January 17th 2016

“What do you think of these for the center pieces?” Alyssa held up daisy scrunching her nose disapproving of her choice.
“They don’t seem like you. Now these.” I point to the white hydrangeas. “They would look good with a little green infusion. Maybe some eucalyptus or mint leaves? An added bonus is the Lit would smell even better.”
“Gah, you’re a genius!” She claps, squealing into a mini dance, arms in the air swaying along with her backside.
A few strangers glance at her farmers market dance. “I know. That is why you made me maid of honor. The ideas are flowing.” I tap my forehead.
We had six months to plan her wedding. Alyssa’s family disapproved of their only daughter marrying Dirk, a forty-six year old small business owner of Lit, a bar in downtown Phoenix. They refused to help pay, participate and come to her wedding. Knowing it broke her heart, I stepped up trying my best to handle the role in their absence.
“I am crossing flowers off our list. I will decide the herbage to flower ratio later, but we should get a sample to show Dirk.”
I had never met a more hands on groom than Dirk. Not that I have met a lot of grooms. Dirk wasn’t the type of guy to say, “Whatever you like.” He actually cared. Dirk called me a week ago asking me to take Alyssa out to keep her busy, her nerves were off the charts meeting Falcon his son for the first time, and he needed someone to calm her down, while he went to pick him up from the airport.
Grabbing a few samples, we pay linking our arms together heading to one of the closer fruit and vegetable stands.
”We will have to pick up some eucalyptus somewhere else.” I say rummaging through the herbs for fresh mint.

“Cool. I must say I can’t believe your a year and a half into blogging. The whole men and food topic is really working out for you. I love all your disastrous dating stories.” She compliments picking up an honey crisp apple.
In a year and a half, I had gained over four thousand followers all because someone tipped off the local news station about my blog. They thought it was unique how I put my life into perspective with good food and failed relationships. Declining an interview still meant people wanted to follow me, even though they had never seen my face. Actually all my social media accounts were faceless. I put myself out there, but I really didn’t put myself out there.
“And you said I couldn’t do it. Now you’re complimenting me.” I grin at her selecting a few red potatoes with minimal blemishes for a new dish I wanted to experiment with.   
“I am. The whole thing is pretty awesome. Did you know on date night, Dirk and I cook one of your recipes?” She held up a Granny Smith apple to the light inspecting its shine and coloration.
“You didn’t.” Astounded that her date nights included my recipes was amazing.
“Yeah, a few times we didn’t even make it to the main course.” Tilting her head back she bellows a laugh.
The best part about food blogging were all the compliments people gave me. When they emailed me their stories, it always made me feel like I was at their table enjoying one of my creations with them. I had never had a comment my food and sex though. Of course, Alyssa is the first.
“I didn’t need to know that.” I cover my ears, the bags in my hands add an extra buffer.
“Yes, you do. Your food brings people toooogetttherr,” Purring the last word, she contains another round of laughter. “Which means you need to tell me the recipe your buying ingredients for so I can pick them up now.”
“Now you’re just pushing it.” I chuckle selecting a bunch of flat leaf parsley placing it in my reusable mesh produce bag.
Alyssa frowns, the lines her on forehead crease downwards. Brushing her long deep mahogany bangs away from her eyes, she stares at me. The aqua blue flashes from light to dark in seconds.

“Before the recipe goes on the blog, I will send you a copy.”
“Thank you, and would you consider-“
I stop her right here, “I am not catering your wedding. As tempting as it sounds and seeing as you’re not a raging crazy bride, my plate is full. But I have thought about making your cake.” Since her wedding was small, no more than thirty people, I decided as my wedding gift to her would be making her cake.
That was stress in itself.
Rushing around the produce shelf, she wraps her arms around my neck squeezing the life out of me.
“You are truly amazing.”
“You are truly choking me.” I spit out trying to catch my breath.
Releasing her death grip, she quickly kisses my hair, “Have you given much thought to what Dirk asked you?”
“Still debating.” I say casting my eyes sideways not wanting to look at my best friends face.
If Alyssa’s lips weren’t moving, her face said it all. The way her small button nose turned upwards wrinkling in disapproval. How her bangs lowered on her forehead covering her blue eyes, and her petite shoulders tightened with either angst or irritation.
Dirk owned a bar with an nonfunctional kitchen. He asked me if he got it up to code if I would consider making bar food. Easy and simple bar food. His idea was to completely gut the old kitchen and rebuild it brand new with any design I came up with.
Anyone would jump on the opportunity, but me, I was stalling. Thinking about running a small time kitchen meant I would be there all day and give up my current job, which I absolutely loved. Then there was the part where I didn’t want to burn myself out on food. I didn’t want to think of it as a job.
For me, cooking was a passion. I set the pace. I didn’t answer to anyone, but myself. I had more time to fiddle around than cook set meals day in and day out. I know Dirk would give me free creative reign, but I wasn’t so sure his opportunity was for me.
“Cassie-“ Alyssa establishes a foundation for her argument, “Wouldn’t it be super awesome to run a kitchen and do what you truly love? Think about all the recipes you’d create and get to try out being paid for it. Not to mention the possible opportunity to teach classes while working there like you talked about. The kitchen is huge, you could set up shop and design it with a couple of extra tables to have a cooking workshop. I really wish you would consider the idea before you shun it away.”
“I’m not shunning the idea away. More like storing it for later. I haven’t made up my mind. I really love my job. I love helping children find homes with loving people. When the system has failed them, our nonprofit assists in making a child’s life a little better.”
Swiping her bangs across her forehead, she pauses a minute, “Idea! Wouldn’t it be great to connect with your non profit job and Dirk’s kitchen at once?” She says moving closer to the checkout line.
“What do you mean?” I follow confused not fully understanding her idea.
“Where I am getting at is, you could still help these kids. Maybe teach them how to cook? I’m sure you guys have teenagers leaving the system who have to learn to fend for themselves. Think of your cooking class as a way to help them learn to budget and cook and live independently.”
I must say her idea was brilliant. Many of the teenagers aging out of the foster care system needed additional help, stability, and more importantly proper guidance.
I had met teens already knowing they would end up homeless after aging out. They didn’t have a family support system to help guide them in the right direction. They were scared and alone, and silently I kept my heartbreak to myself, because looking into their eyes, I tried not to give broken promises through the limitations my job offered. The worst part is knowing I couldn’t help everyone. Even if I took Alyssa’s idea, applied a helping hand, I couldn’t save them all. And that is the worst emotion, being helpless while being compassionate.
“Well?” She asks.
Lost in my thoughts, overwhelmed by an opportunity handed to me, “I think-“ Setting my haul on the counter, the cashier and I exchange greetings. “I think it’s a good idea.”
Alyssa’s smile widens, my eyes widen at the person approaching the booth. Suddenly, my hands felt balmy, my neck reddened and my heart quickened with speed. His brown disheveled hair brought back awful memories, worse than burning spinach on the stove.
Once, I burnt it once. Judge all you want.
Five long strides before he reached us, flashes of awful memories fluttered around clogging my mental capability.
“And do you think you can join us for dinner?”
The further he approached, sweat trickled down my body. Itchiness spread, soaring to the top of my head to the balls of my feet.
“Cassie, what on earth is wrong with you?” Alyssa gasps handing over a twenty dollar bill to the cashier.
“Chuck.”
“Chuck?” Alyssa hadn’t caught on yet.
“Chuck steak vs. Sub Par Chuck.” A panicked whispered shriek belts out of my mouth.
“Go!” Alyssa lowly shouts, shooing me away. “I will bring these to your car.” She motions frantically over the vegetables waving her hands erratically.
Swiveling, I run in the direction of my car only slowing down only to excuse myself when brushing past people. Further away from the booth, looking in front of me and behind me, the only thing I could see in the distance is Chuck’s disheveled hair. Shuddering, his swollen glazed over eyes still haunted me.
Turning my head back around, my body slams into someone before I could put on the brakes.
Ready to spew out an apology, I look up to see L.
“Hi.” I shriek startled and shocked. One year had passed since we saw each other. I hadn’t thought of him or made any attempts to make chocolate cake. In the span of one year, I dated three times, one of those guys being sub-par Chuck.
After our messy short lived relationship, Alyssa and I would meet at a local diner for breakfast. She would take one look at me and say, “Which dream was it? The one where generic Chuck and Jerry’s (Chuck’s last name is Jerry) container was chasing you or the one where a sinfully sweet chocolate cake in the shape of a mini bundt monster bit your head off?” Grumbling, I would tell her which dream I had. Both of which were equally  haunting me in real life and in lala land.
Colliding with the chocolate bundt cake heir, I feared that dream would return.
L’s thin lips curve upward smirking as his eyes line with mine. Eyes I haven’t looked at up close in a long time. They dance over my face, giving me a long examination twisting my insides into a diabolical deliberation.
“Hi.” His simple reply untwists my organs causing me to relax.
Hi. The first word we’ve spoken to each other in over six years. The greeting of long lost friends, a torturous exchange not killing the fervor I’ve kept hidden for so long.
“Listen, sorry for bumping into you, but I really have to go.” Not waiting for him to reply, I brush past him. His strong fingers wrap around my arm pulling me close into his embrace.
“Why are you in such a hurry?” He whispers in my ear, his breath hot on my neck. A shiver vibrates down my body, I couldn’t contain the damn thing from going unnoticed.
“Do I make you nervous Cassie?” He continues probing questions at me not caring what he is doing to me.
Shaking my head no, I swallow on a dry mouth.
Not letting go of my arm, his fingers seared into my skin like a good piece of grilled meat. Ribeye. Definitely a ribeye, marbled with a good amount of fat like his body. We were so close, I forgot to breathe. Old bitter emotions melted my brain into whipped cream as my heart felt fondness and affection for someone I really didn’t know.
I completely understood I never really knew him.
I liked to tell myself I did.
I knew the curve of his back as my fingers skimmed the surface when he took my virginity. I knew how he liked his eggs, sunny side up and crispy on the edges. I knew before he had to leave school for being arrested he was majoring in sociology. Yet, years had passed. People change. His body had changed and most importantly so could his taste for me.
“Why are you running?”
“Aren’t we all running from something?” I ask gaining my composure just enough to loosen his hold on me.
Isn’t that what he did? He ran off to Europe on his summer vacation, finding a wife with some European name I liked to butcher intentionally.
“But what are you running from?” He probed deeper into my personal life within seconds.
“Chuck Steak.” I say butchering my blog post name taking off into another sprint.
I didn’t look back at L or Sub Par Chuck.

I couldn’t join Alyssa for dinner to be the savior she needed. My parents had left early this morning to Reno. My dad’s brother had a heart attack and immediately my parents packed their bags calling me in the wee hours of the morning to explain their situation. Fudge, their new puppy couldn’t come and they asked me to house sit. My dad named him after my favorite book, Fudgamania by Judy Bloom, and for the fact that he was a beagle and loved digging holes in their backyard. His snout looked like it had fudge caked to it when he was done.
“Come on, Bessie.” I say turning the engine over careful not to flood it. Bessie, my ‘67 Oldsmobile Toronado sputtered to a stop a mile from my parents house. Currently, every time I turned over the ignition, she gurgled like her and a bottle of Listerine were dating.
“I love you, come on.” I plead with my car rubbing the dashboard. “Don’t die on me now. Or ever.” Sighing, my hands rub against the steering wheel. I could never give up this car. I had fond memories of my grandma picking me up from school in Bessie. I could always spot my grandmother down the street from school, the light blue aqua color shimmered in the distance. The fresh leather seats sticking to my skin and her rosehip oil still lingered in the car after all these years. After my grandmother passed, she left the car to me in her will. At thirteen I owned a car before I could even drive.
Digging through my purse to find my phone, I am met with a black screen.Crap, I forgot to charge my phone. One percent battery life didn’t mean anything to me, and one of my many faults is always allowing the phone to die.
Frustrated, I locked up Bessie, starting my walk to my parents house to call a tow truck.
A quarter of a mile in, my overnight bag slung on my shoulder and food bags in my hands, a car abruptly stops at the curb. A bright red Kia Soul’s drivers side door opens as a man in a dark black hooded sweatshirt exits the car, turning in my direction on the sidewalk.
L stalks towards me, his athletic shorts swaying at his knees. Only in Phoenix,  in the dead of winter could someone wear a sweatshirt and shorts.
“What happened to Bessie?” Boy, he was full of questions today.
“She momentarily decided to put herself into a coma. My phone died and I am walking to my parents to call a tow truck.” I say exhausted from the mornings events. Exhausted from running into my past, twice. No, three times. And exhausted from having to explain myself.
“Get in. I’ll give you a ride.”
Volleying my eyes from him to the car, back to him, I shake my head stepping back. “Oh no, I would rather walk.”
“Then I will walk with you.” Before I could protest, he cuts the engine to the car and clicks the automatic alarm, not even offering me his cell phone to make a call.
Stepping onto the curb, a warm smile spreads across his face, “Are you going to walk or stand their lost in your thoughts?”
“Why are you doing this?” My voice rises a little, but not enough to be a scream. “Why are you talking to me?”
His smirk cascades into a frown as his eyes widen as he gathers a large breath, “Because you’ve never let me explain. All you’ve done is run. Cassie-“ He pauses for his own peace of mind like him saying my name out loud is doing something to him. When really it’s doing something to me. L’s has the most gentle and gravelly voice I had ever heard, its shiver-some with insta-arousal, “I would like to sit down and talk.”
“No.” I state flatly crossing my arms, standing my ground. Him rationalizing what he did to me isn’t going to fix the gaping ache he left in my heart.
“No?”
“Don’t you get it, Landen? You gave something to Panchetta when you didn’t even offer it to me. I fully didn’t get a chance. One minute you’re here and the next you’re married to Pancetta. You didn’t make me feel worthless, you never offered me a fighting chance.”
Years had past since I had spoken his name.
Landen. Landen. Landen.
LANDEN!
Saying his name was oddly forbidden to me. I always referred to him as L, but whenever I did, my mind whispered it wobbly and unsure of itself. Landen made no promises when I wish he did. When I wished we did. Instead an ache in my soul prolonged and juvenile manifested itself into long lost love.
Landen.
Gosh, saying his name exposed my heart break cracking the very icy surface I protected.
Softly laughing, “Her name was Francesca.”
Okay, I might have butchered her name intentionally. Pancetta was more like it. She cured his belly when I couldn’t and consumed him raw.
What I wasn’t going to tell him is how I also butchered Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know” thinking of him and Pancetta. Gosh, that song is break up rawness at its finest.
Closing my eyes, sharply inhaling and exhaling a calm breath, “Please just leave.”  I pressed as tears welled in my eyes almost combusting like an pathetic volcanic eruption.
Where was an Alanis Morissette song now? Maybe, she could get him to listen.
“Please leave.” I begged my heart cracking in all the wrong places where it could cause a leaky heart to never mend itself.
“Please leave.” I asked again practically begging him to move back towards his mom’s car and drive away from me.
The sadness in his eyes zeroed outwards as he saw the hurt on my face. All my color had vanished. He’d stolen it when I said his name and confessed my deepest hidden secret. A secret he probably already knew, but a clear conscious was in order.
Ignoring my pleas, he walks towards me lifting the bags out of my hands and my overnight bag off my shoulder. Side casting my eyes, I couldn’t look into his. They were my weakness. A shadow of a memory haunting me in the best way possible.
Walking in the direction of our parents houses he acted as if I didn’t just leave my heart on the concrete in front of some stranger’s.
Might as well just step on it myself for good measure.
Walking over my imaginary heart, I stomp loudly on it. Squishing it with my sneaker for extra nonexistent effect.
Sighing, fretting over his stubbornness, I towed behind him watching his legs move with ease, and his body glide with each step.
I wish I didn’t say his name. He walks as if he’s floating, I walk and weep.
Wiping the tears from my eyes, mascara streaked my cheeks. If he looked at me, he would know I was crying. I didn’t want him to see me crying, that was the last emotion I wanted him seeing me have right now.
The last time we saw each other, we didn’t talk. We studied each other from a distance. That was a year ago. A lot has changed in six years. One of the best things about that summer was I had found my soulmate. Laden was it for me. His personality connected with mine entwining us together as a whole. And then the unthinkable happened, he found Pancetta to make him whole.
I was a notch. A blimp on his radar, when he was my whole radar.
Blaming myself for not speaking up sooner, maybe things wouldn’t have turned out the way they had. Realizing I loved him after he left, I waited the rest of summer to confess my heart, to bury my soul with his forever. The way I loved him, I had never felt that way with anyone else.
Landen was the unfamiliar taste that overwhelmed my pallet. My first love left a long lasting impression, sinking deep into my heart, scarring my very being. Everything in between him and I meant nothing. But I tried to love, convincing myself there was someone else out there equally unfamiliar to cure what had happened between us.
I tried so darn hard.
Wiping the last tear away, Landen carries my bags to the front porch. Searching for my house key, I couldn’t look at him. Enjoying the silence of our walk, I mourned our summer for the billionth time, enjoying watching him ahead of me for once instead of behind me.
“Thanks for carrying my bags.” The lock clicks, pushing open the door, he hands over everything not crossing over the threshold.
Transferring the bags, our fingers briefly touch.
Unwanted images flashed fresh in my mind. He would spin me around, carry me inside, the place where it all started and have his way with me. I would let him. Allow him to take control, have patience, and cure my heart like a good bowl of herbs and spices blending together to make one savory dish.
“No problem.” He mumbles pivoting on his heels leaving me standing there in his wake.
Not watching him walk away, I close the door on us once again.
Curried potatoes vs. Complicated Combinations
Staring at the cursor blinking on my laptop, I couldn’t get Landen out of my mind.
By the time the tow truck reached my car, it was already gone. I searched the house for my keys, but locating the missing key ring was like finding Where’s Waldo when your four.
Useless.
Not that I am four, but losing my keys is apart of my signature style.  
Giving up inside the house, I walked over to the Davies in search of Landen. Mrs. Davies answered the door only to inform me Landen had taken my car to an auto shop for me.
The kind sneaky butthead.
Mrs. Davies didn’t know when he would be back, but she promised to let him know I stopped by. She also hesitated to tell me something, but suddenly stopped herself wishing me a good day in return.
The rest of the afternoon, I piddled around the house playing with Fudge, taking him for a walk and endured more piddling waiting for Bessie.
Neither, Bessie or Landen turned up.
By nightfall, the recipe I wanted to try, the side dish of curried potatoes and grilled chicken managed to skip all my thoughts.
Life is exactly as the title states complicated combinations.
Insisting on writing the blog post before I actually tested out the dish left my mind mangled and torn.
Normally, I didn’t cook this way.
I always cooked first, then wrote.
Doing things ass backwards left room for error and disaster.
Looking out the large bay window in the kitchen, the dark starry night glittered through the open window as the chilly air cooled down my heated brain. It was well past eleven and I couldn’t sleep. The only other thing I could do is cook, but I couldn’t even remove myself from the chair to even do that.
Clicking off my blog post, my fingers wander over to the music app. Seconds pass before the playlist, 27 Club began playing to alleviate the day’s events, Landen and Chuck.
Unwinding my surplus of off kilter emotions, the songs lifted me from my chair.
A good recipe always begins with good ingredients.
Pinching the parsley, quickly giving the leaves a rough chop, a loud knock vibrates at the door. Fudge’s ears perk from his small bed before he bellows and barks racing to the door.
Wiping my hands, I walk to the door already knowing who is on the other side. It was a matter of time before Landen came back. Whether it would have been tonight or tomorrow, I knew he would return.
Wrapping Fudge into my arms, I open the door seeing Landen’s hands brace the frame. Sweat crawls down his face, dripping on his tank top as his chest pants rapidly.
“How am I supposed to workout knowing you’re torturing my stomach with whatever smells are wafting to my house.” He says lifting his eyes to mine.
Stepping aside, he brushes past me into the kitchen.
You see, that is the thing about curry. It’s an umbrella welcoming even the most complicated combinations.

Curried potatoes vs. Complicated Combinations

If you’ve ever had an ex sit at your table eating a meal you cooked,  you know the combination isn’t just complicated, it’s damn awkward.
“What are you doing?” Landen asks digging into his second helping, really my helping of curried potatoes and chicken.
I only made enough for two servings. One to eat tonight and one to eat tomorrow for lunch. I wanted to see how the bold curried flavors tasted after they sat overnight.
“I’m writing.”
“You write?”
“Something like that. I post my recipes online.” I manage to spit out some of the truth.
“Interesting. Can I read it?”
“No!” I shriek closing the top of my laptop.
I didn’t have it open to be rude, the music lowly playing was cathartic to the situation. The night was still fresh and I wanted my post to be as equally refreshing.
“This is so damn good.” Forking a mouthful, I watch his taunt jaw flex and grind working steadily. Landen had a sexy jaw. Strong, squared, and smooth. Giving his jaw a nice long look, I see he still liked to keep his face clean shaven.   
“Thanks. Can you tell me where my car is?” Taking a sip of water, inwardly I remind myself to relax. We’d skirted around the subject, I asked numerous times, only to be ignored.
“My friend is fixing it. You left your keys in the door when I walked away. By the time I made it to the end of the driveway, I saw an opportunity.”
“To steal my car.”
“To help get it fixed for free. So who were you running away from at the farmers market?” He asks dipping his naan onto the plate soaking up the little bit of curry sauce on my, I mean his, only to pause waiting for me to answer.
“Thanks for taking my car without asking and making me search frantically. Sub Par Chuck, he’s a guy I dated a few times.”
I finish and he takes a bite, choking on a piece of half chewed naan reaching for his water to wash down the bread and my words.
Recovering, “Sub Par Chuck?” He asked oddly  intrigued laying his fork down on the plate.
“That is what I named him. I compared him to a piece of chuck steak. You know thinly cut, can be used for ground beef due to its rich flavor and balance of meat and fat.” I shrugged, continuing, “The only reason he was named Sub Par Chuck was because of how he treated me, used. Used in the sense of getting drunk at the bar before our dates, during our dates, and leaving me waiting after our dates to knock back two or more shots. Basically the guy lived to be sloshed. But he was good looking and when he wasn’t drunk, he was a nice guy.”
“How did you know he was doing all of that?”
Lightly chuckling, I remembered something my grandmother told me, “If you’re having a home cooked meal with a gentleman and he stops eating giving you his undivided attention, Cassie you know you’re doing something right. Forget all that food is the way to a man’s heart nonsense. Your words are the truth to for their soul.”
The first time she told me this, I was seven. We were in her kitchen cooking swedish meatballs from scratch. Not quite understanding what she meant, over the next few years in my life I watched my father stop eating every time my mother talked. He gave his undivided attention to her every word letting his food get cold.
Counting the number of times Landen had stopped doing something or eating to listen to me was six times. Of course there were long periods of silence between us, which was expected.
“Once I arrived early on one of our dates. I watched him from across the bar down three shots before reaching the table. At the dinner table it was only one beer, then he would always leave to the restroom. Once I caught him taking two more shots at the bar and come back to the table chasing his shots with his one beer. After we left the restaurant he would explain he left something behind or had to use the restroom. At first, I really thought maybe he had IBS or a bladder problem, but then I figured out what he was doing.”
“But why run from him at the farmers market?” His gaze probing and intense fluctuated my pulse up a notch.
Sighing, I pinched the bridge of my nose. Memories of Chuck still fresh after six months from what had been going on, “Because when I confronted him, he was rude about it.  He accused me of being sloshed on our dates causing me to hallucinate what he was doing. When I broke it off with him, he started stalking me. He would show up at my work drunk and crying, he would come to my apartment drunk and crying. Everyday he followed me around, I couldn’t go anywhere without seeing him. It wasn’t until Dirk, my friend Alyssa’s fiancé set him straight by getting him into AA. I guess it pays to run a bar because no matter what I told him, he didn’t listen to me.  I confessed to him how proud of him I was for taking the sober plunge, but the stalking continued until out of the blue it stopped. I was afraid if he saw me at the farmer’s market he would start all over again.” Evenly taking a breath, Chuck was a sore subject.
The police didn’t listen when I told him what he was doing. I was battling a stalker and they didn’t even bat an eye. All they told me was I needed more proof. That is when Dirk stepped in. Chuck met me at Lit, Dirk offered Chuck a beer as a lure, and by the time Dirk was done with him, Chuck had drank a quarter of the beer and left.
“How long had you guys been dating?” Landen leans back into the the chair lifting his right arm to rest on the free one next to him. I saw a pattern emerging. He would ask questions, I would get comfortable, and so on and so forth. Before I knew it he would vanish. An inkling in the back of my mind told me so.
“Before the stalking?” I asked and he nodded indicating for me to go on.
“Two month. Six dates. By date four, I realized what he was doing. I thought maybe just maybe this great guy who held wonderful conversations wasn’t getting sloshed on our dates.”
Landen didn’t respond, his eyes wandered over my form. His fingers gripped the fork, but he made no motion to finish the last bite on his plate. The eerie silence had me shifting uncomfortably in my seat as I waited for one of us to talk.  
“What about you? Any bad dates? Work?” I cut the silence with two questions allowing him to pick one.
After my parents read my blog, I told my mom any updates on Landen I didn’t want to know. I wanted to stay clear of his life as much as possible. Now, here we are a little past midnight eating our fourth meal like it was Taco Bell, only better, trying to reconnect.
“No dates. No girlfriends. Work is good. I got a job with a construction company and so far I have learned a lot. How to lay flooring, drywall, run electricity, basically anything and everything an ex con can learn to keep his head straight. I assume you know about my stint in the slammer.” He brassily comments taking the last bite of food. Praying my eyes away from his strong jawline was hard. So darn hard.
Letting him finish his food, I thought about his life over the last few years not really knowing it. All of my thoughts were guesses.
“I do.” I say meeting his eyes straight on proud of my jawline escape accomplishment. His eyes were no better, their brown darkened under the low lit light of the kitchen. “If you think I’m judging your career or jail time, please think again.” I hastily threw it out there.
“Career?” He scoffs disbelieving, “Doing what I do isn’t a career, it’s a limited option. When you have been to jail, everything changes. Then you realize that people talk about second chances. Give so and so a second chance, but no one really wants to actually give someone second chance. There is no one really wanting to put their company on the line or livelihood. Life is all talk until it comes down to the reality of things. I shouldn’t complain, I don’t have it as rough as some people do.”
Contemplating his words, the anger, sorrow, their deliberation broke me a little. What he was saying was true, not only for his situation, but so many other people. I worked with kids who didn’t get second chances. Some were thrown back into the system for having one bad slip up in a foster home. Most often times I’d heard foster parents say, “If they only didn’t do that.” That meant stay out five minutes late or protect themselves from the trustless people surrounding them.
To return a child for the most absurd things, I admit one had to be a careless person. Someone who didn’t want to aid in the proper development and nourishment the child obviously needed.
Glancing at the deep scar on his left arm, I hastily look away, “You had it rough, Landen. I don’t know the extent of your situation. Really, I didn’t want to know.” I paused not fully telling him it would break me further to hear about what he had to go through. “But you’re here, and second chances might not come all that often, but one day, one will. You’ll soar and ride that chance because you deserve it. You can’t let what you did get in the way of what is going to come. If you keep looking back, you’ll never have a second chance at a new future.” The words spit out, slapping my hand a little too hard over my mouth, I rubbed my mouth with the same hand.
Landen laughed at my minor injury.
“What happened?”
“I realized I gave you advice, when I really should have taken it for myself all along.”
“What do you mean?”
“You. I compare every guy I have ever dated to you. I have damaged myself subconsciously without knowing it or wanting to know it.”
“Why do you do it? You know, compare men to food?”
“I do it sarcastically and metaphorically.”
“I can see that, but why?”
Twisting a loose strand of hair, analyzing the rich brown wood grain running horizontal on the table, my gaze fought to meet his from under the microscope he put me under.
“Why does it matter if you understand what I do or don’t do?” A wave of nausea fought to make its way to my throat, clinging in my stomach harshly acidic.
Bracing his hands on each side of his plate, he leans into the table, “Believe it or not, I care.”
Now it was my turn to scoff disbelievingly.
He cared.
Really, Landen Davies cared about my love life?
Scoffing again, I met his eyes. They burned intensely questioning my scoffing self waiting for answers.
“I do it because it makes me feel better. Sane, rational, and helps me cope.” I say throwing my hands in the air, “Other women, they have confessed it helps them cope too knowing there is someone out there willing to show them how shitty it is to find the right person date after date, incompatibility after incompatibility. I don’t give up. I conquer. I endure the awkward chatter, the first impressions. Second and third dates, and so on. And then when it fails, I cook or bake. Seeking solace in something that is like meditating or a run for someone. Cooking, failed dates, and food comparisons are all I know.” My voice cracked as I finished not fully understanding why I explained myself to him. Choking on an emotional exposed sob, my eyes grew tired.
I didn’t need his judgmental stare from across the table, which by the way was what I was receiving. Landen didn’t understand and I couldn’t make him. Just like I couldn’t understand his situation.  Brushing myself off, I stand reaching for his empty plate. His fingers loosely grip my wrist, my hair fell forward, my back arched upward in surprise, and my eyes line with his when he stoically whispers, “That isn’t all you know, Cassie.”
Really looking at him, the slight flare in his nostrils, the unease of his tongue slipping out of his mouth moistening his chapped lips, left me uneasy and pondering the squint in his eyes, and the grip of his hand on mine. The sweat stains on his shirt almost dried from the cool nights breeze matted down his hair around his ears from his fingers running through consistently since he came inside, yet he forgot about the few unruly inches on top.
“Believe me when I tell you L,” I couldn’t say his name, the compartmental box from which it came, I locked it safely away from my mouth and heart. “These days it is.”
Confessing to him made my body ache, the tension built ensuing a hard throb in my frontal lobe.
Digging into his back pocket with his free hand, his other hand doesn’t stray from mine. Sliding a card out of his pocket, he places it between us.
“Call Zeke. He is a really good guy. Think of it like he comes highly recommended.”
“You’re setting me up?” I say through teeth clenched too tightly my jaw hurt.
Suddenly my heart weighed heavily in my chest, thumping uncontrollably loud and forcefully hard.
Landen was giving me up never to try again. He wanted to talk, remain friends and suggest someone for me. Lightheaded and dizzy, the urge to sit down surfed to my legs.
“No, I am recommending someone. You’re going to set yourself up. That’s what friends do, help other friends out.”
“Now we’re friends?”
“We could have always remained friends.” He firmly states taking his hand away, the bob in his adam’s apple swallowed thick and comfortably.

Curried potatoes vs. Complicated Combinations

If you’ve ever had an ex sit at your table eating a meal you cooked,  you know the combination isn’t just complicated, it’s damn awkward.
The bubble of protection and love I created for L, something I thought was real, really could be like a lost item that I found not really having no nostalgia to said item after all this time.
But the thing is, sitting with L after he proposed we rekindle our friendship, and hearing him say he wants to me to date his friend. Yes, you heard that right, HE WANTS ME TO DATE HIS FRIEND!  I found myself stupidly agreeing to his proposition.
I know, so darn stupid.
The man didn’t offer himself on a silver platter (my bed) with a beautiful red apple shoved in his mouth. Instead, he offered me someone else. Which means he no longer has feelings for me.
All the feelings that went into the dish of curried potatoes and chicken, a dish we shared together while awkwardly asking random life questions had more feelings. All I was left with from him was a phone number, not his, and a sink full of friendship dishes waiting to be soaked.
Figuring out if his proposal was from my friendship curry or our complicated combination sat on the edge of my brain all night. I haven’t slept or done the dishes. All I did this morning was stir my coffee a gazillion times rethinking everything about last night.
Was I really thinking about calling his friend or was this out of spite to get back at him?
I hadn’t quiet figured it out.
Pushing through the awkwardness of conversation, I made a delicious easy curried potatoes and chicken.
So, more recipe, less L venting.
Curry is known for its wide variety of spices and herbs. In some dishes, different spices are added during the cooking process to create various flavors. Kind of like a layered cake.
The spices can be put together yourself or economically bought at a grocery store. Taste of Thai’s red curry paste is the bees knees. Personally, I am not a fan of yellow curry, red curry has stolen my heart the moment I tried shrimp and pineapple curry. Soooo good!
There are two different ways to make curry: wet or dry. Wet increases the amount of liquid (soup consistency) and dry (meat sauce consistency) uses only a small amount of liquid. My dish is more of a dry curry. The only thing curried in the dish is the potatoes, which compliment the spiced grilled chicken.
Of course, you can use any meat or fish when making this dish. Like I said, it’s fairly simple and on your table in thirty minutes. Serve with a side salad for an even healthier meal. Or substitute potatoes for red curried rice.
The ingredients call for 1/2 can of Taste of Thai full fat coconut milk (or any preferable brand). I always have a few cans of coconut milk in my pantry, along with canned tomatoes of various varieties.  
You might ask yourself, what am I going to do with the rest of the can, Cassie?
The possibilities are endless; dump ranch is a delicious non dairy alternative to your refrigerator. Using a ½ a cup of coconut milk you can make your own coffee creamer by adding some cinnamon and vanilla extract or vanilla bean. Chicken curried meatballs, butternut squash curried soup, or curried cauliflower rice are all great ways to use the leftover can. The creative list is endless and your full belly will thank you afterwards.
Don’t be afraid to try something divergent. By limiting your palate you’re not moving the direction for your taste buds waiting to burst with change. A little secret is your palate can change, but it might need a little encouragement.
So, what are you waiting for? Buy the ingredients, start cooking a diverse delicious meal. Just make sure you’re not sitting down with an ex, or else you’ll miss out on the flavorful curried potato combination.



Recipe:
4 chicken breasts (if thick, use two and cut in half.)
2 large red potatoes
1/2 cup of coconut milk
1 tsp of Taste of Thai’s red curry paste
salt and pepper – preference to your taste buds
1 tbsp of oil for roasting potatoes
1/2 tsp of oil for pan frying chicken. (Note: I only cook with three kinds of oil, olive oil, coconut oil, and avocado oil. I also cook with ghee. But use whatever oil you have on hand.)
Seasoning for chicken: 1/2 tsp of salt and pepper, 1/2 tsp of turmeric, 1/4 tsp of powdered ginger.
Garnish: fresh parsley.


Directions:
Preheat oven 425 degrees
Heat cast iron skillet on the stove with 1 tbsp of oil. (The trick is to heat the cast iron skillet first, then add oil to heat separately.)
Wash and dry potatoes. Using a sharp knife, cut the potatoes in half horizontally, and cut each halve again horizontally. Cut each half in 1/2 inch thick slices. Season with salt.
Add potatoes to cast iron, giving them a quick stir to coat with oil. Cook on the stove for ten minutes before transferring to the oven until evenly browned on all sides. Cooking time should be 20 minutes. If potatoes aren’t cooked in 20 minutes, add them back in for another 15 minutes.
Season chicken with spices on both sides. Heat 1/2 tsp of oil on medium high heat in a skillet. Once hot add chicken, cook for eight minutes on each side. The length of cooking time depends on the thickness of the chicken.
Once chicken is done, set aside and keep warm.
Now, back to the potatoes. Once they are fork tender and browned to a nice roast, pull them from the oven while you put together the dry sauce.
In the same skillet as the chicken, add 1 tsp of red curry paste, stirring not to burn, approximately 30 seconds. Next add 1/2 cup coconut milk, incorporating the curry paste and coconut milk into a light reddish color.
Turn off heat and stir in potatoes.
Plate curried potatoes, topping with chicken. Garnish with parsley.
Serve with a side of vegetables or salad. But don’t forget the naan!

(If you like a more saucy potato, add more coconut milk.)


Much love,
Cassie


Thank you for reading. If you want more, Chapter 4 is a click away!

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