Riverbend (The River Valley Series Book 2)(10)

By: Tess Thompson

He looked at her, his round, brown eyes serious. “Momo says it goes to my brain.”

She smiled. “That must be it.”

“Darn right,” said Ellen.

Later, crossing the valley towards town, arcs of water from the industrial sprinklers in the hay fields sparkled in the late afternoon sun. The mountains on each side of the valley were a rich green against the late June sky. Although the air conditioner was on, Annie opened her car window several inches to let in the scent of grasses and hay and dry summer heat. The wind blew her hair about her face.

Once in town, she turned down the alley behind the restaurant and parked in her usual spot nearest the door, glancing at herself in the car’s rearview mirror to check her teeth for lipstick before spotting Otis, their resident homeless man asleep at the bottom of the backdoor steps. Despite the late afternoon heat, he wore a thick, long jacket, stained with dirt and spilled whiskey. His hair was long and greasy, his full beard matted. She knew if she came closer she would smell body odor and filth. He opened one bloodshot eye as she passed by him. “Afternoon, Otis.”

“Afternoon, Miss Annie.” She had no idea where he hailed from originally but it was a southern state, given his accent. Maybe Alabama?

“You hungry?”

“I could eat.”

“I’ll bring you out something in a bit, okay?”

“If you insist.”

“I do.” She smiled at him before going inside to the kitchen. Always the same conversation, no matter the time of year, although in the winter she stored a blanket and plastic tarp for him under the steps so that he might wrap up in it if the afternoon was wet and cold. Tonight, as usual, she would bring him food before the restaurant opened and by the time she ended her shift, he would be gone, only to return the next afternoon. She had no idea where he went but only hoped it was safe and warm, as the nights were chilly here, regardless of the day’s heat.

The restaurant’s kitchen was empty, spotless and shining and gleaming silver, waiting for the controlled chaos that would come that evening with a packed reservation list. Hearing voices in Lee’s office, Annie set her purse on the chef’s island to say hello. Lee sat side by side at the desk with a young blond woman, going over how the seating chart was broken into tables of five, with each server assigned a number and section. This must be the new hostess, Annie thought, hired to give Lee some additional nights off from the restaurant.

“Don’t give the servers new tables all at once,” Lee was saying to the girl. “Spread them out evenly amongst each server, otherwise they can’t give the kind of service we expect here.”

“All right.” The young woman’s eyes were wide, almost terrified. Could she handle the pace here? Lee made it look easy but keeping all the guests happy and satisfied was all about stellar service. It wasn’t just the food that mattered. They’d learned that from Linus two years ago and passed it to all their employees.

“Annie,” said Lee, glancing up. “This is Amanda. Our new hostess.”

“Nice to meet you, Amanda,” said Annie. “You new to town?”

“Yeah, I’m from Portland, and, well, I had a bad breakup and decided to try something new for a bit. My grandmother lives here.” Amanda’s eyes were big and brown, with the innocence of a baby deer.

“I’m sorry to hear about the breakup, but from what people tell me, this place can cure you of broken hearts. Something about the river, according to Lee and Tommy.”

“The river?” asked Amanda, with a blank expression.

“Never mind, you’ll learn soon enough,” replied Annie, with a slight smile. Looking at this girl, with her manicured nails and highlighted hair and silk blouse, it was obvious she came from money. Had she had a real job before? Would she be able to handle the pace of Riversong? And then there was the lack of nightlife and clubs. It wasn’t exactly the hub of culture or action, as most people were home in their beds by ten. Her prediction? She suspected this Amanda wouldn’t last a month. But Lee had instincts about staff, so if she thought the girl could do the job, Annie wasn’t about to argue.