ChapterBytes is a book writing project in which each author on the list, in turn, writes a chapter that jumps off from the one before. In the end, we’ll have a finished book-length work of fiction. When I was approached to consider joining the project, it sounded like too much fun to pass up. I wasn’t wrong.
Catnip at Catnip and Coffee is our editor. It was decided that the first book would fall in the chick lit genre, with the title, Foodie. It’s the story of Malorie, a young woman trying to live her dream of becoming a chef and maybe finding love along the way.
When my turn came around, the project was up to Chapter 7, which I’m posting below. If you would like to read the other chapters, head over to ChapterBytes and scroll down to the beginning.
Also, if you’re interested in participating in this or future ChapterBytes projects, send an email to Catnip. You can reach her at chapterbytes at gmail dot com.
The apartment that Malorie shared with Evan was on the third floor of a renovated pre-war building. There was an elevator, but in a stroke of poor timing, it had been under repair since the week before his accident. When he first came home from the hospital, he could barely manage the painful climb on his crutches. Now, he was still slow, but he had managed to cut his time almost in half.
“Want me to walk up with you?” she asked.
“No, you go on up and let that cat know who’s boss tonight. I’ll be right up.” He kissed her then, his mouth full and soft on hers.
“You mean me, right?” She laughed as she pulled away.
He whistled after her as she sprinted up the stairs. She turned and grinned, then took the rest of the stairs two at a time. After a quick hello to Monterey Jack, who purred when she scratched under his chin but did not open his eyes, Malorie opened a bottle of Shiraz. She dashed into the bathroom for a quick hair and makeup check. Good enough. As she brushed her teeth, she heard a knock on the door to the apartment.
“It’s open, Ev!” she called out through a mouthful of toothpaste. Another knock. “It’s open!” She rinsed her mouth and went to the door.
“You just wanted to make me answer the door naked,” she flirted as she pulled the door open.
“Never could get you to do that for me,” said a man who was most definitely not Evan.
She blinked four or five times before she could speak.
“Well. As I live and breathe. What are you doing here?”
“Your mother gave me your address. I was in town, so I thought we might catch up.” He looked over her head into the apartment. “Nice place.”
She looked past him into the hallway. He must have passed Evan on the way up.
“You can’t be here.” She meant it as go away. But the impossibility of his presence in her door frame gave it another meaning. This isn’t real. How can you be here?
“Who’s this?” Evan appeared in the hallway.
How could she explain? She had a hard enough time explaining this man to herself, never mind to her new boyfriend. Boyfriend. Is that what Evan is now?
“Evan, this is–”
“Jack. Jack Finnigan.” He held out his hand to Evan, whose hands never left his crutches. After a long moment, Jack let his hand drop back to his side.
Evan looked past him and met Malorie’s eyes. “As in Monterey Jack?”
“Yeah.” She felt sick. “As in.”
Note to self, she thought. Never name a cat after an old boyfriend. It was bad enough that Evan figured out the connection right away, but now Jack would know she had done something so pathetic as to name a cat after him when he took off.
And that’s exactly what he had done. He just took off. Just packed up most of his things and left one day while she was at work. There was no official breakup, unless you counted one answering machine message a week later. She had it memorized, right down to the intonations and pauses.
“Hey, Mal. I’m in London on assignment. I guess you’ve figured out by now that I won’t be coming back when the job is over. So, uh, just keep the CDs if you want, or give them away, but if you could ship the rest of my books to my brother, I’d appreciate it. I left you the address inside Ulysses. Let me know how much it is, and I’ll send you a check for the shipping. Take care, Mal, and I’m sorry. I really am.”
Though she had shipped the books, she kept Ulysses out of spite. She could never bring herself to ask for reimbursement for the $200 worth of shipping.
And now, one phone message and two years later, he was back. Standing between her and Evan. Between her past and her future. As immovable as if he were a building or a bridge.
Jack spoke again. “Hey, is this a bad time?”
“Yes.” Malorie answered at the same time Evan said, “No, not at all. Evan Randall.” He stuck out his hand this time, and Jack shook it. “Go on in.”
Malorie knew her eyes flashed with anger and even panic when she looked at Evan, but he looked amused. Irritated, but amused. He raised one eyebrow at her as he limped past on his crutches. He was curious, then. She wondered if he was even a little bit jealous. But after their conversation in the car less than fifteen minutes before, she thought maybe he was above that sort of thing. Still, he was a man, and all the men she had ever dated had a way of becoming territorial when another man showed an interest in her. She thought they were all wired that way. Maybe women, too. Then again, what did she know about anything?
The two of them, Evan and Malorie, had discussed their past relationships one night over a second bottle of wine. But they had never named names. She wished now that they had. It would have saved her a good half of this embarrassment.
“I just opened a bottle of wine. Would either of you like a glass?”
“You know,” Evan answered, “I’m in the mood for a beer. How ‘bout you?” he asked Jack, who had settled into Evan’s favorite leather chair. The one with the ottoman, where he was used to resting his cast-bound leg these days. The one in which even Malorie had never sat.
“Sounds great, man.”
Evan took the sofa and lifted his leg onto the length of it, a position that gave him the appearance of an invalid. Malorie’s heart twisted for him, for the disadvantage he had in his own home.
She passed beers around and took one for herself. Wine seemed too elegant now, too romantic, for how the evening was turning out. She was disappointed that her night with Evan was ruined, or delayed at best. And she was mad. Two years worth of mad. She sat on the arm of the sofa, behind Evan’s head, declaring her allegiance.
“So,” Jack addressed Evan. “How do you know our Malorie?”