Dinner (excerpt from a w.i.p.)

I could think of no better way to cap the end of a good chapter of our lives than by taking Kelly to Brother Sebastian’s. The landmark steakhouse and winery was always high on our “if we only could afford it” wish list (a long list, considering my pastor’s salary and Kelly’s part time income from her job at the furniture store).

There are plenty of restaurants in Omaha, but Brother Sebastian’s is the only place that comes to mind when you tell your spouse you’re taking her out for a one-of-a-kind dinner. So I didn’t tell her. I just said, “the sitter’s here, we need to get going.”

She gave me that sly smile she always saves for the moments when I need it most – the moments that follow an accumulation of arrhythmic marital connections, the moments that threaten to reveal the dark oases of vulnerability in our Sahara-huge determination to love one another no matter what.

“Where are we going? Am I dressed up enough?”

Her smile kills me. In a good way. Kelly could be old and wrinkly and bedridden, but as long as she still has that smile I will always be just one smile away from loving her the way I was destined to love her.

I didn’t answer.

“Brother Sebastian’s!” she said, before I’d even started the car.

I smiled, of course. Because how could I not? She reached into her purse – a small purse because she’s never been the sort of woman who liked to carry the entire contents of the bathroom counter with her – and pulled out a tube of lipstick. Kelly rarely wears much makeup. She doesn’t have to. She has beautiful olive skin and brilliant blue eyes that enchant the curious and hypnotize the smitten.

“Did we win the lottery?” she asked, staring into the mirror on the back of the passenger-side visor.

“Yes. Did I forget to mention that?”

“Then I’m having the steak and lobster.”

“Whatever you want,” I said.

“Except for a glass of wine,” she sighed.

“Yeah, except for that.”

“Maybe just one?”

“Let’s recap. What did the doctor tell you?”

“That once in a while a glass of wine wasn’t so bad,” she said, flipping the visor up.

“And then what did you say in response to his weak moment prompted by your sad eyes and pouty lips?”

“‘I don’t think I’ll risk it.’”

“Change of heart?”

“No. I’m just whining.”

“Cute,” I said.


“Yes. And the pun about the whining.”

“Oh. Yeah. That was intentional of course.”

She leaned over and kissed me on the cheek. I’m not the sort of driver who’s willing to take his eyes off the road, not even to kiss my wife. She’s always been a bit frustrated with this because she likes to look me in the eyes when we talk. But I didn’t feel any frustration. Instead I felt a spark in that gentle touch of her lips. I continue to be amazed by the ever-changing nature of a woman’s emotions. A week ago she didn’t want me to touch her.

“That was an appetizer,” she said, reading my thoughts. I hoped she couldn’t read all of them.

We pulled into the parking lot and it was, not surprisingly, packed. I was praying silently for grace from a familiar refrain but God chose not to answer my prayer.

“Did you make a reservation?” she asked, as we climbed out of the car. “Surely you made a reservation. Did you?”

“Yes. I did.”

She sighed and a puff of condensation drifted from her mouth and disappeared into the cold evening air.

“Thank you,” she said.

“For making a reservation?”

“That, too.”

I had asked for a table in the room known as “The Brother’s Study.” After a moderate wait, we were escorted to the secluded room, and it was bit like time traveling. The restaurant looks and feels a lot like the monastery it wants people to believe it is. The wood-paneled walls are dark and aged, the hanging ironwork and amber glass lanterns, appropriately dim. Wine casks form the entire wall of one dining area. I’d read about The Brother’s Study years ago but wasn’t prepared for the intimacy of it. A tall bookshelf packed full of books lined one wall. We were ushered into a cozy booth along that wall. I scanned the books, expecting them to be little more than decoration. There were plenty of books with titles I’d never heard of. But there were also a few I recognized – McDonald, Lewis, and…Hemingway. I considered the lives of the fictional monks who walked the dark hallways and wondered if they would have had to hide their copies of The Sun Also Rises.

“I love this place,” said Kelly. “I absolutely love it.”

She reached across the table and rested her hand on mine, her eyes sparkling more than usual in the light of the flickering oil lamp. Her fingers are long, soft – the fingers of a woman who understands the sway of subtle gestures and delicate touch.

“And it smells amazing,” she added.

It did. Food smells dominated the room, redolent aromas of char-grilled steaks and freshly-baked rolls, but they were not so overpowering that I didn’t notice the scent of old wood and wine. There was a weight to the air – a thickness that you could almost taste. If the taste were a color it would have been burgundy.

“Does it seem odd to you that this whole monastery theme is so romantic? I mean, monks aren’t known for their love lives,” said Kelly.

“Ah, but that’s exactly what they’re known for. Except their love lives are a little different than yours and mine.”

“Yeah, I know. They’re in love with God.”


“I get that. In theory, anyway. But look around. The low lights, the dark corners, this place is all about secrets. It’s all about mystery.”

God is mysterious,” I said.

“Yeah. No kidding.”

Kelly wanted to say more. I saw the words lining up behind her eyes. She picked up her water glass, studied it, traced the rim with her index finger, then took a long, slow sip.

“Do you think this is at all like a real monastery?” She finally said, returning from her reverie.

I thought back a few years to my seminary days. There wasn’t much in those memory banks to answer Kelly’s question. Protestants who run in mostly evangelical circles – even the reasonably educated ones – tend to pinch or turn up their noses around anything that gives off that distinctive Catholic smell…and monasteries reek with it. It’s a shame and something I don’t agree with, but I learned early on that ecumenism is welcomed with open arms in theory and crossed arms in practice inside the walls of most evangelical churches. One quote from Thomas Merton was enough to trigger a caution from the board at my previous church. Previous. I’d nearly forgotten we were just days away from moving.

“I’m guessing there are fewer tables and not so many waiters,” I finally said.

“And probably not a lot of this,” she said. I felt her naked foot sliding up the inside of my leg.

“Um…right. Probably very little of that.”

Her foot continued up my leg. I looked at the table across from us, certain everyone in the room could see my eyes grow wide. An older man in a gray suit was sipping a glass of wine while his guest – a woman young enough to be his daughter but clearly not his daughter because of the way she was looking at him – lifted a forkful of butter-dripping lobster to her red-lipsticked lips. Kelly’s foot pressed gently against a part of me that wasn’t supposed to be acknowledged in public places.

“So, what are you getting?” Kelly asked, studying the menu with practiced nonchalance while continuing to massage me with her foot.

“I think that’s becoming rather obvious, don’t you?”

“The steak, then?”

I laughed, but it came out like a snort. The silver-haired man turned his head toward me, glanced under our table, smiled and gave me a head nod that was like a secret handshake offered exclusively to members of the “gettin’ lucky tonight” club. I reached down and guided my wife’s foot back to the floor.

“People are watching,” I whispered.

She shrugged her shoulders and offered an exaggerated sigh. “And you have a problem with that?” I felt her foot again, softly brushing against my calves.

“Okay…who are you and what have you done with my wife?”

I knew I shouldn’t have said it the second after the words escaped. But if I’d hurt her, Kelly didn’t let it show. She just widened her smile, tilted her head toward the woman at the neighboring table, who was licking butter off her fingers, and said, “I’m having the lobster.”
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