chuckle. “I work 75 hours a week. I barely have time to sleep and sneak away for these Friday night meals.”
“You could just turn the Friday meals into Friday dates,” Tyler sing-songed.
“I’m not looking for anything right now, but thank you all for having an opinion on my love life,” Christen said with an affectionate shake of her head. She lifted her glass and looked around at her family seated at the table. “Thanks for visiting, you guys.”
“Thanks for having us and bringing us to your favorite place,” Cody said, cheersing his glass with Christen’s and then the rest of the family.
Tobin had seen Christen every Friday for four months. She’d met her entire family. She’d learned more about Christen’s job. And all the while, Christen had talked to her about wines, asking for Tobin’s opinion. By this point, Tobin had tried everything in the cellar. She knew exactly what to recommend without getting Gavin’s help if someone asked. It was surprisingly helpful for the work she did at culinary school when she wasn’t serving at the restaurant or trying to catch up on sleep.
The past two weeks, though, had been less typical. There’d been less banter, a few more yawns, not quite as many questions. Tobin could tell that Christen was exhausted, and tonight was worse. Christen, who typically sat up straight, reading the menu with interest to notice any changes that the chefs made, was slouched over, her elbow resting on the table and holding her head up.
Tobin could immediately hear that Christen was congested. Her voice sounded deeper and raspier, definitely tortured by a cold. So, when Tobin came over to fill her water glass, she wasn’t surprised that Christen didn’t immediately lift her head up and smile.
“Long week at work?” Tobin asked softly.
“Long few weeks, yeah,” Christen sighed with a few sniffles, blinking her eyes so they would refocus on the menu in front of her.
“Do you have a stuffy nose and a sore throat?” Tobin asked, resisting the urge to smile at the adorable way Christen looked in her glasses.
Christen looked up and nodded a little sadly. “When I couldn’t immediately taste a Pinot Gris blindfolded, I knew I was screwed.”
“Do you trust me to suggest something that isn’t wine?” Tobin asked with a slight chuckle.
“You or Gavin?” Christen asked, smiling for the first time all day at the sparkle of inspiration in Tobin’s warm, brown eyes.
“Me,” Tobin answered. “It’s something my dad used to do for me when I was sick, probably with less alcohol.”
“I trust you,” Christen said with a small choked, huff of laughter. “And pair that with whatever soup you think will be best between the French Onion and the Tomato Bisque. Thank you, Tobin.”
“Of course,” Tobin said with her typical nod and a smile, moving away from the table and back toward the kitchen to put in an order of French onion soup for Christen.
Tobin quickly walked to the bar, grabbed a mug from the shelf, and set the kettle on to boil. While she waited, she checked on the other tables in her section, working around Ali with practiced ease. By the time she was finished taking another table’s dinner order and picking up the check from one of her larger groups, the water was boiled and ready to be poured in the mug.
She added some whiskey, honey, and lemon juice to the mug, reaching for a jar and getting a cinnamon stick to use to stir the drink and also add a little kick, something Christen would be able to taste. She carried it over to Christen’s table, setting it down in front of her, and like usual, hoping that Christen liked it.
“Can I ask what it is?” Christen wondered, closing her book and looking up at Tobin softly.
“I guess people call it a Hot Toddy. My dad called it a Heath Toddy,” Tobin said with a laugh.
“Heath?” Christen asked with an arched brow.
“Oh, my last name,” Tobin said, forgetting that other than serving Christen dinner once a week and talking about work, food, and wine, she really didn’t know her that well.
Christen hummed in understanding and grabbed the mug. “Well, Tobin Heath. Let’s give this a taste.”
Christen took a sip and immediately felt her eyes close as the warm liquid acted like a balm to her sore throat.
“Hot water, whiskey, honey, lemon juice, and cinnamon. Magic stuff, right?” Tobin asked, watching Christen’s face carefully.
“It’s wonderful. Thank you,” Christen breathed out, taking another sip and humming in delight.
“On the house,” Tobin said.
“Tobin, no,” Christen argued, setting the mug down.
“Tobin, yes,” Tobin countered with a playful smile.
“I’ll just tip you the amount it costs,” Christen replied stubbornly.
“It isn’t on the menu, so I guess you’ll never know,” Tobin shrugged, already stepping away from the table.
“You’re very persistent,” Christen observed, throwing Tobin’s words back at her.
“Would you like extra bread with your soup? It is French onion, so it already comes with it. I may have also suggested they substitute the baguette with a piece of their focaccia,” Tobin hummed.
“You thought of everything,” Christen observed softly. “So I’m good,” she added with a tired smile.
“I hope you feel better,” Tobin replied.
“This is the best I’ve felt all week,” Christen hummed, holding up the mug.
“Cheers,” Tobin said lamely, cursing her heart for flipping out in her chest the way it was. “I’ll check on your soup.”
“Thank you,” Christen called out, her voice still hoarse and raspy, but sounding much stronger than it had when she’d first shown up.
“Trust me, Charles. It would be a mistake,” Christen sighed, taking off her glasses and pinching the bridge of her nose. She sat across the table from the head chef in the large, industrial kitchen of Flora Winery. They were trying to decide on the tasting menu for the white wine flight they’d just gotten in stock, and were in complete disagreement.
“The shrimp ceviche is perfect,” Charles argued, trying to push another small plate of the ceviche in Christen’s direction.
“It’s lovely. Light, citrusy. But if you give it to me to serve with the Chardonnay, the dish will fall apart,” Christen replied, pushing the plate back at Charles.
Charles let out another huff and crossed his arms over his chest. “What do you want, then?”
“If you’re set on the ceviche, let’s pull a flight of the Sauv Blanc. It’s high in acid and will complement the shrimp and citrus beautifully,” Christen said, offering Charles a small smile. “But if we serve the Chardonnay like upstairs wants us to, we have to get flexible with the menu.”
“I have a halibut dish we can use,” Charles sighed.
“Sauce?” Christen asked with a nod.
Christen grinned at Charles. “This is why we have the best tasting menu in Napa.”
“Speaking of which,” Peyton interrupted, knocking on the doorframe. “We have some guests hoping to squeeze in a quick tasting.”
Christen looked over at Peyton and then down at her watch. “At this hour?” she asked, having gotten used to the fluctuations in visitors and the slower moments in the hours between lunch and dinner.
“I can send them away,” Peyton said, glancing down at her own watch.
“That’s all right. We’re done, right Charles?” Christen asked, turning back to the chef.
“Ceviche next time,” Charles said, still frowning slightly.
“With a Sauv Blanc,” Christen promised, smiling over at Charles and getting up from the table. She made her way over to the door where Peyton was waiting.
“Charles seems less grumpy today,” Peyton teased as they walked to the stairs.
“He gets to play with brown butter sauce; he’s thrilled,” Christen chuckled, following Peyton.
“You’re great with him. He and our last sommelier used to have screaming matches,” Peyton hummed, brushing a hand along Christen’s arm quickly.
“To me, wine is a love language. To him, it’s food. I just have to get us speaking the same language now and again,” Christen replied with a small throat clear as she rolled up the sleeves of her crisp, white button-up shirt, ignoring the way Peyton drifted a little closer as they got to the bottom of the stairs. The crush had been easy to spot early on, and no matter how professional Christen tried to keep it, Peyton wasn’t exactly getting the hint.
“Well, we’re happy to have you here. I know I say that pretty much daily, but I mean it,” Peyton said.
“Did the guests select a pairing menu?” Christen wondered, pausing at the door that led into the cellar.
“They told me they wanted you to pick your favorite,” Peyton replied, checking her binder that she constantly carried around, since her job was to organize tastings, events, and visitors.
Christen pursed her lips and offered Peyton one last nod before making her way through the swinging door and into the cellar. When she saw who was sitting at the center table in the middle of the cellar, a smile made its way onto her face.
“Wanted to see how it felt to be on the other end of the apron?” Christen joked, leaning her hands against the back of the empty chair at Tobin and Alyssa’s table.
“Absolutely,” Tobin nodded with a grin. “We’ve paid for a three person tasting.”
“I can’t,” Christen said with a shake of her head.
“Funny, that’s what we always say,” Alyssa smirked.
“I’m...it’s really not allowed,” Christen tried again.
“That’s also what I say. Every single time,” Tobin replied.
Christen narrowed her eyes and looked between Alyssa and Tobin for a moment before she made a choice. She walked back toward the swinging door, knowing Peyton was loitering behind it. She stuck her head through and looked at Peyton.
“I’ll be personally assisting these guests with their tasting. Three medallion menus please. Tell the kitchen it’s for me,” Christen instructed.
“Sure thing,” Peyton nodded, keeping her voice low. “Are they VIPs or something?”
“Very VIP,” Christen replied, making her way back into the cellar. She took the two pins from her hair, which had been keeping it up in a tight bun, and let her curls fall loosely around her shoulders. “You two are bad influences,” she chuckled with a shake of her head, dropping down into the open chair.
“She’s letting her hair down, Tobs. We’re really bad influences,” Alyssa teased.
“I also got you the best tasting menus we offer. On the house. Your cards will be refunded,” Christen replied with a smile.
“You don’t need to do that,” Tobin quickly said.
“Already done,” Christen said, waving a hand in the air to dismiss the protest.
“We should’ve come here months ago,” Alyssa laughed.
“You could have,” Christen replied, laughing as well, shooting Tobin a small smile as she took in the relaxed outfit Tobin wore, so unlike the usual tailored, stiff one she wore at Napa’s Table .
It was the opposite for Tobin. She often served Christen in much more relaxed and colorful outfits that expressed Christen’s personal style. This Christen was professional and sleek in a white button-up shirt and slacks. The shoes were officially on the other foot, and Tobin wondered for a moment if their two casual selves would ever spend time together, outside of the professional world.
“Are you both off today?” Christen asked, filling the small moment of silence.
“We both have Tuesdays off,” Tobin replied.
“We lucked out. Now we can always ride together,” Alyssa laughed, ruffling Tobin’s hair affectionately.
Christen felt her eyes narrow just slightly at the interaction. She hadn’t picked up on anything the first time the three of them shared a meal over four months ago. But now...there was something there. A familiarity. A comfort.
It gave her pause and made her heart tighten in her chest.
“Usually, we spend our days off practicing. Tobs still has to finish school, and I’m constantly getting yelled at for doing something wrong in the kitchen. But we decided to actually take the day off today,” Alyssa said.
“Together? You practice together?” Christen asked, moving her eyes between Tobin and Alyssa, taking note of Tobin’s arm along the back of Alyssa’s chair.
“Sometimes,” Tobin nodded. “Alyssa decided on culinary school before I did, so she always has good tips.”
“Tips, tricks, anything for you,” Alyssa joked, winking over at Tobin.
“Plus, she doesn’t throw plates at me like the executive chef does,” Tobin teased right back, giving Alyssa a wink and a lopsided grin.
Christen just nodded, feeling a little silly for not realizing it sooner. Whatever banter she and Tobin had over wines and food, was just that. Banter. Professional banter. Tobin seemed to have someone for the moments after wine and food and Napa’s Table . Someone for friendly banter, someone for romantic banter.
“That’s always a good sign,” Christen hummed. She turned to see a waiter come out with a tray, signaling the start of their pairing menu. “Oh, great. We’re starting,” she said, wondering how she was going to get through three courses of the more-than-friendly banter between Tobin and her junior chef friend when she was already dying to leave.
Tobin had set the table in the corner for Christen. The table cloth was crisp, the candle was lit, and a tiny flower arrangement was in the middle. It wasn’t one that she’d bought, although she thought about it now. All the tables had flowers, but Tobin had definitely gone through the arrangements and picked out the nicest one for Christen’s table.
She’d been waiting all day, smiling at rude customers and mixing drinks when things were backed up behind the bar. She’d been waiting for Christen to come through that door just like she did every week. Only this week was different because Tobin thought that maybe she could be a little braver, maybe even brazen.
Alyssa had given her a pep talk in the car, lecturing her on making a move before it was too late. She’d listened to her favorite song on repeat a few times before walking into the restaurant, trying to get rid of the nerves and desperately searching her brain for the best wine that paired with someone asking a beautiful woman on a date.
And then she walked in.
“Good evening, Christen,” Mal said with a sweet smile.
“Hey, Mal,” Christen said, her smile not quite as bright as it usually was.
“Is it two tonight?” Mal asked, pulling out two menus and a wine menu.
“Yes,” Christen nodded, gesturing with her arm for Peyton to go first.
“Right this way,” Mal said, leading them to Christen’s regular table and putting the menus down for them.
“This place is adorable,” Peyton said as her eyes scanned the restaurant.
“It’s my favorite place,” Christen replied, opening the wine menu, returning to her safe place.
“That’s a pretty high recommendation,” Peyton hummed.
“Is there anything you’d like before your server comes?” Mal asked.
“You know what would be great actually,” Peyton said with a smile for Mal. “I’m just a little sensitive to smells, so would you mind taking these flowers away? Is the candle scented?”
“It’s unscented,” Mal said, picking up the flowers and moving them away from the table to the end of the bar.
“The flowers? Really?” Christen asked, her brow furrowing a bit at their absence and the way it made her table feel less...hers.
“I’m not a big fan of flowers on the table,” Peyton replied simply, looking through the menu. “I feel like it takes the restaurant down a notch. It’s not quite as classy.”
“Huh,” Christen hummed, looking back at the wine menu and feeling nothing but regret about her decision to accept the invitation to dinner from Peyton. She also regretted choosing her safe space as the restaurant for them to go to. It was tainting the space for her already.
“Oh, something with bubbles would be fun,” Peyton said with a smile.
“Depends on the food you want. Not a bad way to start to clear the palate though, if you really want,” Christen mused.
“Do you ever shut the wine brain off?” Peyton laughed.
“No,” Christen huffed out a small chuckle, scanning the list of sparkling wines. “It’s just how my brain works.”
“Good evening. My name is Tobin. I’ll be your server this evening,” Tobin said, standing at the end of the table.
Christen forced her heart not to flutter at the soft greeting. Instead, she looked up from the menu and offered Tobin a pale imitation of her usual smile, remembering that Tobin had someone and she shouldn’t dwell on the crush she’d developed. She should move on.
“Would you like to start off with something to drink or do you need more time?” Tobin asked.
“Well, it’s the first date, so I think something bubbly would be fun to start,” Peyton announced, drumming her fingers on the table.
Christen tried not to cringe. She really did. But she didn’t exactly want to be out on a date with Peyton. The person she wanted to be on a date with was taken.
“Right,” Tobin nodded, swallowing down the sudden disappointment she felt. Alyssa had been right, and she was too late now.
“Two glasses of the Veuve Clicquot Rosé Champagne will be fine to start,” Christen replied with a tight smile.
“Of course,” Tobin murmured. “Is there an appetizer you’d like me to get started for you?”
“The steak crostini sounds delicious,” Peyton said with a smile.
“Umm...that won’t go nicely with the rosé champagne,” Christen interjected. “The tuna sashimi or caviar would go well.”
“Gosh, but I really want to try the steak crostini,” Peyton hummed. “Chris, do you mind?”
“It’s fine,” Christen replied with a sigh, sitting back in her chair and missing her usual banter with Tobin.
“I’ll put in your order,” Tobin said, moving away as quickly as she could and nearly bumping into Ali for the first time since they’d started working together.
“Thank you,” Christen called out softly as Tobin retreated.
“A good crostini just really hits the spot,” Peyton sighed, flipping through the menu some more.
Tobin was in the kitchen within seconds, ignoring the executive chef and tugging Alyssa toward the walk-in freezer. “She brought a date.”
Alyssa barked out a laugh, sure that Tobin was joking.
“Stop, it’s not funny,” Tobin said, feeling a lump form in her throat.
“She didn’t. There’s no way,” Alyssa said with a shake of her head.
“Go look for yourself. She brought a date who knows nothing about food or wine,” Tobin grumbled.
Alyssa felt her brow furrow as she took in the pain in Tobin’s eyes. “Oh, Tobs. I’m sorry,” she sighed, pulling Tobin in for a quick hug. “It seemed like she was into you.”
“Yeah, that’s...well, that’s what I get for trusting a gut feeling, I guess, right?” Tobin mumbled.
“I mean, it’s just one date? And if she knows nothing, then no way Christen keeps dating her. You’ll get your shot,” Alyssa said, trying to keep Tobin’s spirits up.
“You should go julienne vegetables or something,” Tobin sighed.
Alyssa was about to walk away but then fixed Tobin with a look. “How little does she know about food and wine?”
“She paired sparkling rosé with a steak crostini,” Tobin said with a slight pout.
Alyssa winced. “She won’t last more than one date,” she assured, clapping Tobin on the shoulder.
By the fourth date in her restaurant, Tobin stopped expecting Christen to come in alone. She’d approach the table with her same spiel, greeting Christen and Peyton as professionally as she could. Peyton would order wine that didn’t go with her food, and Christen would desperately try to find a meal to pair with whatever wine Peyton chose.
They were generous tippers. But that was it. There was no banter. She wasn’t asked for her opinion or given her own glass to taste wine. And tonight was no different. Only Tobin was maybe just a little close to breaking. She couldn’t stand the sight of Peyton’s hand reaching for Christen’s. And she couldn’t fathom how Peyton could order a Moscato and short ribs.
So, tonight, she sent Gavin over with the wine, moving to a different table to distract herself from the pain that hit her directly in the chest every single time she saw Christen with her...well maybe her girlfriend.
“Good evening. I’m the sommelier here. I see we’ve ordered a glass of Moscato,” Gavin said, trying to hide his disapproval of Peyton’s pairing.
“She did. Yes,” Christen replied.
“And you have the 2008 Spottswoode Cabernet Sauvignon ,” Gavin said, pouring a small bit of wine for them to taste in each of their glasses.
Christen just let out a small huff at the glaring contrast in the wine orders and picked up her glass to smell it.
Peyton immediately drank the taste, setting her glass down and telling Gavin that it was great, not really tasting it.
Gavin poured more Moscato into Peyton’s glass as he watched Christen’s face to see her reaction to the wine.
Christen’s eyes inadvertently drifted over to where Tobin was serving a table nearby as she took a sip of her wine, letting the richness explode on her tongue.
“This is lovely. Please make sure our waitress gets a taste,” Christen said, moving her eyes back to Gavin.
“Tobin actually ordered that one for me,” Gavin admitted. “She went off on some long rant about Spottswoode being a female-owned and run winery and insisted we order from them.”
Christen felt the ghost of a smile tug at her lips because that was the same rant she’d gone on a month and a half ago during dinner one Friday night. She’d lamented the lack of Spottswoode on the wine menu to Tobin, and by the next week, it was listed.
“A glass then. If she’s responsible for it being here,” Christen said, her heart hurting at how different it all seemed now.
“I’ll make sure she gets one,” Gavin said as he filled Christen’s glass. “Anything else I can help either of you with? Do you have any questions about our wine menu?”
Christen just arched her brow at Gavin and the ridiculousness of the question.
“Just let us know if either of you need another glass,” Gavin said sheepishly, moving back toward the wine cellar.
“Why does the waitress need to try your wine?” Peyton asked.
“It’s a great wine. It’s best shared,” Christen replied, swirling her glass gently, watching the maroon liquid move around the glass.
“I’ll try it,” Peyton said, reaching across the table.
“Whoa, whoa. This is a Spottswoode,” Christen said, pulling the glass out of Peyton’s reach with a small amused smile.
Peyton raised her eyebrows in surprise.
“You looked me dead in the eye and told me Franzia was wine,” Christen deadpanned.
“It was endearing,” Peyton said with a shrug.
“Arguable,” Christen replied.
“Opposites attract,” Peyton countered with a smirk.
Christen pursed her lips and then slid the glass back across the table. “Don’t gulp it. Smell it first and tell me what you smell.”
“I can do that,” Peyton said with a satisfied look on her face, doing exactly what Christen always did, first swirling the glass and then smelling it. “Fruity,” she hummed.
“Is there a particular kind of fruit?” Christen countered.
“Maybe citrus?” Peyton guessed.
Christen shook her head with a laugh.
“Grape for sure,” Peyton said.
Christen let out another laugh, leaning her arms on the table as she continued to shake her head.
“Stop laughing. It really does smell like lemons,” Peyton tried to defend.
“It doesn’t. It’s got the nose of bright, juicy fruit. Currants, blueberries. And complex floral notes. A hint of cherry cocoa and cola,” Christen explained patiently, still a little amused. “Take a sip and tell me if you can taste the cherry and the wet earth sort of flavor.”
Peyton took a sip and shook her head. “I don’t like it.”
Christen gasped and held a hand to her chest, as if physically wounded by the observation.
“You’re joking,” Christen said.
“It’s way too...do you say earthy? It’s too much. Like a punch to the tongue,” Peyton said, sliding the glass back.
Christen took the glass back with another shake of her head, turning the glass around so Peyton’s lipstick mark was on the opposite end of the glass from where she was going to drink from.
“And your fruit-forward Moscato is what, a hug to the tongue?” Christen asked.
“This isn’t really how I thought we’d be talking about my tongue tonight,” Peyton said much too loudly, causing Christen to flush.
“Um...we have short ribs for you,” Tobin said, her neck getting hot with a blush that was rising to her face. “And chicken for you. Is there anything else I can get you for now?”
“We’re fantastic, thank you,” Peyton beamed.
“Great,” Tobin forced out, turning around and moving toward the cellar, despite not needing to get any wine.
“Thank you,” Christen said to Tobin’s back, just like she had been for the last four weeks since Tobin didn’t stick around long enough for her to say it to her face.
It wasn’t until Peyton had left the table to use the bathroom and Tobin had picked up a check from a table nearby that she stopped beside Christen again.
“Are we finished here?” she asked, reaching out for Peyton’s empty plate.
Christen looked up quickly, not having expected to hear Tobin’s voice. “Hi,” she breathed out, sitting up a little straighter in her chair.
“Hello,” Tobin replied, forcing herself not to get that stupid lump in her throat.
“Busy tonight,” Christen observed, her eyes flicking around the restaurant before settling back on Tobin.
“Yeah, lots of people visit this time of year,” Tobin nodded, taking Christen’s empty plate and stacking it on top of Peyton’s.
“How’s...Alyssa?” Christen asked, having to force the name out and try not to let her voice sound tight.
“Fine, I guess,” Tobin shrugged. “Did you enjoy your dinner?”
“It was great. It’s always great,” Christen replied, fiddling with the napkin in her lap.
“Good,” Tobin said, stepping back and keeping her eyes on the plates in her hand.
“Tobin, I-” Christen tried to say, but no words came to mind, nothing she could think of to bridge this gap between them.
“You could um…” Tobin shook her head, tensing her jaw and not saying anything.
“I could what?”
“It isn’t my place,” Tobin mumbled.
“Tell me anyway,” Christen replied, her full focus on Tobin.
“She seems nice, but you could do better,” Tobin said, finally looking up at Christen.
“I...I don’t like to dine alone,” Christen said, her tone a little sad and resigned.
“I guess, I never thought you were,” Tobin shrugged. “Have a nice night,” she added as she turned around and walked toward the kitchen, forcing herself to hold it together for the rest of the night.
Christen felt her forehead furrow as she watched Tobin walk away, feeling more confused now than ever.
“Charles, you’re killing me,” Christen sighed, taking off her glasses and rubbing her eyes.
“The duck a l’orange is perfect. You’ll love it,” Charles insisted, once again pushing a plate toward her to try another bite.
“We don’t have a Gewurztraminer or a Pinot Blanc to go with it,” Christen argued, pushing the plate back across the table.
“Then find a Pinot Blanc,” Charles argued.
“You can’t go out to the vineyards and ask the grapes to give you what they can’t give you,” Christen snapped.
“I’m making you perfect dishes,” Charles groaned, running his hands over his face.
“They are. They’re perfect. But they don’t have a wine for us to pair with. Let me just- let me check on the Rieslings and see if we have one that might go,” Christen said, her shoulders dropping in defeat.
“See, we’re working together. Thank you,” Charles said, his smile triumphant.
“Next week, you make what pairs with my wines,” Christen replied with an arched brow, sliding her glasses back on.
“I’ll do my best,” Charles promised. “You want duck to-go?”
“I have my standing Friday night reservation,” Christen replied, standing up from the table, knowing she was already cutting it close if she wanted to make it by eight.
“I’ll do research for your wines. You’re my favorite,” Charles said, standing up from his seat and carrying the plate with him as he moved.
Christen offered Charles a smile and then headed out of the kitchen.
“I got the night off,” Tobin announced, moving from her bedroom into her small living room.
“Jeez, Tobs. How many depression piles does a girl need?” Katie asked, looking around the room with her hands on her hips.
“I’m working a lot right now, and when I’m not working, I’m at school, and when I’m not at school, I’m practicing. It’s hard to find time to clean,” Tobin grumbled, grabbing a pile of dirty clothes off the floor and tossing them into her room.
“I’m ordering us pizza and we’re cleaning this place up,” Katie announced.
“Thanks, Mom,” Tobin teased, picking up a few shoes and tossing them to her room too.
“Girl if mom was here, she’d make you explain the broken heart you got hanging on your sleeve. But as your cool older sister, I won’t ask. I’ll just help you clean,” Katie replied, giving Tobin a sympathetic smile.
“Have you ever been really into someone who only thinks of you in one way?” Tobin asked, taking the opportunity to actually get advice.
“Yes...but then he stopped thinking of me as his stats tutor, asked me out, and now we’re married so…” Katie replied with a chuckle, grabbing a trash bag from under the sink.
“That’s nice for you,” Tobin groaned, picking up some magazines and putting them in the recycling bin she kept by the door.
“Someone at work? School?” Katie wondered.
“She comes to the restaurant,” Tobin said. “We’ve just always had an easy back and forth.”
“And what happened? You lost the easy back and forth?”
“I think she just sees me as her waitress,” Tobin shrugged. “She brought a date, who totally isn’t her type.”
“Ugh,” Katie groaned. “I’m sorry.”
“Makes me feel even more ready to finish up school and cook. Then I won’t have to wait tables and interact with attractive strangers,” Tobin sighed.
“She’s cute?” Katie asked softly.
“Yeah,” Tobin nodded. “More than cute.”
“Bummer. The more than cute ones are hard to forget,” Katie said, crossing the room and pulling Tobin in for a hug.
“Thanks for coming to visit and mother me,” Tobin mumbled, wrapping her arms around her sister.
“I got you, Tobs,” Katie hummed.
“I’m gonna need a huge pizza,” Tobin added with a grin.
“You order the pizza. I’m going to attack that weird sticky substance you've got growing on the carpet,” Katie laughed.
“Good evening,” Mal chirped when Christen came through the door. “Glad you made it before closing.”
“Hi,” Christen replied, rushing inside closer to 9:00 PM thanks to traffic. “Sorry, I know I’m late.”
“No need to be sorry. The kitchen is open for another thirty minutes,” Mal said. “Just one tonight?”
Christen nodded. “Just one from now on,” she replied, taking off her coat.
“Oh,” Mal hummed, leading the way to the table.
“Don’t look so broken up about it,” Christen joked with a soft smile. “She confused a Malbec with a Merlot.”
“She wasn’t really fit for you,” Mal chuckled. “I guess we all just thought...Oh, do you want um...something before your server comes?”
“Uh, no,” Christen replied, narrowing her eyes at Mal and the way she’d stumbled through that. “What did you all think?”
“Nothing,” Mal shook her head, her eyes wide.
“Okay...did you get the letter of recommendation?” Christen asked.
“Yes, I did. Thank you so much for that. I sent in my application yesterday,” Mal replied, glad to be out of the hot seat.
“Let me know if there’s anything else I can do,” Christen offered with a smile.
“I will. I’ll send your server over in a second,” Mal said, handing Christen her menus and then stepping away from the table.
Christen didn’t open the wine menu, instead opting to look around the restaurant, her fingers tapping along the tablecloth as she waited for a glimpse of Tobin.
Alyssa had more sympathy for Tobin after tonight. They were short-staffed, Tobin had called in and asked for the night off, a new waiter had just been fired earlier in the afternoon, and there had been an early evening rush of guests. She’d been asked to step in as a server for the night, leaving the chefs short-staffed and Alyssa overwhelmed.
“Good evening. My name’s Alyssa, and I’ll be your server this evening,” Alyssa mumbled, looking down at her pad of paper, something that Tobin never used when talking to guests.
“Hi,” Christen greeted, her brow furrowed in confusion that Alyssa was out here and not in the kitchen.
“Oh, it’s you,” Alyssa breathed out. “Hi.”
“Where’s Tobin?” Christen asked.
“I don’t know,” Alyssa shrugged. “She called in and asked for the night off.”
“You...don’t know?” Christen all but scoffed.
“No, but I’m gonna kick her ass when she comes back to work tomorrow,” Alyssa chuckled. “Waiting tables sucks.”
Christen nodded, wondering to herself how someone just didn’t know what their girlfriend or partner or whatever these two had going on, was up to or why they weren’t at work.
“Do you have a wine you’d like to try tonight? I’m not quite as good as Tobs is, so be kind,” Alyssa said.
“Spottswoode,” Christen replied, electing to pick the wine Tobin had single-handedly gotten onto the menu.
“Gavin will know what that is, right?” Alyssa asked with a furrowed brow.
Despite the jealousy weighing on her chest, Christen cracked a smile at the obvious confusion on Alyssa’s face.
“He will, yeah,” Christen nodded.
“Tobin better be sick,” Alyssa grumbled to herself.
“I’m sorry but- how do you not know if she’s sick?” Christen asked, shaking her head in disbelief.
“What do you mean? She wouldn’t call me to tell me that,” Alyssa said with even more confusion.
“You’re together, right? Wouldn’t she call her girlfriend?” Christen wondered.
Alyssa’s nose wrinkled immediately. “Ew, no. We are definitely not together. That would be like dating my sister.”
Christen blinked a few times, trying to wrap her head around this, trying to figure out when she’d read this completely wrong.
“We’re just best buds. She’s been a good friend to have around since we’re both into cooking. She’s an honest critic when I make something bad,” Alyssa answered.
“But the day you came to the winery, you both- I mean you seemed...close,” Christen argued, her face contorted in confusion.
“We are close. I’ve known Tobs since we were kids. She’s my wing woman for every occasion, my sidekick, my sister ,” Alyssa said with a grin.
Christen was sure she’d never felt more idiotic in her entire life. And that included knocking over an entire tray of wine glasses during her sommelier exam.
She’d only accepted Peyton’s invitation to dinner because she thought Tobin was dating Alyssa. She’d only stayed with Peyton because she couldn’t fathom coming into Napa’s Table alone while Tobin was with someone else.
At least she’d had the good sense to end it with Peyton last week, but still. She was on the idiot express, full-speed ahead.
“Tobs is a single pringle,” Alyssa hummed, looking down at her pad of paper again. “Is it Spottswoode with two t’s?”
“Yes,” Christen breathed out, her mind still turning over everything.
“Are you okay?” Alyssa asked.
“I...I think I messed up a little bit,” Christen said with a sheepish wince.
“Did you forget to pick up your girlfriend before coming here?” Alyssa teased.
“No girlfriend anymore. And I- is Tobin working next Friday?” Christen asked, the makings of an idea forming in her mind.
“Unless she calls in sick,” Alyssa answered. “She’s only off on Tuesdays.”
“Can you make sure she makes it in?” Christen wondered with a small smile.
“Sure,” Alyssa nodded. “Don’t bring a non-girlfriend next time maybe too, okay?”
“I won’t bring anyone, but I won’t be dining alone,” Christen hummed.
“That’s a fun way to get Tobs fired,” Alyssa snorted.
“I won’t get her fired,” Christen assured with a laugh.
“Mal,” Alyssa called, waving her hand at the hostess.
“Yes?” Mal asked, skidding to a stop.
“Will you tell Ali that she won the pool?” Alyssa said with a smirk.
Christen’s mouth flopped open in surprise as she looked between Alyssa and Mal.
“Dang, I really thought they’d work faster,” Mal sighed.
“Would you like to order dinner right now?” Alyssa asked, checking her watch for the time.
“Just the wine is fine tonight,” Christen assured, shaking her head with a smile as she watched Mal skip over to Ali, Ali letting out a loud whoop of celebration.
“Good evening,” Tobin said softly, holding her hands behind her back as she rocked on her feet.
“It is, isn’t it?” Christen replied, smiling up at Tobin, having waited all week for this.
“Are we waiting for anyone tonight?”
“No. We’re not,” Christen said with a shake of her head, telling Tobin everything she needed to know based on the look in her eyes.
“Would you like to start with something to drink?” Tobin asked, feeling slightly lighter than she had a second ago.
“A bottle of Far Niente Chardonnay would be lovely,” Christen hummed.
“Of course,” Tobin nodded. “Anything else I can get you? I hear the steak crostini is really good,” she said with a smirk.
Christen chuckled. “Not with a rosé champagne, it’s not,” she replied with a roll of her eyes. “But, no. I won’t be eating right now.”
“I’ll be back in a minute,” Tobin said, backing away from the table and toward the cellar.
“Two glasses, please,” Christen called out softly.
Tobin wanted to stomp out the hope in her heart. She wanted it to stop fluttering, but she couldn’t. She couldn’t stop it when Christen was here, alone, at her table, in a gray sweater and a long skirt, looking soft and sweet and beautiful.
It took her seconds to find the chardonnay that Christen wanted, already chilled. She took the wine and a tableside cooler upstairs and grabbed two glasses for Christen’s table. She set a glass down in front of Christen and poured out a taste for her.
“What do you make of it?” Christen asked, flicking her eyes down to the wine and then back up to meet Tobin’s gaze.
“I’ve only tasted it once,” Tobin said slowly, trying to remember what she thought about it.
“You can taste it twice. It’s poured,” Christen grinned.
“That’s for you,” Tobin argued, hating how much this tradition, this banter, made butterflies erupt in her stomach.
Christen slid the glass to the middle of the table, her smile never dropping. “Now it’s for you.”
Tobin picked up the glass and looked at the soft gold-colored liquid. She closed her eyes as she brought it up to her nose and inhaled, her lips twitching up into a smile.
“Obviously,” Christen chuckled.
“Honeysuckle maybe,” Tobin added, opening her eyes enough to look over at Christen.
Christen nodded in agreement, encouraging Tobin to continue.
“White fig,” Tobin added before she moved the glass away from her nose and looked at Christen.
“The white fig is always the hardest to catch. Very nice,” Christen complimented, more than a little impressed.
“Thank you. Would you like to taste it?” Tobin asked, moving the empty glass toward Christen and reaching for the bottle.
“After you,” Christen said, holding up her hands in mock surrender.
Tobin took a sip of the wine and let it sit on her tongue for a moment before she swallowed, focusing on every taste that hit her tongue and traveled down her throat.
“Aren't those dried apples and glazed apricot notes wonderful?” Christen asked, smiling up at Tobin and the way she was clearly in absolute heaven after taking a sip of the Chardonnay.
“Yes,” Tobin nodded, putting her glass down and pouring a taste into Christen’s glass. “Peaches too.”
“It’s the lingering aftertaste of vanilla that always has me going back for another sip,” Christen grinned, pulling the glass up to her face and taking a quick inhale, also catching hints of gardenia and toasted hazelnuts in the mixture of aromas.
“I’m assuming you’re going for seafood tonight?”
“That’s the plan,” Christen murmured, setting her glass down after taking a sip of the wine.
“Well, the scallops are really fresh. I can recommend those. There’s also some pretty nice lobster,” Tobin said, running through the menu in her head.
“I’m good with the wine for now,” Christen replied with a coy smile, knowing what was to come and delighting in the fact that Tobin didn’t.
“Oookay,” Tobin hummed. “Um...let me know when you’re ready to order, then, I guess.”
“I will. Thank you, Tobin,” Christen said softly, just like she always did.
“Of course,” Tobin nodded, her eyebrows furrowed as she moved away to check on one of her last few remaining tables.
She didn’t approach Christen’s table, but they did make eye contact. Tobin would glance over after picking up a check or handing someone an after-dinner coffee. Christen would simply smile and then turn back to her drink, never ushering her over to order. And Tobin had no idea what to make of it. She couldn’t decide if Christen was waiting for someone or just really enjoying the wine, but there came a point when she had to walk over.
“The kitchen’s closing in ten minutes,” Tobin said softly.
“I know,” Christen replied with a nod.
“Are you having trouble deciding?” Tobin asked.
“Nope,” Christen hummed, fiddling with the stem of her wine glass. “I know what I’m having.”
“Would you...like to enlighten me?” Tobin asked.
“In ten minutes,” Christen murmured, lifting her wine glass to her lips and taking a small sip.
Tobin nodded, realizing she really wasn’t going to get anything out of Christen. She moved to the bar and started cleaning up now that all of her other tables were gone. She blew out candles, collected tablecloths to be cleaned, and stacked chairs. She said goodbye to Ali and Mal.
After checking her watch and seeing that it was when Alyssa had told her it was okay to come back, Christen gathered the two empty glasses and the chilled bottle of wine and moved toward the kitchen. She was completely aware that Tobin was watching her and she was just hoping Tobin would follow.
“What are you doing?” Tobin asked, moving through the dining room and toward the kitchen.
Christen just pushed through the swinging door and walked into the kitchen.
“I’m actually gonna get fired,” Tobin said, following closely behind with a worried wrinkle between her eyes.
Christen set the glasses and the bottle down on the empty counter, smiling softly at the ingredients sitting out, thanks to Alyssa.
“The chefs really don’t like people back here,” Tobin added.
“Tony owes me a favor,” Christen waved off, finally turning to look at Tobin.
“How do you know Tony?” Tobin asked.
“He’s the cousin of the chef at Flora’s,” Christen grinned.
“He throws plates. What kind of favor could you possibly do for him?” Tobin asked, rolling the sleeves of her button-up shirt and glancing around the kitchen to make sure everything was in place and clean.
“His twenty-seven-year-old daughter is a big fan of Moscato and short ribs. So...I introduced her to someone who likes that as well,” Christen replied.
“There’s more than one person like that?” Tobin teased, moving to the side and reaching onto a small shelf to get her wallet and keys.
Christen laughed. “Apparently. And because I made his daughter happy, he’s making sure I don’t dine alone,” she said softly.
“How’s that?” Tobin asked, shoving her wallet and keys into the pocket of her jacket that was hanging on a hook near the executive chef’s office.
Christen gestured at the empty kitchen around them, the two plates and two sets of silverware on the bench near the ingredients.
“I’d like two plates of salmon en papillote. It should pair nicely with the Chardonnay,” Christen said with a hopeful smile.
“That’s not on the menu. It’s too simple for a restaurant this fancy,” Tobin said, crossing her arms over her chest as she looked at the things on the counter behind Christen.
“I disagree,” Christen replied. “And...I was hoping we could make it together. Because I’m an idiot who has spent…these past six months crushing on you.”
“What?” Tobin asked, that hope in her chest in full bloom.
“No offense to Alyssa, but the food here’s good but not great. The wine menu could use a complete overhaul. I wasn’t coming back every week for those things,” Christen murmured, a small smile on her face.
“Alyssa chops things. She won’t be offended. And Gavin kind of sucks,” Tobin mumbled.
“I might have offended her by thinking you two were together,” Christen admitted with a sheepish grimace.
Tobin’s eyes widened immediately. “Ew, gross.”
“She said the same thing,” Christen chuckled.
“She’s like a third sister to me,” Tobin said, poking a stray strand of hair behind her ear.
“I get that now...I just didn’t then,” Christen sighed with a shake of her head.
“So, you dated someone who knew nothing about wine or food,” Tobin said slowly, trying to fully understand the words that were floating around in her head.
“You know so much about both...I kind of swung in the complete opposite direction when I thought I couldn’t ever do anything about what I felt for you,” Christen replied softly, taking a small step closer to Tobin.
“I was pretty bummed when you brought someone else,” Tobin admitted with a slightly embarrassed smile.
“Me too,” Christen hummed.
“And you wasted Spottswoode on her,” Tobin added.
“It haunts me still,” Christen quipped, falling easily back into their quick, witty banter.
“So, you were crushing on me. That’s why you came every week,” Tobin said.
Christen nodded with a blush in her cheeks.
“Are you still?” Tobin asked.
Christen nodded again, a slightly hopeful, wonderstruck smile playing at her lips.
“That’s good,” Tobin hummed, tugging open a closet door next to the chef’s office and pulling out two clean aprons.
“Yeah?” Christen breathed out, her eyes tracking Tobin’s every move.
“I’ve been crushing on you since you walked through the door drenched from the rain,” Tobin said, putting an apron around her neck and holding the other out to Christen.
Christen let out a sigh of relief and smiled brilliantly, taking the apron and sliding it over her head as well.
“It’s a little bit of a work violation to ask customers out on dates while they’re eating in our restaurant,” Tobin said, tying the apron around her waist.
“How’s your boss feel about a customer asking their waitress out in the kitchen?” Christen asked, tying her apron as well.
“I haven’t asked, but I won’t be here much longer,” Tobin replied, her heart racing in her chest.
“No?” Christen wondered.
“I got an offer to work in the kitchen of a slightly better restaurant with a much more extensive wine list,” Tobin said.
“Congratulations,” Christen murmured, leaning a hip against the counter and fixing Tobin with a smile.
“So, you could probably ask me out, or I can wait a few weeks and do the honors on my last day,” Tobin hummed.
“Will you go out with me on Tuesday?” Christen asked with a soft smile and a blush in her cheeks.
“I’d love to,” Tobin replied.
“Will you tell your boss if I break another work rule?”
“Probably not,” Tobin joked, her eyes crinkling in amusement.
With a fluttering heart, Christen stepped closer and pressed a kiss to Tobin’s cheek, lingering just a bit and staying close.
“Will you go out with me again on Wednesday after your shift?” Christen whispered.
“Sure. Are you free on Thursday?” Tobin murmured.
“Of course,” Christen replied softly, using Tobin’s turn of phrase.
Tobin pressed her own kiss to Christen’s cheek, feeling her heart thud against her ribcage. “Friday? I can make you better food after my shift.”
“Every day. I’m free every day,” Christen said quietly, smiling at Tobin.
“What a coincidence,” Tobin breathed out.
A new routine of sorts had begun.
Napa’s Table officially closed at 10:00PM. So, at 9:45 on the dot, Christen would walk through the front doors, greet Mal, and sit at her typical table. But she wouldn’t order food or even wine. She would just wait.
She did it on Monday night, and Tobin met her at the table before Christen offered to drive Tobin home, leaving Alyssa the car. On Tuesday, they went out to dinner in Healdsburg for their first date and enjoyed a private table at one of the town’s nicest restaurants, their night ending with a walk beneath the stars with their hands clasped. And then Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were all similar to Monday. Christen came in close to closing, waited at her typical table, and met Tobin once her shift was done.
If either of them were worried their banter would putter out when they weren’t talking about wine or food, they shouldn’t have been. Tobin’s goofy humor and Christen’s dorky side were a perfect match, making the first week of their ‘more than just a waitress and her patron’ relationship full of laughter and shy smiles.
But now it was Saturday and Christen knew Tobin had a rare night off.
“Got any plans for this evening?” Christen wondered, nervously chewing her thumbnail as she held the phone to her ear and paced around the first floor of her house.
“Not yet,” Tobin replied as she adjusted her glasses on her face and wrote one last thing on her grocery list.
“Would you maybe want to come to a winery thing with me? It’ll be stiff and a little boring, but there’ll be decent food and wine. And it’s a good excuse to get dressed up,” Christen asked with a hopeful smile, even though she knew Tobin couldn’t see the smile, she hoped anyway.
“Are you asking me to a work event?” Tobin asked, her lips twitching up into a bit of a smirk.
“Um...yes, but if you don’t want to come, I’m sure I-”
“I love wine, and I love food. And I have some dress pants I haven’t gotten a chance to wear yet,” Tobin hummed, finding Christen’s nerves pretty adorable.
“Really? You want to come?” Christen replied, letting out a small sigh of relief.
“You dressed up and bossing people around? Totally here for it,” Tobin chuckled.
Christen smiled and leaned against the doorframe that led into her kitchen.
“But I have to ask for something in return,” Tobin added.
“What’s that?” Christen wondered, her eyes moving around her kitchen and wishing Tobin was in it.
“Are you free Tuesday night?” Tobin asked, pulling a cookbook down from her shelf and putting it on the counter.
“Every day. Just for you,” Christen breathed out with a blush.
“I’d really like to cook you dinner,” Tobin said.
“You in a chef’s coat, bossing it up in the kitchen? Sign me up,” Christen teased.
“Maybe I can borrow a chef’s coat,” Tobin teased.
“Want to borrow my kitchen too? It’s been sadly a little neglected for the last seven months.”
“I was hoping you’d say that. Mine is sad and small, albeit not neglected,” Tobin admitted, glancing around at the limited counter space.
“Tuesday it is. And...I’ll pick you up at five. Did I mention it’s a Black and Gold party? You have to wear something that’ll fit the theme,” Christen replied, her stomach swirling with excitement.
“Well, that sounds fun,” Tobin mumbled, suddenly realizing she had absolutely nothing that fit that theme. “I’ll see you at five.”
Tobin stood in front of her apartment building with her hands in her pockets. She’d called Alyssa in a panic and gotten some advice, which consisted of Alyssa talking her through her entire wardrobe.
She’d broken out her only suit, one she’d bought on a whim and never found a reason to wear. It was black, paired with a white shirt. And while she really didn’t have any gold clothing, she put on a few pieces of gold jewelry: tiny, gold hoop earrings, a couple of gold rings, a few gold necklaces. It was a miracle she had the shoes that she did. They were black dress shoes with gold at the toes. She couldn’t even remember where she’d bought them, but they fit and hopefully would be fine for the winery.
She was possibly more nervous than she had been on their first date. The first date had only been the two of them, talking and laughing and getting to know one another over food and wine. This was different. Christen would be working, they’d be dressed up way more than before, there would be other guests to talk to.
So, Tobin couldn’t really help that her feet were tapping slightly and her hands were fidgeting in her pockets. Those nerves only increased when a very shiny, very fancy town car pulled up in front of her apartment building.
The back door opened and Christen slid out, holding the skirt of her gold dress as she maneuvered out of the car to greet Tobin.
“You look wonderful,” Christen complimented, leaving a quick kiss on Tobin’s cheek, closer to the corner of her mouth than usual. She let her eyes take in Tobin’s outfit and felt her smile grow. “Really wonderful. You ready?”
Tobin couldn’t respond, her eyes still moving over the gold dress that definitely had a slit in the skirt, showing off one of Christen’s very strong legs. Her mouth was dry, her heart was pounding, and her eyes were only growing as they skimmed over Christen’s collarbones, taking in the straightened hair laying over her shoulder, then moving up to her face.
“What?” Christen asked at Tobin’s continued silence, looking down at her dress and inspecting it. “Did I get something on it?”
“No,” Tobin shook her head quickly. “You just look amazing.”
“Oh,” Christen breathed out with a blush. “Thank you,” she added softly, reaching up with a hesitant hand to wipe away the bit of lipstick she’d left on Tobin’s cheek, letting her touch linger for a moment longer than necessary.
“Really beautiful,” Tobin murmured, practically sinking into Christen’s touch.
The moment stretched out in front of them, their eyes locked on one another’s, Christen’s fingers ghosting across Tobin’s cheek. The air between them was charged, their pounding hearts falling into sync.
And then Christen cleared her throat and let her hand fall from Tobin’s cheek. “Sorry, uh- ready to go?” she asked with a smile.
“Yeah, of course,” Tobin nodded. “Fancy car.”
“Estelle Flora wanted everyone to be able to get home safely at the end of the night, which means getting us cars to the event as well,” Christen replied, tangling her fingers with Tobin’s and pulling her towards the town car.
“Fancy,” Tobin repeated as they climbed into the car, settling in their seats.
“Charles, this is my date, Tobin. Tobin this is our head chef, Charles,” Christen introduced, keeping her hand on Tobin’s lower back.
“Nice to meet you,” Tobin said, just like she had for everyone she’d met so far.
“A pleasure. Christen speaks very highly of you,” Charles replied with a wry grin.
“She speaks highly of you too. She told me your ceviche is pretty spectacular.”
“It’s perfection,” Charles scoffed teasingly, smiling at Christen. “Enjoy the party. And the ceviche. It’s on the banquet table over there,” he added, moving away from Tobin and Christen.
“Someone called this party a work event,” Tobin murmured for only Christen to hear.
Christen chuckled and stayed close to Tobin, her glass of wine cradled to her chest and her hand still on Tobin’s back.
“I said a winery thing. I just didn’t mention it would be the twenty-five-year celebration of the winery,” Christen hummed.
“Sneaky,” Tobin said with a smile. “Your wine choices are perfect as always,” she added, holding her glass up slightly.
“Took me weeks to get them right. Estelle is a difficult woman to please,” Christen sighed, fiddling with the stem of her wine glass.
“I think you’re also tough on yourself,” Tobin said softly.
“It’s possible,” Christen said with a small laugh. “I’m going to get us refills. Will you be okay here? I’m leaving you with the food so…”
“Of course. I’m in my happy place,” Tobin teased, looking at the way Charles had presented the food on the table.
Christen took Tobin’s empty wine glass and then left a quick kiss on Tobin’s cheek before disappearing into the crowd.
Tobin took one of the plates of Charles’ ceviche, stepping to the side to try it. He had been right. It was perfection. She moved along the table, admiring his food and reading about the paired wines. The colors were spectacular; the plates were elegant. She narrowed her eyes slightly at the duck a l’orange that was on the table, picking up a small plate and the Riesling that was paired with it and stepping away from the table to taste it, her eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
“Something not up to your standards?” a voice interrupted Tobin, causing her to turn.
Tobin immediately shook her head, dabbing a napkin on the corner of her mouth.
“It’s lovely. Everything is really lovely,” Tobin said, tucking her napkin under her plate.
The older woman pressed her lips into a thin line, not believing Tobin one bit. “The duck a l’orange. It made you unhappy. Why?”
“It didn’t make me unhappy. It maybe...confused me,” Tobin said slowly, feeling like she’d been caught doing something wrong.
“Why?” the older woman repeated, stepping closer and giving Tobin her complete and utter attention.
“You have spectacular wines. Your collection is really fantastic. And this duck is delicious. I’m just curious why the chef chose duck a l’orange when the wine is supposed to be spotlighted by the food,” Tobin said honestly, feeling her body heat up with slight nerves as she spoke.
The older woman looked mildly surprised by the comment. “Is the riesling not spotlighted?”
“The duck’s fantastic, but it’s overwhelming your riesling, which is incredibly crisp and light,” Tobin admitted.
“What would you have paired the riesling with instead?”
“Maybe salmon with a butter lemon sauce or a steamed bass with some herbs and spices. Nothing too bold. Something complementary, something to lift the wine,” Tobin offered.
The woman smiled at Tobin’s response. “You’re a chef,” she observed, no hint of a question in her voice. “With respect for wine. That’s not always common. Chefs usually want the food to play first chair, not the wine.”
“I’m not really a chef yet. I’m finishing culinary school,” Tobin replied with a shake of her head and a slight blush.
“Find me when you’re finished with school. I’d like to see your take on a salmon or bass for my riesling,” the woman hummed, offering Tobin a genuine, warm smile.
“Of course,” Tobin murmured.
The woman signaled a waiter. “Take the duck a l’orange away, please,” she instructed.
“Yes, Miss Flora,” the waiter nodded, taking the tray from the table swiftly.
Tobin’s eyes widened immediately, her stomach dropping at who she’d just talked to.
“Name?” Estelle Flora asked, looking back at Tobin.
“Who brought you here tonight?”
Estelle’s eyes lit up at the mention of Christen’s name. “My somm has fabulous taste in wine and in dates. Find me when you’re finished, Tobin. I think Charles needs a sous chef. I won’t forget,” she said warmly before moving away and back into the mix of guests at the party.
“Holy shit,” Tobin mumbled under her breath, ditching her duck on a waiter’s tray.
A few moments later, Christen maneuvered around some guests with the refilled glasses in her hand, making her way back to Tobin’s side.
“Sorry. Line was long,” she said with a smile.
“That’s okay,” Tobin said, her eyes still wide and her cheeks still flushed.
“You okay? You look like someone just gave you your first Michelin star,” Christen teased, handing Tobin her wine.
“I met your boss,” Tobin hummed.
“How was she? She seems less than thrilled about tonight so far,” Christen observed with a slight furrow in her brow.
“I may have not known that she was your boss when I spoke to her,” Tobin admitted, looking slightly sheepish.
“As long as you didn’t bash her wine, I’m sure you’re safe,” Christen chuckled.
“Not the wine,” Tobin said with a slight grimace.
Christen’s brows scrunched together in confusion as she took a small step closer to Tobin.
“I may be the reason the duck’s in the kitchen,” Tobin admitted.
Christen looked over at the banquet table, noticing the empty space where the duck had once been.
“What’d you say?” Christen asked quietly, her expression a mix of impressed that Estelle had listened to Tobin, and concerned about whatever Tobin could possibly have said.
“She asked why I looked...confused about the duck, and I told her it overwhelmed the wine. So, she asked what I’d pair with it instead,” Tobin said with a shrug. “That was before I realized this was her party.”
“And did you offend her or something?” Christen wondered, leaning more toward concerned.
“I told her I’d pair it with salmon or sea bass, and she asked me to come find her after I finish school,” Tobin replied.
Christen’s face broke out in a large smile. “You charmed her,” she chuckled, taking a sip of her wine and feeling herself relax just a bit.
“I guess,” Tobin mumbled. “The ceviche is good,” she added, taking a small sip of the wine Christen had brought.
“You charmed your way into a job offer. See, I told you that you knew your stuff,” Christen grinned, clinking her wine glass against Tobin’s.
“I wouldn’t say that,” Tobin blushed again.
“Can I tell you something?” Christen asked, sliding the stem of her wine glass between her fingers.
“What’s that?” Tobin asked, looking at Christen instead of the food or the wine.
“I think...I think you see food the way I see wine. I feel like we speak the same language. And I’m just really happy I walked into Napa’s Table when it was raining,” Christen admitted, her smile and her words soft.
“I’m really happy you walked in, and I’m really grateful I kept the restaurant open,” Tobin replied, reaching out for Christen’s hand and brushing her thumb across the back of it.
“Want to go somewhere?” Christen asked quietly, her hand fitting in Tobin’s like it was meant to.
“Skipping out on your work party?” Tobin gasped, her eyes crinkling as she smiled.
“I won’t be missed for a few minutes. There’s something I want to show you,” Christen replied, setting her empty wine glass down on a table nearby, Tobin doing the same.
Christen led them through the large event room and outside into the gardens of Flora Winery. She held tightly onto Tobin’s hand as she took them out into the vineyards, the sun just starting to set in the distance and casting a golden, orange glow across the vines.
She brought them to a stop on a small hill, near a collection of vines and rose bushes, overlooking rolling hills of grapevines.
“Your happy place?” Tobin asked, looking out across the vines.
“One of them,” Christen nodded, smiling softly. “This is why I took the job. The old somm walked me around the whole property, and then he and Estelle brought me out here. I took one look at the view and knew I couldn’t say no. Then I asked the somm why the roses were here, just trying to see if I was coming to a place that valued substance over style. Since roses aren’t really for show.”
“They protect the vines,” Tobin mumbled.
“Exactly,” Christen hummed, squeezing Tobin’s hand in her own. “He didn’t know the answer, but Estelle did. And I took that as a sign for me to come here.”
“I’m glad you took the job,” Tobin said softly.
“I am too,” Christen replied, looking away from the sunset and the vineyard, over at Tobin.
“So, you believe in signs,” Tobin mused, glancing over at Christen.
“I do,” Christen nodded, her eyes holding Tobin’s. “Not in a hoaky way, but just in a...cosmic universe sort of way.”
Tobin just hummed, an amused smile spreading across her face. “So, you’d be floored if I told you that I wasn’t supposed to close that night we met?”
“You weren’t?” Christen asked, turning her body to completely face Tobin’s, keeping their clasped hands between them.
“Nope,” Tobin shook her head. “Ali had a date and asked me to close up for her.”
“And that’s why I have to believe there’s something bigger, you know? All of those things had to line up for...well, for this,” Christen murmured, squeezing Tobin’s hand.
“I agree,” Tobin whispered, lifting Christen’s hand up to her lips and pressing a kiss to the back of it.
Christen felt her heart stop in her chest as Tobin looked up through her lashes as her lips stayed on the back of her hand, ghosting gently across her skin.
The moment felt charged again, and they didn’t have a town car waiting for them or a party to get to. All they had was a setting sun in the distance and a tapestry of vineyards stretched around them and promise hanging in the air between them.
So when Tobin lowered their clasped hands, Christen took a small step forward, bringing them within inches of each other, her eyes never falling from Tobin’s until she glanced down quickly at Tobin’s lips.
Tobin reached her free hand up to Christen’s cheek, brushing her fingers softly over Christen’s skin before she leaned forward, barely brushing her lips over Christen’s, offering a light kiss just in case that was all Christen wanted.
But Christen slid her free hand around to settle low on Tobin’s back, keeping their bodies pressed together as she deepened the kiss.
She didn’t want to keep the kiss light, like a subtle Pinot Grigio. She wanted this kiss to be bold and warm, like a full-bodied Syrah. She wanted to kiss Tobin with passion and want, with every feeling she’d had inside of her ever since walking into Napa’s Table .
And that was what she did. Christen moved her lips with a smooth purpose and a delicate sweetness against Tobin’s, enshrining this kiss into both of their memories as a first kiss to remember.
Tobin had to use her foot to knock on Christen’s door, her arms completely full with a bag of Tupperware and a few pots and pans.
Christen pulled the door open, her eyes sparkling in surprise as she wiped a bit of sweat away from her forehead with the back of her hand.
“You’re...four hours early,” Christen laughed breathlessly.
“I need to prep,” Tobin shrugged. “I texted. Should I come back later?”
“No! No, you’re fine,” Christen replied, holding open the door. “I was about to quit my workout anyway.”
“Don’t stop on my account,” Tobin smirked, almost losing her grip on a pan and scrambling to keep a hold of it.
“Need a hand?” Christen asked, smirking back as she saw Tobin struggle not because of the sheer volume of things in her arms, but because Tobin seemed unable to look away from the expanse of skin revealed by her sports bra and shorts.
“I need a counter,” Tobin chuckled.
“Right this way,” Christen said, closing the door and leading Tobin into the kitchen. “I didn’t know what you’d need, so I cleared everything off so you’d have a clean slate.”
“I think I’m in love,” Tobin mumbled, her eyes growing when she saw the kitchen that Christen had.
“Pardon?” Christen said, whipping her head around to look at Tobin with wide eyes.
“Your kitchen,” Tobin blurted out. “I love your kitchen.”
“Oh,” Christen blushed. “Right. Yeah, it’s- I don’t get to use it much but it’s got a lot of counter space.”
“How do you not use this,” Tobin groaned, putting the pans and pots that she was holding down on the counter.
“I have a confession to make,” Christen admitted with a grimace, leaning a hip against the kitchen island and watching Tobin unload everything she’d brought.
“Oh no,” Tobin breathed out.
“I burn water. Like actually burn it,” Christen sighed.
“I can’t cook. I can’t even do a bowl of cereal. I never get the ratio of milk to cereal right.”
“Like...you can’t cook at all?” Tobin asked, her eyes looking sad all of a sudden.
“I faked my way through the salmon dish last week. Sometimes I get lucky and the water just boils and doesn’t burn?” Christen said with a sheepish half-smile.
“Okay, well that’s okay,” Tobin replied, setting her bag of Tupperwares filled with food on the counter.
“I have seriously rocked our world in a not great way,” Christen laughed with a shake of her head, her cheeks flushed in embarrassment.
“No, I’m just gonna have more fun tonight than I expected,” Tobin said with a laugh.
Christen narrowed her eyes slightly. “How do you mean?”
“You appreciate food, correct?” Tobin asked with a grin.
Christen just quirked a brow in response, the corner of her mouth twitching up into a smile.
“You have great taste. I already know that. That’s more important than being able to cook. I can cook,” Tobin shrugged. “But tonight I get to test you.”
“Test me?” Christen asked with a chuckle, her eyes dancing with amusement.
“You should finish your workout. I can find my way around the kitchen,” Tobin said with a happy smile already on her face.
“There is one thing this kitchen is missing though,” Christen said with a dramatic sigh.
Christen moved around the kitchen island and into Tobin’s space, pulling her close with a hand on her hip.
“This,” Christen grinned, kissing Tobin soundly, having missed her these past two days and wanting to make up for missed time now.
“You in this kitchen without a shirt is dangerous,” Tobin breathed out.
“I don’t have to finish my workout...we could always just make out?” Christen chuckled, ghosting her lips across Tobin’s jaw, pulling Tobin even closer.
“That sounds really responsible,” Tobin sighed, holding Christen’s hip with her hand and brushing her fingers over Christen's bare skin.
“You can meal prep in a little bit, right?” Christen asked, nipping softly at the underside of Tobin’s jaw.
“Mhm, meal prepping was just my excuse to come over sooner,” Tobin hummed, lolling her head to the side to give Christen access.
“Is this necessary?” Christen asked, looking between Tobin’s grin and the blindfold in her hand.
“It’ll change how you feel about food,” Tobin said happily.
Christen pursed her lips and tried not to smile at how excited Tobin seemed about this.
“Fine. But no funny business while I’m blindfolded,” Christen said in warning, her tone teasing.
“Of course not,” Tobin promised.
Christen got settled in her chair at the small dining room table, pulling her curls into a bun so they wouldn’t be restrained by the blindfold in Tobin’s hand.
“Did you select the wines too?” Christen wondered, looking at the five, empty wine glasses on the table in front of her placemat.
“Yes,” Tobin nodded. “I brought them with me.”
“Will you be eating with me?” Christen asked, noting the chair situated by her side, a placemat, and five wine glasses in front of that as well.
“Always. You don’t dine alone,” Tobin said softly.
Christen beamed and then sat up a little straighter. “All right. I trust you,” Christen hummed, shutting her eyes and waiting for Tobin to put the blindfold on her.
Tobin carefully tied the blindfold, making sure not to catch any hair in the knot that she made. She leaned down and pressed a light kiss to the top of Christen’s head before she moved to the kitchen, first grabbing the bottle of wine she’d picked out for the first course, an Oaked Chenin Blanc.
She poured it into Christen’s glass first and then her own, carrying the bottle back to the kitchen and grabbing the plates that she’d definitely made way too pretty considering Christen wouldn’t see them.
She set the plate down in front of Christen and then took her own seat beside her.
“I don’t need to tell you how to do a tasting,” Tobin said with a tiny smile.
“No, but if you’d direct my hand so I don’t knock the wine glass over, I’d appreciate it,” Christen chuckled.
Tobin let out a laugh as she took Christen’s hand and gently placed it on the stem of the glass.
“White wine glass. A chilled wine,” Christen hummed, lifting the glass off the table and bringing it closer, leaning into Tobin who was sitting very close to her.
“Mhm,” Tobin hummed, picking up her own glass but keeping her eyes on Christen.
Christen breathed in the aromas of ripe pear and jasmine, catching soft notes of butterscotch and lemon, and hummed.
“Chenin Blanc?” she guessed with a smile.
“Yes,” Tobin said with a soft laugh.
Christen took a sip and let the wine roll across her tongue. “A good Chenin Blanc. Dry, not too sweet...I’m guessing we’re doing some kind of dish with Asian flavors?”
“Yes,” Tobin replied again.
“I’m starting strong out of the gate,” Christen teased.
“I expected you would,” Tobin hummed, finally taking a sip of her own wine.
“Will you help me put it down?” Christen asked with a smile.
Tobin laughed again and took Christen’s glass from her hands. She picked up the fork and got a decent bite, collecting all the flavors from the plate before she helped Christen hold the fork in her hand.
“This is very disorienting,” Christen chuckled, lifting the fork to her mouth and taking the bite Tobin had prepared for her, setting the fork down once she had.
“It is. Chefs have us do this in culinary school,” Tobin hummed, picking up Christen’s wine glass again and handing it to her.
Christen took another sip of the Chenin Blanc and nearly moaned at the way it played off the food and blended together beautifully.
“What is in that sauce?” Christen wondered, setting her wine back down with Tobin’s help.
“That’s part of the guessing,” Tobin murmured, a smile obvious in her voice.
Christen let out a breathy laugh and turned to face Tobin, or as close to Tobin as she could get based on where her voice was coming from.
“Ginger and soy sauce. Definitely. They complement the tuna.”
“Correct,” Tobin said with a dopey grin.
“Plantains, which I would never have thought to put on the plate but the savory spice you added to it really sings with the wine. But the foam...I- I don’t know,” Christen admitted with a sheepish smile. “Some kind of citrus but I honestly don’t know.”
“You’re right,” Tobin said softly. “It’s lemon.”
“You’re kidding. I missed lemon?” Christen laughed, tugging her blindfold down and fixing Tobin with an amused look.
“The foamy consistency often confuses people,” Tobin replied, enjoying this more than she’d ever expected to.
Christen shook her head at herself for missing something so obvious and then looked down at the plate, smiling softly at the presentation.
“Estelle won’t know what hit her if you serve food like this,” Christen hummed, reaching out and running a hand across Tobin’s thigh.
“I don’t think I’ll blindfold anyone else, but thank you,” Tobin teased as she took a bite from her own plate, sinking into the flavors on her tongue.
Christen laughed, keeping her hand on Tobin’s thigh. “This is incredible. And you have four more courses?” Christen asked, following Tobin’s lead and going back to eating.
“Yes,” Tobin said, her excitement palpable. “You’re fun to cook for.”
“You’re fun to eat with,” Christen hummed, running her thumb along the soft fabric of Tobin’s jeans as she reached for her wine again.
Christen put the blindfold back on for each course, tasting wine, then food, then wine again, guessing for Tobin, and then slipping the blindfold off to actually look at the food on her plate. She complimented the flavors, the wine choices, and the presentation, making Tobin blush with each one.
And somehow, if at all possible, they’d drifted closer as the night went on. Tobin’s hand lingered on Christen’s after handing over the wine glass, Tobin’s fingertips traced along Christen’s arm as Christen tried the bite of food Tobin had prepared for her. And Christen’s hand remained on Tobin’s thigh, getting higher with every course.
Tobin poured the two glasses of wine to go with their final course before plating the dessert and putting each plate on in front of their chairs, swapping out cutlery for new silverware as she moved around Christen. She took her seat next to Christen again, picking up the glass of wine and placing Christen’s hand on the stem.
“Last one?” Christen wondered with a soft smile.
“Last one,” Tobin repeated.
Christen pulled the wine glass up to her nose, trying not to shiver as Tobin ghosted her fingertips along her arm.
“Um- I smell dried apricots, butterscotch,” Christen murmured, willing her focus to remain on the wine.
“That’s right,” Tobin whispered, her lips brushing against Christen’s shoulder before she placed a soft kiss there.
“God, um,” Christen breathed out. “Nutmeg and- and caramel, too.”
“Mhm,” Tobin hummed, placing another kiss, closer to Christen’s neck.
Christen took a sip of the wine, feeling her heart pounding in her chest and fire prickling beneath her skin as Tobin continued to drop kisses across her skin.
“Silky. Um- sweet. Still holding onto the caramel. There’s honeysuckle and stone fruit too,” Christen managed to say, delicately placing the glass back down on the table. “Late harvest dessert wine. Maybe an ‘05 or ‘06.”
“You’re very good at this,” Tobin murmured, focusing on the spoon beside Christen’s plate now as she put a bit of the mango bavarois and a tiny taste of the mango sorbet she’d made on the spoon. She lifted the spoon closer to Christen’s mouth, letting the sorbet just barely brush against her bottom lip.
Christen let out a stuttering breath and swiped her tongue along her lip, catching the first taste of mango.
“You’re very good at this too,” Christen nearly whispered, itching to take her blindfold off but holding off until she tasted the dessert.
“Thank you,” Tobin hummed. “Open, please.”
Christen tightened her grip on Tobin’s thigh and then did as Tobin asked, parting her lips and completely giving any sort of control over to Tobin.
Tobin held the spoon closer, letting Christen’s lips close around it before she slowly moved the spoon away.
Christen did moan this time. It was sinfully delicious, whatever this dessert was. She was so intoxicated with the burst of flavors, she almost forgot that she was supposed to identify them.
“Oh my God, Tobin. That’s...I think I need another bite if you want me to guess,” Christen admitted with a small laugh.
Tobin chuckled as she got a second bite for Christen, lifting the spoon back up to her lips.
Christen rattled off excuse after excuse to get Tobin to continue to feed her the dessert, until the plate was as empty as her wine glass. Once it was, Christen pulled the blindfold off and fixed Tobin with a wonderstruck look.
“That was easily the best dessert I’ve ever had,” Christen gushed, moving her marveled gaze between Tobin’s shy smile and the brilliant plating of the dessert she could see in front of Tobin.
“Thank you,” Tobin said softly
“No, seriously. The best ,” Christen continued with a beaming smile.
Tobin moved her plate closer to Christen and moved her arm to the back of Christen’s chair. “That’s why I made two.”
“You deserve a whole plate to yourself after crafting this masterpiece,” Christen argued.
“I prefer sharing,” Tobin shrugged, picking up her own spoon and putting a little bit of sorbet on it, taking the bite.
“You are incredible,” Christen hummed with a small shake of her head, looking over at Tobin softly.
“Me?” Tobin scoffed. “You’re the one guessing every single wine correctly and close to every flavor correctly.”
Christen reached up and gently swiped her thumb along Tobin’s bottom lip, catching the small bit of mango sorbet she’d left behind. She then brought her thumb up to her mouth and licked the bit of mango sorbet off of it.
“You missed,” Tobin murmured, her eyes darkening as she watched Christen.
With a smile, Christen leaned in and placed her lips on Tobin’s, sinking into how perfectly they fit against one another.
“Better?” Christen whispered as she leaned back ever so slightly.
Tobin lifted her index finger from where she’d had it on her plate, sorbet spread across the pad of her finger. She swiped it across Christen’s bottom lip before taking Christen’s bottom lip in between her own, sucking gently, her tongue brushing over the cold dessert.
Christen buried a hand in the hair at the nape of Tobin’s neck, keeping their lips pressed together. She tasted the mango on Tobin’s tongue, the lingering honeysuckle from the dessert wine, and the sweetness that always accompanied Tobin’s lips.
Yeah, this was definitely the best dessert she’d ever tasted.
It was, in a word, divine.