I didn’t say anything, which probably didn’t inspire much confidence. Just then, the oven timer went off with a cheerful bing! noise. “Okay,” she said suddenly, as if this had signaled a call to action. “Macy. Can you answer a question?”
“Sure,” I said.
“How are you with a spatula?”
This hadn’t been what I was expecting. “Pretty good,” I said finally.
“Wonderful,” she said. “Come here.”
Fifteen minutes later, I’d figured out the rhythm. It was like baking cookies, but accelerated: lay out cheese puffs/crab cakes on cookie sheet in neat rows, put in oven, remove other pan from oven, pile onto tray, send out. And repeat.
“Perfect,” Delia said, watching me as she laid out mini-toasts at twice my speed and more neatly. “You could have a bright future in catering, my dear, if such a thing even exists.”
I smiled at this as Monica, the slothlike girl, eased through the door, carrying a tray laden with napkins. After her second spill she’d been restricted to carrying only solids, a status further amended to just trash and empty glasses once she’d bumped into the banister and sent half a tray of cheese puffs down the front of some man’s shirt. You’d think moving slowly would make someone less accident prone. Clearly, Monica was bucking this logic.
“How’s it going out there?” Delia asked her, glancing over at her daughter, Lucy, who was now asleep in her car seat on the kitchen table. Frankly, Delia had astounded me. After acknowledging the hopelessness of her situation, she had immediately righted it, putting in two more trays of canapés, getting the ice from the cooler, and soothing her daughter to sleep, all in about three minutes. Like her mantra of Oh-please-God-I’m-begging-you-okay; she just did all she could, and eventually something just worked. It was impressive.
“Fine,” Monica reported flatly, shuffling over to the garbage can, where, after pausing for a second, she began to clear off her tray, one item at a time.
Delia rolled her eyes as I slid another tray into the oven. “We’re not always like this,” she told me, opening another package of cheese puffs. “I swear. We are usually the model of professionalism and efficiency.”
Monica, hearing this, snorted. Delia shot her a look.
“But,” she continued, “my babysitter flaked on me tonight, and then one of my servers had other plans, and then, well, then the world just turned on me. You know that feeling?”
I nodded. You have no idea, I thought. Out loud I said, “Yeah. I do.”
“Macy! There you are!” I looked up to see my mother standing by the kitchen doorway. “Is everything okay back here?”
This question, while posed to me, was really for Delia, and I could tell she knew it: she busied herself laying out cheese puffs, now at triple speed. Behind her, Monica had finally cleared her tray and was dragging herself across the room, the tray bumping against her knee.
“Yes,” I said. “I was just asking Delia about how to make crab cakes.”
As she came toward us, my mother was running a hand through her hair, which meant she was preparing herself for some sort of confrontation. Delia must have sensed this, too, as she picked up a dish towel, wiping her hands, and turned to face my mother, a calm expression on her face.
“The food is getting rave reviews,” my mother began in a voice that made it clear a but was to follow, “but—”
“Mrs. Queen.” Delia took a deep breath, which she then let out, placing her hand on her chest. “Please. You don’t have to say anything more.”
I opened up another tray of crab cakes, keeping my head down.
“I am so deeply sorry for our disorganized beginning tonight,” Delia continued. “I found out I was understaffed at the last minute, but that’s no excuse. I’d like to forgo your remaining balance in the hopes that you might consider us again for another one of your events.”
The meaningful silence that followed this speech held for a full five seconds, until it was broken by Bert bursting back through the door. “Need more biscuits!” he said. “They’re going like hotcakes!”
“Bert,” Delia said, forcing a smile for my mother’s sake, “you don’t have to bellow. We’re right here.”
“Sorry,” Bert said.
“Here.” I handed him the tray I’d just finished and took his empty one. “There should be crab cakes in the next few minutes, too.”
“Thanks,” he said. Then he recognized me. “Hey,” he said. “You work here now?”
“Um, no.” I put the empty tray down in front of me. “Not really.”
I glanced over at my mother. Between Delia’s heartfelt “sorry” and my exchange with Bert, I could see she was struggling to keep up. “Well,” she said finally, turning her attention back to Delia, “I appreciate your apology, and that seems like fair compensation. The food is wonderful.”
“Thank you so much,” Delia said. “I really appreciate it.”
Just then there was a burst of laughter from the living room, happy party noise, and my mother glanced toward it, as if reassured. “Well,” she said, “I suppose I should get back to my guests.” She started out of the room, then paused by the fridge. “Macy?” she said.
“When you’re done in here, I could use you. Okay?”
“Sure,” I said, grabbing a pot holder and heading over to the oven to check on the crab cakes. “I’ll be there in a sec.”
“She’s been wonderful, by the way,” Delia told her. “I told her if she needs work, I’ll hire her in a second.”
“That’s so nice of you,” my mother said. “Macy’s actually working at the library this summer.”
“Wow,” Delia said. “That’s great.”
“It’s just at the information desk,” I told her, opening the oven door. “Answering questions and stuff.”
“Ah,” Delia said. “A girl with all the answers.”
“That’s Macy.” My mother smiled. “She’s a very bright girl.”
I didn’t know what to say to this—what could you say to this?—so I just reached in for the crab cakes, focusing on that. When my mother left the kitchen, Delia came over, pot holder in hand, and took the tray as I slid it out of the oven. “You’ve been a great help,” she said, “really. But you’d better go out there with your mom.”