Leo had imagined a cavernous space filled with sunlight and flaking pillars, but as he explored his brother's future restaurant, he feared he had overestimated Harry's ambition.
Britt trailed behind them as Leo followed Harry into the long, narrow room. Harry's shaggy red hair and his blue-and-green shirt were the only spots of color in the dusky room as he gestured, all lanky arms and skinny wrists, toward where he planned to put the bar, the tables, and the server station. Harry's forearms and wrists bore short faded purplish scars from hot pans and oven edges and errant knife blades, just like the arms on the cooks in Leo's restaurant.
Leo glanced behind him; Britt was not paying attention but was swiping at the screen of his phone and swearing under his breath about the linen service. Periodically Britt swatted his blazer, making Leo realize that he too was smeared with pale washes of dust at a knee, an elbow, and a shoulder, but he merely whacked perfunctorily at his clothes. This was why Britt ran the dining room while Leo ran the back of the house. Britt could sense a flaw from yards away—a spotty wineglass or a tablecloth scattered with pollen dropped from a centerpiece—and correct it almost without realizing he'd done so.
"What's the name?" Leo asked. His restaurant was called Winesap, the name a nod to the apple variety that grew in their parents' backyard.
"71 King. Same as the address," Harry said. He pointed up at fat ducts grown minty with age. "That's copper piping. And I think this wall is, like, three feet thick." He demonstrated the wall's soundness with a flick of his hand against the brick, a gesture that looked as if it hurt. But Harry shook it off and looked back over his shoulder. "You don't like the name?" Leo chewed the inside of his lip. "It doesn't say a lot," he said gently. "It might be hard for people to picture what they'll get here just from the name."
"I guess it doesn't really fit," Harry admitted, looking thoughtful. "Although what does Winesap convey, exactly?"
"Well, for a while, not much," Leo admitted. "Heirloom apple varieties didn't evoke much in an old mill town. But now that we have more Philadelphia transplants I think it says farmers' markets and rarity and quality."
"Plus it's just a great word," said Britt. "Maybe it lets people forget for a second that they even got priced out of the suburbs."
"And anyway, now it evokes you, right? See, that's the thing," Harry said. "I'm hoping that soon this address will say something, something totally different from what it does now. I'm trying to get ahead of the curve. Or to set the curve. Call it what you will." He looked behind Leo. "Britt. 71 King. What's it say to you?"
Britt looked up from his phone. Whereas Harry's long, lean face was softened by his red beard and Leo bore a coarser nose and darker, down-turned eyes, Britt's face was elegant and spare, high-cheek-boned and fine-lipped. "I picture a pit bull," he said apologetically. "Like a fighting dog named King."
Leo winced. Now that Britt had said it, he couldn't picture anything else. Harry sighed.
"Listen," said Britt, "you haven't made any huge announcements, you haven't paid for any signs. You can still think about it."
"Okay," Harry said, but he'd lost a little of his spring as he continued the tour.
It was September now, and Harry had been back in Pennsylvania since April. He'd allowed only bits and pieces about his nascent restaurant to emerge during the basketball games the three played a couple of times a month, until the build-out began and Harry was too busy to play. He'd been secretive and cheerful on these Sunday mornings in the park, reluctant to lay bare the details until the whole thing came together. Leo had the feeling that Harry both hoped to surprise them and somewhat dreaded the opinions of two brothers who'd already logged ten years—more in Leo's case—in the restaurant business. Harry was still quite new to it. Leo had worked hard not to pry. He understood how fragile these early ideas could feel, how easily you could get off track if you got input too soon. Instead he had contented himself with coaxing along his own creakily returning jump shot. Britt, who in their teens had painstakingly honed a swooping outside shot until it seemed effortless, tended to lope easily around the court, more concerned with form than points, while Harry had never lost the wiry zeal that could have carried him into an athletic scholarship instead of an academic one. Neither of his brothers would ever admit this. What they said aloud was that Harry could have gone as far as second string on an emerging semipro team in Iceland.
Now they finally got to see the restaurant space and to see Harry, who'd been out of communication for several weeks. To Leo, the entire space seemed more like a hallway than a dining room, and the farther into the building they went, the darker and more forbidding it became. The ceiling seemed to descend as they walked. The west wall was brick, the east wall flaking plaster, and the wall facing the street was three-quarters glass. At the back of the rectangular space was a thick steel door painted a military green.
"That was carpeted," Harry said, glancing down at the floor.
"That's maple," said Britt. "Refinish it."
Harry looked to Leo, who shrugged. "It's probably maple," he said.
Britt said, "What was this space before, anyway? A bar? Apartments? If you found carpet in here, you've got to assume that food and crumbs were ground into it for a while before you tore it out. Could mean mice."
Leo watched Harry gaze doubtfully at the floor for as long as he could stand it, then clapped Harry on the back. "I'll give you the number of the exterminator we use, Hare," he heard himself say heartily. "This is an easy decision, trust me." Around his youngest brother he became bluff and jocular, issuing definitive statements he only occasionally believed in. Somehow he never affected the same persona with Britt; they were too close in age, had grown up playing on too many of the same baseball teams and going to the same parties.
Harry nodded. "You may be right." It was clear he was deciding which way to go—to allocate money to a potentially mythical rodent problem, to laugh it off, or to argue. He settled for shaking his head, and then took a sip from Britt's coffee, which had been left on top of a stepladder, and considered the mouthful. Then he said, "See, this is why I need partners, Leo. You guys know all this stuff already."
"And I'll tell you for free," Leo said, deliberately keeping his tone light, "you don't need me."
"When this place gets huge, you're going to wish you were in on it," Harry said, almost matching the playful tone. "Besides, how's it going to look if I open a restaurant without you? People will think we're feuding. They'll think you have no faith in me."
"I do have faith in you," Leo said. "You just jumped in really fast. You've set yourself a real climb." This was as far as Leo would go in expressing his fears. Leo himself had worked for years in the restaurant business before he'd finally gathered financing and opened his own place. He hadn't put together a few years in the food industry in between graduate degrees and other endeavors and then decided to start a business.
"I think it seems faster than it is," Harry said, unperturbed. "Besides, an industry needs new blood. Britt didn't have any experience when he started working with you."
"I had spite," said Britt. "That'll carry you further than you'd think. I got to quit a job I hated and I was upset with Frances for walking out on Leo."
Leo was circling the room, only half listening to his brothers. It made him realize how long it had been since Harry had come home.
Their parents still lived in the house where all three had grown up, a three-bedroom white Colonial with red trim perched on a sloping hillside. His father used the steep side yard as a terraced garden, green beans, tomatoes, squash, carrots, onions, and herbs all fenced in with grapevines. At the top of the yard were the two eponymous apple trees. The neighborhood was a tightly packed grid of older houses kept in careful though elderly repair, beginning to age out and turn over once again, and there would come a day when the next wave would mean renovation instead of mere upkeep. But for now their father patrolled his yard and garden and made wine in his basement. Their mother hauled out a giant wooden jack-o'-lantern sign in the fall and red and green Christmas lights in December.
They'd been older parents for their generation. Their father had retired years earlier from engineering and their mother from being the principal of a local junior high school, but well into their seventies they remained bustling and flustered, talking at one another about different topics at once and lamenting their lack of free time. The house alone seemed to require all their attention. Every time Leo spoke to his father, he was on his way to the hardware store for some minuscule item: a hinge, a flange, a yard of weather stripping.
Leo and Britt were eleven months apart, a lingering intimation of their parents' sexuality that never ceased to cause both men some embarrassment, and perhaps because of the closeness in age their parents were forever conflating their two older sons, forgetting that Britt had not put in years of restaurant work in high school and college, thinking that Leo was alert to sales on good suits. Only Harry, six years younger than Britt and seven younger than Leo, seemed entirely distinct to them. They kept careful track of his many endeavors, enumerating his degrees, years later still talking about the goat he had served them when he was working on a farm in upstate New York. ("Gin!" their father would exclaim. "He added gin to give it a piney flavor. Who thinks of such a thing?")
Leo noted how the sun poured into the restaurant space behind Britt and pooled on the brick before them. Britt's closely clipped reddish blond hair was alight with it; the lines around his eyes had taken on a powdery fineness. The room was tight, but the space was not all wrong. Harry would be able to fit three rows of tables if he turned them diagonally to allow servers to swivel through. There was little room for a bar, much less the great zinc J that was currently propped up against the east wall awaiting its moment, and what Leo assumed would be the kitchen, back behind that mossy-looking door, was too cramped for more than two cooks or three at the very most, who would be elbow to elbow, knife handles knocking over each other's prep dishes. Yet the dining room was not appalling. The length offset the width—you had the feeling of journeying deep into the old building toward a cache of '66 Bordeaux and a scattering of dusty jewels—and the wood floors would look good refinished. There would be patched corners and spaces between some of the floorboards—try getting crumbs out of there—but it would feel welcomingly worn and intimate. This place would be more casual and rough-edged than Winesap, but Leo felt that for Harry, this made sense.
Of the three, Harry was the tallest and the truest redhead, a throwback to the great-grandmother who'd spent years lecturing all three on the meanings of the family tartan. To this day none of the brothers wore plaid. Leo favored pinstripes so faint as to be theoretical, Britt preferred some mix of charcoal or beige set off by blocks of saturated gray-greens or citrus, and Harry bought vintage cotton button-downs for ten bucks a handful, the sort that were printed with typewriters, horses, or paisley. All the brothers had gone to college, but only Harry had collected, as if by accident, several more college degrees than most people required. Leo was equally chagrined by and proud of his little brother's roving and uncontainable intelligence. Harry had strong opinions on pierogi and loved to read terrible popular novels about werewolves or hit men for the pleasure of analyzing their mass appeal, right down to the verb choice. Harry wanted to revitalize Linden—which had long ago lost its steel and textile mills and never quite replaced them—not through its citizens' altruism but through their appetites.
At the moment, however, Harry was exclaiming over Britt's diner coffee, trying to get him to inhale the staleness. Leo believed that Britt drank shitty coffee for the irony of it—that he liked to be the guy in a cashmere sweater with a blue-and-white Greek-patterned coffee cup from the dingy corner pastry stand. Once a week, on Tuesdays, he also bought a square of baklava made by the wife of the Ethiopian guy who sold the coffee, and left the pastry in its butter-spotted white paper package on Leo's desk. "The river's what, two blocks from here?" Leo called over the sound of his brothers' voices. Harry joined him at the window, peering out at the Irish bar across the street and the corner store—bodega, really—down the block. A few blocks away the river ran south, and just north of them was city hall, the DMV, the restored old mansion of some robber baron where the mayor now lived, and beyond that a mix of abandoned houses, chain-link fences, and bars with plywood on the windows.
The compact city of Linden perched on a tributary of the Schuylkill, the town shaped in an arc of gentrified neighborhoods and new construction fanning outward from the struggling downtown where Harry had rented his space. Several blocks from 71 King Street, the rest of Linden was becoming aggressively charming. All those city transplants hadn't left Philadelphia so they could be pioneers in some crumbling suburban downtown but for velvety green lawns and newly built mock Tudors. Harry's neighborhood was forever expected to gentrify; during the time it had been poised for renewal a slew of businesses had sprouted and wilted. On some blocks, Leo could believe in the hope for a moment, but then he'd take a left turn and discover the prehistoric limbs of the industrial equipment still blocking the riverfront, or the lines of tired civil servants and spiritually battered auto owners smoking cigarettes at the DMV. Harry wanted to charge eight bucks for spiced almonds and quince paste.
"Yeah," Harry said. "There's talk of a new development on this block, new business to use the waterfront."
"Mixed-use condo and commercial, right?" said Britt. Harry nodded. "It always is," Britt continued. "I just hope it's not just another mall."
"Say they put in a Target," Harry argued. "Ugly, sure, but people would come." But his cheer had lessened once again.
"Come on," Leo said softly. "It's getting late." He went back to Harry and patted him on the shoulder, momentarily surprised at the hard planes beneath his palm. As a boy Harry had been so round and freckled, until he stretched out at thirteen. Leo still found it startling sometimes. "Britt's tired," he said. He looked over his shoulder. Britt was leaning against the window, plucking the cuffs of his shirt so they showed beneath his jacket. "Long hours."
Harry kept polishing. "I know," he said. "I know the hours will be long."
Behind them, Britt slurped his coffee pointedly. "You want me to find out the distributor for these coffee beans?" Britt asked.
"Since you like it so much. I can even write up some tasting notes for the menu. 'Boxy, with top notes of resin and defeat.'"
Harry rubbed more creamy greenish polish on the metal and didn't look up.
"Come spring this stuff will make your name," Britt went on. "'Bursting with the freshness of the Linden waterfront. A lingering finish of stevedore.'"
Leo stepped to the side so he could see Harry's profile. Harry was still covering the grimy zinc surface with polish, but Leo saw the perk at the corner of his mouth.
"An intriguing balance of sparkling acidity and robust municipal corruption," Harry said, and Britt laughed. He crouched next to Harry, picked up an extra rag, and rubbed at the cloudy polish, opening a circlet of blurry light on the metal, glowing somewhere between silver and pewter. All three of them gazed at the circle, the shiniest spot in the whole place.
"It'll fly," Britt said.
"Even if it doesn't," said Leo, "it won't be the end of everything." Both brothers turned to stare at him. "Well, what business did you think this was? A lot of great places fail. Don't think I'm all smug—a lot of successful places go downhill and fail later too."
"I'm kind of regretting asking you guys over here," said Harry.
"It's just risky," Leo said. "You weren't living here when we were first getting Winesap off the ground."
"Come on. You're doing great."