I want to be J. Scott Coatsworth when I grow up.
The dude runs something like three Face Book groups, three web pages, and three newsletters. I don’t know how he has time to breathe let alone sleep, but he also manages to do some awesome writing. (Personally, I think he has a Time Turner.)
Anyhow, I’m happy to be part of his launch party for his newest book: River City.
A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.
Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.
Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.
Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.
The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.
Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.
They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.
Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona seram,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.
“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”
“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”
“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.
“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.
He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.
His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. ” Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”
“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”
Diego shot him a dirty look.
Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…
“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”
Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”
“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”
Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in,” was all he said with another smile
Carmelina ducked into her bathroom one last time, checking her frizzy red hair. It was all over the place, as usual. There was only so much you could do with yourself once you passed fifty, and it was, after all, the first time she’d left the house for fun since Arthur had passed away.
Not that tonight was going to be fun. She was joining the Merry Widows Club—three women who had also lost their significant others. Loylene had invited her, and she hadn’t had the heart to say no.
Loylene was a sweetheart, but she was totally caught up in Tupperware and counting calories. Carmelina had never counted calories in her life—she had her gorgeous Italian hips to prove it.
Marjorie was a bit of a bitch. Carmelina had often wondered if the woman’s husband had died just to get away from her nagging.
She barely knew Violet, who was, as her name suggested, a wallflower who never spoke above a peep.
She kissed Arthur’s photo on the mantel on her way out, the one where he was scowling because they’d been late to dinner for their twentieth anniversary. And true to form, she was late now, due to be at the little restaurant at five p.m.—in just five minutes.
Still, she was sure she had enough time to check her lipstick one last time.
* * * * *
It was a quarter to six when she finally arrived at the One Speed, the little pizza place the Club had chosen. Despite the fact that she lived just a couple miles away in River Park, it had taken her almost half an hour to get there due to a road project on H Street. And parking had been horrific. If only she’d left earlier.
“Hi girls,” she said, sliding smoothly into the open seat.
The other women had black veils on, something she found a bit morbid. Sure, she had lost Arthur less than three months before, after thirty wonderful years together. But she had given up on wearing black after the first week, and these women had been bereaved for more than a year.
Marjorie gave her a sour look. “You forgot your veil. And you’re an hour late.”
“Forty-five minutes,” she shot back, picking up the menu. “And I guess I left mine at the dry cleaners.”
Loylene flashed her a perky smile. “Oh, that’s all right,” she said, opening up her large, woven pastel-peach purse. “I brought an extra, just in case.” She handed over a veil that had seen better days—creased and wrinkled and caked with little bits of something.
“Thank you, darlin’, but I won’t put you out. I’ll bring my own next time.” She set it aside.
Violet nodded and said something unintelligible.
“What was that?” Carmelina was starving. She ached to move past the pleasantries and get her meal ordered.
“She said she’s happy you’re here.” Marjorie’s severe tone left no doubt as to how she felt about the matter.
“Shall we order?” Carmelina said, trying to move things along. “The minestrone soup looks good. I’ll bet all they have to do is ladle that into a bowl.…”
“The ritual first.” Marjorie’s tone brooked no argument.
“The what?” Carmelina asked.
“The ritual,” Loylene said, pulling a small green Tupperware container out of her voluminous purse. She popped open the lid, displaying a bunch of small, folded pieces of white paper, and set it in on the table. “Each of us takes one of these, reads it, and then describes what her husband or…” She glanced at Violet. “…spouse liked.”
Carmelina rolled her eyes. “Does it take long?” Her stomach rumbled.
“I’ll go first,” Marjorie said, ignoring her. She took a piece of paper and read aloud. “Clothing.” She stared off into space for a long moment. Carmelina was starting to worry about her when her eyes suddenly refocused and she smiled mistily. “Tube socks. Martin loved his tube socks.”
“Very good,” Loylene said, putting the box in front of Violet, who picked a piece of paper, and read it quietly.
“Burnt toast,” she said softly with no further explanation.
Carmelina’s stomach rumbled.
“Okay,” Loylene said with a frown. She drew her own paper. “Ah, TV Show. Um… that’s a hard one. He watched so many. Davis lived in front of the television.”
“Hoarders?” Carmelina suggested helpfully. She’d been to Loylene’s house.
“Ice Road Truckers,” Loylene said triumphantly. “Your turn.”
Carmelina obediently took a piece of paper, and then stared at it blankly. Printed on the paper was “favorite kink.” She looked up. All three women were staring at her expectantly. “The 49ers. Favorite sports team,” she lied and shoved the paper back in the box.
Violet’s phone buzzed. “Sorry, I’ve got to take this. It’s Sylvie.” She took the phone outside.
“Sylvie?” Carmelina asked.
Loylene nodded. “Her wife. Violet’s an honorary member. Sylvie’s not actually dead, just working.”
Carmelina shook her head. This had been a bad idea. “Can we just order? I haven’t had a bite to eat since breakfast.” She waved at their waiter.
“First we share the objects we brought that belonged to our spouses,” Marjorie said, pulling out an old pair of athletic socks with red stripes from her purse.
“Oh hell no.” Carmelina pushed away from the table and threw down her menu, ignoring Loylene’s shocked expression. “I’m sorry, Loylene, but grieving at home is better than this.” She stormed out of the restaurant with just the right amount of righteous indignation, or so she would tell herself later.
As she walked back to her car, something stuck to her shoe.
It was a green sheet of paper. She turned it over. “Italian Cooking School—Come Learn From The Best.” It was for a restaurant called “Ragazzi,” and the classes started on Sunday. She looked at the address. It was right across the street.
How had she never noticed it before?
She stuffed the flier into her purse and drove home, where gelato awaited her.
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Author Name: J. Scott Coatsworth
Cover Artist: Kelley York
Publisher: Other Worlds Ink.
Release Date: Wednesday, May 30 2018
Format: ebook, paperback
Story Type: Novel
Word Count: 115k
Genres: gay fiction, queer fiction, magical realism, contemporary
Characters: gay, bi, trans, straight
Keywords/Categories: gay, bisexual, transgender, trans, gay fiction, queer fiction, magical realism
Scott lives with his husband Mark in a little yellow bungalow in East Sacramento, with two pink flamingos by the front porch.
He spends his time between the here and now and the what could be. Indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine, he devoured her library. But as he grew up, he wondered where the people like him were.
He decided it was time to create the kinds of stories he couldn’t find at Waldenbooks. If there weren’t gay characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.
His friends say Scott’s brain works a little differently – he sees relationships between things that others miss, and gets more done in a day than most folks manage in a week. He seeks to transform traditional sci fi, fantasy, and contemporary worlds into something unexpected.
He runs Queer Sci Fi and QueeRomance Ink with his husband Mark, sites that bring queer people together to promote and celebrate fiction that reflects their own reality.