In a Book Club Far Away Page 1

Author: Tif Marcelo

Genres: Fiction


I volunteer as tribute.

—The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins




Present Day, Saturday

In a commercial kitchen far, far away, in a military town in the middle of Georgia, a caterer named Regina Castro had an online crush. It was ridiculous, really, how often she thought of Henry Just, but when one was a single mom and an entrepreneur who didn’t have the time and the energy to date, an online flirtation was absolutely and positively enough. A heart on a post from Henry sent her spirits soaring. She preened whenever he commented on a photo, which, these days, was often. On the day over a year ago she received her first direct message from Henry—an innocuous note on how to properly grease and flour a cake pan, because he was a baker (and how sexy was that?)—she rushed through the kitchen, arms extended like Fr?ulein Maria singing “The Hills Are Alive.” Through the screen, Henry Just was sexy and sweet, and safe.

But now, looking down at an open package atop her work desk addressed to her from Henry, she wasn’t sure whether to scream with glee or to pack up and run to the next state.

“Earth to Regina? Hello?”

Regina snapped her gaze up to her catering manager, Alexis McCartney, who had a hand on her hip at the office doorway. “Excuse me?”

“I said that I need to head out to do another round of shopping. We underestimated the flour for the Food for the Gods.” Alexis’s gaze traveled from Regina to the package, and her expression switched from the usual stoic, don’t-give-a-damn nature to mischief. “But it looks like someone got a package.”

Regina shut the flaps, face burning. “It’s nothing.”

“Uh-huh.” Alexis entered the office, dimming the room. The office was closet-sized, and not even the walk-in type. With the two of them, it was a shoebox.

The sleeve of Alexis’s black chef’s jacket brushed against Regina as she flipped one of the box’s flaps. “From Henry Just of Just Cakes in Alexandria, Virginia? Huh. The Henry? The one you’ve been canoodling with online?”

Regina looked up then, shocked, to see Alexis’s raised eyebrow. She gasped. “I’m not canoodling. That’s not even possible.”

“Mm-hmm.” Alexis rolled her eyes. “With the way you’ve been writing each other? You’re practically making out. You can’t deny it—we share the same social media account, and I see all the details and the DMs. But obviously he hasn’t gotten the memo that the way to your heart is through movies, not books.”

“Hey!” Regina objected, though she was partly feigning her defensiveness. There was truth to Alexis’s words. Regina could recite movie lines like some people did the lyrics of their favorite songs but couldn’t remember the plots of many literary classics. But Alexis’s implication was reminiscent of something Regina’s ex-husband had said so long ago and was a poke in the tender parts of her heart. “What about all the bedtime books Miko insisted I read a million times? Not to mention culinary-school textbooks. And cookbooks.”

“That’s all for work or part of parenting. But for fun?” She gestured to the book nestled in the box. “May I?”

“Be my guest.”

Regina thought back to the very last “fun” book she’d undertaken. It hadn’t been for fun at all but for a book club—the only book club she’d ever been a part of—in upstate New York when she was still on active duty in the Army.

“The Sky Is Everywhere. That was the last book I read for fun.” She half smiled at the memory of the chaotic circle of hens—and a couple of roosters—that had comprised the Millersville Book Club, and a pang of regret sliced through her heart. She heaved a breath. “But anyway. Henry and I were DMing about books chefs should read, and I guess he took our conversation to heart.”

Alexis nodded in approval. “Blood, Bones, and Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef. Looks older.”

“He said he found it at his local used bookstore.”

“So thoughtful.” Alexis flipped the pages. “And now the pressure’s on. Time to get reading—he might ask at some point if you enjoyed it.”

Regina pressed her lips together. In truth, she didn’t have time to read. Heck, she didn’t have time to stand around to even talk about reading, if she was being honest, because every minute not earning money meant she was losing it. “Or maybe, because we’re so far away, I don’t have to. Two whole states separate Georgia from Virginia. He won’t ever know.”

“Well, I think it’s sweet. Though at some point, maybe you should speak. Like on the phone or video chat. It’s ridiculous how much you’ve flirted without actually communicating in real life.”

“We’re just friends,” Regina said.

“Uh-huh. Online friends with imaginary benefits.” Alexis cackled.

“Funny har-har.”

She pretend-flipped an imaginary shirt collar. “That was pretty good, if I say so myself.”

Regina busted out with a laugh; she couldn’t help it.