Authors: Jennifer Ransom
By Jennifer Ransom
2013 by Jennifer Ransom
Cover art by Design
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is a work of fiction. References to actual people, places, and events
are used to lend authenticity to the novel and are used fictitiously.
All characters, dialog, and events are from the author's imagination
and are not real. Any resemblances to real people, places, events, or
dialog are coincidental.
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Serena tasted the cream of
artichoke soup and instructed the soup cook to add more seasoning.
She constantly had to check the food—the soups, the sauces, the
sides, the dressings. But that was her job. She threw her tasting
spoon into the stainless steel sink and barely heard the clatter of
it above the other noises around her.
It was deafening in the kitchen
with the sounds of pots and pans clattering, dishes banging down on
counters, the staff talking and shouting and cursing. Serena thought
sometimes that her ears would burst with the noise.
Her cell phone vibrated in her
pocket—no way she would have heard a ring in all that noise. She
fished her phone out of her chef’s jacket pocket, looked at the
incoming call, and walked into her tiny office as she pressed the
button to answer her grandmother.
“Hey, Nonna,” Serena said.
“Hey, cara,” her grandmother
said, using the affectionate Italian name her grandmother always
“I’m sorry to have to call
you with bad news,” Nonna said. “But your mother has passed away.
It was very unexpected.”
Serena felt like the floor was
moving out from under her.
“What do you mean passed
“Cara,” Nonna said. Her
voice was weak and strained. “I’m sorry, honey. Adrianna died
about an hour ago. I would have called you sooner but I’ve been at
the emergency room hoping for a better outcome. She dropped to the
floor in the diner. She was making salads for the dinner crowd and
she just fell down. The doctor said she died before she hit the
floor. It was her heart.”
Serena couldn’t speak. She sat
down in the chair behind her desk.
“I can’t believe this,”
she said. “I just talked to her last night. She seemed fine.”
“I know,” Nonna said. “She
was fine until her heart stopped. I’m in a state of shock about
Serena was in a state of shock,
too. In fact, she didn’t believe it. It wasn’t possible that her
mother was dead. Serena was certain there had been some sort of error
on somebody’s part. The doctor? Nonna? She needed to get to Luna
Bay so she could see that it was all a mistake.
“Will you be able to come
home?” Nonna asked.
Serena tried to focus her
thoughts. “Of course, Nonna,” she said. “Of course. I’ll be
there just as soon as I can get there. I’ll leave right away.”
“Thank you, cara. I’ll see
you soon. Be careful on the drive. I love you,” Nonna said, her
voice cracking before she drew in a ragged breath.
“I love you too, Nonna. I’ll
be home soon.”
Serena hung up the phone and put
it back in her pocket. This was not happening. Her mother couldn’t
be dead and she was going home to see for herself. First, she had to
call the executive chef, Daniel. Daniel, who wasn’t even at the
restaurant when he was supposed to be. Daniel, who had sloughed off
his chef duties to Serena, the sous chef. Daniel, who was difficult,
at best. Daniel, who the staff despised.
Serena had been working at
Bridgewater’s for three years, and in that time, Daniel had
gradually reduced his time in the restaurant and put everything on
Serena. She was sick of it. She was sick of him. It was true that he
was a talented chef who had trained in Europe. Bridgewater’s
signature dish was Daniel’s creation, steak rubbed with his special
blend of spices and served with a fiery balsamic blackberry
reduction. Steak Daniel was ordered more than any other entrée the
restaurant featured. It had been written up in the
New York Times
But Daniel was arrogant about his skills, and now he paid little
attention to Bridgewater’s. When he was there, he spent most of his
time in his office with his phone in his hand, texting, Serena
Bridgewater’s menu featured
mostly European food with a heavy leaning toward French cuisine. A
few months ago, Serena had suggested adding pasta primavera to the
menu, and Daniel had scoffed. “We’re not an Italian restaurant,”
he had said, dismissing her by looking down at the phone in his palm.
Serena had grown up in an Italian
restaurant, and her goal was to be the head chef of an Italian
restaurant, in Atlanta or another large city. She had already been
putting out feelers to restaurants in Atlanta, although she was
willing to leave the city. But Serena wasn’t worried about that in
that moment. She was looking for Daniel.
Of course Daniel was nowhere to
be found in Bridgewater’s. She dialed his cell. On the fourth ring,
“This better be good,” he
said when he answered. No hello.
“Daniel, I just found out my
mother died. I’ve got to go home right away.”
Silence on Daniel’s end. Then,
“I’m sorry, Serena. I know that’s tough. Do you have someone
who can cover for you?”
“I thought you might do that,”
she said sharply. She’d had just about enough of him.
“Oh,” he said. “Yeah, I
guess I can do that. How long do you think you’ll be gone?”
“I have no idea,” she said,
getting more and more pissed at Daniel. Did the man even have a
“Okay,” Daniel said. “Keep
in touch and let me know when you’ll be back.”
Serena ended the call and went
out onto the floor of the restaurant to find the manager, Scott. She
told him her mother had died and Scott was appropriately sympathetic.
“Daniel said he’ll be
looking after things while I’m gone,” Serena told him. Scott gave
her a look that said, yeah right. Maybe they were catching on to
Daniel, she thought fleetingly. But she didn’t have time to dwell
on the politics of Bridgewater’s. She had to get home.
Serena raced to her apartment.
She threw clothes without thinking into her suitcase. Then she went
to her closet and chose a black knee-length dress. For a funeral, she
thought as tears began to roll down her cheeks. She got into her car
and headed out of town, toward Luna Bay.
It was only after she had left
Atlanta and been on the road to the Gulf for a while that she thought
about calling Jeff. The fact that she hadn’t considered calling him
right away when she heard about her mother told her something crucial
about their relationship. But wasn’t that the way Serena wanted it?
Jeff had come into Bridgewater’s
late one night with several co-workers. They had finished a brief for
their law firm and were celebrating. It was late for the restaurant,
but not too late. The table got a little rowdy. Jeff demanded to see
the chef. Of course Daniel was not available, so Serena went out.
“I just want you to know that
this food is the best I’ve ever had,” Jeff said. “I want to
compliment the chef.”
Serena’s dark hair was pulled
back and she had on her chef’s apron. “Well, thanks a lot,” she
After their table finally left,
Jeff hung around and asked Scott to see the chef again. Again, Serena
went out to the floor of the restaurant.
“What time do you get off?”
Jeff had asked her. “Because I’m going to a blues club and I’d
like it if you could join me.”
Serena had blushed then. She
wasn’t used to such bold behavior from men. But she was also tired
and frustrated with Daniel and his non-appearance at the restaurant.
So she responded boldly back.
“I’d love that,” she told
Jeff. “I get off in a few minutes, so if you can wait for me over
there,” she said pointing at benches inside the front door. “Then
we can go.”
Jeff waited, and they went to
the blues club and had a careless time drinking beer and dancing to
the blues music. Serena and Jeff had been dating, if you could call
it that, ever since. He was busy as an associate attorney and she was
busy as a sous chef, and their schedules rarely meshed. But they had
become intimate with each other. They had a lot of fun together.
But on that drive to the coast,
Serena admitted to herself that her relationship with Jeff was
lacking an emotional quality. It wasn’t going anywhere permanent.
She knew that. Jeff knew that, too. And now, on the road to home,
Serena knew she should call Jeff and let him know about her mother,
but she didn’t even want to.
So, she didn’t. It was unlikely
that Jeff would even notice her absence.
About five hours later, Serena
turned onto her grandmother’s road and drove toward the cottage she
had grown up in. Her father, Paul Miller, had died in a hurricane
when she was so small she couldn’t remember him. She and her mother
and grandmother had shared the cottage all of Serena’s life. She
grew up working in Rossetti’s, learning how to make bread and pizza
and pasta dishes. Recipes for the restaurant had traveled from Italy,
then New York City, when Serena’s great grandparents had moved to
the coast. Her great grandmother started the diner after World War
Two, while her husband worked with other Italian immigrants on a
shrimp boat they scrimped and saved to buy.
Serena knew the family history
well from her grandmother. Camilla Rossetti moved to Luna Bay with
her husband, Serena’s great grandfather, in 1946. She was pregnant
with Serena’s grandmother, but didn’t know it at the time. After
they arrived, they lived in a tent for a while, on the bay, but when
it became obvious that Camilla was pregnant, another Italian family
living on the bay took them in. They had all had their tough times,
but Luna Bay became established as an Italian enclave, a community of
Italians helping each other out.
After Serena’s grandmother,
Elena, was born in 1946, Camilla decided to open an Italian eatery.
The highway ran right along the beach with an exit to Luna Bay.
Camilla discovered an abandoned Victorian house on the bay, left
there by wealthy oil people who had lost all of their money. Camilla
figured out who the owners were and contacted them. She offered to
pay them rent on the house, with an option to buy it down the road.
She was very shrewd, Serena’s grandmother always said. The poor oil
family took Camilla up on her offer and Camilla and her husband, who
spent his days on the boat, and her little baby moved in.
It wasn’t long before Camilla
opened Rossetti’s Italian Diner. She had learned a lot from her
relatives while living in New York and working in their shops and
small restaurants. She had learned a lot from her mother, Maria
Pavoni. After the war, there were travelers and truckers on the
highway and Camilla intended to take advantage of that and turn her
cooking into money.
Camilla moved her family to the
top floor of the old house and turned the bottom floor into
Rossetti’s. Gradually, word spread and her food became well known
on the highway. Elena grew up in the restaurant, on Camilla’s hip,
and then started carrying her own weight. Elena married an Italian
boy that had also grown up in Luna Bay, Antonio Fontana, Serena’s
grandfather. Rossetti’s became so famous that famous people stopped
by while they were on the road. The walls were lined with photos of
them, including Frank Sinatra and music and film stars from the
fifties, sixties, and seventies.