The dream begins to crumble, and what began as the best night of Tatia’s life turned into the worst.
For the past few weeks I have been sharing sample chapters of Tatia’s Tattoo. Links to previous chapters are at the end of this post. Following is Chapter 10. Chapter 11 will be posted on Sunday.
CHAPTER 10: THE REAL NIGHTMARES
The restaurant was beyond anything Tatia had imagined. Eric pulled up in front of what looked like a turn-of-the-century mansion. Three attendants dressed in black pants, white shirts, and red vests surrounded the car. One opened his door, another opened hers, and the third drove the car to an unseen and supposedly safe place. A uniformed doorman ushered them through the entrance, and a maître d’ in a black tuxedo signaled to a black-suited waiter who ushered them to an intimate table for two by a corner window overlooking an atrium with a lighted fountain.
After seating Tatia on her side of the table, the waiter took the fan-folded napkin out of the stemmed glass in front of her and ceremoniously placed it in her lap. He repeated the performance on Eric’s side of the table and then handed him a menu. Tatia wanted to laugh with delight at everything she saw, but everyone else seemed to be so serious that she struggled to keep a straight face.
“I assume you will order for the lady,” he said.
“Yes, if that’s okay with the lady,” he said, looking at Tatia with a straight face but with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.
“Sure,” she said, ducking her head and putting her hand over her mouth.
“And would you care to begin with a cocktail?” asked the waiter.
“Why not. Would the lady care for a sweet drink or a salty one?”
“Sweet,” she said, barely stifling a giggle.
“The lady will have a Faux Bellini, and I’ll have a Double Martini.”
“Very good,” replied the waiter. Before he left to order their drinks, he waved over a busboy who filled their water glasses. After both men were gone, Tatia broke into a fit of giggles that made Eric chuckle in spite of himself.
“What’s so funny,” he asked when she had composed herself a bit.
“I’m used to ordering food through a speaker mounted on a pole and picking it up from a window. If it takes more than a couple of minutes, the other kids start whining, and Josie starts yelling. We’ve been here at least ten minutes, we’ve seen seven people, and we haven’t even ordered our food yet. I just didn’t know places like this existed except in the movies.”
“Well, as you can see, they do exist, and you deserve to be waited on hand and foot every day of your life.”
The waiter brought their drinks, and Tatia gasped with delight when she saw her sparkling drink in a champagne flute. The waiter disappeared and Eric lifted his glass and said, “A toast to the birthday girl. May you always be as happy and radiant as you are tonight.”
She smiled and blushed, touching her glass to his before she took a sip. She closed her eyes as she held the icy liquid in her mouth, savoring the delicate peach flavor. When she finally swallowed, she opened her eyes and said, “That is the best thing I ever tasted in my life!”
Eric grinned and said, “Hmmm. Now the pressure is on to pick the perfect meal to live up to that beginning.” He picked up the menu, but before he opened it, he looked at her and smiled. “I know that you like ice cream, but what else do you like?”
“Hamburgers, spaghetti, pizza.”
“Unfortunately, none of those is on the menu. Do you like prime rib?”
“You mean like barbeque ribs?”
“No, this is more like roast.”
“Like pot roast?”
“Well, not really. I guess you could say it’s like a really tender steak, and it’s usually pretty rare.”
“Oh, gross! You mean like bloody?”
“Okay. Maybe not prime rib. Do you like chicken?”
“How about ham and Swiss cheese?”
“Okay. Now for dessert. Cherries or bananas?”
The waiter returned as asked, “Are you ready to order, sir?”
“Yes. The lady will have the Chicken Cordon Bleu, Lyonnais Potatoes, and Green Beans Almandine. I’ll have the Prime Rib, medium rare, and I’ll have the same sides as the lady. And we’ll have Bananas Foster for dessert.”
“Very good. And would you like another round of cocktails, or would you like to see the wine list?”
“Bring the lady a sparkling water, and send over the wine steward?”
“Yes, sir. Right away.”
After the waiter walked away, Tatia took the last sip of her drink and said shyly, “That was really good. I wouldn’t mind having another one.”
“You don’t need another one,” Eric said in a less than kind tone of voice. When he saw the surprise on Tatia’s face, he softened his expression and his tone and placed his hand gently over hers. “Unless you really want one, of course. After all, it is your birthday. I just thought all you beautiful women were always counting your calories.”
She brightened a bit when he called her a beautiful woman. “Oh, no. I don’t want another one. I usually drink water with dinner anyway.”
The waiter brought her sparkling water, and when the wine steward arrived, he and Eric had a conversation, most of which she didn’t understand. From what she gathered, he ordered a bottle of wine to go with his dinner. That worried her a little bit. She still remembered how her mother had acted when she drank too much.
When the food came, she sat and stared at her plate without picking up her fork. “Is something wrong with your food?” Eric asked.
“No, it’s just almost too pretty to eat.”
“Yeah,” Eric laughed, a little too loudly. “At these prices we should probably have it bronzed and put in a display case. But don’t worry about that. Go ahead. Enjoy!”
He poured himself a glass of wine. It was his second one. When the wine steward had brought the bottle to the table, Tatia had wondered if he and Eric would go through the little ceremony she had seen at some of the other tables. They didn’t. The steward had pulled out the cork and held it out to Eric, but he had waved it away, and when he had poured a little in the glass for Eric to try, Eric had snapped at him, “Cut the fancy nonsense and just pour the wine.”
The steward had raised an eyebrow and said, “The Merlot is best when it is allowed to breathe for a few minutes.”
“Well, it can breathe in the glass. Just pour it.”
Tatia had noticed a couple of people at other tables looking their way and snickering, and she had been a little embarrassed for Eric. She wondered if maybe he didn’t know how it was supposed to be done or if it was because of the double martini. She didn’t want to make him feel bad so she turned her attention to the fountain in the atrium and pretended she didn’t know anything was amiss.
Once she tasted her food and discovered how delicious it was, she didn’t pay much attention to anything else for a few minutes. When she finally looked up, Eric was leaning back in his chair, staring at her with a look she didn’t understand but that made her uncomfortable. It reminded her of a look she had once seen on a dog’s face when he was stalking a squirrel.
“What?” she asked. “Do I have something stuck in my teeth?”
“No, you’re perfect. Almost too perfect to share.”
“What do you mean? I met some friends at camp, but nobody special or anything,” she said. An image of Jesse’s easy-going grin flashed through her mind, but she pushed it aside and focused on Eric. “You haven’t touched your prime rib. Don’t you like it?”
Eric shook his head slightly and grunted under his breath. Then he emptied the bottle into his glass. “I guess I’m on more of a liquid diet tonight. Go ahead. Finish your dinner.”
She took a few more bites before carefully placing her knife and fork across her plate at an angle the way she had seen the lady at the next table do when she finished. “I’m finished. I want to save room for the dessert you ordered. What did you call it? Bananas Foster?”
Eric looked irritated. “Yeah, I forgot.” He looked at his watch. “I hope they don’t take too long. I was kinda hoping to have dessert at the motel.” Tatia didn’t understand what he meant, but the way he looked at her when he said it made her skin crawl.
He finally attracted the waiter’s attention and let him know they were ready for dessert. When the busboy had cleared the dishes, a man in a chef’s hat and a white jacket rolled a little cart over to their table. On it was what looked like a little camp stove surrounded by a variety of bowls and bottles and two tulip glasses filled with vanilla ice cream. He smiled at Tatia and, as he began to peel and slice the bananas, he asked, “Have you had Bananas Foster before?”
“No,” she said, her eyes sparkling with excitement. “I never even heard of it before tonight.”
“It’s really quite simple,” he said, “I melt some butter and caramelize some brown sugar with some secret ingredients. If I told you what they were, I’d have to kill you.” He winked good naturedly, she giggled like the twelve year old she was. “Then I sizzle the bananas a few seconds, and then I do this.” He poured a little dark rum into the skillet and tilted the pan until the flame touched the sauce and the alcohol erupted into a geyser of blue flame. Tatia gasped and clapped with delight as he extinguished the flame and spooned his creation over the ice cream. He topped each glass with a swirl of whipped cream and a sprinkle of shaved chocolate before he presented one to each of them with a flourish.
“This is better than a dozen birthday cakes!” Tatia cried.
“Is this your birthday?” asked the chef.
“Yes,” she said.
“Then you must accept these,” he said, plucking two perfect red roses from the vase on an unoccupied table and wrapping a napkin around the stems in a graceful swirl, “as a token of our appreciation for spending your special day with us.” He presented the small bouquet to her with a courtly bow, and she blushed with pleasure.
“Thank you. I never got flowers before.”
The chef turned to Eric and said, “Treasure these special moments. They grow up all too fast.”
“Faster than you might think,” said Eric with a slight slur.
Tatia was too busy with her dessert to notice Eric’s suggestive wink or the dark look that passed over the chef’s face before he hurried away with his cart.
Eric paid the bill, and he and Tatia ran the gauntlet of attendants to get out the door and retrieve his car. He had a little trouble getting the car in gear after he fired up the engine, and he narrowly missed a tree as they wound down the driveway toward the street. Tatia wished he hadn’t had that after dinner drink while she was finishing her dessert.
Once he was on the highway, driving more or less straight in his lane, he picked up his phone and said, “Hey, Siri, play Tatia’s album.”
“You picked out songs for me?” she asked in surprise. She really didn’t like the oldies music he listened to, but it made her feel special that he had set up an album for her. Still, when she heard the lyrics of the first song, she wasn’t so sure. It said something about a little girl and a man who wasn’t supposed to be alone with her, and it made her feel kinda creepy like when he made the comment about dessert at the motel. That song was followed by one that was even worse. At one point the gravelly voice sang about loosening her pretty French gown, and Eric put his hand on her back and began playing with her zipper pull. Finally, there was a line about letting him come inside, and Eric put his hand on her leg and began inching her skirt up.
She sat up as straight as she could, clamped her knees together tightly, and brushed her skirt as if to remove stray crumbs left from dinner but in reality brushing off the encroaching hand. “You know, Eric,” she said. “This has been the best night of my night, but all the excitement has worn me out. Maybe you should just take me straight home.”
“Oh, honey, don’t be a party pooper,” he slurred. “It’s a long time till your curfew, and you need to change back into your jeans. Besides, I need you to do me a favor.”
“What kind of favor?” she asked, suspicious but relieved that he had put his roving hand back on the wheel.
“No big deal. It’s just that, with all the money I’ve been spending on you lately, all the gifts and taking you places, especially tonight, I’m a little short on cash. I have this friend who’s rolling in dough. He’s in town on business, and he’s lonely. I told him about you, and he’s dying to meet you. All you have to do spend a few minutes with him.”
He pulled into the motel parking lot, stopped the car, and turned toward her, giving her a look that made her feel as if he could see right through her clothes.
“I know you know how to be nice to a man. Right?”
“No, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said as tears began to form in the corner of her eyes.
“Sure you do, Tatia,” he said, leaning toward her as she backed against the car door. “You just let him kiss you a little bit, like this,” he continued, kissing her on the neck.
“Stop it, Eric,” she cried, pushing him away. The tobacco and alcohol on his breath repulsed her, and she couldn’t imagine how she ever found him attractive. “I just want to go home.”
“Why you ungrateful little tease,” he shouted. He hit her seat belt release, jerked open his door, and stormed around the car. Tatia tried to lock him out, but before she could find the button, he jerked her door open and pulled her out by the arm. Her roses fell forgotten to the asphalt as he dragged her toward the room.
“You want to go home, huh?”
He fumbled the door open and flung her inside where she stumbled and sprawled on the floor. The candles were gone and even in the dim light of the lamp on the nightstand, she was aware that the interior shabbiness matched the exterior perfectly. Without the distraction of her perfect dress, she could see the faded bedspread and the chipped veneer on the furniture that was edged with cigarette burns.
“Do you know what will happen if I take you home now?” Eric continued. “I’ll tell Josie what you were doing all those afternoons after school – sneaking off to meet an older man, going riding with him in his fancy sports car, going who knows where and doing who knows what.”
“But..but..nothing happened. We didn’t do anything wrong!” she cried.
“Do you think she’ll believe that when she sees all the gifts I’ve given you?” he sneered, contorting his handsome face into something ugly and vile. “Do you think she’ll believe I gave you all those things out of the goodness of my heart?”
Defeated, Tatia stared down at the carpet and watched her tears add another dark stain to the collection that was already there – and that’s when her real nightmares began.
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