Organic spring strawberries
Fennel, arugula, and radicchio salad with with shaved parmesan, extra virgin olive oil and white balsamic vinaigrette
Artisanal blackberry turnovers
Marinated flank steak and white cheddar panini sliders with Sonoma County truffle mayonnaise
Petite mushroom and leek galettes with regionally sourced goat cheese
Roasted beets on a bed of microgreens
Banana empanadas with Medjool date dipping syrup
Selection of floral macaroons (rose water, hibiscus, and orange blossom)
Fresh-squeezed Meyer Lemonade with French lavender essence
Fair trade hot cocoa with handcrafted vanilla marshmallows
2002 Krug Clos du Mesnil
“I wish they would get here.” Sansa shivers in her too-thin polar fleece as she slips the vellum menus between the champagne flutes. This morning she dressed by the calendar rather than the temperature, and now she suffers for her optimism. That, and also because Sandor is pretending that he didn’t nearly kiss her after last week’s gig.
“These Silicon Valley assholes think that everything waits for them,” Sandor grunts from behind his camera. His breath puffs around him like steam from the old-timey locomotive at the Truckee railroad museum. He waits for the mist to dissipate, then presses the button and releases a barrage of clicks in the direction of the lake. As he turns around, he avoids meeting Sansa’s eye. “Sit on the blanket. I need to do a light check.”
“Right.” Sansa kneels, careful to keep her hiking boots off the checkered merino wool. She flips her long red hair over her shoulder and smiles out of habit. Heat rises to her cheeks as Sandor crouches down and moves the camera close. Maybe he’ll mention something now?
He checks the LCD display. “OK. Other side.”
Sansa scooches over to the matching brocade sitting poufs. If only she could mentally transmit her thoughts to Sandor now! You were right here, hovering over me in this exact spot, with your dark hair hanging down and your face so close to mine, and I lifted my chin and closed my eyes and parted my lips and you didn’t do a thing, and when I finally looked again you were across the clearing, packing up your equipment and complaining about the clients. Why? Why? Why didn’t you kiss me?! But instead what comes out of her mouth is, “The sandwiches are going to get cold.”
“You’re going to get cold,” Sandor mutters. “Aren’t you a local? You should know to bring a real jacket.” He grabs an ivory cashmere throw from under a pillow and tosses it around Sansa’s shoulders.
“No! That’s for the clients!” Sansa admonishes. Admittedly, Sandor’s gesture is kind of sweet. Even though he’s still failing to open his big stubborn mouth on the one topic that actually needs to be discussed.
“Don’t worry about the clients. These idiots from the Bay Area just care about showing off their money on Instagram,” Sandor grumbles. “Their followers can’t feel the cold or taste the food.”
“You don’t like California much, do you?” Sansa says, clutching the throw closed at her throat. Maybe that’s why Sandor doesn’t want to say anything about what almost happened. Maybe he thinks she’s just another silly, rich ski bunny from the Basin, and he’s embarrassed about the whole thing.
Sandor’s scars pulls taut as he lifts a dark eyebrow and holds his hand out to her. “I like it here in Tahoe just fine.” He finally looks her in the eye.
Sansa suddenly doesn’t feel cold anymore. She takes Sandor’s hand and rises, and she tries to wordlessly will him to answer all her unsaid questions, or maybe just the one.
It doesn’t work. “They got lucky with the weather, at least,” Sandor says as he glances up at the clear blue skies.
“True,” Sansa agrees with a huff. She releases him and tries to think about something else. “I still feel bad about that poor young woman from Tiburon last weekend, slipping into that icy puddle.”
Sandor looks down as he changes the lens filter. His beard covers his smirk. “Her girlfriend still said yes. Gave me a good tip, too.”
Sansa sighs. “It turned out quite charming, in the end.”
Sandor grunts and scratches his enormous flannel covered chest. “If people want someplace dry and reliable, they shouldn’t propose at Lake Tahoe in the springtime.” He takes a picture of the wicker basket nestled between the faux-sheepskin throw and silver ice bucket. “I hear the client’s car. Time to hide.”
Sansa nudges the olivewood serving tray an inch to the left. “There. Perfect.”
“Come on,” Sandor urges. “We’re paid to coordinate, not to participate.”
“Alright, alright.” It’s time to stop worrying about personal problems and start concentrating on work. Sansa scurries behind Sandor, careful to avoid stepping in the snow melt.
They conceal themselves behind a granite boulder just in time to see the soon-to-be-affianced couple appear at the head of the path.
“This is my favorite part,” Sansa whispers to Sandor, who is already clicking away. “The magical moment before their lives change forever.”
Sandor moves his good eye away from the viewfinder long enough to give Sansa a jaded eyebrow raise. “I like the part where they pay us.”
“That --” Sansa considers her words carefully. “That didn’t go as expected.”
“That was a fucking mess,” Sandor declares around a mouthful of blackberry turnover.
Sansa shifts so that she sits cross-legged in the cargo area of her Subaru Forester. She takes a quick look around at the deserted gravel parking lot just to make sure that the client has really driven away. Then she takes a sip of the fair trade cocoa, which she decanted into her steel Yeti tumbler after the newly-broken-up couple fled their failed proposal picnic. “Have you ever --”
“No. I’ve never seen a man get so thoroughly rejected. Jesus.” Sandor runs his hand down his face, and a few filo flakes fall from his dark beard. “Are you going to eat that empanada?” Sansa shakes her head, and he reaches for the dessert.
Sansa takes a careful nibble of a hibiscus macaroon and wrinkles her nose. Perhaps she’ll go with citrus, rather than floral flavors next time. Assuming there is a next time; after the news spreads about this horrible proposal-gone-wrong, she may never get hired again. “I don’t understand. Why did he go to all that effort to create the perfect event without having a pretty good idea that his girlfriend would say yes?”
“Not his girlfriend anymore.” Sandor licks the date syrup from his fingers. “And he didn’t go to the effort. We did. But the money he sunk into this thing -- did you see the size of that diamond? I mean, before she chucked it back in his face?”
Sansa nods. She selects a strawberry from the Rubbermaid container. “You could purchase a lot of fancy camera equipment with a gem like that.”
“Camera equipment? I could buy a Northstar condo for what that stone was worth.” Sandor stretches and accidentally bops his head against the car roof. “We’re in the wrong business,” he says, grimacing.
Sansa wipes her lips with a linen napkin. “I disagree. It’s a privilege to witness a couple’s most magical moments, and it’s still my favorite part of being an event planner.” She thinks about the wad of cash that the brokenhearted man stuffed into her pocket after his new ex demanded to be driven back to the hotel. “Most of the time.”
“Ha. Not today.”
“No,” Sansa says, her heart sinking. “Not today.”
They stare across the waters of Emerald Bay as the afternoon sun illuminates the snow capped mountains on the Nevada side of the lake.
“At least Willas can’t screw it up that badly,” Sandor says quietly. “He must have seen some of the proposal picnics you’ve put together, so he’ll have to know what to do for you.”
Sansa stops chewing mid-marshmallow. Is Sandor -- could he possibly be fishing for information about her relationship status? Suddenly a lot of things fall into place about why he’s been totally silent on a certain recent unkiss. She looks down and picks at her shoelaces. “Don’t you -- didn’t you know?”
“Know what?” He coughs into the crook of his elbow.
Sansa breathes in deep, expecting a lump to swell in her throat like it would in those early days after the break-up, but it doesn’t happen. She doesn’t feel much of anything about Willas now, if she’s being honest with herself. “We ended things a few months ago. Amicably. I might have tried a bit longer, but long distance wasn’t for him.” She slides her legs out from under her and her boot brushes against Sandor’s ankle.
“Oh. I thought something like that might have happened. You haven’t mentioned him in a while.” Sandor shifts, and the car wobbles. His expression darkens as he says, “He should have moved back. For you.”
Father said something similar after Sansa told him the news, although she doesn’t agree. “Willas loves it in Morro Bay. And I love it here.” She sweeps her hand at the view before them. “We had other incompatibilities as well. Sometimes things just don’t work out.”
Sandor grunts as slurps the last of the lemonade from his Stanley thermos. “We saw that today.”
Sansa sighs and blows warm breath into her hands. “We certainly did.”
A pair of chickadees alights on the branch of a nearby snow dusted pine tree, and Sansa watches the birds groom one anothers’ feathers as Sandor polishes off the remaining sweets.
“What about you and Walda?” Sansa asks, breaking the silence. It’s not quite what she wants to know, of course, but maybe it will help her edge closer to the answer she’s seeking. “What happened there?”
Sandor swallows. He eyeballs Sansa, and his face flushes, and he looks a little bit cute, if a nearly seven-foot tall man can be called “cute.” “You know about that?”
Sansa shrugs. “People in the industry like to gossip.” And she has been asking around, just a little bit, ever since Sandor didn’t kiss her. She already knows that he dated and subsequently broke up with the extremely sweet, stylish florist from Incline Village, but it would be helpful to know whether or not he’s still pining away.
Sandor picks at his teeth with a fingernail. “That was just a fling. Kept me out of trouble.” He gives Sansa a once-over. “Anyway, Walda’s been back with Bolton since New Year’s.”
Sansa’s eyes go wide. “The --” She’s not sure how to describe Mr. Bolton without being unkind. “The distinguished gentleman from Reno? With the soft voice?”
“You mean the creepy old mortician who whispers all the time? Yeah. Him.”
“Oh.” Sansa shudders, recalling the two or three memorial services she’s coordinated at the Dreadfort Mortuary. “I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry for. Flowers and dead people make for a good partnership.” He snorts and gestures vaguely at his face. “And if he’s the kind of man she’s looking for, I’ll never be her type.”
Sansa kicks her legs back and forth and tries to imagine how Walda could possibly choose Bolton over Sandor. “It seems that we’re in the midst of a heartbreak epidemic.”
“Seems so.” Sandor reaches behind Sansa and curses, then turns back around and holds up the empty champagne bottle. “Our client drank all of the antidote and left none for us.” He tosses the bottle back into the cargo area.
Sansa smiles, and something warm settles in her chest. She takes a deep breath. If she doesn’t ask now, she’ll never have the courage. “Why did you -- why didn’t you kiss me last week? After that other proposal we worked?” Hopefully her words don’t sound accusatory. “Was it because you thought Willas and I were still together?”
Sandor reddens. He looks at her, then back at the lake, then back at her again. He groans, and another great cloud of mist puffs from his nostrils. He’s quiet for so long that Sansa thinks that he might not answer her at all, but finally he opens his mouth. “It wasn’t anything. Forget about it.”
“I didn’t imagine it,” Sansa argues. Her heart thumps at her forwardness.
Sandor shoots up, nearly slamming his head against the car roof again. He stalks toward the beach and stands with his back to Sansa and the lake before him, with his dark hair tumbling over his collar and his massive shoulders filling out his flannel jacket. He looks like the star of a commercial for full-size pick-ups. Or survival gear. Or testosterone supplements.
“We both just witnessed a horrible rejection. You think I want to go through that? Again?” He crosses his arms in front of his chest. “From you this time?” he adds softly.
Sansa looks down at her hands. There’s a chip on her nail polish that suddenly seems utterly fascinating. “You wouldn’t have to go through that,” she says into her lap.
He laughs, low and bitter. “No, you’d let me down easy,” he says to the lake. “Just like you’re doing now.”
Stop feeling sorry for yourself and take a chance, Sansa wants to say to him. Instead she slips off the bumper of her car and plants her feet in the slushy gravel. She crunches forward until she’s standing beside him, and slowly she burrows her fingers into the warm space between his arm and his side. The breeze picks up and her hair whips around her face.
“This is hardly a proposal,” Sansa says. She swallows. “It’s just a request for kiss that should have happened the first time.”
Sandor’s entire body seems to tense up at her words, and Sansa’s fingers are nearly crushed between his elbow and his ribcage. His face scrunches up in clear anger, then confusion. “Alright,” he finally says.
After all that, Sansa expects a lot of awkward positioning of bodies and tangling of arms and tilting of heads, so she’s pleasantly surprised when Sandor sweeps around in a single motion and encircles her waist with one arm and grazes his fingertips across her face and brushes his lips against hers.
She smiles against his mouth and drapes her arms over his shoulders. She’s not sure if she’s ever felt so warm. “Thank you.”
Sandor touches his forehead to hers. He looks a little dazed. “What now?” he asks, his voice a low rumble.
“Now?” Sansa echoes. “Now you kiss me again.”
Without another word, Sandor leans down and pulls Sansa tighter into his embrace.
Sansa sighs contentedly. This, she thinks as she stands on her tiptoes and presses her lips to his, This is the magical moment I need. This is my favorite part.
[Happy SanSan Secret Santa Sevenmas!]