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Here's to Us(7)
Elin Hilderbrand

Angie was grateful to be busy. Bring on the weeds, ticket after ticket piling up: the pineapple-and-habanero shrimp, the smoked maple-glazed salmon, the “sexy” scorched octopus. The Friday-night pace had just ratcheted up from screaming breakneck to white-hot roller-coaster ride when Joel came up behind Angie and whispered in her ear, “I’m telling her tonight. I’m leaving, baby.”

Angie grabbed hot tongs instead of cool ones and burned the bejesus out of her hand. She sucked the webbing between her thumb and index finger. “Can we talk about it later?” she asked.

Tiny, whose job it was to stoke and tend the cooking fire, keeping it at just the right level and heat for Angie at all times said, “Buzz off, Joel. We’re in the middle of feeding people here.”

He was telling her tonight. He was leaving.

Angie couldn’t concentrate on work; her tickets piled up until she was buried and Julio, the expediter, swore at her.

Tiny said to her sotto voce, “Are you okay, Angie? Did Joel say something to upset you?” Tiny was a gentle giant, nearly seven feet tall. He had been the one in charge of taking Angie’s emotional temperature since the restaurant reopened.

“I’m fine,” Angie whispered.

Joel had said the words Angie had been waiting to hear since they had slept together after the restaurant’s Christmas party, six months earlier. He was going to leave his wife and make his relationship with Angie official. Angie’s emotions kited all over the place, soaring, zooming, catching wind, then dipping suddenly.

The night that Deacon died had been an unseasonably warm Thursday in May, one of those spring days that make people think about the joys of summer—strolling through the park, eating alfresco. Deacon had played hooky from work. He’d told Harv he was going up to Nantucket for a few days to fish and clear his head, which Angie had thought was a good idea. Scarlett had gotten fed up with Deacon’s drinking and recreational drug use, and she flew back home to Savannah—for good, she said. She had pulled Ellery out of school and everything. Angie had reassured Deacon: they would be back. Scarlett was prone to tantrums—Angie secretly thought this was because she didn’t consume enough calories to inspire reason—and besides, she had taken only two suitcases. That wouldn’t last her more than two weeks, and it had already been ten days. Deacon had said, I messed up again, Buddy… marriage number three, and I torched it. It’s all my fault. Everyone leaving has always been my fault.

Angie had nearly said that marriage the institution seemed to have been invented in order to trip Deacon up, but she refrained. He was extremely upset, which Angie, frankly, found strange. His marriage to Scarlett wasn’t much more than a pretty shell. Every Tuesday night, when the restaurant was closed, Deacon had dinner with Angie because Scarlett went to bed at eight o’clock, and she didn’t eat anything, anyway. But when you didn’t want to spend your one night off with your wife? Well, that pretty much spoke for itself.

On that Thursday night, Joel had driven Angie home from work, as had become their routine. They’d had a drink after service with the rest of the staff, as usual, and then, as usual, Joel said good-bye first, and Angie followed five or six minutes later, meeting Joel on the corner of Sixtieth Street and Madison, where she climbed into his Lexus and they headed uptown to Angie’s apartment. They made love quickly and then, after Angie poured them each a cognac, once again more slowly.

When Joel had risen to leave on that Thursday, Angie had clung to him and begged him to stay.

“Hey now,” Joel had said. “You know I can’t.”

Joel lived in New Canaan, a place that Angie had never seen but that she imagined as hill and dale, a place where bunny rabbits nibbled the emerald grass in front of a white clapboard house with black shutters. She suspected that everyone in New Canaan was white. If Angie ever showed up at Joel’s house on Rosebrook Road—and she fantasized about this all the time—the neighbors would think she was there to clean, or to clean them out.

“Please?” Angie said. She wasn’t sure where the desperation was coming from. For twenty-six years, Angie had lived as an emotionally carefree, blissfully independent soul. She had worked in kitchens with men since she was eighteen and had slept with a few, but no one who mattered after ten o’clock the next morning. Angie had fallen in love with Joel Tersigni the instant Deacon hired him, two years earlier. Joel was handsome in a way that seemed custom tailored to Angie’s tastes—the dark hair, the goatee, the sly smile, a voice with a smoky, seductive edge. He had a commanding, charismatic presence. He knew exactly what to say to each person who walked in the door, whether it was Kim and Kanye or a school janitor from Wichita, Kansas, about to spend his life savings on dinner.

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