The Keymaster

by Francine Maroukian

I DIDN'T THINK OF IT AS SLEEPING AROUND; I PREFERRED "ENSEMBLE dating." But anyway you look at it, there were three of us that summer: me, my old should-we-try-again boyfriend Lawrence, and Vince, who was too young for anything but bed. At the time, both guys were New York catering waiter/actors who often worked the same jobs and went on the same auditions. So Lawrence knew Vince. But he didn't know aboutVince. And he certainly didn't know that Vince carried around my only spare set of keys because I didn't like to get up late at night to buzz him in.

One summer evening, Lawrence and I returned to my apartment after a concert in Central Park and ordered some Chinese food. A few minutes later, someone started noisily fumbling around at my apartment door. There were a few moments of hurried confusion—how did the delivery guy get in without buzzing, where's my wallet, I'll get the plates—before the door pushed open and there stood Vince, wrist still twisted from turning the keys in the lock.

I'm not sure how long it took—it felt like forever—but in one easy gesture, Vince untwisted his wrist and withdrew the keys, catching them in his fist. Then he strode across the room, extended his arm and said, "Hey, do you know you left your keys in the door?" He dropped the keys in my outstretched hand and I instinctively curled my fingers around them, preventing Lawrence from seeing that the key ring wasn't mine. Vince shifted his shoulder-slung backpack to the other side and continued. He was working on a scene in the neighborhood and thought he'd stop by. My neighbor let him in and how were we doing. It was all so brilliantly natural and friendly. That's when I knew Vince had the heart of a snake and a genius for cheating. I'm not ashamed to say that I admired him. The cheater in me still does.

Francine Maroukian, author of Esquire Eats, Town & Country's Elegant Entertaining, and Chef's Secrets, is a former New York City caterer who never hired a waiter she didn't love. At least, not twice.

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