Tanim’s nose caught the first faint traces of the odor as he stepped off the elevator at the penthouse suite: a trace of cinnamon, subtle but pervasive. Puzzled, he tracked the strange scent to the apartment, where it seemed to be drifting out beneath the mahogany door. That source made no sense, as neither he nor Daren ever bothered to cook something as complicated as a dish involving actual spices, so he shrugged it off and unlocked the door. But the scent which had been an undertone to the hallway’s mixture of lemon wood polish and carpet cleaner hit him like a wall as he stepped into the apartment. Cinnamon, vanilla, and something undefinable but savory wafted over him, making his mouth water and his stomach grumble.
“Right on time, dear,” a voice greeted him, amusement coloring its cool tone. Tanim abandoned his coat and briefcase by the door and arched one eyebrow as he took in the scene. The apartment lights were all dimmed, the primary illumination coming instead from the tapered candles decorating the kitchen table. Surrounding the candles were a variety of plates and bowls; by the looks of it, Tanim noted with a chuckle, the entirety of their meager dining set. He blushed at the extravagant array, casting a questioning glance at the man who stood with his hands on the back of one of the two kitchen chairs.
“What’s all this?” Tanim stepped forward to inspect the contents of the bowls. One was filled with strawberries and blueberries; another with sliced apples and plump raisins; a third with something thick and white which, upon being tested with one curious finger, revealed itself to be thick whipped cream. Daren answered his question with a soft laugh and retrieved a serving platter from the counter. “Don’t tell me you’ve forgotten your own birthday, Tanim. That’d be pathetic even by your self-deprecating standards.” He turned and presented Tanim with the platter, where a pile of toasted golden bread steamed tantalizingly.
“You’re always saying how much you love French toast, but never make it because you always manage to fuck it up somehow, so I figured…” Daren grinned, gesturing to the table. “Happy birthday, darling. Have a seat and help yourself.” As he spoke, the man deposited the platter of French toast on the table and uncorked a bottle of champagne, pouring a glass for himself and his companion. Tanim stared at the unexpected feast for a moment longer, then finally sat down with a shake of his head. He chose to ignore the fact that yes, he had indeed forgotten today’s significance, and instead commented with playful incredulity “you cooked all this? But I thought you hated cooking!”
“I do.” Daren speared several slices of toast and filled their plates. “I can’t even make oatmeal without it exploding in the microwave. But I searched long and hard to find just the right French toast recipe, and I’ve been practicing for days to perfect it.” He shook his head ruefully. “You have no idea how much French toast I’ve eaten in the last few days, testing batch after batch until they were just right. Good lord. However,” he drew himself up proudly, “I may be a terrible cook, but I can now guarantee you won’t find better French toast anywhere in the city. Mine is absolutely delicious.”
Tanim realized he was still gaping like a fool, touched by Daren’s thoughtful gesture, but found he could not do much about it so he busied himself with spooning apples, strawberries, and maple syrup onto his pile of toast. He hesitated a moment, eying the stack critically, then added a generous dollop of whipped cream. He could feel Daren watching him, much pleased with himself for pulling off such a feat without Tanim having been any the wiser, but when he glanced up to meet his gaze, the man was focused on supplying his own plate with toppings.
Once finished, Daren raised his glass of champagne with a sweet smile, and their glasses clinked above the dancing candles. Daren winked as he drew his back and sipped at the bubbling liquid. “Now don’t go expecting this sort of feast every night,” he cautioned. Tanim chuckled and returned the wink. “I just well might, now that I know you’re willing to spoil me so awfully.” He bit down on a forkful of toast, strawberry, and whipped cream, then groaned involuntarily at the taste. Daren had certainly not been exaggerating; the hours and days of loving preparation for such a simple dish were well worth the dedication. He had never had such ambrosial French toast, so crispy on the outside yet moist and cinnamony on the inside.
“Ooh. Ooh. You’re right – this is absolutely perfect.” Tanim shook his head, making further sounds of amazement and delight as he stuffed another bite into his mouth. “French toast and champagne for dinner? Brilliant.” After a pause for another heaping bite, he inquired jokingly, “what further delicacies have you got planned for dessert to top all this?”
Daren shrugged mysteriously as he popped a whipped cream covered strawberry into his mouth, smirking at his lover across the candlelight.
“You’ll just have to wait and see, won’t you?”