Tuesday, October 17, 2017
I know very few women who have made it out of their twenties without being inappropriately groped, harassed, or assaulted in some way. The high school and college years are especially treacherous for women. It happens when you are walking the hallway at school, in the dorm or even in the cafeteria. It happens at parties, concerts and ball games. I’m not talking about innocent brushes against you in the elevator. These are blatant acts—like when some guy, pushes you up against the wall or pulls you onto his lap and licks your neck as his hands roam your body. Maybe he just grabs your breast or sticks his hand up your skirt as he walks by. Or maybe your date thinks “no” means “yes.”
We’re taught to laugh it off, give him a break because he was drunk, or take it as a compliment.
But what do these experiences really teach us?
From an early age, we learn to travel in groups to use the public restroom—not because we need a second opinion on the color of our lip gloss, but because some predator may be lurking in the bathroom stalls. By twenty, we know to hold our keys between our knuckles when we walk to our parked cars. We buy special nail polish that turns colors when dipped into a drink that’s been roofied—just to feel safe. We are told to keep secrets for our own benefit. “Don’t say anything. It won’t do any good. Do you really want everyone to know?” We learn to question ourselves. “Did I do something to provoke it?” “Was my shirt too low cut?” “I shouldn’t have made eye contact with him.” We learn to keep our guard up, and if something does happen to us, it is our fault and we are not worth defending.
I struggled with whether to post on this topic. I am not one to complain or jump on the bandwagon of trending causes. But this is personal to me and I am who I am because of my experiences. I’m a writer and my past gives me fodder for my work. If I’d never had to run from a speeding “Bubba-truck” with two men leaning out the windows taunting me as it chased me down a walking path, I don’t know if I would be able to write about the kind of fear I experienced that day. I know in my heart that if I hadn’t been able to cross the railroad tracks in time and make it to the busy highway (true story), I would not be here to write this post. I know what I know because of my past. My experiences make me a better, more relatable writer. And at this point in my life, I wouldn’t change any of them, even the horrible ones. I’ve survived this far.
But, what would the world be like if our daughters didn’t have to grow up with these experiences? What could be accomplished, if they didn’t have to worry about walking too close to a dark doorway or someone posting a lewd video of them online? I post this with hope for the girls and boys of the future (because it is not just a girl problem). Recognize that assault is widespread and needs to end. Raise your hand to show your friends they are not alone. Keeping secrets does not change the future. We are in this world together. #MeToo
©Susan Schussler 2017
Tuesday, February 14, 2017
I have a new character blogging today. He walked out on Megan Billings in Romancing the Cook Part 5. I decided he needed his own voice and a chance to explain why he walked away.
Kellen: A new beginning
“Rae, can you take table ten?” I ask the other server as she squeezes past me, balancing a tray of drinks above her head.
She stops at my words with her back to me. I don’t miss the opportunity to ogle her bootiful backside. Luckily she doesn’t catch me. She hates it when I objectify her. I wouldn’t do it if she wasn’t so damn good looking. Too bad she has a boyfriend.
“I can’t wait on my ex. I refuse to be cordial to her after what she did in my car. Besides, I won’t get a tip and she’d get better service from you. I’m done servicing her.”
“If I took the table every time one of your exes sat down, I’m pretty sure you’d be out of a job and I’d have to clone myself.” She laughs and walks into the crowded dining area.
She never answered me, which means that she’s not going to do what I want. I only have three tables to begin with, and my ex had to pick one of mine. I’m doing split duty today. Andy called and asked me to fill in on my day off. He didn’t realize the art festival downtown started today or I probably would have been on the schedule. As it is I’m working both kitchen and tables. The small café is packed and Rae, Andy and I can’t seem to keep up with the demand. I don’t have time to deal with a crazy ex-girlfriend.
What do I do? I finish plating the salads for table six while I work on my plan. What’s the worst that can happen? She’ll kick me in the groin? Stab her fork in my eye? I can deal with whatever she’s got. I throw the salads on a tray and deliver them before approaching table ten. I swing the tray in front of me like a shield to protect my junk.
“Sam.” I acknowledge her right off with a jerk of my chin and her name. Girls hate being ignored. I can’t pretend not to see her. “What can I get you guys?”
“Answers,” says her blond friend. I can’t remember her name.
“Be specific. The place is packed and I’m busy.”
“What the hell, Kellen? What happened to us?” asks Sam. “Is it another girl?”
“You threw up in my car.” I can’t believe she doesn’t know why I stopped calling her.
“And I apologized. That can’t be it. That’s stupid,” she says. Her brown eyes glare at me in disbelief.
“Do you want anything to drink?” I ask, tapping my pen against my tablet.
“Kellen, you can’t just walk away because I threw up in your car.”
“I love my car. I can’t help that what you did changed how I feel about you. Do you need menus?” I ask. My tongue rubs the inside of my lip against my lip ring as I stare at her with deadpan eyes.
Sam’s jaw drops open. “You’re serious?”
I force a smile. “So no food then? If you’re not going to eat, we’ve got people waiting.” I point my thumb toward the door where a couple just came in. “And I’ve got other tables to tend.” I walk away. I’ve wasted enough time and need to check on my other tables. I hope she leaves without a scene.
“That’s all you know how to do, isn’t it?”
I turn toward her, hoping she’ll lower her voice or better yet, stop talking.
“Walk away, Kellen Bennet. Just walk away.” She gets up and pushes past me in a huff. “I couldn’t help it. I was sick,” she calls as her friend opens the door to exit.
I turn to the family at the table in front of me and say, “Sorry about that. Now that the show’s over, what can I get you for dinner?” I take their order and hustle back to the kitchen. I’m too busy the rest of the night to rehash in my head what happened. I don’t think I was being too harsh. She threw up in my car! ©Susan Schussler 2017
Wednesday, December 14, 2016
After last night, I’m not sure what to think about Kellen. Sure he’s hot and that lip ring of his invites me to play tug-of-war every time we kiss, but he’s best friends with Chase’s little brother. How do I get past that? The more I think about it, the more weirded out I get.
When Chase and I were together, I never felt Tegan cared much for me. But last night during his monologue about his brother, Tegan started talking about how stupid Chase’s high school girlfriend was. He thought I should have been able to see Chase for the cheater he was, but it wasn’t that easy when I was seventeen. Over the last four years, I’ve gotten better at reading guys, but Chase will probably always be the exception. He used to lie to my face and I never suspected. He mastered the craft. Toward the end of our relationship, I knew about some of his cheating. But at that point, it didn’t matter. I was hooked. Chase was charming and he always made me feel as if I was the center of his universe, even if I wasn’t.
Tegan threw me off because I felt as if he was spelling out who I was to Kellen during his entire rant. But Kellen never seemed to figure it out and that’s what bothers me. He was just as oblivious to my lies as I was to Chase’s. Is it weird that’s what bothers me?
I’m waiting in the coffee shop for him this morning. He has the day off of work and we are going to hang out, without Tegan. I’m determined to tell him the truth about Chase and me because even though Tegan said it would count against me, I don’t want to be a liar.
I got here a few minutes ago and am seated at a small wooden table with my latte. When Kellen spots me, his lips twist into a smile and he sucks his lip ring into his mouth. He motions that he’s going to get in line for his order and I breathe a sigh of relief. It gives me a little more time to think about what I’m going to say. How do you start a conversation telling someone you can’t go out with them again because he’s an idiot for not seeing through the web of lies you spun?
I struggle to formulate my words for several minutes while he waits in line. When Kellen sits down, he looks at me questioningly and I realize I must be scowling. I try to brighten my expression as he sets his drink on the table.
“What is that?” I ask. It looks disgusting. “It looks like someone threw up in your cup.” Green and red chunks cling to the side of the clear plastic cup as green slime swims between the ice cubes.
He laughs, before taking a long draw on the straw. “It’s iced green tea infused with a spinach and strawberry smoothie. The girl at the counter makes them special for me. It’s not on the menu. I don’t drink coffee. Do you want to try it?” He pushes the cup toward me.
The fact that he doesn’t drink coffee is a huge flag. How can anyone function without coffee? Okay, I’m looking for flaws. I always do this with guys. No one will ever be good enough. I decide I am just going to tell him about dating Chase. It can’t get any worse, right?
“I need to tell you…something…before we let this go any farther.” The words stumble out of my mouth as if I'm fourteen.
“We’re going to get farther than kissing today?” He sucks his ring into his mouth and it springs suggestively back out.
I laugh. I guess he’s used to girls just putting out. I shouldn’t tell him.
“What you have a boyfriend? I’m not opposed to dating girls with boyfriends. We can work through this.”
“Really? You’d date a girl with a boyfriend?”
“Well, they can’t be too serious if she’s scouting for another guy.”
“Hum,” I say because he’s right. “Remember when Tegan showed up last night…how weird he got?”
“Let me guess. You’ve dated Tegan?”
“No. But I used to date his brother.” I watch as an expression I can’t identify streaks across his face. Revulsion? Wariness? I’m not sure what he’s thinking. He sits back in his chair, widening the distance between us as he purses his lips. He’s got nice lips.
“Whoa. Not what I expected,” he says.
“Just wanted you to know.”
He takes a sip of his infusion, looking around the coffee shop and not at me.
“Is it a problem?” I ask.
“Tegan knows you. Which means you both lied to me last night and you were the girl he was blabbing on about—the one who was blindly in love with his brother.” He folds his arms across his chest.
“Yeah,” I admit. He looks angrier than I expected.
He stands, picks up his drink and says, “I don’t need this.” Then, he turns and walks out of the coffee shop without looking back.
Wow. I can’t believe he just did that. That wasn’t even the worst thing I could have shared with him. Seriously? I am never opening up about my past to a guy ever again. What a jerk.
Copyright Susan Schussler 2016
Copyright Susan Schussler 2016
Monday, December 12, 2016
Pre-order on Kindle today. I will get one more post on her blog tomorrow before the big release. You are going to love her story. I can't wait for you to read it.
Friday, September 23, 2016
This is crazy. Kellen’s best friend is my ex’s little brother. Suddenly I feel really old.
“I need to find the facilities. Keep Reeves away from her, would ya, Tegan? He’s not trustworthy.” Kellen hands me my water and his beer as his head cocks toward the guy I had been talking to a few minutes ago. “I’ll be right back.” Then he gently squeezes my shoulder before heading toward the house.
I’m not going to ask Tegan about his brother. I’m not going to ask. I smile and crack open my bottle of water.
“You’re dating Kellen?”
“It’s our first date. He made me lunch a couple of times, but those don’t really count. Why did you lie to him?” I lean into him as I speak so Reeves can’t hear our conversation.
“You don’t want him to know you dated my brother. He’s heard all about Chase. He’s a good guy. He doesn’t need that kind of baggage. You’re better off, trust me.”
I don’t know if I should be offended or grateful. I take another sip of water. Tegan raises his bottle of water clacking it against mine.
“To my big brother, keeping those who know him sober.”
He must assume not only I don’t drink, but it’s because of Chase. I feel bad he’s been so affected by his brother’s mistakes. I don’t know what to say though. Would it be better to admit I drink or just leave it at this?
“To Chase,” I say, holding my water up before taking another sip. I want to ask about his brother. I ran into Tegan not that long ago and he told me Chase had gotten treatment for his drug problem. I want to know more, but I’m here with Kellen. Besides, I don’t want Tegan telling Chase I was asking about him. Last time I saw Tegan he was carrying a toddler who was obviously his.
“Tell me about your son,” I say because maybe it will distract me from Chase.
“Another time. Kellen would never believe we just met if he came back and I was talking about my kid. He knows me too well. Let’s keep up the charade. What have you been up to?”
“School. Work. Not much else. What about you?”
“I’m an artist,” he laughs and lifts up his shirt.
“Wow. You’re ripped, little bro.”
He smiles and says, “No. My art.”
He lifts his shirt higher and points to the colorful dragon which wraps around his side. Intricately drawn scales give the colored skin a 3D effect.
“You didn’t tattoo that.” There is no way he could have inked himself.
“No, but I designed it.”
“Stop showing her your abs. You’re making me look bad,” says Kellen, grabbing his beer from my hand and lifting his shirt as well. “I’m close, right?” And he is.
“In what universe?” asks Tegan. “Maybe if you stopped eating all that gourmet food you make.”
“Well, when you’re sixty your once fierce dragon is going to be all stretched out and sagging. Not even his claws will be able to hold him tight on your ribs. No girl’s going to want to touch it then.”
“And when you’re sixty they’ll have to roll you through the door.” Tegan’s arms circle his belly like a big beach ball as he sways back and forth, puffing out his cheeks.
“Shut it. I’m not going to be a beach ball. What I make is healthy, and you’re making me look bad. How am I supposed to get her into bed when you’re putting those graphics in her head?”
“Not my problem.”
Tegan meets my eyes and I wonder what he thinks of his best friend in bed with me. Then Kellen pulls me into a standing position and slides into my chair before pulling me onto his lap. His arms wrap around me. I swear this guy runs ten degrees warmer than most guys or I could be too close to the fire now.
I am quiet again. Now Tegan is here I’m self-conscious about every touch of Kellen’s hands. It shouldn’t make a difference, but it does.
“So Megan doesn’t drink either,” Kellen says to Tegan before taking another gulp of his beer. “But, she hasn’t shared her story yet.”
“Share your story, Megan,” Tegan says with mischief in his eyes.
“I don’t have a story. Designated driver, remember?”
“Well…I’ll share my story.” Tegan turns as if making an announcement to the entire group. “My dick of a big brother decided he was the only person in the world who mattered. He figured he could do whatever he wanted and everyone around him would have to adjust their lives to accommodate him. He got high every day until it wasn’t enough to satisfy him. Then he moved on to pills. He destroyed the lives of all who loved him without a second thought. He had this great girlfriend who was the sweetest girl in the world, He totally didn’t deserve her. I thought of her as my sister, a part of the family. Her only fault was she was blind to what an ass he really was. He cheated on her left and right. I tried to tell her once, but she wouldn’t listen. He could do no wrong in her eyes. She eventually tried to get him help for his addiction, but he thought he was so smart he didn’t need help. He always thought he was smarter than everyone else. When she finally woke up and left him, he lost it. He took too many pills, trying to end it and ended up in the hospital. Of course, he survived, you know, like the drunk always survives the car accident he causes while everyone else involved becomes a statistic.”
I stifle a gasp because I didn’t realize Chase tried to end his life. Why would he do that? I had given him an ultimatum and he chose the drugs over me. He had no right to change his mind. I look around the bonfire and realize no one else heard Tegan’s monologue. I guess the tale was for my ears only.
“I’m sorry your brother hurt you,” I say. “He sounds messed up.”
“You think. They found him unconscious, covered in vomit and forced him into treatment. Since he’s sober, he acts as if he never had a problem and lectures me about my drinking. But he doesn’t realize, I don’t drink—I never have—because of him. I refuse to be like him.”
“What is with you tonight? Megan doesn’t want to know about your loser brother. You are acting so weird.” Kellen turns from him to me and adds, “He’s usually a really fun guy. Just ignore him.” Kellen leans in and kisses the corner of my mouth.
The picture of Chase covered in vomit clouds my head. I pushed him to that by leaving him. If I stayed would he have gotten help before ending up like that? What am I supposed to think? Kellen’s hand slides to the back of my neck, pulling me in as his lips cover mine. I am not in the mood to make out. I pull back, meeting Tegan’s eyes.
“I didn’t mean to upset you,” says Tegan.
“I’m fine.” I grab Kellen’s beer and down a swig. I wish I wasn’t driving. I could use a drink.
“So you do drink,” says Tegan.
“Yep. No dark past. I drink. I just don’t want to tonight.” I smile at Kellen. He slowly sucks his lip ring into his mouth. My announcement intrigues him, I can tell. I glance at Tegan and he lifts his eyebrows as if he thinks I’m putting on a show. I’m not. OK, maybe I am, but I can’t let Tegan know Chase’s story bothers me. I don’t know what I would do if I ran into Chase again and I don’t want his brother mentioning I’m still hung up on him. I smile and lick my lips before pressing them against Kellen’s. My tongue fiddles with his lip ring and he deepens the kiss.
Tegan clears his throat and Kellen pulls back. I made my point. Chase Maxwell no longer controls me. © Susan Schussler 2016
Thursday, September 22, 2016
(Repost. New Post on ROMANCING THE COOK tomorrow.)
We stop at the big white cooler before joining the crowd at the fire pit and Kellen digs around until he finds a bottle of water. He hands it to me with a smile and says, “You do drink, right? You’re not one of those religious types who doesn’t want to meet his maker drunk?”
“No, I’m not afraid of dying drunk.”
“Then you’ve either been through treatment or you’re close to someone who has.”
My mind immediately goes to Chase, even though his problem was drugs, not alcohol. “I drink. I just don’t want to tonight.”
He rummages through the cooler again, pulling out a beer and cracking it open. He takes a sip, penetrating me with a humorous gaze and then says. “This is our third date, counting our two lunch dates.” He licks his lips, pulling his lip ring into his mouth with his tongue and then releasing it. “There are certain expectations on a third date.”
“Really?” I say because if he thinks I’m sleeping with him, he’s wrong.
“Yeah.” He grasps my chin ever so softly and trails his thumb over my lower lip. “I should at least get to kiss you on our third date.”
I smile and before I can say anything his lips are on mine. I brace my hands on his broad shoulders, really strong shoulders, as I deepen the kiss. I thought his piercing would be awkward rubbing against my lip, but it’s sensual, erotic even. He pulls back just as I want more.
“See that wasn’t so bad.” He licks his lips again, and I want to suck that ring into my mouth.
Just then jeers break out from the crowd around the fire. I look over and everyone is staring at us. He takes a shallow bow as if we had just performed on stage, places his hand at the small of my back motioning me to walk, and we head toward the onlookers. Kellen pulls up two chairs as the circle widens to accommodate us. Everyone is watching as we settle into our seats. After he introduces me the conversation returns to its previous level of chatter, and he pulls my chair closer to his, resting his arm on the back of it.
The discussion burns through strategy based type video games and the idiocy of politics, finally, it settles on the latest Comedy Central star to hit the big screen and whether she was hot enough to do. Most of the guys agree there is something about her which makes her desirable. I’m quiet, for me, as I scrutinize the group. It’s interesting to watch Kellen interact with his friends. Maybe I am a little more detached because I don’t know anyone or maybe it’s because I’m not drinking I enjoy the carefree silliness of their dialogue.
I’m relaxed and I don’t care I don’t know anyone because I’m enjoying the date. Kellen’s sweet, but not clingy. His leg is pressed against my knee. I’ve never understood the way men sit. Is it a peacocking thing to sit with your legs spread as far as possible? Are they airing out their junk or showing it off? I guess it’s not that different from women crossing their legs. My tiny white shorts would be obscene if I sat like him.
I am very aware of his body. The heat emanating from him is incredible. His arm trails along the back of my chair as his fingers gently stroke my neck. It feels good and I am not going to disrupt him by changing positions to cool off.
Several people have just arrived and are helping themselves to drinks at the cooler when Kellen leans in and says, “Crap. I didn’t know she would be here. She shouldn’t be here. Sorry in advance for anything she may say to you.”
I look to the group coming toward us and then back to him with a questioning expression. He’s nervously sucking that luscious ring into his mouth again. “The brunette in the skirt is my ex.”
“I figured that. She’s the only girl. How ex?” I ask as she stares at me, and if he says yesterday I’m leaving.
“OK. How long did you date?” She's still glaring and if she had laser eyes I’m sure I would be a pile of ash by now.
“Not that long.”
“That was vague.” I look into his eyes to see what he’s hiding.
“About eight months.”
“Why’d you break up?”
A coy smile crawls onto his face. “Did anyone ever tell you, you ask a lot of questions?”
“Is that rhetorical?” He looks at me as if he doesn’t know the meaning of rhetorical, so I say, “No.”
“She’s crazy. Nutso, schizoid, certifiable. That’s why we broke up.”
“Is she going to stalk and kill me on my way home?”
“Probably,” he answers twisting his lips in a smirk.
“I guess I better make this worth it.” I lean in and mesh my lips with his. It takes about a heartbeat before he realizes what I’m doing. Then his hand at the back of my neck pulls me in closer. I suck his ring into my mouth and tug on it with my tongue—very erotic. The groan he makes is way too loud, and if the crowd hadn’t noticed us before, they have now. I don’t know if it was the smartest move to flaunt the kiss in front of his ex, but if she hadn’t glared at me I would have played nice. It’s childish, but so much fun. I let the ring go and pull back. He smiles. I refuse to regret it. We aren’t the only couple making out in front of everyone tonight. I saw at least two other couples coupling. I sit back in my chair, and his fingers dig softly in my hair.
I look up and the ex is sitting on the edge of her seat with her back to us as she talks to another girl. I’m not usually such a bitch and I don’t know the whole story, but she started it with her hatred eyes. I glance around and no one seems to be paying attention to the two of us. Kellen raises an eyebrow and says, “She’s going to kill you for sure, now.”
“I can take her.” I laugh and then he smiles.
“I believe you can. I need another drink. Are you sure you don’t want a drink? One drink’s not going to kill ya.”
“I’m sure. Another water would be good.” I smile appreciatively and his whole face lights up as he heads for the cooler.
When he returns he’s got another newcomer with him. I didn’t see them come down to the fire pit because I was talking to the guy next to me, but I can feel the heat coming off of Kellen’s body. They’re standing behind my chair so I turn and try to stay composed.
“You’ve got to meet my best bud. We’ve been friends forever. Megan, this is Tegan Maxwell.”
I swallow hard and smile, readying to spill my past to my date.
That’s when Tegan extends his hand and says, “It’s great to meet you, Megan.”
Wow. He’s as good of a liar as his older brother, Chase. © Susan Schussler 2015
Monday, September 12, 2016
Repost (New post on this story next week)
I slide into the same booth I sat in yesterday. I can’t wait to see what my personal chef has dreamed up for today’s meal. My expression wilts with disappointment when my usual server appears at my booth.
“Do you want a menu?” Her raspy smoker’s voice scratches through the air.
I never got the cook’s name so I’m not sure how to ask for him. “The guy in the kitchen was going to make me something.” That sounded completely lame. Of course, the guy in the kitchen was going to make me something, this is a restaurant. I pause. “Can I talk to him?”
She shakes her head, turning her face to the ceiling as if asking God for strength. “Romeo, there’s another victim out here for you,” she calls toward the kitchen.
He comes out of the back wiping his hands on his towel just like yesterday and raises his chin in acknowledgment with a smile. When he sits down, I raise my eyebrows and stay silent.
“I’ve got something special for us today. How do you feel about Thai food?”
“I like Thai food, Romeo.”
“That’s not my name.” His smirk tells me that he doesn’t mind the nickname. He reaches a handout. “Hi, I’m Kellen.”
“Megan,” I say, meeting his hand. “So. You often suck unsuspecting women into your vortex with your culinary skills?”
He smiles. “That and other skills.”
I laugh. He’s a bit cocky, isn’t he? I may as well ask. School starts in a couple of weeks and I don’t have anything to lose by asking him out. “So what time do you get off of work?”
“I’ll just go let Andy know I’m leaving. He can handle the kitchen without me.”
That’s not what I meant. I smile at his presumption. “I meant, after work, we could get a drink or something,” I say, though I know he’s underage. “You promised me a meal and I have to go back to the clinic for a couple more hours of work.”
“I knew what you meant. You can’t fault a guy for trying, though, can you?” He nods toward the kitchen and adds, “Our food should be ready,” before heading behind the counter.
He comes back out a couple of minutes later with a large plate and two sets of flatware, positioning himself across from me again. The food is even better than yesterday’s. Taking my second bite, I say, “You should be on Top Chef.”
“That’s what I keep telling everyone, but nobody listens.”
He rises again and I immediately take a large savoring bite. This could possibly be the best meal I have ever eaten. When he returns, he places two glasses of ice water on the table and leans in, holding up an extra napkin. He’s inches from my face when he wipes my cheek and says, “You had dragon sauce.” He looks into my eyes, way to close. I’m not going to kiss him, so my choices are to awkwardly take a bite of food or talk.
“I must be devouring it too fast,” I say. “This is really good.”
He backs away, sitting on the other side of the booth. “You like?” He unwraps his flatware and fills his fork.
I nod and just like that I’ve averted a possible game changer I’m not ready to address.
“I’m supposed to meet some friends tonight out in Grant Township. Do you want to come as my date?”
My lips twist as I consider his proposal. I know nothing about this guy other than what I learned yesterday during our lunch. I don’t really want to ride with a guy I barely know to meet up with his friends. On the other hand, what do I have to lose? He seems harmless, and I can defend myself if needed. “Okay, but I’m driving.”
“How am I supposed to get you drunk so I can take advantage of you if you drive?”
“I don’t drink,” I lie. “Or at least I won’t be tonight whether you drive or not.” Was that too assertive? I don’t want him to go into this with a false impression of me. “You may as well take advantage of a sober ride.”
He agrees and we talk, finishing our meal. It turns out that we went to the same high school, but weren’t actually there at the same time because as a freshman he was still at the junior high when I was a senior. Eeww. I shiver at the thought. We’re both adults now though. I need to stop worrying about our age difference. He’s cute, intelligent, and an incredible cook. There’s no problem.
He gives me his number and address, and we make plans for me to pick him up at nine. I don’t really know what I am doing, but I may as well see if there is potential in this guy. His cooking skills alone could keep me entertained until I have to head back to class.
His address is across town from where I grew up. The houses in his neighborhood are close together with overgrown hedges and cars lining the street. He’s waiting for me on the front step as I pull up and is practically in the car before I put it in park.
He smells good, all traces of the restaurant washed away, his hair still damp. “So…you live with your parents?” I ask.
He nods hesitantly and adds, “I was supposed to get a place with a friend but he backed out. I don’t make much at the restaurant. What am I supposed to do?”
“Don’t sweat it. I live with mine too, during the summer.” I pull the car away from the curb after he’s buckled and start driving in the direction I know we will have to go, even though I don’t know our destination.
“Are you going to school?”
“Yep. I graduate in the spring from the U. Some friends and I rent a house off campus during the school year.
“Did you go to college because you wanted to or because it was expected of you?”
“Both, I guess. What else is there to do?” I don’t want to insult him but school is really the only way to get ahead and have a career verses a job.
“Everyone expected me to go too, but I just couldn’t do it. If I’m going to put out the kind of money it takes to get a four year degree then it’s going to be something I want. I’m doing what I want to do right now. Besides there’s no guarantees that I’d even get a job after paying all that money for school anyway.”
He’s right. But I try to push the worries about getting a job out of my head, at least for the night. “Well you’re really good at what you do. I was serious when I said you should be on Top Chef.”
“That’s my favorite show. That and Chopped. I’ve thought about going to culinary school. Maybe in another year I’ll have enough money saved and I can start classes.”
“Do you know where we’re going, because at the next stop sign we either have to go north or south and I have no clue which way?”
“Take a right at the next road,” he says. “What are you going to school for?”
“Education and Math.” I try to keep my answer short. I don’t want to talk about me. He doesn’t ask any more questions and we sit in silence for a couple of uncomfortable beats. “How long have you been cooking?”
“Since elementary school. My mom worked late every night and if I wanted anything decent to eat I had to learn to make it myself. As I got older it just became my role. I have two younger sisters that were too involved in sports and dance to take on cooking. My dad died when I was little.” He sits back and sucks his lip ring into his mouth as if he’s worried what I may think.
I’m really starting to like this guy. He’s mature for a teenager and the lip ring intrigues me. I turn back to the road and smile. “I think that’s great, and you enjoy making it.” I say the last part tentatively and I hope he takes it as a positive instead of negative.
“And you enjoy eating it.”
My jaw drops. “I don’t usually get complaints.” I wave my right hand down my side to emphasize my point.
“I’m not complaining. I like a girl who’s not afraid to eat. Most girls take one bite of my food and then push it around on the plate. I think it’s great that you’re a member of the clean plate society.”
I laugh. Did we really eat everything on the plate? I glance at him again to read his expression. “I do like to eat when the food is worth the calories. I can always work out.” I say it as a complement. He doesn’t need to know how much I hate working out, when he obviously lifts weights. “Besides, you ate half of it.”
“And it was damn good.” He points at the next street, and I turn.
About halfway down, our path narrows as cars fill the road’s edges. I find a spot to park and then I follow him across a lush green lawn to a brick path. As we round the corner of the house I see about twenty people seated around a large fire pit, just the reflection of the fire lighting their faces. I don’t spot anyone I know, and I resolve to just enjoy my date.
© Susan Schussler 2015
Thursday, August 4, 2016
It’s late afternoon before I take a break to eat. I can’t stop thinking about Chase and I can’t tell anyone that I’m thinking about him. All my friends hate him for what he did to me. I don’t know why I can forgive him when they can’t. I guess I understand Chase Maxwell. He never meant to hurt me. He just has poor impulse control. He doesn’t know when to stop pushing to the extreme. If he is really drug-free maybe he’s changed. Maybe I wouldn’t know him at all. Three years is a long time. His brother Tegan didn’t give me any insight into Chase’s sober life. Chase always had such a carefree way about him. Every sentence that came out of his mouth was either sarcasm or a joke. Maybe I wouldn’t even like drug-free Chase. I shouldn’t waste my time thinking about him.
I look out the window at the mental health clinic across the street and spot a hottie dressed to the hilt in a tailored suit coming out the door. He looks to be about thirty but still striking. He’s not my usual type, though I think my tastes may be maturing. I wonder if he is part of the study I am compiling for my friend Alli’s mom. She’s a psychiatrist at the clinic and paying me to gather statistics on her clients. It’s an easy job inputting data and compiling charts, and it will look good on my resume.
“Hey, gorgeous. You waiting for someone?” a tenor voice infiltrates my thoughts.
I turn to see who is addressing me and shake my head. The dark-haired cutie standing next to my booth wipes his hands on the towel hanging out of the waistband of his jeans, and then sits down across from me, stretching his legs out next to mine. As his grey eyes penetrate me he sucks his bottom lip into his mouth, catching the ring pierced through his lower lip with his tongue.
“You’re not my usual server,” I say, holding eye contact.
He tilts his head toward the counter where the girl who usually waits on me is eating. She must be on break. I’ve only been here twice before, but she was my server both times.
“Do you want a coffee and a house salad like yesterday? Or can I make you something with flavor?”
I didn’t realize he even noticed me. I saw him working in the kitchen, but didn’t know he saw me.
“Surprise me.” I don’t know why I say it, but I do, and my words light a fire in his eyes.
“Coming right up.” As he rises from his seat, he smirks. He ducks behind the counter and returns a minute later with a tall glass of ice water and a set of flatware wrapped in a paper napkin.
“You’re going to need this. Something tells me you like hot and spicy.” He sets them on the table in front of me, then he winks and returns to the kitchen.
I hear pots clanking in the back and since the café is nearly empty, I know that it is either for show or my meal. He peeks at me through the serving window and smiles. I like his smile. When he returns ten minutes later carrying a huge plate brimming with pasta and vegetables, I can’t help but be impressed. It looks delicious and smells even better with garlic, basil, onion, peppers and summer squash.
“I didn’t realize you served pasta here.”
“We don’t. This was supposed to be my lunch.” He holds up a second set of flatware and sits down across from me. “I don’t mind sharing.” He dips his fork into the pasta and lifts a bite to his mouth as if I’m the intruder on the meal.
I stare at him in disbelief, but he just smiles. Then the aroma overtakes me and I have to join him. “Thanks for sharing,” I say before taking a bite.
He smiles and waits for my reaction. “Three, two, one,” he whispers.
And the flavor explodes in my mouth. Ohmygod. He pushes my ice water toward me. My tongue is on fire, but in a good way. I down a mouthful of water and then say, “This is so good.”
He smiles again before taking another bite. The food is amazing and that alone scores him points, but he’s cute and definitely has attitude. As we chat with easy conversation, I discover he’s only nineteen and that’s a bit of a turn off. I don’t usually pay attention to younger guys. I’m going to make an exception this time, though. I’m twenty-one so it’s not that big of an age difference.
We make a date to have him make me lunch again tomorrow and somehow over a meal I’ve almost completely forgotten about sober Chase.
Copyright 2015 Susan Schussler
Copyright 2015 Susan Schussler
Monday, July 11, 2016
I am reposting this prequel story to Between Friends before I finish it, just to refresh your memory and get you in Megan’s head before her book comes out. I really love Megan’s snarky character, but don’t let her exterior fool you. You will see a completely new side to her in the next book. --Susan
Megan: The Summer before Between Friends (Chase’s brother)
Today, I met the girls downtown for lunch. I sat facing the river on the large wooden deck as we discussed Sarah’s new boyfriend. She seemed a bit overwhelmed by her new relationship, but I guess that’s understandable. I don’t know what I would do in her situation. Though I’m happy for her, I don’t think she is being realistic. The relationship won't last and she's going to get hurt.
After lunch, I ran into Tegan Maxwell on Main Street in front of the yogurt shop. I had parked by the antique store, my mom loved so much, and was walking back to my car when I heard my name called from across the street.
I almost didn’t recognize him. The last time I saw him he was a round-faced sixteen-year-old, but today he was all grown up. The toddler in his tattooed arms, a testament of his maturity, dawned the same dark hair and sapphire blue eyes as Tegan. Those eyes. I knew those eyes well. They were identical to the ones I’d stared into for years in high school. Though his hair was dark, his eyes looked the same as Chase’s.
Tegan wrapped me in his arms and kissed my cheek as if I was his long lost sister.
“Megan, I can’t believe you’re walking the streets of Stillwater.”
“I’m not a streetwalker,” I said with a laugh. “I am from here.” I didn't know if I should admit I was living at home for the summer.
“No, that’s not what I meant.” He gripped my arm and squeezed, breaking into a huge smile. “It’s just great to see you.”
“It’s great to see you, too. WOW, you’ve got a kid, Tegan.”
“Yeah.” He looked down at his feet and I saw a glimpse of the sixteen-year-old little brother of my ex I remembered. “It’s a long story.”
He introduced the boy. And as I greeted him I thought about his Uncle Chase. It must have shown on my face because Tegan said, “Chase went to rehab, you know. He’s clean.”
This news slapped my consciousness, pulling thoughts of Chase and me that I had buried deep back to the surface. I always used Chase’s drug problem as a barrier between us, but with him sober, what crutch would I use to keep away from him?
Tegan explained all the gritty details that led to Chase’s recovery and as I listened, I realized the story had more to do with me than I wanted to admit. An hour passed as we stood on the sidewalk talking. The toddler’s sapphire-colored eyes had long since closed and he lay limp in his daddy’s arms, exhausted by the summer’s heat. As we readied our goodbyes, fear must have shown on my face because Tegan looked at me as if he wanted to say more, but then tightened his jaw and said, “I better get this guy a proper nap. Maybe we’ll run into each other again.”
I wanted to give him my number to pass along to his brother, I really did, but I couldn’t. The number Chase had for me was changed long ago in a deliberate effort to keep him out of my life. I’d worked so hard to erect the wall between us, I couldn’t risk bringing it down. Copyright 2015 Susan Schussler