It was supposed to be a fun night and for the most part it was.
Thora, the vegetarian, brought a salad loaded with tofu and pears. Lena thought the pears were overdoing it, but as co-hostess and best friend, she smiled and popped open a bottle of red wine. Decker helped with the cooking—he cut up avocados for guac and boiled some rice. Lena wanted to make something everyone could eat.
It was the first time Decker and Lena had prepared a meal together for their friends. It felt like a turning point in their relationship.
“Are we official now?” Decker tore open a bag of tortilla chips.
Lena hated the idea of being an official couple, but it was crazy to think otherwise. They had been spending every waking and sleeping moment together for the past five weeks. The only time they were separated was class or when Decker practiced his cello. After almost four years of college with nothing but random hook-ups and a romance in junior year with Q who turned out to be the funniest guy she had ever met, but also the meanest, Lena met Decker. He was a senior transfer student, a serious musician with an easygoing attitude. Though she kept telling herself it was an open relationship, Lena found herself ‘playing house’ with him—grocery shopping, laundry and now this dinner thing.
Henry was already drunk when he got to Lena’s apartment. “I’m starving,” he whined and cracked open a beer. His eyes were ruddy and his faded red t-shirt hung like a flour sack. Delia had broken up with him three days before via a text in which she admitted to having ‘feelings’ for her hometown ex, Scott. Soon after that, Delia peppered Instagram with shots of her and the new-old Scott.
“Poor Henry,” Thora said, patting his black hair. He snuggled against her neck. It reminded Lena of the way Thora worked with dogs at the shelter. “Animals never break up with you,” she told Henry, “they’re the best. That’s why I don’t eat them.”
The bean and rice burritos were a hit.
“Better than Chipotle, right?” Decker said, smiling, as he rinsed the empty pot.
Lena hauled out a tub of rainbow sorbet. Henry made a tequila sundae and looked out the window.
After dinner when everyone was gone, Lena and Decker hauled the trash to the dumpster when she noticed the empty box of chicken stock in the bag.
“Where’d this come from?” Lena asked.
“I bought it at IGA,” Decker said. “My mom always makes rice with it. I added it to the water.”
“But Thora’s a vegetarian.”
“So…she can’t eat chicken stock.” Decker shrugged, tied the bag and threw it in the dumpster.
“We have to tell her,” Lena said.
“But she’ll be so pissed.”
“OK. Then don’t.”
“But it’s like lying to her.”
“She’ll never know.”
“But I’ll know.”
“Yeah, but I’m the one who did it and I don’t care if you tell her. So either way’s fine with me.”
“I don’t know what to do.”
“Forget about it.”
“Stop telling me to forget about it.”
“Ok, then tell her.”
“She’s been a vegetarian all her life. Not one speck of animal product has ever entered her body. I bet she’s vomiting right now.”
“I doubt that. She’s probably peed it out already. I think she was more interested in Henry than what part per billion of chicken cells were in the two mouthfuls of rice she ate,” Decker said.
“I should just tell her,” Lena said, “otherwise I’ll feel like shit.”
“It’s not like we sabotaged her.”
“She deserves to know what’s in her body.”
“Jesus Christ, Lena, it’s not a dick. It’s just chicken juice.”
“Decker, that is so gross. Why would you say something like that?”
“I think Thora’s kind of a phony,” Decker said.
“I can’t believe you want me to lie to my best friend.”
“I didn’t tell you to lie. I said tell her or don’t tell her.”
“You’re no help; you’re worse than no help. You’re just confusing me.”
He paused and looked at her. “I have a girlfriend. In L.A.”
An empty bottle of Dos Equis rolled toward Decker’s feet with a hollow clatter.
“Are you seriously telling me that you have a girlfriend? And do you think I give a shit that she’s vegan?”
“You said we were keeping this open,” Decker said.
“Two hours ago, you asked me if we were official.”
“I’m sorry,” Decker said. “I was going to tell you, but…”
Henry pedaled up on his bike with Thora straddled on the seat. They looked glazed over, pink in the cheeks, freshly showered. Classic post-hook-up faces. Something else too, a secret they just shared.
“This asshole dumped chicken stock in the rice,” Lena screamed, “but I’m just as much to blame for not keeping tabs on everything.”
“What the fuck!” Thora said. “I knew I felt kind of shitty for a reason.”
“Is that why you feel shitty?” Decker asked with a smirk. “A teaspoon of chicken broth?”
Thora hopped off the bike, ignoring Decker. “Oh my god, Lena, you made such a big deal that this was going to be like one hundred percent vegan. I am so pissed….”
“Shut up, Thora,” Henry snapped.
Henry was still a little drunk, but there was a new sharpness in his eyes. “Maybe it’s none of my business, Lena, but…”
“…Henry,” Thora snapped.
“Decker’s got a girlfriend. Thora just told me about it. She knew the whole time. I thought it was shitty not to tell you. I don’t like secrets.”
Lena lifted the empty beer bottle and held it up like she was going to hit Thora, but she froze and tossed it in the can.
Patricia Lawler Kenet began her journalism career at The Las Vegas Sun. She has contributed articles to The New York Times and New York Newsday. Most recently, she has written essays and children’s book reviews for the website Bookslut.com. Patricia lives in New York City with her husband, Dr. Barney Kenet.