Tara looked over at her friend, Blaze, and laughed at her silly antics. They were at the mall and had just escaped one of the kiosk vendors who was selling some kind of weird exfoliate oil that had salt from the Dead Sea in it. Weird… Either way, Blaze was going on and on about how cute the guy had been with his green eyes and shaggy brown hair. She was quite smitten with the guy, even if she already had a boyfriend.

The two had just stepped outside to go meet the guys, Liam and Connor, when it started to drizzle. The guys quickly led the way to the car they were sharing and they started out toward Tara's house. As they went, Tara began talking excitedly about a "dinner party" she wanted to throw the next week. It was getting close to the beginning of the school year and Tara wanted to celebrate their temporary freedom.

"So, can you come, Blaze? You and Connor?" Tara asked.

Connor quickly piped up, "Oh man! Tara, we can't. That's our one month anniversary, and we have reservations at that new Italian restaurant in Joplin."

Tara looked a little disappointed, but cheered up considerably when Liam said, "Tara, I would be honored to come. What's on the menu?"

"That is a surprise, but believe me, it will be a meal you will never forget," Tara smiled brightly.

Connor began to cough uncontrollably, but then he cleared his throat and suddenly found the oncoming traffic very interesting. Blaze just looked out her window. Neither Tara nor Liam paid attention, because they were completely focused on each other.

"So, Blaze and Connor can't come, but maybe some of your other friends would care to join us," Liam said in hopes of making that pretty smile appear on Tara's face.

"Unfortunately, both Bree and Lizzy told me yesterday that they would be out of town that week. Maybe I should just reschedule when everyone is free."

"NO!" both Blaze and Connor shouted at the same time.

Blaze turned in her seat to face Tara and Liam, who were seated in the back and slightly shocked at the shout, "Tara, why don't you have a special dinner for just you and Liam?"

Tara thought this idea brilliant, and Liam secretly wished Blaze a long and happy life because after all, he would get to spend the evening alone with Tara. Not to mention, Tara would be cooking for him. For HIM! He was beyond elated, but tried really hard not to show it. Connor also looked equally pleased and reached over to kiss Blaze for her suggestion. Liam thought this very sweet and decided to kiss Tara also.

Tara was all too happy to be kissed by Liam. Now all she had to do was talk her mom into going out for the evening and all would be well. She didn't think it would be that difficult to arrange a date between CC and her mom, especially once she explained the situation to CC. Lately, though, her mom had been working a lot more hours and seemed really tired. She wondered that CC had not been by the house lately too, but figured that the reason stemmed from the demanding murder case that had recently been thrust into his hands.


Getting her mom out of the house had been easier than Tara had anticipated… Missy had intervened and invited Alexa over for supper. After supper, they went to a special concert at a neighboring church, so the evening was clear for Tara to prepare a meal for Liam.

When Liam arrived, he smelled peculiar aromas wafting from the front door, but thought nothing of it. He brought Tara a dozen yellow roses, over which she was completely delighted. She insisted on making a boutonniere for Liam. Of course, Tara accidentally pierced his skin while pinning on the flower, but after recovering from the shock of the prick and hearing Tara's frantic lamentations over doing the pricking, Liam was perfectly fine. That is, once his eyes had returned to normal dilation.

Normally, Liam would have considered the accidental piercing as an omen for the evening, but the young man was head over heels in love, and his mind happened to be elsewhere.

Tara started off the meal with a platter of raw vegetables and dip. Liam dug right in, but noticed that the dip was a little sweet – actually, it tasted just like fruit dip. He thought this strange, but said nothing because at that moment, Tara picked up a baby carrot, dipped it and held it out to him to eat. He, of course, obligingly took it into his mouth. Again, the sweetness of the dip hit his palate and made him slightly cringe inwardly. It seemed odd to have a carrot tasting like a strawberry swirling round his mouth, but Liam swallowed politely, like the gentleman that he was.

The main course was up next. Tara brought his plate all prepared with extras on another platter. The roast beef looked delightful, as did the steamed broccoli and corn. Liam realized that his mind must have been playing tricks on him with the feelings of dread that had overtaken him earlier. Yes, this thought was in his mind until the second he tried to cut his roast. The roast beef was no more tender than the sole of his shoe.

Liam decided to try some cheese sauce on his broccoli, but when he lifted the spoon out of the bowl, the entire contents of it came along for the ride. The scientific term liquid could not be applied to this substance, no matter how much Liam wanted to do so. Actually, the first thought to cross his mind when he picked up the sauce spoon was that of a low-budget horror flick he had seen when he was a child, The Jelly Mold from Outer Mongolia, which featured a scientific experiment gone awry with a rather spooky likeness to Tara's bowl of cheese sauce. Of course, Tara's cheese sauce wasn't guilty of having consumed a neighboring village – not yet anyway…

The corn! The corn looked safe! As Liam chewed, he wondered how Tara had managed the interesting crunchiness, but was strangely glad when he had politely swallowed the last bite. Yes, my friends, Liam's constant companion that night was an odd semi-grimace, which Tara thought was a smile because his dimples were showing. Lucky girl – if she managed not to kill him with her cooking, she should really hang on to him.

Dessert (which, if pluralized and spelled backward, actually reads stressed – much like Liam's poor stomach) was what broke Liam's final hold on reality. Tara had made muffins and hot chocolate. At this point, Liam was desperately hoping she had used mixes for both, but he was to be disappointed yet again. The muffins caused a temporary flashback to his childhood when he had uttered a curse word in front of his mother, which resulted in his mother brushing his teeth with dish soap. Grabbing his mug of steaming hot chocolate in hopes of washing down the horrible flavor in his mouth, he almost gagged upon tasting what he thought was cooking oil. Yes, my friends, cooking oil – just don't ask.

As Liam drove home that night, in his dazed condition, the one and only thought on his mind was how sweet revenge would taste when he would see the look of utter horror cross the faces of Blaze and Connor tomorrow night at what they thought would be a pizza party. As an evil smile spread across his face, he called up Tara to ask her to save the leftovers. The narrator believes that this is the perfect moment for a maniacal laugh, so here goes: MUHAHAHAHAHA!


Dougal MacGreggor was elated to find Alexa at home the next day. He noticed the dark circles under her sad eyes, but said nothing, even though his mind was ripe with questions. She gave him half a smile and admitted him to her home. She offered him a cool drink and a snack, both of which he gratefully accepted.

As she took her seat in the chair next to the sofa where he sat, she said in the most pleasant voice she could muster, "To what do I owe the pleasure of your company today, Dougal?"

"Oh, I thought I would stop by to see if you were feeling alright. The pastor asked for volunteers to visit those who had missed the last service at church, and I raised my hand, since I have a light week at the University. You were the first person on my list. But to tell you the truth, even if I hadn't volunteered for this, I would have stopped by. You never miss church, from what I understand, and there were many people who asked the pastor about you on Sunday."

Alexa's eyes darkened for a moment and looked past him out the front window, "I've been working a heavier schedule at the hospital lately. It's been keeping me pretty busy. I don't expect it to last much longer, but I don't really know."

Dougal wondered at the vagueness of her answer, but decided to change the subject, "Well, I've been meaning to ask you something for a while now. I wonder if now might be a good time to broach the subject?"

Alexa felt a slight dread steal over her heart at what she thought would be his question. Sure enough, she was right.

"Would you consider accompanying me to a classical concert next weekend at the University? They are playing your favorite Mendelssohn pieces from what I understand. I've already purchased the tickets with you in mind, but if you cannot attend, I will give them to a friend who had expressed interest. What do you say?" Dougal looked at her with pleading eyes, almost afraid to be hopeful.

When she said, "I would love to go with you," he almost jumped for joy. Alexa, on the other hand, was far from elated at her own actions. CC had not called her or come by her house since the fiasco at his office several weeks ago. She was of all women, most miserable. She half-listened to Dougal as he mapped out the plan for the evening. Feeling like a toy that a child might love for a while and later cast aside, she wondered whether CC missed her as much as she missed him. Probably not, she thought, and her heart actually contracted resulting in searing pain leading from her stomach to the base of her throat. She attempted levity for Dougal's sake and to cover her discomfort, but did not really pull it off. When he said his goodbyes, she was more relieved than she had felt in years.

Now, however, in the pit of her stomach she felt something akin to betrayal – yes, it felt like she was betraying CC by accepting Dougal's invitation to the concert. Oh God, she prayed silently, please help me to get out of this mess I have made for myself.