In late 2010, I had the unfortunate experience of dating a young man…well, I won’t start of the explanation that way because honestly, that part is no divertido! I started this story as sort of payback in my own nerdy girl manner, hoping it would spread among avid readers who would recognize and sneer at his inappropriate cockiness…but I ended up liking the character development more. Each of the five female protagonists will have a chance at telling the story. At the moment, speaking in Della’s voice is rather cathartic; she is another flavor of Inner Bitch that sort of reminds me of my brother, and his candor, while brutal at times, can be entertaining.
I can’t wait to finish “Man Candy” inspired by Mr. Adam Martin. It’s cheeky fun. 😉
Our tale of heartbreak and vengeance begins in the house of flying noodles.
And—what do you know?—it’ll end here, too.
Shit, forgive me—I’m giving some of the ending away like a horrible storyteller. I might as well start it off correctly so I don’t lose you in all of this opening madness.
The name’s Adelaide Henderson, but I’ll punch anyone in the gonads if they don’t call me Della. I think my mother sought to punish me right from the beginning for all of the gray hairs I was going to give her and gave me that horrendous name. I’m the youngest in the Henderson family, which automatically designates me as the butt of all pranks, teasing, and jokes. (The only one who may have it just as bad is Laine, and being the middle child isn’t a picnic either.) The short of it is—and that isn’t a self-deprecating crack about my height I assure you—I make the best of it. I try to make the best of everything.
Right at the moment, I am in the middle of carrying a big tray of entrée plates out to a table of soccer moms who are on their second bottle of wine. I don’t begrudge them their loud laughter and girlish banter; after all, how often are they free of their shackles—ahem, I mean, kids? Besides, if I can touch their lives with a bit of delight, I will—and not only because it’s my job. I wait tables to keep the lights on, and on weekend nights, I perform in a band with my cousin Margaret (better known as Margo and another victim of Masochistic Nomenclature) and our friend Nicholas Barton. We don’t believe ourselves to be the next big thing, but we have enough fans that I am constantly stopped at work. ‘Tis a small world after all—
Ouch. Dammit… I catch myself before I stumble and whip my head around quickly to find some bungling coworker’s retreating back. Small world, yeah, but a warning would have been nice. Being on the Saturday night shift at Corrigan’s, I’m convinced, is like being a part of a circus. There’s a great deal of trickery, acrobatics involving concave or sharp objects, fire showing itself at random moments, and enough animals to make your head spin.
My co-workers are a rowdy, wayward bunch, for the most part. There are a few exceptions (me, for one, my cousin Margo—she’s the blonde with the bottle of Zinfandel—and my big sis Elizabeth, whom you will meet later). They can feign refinement for their tables, but when the doors click shut and the building’s closed for the evening, my waiters-in-arms turn into cast member rejects from the Real World. Behind the wall that separates sophistication from the chaos, conversations ensue about various acts of drug use, nefarious shenanigans, and feats of sexual excess. Animals, indeed.
And then, of course, there’s the ringleader.
My cousin Vanessa should have stuck to her career in show business. Don’t get me wrong; she isn’t awful at this whole restaurant management thing. She can handle a party of thirty from some lofty locale while wooing a throng of rowdy college boys from Texas at the same time. She can cajole anyone into anything, and she has enough class and spine to earn respect from everyone on staff. She has known how to schmooze from birth, Aunt Sally would say to that, with that hint of pride that either makes you preen or flinch. (In Ness’s case, she would flinch.) However, she is way too beautiful (again my opinion) and talented to be touting some stupid pasta amid Neanderthals when there’s an Academy Award on her mantle. She only does it for love.
Love? you say. Well, of course it’s love. It’s the only thing that would drive a gorgeous woman to lower her standards and endure utter nonsense. Well, yeah, some would do it for shoes or something, too, but they’re just stupid. Do I sound pessimistic? I apologize, but I’m telling you—you would too if you knew what was going on—or rather who.
Silly me—I guess I’d better explain.
The who in question smoothly strides onto the dining room floor in his signature black suit, earning speculative stares from most of the females. My soccer mom table can barely keep themselves from salivating on their chicken and fish. His movements are as slight and slick as the silk on his back, and, if you were unaware of his true nature, you would definitely admire it. (I, for one, do not admire it. But I digress, because I am supposed to be sharing my knowledge.)
The object of our temporary attention is named Cameron Byrne. Hailing from the good ol’ UK, he is the owner of Corrigan’s and a world-class skeeze. He eerily resembles an Alfie-esque Jude Law, right down to the designer shoes. Now, lest you think I am judging him too harshly, let me reveal that he is the reason that my illustrious cousin Ness is peddling pasta. Under normal circumstances, I would just shake my head with slight disbelief and move on. However, in this case, Vanessa’s other half exploits her celebrity and wealth and I greatly disapprove. When they had met three years ago, Corrigan’s had been fledgling; the food had been sub par and the service even worse. Cameron sneakily slid Vanessa into the manager position, and she was too enthralled with him to protest. Word got out that an Oscar-winning actress was managing a restaurant and the people started coming in droves.
Then Ness hired Elizabeth, and Corrigan’s salvation was assured.
I sense Margo at my elbow without even looking to see that she’s there. We are well out of everyone’s way just short of the doorway into the dining room. “Well, there he is, making his grand appearance to spread sexiness on everyone’s dinner.” I snicker as she tilts her head in mock pensiveness. “I wonder if it sprinkles on like the salt and pepper.”
I smirk. “Oh, that was sexiness? I thought it was pubic lice.”
It’s Margo’s turn to snicker, and she covers her mouth to conceal her mirth as Vanessa breezes by with a piece of red velvet cake, staring at us. Suspicion has her eyes narrowed, but we give her innocuous smiles.
She knows us too well. A brow arch gives away her perception.
“Don’t you have work to do, ladies?” Vanessa asks.
Margo offers up a mock salute. “Yes, whatever you say, Captain McBeth. We’ll get right back to it.”
To our impertinence, Vanessa warns, “You had better…or you’re on dressing duty for a month.”
We waste no time getting back to our tables to check on our customers. Some minutes later, Margo and I meet on the servers’ line where we pretend to look busy. If you didn’t catch that, dressing duty is equivalent of going dumpster diving, and Margo and I do not want to be subjected to that again. We both stank of balsamic vingarette for three weeks after the first time, and once bitten is my stance on dressing duty.
On the servers’ line, behind the aforementioned wall, the clamor changes volume and pitch; in the dining room, the sound is an understated din, a discreet bumbling. Back here, the volume increases and comparatively sounds like war. In the midst of it all there is a woman yelling out orders and arranging dishes to be taken out to tables.
I have to take a moment to speak to you about my big sister. You see her? She’s the redhead in white arguing with that tall guy with the tray. Arguments around Liz are pretty commonplace because she takes no shit. As the oldest in a family of all girls, she grew up that way; her buxom figure (a gift from our paternal grandmother) has been a curse all her life and people often assume the wrong thing about her. She is tough without being hard; she knows when she’s gotta throw that iron fist around and at whom. You can’t be a good big sister without that skill.
Margo shakes her head. “Go Liz. Kicking ass and taking names.”
I shrug as her opponent tells her she needs to lighten up and Elizabeth vehemently disagrees with a rather painful threat. “Well she has to or else they’d walk all over her. Remember how Pierre used to puss out all the time if anyone disagreed with him? His food was crappy because he didn’t stand up for his dishes.”
Margo picks up a midnight-blue linen (one of Ness’s more likeable tweaks) and folds it into fourths diagonally. “I just thought it was because his real name was Louie and he never set foot in Paris and we all knew it.”
I chuckle. Cameron’s former cook had some less-than-reputable credentials, and Cameron had been too desperate to check them. Another one of his many blunders that Vanessa had to rectify.
The argument ends with Elizabeth going back to her work and dismissing the server with a wave of her hand and a turn of her back. The server turns and notices Margo and me.
Something like revulsion turns my stomach when we lock eyes.
Why this reaction? you wonder. Because it’s Adam.
If there is another male underneath this roof that causes me excessive vexation, it is Adam Martin. With Cameron Byrne, there at least is this air of urbanity that surrounds him; when he feigns refinement, you can almost believe that he cracks open champagne with high rollers and eats caviar every night. Adam? Oh no. He is all Bud Light and football games and random bouts of flatulence that can clear a room.
And even worse, he is dating my best friend.
Emily Spence is Adam’s polar opposite; she drinks Vitamin Water and watches BBC America, and the thought of passing gas in front of anyone, even her mother, would absolutely chafe her. To her, Adam is a version of Prince Charming, and he is supposed to save her from all of the other jerks she has had to deal with. Needless to say, she is a bit naïve about Adam. While she is achingly faithful to him, he flirts with all the females within a two-mile radius of wherever he is at a time (hey—in the age of texting, anything is possible), and I know it bothers her, but she has yet to tell him. She assures me he “takes care” of her when they are alone. Whatever that means. I just know what I see when we have to work together, and it’s not encouraging.
“She’s just mad because she still wants to screw me,” Adam says aside to me and Margo.
Uh huh. Like that.
Margo chokes on her own spit so I am left to address this boldfaced display of revolting chauvinism. “Oh, she’s mad because she wants a mediocre bout of sex with Monday Night Football going on in the background and you won’t give it to her? Wow. I have clearly misjudged my sister all these years. I thought she had good taste.”
Anyone within earshot laughs, including my cousin, and Adam tries to counter with his usual arrogance: “Haven’t heard any complaints so far.”
“Probably because they shut up and just smirk at you when you enter the room,” Margo contests. She folds another linen while shaking her head in dismay. “It’s a shame when you’re so bad at it that they don’t even have the respect to tell you to your face.”
I can’t help it; that comment sends me into peals of laughter. Adam leans in as if he is about to tell me something private. I try not to cringe.
“Don’t feel left out, Dell. You’re more than welcome to join in and find out for yourself.”
My eyes widen. Dell?! I oughta punch him in the gonads.
As you might have already noticed (and hopefully it didn’t make you want to throw up), Adam is of the ilk who believes he has a ten-inch penis when he hasn’t bothered to look down and realize it’s only four. I deplore the type because they are the cockiest (no pun intended) without reason. They are full of nothing but artificial swagger and don’t care about anything but the pleasure of the conquest so they turn out to be the worst lovers you ever had. (Emily has yet to dish about Adam’s sexual prowess no matter how much we press her on it, but I have a feeling that she is far from satisfied. Only likes the intimacy, my ass.)
As for his looks, I have to say, Adam is fairly good-looking. Sigh. All right fine—if you can overlook his personality, he is one fine piece of man candy. (Wait…but then again, he is merely man candy because of his personality…aw hell, I’ll let Margo and Michelle tell you properly. They coined the phrase and predictably will have a portion of this tale to tell.) He possesses that tall, toned stature of an athlete with dark hair threaded with random strands of gray. Apparently it runs in the family and he will be completely silver haired by thirty-five. Emily gushes that her favorite feature are his eyes, which are a lovely (ech) cornflower blue.
I had a cat with gray eyes once. Beautiful kitty Oscar was—but you didn’t see me turning a blind eye when Ozzy pissed on my favorite boots now did you? Just saying.
I suppress an eyeroll and return to my linen-folding. “Martin, I think it goes without saying that not every woman that claps eyes on your loathsome figure finds you appealing. Present company included.”
His mouth curves up on one side in a smug grin and he delivers this killshot: “Emily likes me well enough.”
The heat comes from my eyes unbidden. If looks could burn, Adam would be a charcoal briquette. It would be a welcome change from the current (and more convenient than having to deal with him socially), I tell you, but humans weren’t blessed with that ability. Where is Scott Summers when you need him?
He swaggers off the line triumphantly, leaving me to smolder.
“Asshole,” I mutter.
“Remind me again what it is that Em sees in him,” Margo says.
“She got caught up in his eyes,” I respond dryly.
“Then she oughta take a picture and save herself the trouble.” She raises an eyebrow. “I wish you would have done that with Adrian.”
I press my lips together and exhale through my nose, wishing she wouldn’t have brought Adrian up. The thing about family? While they are the foundation of our well-being and existence, they have a knack for bringing up stuff that you wish you could forget. And Adrian Santos falls under that category for me.
Margo punches me in the arm and I crash back to the moment.
“Ow, dammit!” I bellow.
“Jesus, Della—snap out of it. You look all glassy like the time you overdosed on Nyquil and tried to work the Friday lunch rush.”
I rub my throbbing arm. Margo took a kickboxing class with me when we were eighteen, and she developed one hell of a right cross. “A nudge would’ve worked. You didn’t have to hit me so hard.”
Margo gives me a look. “You were over there about to start drooling over Adrian Santos. I think that’s a health code violation.”
“I was not drooling!”
“Oh yeah right. You still got some spit on your chin.”
“I do not!” I protest, but I wipe at my chin anyway.
“You were totally drooling…”
I growl under my breath. If you knew what Adrian was like…
Margo shoves me again. “Della!”
All right, fine. I’ll explain Adrian later.
* * *
The end of the night comes, and I’ve never been happier to see it in my life. I have a fistful of bills in my pocket and my celebratory licorice stick. When I was a little girl I would get candy when I was especially good; nowadays, if I can get through the shift without maiming or killing anyone (as you have seen, that is a feat all in itself), I allow myself a special treat. Hey, gotta reward big people for good behavior, too.
Margo joins me at the bar where I sit counting out the night’s haul and chewing on a grape licorice stick. Tonight’s indulgence comes from a pack of rainbow Twizzlers. She automatically slides out a watermelon one—her favorite flavor—and takes a bite out of it while holding her cell in her free hand.
“Just talked to Nick. He’s gonna meet us there,” Margo informs me as she settles onto the bar stool. “How much did you make?”
“Enough to pay my portion of the rent and buy that leather skirt,” I respond triumphantly. Margo shakes her head. There is this leather skirt I have been eyeing for weeks, but it is ridiculously expensive.
“You could also be saving up money to get a new guitar,” Margo prods me, as she does once a week. “That Fender is not cheap…”
I send a puff of air through my nose. While window shopping one day with Nick and Margo, I had let it slip that I wanted this badass turquoise Fender electric guitar—but it’s about two thousand dollars. If there is one thing you’d better understand about me up front, it’s that I don’t do long shots. Why waste the time? This leather skirt is far more accessible. Maybe someday I’ll take the plunge and get the Fender. But not now. Baby steps, right?
I say this much to Margo. She peers at me sidelong, shakes her head.
“What?” I inquire.
Margo fiddles with the edge of the Twizzler package as if she can’t commit to grabbing another one. “It just seems that you’ve been holding yourself back in strange ways since Adrian left…”
Remember that rot about family again? “What the hell, Margo?”
“I’m just saying,” Margo responds. “Before, you would have been all but selling your plasma for that Fender. Now all you can say is, ‘Baby steps, right?’ I’m the one who should be going what the hell, Della.”
I shake my head. “We shouldn’t be talking about this right now…”
The male voice makes me look up. A tall, dark-skinned young man stands in our midst, mirthfully puzzled. Bennett Kyle is one of the bartenders at the restaurant and a good friend of ours. He is one of those former nerds who had the foresight to pick up a pair of dumbbells and anything else that would make him cooler. And he is cool, right down to his very core. Well, for a nerd.
My eyes narrow at the cozy scene. Ben sees my look and shakes his head. “Looks like the great Adam Martin strikes again,” he remarks.
I slide my gaze in his direction. “Bennett Kyle, what do you know about this?” I gesture with a blue raspberry licorice stick to Ginger smiling flirtatiously down at Adam in the group of servers.
Ben chuckles and stashes a bottle of Absolut. “Now ladies, you know it is a violation of the man code for me to reveal that sort of information to non-males.”
Margo scoffs. “Really, Ben?”
Ben puts his hands up. “What? I could lose my playa card.”
I throw a linen at him as Margo chokes on her watermelon Twizzler. “Shut up, Kyle. You’re a nerd with a predilection for chemistry and computer technology and would know how to make a stink bomb or hack into the Pentagon before you could get a chick out of her panties. Those so-called playas made your early adolescence hell. Fuck them. You’re on our side. So spill.”
I had him there. “All right, fine.” Ben leans in, forearms on the bar top. We mirror the action as Margo regains her composure. “Word on the street is that Martin and Miss Ginger Snap”—he snaps his fingers for emphasis in a manner reminiscent of Damon Wayans in Men on Film—“have been skulking around here trying to rekindle their old flame.”
Margo’s eyebrows shoot up a full inch. “Say what?” I manage.
“They had an old flame?” Margo asks.
“Before your time,” Ben explains. Which means it occurs before Margo and I started working at Corrigan’s. “Passion, drama—it was like watching Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. They kept going back and forth and back and forth…”
I turn around as Ben trails off. Adam and Ginger break away from the group, talking in tones under the bumble of conversation from the other servers. Something inside of me clutches.
“Think they could be on the back part of the cycle?” Margo inquires.
Ben lifts a shoulder. “I mean, that’s open to interpretation…” Margo eyes him as he picks up his towel. “Look, I’m just on the fringes. Don’t know the inside scoop on that one.” Brow lift from Margo. “Nerd, remember?”
“Doesn’t surprise me that the social hierarchy of hospitality resembles high school bullshit,” I mutter, rolling my eyes. As my eyes roll toward Adam and Ginger, Adam turns toward the door, beckoning Ginger with a crooked finger. My eyes narrow.
I tug on Margo’s sleeve. She frowns at me. “What?”
“Let’s follow them,” I suggest.
Ben, polishing a wineglass, cocks an eyebrow. “Whoa, whoa. Wait. Pause before you get all Sydney Bristow up in this piece. Don’t you realize that eavesdropping is wrong on so many levels? Not to mention, you know this is going to turn to shit. This is gonna get ugly, like Gigli-ugly.”
“Look,” I begin, “do you think that assholes like that”—I jerk my thumb in Adam Martin’s direction—“deserve to make ripples in the fabric of our lives without reproach?”
Ben appears flustered. “Now I didn’t say that. What I had said was—”
Margo crosses her arms over her chest. “I think that means Ben isn’t gonna stop us.”
“Good. I’d hate to hurt a friend.” Satisfied, I slide off the stool and head toward the door. I sense Margo behind me.
“Fight on, Charlie’s Angels!” Ben exclaims to our backs. I fight a grin.
Outside, cool November air hits me like an open palm. My pale skin flushes almost instantly. I curse myself for neglecting my coat as a gentle north wind pulls my hair into my eyes.
“You know…” Margo exhales, breath a puff of air.
I level a glare upon my cousin. “Marg, you are not backing out on me now.”
She shakes her head. “That’s not what I mean. You know I got your back. Remember the time we overflowed the toilets in the boys’ locker room senior year? Who dug her hand in with the turd the size of Alaska?”
I fume. “Never gonna let me live that down, will you?”
“I’m just saying. Even if we catch Adam doing something—and the odds of that are pretty good considering—how are we going to tell Emily?”
Emily. I inhale, cold air prickling my lungs like tiny needles. I imagine Emily’s face in my mind, heartbreak in her eyes. Before I can speak, a rustle catches my attention. My gaze, adjusted to the dark, rests on a pair of figures some yards away.
“See?” Margo whispers. “They’re just standing there.”
“You can screw standing up. Some say it’s more fun that way.”
It’s Margo’s turn to roll her eyes. Adam removes a lighter from his pocket and ignites a cigarette.
I blow a lock of black hair out of my eyes so I can see more clearly. The cigarette passes from Adam’s mouth…oh, my jaw drops and my heart stutters…to Ginger’s curved lips.
After a moment in stupefaction, Margo mutters, “They’re sharing spit!” Her voice is laced with awe, as if she cannot believe her eyes.
Mine, meanwhile, narrow to slits. “That better be all they’re sharing.”
As if on cue, Ginger removes the cigarette and her hand falls to her side. She steps forward and up…and those curved red lips land on Adam’s. And he does not protest.
“Or not,” Margo quips to my earlier statement.
Fucking holy shit. Emily is going to have a coronary when she finds out about this…
…But first, I’m gonna kick Adam Martin’s philandering ass.