Suze had been seeing Adam for a couple weeks, but she had come to realize that she wasn’t actually interested in being his girlfriend. She wasn’t ready yet. She still thought about Karl a lot and she didn’t think she would ever love someone near as much as she had loved him. She assumed that was untrue, at least she hoped it was, but the fact remained that she wasn’t ready yet to love someone as much as she had loved him. In fact, she still did love him. There wasn’t any room for someone else because he was still there, filling all the gaps.
“So I’m not seeing Adam any longer,” she explained to Frank one day after their shift at work.
“Whether or not he was ever seeing you is still up for debate,” Frank returned dryly. He maintained that she had no way of knowing whether or not Adam was blind. To be fair, she wasn’t actually certain. Sometimes she thought she’d come to a decision, finally concluded that he definitely wasn’t blind, and then he would complement her terrible sweater, the ugly burnt orange one she’d gotten from Karl’s mother for Christmas one year. She only wore it when she needed to do laundry. It truly was spectacularly ugly. The last time she’d worn it, Adam had told her she looked beautiful. She didn’t believe him for a second, but she couldn’t tell if he had said so many nice things just to be nice, because he had genuinely terrible taste, or because he literally couldn’t see how hideous she really looked.
“So listen, Piper and I are hosting a dinner party thing at her place this Friday,” Frank said, changing the subject. “It’s just a few of our couple friends. Piper told me to invite you so if you want to come, it starts at six. We’re having lasagna.”
Suze was so caught off guard that she agreed to go. And then he asked if she would be bringing a date and, reflecting on the fact that it was apparently a couple’s thing, she said she would bring someone. Of course, she had no one to bring. She wondered why he had invited her immediately after she’d told him she was no longer seeing Adam. Maybe he assumed that she’d be able to dig up another date for the evening because she was some kind of hot commodity. Regrettably, she was not. Also, and she couldn’t stress this enough, she didn’t actually want to go to the dinner because spending an entire evening with Piper in her home seemed like the kind of torture that would get Suze to spill national security secrets.
“Why have I done this to myself?” She moaned to Sybil and Chris later that evening.
“I have no idea,” was Sybil’s unhelpful and largely unsympathetic response.
“You have to come with me,” she urged, turning to Chris.
“Uh, no?” He replied. “You’ve made this sound terrible. Why would I want to go now?”
“Because we are best friends and as such you would love to help me in my time of need,” Suze explained matter-of-factly. Chris looked at her in shock before looking to Sybil for help. She shrugged and went back to checking her phone. Chris looked back at Suze.
“Are we best friends?” He asked.
“Yes,” Suze said simply. “I don’t even want to get started on how hurt I am by that.”
She wasn’t at all hurt by that. But she really needed him to come with her, lest she be on her own at Piper’s couple’s dinner party, and being overly emotional seemed like a pretty solid way to accomplish that. He was terrified of other people’s emotions. He was terrified of his own emotions.
“Jesus Christ,” he sighed. She ended up being right because he caved and agreed to come to what turned out to be the world’s most uncomfortable dinner party in the history of dinner parties.
As soon as Suze had stepped inside the threshold of Piper’s apartment, she knew things were going to be terrible. It was like crossing the gates of hell. Piper glared at her from across the room as Frank let her and Chris inside, offering to take their coats. Suze handed him the bottle of wine she’d brought as a hostess gift with no small amount of trepidation. Piper was observing her like she wanted to tear Suze’s beating heart from her chest and serve it for dinner instead of the lasagna.
“Do you suppose this is what it was like to be invited to Hannibal Lector’s house for dinner?” Suze asked Chris in a low voice as they moved further into the apartment and found a corner to awkwardly hang about in.
“Are you asking because you think she’s about to murder us and serve us to her other guests?” Chris checked, one eyebrow raised. “Or because you think we’re about to be fed the liver of some unwitting homeless person?”
“Either honestly,” Suze answered after a moment of thought.
“Well, considering you coerced me under heaps of emotional blackmail, I’m not particularly warmed by that question,” Chris told her. “Because now I do think she’s going to murder us and feed us to her friends. Look at her face. She hates us. I don’t even know this woman, but she’s glaring at me like she can will me to drop dead on mental command.”
“Yeah, that’s my fault,” Suze explained. “She hates me because I got the job that she wants.”
“I mean, that’s not a good enough reason for her to look at us with that much hatred,” Chris returned. “The only way that’s acceptable is if you decapitated the love of her life in front of her and now she wants bloody revenge.”
Suze was mildly reassured that someone else had noticed Piper’s reaction to her. Some of the time, she thought she was just being paranoid and a little bit crazy. Frank never mentioned it, not at least after the time Suze had accidentally told him his girlfriend was a bitch. He probably just didn’t want to get involved, but as he was the only person Suze and Piper really had in common, his complete lack of response was a bit unsettling for Suze.
For the most part, the other guests left Suze and Chris alone. Suze suspected that most of them were Piper’s friends because they treated her with the same kind of loathing and disdain that she had come to expect from Piper. It was incredibly uncomfortable. Even Chris was uncomfortable. But then Oscar and Ramsay arrived, clearly the only of Frank’s friends aside from herself to receive an invitation. And Suze assumed they hadn’t been advised to bring a date because Oscar hadn’t brought Priscilla with him.
“I think you were supposed to come in couples,” Suze said to them as they came to join her and Chris in their little corner. Piper was now intermittently glaring at all four of them.
“We did come as a couple,” Oscar replied, gesturing to himself and Ramsay. “There was not a fucking chance in hell that I was going to subject Priscilla to this shit. I still want her to like me. Ramsay already finds me annoying and there’s nothing I can do about that now.”
“It’s true,” Ramsay interjected, as if Suze didn’t believe Oscar, but that very much wasn’t the case.
Finally, they got to sit down for dinner. Frank had made the lasagna. Apparently it was his family’s recipe. It was incredibly good, but it came with a side of Piper’s steamy side-eye, which slightly detracted from the delightful tomato aromas everybody else discussed at great length. It didn’t help that Piper kept asking pointed questions about Suze’s date, even though she had explicitly told everyone at the table that she and Chris were just friends.
“I think she was hoping I’d pull some sort of fake boyfriend Hilary Duff movie stunt,” Suze explained to Sybil later that night after the dinner party from hell had finally and mercifully come to a close. “But, as we are not thirteen years old, I didn’t do that. I don’t care if I’m single. Why do people always try to make such a big deal about that? Being single is great. I mean, aside from the fact that I feel incredibly sad that I’m no longer with the only man I’ve ever loved. But, like, I can do whatever I want all the time. I am beholden to no one. She has to consider Frank’s feelings before she does things. She has to spend time with his mother, who I assume is overbearing based solely on the fact that he’s an only child and she’s Italian.”
“Maybe that’s why she’s so damn mean,” Sybil offered.
“Maybe,” Suze agreed, but deep down inside, she reckoned it was really just because that was the kind of person Piper was; a raging asshole.