Peter was folding napkins. Carol sat down beside him and slid a stack of pink linen squares into easy reach. They were still warm from ironing. Ming Pei did that; the waiters did the folding. What Carol liked was to sit there talking with them; it was good practice. She tried to get Peter talking about Andy Warhol; the other waiters said that Peter had known him; that he used to go to Studio 54 back in the ‘70s. You could never ask Peter straight out though, and so far the only story he'd told Carol was about the time some lady wouldn't let up, asking about the kind of knives the kitchen staff used, whether they wore hairnets, whether the restaurant’s owner was an American. Peter answered her questions without once letting on she was pissing him off. But after he took her order and she reminded him that she wanted her fresh-squeezed-orange-juice mimosa after her salad but before her fish, he just opened his mouth and let his two eye-teeth fall onto his bottom lip. He mimed it for Carol, drawing his upper lip back like Dracula, though his teeth were now glued in permanently so she had to imagine what they looked like falling out.
Alfred, in a pissy mood, sat everyone but Carol, so she stood by the service bar talking to Michael. Of course Alfred swerved toward them every time he came back up the room, but Michael made sure there was nothing he could complain about. Michael never forgot a drink, and when other waiters came up Carol stepped to the side and stared out at her empty tables with the gaze of a martyr. Then Michael would start up again, about the bar exam and what he'd do once he passed. She waited and finally he came out with it. Stay or go back to Dublin? "Take me," Carol said, and felt the heat, even though she laughed and kept her eyes on the sodden coasters under Peter's Guinness stouts. To take her was exactly what Michael wanted. Finally she looked up at him, because you had to, eventually. She laughed into the drunken air. Michael couldn't say a word because there was Alfred, bearing down with a customer in tow and an evil look for Carol. She slid off with a sly smile at Michael, mouthing the words "gotta scoot" with pursed lips, but letting the last word linger.
"Hi," said Carol, stopping before the customer. "Hi," said the customer with a smile and a tan. Maybe mid-thirties, maybe older if he'd been taking care of himself. He looked like he'd been taking care of himself. Hair the raw color of beach sand, those thin muscles men get when they spend time in boats. Except that he didn't have the vacant look that went with it, all that ocean they took in, or all that money they made and spent, to stand there, taking it in.
"I noticed you from across the room. I asked Alfred to put me at your table," said the man, staring at her with blue blue eyes.
Carol felt her insides flutter and turned it into the supple sinew of a laugh. "I bet he loved that." She gave him a sidelong look. "He hates it when I flirt with the bartender."
"I hate it too," said the man. "I'm the jealous type."
"But you'll make an exception this once?"
"If I have to."
What did the man want to drink? What did the man want to eat? Would he like fries with that?—Just kidding, this restaurant wasn't a fries kind of place. So he'd have a salad, yes the mixed field greens with cranberries and walnuts and feta, and the house's special lemon-mint dressing, yes lots of that special dressing, yes drench it with that special dressing. That's right, she'd been here two weeks now, though some of the waiters had been here since the ‘70s and they knew New York, well and the customer knew New York, it seemed like everyone knew New York. The only person who didn't know New York was Carol, but she knew that when she came the city opened for her like a clam, all right, like an oyster, a big oyster with a pearl in it; yes they did have oysters on the half-shell and no she wouldn't mind bringing him some and yes, it seemed like the kind of dish he'd like, because when she first laid eyes on him he looked to her like a man in a boat, what kind of boat? She knew nothing about boats. But she knew about men.
"You were talking to him for a while," said Michael when Carol went up to the service bar. "Friend of yours?"
"Never seen him before in my life," Carol said. "You'll never guess what he ordered. A bottle of Dom."
"What's the occasion?" said Michael darkly.
Carol had to laugh. "Meeting me."
Michael didn't say anything. He brought her a bottle of Dom, all cold and drinking up light, and didn't tell her not to trust the guy, which made her laugh again.
Alfred made it hard. He triple sat her and she was running around, bringing pink cocktails to ladies who'd been shopping at Bergdorf's, shoving steaks under the chins of sweating businessmen.
"What do you do?" she asked as she braked before him, not how's your fish, is the champagne properly chilled, do you need another glass?
"Everything," he said with his open-seas face. "I'm a friend of Wilhelm’s. The owner," he added when she frowned.
"Oh," she said, blinking as though sunlight-dazed.
"I had to see for myself," he explained. He spread his hands with a flourish as though presenting her.
"I only met him once," Carol said.
"Once is enough," smiled the man.
"That's true," Carol admitted, adding quickly, "Sometimes."
"We think alike," said the man and his smile.
She laughed and surged off again to bring a businessman some A-1, though their establishment]frowned on that sort of thing.
"So Carol," he said when she'd drifted back. "So Carol, I'm a collector."
"You are?" she said.
"It doesn't mean what you think it means."
"What do I think it means?" she asked, breathing deeply and lengthening her spine.
"Marry me, Carol."
"Funny man," Carol said.
"Sure." Carol tossed her head. "As soon as my shift is over."
At the service bar Carol told the story to Michael, then told it again to Peter. Peter told Carol what he knew: the man had made his money that way too. "According to Alfred he always gets what he wants," Peter said, and Michael said to Peter, "You can't be serious," and said to Carol, "A man like that," and said to Peter, "Don't tell her such things." But it was no use, especially with the man sitting there, sipping his champagne with that look. "Put the check down for me, Peter," Carol begged, cheeks as red as the setting sun, as the breeze-blown youth of her hair. But she turned to look at him again, anyway.