Friday, January 24, 2014

A Dozen Apologies Chapter Five

Mara is having quite the adventure, isn't she?

If you're just joining us, we're posting chapters of our Valentine novella here on the blog - one chapter per weekday through February 5. Then we're going to let the READERS decide Mara's hero that will be revealed in the final chapter of A Dozen Apologies, releasing Valentine's Day!

Read Chapter One.
Read Chapter Two.
Read Chapter Three.
Read Chapter Four.

Chapter Five – May
Collin Tate

Mara wiped sweaty hands on her slacks. Mr. Onri, the owner of Se La Paris Catering Service, eyed her over the résumé.
“You have no experi-ahhnce.” The accent sounded fake, played to the extreme.
“I served at a wedding once.” She didn’t tell him she only cut the cake.
“Hmm.” He steepled his fingertips. “I will give you a chance at a Chamber of Commerce award banquet tomorrow evening. You will arrive at two o’clock and plan to stay until well after midnight.”
“I can do that.”
He smirked, making his cliché mustache wiggle. “You will not turn into a pumpkin?”
“No.” She attempted a chuckle that fell flat.
The man waved her off, and she scooted back into the cloudy May afternoon.
She had a job. A decent one.
A blonde pregnant lady rounded the corner, almost bumping into Mara. She laughed. “I’m so sorry. With this belly, what little grace I did have is long-gone.”
Mara smiled. “So, I’m guessing you’re not a ballet dancer, huh.”
“Hardly. I’m a cater-waiter.” She pointed to the Se La Paris door.
“Oh, I just got a job here. I start tomorrow,” Mara introduced herself.
“So nice to meet you. Dee Townsend … and kid. This is a great place to work, super benefits, which I’m going to need here in another month.” Dee opened the shop door. “I’m working tomorrow’s job, too. If you have any questions, let me know.”
Mara thanked her. That help might come in handy.
With a lot of day left, she could concentrate on that next apology.


Garrett had never met the next man on Mara’s apology list. Not so surprising. After their short courtship and massive breakup, she’d never laid eyes on Collin Tate again.
Mara tried a search on the university database first but found no listing for him graduating any time after they’d met outside the science building.
She let their first encounter drift through her mind.
He had looked like an old man, stooped over the white fence wearing paint-covered overalls and a baggy t-shirt. A stained ball cap hid his hair, and he carried a bucket of paint in one hand and a bleached brush in the other.
“That’s your new fellow.” Jenny had laughed as she joined Mara on the step.
Mara resisted, claiming he wasn’t a student, just some contract painter, but then he turned around. Mirrored shades and jet black tufts of hair curling under the edges of the cap revealed a younger guy. A hick from the sticks by the look of things. An easy mark.
True to the plan, Mara had engaged him in conversation.
He’d smiled and removed his glasses, uncovering striking blue eyes. Cute. But definitely nerd-ish.
She asked about his odd job. The work-study program was part of his baseball scholarship. He couldn’t receive actual money for the job, but the university paid for most of his necessities.
Baseball? He was a dreamer, hoping to pitch someday in the major leagues. Mara cared little about the sport, though her dad had rarely missed a Braves game. But she had noticed how Collin’s face lit up when he talked about his passion. And unlike most of the guys she knew, he listened to her talk about her family and her classes.
He had chuckled when she told him about her struggles in chem-lab. “I’m not a chemistry-major, but I’m pretty good at it if you should ever need any help.”
“Actually, I could use some help tonight but not on chemistry.” She’d gone on to explain how her escort for the autumn banquet of her sorority had bowed out at the last minute. With a minimum of eyelash batting she secured her new “date.” He even had a tuxedo. Bonus.
Mara rubbed her eyelids and concentrated on the computer screen in front of her. A Google search showed hundreds of men with variations on the name. She switched to images and scanned down the page until one stood out. Unmistakable. His eyes.
She clicked the link and found the local news website. Collin Tate was in a picture taken during a grand opening for a Brim Café. He wore an apron, so he worked for them or he had. His curly dark hair was shorter than it had been in college. Still a little messy on the top with a few stray locks edging his forehead.
But where was he? The outside of the Brim looked just like all of the others. A red ribbon spanned the entrance and Mayor Milton Price held a pair of giant scissors. The photographer showed up in the reflection of the glass. A small crowd had gathered near the street, likely waiting for their first cup of the day.
Wait. Behind the people, she recognized the buildings: Three Sisters Boutique, with its black circular awning, and the drug store, bright white and still looking like it stepped right out of the 1940s. Good thing Main Street didn’t change all that often.


After such a late night of searching, Mara slept in a bit. Or maybe the late night was just an excuse to put off this meeting. She snuggled against her feather pillow while the crisp air coming through her window faded into the morning sunlight. She tried to put Collin’s blue eyes out of her mind.
It wasn’t just his eyes, though. It was the crinkle on the edges that popped out when he grinned. The way he chuckled at her jokes and gave her a mischievous glance when he poised to say something clever. And how he held her hand, not crushing palm-to-palm with fingers entwined. Soft, caressing. Like a dance.
If only she’d embarrassed him that first night instead of leading him on. But no. As the instigator of their little game—the ruthless one—Mara had to win at all costs.
She cranked herself into an upright position and zombie-walked to the bathroom. Taking a little extra time, she swept her dark hair off her face to make it ready for the bun she’d use during her job that evening. She donned her faded lime capris and a turquoise and green top with some bright beads to match the sunny weather, and trotted down the steps.
Hardly morning, by the time Mara reached the Brim on Main Street, there was little traffic and fewer customers. One older fellow sat with a newspaper, and a few others tapped away at laptops.
The entrance door jingled, and Collin, standing behind the counter, lifted his head. His ready smile dropped off as their eyes met.
Breathe. For an instance, she forgot how.
“You wanted something?”
And walk. She stumbled forward, taking a long inhale. “Um ... yes. I wondered—”
“Coffee?” The muscle in his jaw popped just above the line where his dark stubble began.
“Uh, sure.” She’d had her speech all planned out, but the words became jumbled.
Collin flattened his palms on the low counter. Impatience painted his face. “What kind?”
Kind? Oh, yeah—coffee. She checked out the menu hanging behind him, but her mind whirled. The sign might as well have been written in Egyptian. “Just cappuccino.”
“Sure.” He stepped away.
“With vanilla.”
He set the cup on the bar and rang up the total on a register.
Handing over the cash, she mustered her determination. “May I talk to you?”
Snatching up a rag he walked around the bar, approaching a recently evacuated table. “I don’t have time.”
“I don’t mind you working while we talk.”
He began wiping down chairs. “I do.”
“Please, just for a minute.”
“What do you want from me?” He straightened. “Was your little bash at the grove not enough of a lark for you?”
“I just want to apologize.” She looped a strand of hair around her finger and tugged. “I know I upset you—”
“Upset me?” He bent over another chair and rubbed away at the seat, uttering a scornful laugh. “Three guys from the wrestling team held me down in the wet grass while you and all your sorority sisters flung beer in my face.”
“I know. It was mean—”
“Mean doesn’t begin to describe what you did. I was ready to commit to you, or did you forget the bracelet I offered you that night? The one you laughed at before my alcohol shower.”
She shut her eyes. “I never expected anything like that.” The foggy glade by the river, the laughter, and mixed smells of dead fish and beer had haunted her dreams for years, even before she came home. “You have to believe that the memory of that party is a nightmare.”
“The party was nothing. Being left out there miles from the campus, now that was painful.” His arm muscle flexed as he ran his towel over a table.
“That wasn’t my idea.” The limp words hung like the rags on the hook behind his bar.
He whirled on her. “And what was your idea, huh? Lead on some poor hick then make him the spectacle of your own private Coliseum?”
The anger poured out of him with such force that Mara took a step backward.
“I walked until almost dawn. Got picked up by campus cops and jailed because I smelled like a brewery.” His volume rose.
She edged toward the door.
“I got suspended from the baseball team, my scholarship revoked. All because of your little game.” He shoved a finger against her shoulder.
Her cup dropped to the floor as tears brimmed and trickled down her cheeks. She had no idea she’d caused such pain.
“But you know the worst part?” He straightened and rubbed the back of his neck before bending his face to her level. The blue eyes narrowed to slits. “I worried about you. There I was, kicked out and packing to leave, but all I could think about was how you were going to study for your chemistry exam. How’s that for stupid?”
“I had no idea.” Her words barely extended beyond a whisper.
“So you’ll understand when I ask you nicely to take your flimsy apology and get out of my shop.”
Stumbling out of the door, Mara’s eyes stung with tears. Main Street turned into a cubist’s painting with the sun’s glare. Somehow she made it into her car and leaned her head on the steering wheel, letting the tears go.
She’d destroyed Collin’s whole life, his dream of playing professional baseball. And for what? A dinner that she hadn’t even liked?
“Oh, Lord, I’m sorry. I’ve done this horrible thing.” A knot tightened in her stomach. Good thing she hadn’t eaten anything.
She swiped the base of her hand across both eyes and shifted into reverse. The least she could give the man was her absence. Please help Collin forgive. Whether I ever know about it or not.


A few hours and a good cry later, Mara met Dee and helped her load the truck, amazed at all of the items they carted with them. Not only food, but bins of plates, table wear, and crystal. At least a dozen boxes of linens, tablecloths, and chair covers, filled half of the truck.
A black BMW cruised into the lot, causing Mara to veer out of its way.
“Be careful with that,” Mr. Onri shouted as he climbed from the vehicle.
Startled, Mara jostled the elaborate feathered centerpiece.
“Idi-oat. Those decorations are fragile, worth a month of your sal-ry.” He flounced into the building.
Then don’t snap at me. She sighed and set the box on the bed of the truck before scooting it into place closer to the others.
“Don’t mind Mr. Onri.” Dee rolled a filled cart toward the loading ramp.
“His bark is worse than his bite?”
She laughed. “Oh, no. His bite is brutal. But he treats everyone with the same intense antagonism.”
Somehow that tidbit didn’t make Mara feel any better.
The two women and a couple of men set up the venue, the high school cafeteria. Surprisingly, the room didn’t look half-bad when they finished, with a portion of the room set up as a dance floor and the remaining area as an elegant dining hall.
By the time the guests began arriving, Mara convinced herself that she had a handle on the cater-waiter job. Order and deliver drinks. Serve hors d’oeuvres. Simple.
Then Collin Tate walked into the room. Her heart stopped. Only a few hours after she’d determined to leave the man at peace, she faced serving him all evening. Unless she could avoid him.
Her plan worked fine until the dancing started after dinner.
Mara had relaxed a little. She and Dee set up a chocolate bar. She hoped that Collin didn’t venture near, though pitchers full of chocolate drew attention. She laid stacks of dessert plates on the table while Dee assembled a set of three large bowls for a huge chocolate fountain. Dee turned on the machine and emptied the pitchers of chocolate into the top bowl.
The chocolate poured into the middle bowl and spilled over into the bottom one. When it hit that lowest level, the bottom dish shook and tilted.
Mara darted for the glass configuration, but the bowl had a mind of its own, lurching forward and splashing its contents over the front of her black vest and pants. She flung her arms around the circumference, trying to stop its topple, but in her current state, the machine kept pouring warm liquid into her shirt front.
Trying to step back, she slipped on the soggy carpet and landed on her tailbone. The remaining chocolate in the bowl splashed into her face. With the container removed, chocolate poured across the table and spewed as air entered the pump.
Dee shut off the machine.
Several guests applauded.
Mara scooped as much of the dark liquid into the dish as she could. She picked it up and squished her tasty-looking shoes into the kitchen. At least she’d kept the huge glass bowl from shattering.
With a stack of towels, she and Dee returned to the scene and sopped up the mess.
“I saw what happened.” A flush crept across Dee’s cheeks.
“The bottom bowl just moved, that’s all.”
“That’s not all. I didn’t secure it correctly. This was my fault.”
“I’m the one who grabbed the bowl in a bear hug.” Mara stood.
Her new friend glanced up at her. “You’re not going to tell Mr. Onri?”
Mara shrugged. “What good would that do?” She laughed. “Besides, chocolate is definitely my color, don’t you think?”
Dee smiled.
But when Mara returned to the kitchen to rinse out the towels, Mr. Onri wasn’t smiling.
“You are a laughingstock.” He shouted at his full volume. “Incompetent. Clumsy. Idi-oat.”
“I tried to—”
“Save it. And get out of my sight. You will never amount to anything.” He waved her away. “You’re fired!”
Mara pushed her sticky bangs out of her eyes. Mr. Onri blocked the back door like a sentry. She wheeled and pushed open the door to the dining room. The music still played, but only a handful of people danced. Most of the crowd stood staring at her as she exited the kitchen. Oh great. They’d all heard.
A few of them chuckled. And why not? She looked like one of the hollow bunnies she used to get in her Easter basket. Without the ears.
“Thanks for the floor show.” One woman didn’t venture close, but she called her comment out, drawing a laugh from several people.
Floor show. Good one.
Mara exited and sank down at the top of the stairs that led to the parking lot. Maybe if she let her chocolate behind dry, she wouldn’t dirty her car. At least not much. Lightning flashed in the distance. Shame the shower couldn’t be closer. She could really use a bath.
But she couldn’t cry. Not over this. She deserved every ounce of mortification she got.
Instead she prayed for Dee and her baby. “Thank You that Dee has such a good job. Help her to keep impressing Mr. Onri so she can keep her benefits.”
A sound startled her.
Collin stepped around the corner.
“I suppose you saw all of that. Go ahead and gloat. You certainly deserve it.”
“Did you mean that?” He slipped his hands into his pants pockets, taking on a pose from GQ.
“The gloating part or the deserving part?”
“The praying part. What you prayed about that other woman. The one who muffed the setup of the chocolate fountain.”
She rested her chin on her knees. “Oh, you saw that, too.”
“I saw everything. But I never thought I’d hear what I just heard. When did you start praying?”
“I just recently learned about Jesus and became a Christian. That’s why I felt the need to find you and apologize about my actions back in college.”
The moment of silence that followed deafened.
“The other woman, why didn’t you tell your boss it was her fault?”
“Dee is gonna have a baby. She needs the health insurance from this job. More than I do.”
“Seeing your gracefulness in there, I’m not so sure about that.” Mischief played across his face.
Did he just crack a joke? With her?
“Thanks a lot.” She might as well play along.
He shrugged. “I call ’em as I see ’em.”
Mara recognized the umpire phrase. “I hear the baseball lover coming out.”
“I work with a Little League team.”
“Sounds like you still have the passion.” She offered a half-smile.
He caught her gaze. “Funny. The Mara I knew wouldn’t have helped at all. In there. She wouldn’t have stickied her fingers with such a job in the first place.”
Right. Cold and heartless before. Chocolate-covered and ridiculous now.

Turning, he stepped down the stairs, stopped halfway, and looked back. “About that apology ... Accepted.” He nodded. “And thanks.” Without another word, he disappeared into the darkened lot.

Voting opens at Noon (EST) on Feb 5.
Because we want YOU to choose the best hero for Mara, we're going to try to keep the author/creator of each chapter a secret until after the voting is over. If you know one of the authors, and pick out her chapter, please help us keep the secret. We want the hero chosen based on his personality and his chemistry with Mara, and not make it a contest between authors.

We're depending on you to help us spread the word! 

Our authors are also offering some inside glimpses into the writing process, some interviews with authors, heroes, and even the publisher. And that Marji - she somehow got hold of Mara's journal, so you'll be able to read some of her thoughts as she goes through this experience. Check out all the links below to stay on top of the latest.

Thanks for joining us in Mara's adventure - we hope you have a great time!

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1 comment:

Eileen Rife said...

Ah yes, the six most difficult words in the English language or any language, for that matter: "I'm sorry; will you forgive me?"

Whenever I try to skirt around an apology, the Holy Spirit hounds me until I'm miserable and have to go to the person I've offended.

Thanks for the reminder in fiction.