Authors: Sheri Lynn Fishbach
Sheri Lynn Fishbach
Copyright © 201
4 Sheri Lynn Fishbach
All rights reserved.
This book is dedicated with love, gratitude, and thanks to:
Beverly Swerling, my mentor extraordinaire
Reese Schonfeld and Erica Shusas Racine for their guidance and encouragement
My son, Adam, for his boundless support and genius
My daughters, Brittany, Alana, and Hayli for believing in me
My Cindy, Ron, Casey, and Courtney Cortazzo for hanging in through thick and thin
My mom, Gloria Fishbach, for being all things amazing
Arlen Schumer for his brilliant cover design and keen vision
Ellen Hornstein for her generous help and wisdom
Erika Callahan for her input and expert advice
Zach Thomas for his time and technical expertise
All my incredibly wonderful family and friends for always being there
And my life-honey, Brad Langer, for just about everything
With special thanks to Daddy, Dad, Jeff, Cheryl, and all my other shining stars in the sky-
Hope I’m doing you proud as you watch from above....
Dex woke up with his forehead covered in sweat and his legs kicking an imprint into his mattress. He looked over at the floor, where his navy blue sheets and comforter had landed.
What kind of dream was that? Sarah. It was always about Sarah. This time he was edging toward a raging volcano filled with tomato sauce trying to save her as the sun began to cook the grass around him into a frenzied web of pasta al dente. As he tried to run, strands tangled themselves around him from head to toe and squeezed his bony arms and legs. Trapped, he struggled to free himself. Was it hopeless?
Dex pushed himself out of bed to make the feeling go away. He walked over to his TV, still on, where Julia Child was now wielding a mini-blowtorch over her Baked Alaska. Great. There was no escape. Even Julia was failing him. He shook thinking about how close he had come to falling into the bubbling volcano.
But it was just a dumb dream. Something had to distract him. He watched as Julia happily took her dessert out of the oven. How many times had he seen this episode of The French Chef? Thirty, forty, two hundred times? It was all because he was a poor sleeper, a condition he inherited from Poppy, his grandfather. After he spent most of kindergarten awake all night,
Poppy recommended a healthy dose of old cooking show reruns on his favorite channel, the Eatz Network, to lull him to sleep. So even if it meant dreaming of balsamic glazes and dressing chickens, at least he occasionally woke up knowing how to poach eggs or wrap a cake in
It certainly made his cooking class easier and more about fun than about work. And then he remembered. Mrs. Baker, his International Cooking teacher was in his dream too. She was holding a giant fork in her hand, raking the meadow clean as huge parmesan cheese flakes fell from the sky. He had called out asking her where Sarah was.
“Over there,” his teacher had said, pointing the fork toward an enormous food processor, “she’s making a lovely marinara sauce with that hot, muscly guy on the wrestling team.”
Stupid Hunter Clark was unfair competition. He was probably born with humongous biceps. Sarah had to know that most guys weren’t super-human like that, even when she was hanging onto the lip of the tomato sauce volcano ready to become a sacrificial meatball. Even when she was calling for help and Dex couldn’t break free from the twisted spaghetti. Even though Hunter had swooped her up into his arms. No, she didn’t know guys weren’t like that. Even in the dream, Sarah could count on Hunter.
Dex took a deep breath and ran over to his laptop. He brought up Facebook to check if Sarah had responded to his friend request. It had been almost a week since he sent it and every day of silence brought the same torture. Why didn’t she want to be friends with him? She didn’t know about his dream. Did he have gopher breath? Ear wax hangies? Or was it even worse--was he invisible to her?
Never mind. So what if Sarah didn’t friend him back? He still had a business to run, after all. It was almost dawn already and he still had lettuce to wash, tomatoes to slice, and chutneys waiting to be blended. Eventually she’d have to notice him. Especially once he could finally afford the
Dex glanced at the poster pinned to his closet door. A shirtless, muscular guy on a beach was lifting a barbell that looked as big as a mini refrigerator. One day, Dex promised himself, he would look like that guy. All it would take was time and money. A different dream to think about. He was working on it.
Dex went to his jellybean dispenser, a decade-long fixture on his desk, and he gave the crank a full twist with his double-jointed wrist. Like his Poppy, he could twist his hand almost entirely around. He reached down and picked out a handful of jelly beans. They were all green. Maybe lime, maybe sour apple, or pear, or watermelon. The thing was, every day could bring a new flavor. It was up to him to make the best of it. When Dex was little, Poppy would say, “When life hands you lemons, whip up a meringue!” Dex had learned all the flavor combinations of jellybeans possible by the fourth grade. Even his math teacher was impressed when he handed her four beans-- a vanilla, a toasted marshmallow, a cream soda, and a buttered-popcorn—and she agreed that it really did taste like a Rice Krispie treat.
Dex popped the dark speckled one into his mouth. Pear,
. He should have remembered. He sloshed his tongue around his mouth a few times to get the taste out, then crossed the room to flip on his light. He gave the picture of Poppy and Geema hanging on the wall a good morning tap. The picture was taken long before Dex was born, when they first opened Poppy’s Kitchen. Poppy always told him they had a line around the block that first day: half were there for matzo ball soup, the other half for minestrone. By the time dinner came around, he and Geema were so tired of working on opposite sides of the kitchen they threw both soups together. The best food always happened that way. Poppy’s Matzo Ball Minestrone became a local legend.
For the first time since he started his ‘Dex the Food Dude’ lunch stand at the beginning of the summer, Dex wondered about the future. Not the near future, like what cookie would go best with his artichoke tuna salad, but the distant future, like would he be the one in the picture someday, standing in front of his family’s restaurant smiling. He took one more look at the photo and shook off his daydream, then headed to the shelf in his closet. He reached up and grabbed his profits. They were in his grandfather’s ginormous tomato cans. When Dex was a little boy, Poppy had given them to him to use as a bank.
“Oh man,” he exclaimed, shaking his head after counting the last dime. Some days his daily ritual of taking out the cans and counting his stash was enough to give him a small heart attack. Today was one of those days. He’d had to buy stuff to replenish his stock and now it looked like he’d never earn the six thousand dollars he needed to pay for the
. Plus tax.
He tried to calm down. It would be okay. Geema, always told him, “Dex, Rome wasn’t built in a day. There’s a lot to conquer before you can have an empire.” He’d go with that. The good news was he was still managing to stay ahead and, unlike the kid in gym class who worked as his neighborhood’s pooper-scooper to make money, he liked what he was doing. He looked at the totals he had jotted down in a small notebook. It wasn’t that terrible. In a century he could probably afford to buy his own fitness club.
Before he got dressed he gave himself a critical once over in the full-length mirror behind the bathroom door. He wasn’t sure what he liked the least, his long, lanky frame or the enormous zit that was battling his chin to take over his face. Didn’t he have enough to deal with? Maybe he could get rid of it. He sprinkled some water on his face and caught the floating island between
his two pointer fingers.
“Yuch,” he cried as the zit popped its gooey
grossness onto his clean mirror. “Great, now it looks like I’m wearing a candy apple on my chin.”
There was no time left to feel bad for his sorry face. He slapped on a square of toilet paper to cover the still-oozing monstrosity, put on his clothes, and marched into the kitchen to make the day’s lunches.
Looking at all the ingredients he had lined up for today’s menu made Dex feel better. There was just no way to look at a ripe, red tomato without smiling. It was an example of nature’s perfection and he knew how to show it the respect it deserved. He looked at the clock and grimaced realizing he was running behind schedule.
“Dex?” asked a half-mumbled voice that sounded like it still belonged in bed. “Is that you?” the voice continued.
“Yes, Mom, it’s me,” Dex replied while chopping a cucumber into fine slices. “What are you doing up so early?”
Marla shook her head to imply she didn’t have an answer and poured herself a cup of auto-brewed coffee. Dex thought she looked a little more tired than usual. She was only in her forties, but time wasn’t being kind. Her hair was a mousy shade of blonde that flatly framed her roundish face, and since she had to give up the gym when his dad lost his business, her waist had gotten too thick for her jeans. It was weird since in old family pictures she seemed like someone who would never look like a grown up. Dex wondered if she cared. Probably not. He took a tray of piping hot cookies out of the oven and Marla snatched one.
She sat down at the kitchen table, careful not to get in his way. There was a very big wheelbarrow in the middle of the kitchen, but Dex was used to working around it. He had no choice. It was his portable restaurant. The wheelbarrow didn't slow him down a bit. Marla was as unfazed by the wheelbarrow as her son.
“A lot of orders today,” Marla said, looking around the kitchen. “Is there something special going on?” She didn’t seem particularly interested. Most of her attention was being given to carefully rolling off her beauty gloves.
“Not really. I think people are telling people that’s all.”
“That’s the way any good business starts.” Marla took a bite of her cookie. “It’s word of mouth,” she said as she took another bite, “And in a word-- outstanding!”
Dex looked at his mother appreciatively. Growing up in a restaurant had made her a tough critic. If something didn’t taste right she wasn’t shy about making her opinion known and whether he liked it or not, she was usually right. He took both jalapeno raisin cookies and wasabi tuna parmesan subs off his debut menu when she said they tasted like hot, smelly feet. Some combinations, he was learning, sounded better in theory than in practice.
Pickles. He needed pickles. Bottom cabinet. Nice. He couldn’t open the jar no matter how hard he tried. Marla got up like she was on auto-pilot, grabbed the jar from him, and opened it effortlessly. Great. His mother was practically sleep-walking and she was still stronger than he was.
She must have noticed his dejection and quickly added, “You loosened it. Made it easy.”
Another look at the clock told him he had less than an hour to get another round of sandwiches and two dozen cookies made.
“Dex honey, do you know where the cream is?” Marla asked through a sip of coffee.
Dex quickly opened the cabinet, pulled out the coffee creamer, and set it beside his
“No, no, sorry,” Marla apologized. “I meant my cream.”
“Ohh!” Dex opened a cabinet next to the spice rack and pulled out one of the many hand creams and lotions standing on the shelf.
“Thanks,” she said, slathering on some minty goop. “Guess what--I have a commercial today! And Alicia is coming home! That’s why I’m up. I have an early appointment at Minelli’s to get my hair done.” Marla got up and put her coffee mug in the dishwasher.
Dex looked confused. “Mom, I think you're going to look great, but your hands are the only thing they
“I know honey, but I still want to try to look good. Especially with Leeshie coming home. Maybe you haven’t noticed, but I’ve been a little down since your dad lost the business,” she said, picking up a rose-colored cream and rubbing it on her hands.
Dex wasn’t about to tell her that he had noticed and was thrilled she was anxious to make changes, so he continued to build his sandwiches and let her talk.
“And when I’m down,” she continued, “I eat too many carbs and don’t pay enough attention to how I look.”
Dex was silent for an uncomfortable moment, but when he felt his mother struggle to offer a better explanation he took her off the hook. “Mom, yesterday is history. Make today a reason to be happy.”
Marla nodded letting a couple of small tears pool in her eyes. “How’d you get so smart?” she asked, putting her gloves back on.
He had seen the quote on Facebook, but she didn’t need to know that. “I have good teachers,” he said, whipping together a coconut icing.
Marla gave him a tight, handless hug. As she turned to leave, she stopped and added, “Dex honey, please take the garbage out before you go. I don’t want Geema to end up doing it.” She started walking and stopped to turn to him again.
“Thanks,” she said, softly waving goodbye with both gloved hands.