Rum & Ginger Release Party! Excerpt!

December 2, 2013

I would like to introduce you to Ben Silver. He’s the main character of Rum & Ginger. In this excerpt you’ll also meet Lena Chaplin, his best friend. Enjoy! Has anyone else had a day like this at work?

Chapter One:
“You need to get out here, Ben.” Lena panted as she leaned into his office, her jet-black hair pulling free of her ponytail. “There’s a rhino stampeding again.”
“Christ.” Ben groaned as he rose from his chair. “It’s only fricking Tuesday.”
“Hurry up. She’s ready to tear the place apart,” Lena stated as she exited the office. Ben pinched the bridge of his nose and followed. A rhino on Tuesday did not bode well for the rest of the week. Sometimes being the manager of T.C. McFlannigan’s Family Funstaurant and Grillery gave Ben a splitting headache. He straightened his red-and-white-striped tie as he walked down the hallway, its wall covered in bits and pieces of pop-culture kitsch from decades past. The autographed picture of the cast of Diff’rent Strokes had remained in the same place since he’d started here as a waiter in high school. He shook his head as he marched toward the inevitable rhino confrontation.
The employees of the T.C. McFlannigan’s in Liamsport, Pennsylvania had been using the term “rhino” since before Ben started. Any overweight, disagreeable customer could be a rhino. Ben hated when they stampeded, when they started arguing with the waitstaff for some reason. He marched along the cheap tile floor in his company-issued polo with the requisite five pieces of “dazzle” Flannigan’s forced managers to sport. Ben had chosen a Batman cloisonné pin, two peace sign buttons, an embroidered Cure patch, a Star Trek combadge, and a polymer clay ladybug Lena had made him. The waiters and waitresses were required to cover their entire vests in “dazzle.” Ben didn’t miss those days.
He could hear the woman bellowing as he approached the dining room. “It says ‘all you can eat shrimp’! I ain’t done yet!” she protested at the top of her ample lungs. Ben readied his placating “manager smile” and he stepped in front of Lena. The large customer took a large sip from her large drink and barked, “Get me a manager, damn it! I want to talk—” She stopped when her piggy brown eyes met Ben’s blue gaze. He’d often practiced the look he turned on the woman, confident that his smile and expression would calm the awful creature. The woman sputtered once as her family averted their eyes in shame. Her husband’s face glowed red with embarrassment.
“Hello, ma’am. I’m Mr. Silver, the general manager. What’s affecting your funtertainment this evening?” Ben regurgitated the Flannigans’s approved greeting.
“Well. Hot damn.” The woman’s tongue snaked out and danced across her lips as her eyes molested Ben’s physique. “You’re the manager?”
“I am, ma’am. What’s the problem?”
“I got this coupon.” She presented the little slip of paper. “It says if we buy an entrée and two appetizers, we get all you can eat shrimp. This bitch,” the customer stated, shoving a finger in Christine’s face, “says she’s cuttin’ me off!” Christine’s expression paled with shock. “What’s that shit?”
“I don’t think it’s the shrimp Christine is cutting off, ma’am. I think you’ve had a bit too much to drink. Isn’t that right, Chrissy?” The frightened waitress nodded, her eyes wide. “We’re happy to give you as much shrimp as you want, but we have to draw the line when your drinking causes you to become belligerent. This is a family establishment.” Ben flashed his most ingratiating smile to punctuate his plea.
“You think you’re so cute. I paid my money. I got my coupon.” The woman drained her glass and shook it in Ben’s face. The ice cubes rattled annoyingly. “Give me my effing shrimps!”
Something in Ben’s brain snapped. “You don’t need any more shrimp, you fat cow! You’ve had too much to drink tonight. You’ve had too much to eat since the day you were born, and you’re humiliating your family. Get the hell out of here before I call animal control to put you down!”
“I—” The customer gasped. Her mouth opened and closed without sound. “I…what… you….”
“Out!” Ben pointed to the door. He looked at the astonished faces of the woman’s family and his waitstaff. Ben didn’t care. He was sick of these awful human beings walking all over them and demanding consideration. The woman snorted before she stomped out of the restaurant. Her family followed with their heads down, but Ben caught a smirk on her husband’s face.
“Jesus, Ben,” Lena stated with something Ben thought might be awe. “Where did that come from?”
He shook his head. “Just one of those days. Not in the mood for people.” Ben turned, uncomfortable with the stares of the entire dining room. He wasn’t sure what had come over him, but he’d never lost it like that before. He wanted to visit the bar himself, but he still had a few hours left of his shift. He stalked off to his office instead.
Ben sat with his head in his hands. What was going on? He’d dealt with hundreds of tipsy rhinos since he’d started and never once had he lost it like that. Maybe it was just everything finally getting to be a bit too much. He never wanted to end up back here in his little backward hometown. The whole point of college was to acquire a skill set to get him out of Liamsport. Ben supposed that’s what he got for going to school and hooking up with someone from his hometown, but it had been so wonderful at the time. He and Chance Henry hadn’t been friends in school. They’d known each other. In a town like Liamsport, it was impossible not to at least have heard of one another. Two months into their freshman year and they’d ended up at the same party, where they started talking about their little town, and Chance had confessed his homosexuality to Ben. It didn’t seem possible to Ben that he could have lived three blocks away from Chance his entire life and never known they had so much in common.
Chance understood everything Ben had gone through being closeted in that little town with their redneck classmates. Like Ben, Chance had only a few close friends, and none close enough that he could be completely honest with. It hadn’t taken long for a romance to blossom between the two young men, and it seemed at the time like fate had brought them together. Ben fell for Chance. He loved Chance’s dry, almost nonexistent humor, his grim determination, and his fierce intellect. Chance was no model, but Ben thought he was beautiful, as tall as Ben but not as broad with sandy, impeccably groomed hair. They’d started running together a few months after they started dating, and Chance toned up nicely. They’d moved into a little apartment a few blocks from school their sophomore year and hadn’t been separated since. Except for when they went home for the holidays. Neither one had been able to disclose the true nature of their new relationship to friends or family, and no one thought it odd that two hometown boys attending the same college would become easy friends.
“Earth to Ben.” Lena interrupted his reminiscence. “It’s time to close up. Anything wrong?”
“No,” he answered automatically. It felt like a lie, but he didn’t really want to burden Lena with his melancholy. She’d want him to, of course. Lena was his best friend besides Chance, and she insisted that Ben kept way too much bottled up and hidden away. She constantly bugged him to talk about his feelings with her. Sometimes he wanted to, but he’d gotten so used to keeping things secret and hidden away that it wasn’t easy for him to break the habit. “Maybe,” he amended his answer. “I don’t know. Everybody else gone?”
“Yeah. Murph is smoking outside, but everyone else went home.”
“Right. Let’s get the hell out of here.” He opened his desk and retrieved his keys. “Want to get a drink?”
“God,” Lena answered, puffing a jet of air to blow a loose hair back from her forehead. “I want to get more than one. Where do you want to go?”
“I don’t know.” Ben frowned. He hated that question because it didn’t have a good answer. Liamsport was full of bars. They were about the only means of entertainment in their small town. Churches, bars, and cigarette stores seemed to occupy every corner. With the abundance of bars in town, one would think it would be easy to find a place to drink, but the opposite was true. At least for Ben.
Most of the bars were chock-full of country music and rednecks. The bars within a mile of the local college were meat markets with cheap booze. The few places with dance floors attracted old single women looking for men half their age to regain lost youth or young men looking for sugar mommies. Unfortunately that’s where most of Liamsport’s gay community drank out of desperation. There were sports bars, dive bars, and a microbrewery, but none of those were very high on Ben’s list of places to hang out.
“What about Mike’s place?” he asked. Mike’s bar, the Bill and Vinny, was named after Mike’s two heroes, Shakespeare and Van Gogh. Mike tried to promote some kind of culture. He held open-mic nights, poetry readings, and once a month he transformed the bar into a gallery and featured a local artist. It attracted the right kind of college kids and the more palatable citizens of Liamsport.
“Eh.” Lena shrugged. “That’s fine. At least Mike has a pool table.” She unlocked her car door. “Meet you there.” Ben waved as she slid into the driver’s seat. He pressed the button on his key fob, unlocking his silver Prius, and slid behind the wheel. Ben checked his rearview mirror as he turned the key. The Cure picked up where they’d left off when he’d arrived at work, in the middle of “Friday I’m in Love.” He saw Murphy crush out his cigarette and tip a nod. Ben nodded back and pulled out of the parking lot onto the street.

4 Responses to “Rum & Ginger Release Party! Excerpt!”

  1. Andrea M says:

    This sounds good – going on my wish list.

  2. Ashley E says:

    I’ve had some of those customers. *nods* Working in customer service can be a pain in the butt. You deserve a drink or three, Ben!

  3. I think people will get what T.C. McFlannigans is based on.

  4. JJ says:

    Poor server and Ben – it Can be so tough working with all kinds of customers, especially demanding drunk ones.

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