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A Novel

Spooning by Darri Stephens
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Take one kitchen, add six friends, combine with a dash of romance, and stir.
Meet Charlotte—a.k.a. Charlie—Brown: a recent college grad and newly minted New Yorker, eager to begin her grown-up life. All kinds of “firsts” await her in the big city: her first real job, first loves, first heartaches, and most important, her first time living on her own. Enter Charlie’s mom, who subtly suggests that her daughter might want to learn some grown-up skills—like cooking—to go with her fifth-floor walk-up.Together with her friends, Charlie forms a cooking club to convene once a month, to share food and swap recipes, and to gossip about the drama of their new lives.  Charlie has lots to dish about when she lands a job as an assistant to Jane Dough, the domestic diva of daytime television.  As the girls begin to gain some culinary expertise, Charlie decides to use her newfound skills to ensnare the man of her dreams: a certain Mr. J. P. Morgan, a roguish investment banker who can charm Charlie with a glance but remains hopelessly aloof. Yet as Charlie becomes ever savvier in the kitchen, she grows savvier about love as well—and begins to realize that even the most delicious-looking package can lack substance and real flavor underneath.With a sparkling voice that bubbles along like champagne fizz, Spooning is an irresistible tale of food, friendship, and what it takes to find the perfect recipe for romance.
Crown/Archetype; December 2008
368 pages; ISBN 9780307491268
Read online, or download in secure EPUB
Title: Spooning
Author: Darri Stephens; Megan DeSales

Macie’s Mojitos

Serves 1
1 tablespoon superfine sugar
Several sprigs fresh sweet min
tJuice of a whole lime (can add a little lemon juice too!)
1.5 shots white rum
Splash club soda
Ice cubes
1 lime wedge

Place sugar and mint in a tall glass and using the back of a spoon, mash the mint leaves into the sugar to release the wonderful mint flavor. Add the next four ingredients, mix, add lime wedge as garnish on side or top and serve.

These can be dangerous, so sip with caution! Enjoy with good friends or by yourself.

Gin and tonic, nine dollars. Way-too-tight Seven Jeans, one hundred and ninety dollars. New Nars lipstick, twenty-two dollars. First night out on the town with my girls, priceless. This was so exciting, our first real post-college bar experience. “Here’s to our virginal glow, gals!” I shouted with glee, raising a shot of tequila. “We are independent women. Watch us dance! We are not gatherers anymore. We don’t sit at home drinking tea, gathering dust and fat asses. We are the hunters. Hunting is hard work. So we must quench our thirst as we work!”

Ahh, I’m finally here! My name is Charlie Brown (don’t ask yet) and I am a New Yorker. It just took me about twenty-two years, five months, ten days, two hours, and five minutes to get here. But who’s counting? I am a single goddess, a working girl, a creature like no other. I’m on my way to the top, moving on up. Yep, friends, brothers, ex-lovers, mothers and fathers, I am on my own in the big city and no one can stop me. Watch out New York, here I come! There, I said it. I said that cheesy cliché. You know you’ve all said it whether you said it out loud or kept it to yourself. It’s the moment you know that you’ve finally arrived. Maybe it was your first kiss, the night you lost your virginity, or the day you got into college. For me, it was the day I moved into my first New York apartment. It might have taken me a few months, but boy, it was worth the wait.
Trying not to squirm as the tequila from the shot blazed down my throat, I thought about how far I had come in a mere twenty-four hours . . . Per the advice of Maria Von Trapp, aka Julie Andrews, “Let’s start from the very beginning, a very good place to start.” How much had I had to drink already?

First thing this morning, I was faced with a complex math dilemma. When a box frame which does not bend by design is 54 x 75 x 8 inches, how do you fit it up a stairwell that is 43 inches wide with corners that are 52 x 52 inches? As I squeezed my road trip—enhanced ass (yeah, McDonald’s Big Mac with Super Sized Fries) between the banister and the box frame, my dad muttered, “All I had at age twenty-two was just a plain old AM/FM battery-operated radio. Boy, was that a classic.” I rolled my eyes and jokingly threw two hat boxes, a box of picture frames, and a bag of hangers at him. He dodged the hangers artfully using the box frame as his wall of defense.

Gone are the college papers. Gone are the fraternity parties. Gone are the underage boys. Hello, Manhattan Men! Hello, Morning Meetings! Hello, Money (yes, with a capital “M”). I’ve been out for a couple of months now. No, not from some federal pen, but from college. You remember that warm cocoon of security? Sure, it didn’t seem like that during the four years I was there. I could still remember complaining to my mother about how stressed I was over my upcoming exams and hearing her say calmly, “Remember, this is a free ride.”

“What?” I’d responded with the indignation that I had perfected over the past ten years. “What do you mean a free ride? I’m working two jobs to pay for those overpriced textbooks I need for my senior thesis class, which I have to ace in order to receive the diploma that is necessary to succeed in the world. Never mind making you and Dad proud–you know a college dropout would not pass muster in our family.”

“Darling, all I meant was that you’re lucky to have these wonderful four years of no responsibility.” My mother had a knack for digging herself in deeper and deeper under my skin. I liked to blame it on the fact that she was an only child and had never had to soothe a younger sibling’s scraped knee or bruised ego. She could never quite come up with the right words in any sensitive situation. From countless miles away, she could, with the help of fiber optics, make my skin crawl and my defenses rise.

“Responsibility? Mom, I have two part time jobs, six classes–eighteen yes, that is eighteen–credits, plus a house to contribute to, and a boyfriend to appease when his lacrosse games fall a bit short!”

Of course, she’d just answered calmly, “I mean real responsibility. You do work hard, and we are proud of you, but you are not managing a household, supporting a family, working long days.” As her argument started to peter out, I’d jumped in with my last defense: “Whatever, Mom! I need to go deal with my unburdened life.” And I’d hang up on her.

But now here I am, on day one of my new life. And don’t think I didn’t have help on the big day. We had U-Hauled my prized possessions to New York on a Wednesday. My father drove, with my mother in the copilot seat, and me perched on an upturned laundry basket protecting a few plants. After spending the night in a Holiday Inn, we’d bumped along the rain soaked road to arrive at my new apartment building at 5:30 A.M. My dad is an early riser and he figured we’d be able to find a parking space if we were up before the birds. He was also math obsessed.

“With X amount of streets–and there are a lot of streets in Manhattan–you’d think there would be one parking space for us,” he mumbled. “And there are two sides to every street,” he went on. “Hence, multiply X by two, and don’t forget the parking garages for those Sunday drivers.” I sleepily tried to tune him out. Hell, did I still have to multiply? I had graduated.

“Dad!” I groaned. “Just double park, please. Mom can wait while we haul the loot.” Round and round the block we go. Where is a parking space? Nobody knows!

“Ah, there it is,” Dad said. “Home sweet home. 167 West Eighty-first Street.” We both craned our necks to look up at the looming brown façade. There were four of us–three of us friends from college–moving in together on the Upper West Side. The realtor had pitched the building to us as one of the “few remaining true brownstones.” When I questioned the fact that this brownstone had five floors (?), she said that if you took your fingernail to stonework, you would see that it would crumble into brown dust, hence “brown stone.” Who knew if that was true. The important thing was that my friend Sydney’s parents had wanted a doorman building, but the closest thing we found was a five-floor walkup with a white-gloved doorman building next door.

“This building is on the historical registry!” my mom had marveled. I hoped that reason alone would excuse the crumbling cornerstones and dilapidated windowsills. As my father and I hauled up my box frame, he surveyed the interior.

“These hallways are pretty bare with just the doors,” he commented. Yes, dear old dad, I thought, we are in an apartment building where no one has been assigned to hallway decor.

“And they’re pink,” he grimaced. “Makes me think of a seedy hotel.”

Immediately my glamorized view of the halls in my grownup apartment building had been reduced to those creepy hallways in The Shining. I turned my head fully expecting to see two sullen girls around the bend, then I looked the other way anticipating the dull roar of a Big Wheel. Red rum, red rum! Speaking of rum, I needed a shot of something strong, and I was only 6:20 A.M. Great. Thanks Mom and Dad. I was home.

“What did you just say?” my mom asked casually as she put the last sock ball in my dresser drawer.

“Nothing. Um, so are you almost done?” I asked eagerly. It was almost 10:00 A.M. They’d been in my apartment for almost five hours. Mom and Dad had thought it would be cute to move their baby daughter into her first real apartment. And who was I to refuse? They’d let me lounge around the house for the past two months: free rent, free food, free money, free everything. So the least I could do was give them this final moment to feel like parents. But like all of us just getting started in this big, mean, exciting world, this was the day I was destined to sever the ties from the womb. Well, I’d like to think that this was the day.
“What? You don’t need any more help?” my mother asked. You could see the frown forming. And with that impeccable timing of hers, those big blue eyes begin to fill with salty discharge. Yep, here came the tears. And let me tell you, I’m not talking about a few measly drops here and there. When Mom’s floodgates opened, it was like the Red Sea, and this time, there was no Moses to come to the rescue. I sprung into sorry daughter mode.

“Mom, you know what I meant. Please stop crying.”

“It’s just . . .” she sputtered. She couldn’t even get the words out.

“What, Mom?”

“You’re just going to be so far away!” she cried. She had reverted to her “my baby’s gone” routine. I’d been hearing this one since I first left for summer camp.

“Mom, it won’t be so bad, I promise. How about this–why don’t you take the train into the city next Saturday and meet me for a girls’ lunch?” She actually stopped sobbing and cracked a minuscule smile. And there you had it ladies and gentlemen, the moment we’d all been waiting for.

“Oh, Charlie, I would love it. Are you sure?” Like I was going to say, um, no I’m not quite sure, but my people will call your people and we’ll figure something out.

“Totally.” I gave her my best smile. “I would love it.”

Now I should stop here and say something in my mom’s defense. She’s the most hardworking, most dynamic, most selfless, intelligent woman I know. Today was just one of those traumatic moments for a parent. Saying goodbye to a child is a tough thing to do. The same thing had happened when they’d dropped me off at my dorm freshman year. Mom was a little emotional, as usual. Hugging and crying, crying and hugging. Fighting to be strong, even though she really wasn’t. She was standing there sort of lifeless in the middle of my dorm room, lining the bottom of my underwear drawer with that smelly Laura Ashley paper. She loves doing that kind of stuff. Whether it is folding my socks in perfect little balls or making sure my panties and bras were color coordinated, she does things like this because they make her feel that I’m going to be all right, or at least well-organized.

I glanced over at my mother, who was smoothing a lacey bureau scarf across my dresser. She was muttering something about the insurmountable dust bunnies just as a NYC bus roared by sending a whiff of exhaust through my wide-open window.

“Okay Charlie, I think that’s it.” My dad, ever the voice of reason, emerged from the bathroom. In his hand he carried the toilet brush. Was our plumbing all set? Was his plumbing all set?
Suddenly, I felt myself turning into that little fourteen-year-old Charlie girl who’d been dropped off at soccer camp for the first time and spent her days feeling homesick and waiting for mail–that is, until she’d met Kent Schindele and had her first-ever summer romance.

“Don’t go!” I wanted to scream. But then I remembered, I am an adult.

“Yeah, Dad, I think that does it.” I gave him a false yet beaming grin. And with that, they were heading to the door. “So Mom, I’ll give you a shout tomorrow about our girls’ date. Cool?”

“Yes sweetie, I can’t wait to hear from you.” And there you had it. A few more kisses, a couple of bucks from my dad, and they were scurrying down the five flights of stairs.

As if on cue, I could hear the soulful words of Mr. James Brown come blaring out from Syd’s room. “Get up, get on up, get up, get on up . . .”

“So are they gone, Charlie-poo?” Sydney appeared sporting a wife beater, paint all over her face and a cigarette hanging off her lip. She was painting her room an unattractive shade of green. She’d been thinking of the green that you find in celebrities’ hallways or kitchens, but she was getting the mossy color found in mental wards.

“Yes, I’d thought they’d never leave,” I sighed. “Can I get one of those?” I reached out for a Marlboro Light and Sydney whipped out her hot pink lighter.

“I haven’t touched a cigarette since graduation,” I said.

“Are you kidding me?” Tara appeared in her bathrobe and went into the kitchen to grab a cup of coffee. “That’s a long time to wait for some stick. You must almost be a born-againvirg,” she tossed out with a grin as she disappeared back into her room.

“Whatever,” I sang. “I think you’ve had too much stick. You probably wouldn’t know a good one even if it was in the palm of your little hand.”

“Ha, ha! Very funny, Charlie,” she called from her room. Before I could even take a drag though . . . ring-ring. I picked up the phone. A voice on the other end said, “I had a thought.”

“Hey Mom, what’s up?” I tried to sound as if I hadn’t just talked to her in person about ten minutes ago.

“Well, you are in such a cultured mecca, I was thinking that you could probably find a cooking class somewhere in the city,” she said.

“Cooking class?”

“Yes, there must be so many there.”

“Mom, I can’t cook. Why would I want to take a cooking class?” You could hear the annoyance building up in my voice.

“Precisely my point! You need to learn how to cook.”

“Why?” I asked. “After all, I did just master boiling water!” This was a family joke. When I was thirteen, I’d been babysitting and had to make some mac and cheese for my charges. Due to my lack of cooking skills, I’d had to call my father to ask how to begin the process–that is, how to boil water. Needless to say, it had been hard to live that one down.

From the Trade Paperback edition.