Tom, true to his word, returned home promptly at six; his parents arrived with equal punctuality at exactly six-thirty. "Daphne, Reginald," Gina greeted them, doing her best to suppress an attack of nerves. "Welcome. Tom and I are so happy you could come."
"What a beautiful cake," Reginald - the patissier - had eyes for pastry above all else. "Daphne and I were just talking about the misguided souls who use margarine or vegetable shortening to decorate cakes, and try to pass off their concoctions as butter cream. All looks and no taste." His eyes rolled, and he produced a theatrical shudder.
Gina colored slightly. "Tom, why don't you give your parents a tour of the apartment while I see to the vegetables," she suggested before fleeing into the kitchen. She checked the meat thermometer; the roast was just approaching 'rare' on the dial. Then she placed a couple of cans of creamed corn on the oven rack beside the roasting pan. One less pot to wash, she told herself.
Having regained her composure, Gina returned to Tom and his parents, who were now sitting and chatting in the living room. "Dinner will be ready in 20 minutes," she announced. "Tom, have you offered your parents a drink?"
"Thanks, Gina," Daphne replied, "but we'll wait and have wine with our dinner." Gina glanced inquiringly at Tom. He had never mentioned wine with dinner. "My folks brought us a Washington State Pinot Noir," he explained, as though she had any idea what that signified. "It'll be perfect with the roast." She nodded - sagely, she hoped.
After enduring another 10 minutes of stilted conversation, Gina glanced at her watch. "I'd better check on the roast," she said, happy to have an excuse to leave the room. Suddenly, a muffled "BANG" and residual clatter erupted from the kitchen. Gina raced to the source of the noise, with Tom, Daphne and Reginald close on her heels. All four stared into the kitchen, to find
the oven door hanging open at a crazy angle, one hinge completely torn away and the other twisted awry,the roast beef lying on the kitchen floor, surrounded by sliced potatoes and wearing the roasting pan like a coolie hat,two aluminum cans, their sides split wide open, lying at awkward angles on the oven rack, andcreamed corn dripping from the ceiling and drooling down the walls onto counters, cabinets, and the kitchen floor
Gina looked at Tom, her eyes filling with tears. "Don't worry, honey," he reassured her, "we'll go out for dinner and come back here for dessert. It's a good thing you put the cake in the dining room."
She took a deep breath. "Tom, about that cake...."