The holidays, for me, are all about food and family, about visiting friends and neighbors, touching base with people we keep close to our hearts. It’s about warmth and sharing.
When I wrote The Christmas Toast, and its companion piece The Valentine Toast, I wanted to capture those special moments that bring people together.
Alan Randall Liebowitz is a man stuck in a pattern: right before the holidays his current significant other goes walkabout, leaving him alone … again.
Jacques Lambert is an up-and-comer chef with a bright future—until his partner with benefits runs off, leaving him bankrupt and relying on the kindness of his family.
The local college holds night cooking classes, for seniors mostly. Jack’s sister talks him into applying for a teaching spot. Alan’s neighbor talks him into expanding his horizons. When the lonesome foodie meets the chef of his dreams, more than the scallops are flambéed.
A reviewer said: “It's a wonderful story and emphasized how many times involvement of friends and family can be helpful and instrumental in helping each individual to express themselves and bring out the joy in their lives.”
Here’s an excerpt, told from Jack’s point of view. He and Alan are in that getting to know you phase, including a few pithy observations about their failed relationships and their families…
Alan smiled. It lit the room and nearly sent his heart into defib. “Exactly. I have to work late. A lot. So I have to do most of my shopping on the weekends.”
“Why’s that?” Jack extracted two bottles of dressing, a raspberry vinaigrette and a non-denominational honey mustard.
“Most of our clients in my department are on the west coast.” He hunched his shoulders, enough to alert Jack that it was a sore point. Alan’s next words confirmed it. “Since I’m the only one who doesn’t have a family…”
Jack muttered, “That sucks,” and shut the refrigerator door. He was about to set the bottles on the counter, when he glanced down at the trash can nearly overflowing with broken ceramic dishes. Late nights at the office weren’t the only issues facing his new friend. He decided to take a chance, to pry. It wasn’t usually his way, but for some reason, he felt compelled to learn more.
He selected a shard off the top and asked, “Who was he?” That was a stab in the dark, but most people didn’t destroy every place setting in the kitchen just for the hell of it. That took anger, and lots of it, the kind that came during or after an argument. He poked at a few pieces, looking for blood on the chipped edges. If he found any, he was pretty sure it wouldn’t belong to Alan Liebowitz.
Alan set the knife down, blade facing left, again the alignment precise and practiced. His lips quirked but not in a smile. Whatever had happened was painful to remember. Jack immediately regretted being so nosy.
“Edward.” He swore under his breath, pointing to the piece in Jack’s hand. “That’s Edward. Or what’s left of him.”
Reaching into the trash can again, Jack removed a large piece of what might have been a serving platter. “A little too floral. I can see why you decided to recycle.”
Alan’s mouth continued to twitch, but this time the corner was in an uptick. He was close to smiling. Jack would give his left nut to see the man in a full-out grin.
“Gift from my family when I got my own place.”
“My sister’s got me in a four-poster with a quilt that’s got… Shit, I think they’re tulips. And goddamn wallpaper…” He shuddered.
“Chicks with dicks.”
Jack nearly choked. “Yeah, exactly right. God, they mean well and I love them to bits.”
“…but they just don’t get it, do they?”
“No. But it’s okay. They could all be like Ted…”
“Brother-in-law. Homophobe central.” Except that wasn’t quite true. Jack placed the broken piece in the trash can and mumbled, “Sometimes I think he’s just jerking my chain for the hell of it.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out the cell phone, waved it in the air. “Gave me this.” He wondered if his face looked as perplexed as he sounded.
Alan was facing him, wiping his hands on a towel. For the first time, Jack got a good look at the man’s eyes. They were sea foam, blue and green and stormy, if that was even possible. The glasses—with a thick, black, no-nonsense, I’m a professional frame—hid the luster of those mesmerizing eyes … along with a kindness and sheer niceness behind the rigid posture and semi-compulsive movements.
The urge to pluck the glasses off Alan’s nose was overwhelming, as was the temptation of full lips now just inches away, that mouth begging to be kissed. Instead he managed to keep his voice even, pleasant. “They surprise you, don’t they?”
“I like to be surprised…”
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