These were questions a girl should ask her mother.
"Ha," Lauren said without a trace of humor.
As usual, she had to follow her own counsel. There were two choices. She could make up a lie … or she could ask Angie for help.
ANGIE SAT AT THE STAINLESS STEEL COUNTER. NOTES and papers were spread out in front of her.
Mama stood with her back to the sink, her arms crossed. It didn’t take an expert to read her body language. Her eyes were narrowed and her mouth was a needle-thin line of displeasure.
Angie proceeded with the utmost caution. "I’ve spoken with Scott Forman at the theater. He’s ready to give us a fifty percent discount on tickets if we include him in our ads."
Mama sniffed. "The movies are terrible these days. So much violence. It will upset people’s stomachs."
"They’ll be eating before the movie."
Angie pressed forward. Business had really picked up since the inception of the coat drive. It was time to implement the rest of her plan. "Do you think it’s a good idea?"
Mama shrugged. "We will see, I suppose."
"And the advertising–you think that’s smart?"
"How much does it cost?"
Angie laid out the pricing sheets. Mama glanced at them but didn’t move from her place at the sink. "Too much."
"I’ll see if I can negotiate better pricing." She gently moved her notepad, revealing a menu from Cassiopeia’s, the four-star Italian restaurant in Vancouver. "Do you have any suggestions for wine night?"
Mama sniffed. "We could talk to Victoria and Casey McClellan. They own that winery in Walla Walla. What’s it called–Seven Hills? And Randy Finley up at Mount Baker Vineyards makes good wines. Maybe they would give us a good rate to feature their wines. Randy loves my osso bucco."
"That’s a great idea, Mama." Angie made some more notes on her list. When she finished, she nudged the Cassiopeia’s menu.
Mama craned her neck forward and tilted her head. "What’s that?"
"What?" Angie bit back a smile. "Now, about the fresh fish. We–"
"Angela Rose, why do you have that menu?"
Angie feigned surprise. "This? I was just interested in our competition."
Mama waved her hand airily. "They have never even been to the old country, those people."
"Their pricing is interesting."
Mama looked at her. "How so?"
"The entrees start at $14.95 and go up from there." Angie paused, shaking her head. "It’s sad that so many people equate high prices with quality."
"Give me that." Mama snatched the menu from the table and whipped it open. "Herbed pancakes with wild mushroom butter and pan-fried whitefish–for $21.95. This is not Italian. My mama, God rest her soul, made a tonno al cartoccio–tuna baked in parchment–that melted in your mouth."
"Terry has tuna on sale this week, Mama. Ahi, too. And his calamari steaks were beautiful."
"You are remembering your papa’s favorite. Calamari ripieni. It takes the very best tomatoes."
"Johnny from the farmer’s market promises me red heaven."
"Calamari and ahi are expensive."
"We could try it for a night or two–an advertised special. If it doesn’t work, we can forget about it."
There was a knock at the door.
Angie swore under her breath. Mama was close to agreeing. Any little change could send them back to square one.
Lauren walked into the kitchen, clutching her neatly folded apron.
"Good night, Lauren," Angie said. "Lock up on your way out."
Lauren didn’t move. She looked confused somehow, uncertain.
"Thank you, Lauren," Mama said. "Have a nice evening."
Lauren didn’t move.
"What is it?" Angie asked.
"I … uh …" Lauren frowned. "I can work tomorrow night after all."
"Great," Angie said, going back to her notes. "See you at five."
The minute Lauren left, Angie returned to the discussion. "So, Mama, what do you think about upping the prices a little and adding a daily fish special?"
"I think my daughter is trying to change the menu that has been good enough for DeSaria’s for years."
"Small changes, Mama. The kind that take us forward in time." She paused, loading the big gun. "Papa would have approved."
"He loved my calamari ripieni, it’s true." Mama pushed away from the sink and sat down beside Angie. "I remember when your papa bought me the Cadillac. He was so proud of that car."
"But you wouldn’t drive it."
Mama smiled. "Your papa thought I was crazy, ignoring that beautiful car. So one day he sold my Buick and left the new car keys on the table, along with a note that read: Meet me for lunch. I’ll bring the wine." She smiled. "He knew I had to be pushed into change."
"I don’t want to push too hard."
"Yes, you do." Mama sighed. "Your whole life has been about pushing, Angela, getting what you want." She touched Angie’s cheek. "Your papa loved that about you, and he’d be so proud of you right now."
Suddenly, Angie wasn’t thinking about the menu at all. She was thinking about her father and all the things that she missed about him; the way he hefted her on his shoulders to watch the Thanksgiving Day parade, the way he said prayers with her at night and told silly, meaningless jokes at the breakfast table.
"So," Mama said, her eyes misty, too. "We will try a few specials this week and then we will see."
"It’ll work, Mama. You’ll see. Business will really pick up when the ads start. We’re the front page of the entertainment section on Sunday."
"Already more people are coming. I must admit that. It’s a good thing you hired that girl. She’s been a good waitress," Mama said. "When you hired her–a redhead–I was sure we were in for trouble, and when you told me about the poor thing needing a dress, I thought–"
"Oh, no." Angie shot to her feet. "The dance."
"What’s the matter?"
"Tomorrow night is homecoming. That’s why Lauren was hanging around in the kitchen. She wanted to remind me that she needed tomorrow night off."
"Then why did she say she’d work?"
"I don’t know." Angie fished her car keys out of her pocket and grabbed her coat off the hook by the door. "Bye, Mama. See you tomorrow."
Angie hurried from the restaurant. Outside, a light rain was falling.
She looked up and down the street.
She ran to the parking lot and got in her car, heading north on Driftwood. There wasn’t another car on the road. She was about to turn onto the highway when she noticed the bus stop.
Light from a nearby streetlamp spilled down, giving everything a soft, amber glow. Even from this distance, she could see Lauren’s copper-red hair.
She pulled up in front of her.
Lauren looked up slowly. Her eyes were red and swollen.
"Oh," she said, snapping upright when she saw Angie.
Angie hit the window button. The glass slid downward. Cold air immediately whooshed into the car. She leaned toward the passenger side. "Get in."
Lauren pointed behind her. "My bus is here. But thanks."
"Tomorrow is the dance, right?" Angie said. "That’s what you were trying to tell me in the kitchen."
"Don’t worry about it. I’m not going."
Lauren looked away. "I don’t feel like it."
Angie glanced down at the girl’s old, too-worn shoes. "I offered to loan you a dress, remember?"
"Do you need one?"
"Yes." The answer was barely audible.
"Okay. You be at the restaurant at three o’clock. Have you made arrangements to get dressed at a friend’s house?"
Lauren shook her head.
"Would you like to get ready at my house? It might be fun."
"Really? I’d love that."
"Okay. Call David and tell him to pick you up at my house, 7998 Miracle Mile Road. It’s the first driveway after the bridge."
The bus pulled up behind them and honked.
It wasn’t until much later, when Angie walked into her dark, empty house, that she wondered whether she’d made a mistake.
Getting a girl ready for a dance was a mother’s job.
THE NEXT MORNING ANGIE HIT THE GROUND RUNNING. At seven o’clock she and Mama met with suppliers and delivery men. By ten they’d ordered most of the week’s food, checked the vegetables and fruits for freshness, made out the payroll checks, deposited money in the restaurant’s account, and dropped the tablecloths off at the laundry. When Mama went off to do her own errands, Angie headed for the printers, where she had flyers and coupons made for wine night and date night. Then she dropped off the first batch of donated coats to Help-Your-Neighbor.
It started raining when she was at the dry cleaners. By noon it was a full-on rainstorm. The streets were a cauldron of boiling water. There was nothing new in that.
The weather this time of year was predictable. From now until early May it would be gray skies and raindrops. Sunlight in the coming months would be a rare and unexpected gift that couldn’t be counted on and wouldn’t last. Those who couldn’t stand the continual shadow world of misty gray would find themselves waking in the middle of the night, restless, unable to sleep through the sound of rain on the roof.
She pulled up to the restaurant fifteen minutes late.
Lauren stood on the sidewalk beneath the restaurant’s green and white awning. There was an old blue backpack on the sidewalk at her feet.
Angie rolled down the window. "Sorry I’m late."
"I’d thought you’d forgotten."
Angie wondered if anyone kept the promises made to this girl, or if, in fact, any promises were ever made.
"Get in," she said, opening the passenger door.
"Are you sure?"
Angie smiled. "Believe me, Lauren. I’m always sure. Livvy is covering my shift. Now get in."
Lauren did as she was told, shutting the door hard. Rain hammered the car, made it shake and rattle.
They drove in silence. The metronomic thwop-thwopthwop of the wipers was so loud it didn’t make sense to talk.
When they reached the cottage, Angie parked close to the front door.
Angie turned to Lauren. "Do you think we should call your mom? Maybe she’d like to join us."
Lauren laughed. It was a bitter, humorless sound. "I don’t think so." She seemed to realize how harsh she’d sounded. She smiled and shrugged. "She’s not one for dances."
Angie didn’t go down the road of those words. She was this girl’s boss; that was all. She was loaning a dress to Lauren. Just that.
"Okay. Let’s go inside and see what I have."
Lauren launched herself sideways, threw her arms around Angie. Her smile was so big it swallowed her face, made her look about eleven years old. "Thank you, Angie. Oh, thank you."
LAUREN HADN’T GROWN UP ON MAKE-BELIEVE. UNLIKE most of her friends, she’d spent her childhood hours watching television shows that featured shoot-outs and hookers and women in jeopardy. Real life, as her mother so often pointed out. There had been no cartoons in the Ribido apartment, no Disney specials. By the tender age of seven, Lauren knew that Prince Charming was a crock. When she lay in her narrow twin bed in her apartment that smelled vaguely of cigarettes and beer, she didn’t dream of being Cinderella or Snow White. She’d never seen the point in the princess-swept-off-herfeet fantasy.