“We’ll cover you; don’t worry.” Husband went on to explain that the portions were huge, so he and Wife would order two entrees and two sides, and by the time we split it all four ways, everyone would have enough to eat and it would all work out.
Buddy and I each started to protest and we were hushed into silence. So we sat there while Husband placed the order. As he was placing it, I was trying to keep up with the prices listed on the menu. I had mentally tallied more than three hundred dollars so far.
Now, math is not my strong suit, but I don’t think I was far off. And fifteen years ago, three hundred dollars went nearly twice as far as it does today.
Needless to say I was just stunned. The food was good, though. No, it was excellent. I can’t downplay that. It was my one and only exposure to Steak Tartar, and while I will probably never again be in a place that will list it on the menu, I can honestly say that I loved it.
Something tells me that I wouldn’t willingly spend a month’s worth of groceries, two tanks of gas, and an electric bill for it though.
In our astonished silence, Husband and Wife carried on the conversation during the whole meal. Well, Husband mostly. Wife giggled a lot.
And then Husband ordered desserts for everybody. I couldn’t remember that part of the menu’s pricing.
“Husband, please…” I protested.
“I said I’d cover you; just relax and enjoy.”
When dessert had been deliciously consumed, and it came time to pay the mortgage on our meal, Wife dug down into the depths of her stained shirt, down even farther into the nether regions of her too-full bra, and paid the man with boobie money. Wads of it.
A twenty percent tip at this point, after desserts, and figuring in our drinks (Husband wouldn’t let us get just water to cut down on the expense), would have been upwards of eighty dollars. Maybe even more.
A singular word kept rotating around in my head. I won’t repeat it here.
As we were leaving, something Husband had said twice started to replace the expletive in my head. “We’ll cover you.”
What did that mean, exactly? Did he mean he’d pick up the tab because he had invited (dragged slash kidnapped) us to this place, a place for which he did not have our prior consent? Or did he mean he’d cover us until we could pay him back our fair share of the night’s expenses? Was our final release from this couple going to be in the form of our own ransom? Oh. My. God.
We made our way out to the street and Husband hailed another cab. He told the cab we had to get back to the train before the final one left. We had twenty minutes. My nerves were shot. I did not want to be stranded on the streets of DC with a twenty in my pocket and no place, or means by which, to go.
But we made it, and just in the nick of time. Husband hurriedly fisted more quarters out of his pocket and we raced to board the final train to Baltimore, the turnstile leaving a bruise on my hip. Somewhere along the bumpy trip I managed to discreetly ask Buddy if we were supposed to pay Husband and Wife back, asking him, too, as I’d repeatedly asked myself, just what the hell ‘we’ll cover you’ might have meant. Buddy simply shrugged, but he looked concerned.
If the cab fare were included in the night’s expenses, we had spent well more than four hundred dollars. Buddy might have had an easier time coming up with a hundred or so dollars. He and his partner lived alone with relatively few expenses. I was a single mom of two, counting on the per diem for the trip to pay for reasonably priced meals, and then gas to get home.
The expletive in my head returned.
We found the car just where we’d left it in the Baltimore parking lot, gratefully unscathed, and began the long journey back to the hotel, a drive made seemingly longer by all the ill will I was silently hurling over the head-rest behind Husband. I had decided that if he didn’t mention remuneration then I wouldn’t give it. This was unfair, after all. I did not agree to spend that kind of money and I justified my anger with the knowledge that he should have, at the very least, given us the option of not going. Not a Burger King or a McDonald’s indeed! How dare he, right?
But what would I do if upon our return to the hotel he did request reimbursement for our portion of events? Pay him? Probably. But it would be a long time before I recovered from it financially, and it would most definitely put an end to our friendship. Of that I was certain. I knew I would never be able to trust him or Wife ever again.
And so it happened. As we were unfolding from the backseat of the car in the hotel’s parking lot at nearly two in the morning, Husband informed us kindly that we could pay him back later if we didn’t have it on us now, and that he hoped we’d had a good time.
Buddy offered to pay mine for me and I wouldn’t allow it. I paid it. It hurt, and it hurt for a long while, but I paid it just the same. I chalked it up to a lesson learned, taught by a former friend, that I should never go anyplace in the blind, regardless of how well I thought I knew someone. I learned to ask a ton of questions and to never assume. I learned to make sure I knew the arrangements beforehand.
The only assumption I make now, where dining is concerned at least, is that if I make the invitation, I pick up the tab. End of story.
Buddy and I remained friends, though, until the natural lapses in gatherings grew longer and farther between that we finally just fell out of touch. He got a job in another town and our lives simply stopped intersecting after a while.
But I know he still thinks of the time we were kidnapped by friends and then had to pay our own ransom. I just know it. Because much like the overpriced Steak Tartar on the menu that night, it really was a raw deal.