Antonia motioned for Glen, the maître d', to assist Joseph into his scooter. Joseph had suffered a bout of polio as a child and although he could walk with the assistance of crutches, in recent years he had primarily used a scooter to get around.
"There ya go, Mr. Fowler," said Glen in his strong Long Island accent. "I tell you, I could use one of these things to escape from the ladies."
Glen was attractive but in an unctuous, hair-gelled way, like Guido the Killer Pimp. A failed actor with an inflated ego, he was a high-maintenance employee but very good at charming women and making customers feel at home.
Joseph chuckled. "Well, I don't exactly have that problem."
"All in good time."
"Have a great night," said Antonia cheerily. Joseph winked. "You too, my lady."
Antonia moved around the room to greet other guests and to solicit any suggestions they might have about the food. She enjoyed meeting people as much as she enjoyed cooking, and it was always an internal debate as to where she should spend more time. It was fun for her to find out where guests were from, and what their story was, but at the same time, she also adored her time in the kitchen, concocting her latest culinary adventure, darting about, plating dishes. If she could slice herself in half and do both she certainly wouldn't hesitate.
After sending off a cute couple that was visiting from New York City (house-hunting) she stopped off at Len and Sylvia Powers's table. Len headed up security at the Dune Club, a very fancy country club on the ocean, and his wife was a teacher. Tonight, they had brought their son in to celebrate his twenty-fifth birthday.
"You've done an amazing job, Antonia. I tell you, just amazing. The inn looks gorgeous and the food is fabulous," said Sylvia Powers, her big cerulean eyes twinkling. She dabbed her mouth with her napkin, leaving a stain of the hot-pink lipstick that was her trademark, then patted her stomach appreciatively. "I tell you, it is so wonderful that you brought this place back to life. And so quickly. What was it, only six months?" She didn't wait for an answer but continued, "I can't tell you how sad it was to see it fall into disrepair all the years Gordon Haslett owned it. What a mean guy! And that made the place mean. We stopped coming here long ago, didn't we, Len?"
"Well, you didn't really have a choice, Mom," said Matt, giving her a sly smile.
She frowned. "Nonsense. We had a choice. That business was all settled. Right, Len?"
Len Powers glanced up from his apple cheddar crisp, and looked around, dazed by the interruption. He was a large man, with a belly that arrived in a room ten seconds before he did. Everything about him was big and fleshy, from his bulbous nose to his ruddy cheeks and giant ears. "I can't talk! I don't want to tear myself away from this incredible dessert."
Sylvia laughed. "I already inhaled my dessert. I tell you, that chocolate caramel cake with the little dots of sea salt was
majestic. This is our third time here and every time I sample some new yummies."
"Thank you." Antonia beamed.
"This may seem like a backhanded compliment but you cook in a very homey style. The way I like to think I can cook, but actually can't. I like that it's not all that fancy new-wave stuff—foams and edible flowers. That just sounds disgusting to me. Some of those cooking shows, I think, yuck! Foie gras ice cream? Come on. When I have ice cream, I don't want meat in it. But I'm not a food snob. I just prefer food that tastes how it's supposed to. Don't mess with what ain't broke."
"Well, I'm so glad you liked it," replied Antonia. "And thank you for your kind words. I say to everyone I know that the biggest compliment they can give me is to spread the news around. I want everyone to know that there's a new sheriff in town, and the Windmill Inn is back in business."
"Oh, everyone knows that already, Antonia," said Sylvia, chattering on. "East Hampton is a small town. Especially when the summer people are gone. Ah, the summer people! Did you know we call the season 'one hundred days of hell'? Oh, they're not all bad, I'm joking. But it's nice to have the town back to ourselves, where we can get up in everybody's business! Ha, I'm joking again. But of course, everyone knows that the inn changed hands when Gordon Haslett died. In fact, Matt was there—he's a paramedic." Sylvia gestured proudly at her son.
Antonia was having a hard time following Sylvia's dramatic stream-of-consciousness rambling. She looked to Matt for clarification.
Matt put down his fork and nodded. He had a pretty boy face composed of dainty features: a small straight nose, plump red lips, and thickly lashed eyes. There was also something morose and gloomy about his temperament that Antonia was certain thrilled girls who were attracted to the dark, broody types. Looking at his jolly, big-boned parents, it was hard to tell where Matt had come from.