If you follow me on Facebook, you may have seen my post last night about how much I love Chapter 7 of Lost and Found. It’s a very full chapter with plenty of content to love (11,311 words?!)… why I didn’t break it up, I’ll never know. It was my first book, and it admittedly has its quirks.
Anyway, I’m not here to apologize for lengthy chapters. I am here to give you a big, juicy excerpt from this particular chapter.
To set the stage, Nate and Emi have been best friends for, like, 13 or 14 years at this point. There’s a little something between them, but they made a pact long ago – friends only.
Chris is Emi’s older brother and one of Nate’s closest friends. After meeting the woman he thinks he’s going to marry, Chris invites Nate, Emi and their dates (Sam and Colin, respectively) to dinner in order to meet the lovely Anna.
As the image below suggests, things don’t go very well.
For those of you who’ve read the story, maybe it’s been awhile and you’d like to reconnect. If you’re new here, though… welcome to Hollandtown. This is where it begins… Nate’s narrating.
“I’m nervous,” Sam whispers in my ear as we wait for the hostess to seat us in the Spanish restaurant I’d chosen.
“Why?” I ask her with a chuckle, wrapping my arm around her bare shoulder. “You look perfect. Everyone’s going to love you.”
“I hope.” I could tell that Sam was putting a lot of pressure on herself tonight. I think she feared that if my friends disapproved, it would be over between us. Even if their opinions weren’t favorable, I wasn’t ready to end what we had going yet.
“Just be yourself. And I bet everyone’s a little nervous anyway, so you’ll fit right in,” I assure her.
“Right this way, sir,” a host signals for us and leads us to the table already occupied by Emi, Chris, Colin and a very pretty Asian woman that I assume is Anna. I smile at Chris and nod my approval. He stands up to greet us, shaking my hand and pulling the chair next to his out for Samantha. As he talks to my girlfriend, I make my way over to his date.
“Anna, I presume?”
“Hi, you must be Nate,” she says with a smile that would ease anyone’s fears. “It’s so good to finally meet you.”
“You, as well.”
Emi’s seated next to her, and she stands up to hug me. It’s not our normal hug, as her hands barely touch my arms. Colin’s too busy eating a chip to even shake my hand. I finally find my way back to the empty chair and take a seat next to Sam. She’s introducing herself to Anna and complimenting her on the shirt she’s wearing.
“You remember Emi,” I mention at the end of their conversation.
“Of course,” she says with a small wave across the table at my friend.
“And that’s her date, Colin.” I refuse to call him her boyfriend.
“Pleasure,” he says, stretching his hand over my plate to shake hers.
“I’m Samantha,” she says to him. He nods once, returning to his appetizer. Pleasant guy. Real winner, Em.
I try to make eye contact with her to see what she thinks about his greeting, but she and Anna are laughing quietly together. Colin taps Emi on the shoulder once and holds a chip in front of her face.
“Taste this, babe,” he says to her. I catch myself cringing a second too late. He feeds her the chip, and she looks a little uncomfortable, her eyes meeting mine, then Chris’s. I fake a smile at her, then turn my attention to her brother.
“So, Colin,” he says, distracting him from feeding her any more food, at least for a few seconds. “Tell me what you do. Emi says you’re a writer?”
“Yeah, I write the sports column for the Journey News– LoHud– and I do some freelance now and then for Sports Illustrated.” One time he wrote an article for his hometown paper, and it was picked up by the well-known magazine. One time. I stave off my laughter and keep that fact to myself, not wanting anyone to know that I had done a little research on the guy.
“Any sport in particular?” I ask, joining the conversation.
“Football and baseball, mainly. I played both in college.”
“SUNY,” he says.
“And what was your major?” I continue.
“Communications,” he says.
“Great, when did you graduate?” I already know the answer.
“I didn’t,” he begins, not an ounce of regret in his voice. “I was drafted to a minor league football team, so I took that gig and ran.” He laughs, proud.
“Excellent,” I say. “So, what happened with that career?” My tone is admittedly condescending, and he sits up straight in his chair, puffing his chest out.
“He had a leg injury,” Emi speaks up as she puts her hand on Colin’s. She slants her eyes at me. “His experience at his college newspaper got him the job at LoHud.”
“Sounds like an awesome job. What city is that paper in?”
“Rockland… Putnam…” He knows I’m mocking him.
“Right, right. Lots of high school reporting, I guess.”
“I hear there’s a baseball team in Putnam with a female pitcher,” Sam joins in, sensing the tension and trying to diffuse it. “My cousin goes to that school.”
“Really?” Colin says, genuinely interested. “I’ll have to look into that. That’d make a pretty good story.”
Sam smiles brightly, proud.
“I guess you know all about high school sports,” Emi pipes in, her attention directed at Sam. “Didn’t you just graduate last year?” Emi knows exactly when she graduated.
“No,” Sam says, then swallows, picking up on Emi’s tone. “I’m a junior at NYU.”
“What sorority are you in?”
“I’m not in any sorority,” Sam cocks her head slightly when she answers.
“Surprising,” Emi mutters under her breath. “I thought all prom queens were automatically drafted into some greek underworld or something.”
“You were the prom queen?” Chris’s date asks, hanging on to a fact that I wish I had never mentioned to Emi. Anna sounds genuinely interested, though. I like this woman already.
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago.” I can tell Sam’s embarrassed and doesn’t want to talk about it anymore.
“Three years,” Emi sighs. “So long ago…”
“I’m sorry,” I whisper to my date.
“No, it’s fine,” she says.
“Do you really want to talk about prom night, Em? Because, boy, do we have a story to tell.” She glares at me from across the table. When I look at Chris, he’s looking at me with contempt. Emi didn’t go to her senior prom out of principle and she had regretted it ever since. That night, she had locked herself in her room and wouldn’t come out. Her mother and I sat at the door and tried to talk some sense into her, but it didn’t work. It took a phone call from Chris later that night to calm her down. She told me to never bring it up, and I never had until now.
“Why? What happened on your prom night?” Colin asks her.
“Nothing,” she mumbles. “And that’s the truth.”
Colin shifts his focus to me, waiting for me to add to her story.
“You heard the lady.” I smile at him mischievously, which is sure to create more questions in his mind. “Wild,” I mutter aside, but loud enough for him to hear.
“Anna,” Chris jumps in. “Why don’t you tell everyone what you do.”
“I’m an interior designer,” she says with a blush.
“Nate has a great loft that could use a woman’s touch,” Sam says. “I’ve been trying to get him to redecorate. I have a lot of ideas. I’d love to talk to you about them!”
“Great!” Anna says. Emi’s attention is piqued, her eyes curious.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Sam,” I tell her. “Plus, everything there has a purpose. It’s all there to highlight the art.”
“Oh, right,” she says. “I didn’t mean–”
“It’s okay,” I cut her off, not wanting to hurt her feelings. Emi smugly smiles from across the table. “You know, maybe we can work on the guest bedroom together.”
“Really?” Sam asks as Emi chokes on her wine.
“Sure.” I lean down to kiss her gently. When we part, I glance to see Emi, looking away with purpose, revealing a mark just above her collarbone when her loose shirt slips off her shoulder. My first inclination is to point it out. “Did you scratch yourself or something? There’s a large red mark on your neck.” Asshole, marking his territory.
Instinctively, she immediately draws her hand over the hickey he had left on her delicate pale skin. She knew exactly where it is, and by the blush on her cheeks, I’m certain she knows exactly what it is, as well.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she lies. “If you’ll excuse me, I’ll go take a look.”
Colin smiles smugly, glaring at me as he downs his third beer.
“Nate,” Chris scolds me as Colin stands up, presumably to follow Emi. “Colin, have a seat, I’ll handle this,” he says. Emi’s boyfriend doesn’t argue, sitting back down and having another chip. As Chris leaves the table, he whispers over my shoulder, requesting me to follow him.
“I’ll be right back, sweetie,” I tell Sam as I squeeze her hand.
As we walk toward the bathrooms, he has a hard time keeping his cool. “What are you, four? You two are acting like children. You’re embarrassing yourselves— and me— in front of a woman I really like. Not to mention the unfortunate dates you both brought along.”
“Fix this, Nate.” He goes into the men’s restroom, leaving me in the hallway alone. I wait for Emi to come out of the ladies room. As soon as she sees me, she attempts to push me, trying to move around me, but I block her from getting away. She glares at me angrily.
“This is turning out to be a great night, huh?” I ask her, trying to break the ice. It doesn’t work. She steps past me, but stays in the hallway, out of sight of the restaurant diners.
“What is your problem!?”
“Me? What is your problem?”
“You’re my problem,” she answers, crossing her arms across her chest.
“Yeah? Well why are you being such a bitch to Sam?”
“Excuse me?” she asks. “Why am I being a what?”
“You heard me,” I say, lacking the guts to repeat what I had called her.
“Why, Nate,” she says innocently, “I’m just trying to get to know her better. I assume you’re doing the same by belittling Colin?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“He has a good job, Nate. A steady job. He earns his own money… he wasn’t born with a silver spoon up his ass like some people I know.”
“Wow, my money never bothers you when you get to take advantage of its perks. Are you a little jealous?”
“Shut up, Nate. No way in hell am I jealous.” I laugh at her answer.
“So I’m supposed to like him because he has good work ethic? Tell, me, Em, does he have good grammar, too? I know that’s a requirement for you. Does he pass your test of they’re, their and there?”
“I’m sure he does.”
“And I’m sure you’re overlooking the obvious. You’ve lowered your standards to the gutter for this winner. I’ve read his articles, Emi. They suck.”
“Right,” she answers.
“I have. Have you? Because if you have, you’d realize they have no sports editor at LoHud, and you would have discovered that he does not, in fact, know the difference between they’re, their and there.”
“I don’t care,” she argues. “He knows a lot of other things.” I can tell by the tone of her voice what she’s insinuating.
“Yes, he’s left his proof on you,” I remind her. “Classy guy. Who needs money when he can give you your very own, personalized, front-facing tramp stamp? Look, it’s Emi’s red badge of fucking!” I say, pulling her shirt sleeve down to prove my point. When I look closer, I notice it’s not a hickey after all. It’s a fresh bruise. Upon further inspection, I discover another one closer to the nape of her neck.
“Stop,” she says, adjusting her shirt.
“What is that, Emi?” I ask, suddenly concerned.
“It’s a hickey, just like you thought.
“No, it’s not. What the fuck are those?” I pull the sleeve away once more and lightly press my fingers into both.
“Ow,” she hisses.
“Are you guys finished over here?” Chris says from behind me. Emi quickly averts her eyes and pulls the sleeve back up again.
“We’re fine,” she answers him.
“No, Chris, come–” She grips my forearm tightly.
“We’re handling things,” she smiles at her brother. “We just need another minute or two.”
“Please do not make me regret bringing her to meet you. I really want this to work with her.” Before I have a chance to speak again, he turns on his heels and returns to the table.
I look back down at Emi, the shock still apparent on my face.
“Did Colin do this?” I brush her shoulder again to remind her of the marks.
“Shut up, Nate, you’re completely out of line. You don’t know him at all.”
“I’m trying to understand him,” I pause, realizing my lie. “No, I’m not. I couldn’t care less about him, and my god, Emi, if he is hurting you–”
“He’s not,” she says with a look of disgust on her face. “What just because he’s got more muscles than you, you think he beats me?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“I dropped some books from that shelf in my room,” she spits at me. “He had nothing to do with this.”
“Then why did you lie and say it was a hickey?”
“It makes for a much better story, doesn’t it?”
“Right, of course. Then why didn’t you let me have Chris take a look?”
“Because I know his temper, and I know he would jump to conclusions. And I know Colin’s strength… my brother wouldn’t stand a chance against him.”
“Well, what if I decide to take matters into my own hands, then?”
“I’d say go for it. You’d be completely in the wrong, and I don’t give a shit about what he does to you.” I know she’s just angry with me… I know she doesn’t mean it; even her eyes tell me so.
“Well, you’ve been a complete dick all night.”
“And you’ve been the model of civility yourself, Emi.”
“You’ve deserved it.”
“Why? What have I done, aside from trying to make you see the guy you’re dating for the asshole he really is?”
“What do you see in him?”
“You’re one to talk. The only thing your Barbie-doll mute has contributed to the conversation is some tidbit about high school.”
“You haven’t given her a chance to speak!”
“I can see she’ll just be one of those women who will sit pleasantly by your side, agreeing with everything you say, going along with everything you do, until she has her hooks in you. Then you’ll get to know the real Sam, and it’ll be too late to get out.”
“What the fuck are you talking about?”
“I can just see her manipulative little mind at work, that’s all.”
“Whatever. If you just tried to get to know her, you’d see you’re completely misjudging her.”
“Well, we won’t need to worry about that. I don’t want to know her.”
“That’s very mature.”
“Doesn’t seem like you’re into maturity. If you were, you’d date a grown up.” She slants her eyes and smiles smugly.
“Alright, I’m done,” I tell her, trying to end the argument. “Your brother brought us here to get to know Anna. Let’s just try to put this aside for now–”
“Fine,” she says.
“Just after I ask Colin about those bruises.” I turn to walk toward the table. Either she truly doesn’t care about my safety, or she doesn’t believe that I will follow through on my threat. I don’t think he’ll attack me in the restaurant.
I sit down next to Sam as she immediately takes my hand in hers and squeezes it tightly. “So, Colin–”
“Anna, I’m sorry,” Emi cuts me off. “I must be having an allergic reaction to some of the food,” she explains to her brother’s date as she scratches her neck close to the spot I had pointed out to the entire table.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” Anna says. “I hope you’re okay.”
“I’m sure it’s fine. Probably some herb or something,” she mumbles. “But listen, I’ll get your number from Chris. Maybe we can meet for drinks one night this week?”
“That’d be great,” Anna says.
“Colin,” Emi taps her boyfriend on the shoulder as he chews on an appetizer. “Nate was nice enough to offer to drop me off on his way home,” she lies to him, “but I was hoping you could take me. I know it’s out of your way.”
“No, it’s fine, babe. Sure. We just ordered, though. Can we wait and have them box it up?”
“Colin, I think we need to go now,” she says, her voice urgent. She watches me out of the corner of her eye to make sure I don’t say any more.
“I could bring your food by,” I offer her, glaring.
“No thank you. We’ll find something at home.”
“I was looking forward to the lobster,” Colin explains, still seated and completely unconcerned with Emi’s fake illness.
Emi bites her bottom lip to keep from saying more.
“You should take her now,” I tell him, just wanting him out of my eyesight for good. “Plus, maybe it’s not a food allergy. Maybe those splotches on her neck are contagious.”
“Nate,” she warns.
“Wouldn’t want them to spread, that’s all I’m saying.” I stare at Colin as I say this, hoping he understands that I know that they’re bruises.
He stands up abruptly and throws his napkin on his plate.
“Goodnight, Emi,” Sam calls after my friend. Emi turns around to acknowledge her. “I hope you get better soon. Let us know if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Emi says, her smile forced.
Chris finally speaks up after they leave. “I’m sure she’ll be fine,” he says, addressing his girlfriend. “I’ve never known her to have any food allergies, though. I’ll check on her later.”
“So, Nate, tell me about your artwork,” Anna says, continuing our dinner as if nothing has happened. She takes a sip of her wine and smiles at me and Sam across the table. I can tell she’s going to be good for Chris.
Lost and Found ©2011 Lori L. Otto
Want to start at Chapter 1? Get LOST AND FOUND today!