By Katherine Tomlinson
When the publicist had called to book the Valentine’s Night party, Carrie had had to move a few things around, but hadn’t hesitated to accept the gig. The party was part of a promotion for the new romantic comedy hit Insignificant Other, and the two stars had just been outed as a real-life couple, so there was sure to be wall-to-wall media coverage of the event.
Carrie loved working with studio publicists because they didn’t nickel and dime her, True, they’d scaled back somewhat in the last 18 months but when they decided to splash out, they did it right. They didn’t give her two dollars a head and expect new potatoes topped with cream fraiche and caviar.
The publicist, who’d worked with Carrie before, had known exactly what she wanted. Appetizers and dessert, no main meal. That meant no chafing dishes, which was good because Carrie’s partner Lisa had called in sick with the flu and Carrie would be running the event herself. Appetizers and dessert she could handle alone.
“Substantial appetizers,” the client had specified, “at least half of them vegetarian, with two vegan options.”
“No problem,” Carrie had said without rolling her eyes and making a note to see if Jamie and her temp crew of wait-staff were available.
Jamie had the best looking model slash waiters in town and her company did a lot of business supplying wait-staff for celebrity events.
Jamie had sent Carrie four of her finest, an ethnic mix of perfect people straight out of a Benetton ad. All of them were wearing hot pink tuxedo shirts, which was a nice touch. Jamie always paid attention to details.
There were twelve different kinds of appetizers being passed around, and Carrie assigned each waitperson responsibility for three and told them to let her know if one of the offerings wasn’t getting snatched up. She kept track of what worked and what didn’t and had found there was no predicting what people would go for. She’d catered a Mad Men party with retro 60s eats—rumaki and cheese balls and pigs in blankets—and even the vegetarians had chowed down but she wouldn’t have dared try to float the same items at a regular event. At some parties people couldn’t get enough of her baked mushrooms or cherry tomatoes stuffed with smoked oysters, at other parties she couldn’t give them away to a hungry dog.
She was constantly tinkering with the menu. Lisa left that side of the business up to her and concentrated more on the “branding” and marketing side of the business, stuff Carrie really didn’t like doing. The split responsibilities worked out well and they were a good team in the kitchen too.
It was hard for Carrie to cook with someone else. She was kind of a control freak and even her husband had learned not to get between her and her six-burner Viking range. “If you want something to eat, I’ll cook it for you,” she’d said to him when they first met. And he’d gratefully adapted since his culinary skills stopped at grilled cheese sandwiches.
“We’re going to need more of those jalapeno poppers,” the cute Asian-American waitress said as she sailed by with a silver platter of bruschetta.
“Already?” Carrie asked.
“They’re lovin’ the food,” the girl said with a smile as a hand with a $50 manicure grabbed one of the tomato-topped toasts off the platter.
On the way back to her van, Carrie passed Michelle and Jonathan, the guests of honor, who were having a heated discussion in angry whispers.
“I won’t have it Jon,” she heard Michelle say.
“You won’t have it?” he replied angrily. “Seriously?”
Both of them fell silent as Carrie slid by them, eyes averted.
“Sorry,” she said, not really sure what she was apologizing for, interrupting or overhearing or what.
“Great food,” Jonathan said.
“Those quiche bites are yummy,” Michelle added.
“Thanks,” Carrie said, but they’d already turned back to their argument, moving deeper in the hallway for more privacy.
Carrie loaded up a trolley with more poppers and quiches and some of the skewers of tofu sate.
Once they were gone she’d start serving the desserts.
The client had asked for a chocolate extravaganza and she’d delivered—chocolate-dipped fruits and chocolate tartlets and chocolate mousse cups and chocolate petit fours and a raspberry trifle made with brownies and home-made vanilla pudding. There were gluten-free and vegan chocolate cookies and little chocolate cheesecakes and hand-rolled truffles. She’d made her signature apple cake with the cookie crust and key lime tarts for the non-chocaholics, and supplied an array of gourmet cupcakes (carrot, lemon-glazed, banana) as well.
Nobody was going to leave the party without a sugar rush.
“You made all this yourself?” asked the black waiter with the green eyes as the first wave of dessert-seekers ebbed. Carrie had noticed him earlier, moving around the party like a disguised prince. He was spectacularly good looking.
“Everything but the cookies,” she said. “I got those from a vegetarian bakery in West Hollywood.”
“I never saw the point of being a vegetarian,” he said. “Why limit your pleasures?”
He was looking her in the eyes and smiling and Carrie felt herself blushing.
“Well, there are health concerns,” she said, just to keep him talking.
He had a sexy voice, deep and textured.
“I don’t believe that,” he said. “I think it’s deprivation that causes most illness.”
“Sure,” he said. “Not just deprivation in the sense of being hungry, but deprived emotionally. Happy people don’t get sick. Happy people can eat hamburgers and thrive.”
It’s a good thing you’re so hot, Carrie thought, because you’re kind of dumb.
She was about to ask him to explicate further—he really was gorgeous—when Michelle stormed up to the dessert table and began piling sweets onto a plate.
“Just listen to me,” Jonathan pleaded as he came up behind her.
She ignored him.
Jonathan grabbed her arm.
Oh no, Carrie thought, an instant before Michelle whirled and smashed the plate full of chocolate goodness into Jonathan’s face.
He let go of her and swiped at his face, losing his balance and falling into a plate of chocolate pots de crème.
Fifteen minutes later, the only people left in the place were Carrie and the waiters.
She sent the waiters home with large plastic baggies full of leftovers, knowing they were probably living on ramen noodles and Red Bull.
The handsome waiter had helped her load everything else into the van and had lingered seductively by the driver’s side door, asking her if she needed any help unloading, lightly running his finger down her forearm with a touch so delicate it made her shiver.
“Thanks,” she said, meaning it. “But my husband can help me.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day.”
She’d smiled back. “You too.”
She was still smiling when she got home. Thanks to the celebrity meltdown, she’d gotten out two hours earlier than she planned. She wondered if the pictures were already posted on TMZ.
Humming the catchy title tune from the Insignificant Other soundtrack (it had been playing on a loop), Carrie brought the first load of leftovers into her kitchen.
Where her husband and her supposedly flu-ridden partner were having wild monkey sex on her worktable with the imported marble top.
Carrie’s first thought was, Euw, I make food on that table.