Table for Seven - By Whitney Gaskell






FRAN WAS THE ONE who first suggested a New Year’s Eve dinner party. But it was Will’s idea to serve a different course every hour, on the hour, counting down to midnight.

“Then, for the last course, we can have something like cherries jubilee, which we’ll light up at the stroke of midnight,” Will said.

“Cherries jubilee?” Fran repeated doubtfully. Cherries jubilee reminded her of fusty country club dining rooms, the sort that were always decorated in shades of mauve and served the food buffet-style, with carving stations where thick slabs of chewy, flavorless roast beef were hacked off for each diner.

“Or something else that we can serve flambé,” Will said. “Bananas Foster? Baked Alaska?”

“What’s this sudden fascination with desserts that are on fire?” Fran asked, paging through The French Laundry Cookbook. A few of the pages were stained with what looked like splattered olive oil. Fran had a habit of propping cookbooks too close to the stove when she cooked.

“Just think: The clock strikes midnight, it’s the first minute of the New Year, and we celebrate by turning off all the lights and serving a flaming dessert.”

“I was thinking more along the lines of white chocolate–raspberry crème brûlée tartlets,” Fran said. “But I like the idea of serving a course every hour, on the hour. Do you think that would be hard to pull off?”

“I’ll help,” Will said, sealing this promise with a chaste kiss on Fran’s cheek. Then, whistling cheerily, he headed off to the garage to continue work on his latest combat robot, leaving Fran to plan everything herself.

Fran paged through her extensive collection of cookbooks, looking for inspiration, while she considered the guest list. Jaime and Mark Wexler. Audrey, obviously, although she was going to be defensive if she was the only single person at a party of couples. Fran tried to think of any other single people she knew—and if it was a man, it couldn’t be someone Audrey suspected Fran was trying to set her up with, another area on which her best friend was ridiculously touchy—and then she thought of her next-door neighbor Leland McCullogh. He was a widower in his seventies—which meant he was about thirty years older than the others—but Leland was witty and charming and would make an excellent addition to the dinner party.

Fran stood and padded barefoot to the garage, where Will sat hunched in concentration over his workbench.

“What do you think of inviting the Wexlers, Audrey, and Leland from next door to our New Year’s Eve dinner party? Six is a good number, right?” Fran asked.

Will didn’t give any indication that he had heard her.

“Will?” Fran said.

“Hmm?” Will said, still not looking up.

“I started a grease fire in the kitchen. The house is going up in flames. What should I do?” Fran asked.

“The fire extinguisher is right over there,” Will said, waving vaguely toward the shelving that lined the back wall of the garage. “See? I’m not ignoring you.”

“Very convincing,” Fran said. “What do you think of the guest list?”

“Sounds fine,” Will said. He picked up a hunk of metal—part of his latest combat robot, Fran assumed, although Will’s creations always looked more like metal boxes than C-3PO—and secured it in a vise.

“Can you think of anyone else we should invite?” Fran asked.

“Nope.” Will picked up a screwdriver and held it over the robot like a surgeon contemplating his first cut.

Fran waited a beat or two, but Will didn’t give any indication that he was going to join the conversation they were having. She turned.

“Coop,” Will said.

“What?” Fran turned back.

“Coop,” Will said again. “Didn’t I tell you? He’s in town.”

“Wait. What? Coop’s here? In our town?” Fran asked. An image of Coop—sexy Coop with his tanned face and pale gray eyes, the hair on his arms bleached white from hours spent out on his boat—flashed through her thoughts.

“Yes,” Will said. “I thought I told you.”

“No,” Fran said. “What’s he doing here?”

“He’s living here. He rented an apartment on the beach.”

“Okay, put down the screwdriver, and start from the beginning,” Fran said.

Will looked up, blinked at her, and set the screwdriver down on his workbench.

“Coop’s living here,” he said again.

“Yes, you said that. Now I want to hear the rest of it. What is Coop doing here? When did he move here? Why haven’t you told me about this before?” Fran asked.

“He’s editing some film he’s working on. I think it has something to do