The Good Goodbye(3)

By: Carla Buckley

Vince shows up around noon. I’m mixing pasta dough at the steel table. The one part of the day when I feel truly myself, my hands measuring and kneading, feeding the thin sheets of pasta through the pasta machine, letting my mind wander. I hear the back door open and know without looking up, recognizing his footsteps going down the back hall. A minute later he joins me, tying on his apron.

The first thing Vince and I had done when we’d taken over the building five years ago was knock down the wall between the kitchen and the dining room. We’d been absurdly happy, our dream realized at last. One big open space—no barrier between customer and chef. Who knew it would be the barrier between the chefs that would bring it all down?

He rolls up his sleeves. “You got my note, I see.”

“Does it have anything to do with twenty-two teenagers who are going to be showing up in just a few hours?”

“No. I guess it can wait.”

I sprinkle buckwheat flour on the mound of beige-gray dough and cover it with cheesecloth. “I need you to close tonight.”

“No problem. Boys okay?”

“They’re fine.” The twins love their uncle Vince. They ask after him and Gabrielle all the time. How come she doesn’t watch us anymore? Henry had wondered just the other day, and I’d replied, She’s busy. He’d scrunched his eyes at me. Busy doing what, exactly? he’d demanded.

“Hey, that’s right.” Vince brings out the double boiler and sets it on the stove. “Today’s your anniversary. Congratulations. You and Theo have big plans?”

Last year, on their nineteenth wedding anniversary, Vince and Gabrielle had toured Napa Valley, a lavish six-day trip he later wrote off as a tax deduction. It should have been a clue.

“We’re going out.” I hear how curt my voice sounds. He nods, and heads toward the dry-goods section. “Apple strudel,” I tell him, and he stops.

“Not raspberry mousse?”

Raspberries are six dollars a pint. “Not unless you’ve won the lottery.” I turn away so I don’t have to see his expression.

By seven-twenty, the homecoming couples still haven’t shown. I bend a wafer-thin slice of pickle into a curl and nestle it alongside the piece of grilled cobia. Wiping my hands on the towel tied into my apron strings, I slide the plate beneath the heat lamp. I’d called that afternoon to confirm the reservation. What? the teenage girl had said. I’d had to repeat myself. Oh, yeah, she’d said. The restaurant. We’ll be there.

The restaurant. Not Double. I glance toward the front door and Vince says, “They’ll be here.”

Friday night and we’ve had only five tables, a total of sixteen covers.

“What if they’re not?” I’d ordered a supply of shrimp and filets—the two proteins teenagers most like to order, as well as the most expensive. I should’ve stuck with chicken.

“Then we’ll run a surf-and-turf special tomorrow.”

“For the crowds thronging the door?” Everyone in town offers filet. Shrimp turns in a day. Vince knows this as well as I do, but he’s always happiest with the easy solution, even if it makes no sense. He loops lines of puréed basil across the piece of flounder, a magical composition of confidence and artistry, but right now it looks all wrong. Too bright. Too hopeful. Just like Vince.

“Nat,” he says. “We really do have to talk.”

“About what, another wonderful investment opportunity?”

“Are you ever going to forgive me?”

Just then, the door opens into a swirl of laughter and gold lamé, yards of black tulle and a windstorm of Axe and perfume. For a moment, I see what they see: eclectic chairs painted purple, green, orange; red and yellow gerbera daisies in their glass bowls; flickering candles and white linens stiff with starch but looking cloud-soft. Come in, it all beckons. Arden had helped choose the colors, her hands on her hips, frowning at the selection.

Vince hands me the plate to finish and, grinning, goes over to greet and escort them to their tables. They tilt their faces to him and giggle, take their seats, and pick up their menus.

This is the Vince I loved. But this is the Vince who betrayed me.

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