Continued from Chloe
Karen’s stomach flipped as she pulled at the large wooden door and stepped into the dim warmth of Umberto’s. Thank God that they were busy-Chef wouldn’t have much time to spend with her and she could get in, collect Chloe and get out. She was standing at the end of the bar blinking against the half-light when Marie appeared at her shoulder squeezing her arm.
“Hi honey”, she said gently kissing her on the cheek. Then with a shrug and eye-roll, “She’s back here.” Karen followed through the dining room and only hesitated for a quick breath before sliding through the swinging doors to the kitchen, embarrassed for a quick moment that all she cared about was how her hair looked.
She saw him before he saw her and the flip her stomach did when she walked into the place, returned. And spread to her chest. The salt and pepper goatee, the muscled arms swelling against his black T-shirt reminded her immediately of why she had to leave here.
It only took a second before he noticed her. “Hey-Beniamina. Come stai? How you doin’?”
“Hi Tony-great to see you”, she kept her smile tight and professional-not wanting to offer much. “Not under these conditions though.”
Tony gave her a quick-but not perfunctory-hug, coiling his thick arms around her for a moment. “Kids’ll kill you, you let them,” he said releasing her and taking her hands as if she were a long-lost friend. “You shoulda had a boy-they love their mothers.” Then he shrugged. “Want to kill their fathers, but hey, that’s the way. You had a boy, you’d be the queen mother instead of the wicked witch. Girl will fight a mother straight through till they’re both women-then it’s like they’re sisters. Trick is surviving till then. “
Karen wished she was listening but all she could do was watch his mouth, the straight porcelain white teeth, lush tongue rolling every vowel, Adam’s apple bouncing between the cords of his neck. Then there was the familiar whiff of cloves on his breath that he used to cover the occasional cached cigarette. Jesus.
“You look great”, she heard him say. “You still in the business?”
“No. Got my CPA-working in finance.”
“Ach-numbers”, Tony threw up a hand.
“Keeps me off my feet all day.”
“You ever want to dip your toe back in, call me.”
Karen shifted on her feet as the small talk wound down. “Here”, said Tony, reaching into a pocket on his apron. He handed her the check that Chloe’s group walked out on.
“Impressive”, she said frowning. “And wine too. I’m sure none of them are of age.”
“That’s another issue. One that I’m taking up with their server Lynette. She’s good. New, but not that new.”
“I’ll pay this, of course.”
“You of course will not. I’ll take care of it. You might tip Lynette though-she has enough to worry about right now.”
Standing here in front of Tony was actually worse than she thought it would be. She had no idea what he was thinking right then but her mind, in spite of everything else going on right now, slid directly to his cock. She wondered if it was stiffening as he spoke to her. She was conscious of hoping that it was. She actually glanced at the tile floor feeling the cold ceramic on her knees as she imagined dropping and dipping her head under his apron to gnaw at it like a sausage in denim casing.
Karen knew-or assumed as everyone else did because there wasn’t a newsletter-that Chef and his wife had an “understanding” and as far as she knew, again assumed, it extended only to spanking the help. She’d heard also that his wife started that thing when she worked with him at their first place.
She’d heard he had a “special” relationship with this one or that one over the years but not as special as the one Karen wanted to have with him. He resisted her pretty well over the three years she was here but she knew she would wear him down over time-which is why she left Umberto’s. She obviously didn’t mind ruining her own marriages but didn’t want to ruin his. That was her story then anyway.
“So where is the master thief?”
Tony nodded. “Office.”
As she turned away she felt his hand on her bicep, “You know how they say that the sins of the father are visited on the sons right?”
“I’ve heard, yes.”
“The reverse can sometimes also be true”. He winked and squeezed her arm before turning back to his post. She felt the heat rising in her cheeks. Don’t blush, she repeated over and over like a mantra, as she blushed and swallowed a breath.
Chloe looked too big for the chair she was sitting in. She was wearing the blue and gold madras skirt she had appropriated from Karen for the cheerleaders Night at the Races fundraiser a few months before. Karen knew that she wouldn’t be seeing that skirt again except on Chloe but she was fine with it. Since last winter’s growth spurt she could wear her mother’s clothes and lord knows she had enough for both of them.
Sitting there she looked twenty-five to the casual observer but upon a mother’s closer inspection there was the defiant teenager in her sullen look. She studied the floor in front of her twisting a blonde lock between the fingers of her left hand, completely ignoring the fact that there was someone else in the room with her.
“So”, Karen asked evenly, “How was your day?”
“Don’t! I’m not in the mood”, she scowled back.
“Really Chloe? Really?”
Karen felt a stab in her throat and a tightness constricting her windpipe. If she spoke again, she would squeak. She looked away and started counting-something Deena had told her to do. “One, one-thousand, Two, one-thousand, Three…”
As she pulled her eyes from her daughter, she noticed the wooden spatula on top of the filing cabinet. Hanging in the kitchen with everything else it was an innocuous piece of cookware. But in here-sitting alone atop a filing cabinet-there was no mistaking it’s intent. Had he brought it in here waiting for the end of Lynette’s shift or had he, over the last few years, just abandoned all pretense and kept it in here.
Or maybe…was it possible he left it here for her. Did he bring it in here with Chloe as a suggestion to how to deal with her recalcitrant daughter? If he had, Karen didn’t know how she felt about that. But still… she reached over her daughter and picked it up, held it-something she’d never done before. She knew what the flat end felt like in application of course, but never held it by the handle. She turned it in her wrist and studied the woodgrain darkened by years of stirring.
“Mom?” she heard Chloe say from far away.
It was lighter that Karen would have assumed as she waved it easily, gently, through the air subtly pantomiming a batter swatting a ball down the first base line. That wasn’t the motion Chloe was seeing of course and Karen was fine with that.
“Mom!” came that voice again. When Karen deigned to look her way, her daughter’s eyes were bright and wide-no hint of the hooded sullenness that took up her face minutes before. Her eyes weren’t leaving what Karen had in her hand. “Can we leave?”
“There’s a lock on this door”, Karen said calmly.
“No!” Chloe said quickly grabbing the sides of the chair as if to attach herself to it. “No, Mom!”
Karen made a show of trying to decide what to do. She glanced at the door, hefted the spatula then looked back at Chloe’s wide pleading face. She noticed the spattering of freckles across her nose and the dampness in her glistening eyes.
“Can’t we just leave? Please?”
Karen wasn’t exactly proud of how good she felt eliciting this feeling of fear in her daughter but for the first time in a couple of weeks she felt she had the girl’s attention. She was inclined to not beat herself up too much over it and call if even for the countless missed curfews and various other things Chloe had done to drive her crazy. Yeah, she’d call it even for now but….
“Sure”, she said putting the spatula back on the filing cabinet. “We can leave, but this discussion is not over.”
“Sure…OK”, she said quickly, eschewing the snide “whatever….” she typically would have thrown in.
On the way out, Marie pointed them to Lynette-a small, bright athletic type with a thick shock of silver hair done in a boyish cut. Nothing boyish about her body though and impossibly young looking though Karen was learning that the older she got, the younger everyone else looked.
“How much you have in your wallet?” Karen asked her daughter.
“I don’t know…about thirty bucks.”
“Give it to her”, she nodded to Lynette. “Never stiff a waitress.”
Without a question, Chloe handed over the money with a quick apology-a nice touch that Karen hadn’t expected.
“I’m sorry”, Lynette told Karen, eyes bright. “…I should have carded them. It’s just that we were so busy….”
“It’s OK”, said Karen. “It happens…” The poor kid was probably apologizing to everyone thinking it might bank her something when she met with the boss later. Karen knew that it wouldn’t.