8. Bottom’s Up
June had fallen asleep with the book clutched in her grasp when she came to. She found the house wafting with a wonderful aroma that sent her tummy rumbling. Chad was cooking something. She stole herself into the kitchen as Chad busily stirred what looked like a deep pan full of some concoction of a sauce.
“What are you cooking?” she called out loudly.
Chad jumped, accidentally flinging a spoonful of tomato sauce splattering against himself and the floor. “Aw, Jesus!” he turned with a dollop of sauce clinging to his left cheek. June couldn’t help but laugh. She walked on over, ran a finger across the sauce on his cheek and tasted it with a cheeky grin.
“Tastes good!” she watched him blush, then took a step back from him and leaned against the basin. “What is it?”
“One pot rice I learned from a friend,” he wiped his face on his apron, an apron that was a bit too frilly and looked absolutely ridiculous on him.
“Cute!” June eyed him up and down, causing Chad to narrow his eyes at her. She took the spatula from him and stirred the sauce before it burned. “Was it a present?”
Chad laughed, looking down at his chest and finally noticing that he was wearing a pink apron that had frills on the bottom. He pursed his lips and clicked his tongue. “It was my ex’s.” No sooner had he said this, he took the embarrassing thing off and chucked it across the bench top. He then disappeared into his study and emerged with an expensive looking bottle of red that was still in its wooden gift crate. “You drink?”
June took another taste of the sauce and licked her lips, eyeing the box with intrigue. “I’m a lightweight though.”
Chad shrugged, fished out a wine bottle opener from the drawer behind her, shoving her out of the way to do so. “That’s all right. I’m not any better myself.” He popped the cork, took a longing sniff of the neck and poured it into two wine glasses. He took June her glass and went about adding the soaked rice into the sauce, stirred it a little, put a lid on it, and lowered the gas.
June took a sip of her wine and almost pulled a face. It was a very strong taste indeed. “How long have you had that?”
Chad glanced at the wooden crate and did a general shrug and a shake of the head. “I don’t really know. Must have been a while back though,” he leaned against the fridge and swirled his glass around. “Do you cook?”
June shook her head. “I try, if that counts.”
Chad nodded, took another sip, eyeing the saucepan. “Aren’t girls meant to know how to cook?” he looked up with a faint smile.
June’s brows rose. “Aren’t you stereotyping?”
Chad shrugged, clinked his glass with hers and gulped down the rest of his pinot noir. “I don’t normally, but all women I have ever known, do cook. Occasionally.” June couldn’t argue. “So what’s your story?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” June drained her glass, shuffled along to the counter and poured herself some more. She turned back with the bottle, “Top you up?”
Chad nodded, holding out his glass. “Everybody has a story.”
June bit the corner of her lips, placing the bottle back on the counter. She leaned against it, and watched Chad go about checking on their dinner. “I don’t really know.”
Chad placed the lid back on the pan, turned to her, and leaned against the fridge for want of looking as casual as she. “Do you have a family?”
She shook her head, her gaze dropped to her drink. She took a desperate gulp, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes. “What about you?”
“I have a mother, an older sister, and she obviously has her own family.” He watched her continue to stare into her glass. “And you obviously know about my ex.” June nodded, but remained mute. Say something damnit, change the subject, he thought to himself as June looked more and more forlorn. “More?” was all he could manage, desperately draining his glass a second time. He could feel the lightness already, but he had no other way of saving the conversation than to offer June further escape into an alcoholic daze.
She nodded, and thankfully, downing more than half the glass as if a shot at a bar. The only thing missing was a bunch of drunk cheering her on.
“Do you like it?” he asked, topping her glass and draining what was left into his own.
“It is wine, isn’t it?” she turned with half a smile. “I think I’m already getting tipsy.”
“I think so.” He laughed, holding the bottle out to her to read. “Someone gifted it to me couple of years ago and for the life of me, I can’t remember who it was. Probably my mother.”
“So why did you open it today?”
Chad shrugged. “I don’t know,” he held her gaze, then turned suddenly, towards the stove. The rice was beginning to smell burnt. He turned off the stove. “I had forgotten about it till the other day when I was cleaning my study.”
“It was nice while it lasted,” June half laughed, placing the empty bottle back into the crate.
Before long, Chad had served up two deep bowls of the rice, and placed it on the nook at the end of the counter. “Start, before it gets cold,” and with that he disappeared into the laundry, leaving June oddly staring in his wake. He emerged once more, and there was yet another bottle in his grasp.
“Where else do you hide them, Chad?” she asked with disbelief and a bit of awe. “It might be good for me to know these things, you know, in case I ever need to get hammered.”
Chad laughed, pulling out the two bar stools for them. He pointed at a stool for her and waited till she joined him. “Only if I get to be hammered with you,” he grinned, opening the second bottle and filling up their glasses once more.
“Deal!” June smiled, raised a toast and dug into her food.
It was almost midnight and the two were drunk as skunks, with their rice bowls absolutely cleaned out. June was slapping the counter because of something Chad said sent her off.
“I’m serious!” he almost yelled.
“Then why are you laughing?”
“Because, Chad Gilligum, there’s a reason I dropped out.”
Chad suddenly rose from his stool and stumbled towards the fridge. There he fumbled above the door and brought forth a whiteboard marker. He uncapped it and started scrawling across the steel front in a lazy slant. He placed the marker back where it was and returned to his perch next to her.
June read and re-read the note, and her eyes welled up: Get June re-enrolled. She looked back at him, moisture in her eyes. “But why?”
“Because,” he grabbed the sides of her stool and pulled her closer till they met at the knees. He stared into her eyes and wiped the tear as soon as it had dropped. “You have a home now.”
Suddenly and unexpectedly, June, who was averse to physical contact, wrapped her arms around his neck, hugging him as tightly as she could. Chad returned her hug, his grip around her waist protective and barely constraining.
“You have me,” was all he could say before breaking away from her. It was doing things to his emotions he hadn’t wanted it to do. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do, or say to her but any longer he stayed close to her, the harder it was to figure out what it was that he was supposed to be thinking about. An inappropriate thought after another was barging its way into his head.
He patted the edge of her shoulder awkwardly and pushed his stool back, diving at the chance to use the dishes as an excuse to step away from her. Bad thoughts, Chad, bad thoughts!
He grabbed the dirty dishes and took them over to the sink. “We should go to bed,” he muttered, as muddled as his mind was with the wine and the thoughts he was trying to banish. Suddenly, he bit his tongue and turned to face her. “I mean, you should go to your room, and I go to mine.”
June nodded with a hesitant smile, jumped off her stool and headed for the stairs. “Goodnight then.”
“Goodnight,” he called behind her as her footsteps landed on the stairs, leaving Chad feeling for the first time like one of his characters in his books, the awkward character whose role isn’t clear yet, was he foe, or friend?
He left the dishes soaking in the sink and stole into his study, closing the door behind him and distancing himself further from the influences of the night. He sat there, beneath the lamp light, and slightly humming from the wine. He opened his drawer and from the midst of it, brought out a brown paper bag immaculately wrapped around something hefty. He pulled out a thick, custom-made leather-bound notebook, a gift his dad had given him on the day he officially became a published author. It was a voluminous monster, but a beautiful monster, and the last of the gift he ever received from his dad who died tragically in a small plane crash few months later. Chad had never had the courage to deface the notebook, not until that night. He’d promised his dad he’d pen a beautiful tale in it one day, and now, he felt it was the right time.
In the first hours of the morning, he turned to the first page and halfway down, in the middle of it, he wrote, A tale by Zachery Eve. Then he turned another page and began to write feverishly, as if the words were running away from him and he were simply chasing them. It was the first time in over a month he’d written something that felt right, that felt like it wanted to be told. He just wasn’t sure how it would turn out though, but he didn’t let that stop him.
In the end, the night wasn’t enough. He wrote till the roosters came to, literally. The darn neighbour next door had decided three months ago that the alarm in his phone was going to cause him cancer and so opted for nature’s own, a rooster. At the first cock-a-doddle-do, Chad put down his pen, closed the book and stretched out like a cat.
What the hell are you writing? He thought. “The only thing you can,” he pushed up from his chair and dragged himself up to bed.
June shook her leg nervously. She could feel her throat parching. The AirCon felt like it was failing miserably to do its job, and the rustling of paper and the ringing of teller booths kept making her jump. She turned sharply to Chad who sat calmly next to her, leafing through some leaflets he’d grabbed on their way in.
“Can we just leave?”
Chad shook his head and continued reading a booklet on credit cards.
June sighed, exasperated. “I don’t have the money to re-open my account!” she hissed, embarrassed that she even had to explain herself.
Chad continued glancing through the A5 booklet. “But I do.”
Good for you! Her jaws clenched. “I didn’t ask you for money.”
Chad shook his head, still not looking her way. “And I’m still giving it to you.”
June rose to her feet, suddenly enraged. “Why?”
He finally looked up, his eyes still calm. “Sit down, June. People are looking at us.”
June obliged, though not a single moment that went by made her feel any better about herself, nor any less angry with Chad. Before long, a customer service woman approached them with a warm smile.
Chad immediately pointed to June and the woman asked them to follow her into a consultation room. “So you’d like to re-open your account with us, Ms Chase?” she asked, pointing them both to their seats opposite from her.
“No,” June muttered, feeling every bit embarrassed to be in that room.
The lady across from them looked confused. “I’m sorry, I was told you wanted to re-open…”
Chad cleared his throat. “Don’t listen to her. We are here to re-open her account if possible.”
The woman nodded, and sat down at her computer. “I just need some details before we begin.”
June forced a smile, while beneath the table she was digging her fingers into her own palm. Why was Chad being so stubborn? June felt her temper rise and her ego shrink with every question she was made to answer, until, eventually she was asked, “How much would you like to deposit today? The minimum is $200.” That’s when her ego self-combusted and flew away as ashes in the wind.
All June could do was look to Chad for the answer, fighting every fibre in her body to keep her seated in the chair as calmly as she could manage.
“A thousand, please,” Chad blurted without a glance her way and June could feel her jaw drop at that moment.
As soon as they’d stepped out of the building, June turned on him. “What are you doing?” she almost yelled. “A thousand? Do you even have any idea how much that is? Are you crazy? Who the hell gives someone a thousand just like that?”
Chad smiled and it infuriated her even more, though somewhere very, very deep down, she knew she should be anything but grateful to the messiah Chad obviously was for her. “I told you already, I’m not that kind of a girl!”
She turned away with a grunt. “You can keep your money!” and started walking away from him as fast as she could in the lunch crowd.
“What?” she turned, almost bumping into a passer-by. “What?”
Chad pointed in the other direction to which she was headed. “You’re going the wrong way.”
June stood her ground, taking a few deep breaths to calm down. She shook her head as she followed him back to the car. “People will think you’re crazy!” she was muttering as she got into the passenger seat. “Hell, I think you’re crazy!”
Chad sat quietly for a moment, staring out the windscreen at the tree-line that separated the train tracks from the parking lot. “I’m only doing what someone once did for me, June.”
“What do you mean?”
He turned to her, his expression softened as the angry lines around her eyes disappear. “Do you know what I do for a living?” She shook her head, and Chad extended a hand forward. “Zachery Eve.”
June’s eyes narrowed at the offered hand, and she looked back up at him, not comprehending. Chad smiled, briefly. “You know that book you’ve been reading?” June nodded. “Or the eight others on the shelf in the corridor?” June nodded once more, very slowly. Then her jaw dropped, and she freaked out, fumbling for the door handle.
“June, are you okay?” Chad asked, looking at her panicking till she finally managed to open her door and jump out of the car. She slammed the door behind and stood there, almost circling on the spot, chanting. “Oh my God. Oh my God!”
Nice to meet you too, thought Chad with a self-discerning smile. He stepped out of the car and stared at June over the rooftop as she continued chasing her own tail. “You okay?”
June responded, with a bout of head shakes followed by nods, then shakes again. She finally looked at him, her head still shaking in disbelief. “Zachary Eve?” Chad nodded. “You are Zachary Eve?” Chad nodded again. “I’ve been living with Zachary Eve all these days?” Chad slowly nodded.
“Oh my God!” she suddenly squealed, causing Chad to whince at the high pitched sound, which saw a few passer-by look their way with concern.
“Please don’t scream,” he requested, nodding with half a smile at the couple walking past them. “Not many people know, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
June slammed her hands over her mouth and shook her head, though her eyes were still crazy.
“Get in the car?” she nodded, and Chad waited till she had closed her door before he took a deep breath and got in behind the wheel.
June was finally calm enough. “So, why are you helping me?”
Chad thought for a moment. “Because, I would have probably been in your shoes all these years if someone hadn’t taken a chance on me, believed me, a broke young man with the dreams to see his name in print.”
“But why me?”
Chad shrugged. “Good question. Why me indeed.” He keyed the ignition and reversed the car out of the lot. “I don’t know why Terry took a chance on me, nor do I know why you.” He looked at her and smiled. “It just feels right. That’s all.”
After a few moments, June spoke again. “Why the name Zachery Eve?”
Chad laughed. “Now, this, I can answer.”