Ryle’s eyes somehow grow even more sincere and he leans over and kisses my hand. He settles his head into the pillow and we just lie there, staring at each other, sharing this unspoken energy that fills all the holes the night has left in us.
After a few minutes, he squeezes my hand. “Lily,” he says, brushing his thumb over mine. “I’m in love with you.”
I feel his words in every part of me. And when I whisper, “I love you, too,” it’s the most naked truth I’ve ever spoken to him.
I arrive at the restaurant fifteen minutes late. Right when I was about to close tonight I had a customer come in to order flowers for a funeral. I couldn’t turn them away because . . . sadly . . . funerals are the best business for florists.
Ryle waves me over to the table and I walk straight to them, doing my best not to look around. I don’t want to see Atlas. I tried twice to get them to change the restaurant location, but Allysa was hell-bent on eating here after Ryle told her how good it was.
I slide into the booth and Ryle leans over and kisses me on the cheek. “Hey, girlfriend.”
Allysa groans. “God, you guys are so cute, it’s sickening.” I smile at her, and her eyes immediately go to the corner of my eye. It doesn’t look as bad as I thought it might today, which is probably due to Ryle forcing me to keep ice on it. “Oh my God,” Allysa says. “Ryle told me what happened but I didn’t think it was that bad.”
I glance at Ryle, wondering what he told her. The truth? He smiles and says, “Olive oil was everywhere. When she slipped, it was so graceful you’d think she was a ballerina.”
Fair enough. I would have done the same thing.
“It was pretty pathetic,” I say with a laugh.
Somehow, we get through dinner without a hitch. No sign of Atlas, no thoughts of last night, and Ryle and I both avoid the wine. After we’re finished with our food, our waiter approaches the table. “Care for dessert?” he asks.
I shake my head, but Allysa perks up. “What do you have?”
Marshall looks just as interested. “We’re eating for two, so we’ll take anything chocolate,” he says.
The waiter nods, and when he walks away, Allysa looks at Marshall. “This baby is the size of a bedbug right now. You better not encourage bad habits for the next several months.”
The waiter returns with a dessert cart. “The chef gives all expectant mothers dessert on the house,” he says. “Congratulations.”
“He does?” Allysa says, perking up.
“Guess that’s why it’s called Bib’s,” Marshall says. “Chef likes the babies.”
We all look at the cart. “Oh, God,” I say, looking at the options.
“This is my new favorite restaurant,” Allysa says.
We pick out three desserts for the table. The four of us spend the time waiting for it to be served discussing baby names.
“No,” Allysa says to Marshall. “We’re not naming this baby after a state.”
“But I love Nebraska,” he whines. “Idaho?”
Allysa drops her head in her hands. “This is going to be the demise of our marriage.”
“Demise,” Marshall says. “That’s actually a good name.”
Marshall’s murder is thwarted by the arrival of dessert. Our waiter places a piece of chocolate cake in front of Allysa, and steps aside to make room for the waiter behind him who is holding the other two desserts. The waiter motions toward the guy placing our desserts down and says, “The chef would like to extend his congratulations.”
“How was the meal?” the chef asks, looking at Allysa and Marshall.
By the time his eyes make it to mine, my anxiety is seeping from me. Atlas locks eyes with me, and without thinking, I blurt out, “You’re the chef?”
The waiter leans around Atlas and says. “The chef. The owner. Sometimes waiter, sometimes dishwasher. He gives a new meaning to hands-on.”
The next five seconds go unnoticed by everyone at our table, but they play out in slow motion to me.
Atlas’s eyes fall to the cut on my eye.
The bandage wrapped around Ryle’s hand.
Back to my eye.
“We love your restaurant,” Allysa says. “You have an incredible place here.”
Atlas doesn’t look at her. I see the roll of his throat as he swallows. His jaw hardens and he says nothing as he walks away.
The waiter tries to cover for Atlas’s hasty retreat by smiling and showing way too many teeth. “Enjoy your dessert,” he says, scuffling off to the kitchen.
“Bummer,” Allysa says. “We find a new favorite restaurant and the chef is an asshole.”
Ryle laughs. “Yeah, but the assholes are the best ones. Gordon Ramsay?”
“Good point,” Marshall says.
I put my hand on Ryle’s arm. “Bathroom,” I tell him.
He nods as I scoot out of the booth, and Marshall says, “What about Wolfgang Puck? You think he’s an asshole?”
I walk across the restaurant, head down, fast paced. As soon as I get into the familiar hallway, I keep going. I push open the door to the women’s restroom and then turn around and lock it.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit.
The look in his eye. The anger in his jaw.
I’m relieved he walked away, but I’m half-convinced he’s probably going to be waiting outside the restaurant when we leave, ready to kick Ryle’s ass.