Coincidence? Baker wondered. Or was this Stephen Thompson the same Stephen Thompson who piloted the helicopter? It was beginning to feel like someone was trying to erase the whole situation.
Before Baker could explore further, Anna texted, asking Baker when he was coming home. Floyd misses you, she wrote. Baker wanted to respond that Anna would be well served to put in some quality time with Floyd now that she was going to be a single parent. But instead, Baker channeled his best self—which was easier when he remembered how he felt when he’d set eyes on Ayers—and he said, Things here are still in flux so I’m not sure. Tell Floyd I love him.
To which Anna responded not Ok (her go-to) but rather, Do you think you’ll still be there on Wednesday?
Yes, he said. Definitely yes. If you need a sitter, call Kelsey.
Don’t need a sitter, she said.
Yeah, right, Baker thought. In his ruminations about Anna and Louisa, he has naturally wondered how long they’ve been together, and when it started, and what their plans for the future entail. They’ll become a regular lesbian couple, he supposes, if two in-demand cardiac surgeons count as regular.
His pain and shock have been ameliorated by his own experience. When he set eyes on Ayers, he knew instantly it was love. Why shouldn’t that have been true for Anna? She might have been discussing a case with Louisa when she realized: This is who I want.
Cash and Irene head off to opposite parts of the house to shower. Neither of them had expressed any interest in dinner, and frankly, they had both seemed kind of off, almost as if they’d been drinking.
Well, fine, Baker thinks. Clearly they aren’t a bonded band of three in their grieving. If his mom and brother can go out on their own, then so can he. He grabs one of the sets of Jeep keys. He’s going to dinner at La Tapa.
Baker heads to town slowly—the steering wheel is on the left, like at home, but here everyone drives on the left instead of the right—and the roads are steep, hilly, and poorly lit. Once he gets to town, he finds that the streets are alive with people out enjoying their Caribbean vacation. Baker has an urge to grab a father walking through Powell Park holding his wife’s hand while he carries a little boy about Floyd’s age on his shoulders. Do you know how lucky you are? Baker wants to ask. Baker’s envy isn’t limited to just that one guy. Everyone who isn’t mired in an emotional crisis should be grateful. Baker, while he was at the playground with Floyd on Tuesday afternoon, should have been grateful, instead of bemoaning the state of his marriage. Why hadn’t he been grateful?
La Tapa is easy to find. It’s right next to Woody’s, which has a crowd of post-happy-hour revelers still hanging out front. Baker parks the Jeep up the street and heads back to the restaurant. His emotions quickly shift from self-pity to nerves. It’s been a while since he’s pursued anyone romantically. But he’s an okay-looking guy, maybe a little soft around the middle, thanks to life as a stay-at-home dad and all the late-night ice cream, but he can shed the weight with some exercise. He’ll go for a run tomorrow, he decides.
He steps down into a tasteful, rustic dining room. The place is charming, with its candlelight and white linen tablecloths, rough-hewn wooden bar and fresh flowers. And it smells so good—rich, layered scents of butter and roasting meat and herbs.
Baker takes an empty seat at the end of the bar closest to the kitchen, next to where the waitstaff come to pick up their drink orders. Ayers, where is Ayers?
“Hey, man, welcome to La Tapa,” the bartender says. “My name is Skip. Can I get you something to drink?”
Baker has become a big fan of the St. John beers but he opts for a vodka tonic. He’s out of the house, this place is really nice, and he’s going to act like an adult. His drink comes and he peruses the menu, using his peripheral vision to look for Ayers. There’s a tall, slender girl with cropped dark hair hanging at the service station, flirting with Skip the bartender, and there are two male servers. But Baker doesn’t see Ayers.
“Can I get you something to eat?” Skip asks.
Baker scans the menu. It all looks delicious, but he can’t begin to think about food until he finds Ayers. He’s in the right place: she said La Tapa, and she asked him to stop by…
“What’s good?” Baker asks helplessly. If she’s not here, he should leave and come back tomorrow. He’ll bring Cash with him.
“The mussels are the best in the world, and the mahi was just caught today, if you like fresh fish,” Skip says. “It’s done with braised artichokes and a thyme beurre blanc.”
Baker raises his head to look Skip in the eye. “Is Ayers working tonight, by any chance?”
Skip’s eyebrows shoot up. “Ayers? She’s off tonight. It’s Sunday night—she works on Treasure Island on Sundays. She’ll be on tomorrow night. Do you want me to leave her a message?”
Skip leans over the bar and lowers his voice. “I hear you, man, she’s really hot. A little psycho, but all chicks are psycho. She sometimes comes in here on her night off for a glass of Schramsberg, so you might want to stick around.”
Baker’s heart is buoyed even as his mind is racing. Stay or go? Stay, he thinks. She sometimes comes in here on her night off for a glass of the whatever. But what does Baker’s new best friend, Skip, mean by “a little psycho”? There’s a mom named Mandy at the Children’s Cottage—Baker’s school wives call her “psycho” because she’s obsessed with the Houston Astros, especially Justin Verlander. She wears Astros merch every single day, and she got a vanity plate for her Volvo that says JV-35. Maybe Skip tried to put the moves on Ayers and she turned him down, so he has categorized her as “a little psycho” to soothe his bruised ego. Guys do that. For instance, Baker might be tempted to call Dr. Anna Schaffer “a little psycho” for leaving him for Louisa, even though Anna is the most mentally stable person Baker knows.
Maybe Ayers has foibles—of course she does, everyone does. Baker vows he will love her foibles.
“I’ll have the mussels,” Baker says. “And the mahi, at your suggestion.”
“Good man,” Skip says. The tall, short-haired girl comes back, and Skip says, “Hey, Tilda, this guy is here to see Ayers. Is she coming in for a nightcap, do you know?”
Tilda turns to stare down Baker. She shakes her head in disbelief. “You do realize that Ayers’s best friend died, like, five days ago, right?”
“Uh,” Baker says. “Right…”
Tilda snarls at Skip. “And no, I don’t think Ayers is coming for a nightcap, since that was only something she did when Rosie was working!” Tilda’s voice is so loud that the entire restaurant grows quiet.
Skip pours Tilda a shot of beer, and without a word she throws it back and storms off. A few seconds later the restaurant returns to its normal decibel level and Skip leans forward.
“Sorry about that, man. That’s Tilda for you. She’s a little…”
“Psycho,” Baker says. “Got it.”
The mussels arrive, they’re outstanding, the best Baker has ever had, and then the mahi comes and it’s even better, fresh and moist, just cooked through, perfectly seasoned, and the sauce is so sublime, he’s light-headed.
But no Ayers.
“How was your food?” Skip asks as he clears the plates.
“Unbelievable,” Baker says. “So good that I think I’ll be back tomorrow night with my brother.”
“Cool, man,” Skip says. “I’ll save you guys two bar seats, and, hey—I don’t do that for just anyone.”
“That’s great, thank you,” Baker says. He pays the bill and leaves Skip a very, very generous tip—nearly 40 percent—because he can’t risk Skip telling Ayers that a guy came in looking for her who seemed a little…
The next morning Baker gets up early to go for a run. He was an athlete in high school, the classic three—football, basketball, and baseball—and when he got to Northwestern, he played on his fraternity’s intramural teams. In Chicago, he belonged to Lakeshore Sport & Fitness, where he went mostly to meet women. He hasn’t done much in the way of exercise since moving to Houston. There was one ill-advised 5K in Memorial Park; he thought he was having a heart attack—a great irony, because Anna was supposed to come cheer him on, but she’d been called in to work, so one of his thoughts as his vision went black and he stopped dead in his tracks, bent over his knees, was that at least Anna was in a position to save his life.
But today, Baker decides, will be different. Today he is motivated. He has a mission: he is going to sweep Ayers off her feet. He laces up his sneakers and heads out to the end of his father’s driveway.
While he feels okay running down his father’s shaded road, when he gets to the bottom and turns right, he’s in the sun and it’s immediately uphill. As if that isn’t bad enough, a large open-air taxi comes blazing around a blind corner, nearly forcing him over the guard rail down the side of the cliff to the sea. Baker breaks stride to flip the driver off.
Ayers, he thinks. He keeps going, shoulders back, spine straight, face stoic. The sun is broiling, it’s hotter than Houston in August, and suddenly he feels last night’s vodka tonics and mussels and mahi churning in his stomach. The hill grows steep. Baker sets his gaze three feet ahead of his stride—otherwise he’ll give up.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com