Ok, I'm trying something new here. For a long time, I've wanted to write a book, but have never gotten past the first two or three chapters. I get on a streak and then quit because I think the story is too 'harlequin romance-y' or what have you. So. I'm going to put the first chapter up here. I would love, love, love it if you would be so kind as to read it and give me your honest critique. I'm a big girl, I can take it!
This doesn't have a title, hell, it's not even finished! It's my attempt at a comic romance. The main character is Grace Larson, a caterer. Grace is single by choice and semi-loving it. Her best friend, Celia has invited her to her house for Thanksgiving dinner with her big Italian family. Ok, that's the background. Time to get reading!
Distance was usually what I was most thankful for every November as I sat down to a dinner for one. Two if you counted the cat.
For a couple of years, my best friend has been desperately inviting me to her home for Thanksgiving. What I relished as being alone, others saw as merely lonely. Celia began pestering me over the Labor Day weekend to attend dinner this year. She was relentless for two solid months, and I finally gave in around Halloween. She caught me in a moment of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup induced weakness. I agreed to come to dinner and bring a dish if she would agree to shut the hell up.
And finally, the day arrived. I was up at 6 AM baking a cheesecake, and dreading going to the dinner. I took my time getting ready that morning, cursing my friend for ruining MY Thanksgiving tradition of sleeping late, watching the Macy’s parade, and eating dinner in my pjs.
‘How dare she inflict her Norman Rockwell crap on me’, I muttered as I took the cheesecake out of the oven to cool. I entertained the notion of calling her and telling her I was sick. But I didn’t. Celia and I have been there for each other through thick and thin, and unlike family, we can tell each other when we’re getting on the other’s nerves without a lot of hurt feelings and insult slinging. Ok, at least without a lot of hurt feelings.
After I got ready, I took a long look at myself in the mirror. I still get startled sometimes by who I see, it’s always my mother staring back at me, that look of ‘where did I go wrong?’ etched into her face. Because I chose not to marry, have children, and stay at home and play house, I am an utter failure in her eyes. Even worse, she thinks she’s a failure because I didn’t follow her career path. Looking closer, I saw a glimpse of the girl I once was mingled in with who I am now. I saw the woman who made choices in her life that distanced her family from her, or was it the other way around? Not wanting to think too much more about my family, I grabbed the cake and headed to the car.
The drive to Celia’s house was long, but pleasant. The trees were past their glorious explosions of color, and now were muted burgundies and gold. The sky was overcast, the air slightly cold. Nonetheless, I drove with the windows down and the stereo turned up. Van sang to me of moondances and brown eyed girls as the faded trees passed my windows. I lost track of time while driving, and was surprised when I almost passed the road I needed to turn on to reach the house. I pulled into the driveway precisely fifteen minutes before dinner. Early, I told myself, but not so early I’d have to interact with Celia’s family and in-laws. I had heard all of her horror stories, and these, along with the handful of times I had encountered them left me nervous and longing for the quiet of my own home.
I went around to the back of the house, and let myself in the kitchen. There was a flurry of activity, the kind of chaos that the holidays always seem to bring; too many cooks in the kitchen, desperately trying to get something done, or to remember if they forgot something. My arrival was perfectly timed to land me right in the middle of a fight between Celia and her mother.
‘How could you not serve cranberries?! It’s Thanksgiving! What in the HELL is Thanksgiving without cranberries?’, Celia’s mother shouted. Celia’s mother is very deceptive. Her physical appearance is that of an older Celia; a slight, petite Italian girl with huge dark eyes. Then she opens her mouth and you are instantly reminded of Joanne Woorley from Laugh-In.
‘Mother, I don’t eat cranberries, Tom doesn’t eat cranberries, the kids don’t eat cranberries, NOBODY eats the GODDAMNED CRANBERRIES!!!!’ Celia acknowledged my presence by rolling her eyes, mouthing ‘crazy bitch’ while pointing back at her mother. For a second, I thought she might have meant me.
‘Hello, Grace!’ Celia Sr. shouted as she hugged me tightly. We had met only a handful of times, but to her I was family. ‘What did you bring?’
I tried to disguise the fact that I was struggling for breath, ‘a pumpkin pecan cheesecake’; I gasped as I set it down on the table.
‘Oh, tres gourmet! Did you order it from Junior’s?’ Before I could answer, Celia said, ‘for the millionth time, MOTHER, Grace is a caterer! Do you think a caterer would order a cheesecake?’ ‘Well, she would if she didn’t want to slave away in the kitchen all damned morning!!’ Celia Sr. screamed back. What I desperately wanted was to run and jump in my car, back out of the driveway at about 65 mph, and fly home as quickly as possible. Instead, Celia grabbed me by the elbow, guided me out of the kitchen and into the living room where the rest of her family were watching football. ‘Everyone, this is Grace. Grace, this is everyone, and you know Tom’. The men grunted ‘hello’, and a couple of children looked at me with disinterest. Celia and Tom’s own daughter was 14 and suddenly too cool for ‘retardo family reunions’. She opted to sulk in her bedroom listen to old Cure albums. Celia smiled at me and slipped back into the kitchen. The yelling between her and her mother resumed.
Tom came up and hugged me. ‘Celia and I are glad you came. Would you like a drink?’ I replied and although I asked for a glass of wine, he brought me a bottle of beer. ‘Is everyone here?’ I asked as I took a drink. The beer was cold and upon tasting it, I realized that I really did want a beer. ‘Not yet, we’re waiting for a friend of mine. He’s single too!’ Tom said the last part in a little singsong voice and suddenly the beer felt like it was gasoline burning down my throat and into my stomach. I realized what this was. Blind Date- the Holiday Version. I was going to kill Celia.
I spun around and went back into the kitchen. I had barely stepped into the doorway when a phonebook went whizzing past me in the air. It stopped short of hitting Celia in the back of the head. ‘That’s it!’ Celia screamed. ‘I’m not having this goddamned dinner anymore!! If anyone wants to eat, help yourself! If not, fuck off!!’ She turned and stomped up the stairs to the bedroom. The bedroom door closed with a resounding ‘SLAM’. Celia Sr. stood there with her mouth hanging slightly open. ‘Can you believe the mouth on her? I didn’t raise her to talk like that!’ Nothing was said of the flying phonebook. I looked at Celia Sr., then at the phonebook on the floor. ‘Why don’t I just go upstairs and make sure she’s ok? I’m sure she’s just stressed’ I realized that I was now doing with Celia’s family what I always did with my own, smooth things over. I grabbed a bottle of wine, and a corkscrew; Celia Sr. just looked at me as I went up the stairs.
I knocked once on Celia’s door and walked in without waiting for an answer. She was sitting on the bed, trying to hold back angry tears. I opened the bottle of wine, took a drink and handed it to Celia. She took two huge gulps and sighed. ‘I’m a terrible daughter’, she whispered. ‘I don’t think your mom is going to win the Nobel Peace Prize if it makes you feel any better’, I said. ‘Anything else you want to tell me? Who is this ‘friend’ of Tom’s?’ Celia sat there quietly for a moment. ‘Before I tell you who’s coming, you have to promise not to get mad. Do you promise, Grace?’