The Worst Meal

The worst meal John ever ate was the one he prepared for a date.

He met Kali at their friend’s mutual birthday. It was a stilted affair, with many disparate people and few solid groups, but John and Kali hit it off, exchanging numbers. He called her the next day.

After a successful first and second date, John invited Kali over for dinner. He planned to make a gourmet paella with shrimp, artichoke, and mixed green vegetables. He defrosted the vegetables first, and though they were a little frost-burnt, he decided they would be fine; probably unnoticeable, he thought.

Next, John started cooking the rice. Lacking any stock, he decided water would be fine. When it was mostly cooked, he put it to the side and started frying the vegetables, then added the shrimp. He pulled the artichoke hearts out of his fridge, only to find them topped with mould. He scraped the mould off and threw out the worst ones; the three hearts on the bottom looked okay to him, though, so he tossed them in with the rest.

After it had all cooked for a few minutes, he emptied the rice into the pan as well. He left it all cooking while he went to answer the door.

Kali looked sharp, in a sensible skirt and flattering top, holding a bottle of wine. After inviting her in, John realized he was still in jeans and a t-shirt, which, though hidden under his apron, were stained and ratty.

“Excuse me just a moment,” he said, hurrying toward his bedroom. She heard him calling out, “Please make yourself at home!”

Kali walked into the apartment, still holding the wine. She poked her head first into the living room, then found the kitchen. She put the bottle on the table and looked at the stove just in time to see the meal catch fire.

“John?” she called out, scrambling to find something to smother the flames with. “You better hurry back!”

John came running in, now sporting his better jeans and a button-down shirt, to see Kali trying to battle the fire with a plate. He grabbed a cover from the side cupboard and smothered the fire. When he lifted the cover, the meal looked a little scorched, in places, but largely okay.

“Well, dinner’s ready,” he said, trying to smile. Kali laughed, and sat while he spooned out the un-singed parts.

“Delicious meal,” Kali said after the first bite. It was actually quite bland, but she could hardly criticize him so early on in the relationship.

“Thank you,” John said. “I’ve never made a paella before, so I’m glad you like it.”

“I do. And what are the little red pieces in here?”

“Shrimp.”

Kali’s face paled. Twenty minutes later, they sat in the emergency room as the epinephrine took effect. Kali was stabilized, and released an hour later. They stopped for a pizza on the way back to John’s apartment.

He ate the paella alone the next day.

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