The Blue Bistroby Elin Hilderbrand
A new novel by the author of The Beach Club and Summer People about the last summer in the life of a popular Nantucket restaurant
A new novel by the author of The Beach Club and Summer People about the last summer in the life of a popular Nantucket restaurant
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Sales rank:
- Product dimensions:
- 4.21(w) x 6.68(h) x 1.04(d)
Read an Excerpt
Adrienne needed a job.
She arrived on Nantucket Island with two maxed-out credit cards, forty borrowed dollars, and three rules scribbled on an Amtrak cocktail napkin. She spent seven of the dollars on a dorm bed at the hostel in Surfside and slept with the cocktail napkin under her pillow. When she awoke the next morning in a room full of slumbering college students, she read the rules again. Rule One: Become self-sufficient. Rule Two: Do not lie about past. Rule Three: Exercise good judgment about men. The last thing Adrienne had done before leaving Aspen was to turn her boyfriend, Doug, in to the authorities. Doug had been living with Adrienne in the basement of the Little Nell, where Adrienne worked as a concierge; he had been stealing money from the hotel rooms to buy cocaine, and he had stolen more than two thousand dollars from Adrienne.
Adrienne quietly slipped into clothes and stashed her belongings in a locker, which was free until noon. She set out into the bright but chilly May morning with her money and the napkin, repeating a tip that a man had given her on the ferry the night before. A tip about a job.
The Blue Bistro, 27 North Beach Extension. The man who suggested this place was a freelance writer who had been coming to Nantucket for over twenty years. He came across as a normal guy, despite his square wire-rimmed glasses, thirty years out of style, and the way he licked his lips every five seconds, as though Adrienne were a T-bone steak. They had started chatting casually over the ketchup dispenser at the snack bar. He asked her if she was coming to Nantucket for a vacation. And Adrienne had laughed and said, Hardly. I need a job. I need money.
If it's money you want, the man had said, the Blue Bistro is where you should go.
I don't work in restaurants, Adrienne had said. I work in hotels. At the front desk. I'm a hotel person.
There's a hotel down the street from the bistro, the man had said. He paused, wet his lips. But, like I said, if it's money you want . . .
Adrienne walked to the North Beach Extension, stopping twice for directions. The road was quiet. There were a few houses along the way but most of them were still boarded up; one had a crew of painters working. Then, to the right, Adrienne saw a parking lot and a one-story cedar-shingled building with a green slate roof, all by itself on a stretch of windswept beach. Adrienne stopped in the road. This was the restaurant. The hotel, as the man on the ferry had described it, was down the street on the left. She should go to the hotel. But then she caught a scent of roasting meat and she thought about money. She decided it couldn't hurt to check the place out.
A sign taped to the front door read: the blue bistro, opening for its final season june 1st. Adrienne perused the menu. The food was expensive, it sounded delicious, and her stomach complained. She'd trekked halfway across the island without any breakfast.
She peered in the dark window, wondering what she might say. She had never worked in a restaurant before; she knew nothing about the business except that it was, prostitution aside, the quickest way to make money. She supposed she could lie and say that she'd waited tables in college. She could pick up the skills once she started. Kyra, her desk manager at the Little Nell, had told her that waiting tables was a piece of cake. Nantucket had been Kyra's idea. After the whole disaster with Doug, Kyra suggested that Adrienne get as far away from the Rocky Mountains as possible. If it's money you want, Nantucket is where you should go.
Adrienne tried the door. Locked. She tapped on a windowpane. Hello? She felt like the Little Match Girl, hungry and tired, bereft and friendless. Can you save me?
She thought of her father, at that minute probably elbow deep in a root canal. Since Adrienne's mother died, his concern for Adrienne's well-being seemed so heavy as to actually pull the corners of his mouth into a frown. He worried about her all the time. He worried that she was too adventurous, working in all these exotic locales where the men weren't necessarily principled. And he was right to worry. He was so right that Adrienne hadn't been able to tell him how guests of the Little Nell had been complaining about cash missing from their rooms and about how Kyra had interrogated the battalion of Mexican chambermaids. When the chambermaids proved a dead end, Kyra had come to Adrienne and asked if she had any idea who might be taking the money. Adrienne was confused about why Kyra was asking her but then, somehow, she realized that Kyra meant Doug. Doug, who had lost his job in February and whose behavior was becoming increasingly erratic. Doug, who traveled down-valley several times a week to visit a "friend" in Carbondale. Adrienne had snuck down to their basement apartment while she was supposed to be at work. She found her hotel master key card in the pocket of Doug's ski jacket. And then, on a second dreadful hunch, she checked the tampon box where she saved her tips, the money for her Future, which she had always thought of with a capital "F"--money for something bigger and better down the road, a house, a wedding, a business. The box was empty. He had stolen her Future; he had snorted it. Instead of killing Doug herself, Adrienne followed Kyra's advice and called the Pitkin County police. They caught him robbing the Alpine Suite in the middle of the day. He was arrested for larceny and possession, and Adrienne left town in the midst of his court proceedings, flat broke.
She had only asked her father for a small loan--two hundred dollars--enough to get her back east on the train and set up someplace else. But he must have sensed something in her voice, because he sent her three hundred, no questions asked.
Adrienne heard someone shout, "Hey!" She whipped around. A man was striding toward her from a silver pickup truck in the parking lot. She smiled at him, squinting in a way that she hoped conveyed her innocence. I'm not trying to rob you. I just want . . . a job? When he got closer, she saw he had red-gold hair and freckles--he was a man who looked like a twelve-year-old boy. His hand shot out as though he'd been expecting her.
"Thatcher Smith," he said. "Thatch."
"Oh. Uh." Adrienne was so nervous, she couldn't remember her name. The man raised his pale eyebrows expectantly, waiting for her to identify herself. "Adrienne."
"Adrienne Dealey." His tone of voice said, Of course, Adrienne Dealey, like they had an appointment. "Can I help you, Adrienne?"
Adrienne opened her mouth but no sound came out. So much for knocking them dead with her confidence and charm.
Thatcher Smith laughed. A short, one-syllable "ha!" Loud and spontaneous, as if she had karate-chopped his funny bone. "Cat got your tongue?"
"I guess," she said. "Sorry. I came for a job. Is there an application or something I can fill out?"
"Application?" He looked at her in a strange but pleasant way, as though he'd never heard the word before.
"Don't you work here?" Adrienne asked.
"I own here."
"Oh." The owner? Adrienne took another look at this guy. He was about six feet tall with sloping shoulders, strawberry blond hair, green eyes, freckles. He wore jeans, running shoes, a red fleece jacket that was almost too bright to look at in the morning sun. She couldn't tell if he resembled Huckleberry Finn or if it was just the name, Thatcher--like Becky Thatcher--that summoned the image. He had a clean, friendly Midwestern vibe about him. He wasn't handsome so much as wholesome looking. Adrienne corrected her posture and cleared her throat. She was so destitute it was hard to feel impressive. "Would it be okay if I filled out an application, then?"
"We don't have any applications. It's not that kind of place. I do all the hiring face-to-face. What kind of job are you after? Front of the house? Back of the house? Because I can tell you right now, we're not hiring any back of the house."
Adrienne had no idea what he was talking about. She was after money, a thick wad of twenties she could roll out like a Mafia boss.
"I thought maybe I could wait tables?"
"Do you have any experience?" Thatcher asked.
I waited tables in college, she thought. But she couldn't make herself say it.
"None," she said. "But I'm willing to learn. Someone told me it's a piece of cake."
Thatcher laughed again--"ha!" He moved past her to the door of the restaurant and took a giant ring of keys from his jacket pocket. Adrienne noticed a wooden dory by the front of the restaurant filled with fresh soil. They probably grew flowers in the dory all summer. That was a nice touch. This was a nice restaurant. Too nice for Adrienne. If she wanted to be self-sufficient, she would have to sell her laptop.
"Never mind," Adrienne said. "Thanks for your time."
She turned to leave, making an alternate plan of attack. Back to the road, down the street to the hotel. After she filled out an application there, she would have to surrender some of her money for breakfast.
"You understand?" Thatcher said. "I can't exactly hire you to wait tables when you've had no experience."
"I understand," Adrienne said. "I was just checking. Someone I met on the boat told me how great your restaurant was. He also said there's a hotel down here?"
"The Nantucket Beach Club and Hotel," Thatcher said. "But Mack won't hire you without experience either."
"I have hotel experience," Adrienne said. "I just came from Aspen. I worked at the Little Nell."
Thatcher's pale eyebrows shot up. "The Little Nell?"
She nodded. "You've heard of it?"
"Of course, yeah. What did you do there?"
"Front desk," she said. "Concierge."
Thatcher pointed his head at the open door. "Are you hungry?" The door of the restaurant swung open. "I was going to have an omelet. Would you like to join me?"
Adrienne glanced back at the sandy road. She should go. An omelet, though, sounded tempting. "I don't know," she said.
"Oh, come on," Thatcher said. "I hate to eat alone." He ushered Adrienne in. The roasting meat and garlic smell was so overpowering that Adrienne nearly fell to her knees in hunger. What had she had for dinner last night on the ferry? A hotdog that had spent seven hours spinning on a rack and a cup of gluey clam chowder.
"Someone's cooking?" she said.
"My partner," Thatcher said. "She never sleeps. Follow me. I'll give you the grand tour."
When they stepped inside the front door, Adrienne was overcome with anxiety. She checked her watch, a jogging watch with an altimeter. It was just after ten o'clock; she was three feet above sea level. What was she doing? She had to find a job today. Still, she trailed Thatcher, trying to seem polite and interested. Free food, she thought. Omelet.
Thatcher stopped at an oak podium. "This is the host station, where we greet guests and make reservations. We have two public phone lines and a private line. The private line is very private, but sometimes guests get ahold of it. Don't ask me how."
He led her past a bar topped with a shiny slab of blue-gray stone. "Now here," he said proudly, "is our blue granite bar. We found the stone in a quarry in northern Vermont." The wall behind the bar was stocked with bottles on oak shelves. "We only sell call and top shelf. I don't ever want to drink Popov and I don't want my guests drinking it. Not in here," Thatcher said. There were two small tables in the bar area and a black baby grand piano. "We have live music six nights a week. My guy knows everything from Rodgers and Hart to Nirvana." Down two steps was the dining room, maybe twenty tables, all with views of the ocean. The restaurant had no walls--it was open from the waist up. In winter, Adrienne could see, they hung plastic sheeting to keep the wind and sand out. There was an awning skeleton off the back. They placed six tables under the awning on a deck, Thatcher said, and four four-tops out in the sand under the stars.
"Those are the fondue tables," he said. "It makes a royal mess."
They returned to the bar, where the tables were set with white tablecloths, china, silver, wineglasses. Thatcher indicated Adrienne should sit.
"Let me take your jacket," he said.
"I'll keep it on," Adrienne said.
"You're going to eat with your jacket on?" he said.
She handed him her purple Patagonia Gore-Tex that she'd bought with an employee discount from the ski shop at the Little Nell, and lowered herself daintily into a white wicker chair, as though she were accustomed to having breakfast in glamorous bistros like this all the time. Thatcher hung up her jacket then disappeared into the back, leaving Adrienne alone.
"The Blue Bistro," she said to herself. This was the kind of place that Doug would have called, disparagingly, "gourmet"; if it wasn't deep-fried or residing between two pieces of bread, Doug didn't want to eat it. Prison food would suit him fine.
Adrienne took a white napkin off her plate and unfolded it on her lap. She lifted the fork; it was heavy, beautiful silver. And the charger--she flipped it over. Limoges. She replaced the plate quickly--this was the restaurant equivalent of checking someone's medicine cabinet. Before she could inspect the pedigree of the stemware, Thatcher was back with two glasses of juice.
"Fresh-squeezed," he said. "The last of the blood oranges." He set the glasses down then disappeared again.
Adrienne eyed her glass. "The last of the blood oranges," she whispered. The juice was the fiery pink of some rare jewel. Was it okay to take a sip before he got back? Adrienne listened for noises from the kitchen. It was silent. She took a deep breath. The air smelled like something else now: toast. Hunger and thirst, she thought. They'd get you every time. Thatcher hurried out of the kitchen with two plates and set one in front of Adrienne with a flourish, as though she were someone very important.
It was the best omelet Adrienne had ever eaten. Perfectly cooked so that the eggs were soft and buttery. Filled with sautéed onions and mushrooms and melted Camembert cheese. There were three roasted cherry tomatoes on the plate, skins splitting, oozing juice. Nutty wheat toast. Thatch had brought butter and jam to the table. The butter was served like a tiny cheesecake on a small pedestal under a glass dome. The jam was apricot, homemade, served from a Ball jar.
Adrienne dug in, wondering where to start in the way of conversation. She decided the only safe thing was to talk about the food.
"This jam reminds me of when I was little," Adrienne said, spreading a thick layer on her toast. "My mother made jam."
"Is she a good cook?" Thatcher said.
Adrienne paused. Rule Two: Do not lie about past! But it was hard when someone hurled a question at her like a pitch she couldn't hit.
For Adrienne, the silence that followed was studded with guilt. She should have just said, "She was," but then, by necessity, there would be tedious personal explanations about ovarian cancer and a motherless twelve-year-old that she was never in the mood for. She would rather talk about her felonious ex-boyfriend and her empty Future. It's okay, she thought. She would never see this guy again after today and she vowed she would tell the truth to the next person she met. Her mother was dead.
"Well," Adrienne said. "This is the most delicious breakfast I've ever had in my life."
"I'll tell Fee," he said. "She likes to feed people."
Adrienne ate every bite of her eggs and mopped up the tomato juices with her bread crust and drained her juice glass, thinking to herself--Manners, manners! Turn the fork upside down on the plate when you're finished, very European. If nothing else, this would make a great e-mail to her father. Her first morning on Nantucket she ends up eating a breakfast of champions in a restaurant that wasn't even open.
She collapsed in her chair, drunk with food, in love with this restaurant. If she ever caught up enough to pay off her credit cards and refund her father with interest, she'd come here for dinner and order the foie gras. "Why is it your last season?" she asked.
"Ahhh," Thatcher said. He pushed away his plate--half his omelet remained and Adrienne stared at it, wondering how audacious it would be to ask if she might finish it. Thatcher propped his elbows on the table and tented his fingers. Even his fingers, Adrienne noticed, were freckled. "The time has come."
The time has come? That was a noncommittal answer, an art form Adrienne wished she could perfect. So she, too, had asked a tricky question. In the interest of changing the subject, Adrienne offered up something else.
"I just got here last night."
"You've never been to the island before?"
"You came straight from Aspen?"
"I'm intrigued by the Little Nell. They say it's the best."
"One of. Relais and Chateaux and all that. They gave me housing."
"In the hotel?"
"That must have been sweet."
"It was okay," Adrienne said. She and Doug had lived in a studio apartment with his retriever, Jax, even though pets weren't allowed. No pets, no drugs, no stealing from the rooms!
"Did you go out at night?" Thatcher asked.
"My bartender here, Duncan, works at the Board Room in Aspen all winter. You ever go there?"
"So you know Duncan?"
Adrienne tried not to smile. She knew Duncan. Every single woman between the ages of twenty-one and thirty-nine who had been in Aspen for more than five minutes knew Duncan from the Board Room. There had actually been a picture of him in Aspen magazine making an espresso martini. Kyra had been dying to sleep with him, and so she dragged Adrienne to the Board Room during the week when she guessed the bar would be less crowded--but it was three deep from après ski until close. It drove Doug crazy. He not only disliked gourmet, he disliked popular. Still, Adrienne and Kyra went so often that Duncan began to remember their drinks--a cosmo for Kyra and a glass of champagne for Adrienne. He knew everyone's drinks.
"He works here?"
"He's the best bartender on the island," Thatcher said. "Maybe in the whole country. All the men want to get him for golf and all the women want to get him into bed."
"That sounds right," said Adrienne.
"Where else have you worked?" Thatcher asked.
"All over," she said. "The Princeville in Kauai, the Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach. The Chatham Bars Inn. And I spent a year in Thailand."
"Koh Samui," she said, thinking of Kip Turnbull, another one of her poor companionship choices. "Chaweng Beach. Have you ever been there?"
"I haven't been anywhere," he said. "But that will change. As soon as we close this place, I'm taking Fee to the Galápagos. She wants to see the funny birds."
"Is she your wife?"
Thatcher drained his juice glass then spun it absentmindedly on the table. Maybe he hadn't heard her. Maybe it was another trick question. Or maybe it was like when her father's patients asked Adrienne if Mavis, the hygienist, was her mother. Not worth answering. Adrienne noticed Thatcher wasn't wearing a wedding ring.
"So you came here for a job," he said. "But you have no restaurant experience. None? Not even Pizza Hut?"
"Not even Pizza Hut," she said. She envisioned herself with a tray piled high with dishes and food, glasses and drinks. She would drop it. "I don't know what I was thinking." She had been thinking of money, of Rule One: Become self-sufficient. But she didn't belong here; she belonged down the street, at the hotel. The hotel front desk was the right place for Adrienne. The pay wasn't great, but housing was almost always included. It wasn't loud or messy or hot. And the transience of a hotel suited her. All through high school she had worked as a receptionist in her father's dental offices (three offices in ten years and now he was somewhere new again--the eastern shore of Maryland). She had attended two high schools and three colleges. Since her mother died, Adrienne's life had been like a hotel. She checked in, she stayed for a while, she checked out. "I mean, don't get me wrong. This place is lovely and the food is amazing. I'll come back for dinner once I have some . . ."
"Money?" Thatcher said.
"Friends," she said.
Thatcher poked the uneaten portion of his omelet with his fork. "We open next week," he said. "We'll be booked solid for two seatings every night in July and August. Maybe, maybe, on a Monday night in June you can get a table without a reservation. By eleven o'clock every night the bar is full and I have to put someone at the door. I have to hire a bouncer, here, at a high-end bistro because there is always a line out into the parking lot. People get in fistfights over cutting in line, like they're in fifth grade. I try to tell the people, 'It's just a cocktail.' Ditto for dinner reservations. 'It's just a dinner. Just one night in the landscape of your whole life.' But what I have grown to realize is that it's more than just a cocktail and more than just dinner. They want to be a part of the scene. And how can I deny them that? This place . . ." He swept his arm in a circle. "Has magic."
Adrienne might have laughed. She might have thought Thatcher Smith was full of himself, but she had been here for thirty minutes. She had eaten the best breakfast of her life and now she couldn't even sit up, much less bring herself to leave.
"You must be good at what you do," Adrienne said.
"Fee is good at what she does," Thatcher said. "She's the best. The best, best, best. And we got lucky." He pressed his eyes closed for a long second, like he was praying. Then he collected their plates. "Fee will want these."
"I should go," Adrienne said. She grabbed the armrests of the wicker chair; she was positively slouching. "I have to find something today."
Thatcher held up a palm. "Wait, please. Please wait . . . thirty seconds. I have an idea. Will you wait?"
She didn't have to move just yet. She would wait.
"Back in thirty seconds." He gathered every dirty dish and utensil from the table, as well as the cake of butter and the jam that had caused Adrienne to break Rule Two, and balanced them on an outstretched arm. He vanished into the kitchen. Adrienne listened. If he was talking to this Fee person, she wanted to know what he was saying. It was silent, except for the sound of the ocean. She closed her eyes. She could hear the ocean. And then Thatcher's voice.
"This is the most popular restaurant on Nantucket. It has been for ten years. The food is delicious, the food is fun. It's a fun place to eat. It is see and be seen. It is laugh and talk and sing in here every night of the summer. The Blue Bistro is what a summer night on this island is all about, okay?" He was standing in front of the table.
"I can tell it's a special place," Adrienne said. "Really, I can."
"It just so happens, I got a phone call this morning from my assistant manager who spent the winter in Manhattan. He told me he's not coming back," Thatcher said. "And so now I have a gaping hole in the front of the house. I need someone to answer the phone, work the book, arrange a seating chart, learn the guests, make everyone feel not just welcome, you know, but loved. Keep track of the waitstaff, the wine, the requests for the piano player. Stroke the VIP tables--birthdays, anniversaries, the whole shebang. I need someone to be me. I need . . . another . . . me." He laughed again--"ha!" Like he knew what he'd just said was ludicrous. "And when you first asked, I thought, Who in their right mind would give a manager's position to someone without a day of restaurant experience? That would be foolish. Bad business! But now I'm thinking that what I need is someone with concierge skills. I need someone who understands old-fashioned service."
"I do understand old-fashioned service," Adrienne said. Hadn't she warmed towels in the dryer for guests with a newborn baby at the Princeville? Hadn't she finagled a veterinarian appointment for a couple with a sick parrot at the Mar-a-Lago? Hadn't she arranged for private lighthouse tours while at the Chatham Bars Inn?
"Most of my staff has been here since we opened twelve years ago. They love it here. They love it because Fee puts out the best family meal on the island and at midnight she sends out homemade crackers. Ninety-nine percent of the world think that crackers only come out of a box, and then here's Fee sending out baskets of hot, crisp cheese crackers and after eight hours of busting their asses and raking in three, four hundred bucks, the staff gets first dibs--and that's why they want to work here. Because of the crackers. And the money, of course." He grinned at Adrienne. "This is our last hurrah. The end of an era. I need someone good. I've never hired a woman for this position before. I've never hired someone without any restaurant background. But I'm not afraid to try. Well, to be honest, I am a little afraid."
"Wait a second," Adrienne said. She was confused. What was happening here? Was he offering her a job?
She glanced around the restaurant. Even through the plastic sheeting the ocean was brilliant blue. It made her head spin. That and the food smells and this man who was like nobody she'd ever met before. He was as honest and as nutty as the toast.
"Your second is up," Thatcher said. "Do you want the job?"
Did she want the job? It would be a huge risk, but something about that appealed to her. Not a single decision she had made in the past six years had worked out all that well, and she had promised herself on the train east that Nantucket would be different. Working here would be really different. She was so busy thinking, Should I say yes, should I say no, that she never actually gave Thatcher Smith an answer, but he didn't seem to notice.
"Good," he said. His face came alive; it looked like his freckles were dancing. "You're hired."
Date: May 24, 2005, 3:54 p.m.
Subject: The Blue Bistro
Found a job. You're going to freak out so close the door to your office and sit down, okay? I took a job in a restaurant. Not waiting tables! Not cooking (obviously)! I am going to be the assistant manager at a place called the Blue Bistro. It's a French-American menu, four dollar signs, right on the beach. Owned by a very nice guy named Thatcher Smith. His partner, Fiona, is the chef and she's famous, but she's a recluse. Never comes out of the kitchen. I haven't even met her--though I will, I guess, soon enough.
I'm making twenty-five an hour--can you believe that? But I don't start for another week and I need to buy some clothes and pay my first month's rent. Is there any chance you might wire me a thousand dollars, please, sweet Dad? I am trying to put some structure in my life, and this time I will pay you back with interest, I promise!
I rented a room in a cottage from one of the women who waits tables at the restaurant. Her name is Caren. She's waited tables since the place opened and she makes so much money in the summer that after Christmas she goes down to St. Bart's for the winter and she doesn't have to work. She said the job I have is harder to get than a seat on the space shuttle.
How do you like the eastern shore? Eaten any crab cakes? Love.
Date: May 24, 2005, 5:09 p.m.
Subject: You Blue Me Away
No crab cakes yet. We're still getting settled in. The schmo in here before me made a mess of his records and the bookkeeper said she can't untangle his billing. But we'll figure it out. We always do.
About your new job. Mavis says restaurants are dangerous places to work. Sexual harassment and the like. Foul language in the kitchen. Alcohol. Drugs. Everybody suffering from too much cash money. These are not people who floss, honey. (And that's a joke, but you know what I mean.) Be careful! You're an adult and I know you like the way you live but I am growing older by the day fretting about the situations you get yourself into. Which brings me to the question of money. I won't go on about how you're twenty-eight years old or about how I'm not your personal bank. I will just wire you the thousand dollars as long as you promise me that one of these days you'll pick a place and settle down. Love, love.
Date: May 24, 2005, 7:22 p.m.
You're one to talk!!!
Date: May 25, 2005, 8:15 a.m.
Subject: I'm Blue without you
Just please, please be careful. Love, love, love.
Adrienne felt like one of the born-again Christians on early Sunday morning TV. She had been saved! New job, decent, affordable housing, complete with Internet and a used ten-speed bike. The first morning in her new bed she lay with her eyes closed and banished Doug Riedel from her mind once and for all. In the six months of their dating, he had lied to her about his drug use and stolen all her money. But it hadn't been all bad. At the bottom of her trunk rested a lovely pair of shearling gloves that Doug had given her when they first started dating, and there had been some nice walks, the two of them throwing Jax sticks along the snowy banks of the Frying Pan River. Adrienne felt some white noise coming from her heart, but she sensed it was because she missed Jax. She loved that dog.
So it was good-bye and good riddance to another man, another town, another phase of her life. Nantucket would be the start of sound decision-making, a healthy lifestyle, the straight and narrow. Adrienne loved the island already--the historic downtown homes with their lilac bushes and their snapping flags; the wild, pristine beaches. It was so easy to breathe here.
Adrienne's new housemate, Caren Friar, had been a waiter at the Blue Bistro since the beginning. (When they first met, Adrienne made the mistake of calling her a waitress and Caren curtly corrected her--Waitresses worked at diners in the 1950s, okay? This is fine dining and I bust my ass as hard as any man out there. . . . ) Caren was tall and extremely thin. She had been with a ballet company in New York City for three years before she accepted that she was never going to make a living at it. That's when she got sucked into what she called the life of hash and cash. Caren had a long, graceful neck, regal posture, a way of floating from place to place rather than walking. She wore her dark auburn hair in a bun so tight it made Adrienne's head ache just to look at it. Caren knew the ropes at the bistro--she knew the dirt on every person who ate there and every person who worked there--and although Adrienne was dying to mine the woman for information, most pressingly about the chef, Fiona, she intuited that she should proceed with caution.
Adrienne had already done a little bit of research on her own. The day she was hired, she dug up three articles about the Blue Bistro from the magazine archives of the public library: one in Cape Cod Life (August 1997), one in Bon Appétit (June 2000), and one in Travel + Leisure (May 2003). The articles offered variations on the same information: The Blue Bistro was wildly popular because it was the only restaurant on the beach on Nantucket and because of the food. T + L called the food "consistently delightful . . . Fiona Kemp is one of the most talented chefs in New England today." Cape Cod Life said, "Fiona Kemp never does interviews but her plates speak volumes. . . . She is a master at giving every diner an unforgettable taste experience." Each article referred to Thatcher and Fiona as partners and Bon Appétit mentioned that they had grown up together in South Bend, Indiana. Fiona attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and she landed her first job as a line cook at the Wauwinet Inn on Nantucket. Thatcher was quoted as saying, "She convinced me to come out to the island for a visit in 1992. She had found a great spot for a restaurant. Once I saw it, I decided to leave the family business in South Bend behind. We were up and running the following year." Thatcher went on to explain how, the first two summers, they struggled to get the menu right. "We were trying to make the food really grand. It took us a while to figure out that fancy French food wasn't the answer. The answer was simple, fresh, fun. Food you'd want to eat on the beach." A photograph of Thatcher appeared in each article--Thatcher holding up a bowl of coral-colored soup, Thatcher in a white wicker chair grinning in a Notre Dame baseball cap. And the most surprising was a photo of Thatcher in a navy blazer and red paisley tie standing behind the oak podium. It was Huck Finn, all gussied up. There were no pictures of Fiona.
Caren had rented the same two-bedroom cottage on Hooper Farm Road for as many years as she'd worked at the restaurant and she took a roommate every year. Thatcher had asked Caren--as a favor to him--to rent the spare bedroom to Adrienne. Adrienne had been forced upon her, basically, because nobody turned Thatcher down and certainly not in the final year, when there might be a farewell bonus for loyal employees to consider. Adrienne was just happy for housing, and not only housing, but company. In the morning, Adrienne and Caren sat at the kitchen table drinking espresso. The following night was the first night of work, the soft opening. Adrienne was unsure of what to wear. She had two trunks of clothes from her days on the front desk, but somehow looking-nice-at-a-day-job clothing didn't seem suitable for representing the front of the house at the hottest restaurant on Nantucket. She asked Caren.
"The other assistant managers have all been men," Caren said. "They dressed like Thatch."
"He wears a coat and tie?" Adrienne said.
"A tie if there's somebody big on the books. Otherwise he wears blazers and shirts from Thomas Pink. And Gucci loafers, a new pair every year. At first, he couldn't stand the idea of spending three hundred bucks on shoes, coming from Indiana and all, but he grew into it, and now his loafers are a part of the whole show. They're as much of an institution as the blue granite and the crackers."
"I heard about the crackers," Adrienne said.
"Let's look in your closet," Caren said. "Another espresso?"
"No, thanks," Adrienne said. The espresso machine was Caren's. She hauled it between Nantucket and St. Bart's the same way Adrienne schlepped her laptop. Caren even owned a set of demitasse cups and saucers. It was a very sophisticated setup except Adrienne discovered she didn't like espresso. It tasted like a cross between gasoline and tree bark, but she'd accepted a cup to be polite and now that the caffeine was coursing through her blood, she was ready to leap out of her skin. Soft opening tomorrow night! She needed to find something to wear!
As she feared, Caren deemed every item of clothing Adrienne owned too frumpy, too corporate, too Banana Republic. "You've worked in resorts for six years," Caren said, "and you haven't learned how to shop?"
Caren took her to Gypsy on Main Street where Adrienne's pulse reached an unsafe speed. The clothes were so gorgeous, and so expensive, that Adrienne thought she was going to pass out.
"We have to go someplace else," Adrienne said. "I can't afford any of this."
"Oh, come on," Caren said. "You're going to be making more money than you know what to do with."
"I doubt that," Adrienne said. Still, she mustered enough courage to browse the sale rack, and there she found two pairs of silk pants and a stunning Chloe dress that was marked down 70 percent. Adrienne put the dress back but bought both pairs of pants; then, at the last minute, she decided to try the dress on.
Caren whistled. "You can't pass that one up."
Adrienne scowled at herself in the mirror. Becoming self-sufficient did not mean spending exorbitant amounts of money on last year's designer clothing. She would probably get fired her first week and end up living in the back of a junkyard car . . . but no, she couldn't pass the dress up.
Adrienne bought the dress, her hand trembling as she signed the credit card slip, a combination of the price and the espresso. Once she had enough clothes to get her through the weekend, she felt better about starting this new life. This, after all, was what she had needed. A clean slate. A chance to get it just right.
Copyright © 2005 by Elin Hilderbrand
and post it to your social network
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
See all customer reviews >