Now that we’ve gotten to know each other a little better, I’d like to share something with you that I’ve never revealed to my 1200+ subscribers: my novel. However, as my manuscript is fairly high concept, I’m going to post a chapter that deals primarily with Macy, my barista protagonist, and her goth, Indian co-worker, Fred’s (short for Fareed) relationship which is secondary to the plot.
Of course, I expect that it will be a little difficult to catch on right away, but then my readers are unusually intelligent. Maybe I’m biased, but you guys seem to get me and what I write, so let’s see what you think.
“The Meanest of Them Sparkled is a Young Adult/Literary Fiction hybrid, intended to appeal to both older teens and adults alike. And no, I’m not going to let you know what the novel is about. Let me know if I’ve been successful in capturing your attention. Your comments are golden to me! I only sent this manuscript to a handful of agents and received an extremely positive response – and I’m preparing to begin sending it out again – so I’m very open to any constructive criticism you have to offer.
The Meanest of Them Sparkled
I can’t believe it. I am officially one-third of the way done saving the world! I feel like a rock star. I walk like a rock star. Swaggering down the street, I’m not sure if I’m Pink or Mick Jagger or Johnny Cash, but every step has got rhythm. I keep expecting glitter to flutter around me like a swirl of happy snowflakes, and for the clouds to part so that a single ray of golden sun can shine down on me – my own personal spotlight.
Instead, the morning crowd of suits and skirts jostles against me as I take up too much space on the sidewalk, my stride big and wide like I own the putty cement slab that leads me to my coffee kingdom. Fred’s already inside, brewing beans. I bang on the front door like I own the place – another no-no as employees are supposed to use the back door only – but I don’t care. In my mind, there aren’t two more tasks ahead of me. There is only the one behind me. I’ve saved at least 2 billion people today, believing in my rock star dream world that I can somehow fraction off a part of the Earth’s population and tuck it into my pocket, keeping it safe from devastation. Which country – no, countries – have I rescued from certain death? I wonder to myself as Fred approaches the door, furtively glancing over his shoulder to make sure Peter, the part-time baker and general tattletale, doesn’t see my bold display of rule-breaking. Certainly, the United States. Charity starts at home, right? I could save all of China. Gotta save the U.K. ‘cause that’s where all the really great music comes from anyway.
Fred carefully holds the brass bell attached to the handle as he unlocks the bolt and inches the door open, wide enough for a ballpoint to slide through. “You’re supposed to use the back door,” he hisses through the crack – like he never breaks the fucking rules – then slews his eyes towards the kitchen meaningfully.
I can’t help it. I burst out in giggles. Me. Giggling. Really. “Open the fucking door, Singh,” I cackle, leaning against it heavily, my momentum and sheer force of will nearly toppling poor Fred on his skinny little ass. Nothing will ruin my day today. I have preserved Kung Pao Chicken for all of eternity!
Fred backs away, his brow creased with concern. “Are you drunk?” he accuses, sniffing the air like a bloodhound.
“Drunk on the lives of over a billion Chinese people,” I screech. Come to think of it, I do sound a little bit drunk. Better dial it back a notch. “No, I’m fi-i-i-ine,” I sing to him. “I’m just in a really, really good mood.”
“Really?” he says, taking a step towards me.
“Yes, really,” I answer, my head bobbing up and down like the plastic puppy on Granny’s dashboard.
“Really,” he says again. Another step. So close I can smell the peach Danish he ate for breakfast on his breath. His eyes close. Jaw tilts at that angle reserved only for Disney princesses waiting to be kissed. His lips part slightly as he leans in for the kill.
“Ewww,” I say, pushing my hands against his rib cage. “Not that good.” Man, only Fred can totally ruin my day in thirty seconds or less. For a moment we just stand there, me pissed and Fred confused.
In my peripheral vision, I see Peter emerge from the kitchen, his face already slick with sweat. “Yay’re s’pposed ta use da back dur,” he hollers from the doorway, his upper lip curled like a bad Elvis impersonator.
“And you’re supposed to renew your rabies tag every year,” I shoot back. I hate that fat bastard. I especially despise the way he wears his jeans belted tightly below his bulging stomach and about six inches too long so that he can cuff them like he’s a greaser in a 1950’s flick. I don’t know why Mario keeps him around. Probably because he’s such a kiss ass. I flip him off, my middle finger erect and brazen, until he turns and stomps off in a huff.
I’m still left with Fred and that little crease he gets between his eyebrows when his feelings have been hurt. “I texted you, like, ten times last night,” he says, accusatorily.
“Yeah?” I say, looking over his shoulder to avoid his glare.
“Yeah,” he echoes. “Didn’t you get them?”
Of course I got them, you freak! My phone beeped all the way through “CSI Antarctica.” “Nope,” I say, still avoiding his crumpled face. “Must have had my ringer off.”
“I was worried, you know?” A whine creeps into his voice. “About you, Macy.
Did he just actually call me by my first name? “Sorry,” I say, meaning it. Kind of. “I didn’t know.” I shrug.
Fred crosses his arms, tapping the toe of his sneaker. “You didn’t know? You just ran out of here,” he says, then, lowering his voice, adds, “right after we, you know…kissed. I didn’t know where you went. I was worried sick. Mario…was worried sick.” He looks around the empty café as if trying to find some other people who were also worried sick. Finding none, he points a finger at me, his voice rising an octave. “You just can’t do that to people. You know, worry them sick.”
I resist the urge to ask Fred how long it took for him to save up for this guilt trip. Barely. For some reason, I can’t bring myself to cut him off at the knees. I’ve never known Fred to be so inarticulate. Like he’s really, truly upset. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who can bitch slap someone with a back-handed comment from across the room. And here he stands, blathering on and on about being worried sick. I’d expect this from Granny, not him.
“I want you to read them,” he says, puffing out his chest like a rooster exerting his dominance. “My texts. Read them now.”
“Why?” Crap! Did I erase them last night? Think, Macy. Think. I’ve got to stall. “So I can read about how concerned you were, over and over and over again? In case you haven’t noticed, Fred, you’ve made your point. I get it. You were upset.”
A jingle behind me announces the arrival of the morning’s first customer. Except we’re not ready. Not even close. I glance at the wall clock and it’s too early, but neither of us locked the door behind me when I came in.
“Sorry, we’re not open yet,” Fred announces authoritatively. I actually find it kind of hot when he talks like that, all bossy like.
A twenty-something ginger in a sleek suit with a tie decorated in small black skulls designed to communicate to the rest of the world that he’s a “rebel” enters the café anyway. Pulling out a chair, he says to no one in particular, “The door’s open.”
Fred steps around me and is in the guy’s face in a split second. He pushes the chair back against the table. Pointing to the door, he says, “The sign says we open at 7:00 a.m.” Then motioning to the Sarasota clock, he barks, “The clock says it’s 6:47 a.m. We’re. Not. Open. Yet.”
“Come on, coffee boy. You gonna tell me I can’t hang out for the next thirteen…wait, twelve minutes.” He chomps his gum, daring Fred to ask him to leave.
Fred looks down at his sneakers. His tight-lipped sneer – the one I know and love – taking up residence on his face. He then diverts his attention to the pocked ceiling tiles, inhaling deeply. I know he’s counting to ten. He told me they taught him to do that in his anger management classes. Fred either counted really fast or only made it to six because, after just a few seconds, he returns his gaze to the suit and, tilting his head menacingly, says, “Yes. I am going to ask you to leave until we open in twelve minutes.” I’m impressed that he manages to keep his tone steady, so…professional. Almost polite.
The ginger backs up, his jaw thrusting upwards defiantly. He unbuttons his suit jacket and slips it off, laying it over the back of the chair in front of him. “Really? You think you’re the boss of me, coffee boy?” he taunts as he loosens his tie. He takes in Fred’s dark skin, the texture of his hair, then sneers, “Shouldn’t you be working for your folks in mini-mart somewhere, Kumar?” I inch away towards the counter and the kitchen beyond. Maybe Peter’s general appearance and annoyance-factor will be sufficient to chase this guy off. Otherwise, Fred might just get his ass kicked in the next minute or so.
But my movement captures the jerk’s attention. “Hey, Blondie,” he says, “why don’t you go fetch me a tall, skinny caramel macchiato? And make sure it’s hot.”
I knew this guy was a jerk the second he walked in – and now it turns out he’s a racist, a chauvinist, and he’s ordering a foo foo girlie drink, to boot. What a tool! It’s too much for me to remain silent. I really want to let Fred handle it and be the big man, but no one tells me to “fetch” anything. “Fetch this, asshole!” I say, pumping my hand up and down like I’m shaking an imaginary can of spray paint – except it’s not supposed to be a can of spray paint. “Hot enough for you, prick?” I stomp over to the front door, yanking it open. Then I wait. The suit finally saunters over, plucking his gum from his mouth and dropping it on the floor between us.
“You sure about this, sweetheart?” he jeers, his breath a mixture of mint and something soured. “I guarantee you I make more in a day that your boyfriend here makes in month.” He’s right in my face. So close. The whites of his eyes red and watery. I’d bet the farm he was on a bender last night.
“Make more of what?” I manage to ask innocently. “Big Macs?” The guy clenches his jaw, but I don’t stop. “No, you’re a mover and shaker. I’m gonna guess, fries. You’re in charge of fries, right?”
“Stupid bitch,” he says, his face contorting from that of a relatively good-looking guy into the scornful leer of a trust-fund jackhole. I want to step away, but I’m backed up against the open door, the handle pressing painfully into my kidneys. Before I can pivot sideways, he grabs my chin tightly between his fingers forcing me to stare into his roadmap eyes. Every finger feels like a knife stab, but the thumb is the killer, pressing into my skin so fiercely I’m afraid it will cut through my cheek and I’ll taste the ammonia stink of his skin.“You’ll be lucky to get a job on a street corner spreading your legs when I’m done with you.”
I’ve got to get away. I’m about to knee him in the groin, but before I can, I see something white, about the size of a softball, whiz by my head and connect with the guy’s cheek. He grabs his face in pain as the mug drops like a stone from its point of impact, smashing into a hundred pieces at our feet.
“Fuck!” he screams. “You threw a mug at me!” Shaking with fury, he releases his grip on my jaw and points at Fred. “Do you know who I am? Do you? That’s it. I’m calling the cops. You just bought yourself a one-way ticket to jail, buddy,” he sneers, wiping a drop of blood off his face, then shaking his hand so that it spatters onto the floor.
“Go ahead,” Fred says in a calm, ominous voice. “When they get here, you can explain the marks you left on her face.” The guy grabs his jacket off of the chair, sneaking a glance at the puffy, red bruise appearing on my jaw line. His eye already beginning to swell, he hesitates for a second, clearly considering his odds. Fred picks up another mug, holding it as though he is weighing its heft in his hands. “You got two seconds to get out of here or you’re gonna find out why they called me ‘The Rocket’ when I pitched back in high school.”
A crazy image of Fred wearing a baseball cap with a wad of chaw in his mouth suddenly pops into my mind and I nearly laugh out loud. Fred is such a liar. He wouldn’t know a baseball from a cantalope. Still, I’m hoping the guy just splits because, to be honest, this is the first time I’ve ever seen Fred engage in the coffee cup toss as an Olympic sport. His experience, to date, has been as a catcher for my right hooks, not a pitcher. “Well, I’m late for a meeting,” the guy says, wiping away another trickle of blood with the back if his hand from the gash below his left eye, “so today’s your lucky day.” He cocks an imaginary gun at Fred and shoots.
“Don’t come back, man,” Fred says, his eyes steely, heavy mug still resting in his palm. “Ever.” The guy slips his suit jacket back on and, without a backwards glance, storms out of the café, the glass door banging shut loudly in his wake.
The slam and piercing ringing of the bell draws Peter out from the kitchen for a second time. “Wha’ did I say about da schtupid dur?”
Without hesitation, Fred and I shout, “Shut up, Peter!” By the time I bolt the front door, Peter has returned to his floury hellhole and Fred is by my side.
“You okay?” he says, his brow wrinkled with concern. He picks a stray shard of ceramic mug off my shoulder, and then lets his hand rest there, heavy and warm.
“Yeah,” I say quietly. “Thanks to you.” I stare at my dark red boots, noticing they’re nearly the same color of the guy’s blood that dots the floor like a dusting of paprika. The gum he dropped on the floor is gone. He must have stepped on it on the way out. For some reason, this makes me want to giggle. Forget that the jackhole totally got beaned in the face with a mug. Now he’s got gum on his tassled loafers.
Fred stuffs his hands into his pockets in one awkward move, and my shoulder feels bare and chilly. I want to tell him to put it back. No, what I really want him to do is to wrap both of his skinny arms around me so I can rest my cheek on his shoulder and think about nothing at all for just five minutes. But I don’t. For the life of me, I can’t think of a single thing to say. Fred rocks back and forth on his heels, his eyes locked on the blood spatters. It’s the only thing that ties us together right now. I dare not look away because it’s our link. If we had wands, the ginger’s blood would be the point at which the light shooting from their tips intersects and merges into one beam. We stay like this for what seems like hours, but is really only a minute or two.
Finally, Fred clears his throat and mumbles something about cleaning up the floor. Taking a step back, he breaks the current, but I can’t let him. Lunging forward, I grab him around his waist, pressing myself against his ribcage, one of his arms trapped beneath my bear hug. For a second, I rest my head on his shoulder and inhale deeply, smelling soap and hair mousse. Fred rubs my back gently with his free hand, leaning into me. His heartbeat drums faintly against my breasts. But none of this makes me feel safe.
Fred came through for me once again, but I still feel trapped like I’m back on the bus this morning, all of the uncertainty in my life right now clouding my brain. How is it that the one friggin’ person in the world charged with the job of saving Earth from total annihilation has to be rescued all the time? Didn’t I save China, like, a half hour ago?
Copyright 2011 Cristy Carrington Lewis
No portion of this manuscript may be shared or reprinted without the exclusive permission, in writing, from the author.
This is an original piece of fiction. Any similarity to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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