The Good Goodbye(2)

By: Carla Buckley

Like my ant farm? Oliver had suggested, his voice swelling with hope. Arden had led him there and now it was his idea. I’d walked over to where my laptop sat on the kitchen table and leaned over to smile at my daughter with her serious green eyes and long blond hair tucked behind her ears. Sorry, honey, I’d told her. I have to leave for the restaurant. Can we talk later? D.C. traffic was unforgiving. I was already cutting it close. Used to be Gabrielle would run over to watch the boys until Theo got home, but those days are gone. Arden had paused, then nodded. I’ll call you tomorrow, she’d said. Which was yesterday. The whole day had come and gone, and she hadn’t called. A million reasons why—she’d been out with her new friends, she’d been studying and lost track of time, she’d forgotten until it was too late to phone. But still, that hesitation—had there been something there?

I crouch to pat the dog bed. Percy trots over. “You be good,” I tell him, rumpling his soft ears. “Keep an eye on the squirrels.” During the day, he lets himself in and out of the pet door, and often I’ll come home to find him sprawled outside in a patch of sunlight, just the thump of his tail welcoming me. He circles the cushion and lies down with a sigh.

“Want me to take that?” Theo asks Oliver, and I know he’s thinking about ants crawling around the car. Oliver shakes his head, then pushes past his brother to run down the path to where our Volvo rusts in the driveway alongside our sputtering fourthhand Honda.

“Remember when Arden stole your diaphragm?” Theo whispers, leaning close.

I laugh. At the time, though, I’d been mortified when the teacher called to let me know what Arden had smuggled in for Sharing Day. Theo had shaken his head and looked thoughtful. We’d better keep an eye on that one, he’d said, meaning Arden.

I have, haven’t I?

Theo slides his arms around me. “You’re right, sweetheart. I should have put some thought into it. I just assumed you wouldn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

“We can’t afford to make a big deal out of it.”

“We can afford to make a little deal out of it.”

I sigh, lean in to the circle of his arms. “Like what?”

“How about a movie? There are some good ones opening today.”

We haven’t seen a movie out in ages. The ticket prices, the time. I tell myself I want this, and all of a sudden, I do. I want to sit in a quiet, dark theater beside my husband, our arms touching, a bucket of salty buttery popcorn nestled in my lap. No worrying about my failing restaurant and bills piling up, my little girl grown up and gone. I smile at him. “I’ll see if Mom can babysit.”

Theo kisses my lips, soft, but it tingles all the way through. He scoops up his briefcase. “Arden will call,” he says. “Try not to worry.”

I watch him walk away. Nineteen years.

Vince has left me a note on the desk we share at the restaurant. He’d gone home before me the night before and his car isn’t in the lot now, so I have no idea how he’d managed this impossible feat. Too bad his magic didn’t extend to the stock market.

I frown at the bold ink strokes, as familiar as my own handwriting. All those hours poring over cookbooks, calling across the kitchen, teasing and laughing and working in happy synchronicity side by side have come to this.

Nat—We need to talk.

I’m done talking. I’ve heard the excuses and explanations, the countless reasons why he couldn’t have seen it coming. None of it changes the fact that he took a risk and lost, snaring all of us in the rushing downward spiral. That’s Vince for you, always grabbing at the shiny brass ring, never stopping to look below. I uncap a Sharpie and slash a heavy line through his words.

I pick up the waiting sheaf of invoices. The top one is stamped in red—our meat purveyor. I’m surprised he’d agreed to extend us credit in the first place. It must have been Liz’s doing. What would I do without Liz? I had to let two more servers go last week. Vince and I haven’t drawn a salary since March, and we’re down from thirty-seven employees to eight. We can light the place with candles and cook over charcoal briquettes if we have to, but the one thing we can’t run a restaurant without is food.

Also By Carla Buckley

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