"However," Livvy went on, "your ideas could save DeSaria’s … if that’s possible. But I wouldn’t want to be in your shoes."
"What would you do first?"
Livvy looked down at the list, flipped through the pages. "It’s not here."
"First, you hire a new waitress. Rosa Contadori has been serving food at DeSaria’s since before you were born. I could learn to play golf in the time it takes her to write down an order. I’ve been picking up the slack, but …" She shrugged. "I don’t see you waitressing."
Angie couldn’t disagree with that. "Any suggestions?"
Livvy grinned. "Make sure she’s Italian."
"Very funny." Angie reached for her pen. "Anything else?"
"Plenty. Let’s start with the basics…."
ANGIE STOOD ON THE SIDEWALK, LOOKING AT THE restaurant that had been so much a part of her youth. Mama and Papa had been here every evening; he at the front door, greeting guests, she in the kitchen, cooking for them. Family dinners had taken place at four-thirty, before the guests arrived. They’d all sat at a big round table in the kitchen so that they wouldn’t be seen if customers arrived early. After dinner, Mira and Livvy had gone to work, waitressing and busing tables.
But not Angie.
This one is a genius, Papa always said. She’s going to college, so she needs to study.
It had never been questioned. Once Papa spoke, a matter was ended. Angie was going to college. That was that. Night after night, she studied in the kitchen.
No wonder she’d gotten a scholarship.
Now here she was, back at the beginning of her life, preparing to save a business she knew nothing about, and tonight there would be no Livvy to help her out.
She stared down at her notes. They had filled four more pages, she and Livvy. One idea after another.
It was up to Angie to implement the changes.
She walked up the steps and went through the front door. The place was already open, of course. Mama had arrived at three-thirty, not a minute before, not a minute later, as she’d done every Friday night for three decades.
Angie heard the clatter and jangle coming from the kitchen. She went in, found her mother cursing. "Mira is late. And Rosa called in sick tonight. I know she is playing bingo at the Elks."
"Rosa is sick?" Angie heard the panic in her voice. "She’s our only waitress."
"Now you are our waitress," Mama said. "It is not that hard, Angela. Just give people what they order." She went back to making her meatballs.
Angie left the kitchen. In the dining rooms, she went from table to table, checking every detail, making sure the salt and pepper shakers were filled, that the place settings were clean and properly placed.
Ten minutes later, Mira came rushing through the front door. "I’m sorry I’m late," she called out to Angie on her way to the kitchen. "Daniella fell off her bike."
Angie nodded and went back to the menu, studying it as if it were a CliffsNotes guide and she were cramming for a test.
At five forty-five the first customers arrived. Dr. and Mrs. Feinstein, who ran the clinic in town. Twenty minutes later, the Giuliani family arrived. Angie greeted them all as her father would have, then showed them to their tables. For the first few minutes, she actually felt good, as if she were part of her heritage at last. Her mother beamed at her, nodded encouragingly.
By six-fifteen, she was in trouble.
How could seven people generate so much work?
More water, please.
I asked for Parmesan.
Where’s our bread–
and the oil.
"You might be a great copywriter, Angela," Mama said to her at one point, "but I would not tip you well. You’re too slow."
Angie couldn’t disagree. She headed for the Fein-steins’ table and set down the plate of cannelloni. "I’ll be right back with your scampi, Mrs. Feinstein," she said, then ran for the kitchen.
"I hope Dr. Feinstein isn’t finished by the time his wife is served," Mama said, clucking in disapproval. "Mira, make those meatballs bigger."
Angie backed out of the kitchen and hurried back to the Feinsteins’ table.
As she was serving the scampi, she heard the front door open. A bell tinkled.
More customers. Oh no.
She turned slowly and saw Livvy. Her sister took one look at her and burst out laughing.
Angie straightened. "You’re here to laugh at me?"
"The princess working at DeSaria’s? Of course I’m here to laugh at you." Livvy touched her shoulder. "And to help you out."
BY THE END OF THE EVENING ANGIE HAD A POUNDING headache. "Okay. It’s official. I’m the worst waitress in history." She looked down at her clothes. She’d spilled red wine down her apron and dragged her sleeve in the creme anglaise. A discoloration on her pants was almost certainly from the lasagna. She sat down at a table in the back corner beside Mira. "I can’t believe I wore cashmere and high heels. No wonder Livvy laughs every time she looks at me."
"You’ll get better," Mira promised. "Here. Fold napkins."
"Well, I damn sure can’t get worse." Angie couldn’t help laughing, though it wasn’t funny. In truth, she hadn’t expected it to be so hard. All her life, things had come easily to her. She’d simply been good at whatever she tried. Not exceptional, perhaps, but better than average. She’d graduated from UCLA–in four years, thank you, with a very respectable grade point–and she’d immediately been hired by the best ad agency in Seattle.
Frankly, this whole table-waiting handicap came as a shock. "It’s humiliating."
Mira looked up from the napkins. "Don’t worry. Rosa hardly ever calls in sick. Usually she can handle the so-called crowd. And you’ll get better."
"I know, but …" Angie looked down at her hands. Two bright pink burn spots marred her skin. Fortunately, she’d spilled the hot sauce on herself and not on Mrs. Guiliani. "I don’t know if I can do this."
Mira folded the thick white napkin into a swan and pushed it across the table.
Angie was reminded of the night Papa had taught her how to turn a plain square of fabric into this bird. When she looked up and saw her sister’s smile, she knew the reminder had been intentional.
"It took Livvy and me weeks to learn how to do that. We sat on the floor by Papa, trying to copy his every move so he would smile at us and say Good job, my princesses. We thought we were doing so well … then you joined us and learned how to fold it in three tries. This one, Papa said, kissing your cheek, can do anything."
The memory should have made her smile, but this time she saw more. "That must have been tough on you and Livvy."
Mira waved off the concern. "That wasn’t my point. This place–DeSaria’s–it’s in your blood, just as it’s in ours. Not being a part of it for all those years doesn’t change who you are. You’re one of us, and you can do whatever needs to be done. Papa believed in you and so do I."
Mira smiled gently. "That’s not you."
Angie turned her head and stared through the window at the empty street. Leaves fell to the ground, skittered across the rough cement sidewalk. "It’s who I’ve become." She hated to admit it.
Mira leaned forward. "Can I be honest?"
"Absolutely not." Angie tried to laugh, but when she looked at her sister’s earnest face, she couldn’t do it.
"You’ve gotten … self-centered in the last few years. I don’t mean selfish. Wanting a baby and then losing Sophie … It made you … quiet. Alone somehow."
It was true.
"I felt as if I were hanging on by a thread and there was a huge hole beneath me."
"Then you fell anyway."
She thought about that. She’d lost her daughter, her father, and her husband in the same year. That was certainly the fall she’d been afraid of. "Sometimes I think I’m still falling. At night it’s especially bad."
"Maybe it’s time to look outward."
"I have the restaurant. I’m trying."
"What about all the hours when we’re closed?"
Angie swallowed. "It’s hard," she admitted. "I try to study and make notes."
"A job can’t be enough."
Angie wished she could argue with the veracity of the statement, but she’d learned the truth of it long ago, when she’d loved her job and longed for a baby. "No."
"Maybe it’s time to reach out to someone else in need."
Angie thought about that. The first image that popped into her mind was of the teenager she’d seen in the Safe-way parking lot. Angie had been helped by helping the girl. That night, she’d slept through until morning.
Maybe that was the answer. Helping someone else.
She felt herself start to smile. "My Mondays are free."
Mira smiled back. "And most of your mornings."
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, LAUREN WOKE UP FEELING completely safe. David’s arms were around her, holding her close, even in sleep.
She reveled in the feel of it, smiling, imagining a married life that would always be this way.
She lay there a long time, watching him sleep. Finally, she eased away from him and rolled out of bed. She’d make him breakfast and serve it to him in bed.
At his chest of drawers, she paused and opened the top drawer. Finding a long T-shirt, she put it on and went downstairs.
The kitchen was amazing–all granite and stainless steel and mirrored surfaces. The pots and pans shone silver in the light. She scouted through the cupboards and the refrigerator, finding everything she needed to make scrambled eggs, bacon, and pancakes. When breakfast was ready, she put it all on a beautiful wooden tray and carried it upstairs.
She found David sitting up in bed, yawning. "There you are," he said, grinning at her entrance. "I was worried…."
"Like I’d ever leave you." She crawled up into bed beside him and settled the tray between them.
"This looks great," he said, kissing her cheek.
As they ate breakfast, they talked about ordinary things: the upcoming SAT test, football, school gossip. David talked about the Porsche that he and his father were restoring. It was the only thing he and his dad did together, and so David obsessed about the car. He loved the hours they spent in the garage. In truth, he talked about it so often she hardly listened anymore. He launched into something about gear ratios and speed off the line, and she found her interest waning.
She glanced out the window. Sunlight flooded the glass, and suddenly she was thinking about California and their future. She’d lost track of how often she’d organized her college brochures based on scholarship feasibility. By her calculations, her best shot at a full ride was at private colleges. Of these, her favorite was the University of Southern California. It combined world-class athletics with top-drawer academics.
Unfortunately, it was almost an eight-hour drive from Stanford.
Somehow she had to convince David to consider USC. The second alternative was for her to choose Santa Clara. But truthfully, she’d had enough of Catholic school.
"… totally tight. Perfect leather. Lauren? Are you listening?"
She turned to him. "Of course. You were talking about the gear ratio."
He laughed. "Yeah, about an hour ago. I knew you weren’t listening."
She felt her cheeks heat up. "I’m sorry. I was thinking about college."