Home > My Oxford Year(22)

My Oxford Year(22)
Author: Julia Whelan

I look more closely at the father, the man I saw barreling out of Jamie’s office the day of our first tute. He’s about twenty pounds lighter in the photo, his hair only silver at the temples. Seeing the comfort of the family, even with the manufactured aloofness of the setting and wardrobe, I have to wonder what happened.

“Your mother’s gorgeous,” I call out.

“She’s taken, I’m afraid.”

There’s another boy in the picture, an athletic-looking younger one, also tuxedo’d. “Who’s the handsome guy?”

“Me.”

“No, the handsome one.”

“Right, my brother.”

I turn away from the fireplace, looking into the dining room. The table is large enough to seat fourteen. Jamie’s set a place at each end, indicated by the full glasses of wine, silverware, and napkins, all expertly set. He’s also lit a tall line of candles going down the center of the table, illuminating the swirling mahogany of the table’s grain.

If I didn’t know better, I’d think this was weirdly romantic. Wooing kind of stuff. Stuff that should have happened six weeks ago. Had we decided to actually date, that is. I tell myself that the setting is misleading. No wonder we haven’t come here before. He probably didn’t want me to misinterpret anything.

“Dinner is served,” Jamie says, sweeping into the room carrying two plates, bringing the most delicious aroma with him. Garlic and onions, wine and fire. “Please,” he says, nodding at the chair as he sets a plate down. I eagerly take my seat. He glides to the opposite end and settles in comfortably. He belongs here. The environment in no way overpowers him. He fits.

“Jamie,” I say reverently, staring at my plate. “This is amazing. Everything. Thank you.”

“You say that now,” he hedges. “You haven’t tried it yet.” He cuts gingerly into the tender chicken.

“What is it?” I ask.

“Coq au vin,” he answers, inspecting a piece of meat on his fork.

I sip my wine. Delicious. I take a bite of chicken. I had no idea chicken could taste like this. “Oh my God,” I moan. “Jamie!”

“Call my name like that once more and we shan’t make it to dessert,” he warns.

I look at him, raise a brow. “I’m ready when you are.” Even sitting fifteen feet away from each other, our eyes collide, threatening . . . what, exactly? I break first, turning back to my plate. “Where did you learn how to make this?”

“Smithy.”

“And who’s Smithy?” But Jamie’s more involved with his chicken than the conversation. “Jamie?”

“Hmm?”

“Who’s Smithy?”

“The cook,” he says absently.

“What cook?”

“Our cook.”

“You had a cook?”

“Have. Still works for my parents.”

I narrow my eyes. “Do you have a butler?”

Jamie takes up his wine and says, smiling, “Who has a cook and not a butler? Really, darling.”

I smile back. “What about a valet? A scullery maid? A first and second footman?”

He sighs heavily. “Let us accept the fact that my family is, I believe the American vernacular would be, ‘loaded,’ and move on, shall we?” Jamie air-toasts me, that charming smile still on his face.

“Does your mom work?”

“Ah!” Jamie says, standing abruptly. “I know what I forgot.” He disappears around the corner into the drawing room. Moments later, the opera La Traviata softly fills the house.

Goose bumps. All over.

Jamie returns and goes back to his food. I go back to mine. “So”—I try again—“does your mother have a profession?”

“She . . .” He searches for the word, scooping up broth on his plate. “Organizes.”

“What does that mean?”

He waves his hand dismissively. “Charity things. Events. Life.”

I’m not dense. He obviously doesn’t want to continue this line of questioning. But I exposed myself rather spectacularly last night and his caginess rankles. So I shift gears. “Speaking of mothers”—I go back to my plate—“I talked to mine today.”

“Oh yeah?” Jamie holds his wineglass up to the candlelight, assessing the wine’s “legs,” as he taught me to do a few weeks ago. Honestly, I’d rather just drink it.

I nod enthusiastically. “She was happy that you were finally asking me over to your house.”

Now his head snaps up. “You’ve talked with her about us?”

“Jamie. She’s my mother.”

He stops chewing. “What did she say?” He takes a careful sip of wine.

I smile broadly. “She’s thrilled! She told her whole quilting circle. She’s picking out onesies.”

Jamie does the closest thing to a spit take I’ve seen in real life.

I laugh. “Like I’d talk to my mother about us? Are you insane?”

Jamie glares at me across the table, which just causes me to laugh harder. He grins teasingly, silently promising retribution. “Not very nice,” he lilts warningly.

I lift my wineglass, pretending to assess the legs as well. “I think we can agree that the last thing I am, Dr. Davenport, is nice.” My tone is certainly anything but nice.

“I like that,” he murmurs. Our eyes meet again. “I like you.”

I look down at my plate. It’s empty. I’m surprised there are even bones on it. I’m surprised that I stopped when I hit plate and didn’t just eat my way through to the mahogany. I can feel him staring at me.

Why not say it? I glance up. I shrug. “I like you back.” He continues to stare at me. I look down at my wine, finish it. “Everything was delicious.”

Jamie stands, picks up his glass, and walks over to me. He sits in the chair to my left, the table’s corner between us. His silence is fraught.

“You did promise dessert,” he murmurs.

“I did,” I confirm, my breath already going shallow.

“And?”

I glance down at his hands, then back up into his eyes. “As I said, ready when you are.”

THE NEXT MORNING, the bell over the door jingles as Jamie and I hustle in out of the rain.

“JD!” Simon bellows.

“Simon, my good man,” Jamie says, moving to the side and revealing me. I watch Simon’s welcoming smile freeze, then bloom into something even bigger.

“Ella from Ohio!” Simon exclaims as we walk over to the counter.

I come here at least once a week, but never with Jamie. Simon and I haven’t discussed Jamie, so the look on his face right now is priceless.

“Fish and chips for breakfast, is it? I knew it!” he says, pounding the counter. “That first day, sparks were flyin’, they were!”

“We’re just friends,” I say. “He’s my professor.”

Simon cocks his head, eyeing us suspiciously. “And I’m Bonnie Prince Charlie.”

Jamie shrugs. “What can I say? She keeps turning me down. Can you imagine?”

Simon sighs and puts his hands on his hips, giving up on us. “The usual?”

“Cheers,” Jamie says, sliding cash over the counter. I reach for my wallet, but Jamie shakes it off. I hesitate, wondering if I should fight this. I don’t know the rules anymore. Especially after last night.

I stayed over. Actually slept. In his bed.

Two minutes later, Simon lumbers over to the booth with our meals. He plants a meaty palm on the table and leans in to me. “He’s a decent bloke, you know. He’s got quite the reputation and all that, but don’t let him fool ya. There’s more to him than that.” Simon gives Jamie a firm clap on his shoulder. “Right, my lad?”

“I’ll take that under advisement,” I say, more seriously than intended. Simon nods once, like, Nice doin’ business with ya, and returns to his post at the counter.

The bell above the door chimes, and before I have a chance to say anything or even take a bite, a man appears at our table. “Jamie!”

Jamie looks up, startled. “Martin,” he cries. A beat later, he pastes a smile on his face.

“Jamie, by God!” Martin beams, sticking out an eager hand. He’s a big guy, solidly built, but somewhat goofy-looking. Jamie takes his hand and Martin pumps it vigorously. “Bloody good to see you, mate! How are you?”

“Well, well.” Jamie nods compulsively.

Martin turns toward the door. “Soph! Babe! Come say hello!”

Unbeknownst to me, a pretty girl with impeccable makeup and clothes has been standing by the door as if she were guarding it. She removes herself from her post and scampers over to the table.

“Jamie, meet my fiancée, Sophie Elphick!”

“Pleasure,” Jamie says, taking her hand. “And congratulations.” He forces a smile and turns toward me. “This is—”

Martin interrupts. “How are you, dear boy? You all right?”

“Good, good!” Jamie chirps. “Martin, Sophie. This is Ella. Ella Durran.”

They turn eager, smiling faces to me, tilting their heads identically, as only couples who have been together forever seem able to do. “Charmed,” they say in unison. I wave slightly.

Martin is about to speak, but Jamie says quickly, “Martin was a school chum of mine.”

Martin’s laugh sounds like a machine gun. “School chum! As if we were jumping rope and plaiting each other’s hair.” Jamie chuckles uncomfortably and looks down at the table. “We were hellions! Do you know, just the other day I was remembering those German girls we met in Paris and took to Les Chandelles! We were, what, nineteen?” His rat-a-tat-tat laugh continues.

Sophie gives Martin a playful slap, exposing (and possibly showing off) a rather large diamond ring. “Martin, you’re incorrigible.”

Rat-a-tat-tat. “Far too long, old chap!” He drops his hand on Jamie’s shoulder. “You look grand. Didn’t want to be a bother and all that. You’ve been rather incommunicado.”

   
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