I have always believed that a story should start from the beginning. Whenever I read a book series I start at the beginning and I go in order. My father was less discerning and a voracious reader, he read the series in whatever order he could get his hands on. Our fundamental view of books, stories and characters that we had both read were always different. I think in the long run I got more out of the books by patiently waiting to read a story in the correct order. I have a better memory of what happened and when it happened. My timeline is intact and his is fuzzy. Of course he reads 3 times the books I do. All that being said it would make sense to tell this women my story from the beginning. Unfortunately in real life your story is kind of a mish-mash and the beginning is always somewhere in the murk of your past. As a result, I found that I was not sure how I got on the path that ended up here. The one thing I knew was that my continued silence would probably cause irritation. She seemed to be the calm one but I was not sure that meant much. My general working theory is that abnormalities work harder to get where they are. Twin sisters that appear so innocent must have done some dark stuff to get to a position of power. Havng this theory does not get me out of trouble very often. I am like the tourist who pokes a sleeping bear with a stivk to try and get an action shot and winds up half digested in his belly when the bear autopsy happens later. So what I am thinking right now is that I am in Seattle, WA; talking to someone about money I borrowed in Portland, OR. I had ran to Seattle in an attempt to give myself time to make the money back.... it had been a mistake. I manage to keep the smile an inside one.
"Ray....." Her voice was breathy and I noticed that more then my ears perked up at it. "Ray.... tell me your story. I like to hear the stories."
I finally look up and face her. I am no longer collecting my thoughts. I decide to go for broke and when going for broke you have to start with a triviality. "So why does it make total sense that the Portland underground would be run from Seattle?" I feel the confident smile spread across my face. The one I always use when I talk to the various women who have floated through my life. It always works for a while but Emily was already unfazed by it. She just sits and waits while I forge ahead. I will get that smile to light up her face again or die trying. In fact there was a possibility that both could happen today. "You know, because Seattle is always seen as the cooler, more grown up, big brother to Portland." She just watches me talk. I fidget and try again. "If I told you I bet all the money on a horse named Lucky Legs could we call it a day and set up a repayment plan?"
She just continues to stare at me. "You don't mind if I smoke do you?" I ask but don't wait for an answer. "I usually start smoking whenever I think for very long. Usually clears a room." Still nothing from her. No reaction at all, not even one of irritation. Not that I had opened up with my good stuff. "You know because I was thinking and it made my brain overheat... it's a joke. Things smoke when they overheat..." My voice rises as I say this and continue to be faced with her expressionless face.
"Ray..... stop flirting before I shoot you." I blink in response, fidget a little for good measure, and then launch into my story.
"It was just a fluke originally. I was making dinner for a few friends and they were raving about it and telling me I should do it for a living. They kept telling me I was gifted and I loved the flattery. Naturally I ate it up and I felt good that I had made them something they had so thoroughly enjoyed. The idea was still percolating in my head as we drank the night away. That same idea was competing for space in my head the next day as I battled a pounding hangover while working my sales job. I no longer had to think too sale and I had plenty of time to review my options. I went home that night and I continued to daydream. Weeks went by and I was still fascinated and enthralled by the idea of having my own restaurant. I did more then daydream of course, I went online and priced different options. I also experimented with my own culinary creations. It wasn't a new idea, I had dreamed of it as a future career in my youth. I had pursued it at as a possibility in my college career but real life got in the way. Things like phones, cars, rent, and all those other bills clogged up my path and so I took a job that I hated and soon found that I was stuck. I made great money and it was scary to think of going without that security blanket. Even if it meant I was making my dream a reality."
"So why was your friends' suggestion different? Why did it get stuck in your craw? How come you didn't just keep going along in your comfortable life?" Her interest distracts me from the story momentarily.
"That's a good question.I think it was because for once I was just as taken with the dish I had made as they were. I felt like I had finally started making food that was worth charging people for. I had always felt like I hadn't really earned the right to charge people for food. I always felt I did not quite meet muster. I finally felt like I could pull things together without consulting a recipe. I had ideas of what to do with things that were a little creative and just a shade unique. I knew that what I was putting out was the equal of what I was paying for when I went out and in a lot of cases it far exceeded their example. I was more disappointed then pleased when I went out. I wanted to make it myself; to do it the right way. That idea made me obsess and it ultimately led me to buy a little trailer that I began renovating. Unfortunately, I soon ran out of money. I was never great at saving money and the money I made went out as quick as it came in. I have horrible credit thanks to my irresponsible college years and the loan companies said no when I came around with my hand out. Before I knew it my cart and my dream were dead in the water."
"What about those friends? It was their idea originally, didn't you ask them for help?"
"You know the saying about friends and money?"
"There are a few.... which do you refer too?"
"Before borrowing money from a friend, decide which you need most."
"Ah.... so you decided to borrow from a criminal instead of from friends. Smart move?"
"I didn't say I did not borrow from those friends I simply asked if you knew the saying. I borrowed from those friends but soon I was out of money and I had not even applied for the permits. The cart was ready and so was my menu. I had located a spot for rent and I was just waiting on my next paycheck to get the permits in and my first rental payment paid. That was when the first friend came to me needing the loaned money back. We had a contract, I had attempted to make this all legit, and I was not in default but they were having a crisis and needed money. I tried to explain to them where the money was and remind them that I would pay them on time. I even tried paying some money to them when my paycheck came in. They weren't satisfied, they demanded it all. So I handed over my check to them. I was in a world of hurt at that point. I no longer had money for the space or the permits. To make matters worse I soon found other people knocking on my door asking me to pay them back. It was ugly. I had exhausted all my reputable options and with calls and unannounced visits from friends starting to hurt my work life as well as my personal life I needed some sort of quick fix. I found myself at the bar trying to find a solution at the bottom of my glass. I tried 4, maybe 6 glasses before Denise came in and started yelling at me about owing money that she kept seeing me drink away. It occurs to me that she had a point. My drinking had increased since I borrowed the money. In fact I was on a first name basis with my bartender, her name is Jessie. I also had a mad crush on her and this scene made me feel...... slightly emasculated. Luckily for me it seems my bartender friend likes me enough to overlook that. She invited me over that night and..."
"I am not here to listen to your exploits Ray. They won't impress me." The smile finally lit up her face as she said this. I had achieved my earlier goal. I was not sure how but thought the word emasculate might have had something to do with it.
"Right. Anyway I began hanging out with Jessie a lot and I was paying people off the best I could with my regular job. I hadn't realized I had borrowed so much until they all were bothering me about it. One night I was cooking at Jessie's house for a get together she was having to introduce me to her friends. I was going all out and I was finally feeling calm because I was engrossed in my task. I was once again doing what I loved and it was received very well by her friends. I was not at first but that food won them over. It was at this party that I first met Oompa Loompa, I mean Jimmy." I glance in her direction nervously and the smile is still there and she nods for me to continue."Jimmy and I hit it off pretty well and we began hanging out a lot. He was an old friend of Jessie's apparently. At first we went to bars together and then it was clubs. One night while drinking around the pool he made his offer and we talked. It was days before we settled into a business partnership. Within the month I was open for business. It was not to a very big crowd but made more then I had spent on the food that first day so I was feeling good." I pause to take a breath and at the same time the door flies open to reveal Ava and Jimmy. Ava has a bat and Jimmy is not looking thrilled to have become part of my story.
"You're lying Ray!" Ava barks at me and then she swings. I close my eyes and await the thwack. It doesn't come. I open one eye to see that Emily has blocked the blow with her chair. It seems storytime is over.