Every author needs to get characters talking… not just on the page, but to the author herself. And not just in every day niceties but in detail, with secret yearnings, quirks and private musings. I’m sharing a bit of that here today, Week 10 of the Character Interview Blog Hop – HEROES. My thanks to Patty Blount for passing the baton to me. Last week, Patty introduced you to Dan Ellison, the high school student and former bully from her Young Adult novel SEND. You can find her interview with Dan HERE on her blog.
Today you’ll meet my hero, small-town restaurant owner and handsome loner Jake Marlon. I met Jake ages ago and am now spit-shining his story so others can watch him reach his well-deserved and hard-fought happily-ever-after… and maybe even fall in love with him as I have.
I had asked to meet Jake before he started work for the day but he said he starts too early. Then I asked to meet after work, but he said he finishes much too late. And so, I’ve met him at The Grill, where he’s preparing for the lunch crowd, though he’s said “crowd” is not what he’d call it. I sit on the dining room side of the pass-through window, watching him in the kitchen. He’s an impressive man, over 6′, with messy black hair and dark bedroom eyes. He works methodically, moving about the space with ease, and I have an odd sense of watching an animal born in captivity, believing there’s little if anything beyond his small enclosure.
I can tell he’s not thrilled that I’m here. His broad back is to me as he dunks a second basket of onion rings into the deep fryer. It sizzles violently. He sets a timer.
I click my pen, ready to begin, but he doesn’t look at me. I wonder if he’s forgotten I’m here… but he’s already given me the go-ahead, so I begin.
He starts to turn when the timer buzzes for the first basket, drawing his attention. Going back, he hangs it to drain.
What is your greatest fear… and why?
He picks up a huge knife and a glorious eggplant, and just looks at me, his dark gaze holding mine. Several emotions pass in his eyes and I find myself drawn in. I feel I should look away, allow him a private moment, but I can’t… In truth, I’m not sure I want to.
My greatest fear?
He looks around the place and it’s as if he’s looking at land from far off shore.
Losing this place.
Raw emotion thickens his voice and I realize this fear of his is real and deep.
It almost happened a few times.
He sets the eggplant on the counter, starts slicing it lengthwise. I’m amazed. Each piece appears to be of perfect ¼” thickness.
I managed to get it going again but… I might not always be so lucky.
Have you told this to anyone?
His slow smile captivates me. It’s a bit condescending but strangely I don’t care. I smile in response.
The hours I put in here aren’t exactly secret. Do people know what your work means to you? Or do you have to tell them?
I almost answer his question, but then remember this is not about me. I want to know more about him. He’s not just a workaholic. He has secrets. I can see them in his gaze. As I study it, he lifts a dark brow and I can’t tell whether it’s in challenge or amusement.
Why are you so afraid of losing this place?
His smile fades. That play of emotions is in his eyes again.
My life is here. My past. My… future. I’ve worked this place since I was a kid. Back then, my dad did everything I’m doing now. Almost. When he could. Out there…
He points through the pass-through, toward the dining room.
That belonged to my mom. She worked the room like a pro and people liked her. They tipped her good and she’d skim a bunch off the top so the old man wouldn’t get it. He’d’ve wasted it on booze, and she wanted new things for herself. And for me. She bought me a football once. With her tips.
Pissed off the old man. He wanted to know how she was able to afford it. I didn’t tell him, of course. That would’ve been ugly… He took it, you know. The football my mom bought for me. Said I’d get it back when I’d shown my worth, but I never saw it again. Not until after he died. Interesting bastard, my old man.
I want to comfort him but he’s guarded now. Clearly finished with that question, so I ask another.
Tell me about one person who made a positive difference in your life.
Christopher Olivieri. He’s my… godson. Tony and Maria’s boy. He notices things and asks a lot of simple questions that are hard to answer. He’s a challenge but he’s a great kid. Happy. Innocent. I have issues with his parents sometimes, mostly Medusa… sorry, I mean… Maria… but they treat him good. Like a kid should be treated. And he comes here sometimes – his parents’ place is at the other corner. The fancy Italian restaurant… they do well down there…
He brushes the eggplant and other vegetables with olive oil and herbs, lays them on the grill, smiling as they sizzle.
Chris brings the ball and glove I got him for his birthday and we’ll play a game of catch in the lot. He says his father’s too busy to play with him, like mine was… for different reasons, though. I’m busy, too, but the kid has a way of getting me to do things I wouldn’t normally do.
Like… take a break from this place now and then. It’s just a few tosses, not a big commitment. And off the kid goes, happy as a kid should be.
He chuckles and it’s a soft warm sound I want to hear again.
Yeah, Christopher. He’s made a difference in my life… It’s hard to explain how an eight-year-old can do that, but he did.
He turns the vegetables. Brushes them lightly.
Where do you go when you need time to yourself?
Used to be, I’d spend time alone here, cleaning up after closing. Then… well… I’ve had company lately. Not that I mind. Not much anyway. It’s Willy. Wilma Davis. She just started showing up here regularly around midnight. I’d be mopping the place, you know, closing up for the night. It annoyed me. Having her crashing my space like that, but… Have you met Willy? Nah, probably not, because if you did, you’d smile just from hearing her name. Or you’d go running from here, screaming.
She has that effect on people, Willy does. I follow her, you know. At night. After she leaves. She doesn’t know it. She thinks nothing of walking alone through the park in the dead of night in those heels and little skirts of hers. I watch her… I mean… I watch that she gets home okay since she lives right on the other side of the park. With her roommate. Cora.
He leans closer to me as though eager to share a secret, and I ready myself for a juicy bit of gossip.
Talk about wanting to run screaming from someone. If a bawdy redhead swings her hips your way, that’ll be Cora. Run. That’s it. Run.
There’s no down time with her around…
He transfers the fragrant, grill-seared vegetables to a chafing dish. Sits on a stool at the counter.
Sometimes, I’ll stay there, by the lake, after Willy gets home. Wait for the light to go on in her apartment… I’ll be thinking, not thinking… I’ve always done that. You know when you live above the store, you need a place to go and the lake is it…has been since I was a kid. Of course, the old man never knew about it. He’d just say I didn’t know about the cost of time.
Do you have a secret? If so, why do you feel the need to keep it secret?
Well, I don’t know if it’s a secret, really, but… I wonder how things would be if they’d turned out like I planned. I wanted to own a sweet little 5-star hotel somewhere, and be the head chef in its 5-star restaurant. Not too many people know about that dream. Really, only my mom and Maria knew about it – Maria, as in Christopher’s mother. Tony’s wife.
He gives his head a shake as if to bring himself back to the present.
That’s what I’d be doing if things had worked out differently.
Have you ever been in love? Had a broken heart?
He’s staring me down, or trying to, but I’m on to him now. Those dark eyes of his are rich with secrets I wish I could pry from him, so I won’t let him off the hook.
Women love to ask about other women…
When I was a kid, most of my youth, in fact, until my early twenties… I thought Maria was the one. She took my heart, filled it up…too much. Then, BAM! She popped it like a balloon.
He chuckles. Tries to wipe the smile away.
He has her now.
We were very different back then. I was 17, she was 16. We were together for a year. She’d hang out here a lot. She’d even help out. I liked watching her work. She was one sweet sight.
We were going to go to school together. Business school – hotel/restaurant management. We talked about it like it’d really happen. Then I had more and more responsibilities here and… she… didn’t understand. One night… I was supposed to meet her, out there, by the lake. I asked… I actually begged…for an hour off so I could talk to her, but my dad kept giving me stuff to do. He must have made me tally the receipts four times that night. I got to her more than an hour late, and she was with Tony. They have three kids now. Christopher’s the oldest. You know… that night the old man wouldn’t let me meet her? That night I found her with Tony? That’s the night he died. Wrapped his truck around a tree. I kept thinking I should have taken the keys… but I didn’t.
He pushes off the counter, heads into the dining room with the grilled vegetables, and lights the final sterno.
Then there’s Jessie. Not long after the old man died, my cousin’s girlfriend – Jessie – experienced the same thing. Her father was a drunk, too. Died basically the same way. She didn’t handle it too well, and Steven, my cousin, asked me to talk to her. I did. And… things just went on from there.
He unlocks the front door, flips the closed sign to open.
She’s a great woman. She’s getting married soon. We just…ended things. It wasn’t a healthy relationship. We had a lot in common. Too much, I think. Same pain, same confusion. We didn’t really help each other, just complained mostly. But she’s funny, and she’s sensitive. We both knew nothing more would come of what we had, but…well…it went on for a long time. She did the right thing in saying yes to Carl’s proposal. She knew we’d never get married but she asked me anyway, just to be sure before she gave him her answer. And now she wants me to give her away.
His smile is small. It looks less than happy. He gives me a shrug, waves a hand toward the buffet.
Hungry? It’s all-you-can-eat. Just $9.95.
The bells on the front door ring. He gives it only a passing glance then turns away, heading for the kitchen. I gather my pen and notepad and duck my head under the pass-through to thank him for his time. And that’s when I see it. There, on a shelf next to the door leading into the parking lot, propped against a vintage Diner sign is an aged though unscuffed football.
Be sure to look for next week’s Character Interview when Elizabeth D. Spencer will introduce you to her hero, widow farmer, Jake Callen, from her Historical Romance, WHEN CUPID CAME TO TOWN. You can find that HERE on her blog.
Elizabeth D. Spencer lives on Long Island, New York with her husband, three children, and two energetic Sheltie puppies, Brinkley and Carson. (Named for the dog from You’ve Got Mail and Downton Abbey’s very own Carson, the butler.) She shares a love of history with her family and a love of books. Her days and nights are spent writing. When she is not writing Appellate briefs for the day job, she is busy writing historical romance novels. The greatest challenge has been learning to balance it all. Coffee has been a tremendous help!