As a journalist, I've gotten used to living on a salary that would make most of you laugh—or cry, depending on how you express your emotions (I tend to smile when I have to tell someone really bad news. I have no idea why I do this. I think it's a disease). I'm used to shopping at Target and Ross over Anthropolgie and Urban Outfitters. I buy my shoes at Payless. My jewelry is fresh off the streets of Hong Kong (thanks to Dad's business trips). My earrings turn my ears green. When I take my rings off, it looks like I'm still wearing emerald bands. My make up is from Walgreens. My sunglasses, illegally bought in the back of a van on Canal Street in NYC.
So as you can imagine, I'm always on the search for freebies. And I'm damn good at finding them. One of my favorites: Free dinner at Villa O and Trece on Monday nights. Yes, you heard me. Free dinner. No catch. They call it "neighborhood appreciation night," and on behalf of my neighborhood, I'd like to say we appreciate it.
I especially appreciated that it gave me a chance to treat Cayden to a delicious meal at a swanky restaurant without either of us reaching for our wallets. He was dishing out thousands of dollars to come visit me, and he rarely let me pay for anything when we're together aside from a coffee here or a Leffe there. So any chance I could get to treat him to something nice, you better believe I'd jump at it.
"How do you feel about Italian tonight?" I asked Cayden on the way home.
"Oh, are you cooking?" he asked.
We both laughed at the ridiculousness of his question. Sure, I could throw some noodles in boiling water and open a jar of Ragu, but that's hardly what I'd call "Italian."
"Nope. Real Italian. Made by real cooks, who might even be Italian themselves."
"Well who can say no to real Italian?" He squeezed my knee in the ticklish spot and I almost slammed on the gas.
"Oh, when are we going to see Shanna and Ronnie? We'll get to spend some time with them while I'm here, right?"
I love that he wanted to see them again. Our little plan was working out quite perfectly. In no time Ronnie and Cayden would be BFFs and we'd all be living on the same street and sharing a vacation home in Florida. Or the Hamptons.
I pulled out my phone and texted Shanna. Free dinner tonight?
Three text messages and one phone call later, we had reservations for four at Villa O at 8 pm. I chose Villa O over Trece because every time I'd gone to Trece it smelled like a toilet. And it was warm. It was like eating Mexican food out of a warm toilet. Then why did I eat there, you ask? Well, it was free dinner food in a warm toilet. Beggars can't be choosers, ya know?
Cayden and I had always talked about what it would be like to live together. To come home to each other and open a bottle of wine and talk about our days while we lounged on the couch watching crappy TV shows. So that's exactly what we did. We kicked our shoes off right when we walked through the front door and went straight for the kitchen. I pulled out a bottle of red and two stemless wine glasses. I'd never been so excited to pour a glass of wine before.
We saddled up on the couch, his feet propped up on the ottoman/coffee table combination and my legs draped over his. I leaned against him and we clinked our glasses. For the next two hours, we pretended like we lived together. We saw a glimpse of what our future would look like when Cayden finally moves to Texas. Or I move to London. Or we both move to some random city where we'd adjust to saying things like "soda pop" and "you betcha" and pronouncing "bag" like "beg." (Shoutout to my old Minnesota roommates!)
That's not to say we're going to turn into couch-potato winos when we live together, but we will have many nights staying in, enjoying the presence of each other and the smoothness of our glasses of wine. It was two hours of perfection. We even got to watch How I Met Your Mother and most of Rules of Engagement before we left for dinner.
We found Shanna and Ronnie lounging on the plush patio furniture in front of Villa O with their first round of drinks already in hand.
"Sorry, we just couldn't wait!" Shanna said, gesturing to her glass of wine.
"No worries. We're already a bottle ahead of yall."
She stood and wrapped me in a hug. I was nearly a foot taller than her in my boots. Ronnie hugged me next while Cayden bent down to hug Shanna. He looked like the Hulk compared to her. Hell, I looked like the Hulk compared to her.
The host led us to our table outside under the covered tent and next to a space heater. I loved Villa O's patio. It just screamed romantic.
The free-dinner menu was limited yet appealing. We ordered soups or salads and then Ronnie and I chose the Penne and Vodka Sauce while Cayden and Shanna opted for the Chicken Parmesan.
"So, how are the wedding plans going?" I asked when Shanna's ring caught my eye.
"We finally picked a venue! I'm really excited about it! Now we need to get our Save The Date cards out. Might need you to help us write a little something for that."
I couldn't wait until their wedding. Who would have thought that curly-haired sun-kissed tanned and toned boy I'd met on the beach eight years ago would end up marrying my best friend? The world works in mysterious ways. They'd be saying their I Dos on Sept. 24, 2011. Just two weeks after LeeAnn, my childhood best friend, says I Do to the man who makes her happier than ever. I'll be standing alongside both of them as a bridesmaid with tears rolling down my face trying to hold back embarrassing, gasping hiccups and sobs.
We devoured our free meals (well, Ronnie devoured his, Shanna's leftovers, and what I couldn't finish), and talked about life, work, and the future.
"So when are yall planning that trip to Croatia?" Ronnie asked, wiping his mouth with the back of a cloth napkin.
"We're aiming for 4th of July weekend, 2011. Why? Want to come with?" I asked.
"Actually," he said. "We just might."