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Beautifully Damaged(4)

By:L.A. Fiore

That night I had to work. I stood in the kitchen waiting for Chef to add the mango confit to the scallops as I marveled -- and not for the first time -- at how anyone could afford an eight-hundred-dollar dinner. It boggled my mind but then most things in Manhattan did having been raised the daughter of a Philly dock-worker.

Mom died when I was three and, having been so young, I didn't remember her but Dad was really good about keeping her alive in our thoughts. She was the love of his life and when she was taken so suddenly by a hit-and-run, he vowed he'd never remarry. It was a bit awkward -- especially during my adolescent years -- learning about my period, the birds and the bees, from my dad and his dock-worker friends but they also taught me how to cook the basics, throw a punch, change a tire, overhaul an engine and play a mean game of poker. I wasn't a tomboy but I was introduced to and favored activities that were usually reserved for sons since my teachers were all men; I was okay with that. After graduating from University of Delaware, it was a hard decision to pick up and move stakes to New York City but I wanted to be a writer and the never-ending font of material that the city provided was just too tempting. I spoke to my dad nearly every day and we saw each other for every holiday so it wasn't too bad.

Chef pulled me from my thoughts when he called my name. "Ember...before it gets cold."

"Sorry, Chef."

He grinned before he moved onto the next dish.

I walked out into the elegantly appointed dining room with dark walnut paneling, crystal chandeliers, stone fireplaces and hardwood floors. The starched, white linens provided the backdrop for exquisite flower arrangements, sterling silver flatware, Royal Crown Derby dishes and Waterford crystal stemware. Having come from Fishtown, I hadn't known what any of these things were until I started working here and, despite the beauty of the place settings, I still favored my mix-matched Earthenware, stainless-steel utensils and vintage McDonald's Star Wars drinking glasses.

I liked working here since I was practically invisible; the less I spoke the happier my customers were so when it came to tips I raked it in -- my shyness actually being a bonus instead of a hindrance.

I stood in the back checking on my tables and couldn't help but wonder what the owner was like. I had never met him and he apparently never came into his places. I knew that this wasn't his only restaurant in town and not even his most exclusive, so how much money must he make a night that not a table was empty?

My eyes caught Trent, the bartender, as he grinned at me. He was a few years older than me and was a musician who tended bar to make ends meet. He was fun the few times we hung together.

I walked over to my next customers and almost tripped on my own two feet when I saw that they were Todd and Lena.

"Hi, Em. Can you believe it?" she whispered as she looked adoringly across the table at Todd.

"Hi, what a pleasant surprise. Can I get you something to drink while you look over your menus?"

Todd turned those hazel-green eyes on me and requested a bottle of Bordeaux. His French was perfect and though on the surface he was quite charming, an uncomfortable feeling of foreboding worked its way down my spine. Throughout their meal I watched Todd and Lena and wondered what exactly he did for a living that he could afford to bring a girl, who he'd only just started dating, to a restaurant that cost more money for one meal than I made in a week? After dinner they stood to leave and Lena leaned over and whispered, "Don't wait up for me, Em."

She smiled as Todd reached for her hand and pulled her from the restaurant. I grabbed the check and noted that Todd had given me exactly twenty percent tip. Why that rubbed me the wrong way, I couldn't say.

When I returned home after work I was surprised to find Lena home. Based on how she and Todd had been acting at dinner I wasn't expecting her to come home. I dropped my keys on the counter as I walked into living room.

"Lena, what's wrong?"

It was surprise in her expression when she looked up at me. I had the sense she was so lost in her thoughts that she didn't even hear me entering the apartment. I settled on the edge of the sofa as I asked again.

"Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, Todd had to cut our date short. He had some business thing to attend to."

A business thing at ten in the evening -- not likely. "What does Todd do?"

I noticed that her shoulders tensed and she looked defensive when she offered, "He's an investment banker."

I wondered what was up with her reaction to my question but I didn't push it.

"Did you enjoy your dinner at Clover?"

She smiled then before she replied, "It was delicious."

"That must have been a real treat for you."

"It was. He was really excited about landing a big client so it was a celebratory dinner."