Novel Excerpt (48)

Novel Excerpt (48)

A scene from Breaking Bread, Book Five in the Bucks County Novels, by Margaret Sorick. Find all the excerpts here.

As Brad drove off, I walked back to where Juan Paolo and Jack waited. “I guess you heard?”

They nodded. JP said, “Most of it. I’m sorry, darling.”

“He’s right, you know,” I said. “I should have called. I don’t know why I didn’t.”

“Honey, you’re in shock,” Jack said. “Hell, I think he’s in shock, too. Brad will realize it after he has a chance to calm down.”

“I… I… didn’t mean to hurt him.” I covered my face with my hands. “God, what is wrong with me? He was the first person I thought of, too.”

“Shock, Maya,” Jack repeated. “Neither of you were thinking clearly. You can work this out. I’m sure of it. You both care about each other too much for this to ruin everything.”

“I hope you’re right.”

Jack eventually drove us home. There was nothing we could do, really nothing to see. The crime scene investigators would go in once the building was deemed safe. Everything would be photographed in situ before anything, including the body of the victim could be removed.

One by one my employees called back during the evening —a testimony to the panicked messages I had left on everyone’s voice mails. By the time we said goodbye to Jack, only Caitlyn had yet to check in. Jack tried to reassure me that it didn’t mean anything, but I feared the worst.

We dropped Juan Paolo first, and he tried to persuade me to stay, insisting that I shouldn’t be alone, but all things considered I thought that was a bad idea. As Jack pulled to a stop in front of my apartment, he gave my hand a squeeze and promised to be in touch first thing in the morning. My job tomorrow –today actually, the sky was already brightening with the approach of dawn– would be contacting my insurance company and making other assorted phone calls, including one to my parents. I wondered how they would react. If they would actually feel sorry for me, or if they would look at this as some kind of sign from God that I should never have taken on such an enterprise.

I trudged up the stairs to the second floor landing and unlocked my door. It felt like I hadn’t been home in a week even though it had only been a little over twelve hours. I showered under the hottest water I could stand, shampooed the red spray out of my hair, and watched the remnants of Natasha Romanov wash down the drain.

***

Exhaustion and stress sent me into an unexpectedly deep slumber so that I awoke with a start when the phone rang. Light poured through the windows on which I had neglected to close the blinds. The caller ID read Jack Staley.

“Hey, Jack.”

“How are you, Maya?”

“Half dead. Is there any news?”

“Yeah. Sort of. You mind if I come over?”

“No, not at all. I’ll make coffee.”

“Be there in five.”

We disconnected and I hauled myself out of bed. After splashing some cold water on my face and brushing my teeth, I dressed in leggings and a long sleeved t-shirt. The doorbell rang as I was grinding beans for the coffee maker. I paused to open the door for Jack. He was still in the same clothes from last night and dark circles shadowed his eyes.

“Have a seat at the counter, Jack. I’m just getting the coffee on. Did you eat breakfast yet?”

“No. But don’t you go to any trouble on my account.”

“It’s no trouble, Jack. I don’t keep much food here anyway. But I have some croissants from the cafe…” I couldn’t finish. I started crying. Jack came around the counter and held me close.

“Ah, honey. I know. This is a hell of a thing.”

“I’m sorry,” I sobbed.

“Shh. It’s ok, Maya. It’s ok.” He held me until I got the tears under control and then he handed me a paper towel so that I could blow my nose. “The hell with breakfast. Come on. Let’s go sit on the sofa.”

I nodded and let him lead me into the living room. I curled into one corner of the sofa, tucking my feet up under me. Jack perched on the other end, elbows on his knees.

“So what’s the news, Jack?”

He took a deep breath. “Caitlyn is missing.”

Fire Creeps In

It occurred to me Monday evening, while preparing to hit the publish button on the poem I had composed, that I often write about fire– in my poetry for certain and now, in my novel, I’ve burned down the cafe. And I suppose fire creeps into a lot of writing. It provides metaphors for all sorts of things: love, lust, war, creativity, warmth, cleansing, refining, life, death, destruction, rebirth…

I felt low that evening, as is sometimes the case after a long day. I’d begun the next chapter of the book, feeling unsatisfied with the way I’d left the previous one. The poem arose from that I think. But as I prepared my dreary little post, I reflected on why fire always seems to creep into MY writing. My approach is mostly from the death, destruction and possibly the cleansing perspectives of fire, rarely from love, lust and passion. And while I hate to psychoanalyze myself, because my mind is a messy, cluttered place these days, I couldn’t help but wonder….

I lost my paternal grandfather in a fire. My father was twenty years my mother’s senior when they married. He at fifty-five, she at thirty-five. My paternal grandparents were already in their eighties when I was born. Grandma Jennings died when I was three and I barely remember her. But Grandpa lived for a few years more. I had a lot more contact with him as a child. And as a result my memories are a lot clearer.

I was six years old when it happened.

Grandpa liked his cigars. He left one smoldering next to his favorite chair one Sunday evening before going up to bed. He must have thought it was safely stored in the ashtray but it wasn’t. The stub of the cigar either rolled or he carelessly dropped it right on the arm of the old upholstered chair. It smoldered. It consumed. It filled the house with smoke. It wasn’t a conflagration, it was a charcoal pit. When, in the light of day, the neighbors realized what was happening and called the fire department, it was too late. But Grandpa had known something was wrong. He had made it back downstairs in the smoke. They found him on the threshold of the front door in his pajamas and dressing gown. A few more steps and he would have been free.

That is the kind of information that a six year old girl most probably should have been sheltered from. But I wasn’t. I should fear fire. I should have a morbid dread of it. But I don’t. Instead, it creeps into almost everything I write.

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Novel Excerpt (47) Do-over

Novel Excerpt (47) Do-over

I had been feeling rather unsatisfied with the way I wrote the previous section of the story. Many of you have been giving me valuable feedback as well. I realize this updated version of the last excerpt will not make everyone happy, however, I think when viewed objectively, this version makes a little more sense. So, here it is…

I was close to coming completely unhinged and it must’ve shown.

“Maya, that’s enough,” Juan Paolo said, taking the phone from my hand and putting it in his pocket. “Come here.”

He pulled me against him, wrapped me close and stroked my hair. His tenderness only brought on the tears again. I sank into him, relishing his warmth. I was so distraught I never heard the familiar purr of the engine or the slam of the car door. It was only when I felt JP’s arms tense around me that I noticed the subtle shift in the air.

“You mind letting go of my girlfriend, Serrano?”

Brad was home. He stood at a slight distance, looking exhausted and grim. I placed a hand against JP’s chest and pushed him away.

“Or maybe you’d rather just stay with him, Maya,” Brad said as he walked past us to take in the scene.

I shook my head a little to clear it, before following him. “Are you kidding me? You’re going to play jealous boyfriend when my business is destroyed, your home is destroyed and someone is dead in there?”

He winced like I’d hit him. “No, Maya. I’m not going to play anything at all…”

I cut him off, sweeping my hand toward the smoldering ruin that had been my cafe. “Look, Brad. Look, damn you! It’s gone! All gone! Everything I dreamt of, everything I’ve worked toward since I was a little girl is gone!” I realized I sounded a little hysterical. “And you… You’re going to stand there all pissed at JP for giving me a little support? What the hell is wrong with you?”

He looked at me miserably. “What’s wrong with me? I get news that the building is on fire. That it’s probably going to be a total loss. I can’t get ahold of you or my sister or Leo. I’m four hours away and I have to try and drive home, worried sick that something might have happened to you, all the while trying to get the image of you kissing your ‘friend’ Juan Paolo out of my head. And I come home to a scene straight from hell and find you in his arms.”

“You have a problem with one of my best friends keeping me from coming completely unglued? Or is that your sole responsibility? Maybe I should wait to fall apart until you’re around. Would that make you happy? And what do you mean ‘me kissing JP? What are you talking about?”

He cursed under his breath. “Hello? Ever hear of something called Facebook?”

“Facebook?” Shit, someone must have posted photos from the party. “Brad, listen, whatever you saw… And I don’t even know what exactly that was… It was a moment out of context. There is nothing to worry about, believe me.”

“Whatever,” he muttered miserably. He rubbed his eyes. “When Jack called, when you weren’t answering your phone and then neither were Liv or Leo…. your mind goes to some pretty dark places. What if you had gone to the cafe for some reason? What if my sister and Leo went with you? Then you and JP…. all I could think was that the last image I’d have of you alive would be in the arms of another man…” He turned to face me. “Crazy talk, I know. But that’s the kind of shit your brain does to you when you panic.”

I tried to see it from his perspective. I wiped my eyes on my sleeves and nodded. Brad returned to staring straight ahead, his arms folded across his chest. The flames had been quenched but smoke still billowed from the blown out windows. I stood at his side, close but not touching. “I’m sorry,” I said after a while. “Your home….”

“Forget it, Maya. It can be replaced. The cafe can be replaced. It’s all material. It’s you I can’t replace. Do you get that?”

“Well, I’m here…” I choked out.

“I know.” He faced me again. “And I’m trying to make sense of it all.”

“Make sense of what?”

“I’m trying to understand why, during all of this, you never called me. You think I don’t understand that you needed someone to fall apart on? I do. I really do. I don’t expect you to wait for me. But you didn’t think to call me at all.” His eyes were full of pain. “What exactly does that say about us, Maya? Our relationship? I’m not the one you think to turn to. I just don’t matter that much to you, do I?”

I felt ill. I had hurt him deeply. “I didn’t have my phone on me,” I stammered. “It was back at JP’s house. I only just got it…” I trailed off. I had the phone for over an hour, I realized. I could’ve called. I should’ve called. “I was trying to get in touch with my staff…” My excuses sounded hollow and pathetic.

“Ok. I get it. You had other things to worry about. We’ll talk about this tomorrow, Maya.” He walked back to where Jack was standing with JP. “I’m going to go, Jack. I’ll be at my sister’s place. Keep me posted, will you?”

Jack nodded and gave him a squeeze on the arm. With that, Brad climbed behind the wheel of the Porsche and sped away.

~I know you’ve all been feeling sorry for Maya. But Brad just lost everything, thought he might have lost his love either literally or figuratively and Maya doesn’t reach out to him. Guys, how would you feel? Does this version convey these ideas a little better? As always feedback welcome.

Pagan Pound Cake

To accompany my novel in progress: Breaking Bread. Welcome to Le Boulangerie.

Pound cake – so named for the weight of the ingredients used: a pound each of eggs, butter, flour and sugar. Thought to have originated in England in the early 18th century, a pound cake is a dense, moist thing of beauty. This version, made with cream cheese and topped with chocolate ganache, is so decadent that I’ve dubbed it ‘pagan.’

Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened
  • 8 ounce package cream cheese, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups sugar
  • 5 eggs separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla

Method:
Grease and flour a bundt pan. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Combine butter and cream cheese in mixing bowl until fully blended and creamy. Then mix in sugar, vanilla and egg yolks. In a separate bowl whip egg whites to stiff peaks. Then in alternating additions, add dry ingredients and egg whites until fully combined. Pour batter into bundt pan and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour, or until toothpick comes out clean.

For the ganache:

  • 8 ounces semi sweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1 tablespoon amaretto liqueur (or dark rum)

In a small saucepan, bring the cream to a simmer, do not boil. Pour the heated cream over the chocolate morsels and whisk until melted, stir in the amaretto or rum and let cool for a few minutes before pouring over the completely cooled cake. Sheer decadence….

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