The riddle of Evan’s personal hygiene had been solved for some time. Toby knew he took a nightly run that ended in a gym where he lifted weights and showered. After the last customer left on Saturday afternoon he left Toby to finish closing down the kitchen while he took his usual time to exercise and clean up before their “date.”
Toby changed while Evan was gone. He told himself he wasn’t going any farther out on a limb than he would if he planned an evening out with Geoffrey, but he was, and he knew it when he splashed on a subtle, citrus-based cologne.
Evan had changed into a pair of unspeakably well fitting jeans and a white linen shirt, over which he pulled a buttery soft, thin leather jacket that was more like an excuse to wear something that was made of skin than something to keep him warm. The appreciative, assessing look that passed briefly over Evan’s face when he walked through the door and saw Toby was gratifying in the extreme.
Then Evan looked at the hiking boots on Toby’s feet. “Are you planning a walk through tall grass?”
“Not really.” Toby wore boots with high socks, into which he’d tucked his trousers. He’d buttoned on a slim dress shirt and put on a tie, then pulled on a v-neck cashmere sweater and lightweight jacket over that. It was a thing. If designers thought that men should look like steampunk mountaineers that year, or whatever, he’d go along with it. Sometimes he enjoyed being a slave to fashion. He liked being the center of attention so there was no downside.
Just before they left Le Potiron he lidded up with a new straw fedora whose brim was so stingy it was barely a handhold.
“I feel underdressed.” Evan frowned.
“You look all right.” Toby waited while Evan locked the door behind them.
They began with a walk toward the subway. Toby was silent. He contemplated his course of action as they dodged their fellow pedestrians and dog walkers. He always enjoyed the respite of an evening out. Even though they’d been working since four in the morning, he was still young enough to party. It energized and revitalized him. And if they started dinner service at Le Potiron it would mean there would be no more time for that. No time for anything, really, for years, except hard work, late hours, and mornings of taking deliveries before the sun rose.
Toby broached the subject that was uppermost on his mind. “Right now, we’re playing restaurant with our friends. What you own is a diner, a family place that you can run as is, essentially, with no further need for someone like me.”
Evan nodded and kept on walking. “I know. And it’s working. You’ve begun building up a regular, loyal customer base for us.” Wryly he added, “Plus, your imaginative use of babies as a commodity has paid off like crazy.”
Toby grinned. “That’s common sense. You direct the bull by the horns, not the tail, my man-skirt wearing friend. Moms will go where their babies are happy.” Toby laughed. “You could keep going along like that indefinitely. People seem to like having children. You could fire up a toddler menu, a boxed lunch school alternative menu, Saturday and Sunday brunch for Mom’s Day Out. Camp Chocolate, a dessert-only service with champagne at midnight when there’s a full moon…”
Evan only shook his head. “You are fucking amazing.”
Toby’s ears heated when he heard it. He shrugged off Evan’s praise.
Evan caught his arm to stop him and pulled him to the side so that people could move around them on the busy sidewalk. “No, really. The very things that made Dom despise that place are the things you’re already cashing in on. You’ve done more for Le Potiron in a week than he did in months and months.”
“You probably didn’t get the memo but as chef/owner it’s your job to keep me on completely uneven ground. I’m supposed to feel like I have one foot on a banana peel and the other in the deep fryer at all times.”
Evan’s eyes softened and he trotted out his dimples. They flexed and preened on his face like traveling sideshow strongmen.
Oh, no fair.
“Maybe that’s not how I work. Maybe I carrot-and-stick my employees.”
Toby slipped a hand surreptitiously around Evan’s waist and up under his jacket, stroking the wiry man’s back through his shirt and finding lean, strong muscles there. “Can we just skip the carrot?” Toby asked without giving himself a chance to think. “Can we get to the stick already?”
Evan looked around and licked his lips. “Has anyone ever told you—?”
“Yeah, everyone.” Toby grabbed Evan’s hand and started heading back toward Le Potiron at a ground eating pace. “At least once.”