‘Meet Greg' - Full Chapter 2 Advanced Reader Copy
(Initial ARC - Chapter 2 of ‘The Lies We Live’)
2018 copyright K Hall Books @ khallbooks.com
December 2018 Release Date
“Last week after your interview, I came out here to chat, but you were already gone,” Tom grumbled accusingly, pushing the plated slice of cinnamon cake across the counter toward Steph.
“Didn’t Erin tell you I said hi?”
“Yeah, she did. But you’d normally stick around!”
“Hey, I didn’t know how long you were going to take in the kitchen, burning that super-duper-secret-recipe cinnamon cake of yours. Plus, I had a meeting an hour away I wanted to get to early so I could get a head start on my Labor Day Weekend. So, what went wrong with your burnt cake, anyway? Fall asleep back there, did ya?” Steph gestured at the kitchen doors, giggling at the thought of Tom burning something. It’s probably the first time he’s burnt anything in decades, and she’d bet money on that, too.
“No, smart-ass,” Tom smirked, “it was the oven’s fault. That damn thing’s costin’ me a pretty penny to fix.”
“Is it fixable? Or do you have to replace it?”
“Hell no, I ain’t gonna replace that thing! It cost me too much to begin with, don’t have the cash to get another… No, I fixed it and it’s gonna run ‘til it can’t run no more, whether it likes it or not. The door can fall off an’ I’ll duct tape it back on!”
“What was wrong with it?”
“A malfunctioning sensor an’ thermostat,’” Tom snorted, air-quoting in disbelief at his own bad luck.
“That doesn’t sound like it would cost a lot to repair,” Steph said, delicately cutting off a forkful of her slice of cake. It was fresh out of the oven and smelled heavenly. She chewed slowly, savoring that first bite as she listened to Tom go off on a tangent.
“Oh! You’ll love this! You’re right - normally, it would be a cheap fix. But - since it’s a ‘commercial’ oven in a ‘commercial’ facility, it comes with a ‘commercial’ price on those ‘commercial’ parts with a jacked-up repair bill from the overpriced ‘commercial’ repair company,” Tom said disdainfully, emphasizing each instance of ‘commercial’ with a growl.
Nodding her head toward the kitchen, Steph mumbled through her mouthful of cake crumbs, “But it looks like a normal stove. Maybe a little bigger than most, but still pretty average.”
“There are three letters on every single item in that room that make repairing and replacing them ridiculously expensive,” Tom said darkly.
“What do you mean?” Steph took a second bite, trying to understand what Tom was talking about. If she were being honest with herself, however, his cake was so good, it was distracting.
“That’s a good one!” Tom laughed. “May as well be what it means… No, it stands for ‘National Sanitation Foundation.’”
“What does that have to do with a thermostat for an oven?”
“Not a goddamned thing, ‘cept they can scam more money off ya’!”
“Ah…” Steph shook her head. “Remind me to never own a restaurant. Sounds like an expensive pain in the arse.”
“Yer damn right, it is.” Tom watched Steph take another bite of cake before asking, “Did ya’ get ta yer appointment alright?”
Steph smiled and rolled her eyes. She held up her fork, wait, and made a show of slowly chewing. After a moment, she cleared her throat, “Why do you always wait to ask a question until my mouth is full?”
“’Cuz I know you can’t stand it an’ I think it’s funny,” Tom laughed. A little too pleased with himself, Steph thought.
“Yes, so very funny,” Steph smiled, sipping at her coffee. “What appointment?”
“That appointment last week you abandoned me fer, of course.”
“Oh, yeah… Geez, so dramatic! I got there early, thank you for asking.”
“Where was it?”
“It was for that little bed and breakfast out in Auburn Mills,” Steph answered, experimentally dipping a bite of cake in her coffee.
“I’ve tried it like that, it’s pretty good,” Tom gestured at the still-steaming mug. “Why would a bed and breakfast put an ad in a travel magazine only found in hotels?” Tom asked. “That doesn’t make much sense.”
Steph grinned, “First off, I’m not going to talk a potential customer out of buying ad space with me. And second, it makes perfect sense!”
She smiled again, enjoying this little educational moment. “Say someone is staying at another hotel in the area and isn’t having such a great stay, but they happen to pick up my travel magazine. Maybe next time they come through, they’ll stay at the bed and breakfast instead. The magazine’s up online, too. If they advertise with me, more tourists will hear about them before coming to the area. That would be great for them - they barely have an online presence right now. There’s a Facebook page no one’s updated in seven years and that’s about it.”
Tom snorted, “Online presence, huh? Well, I’ve never stayed at one of those bed and breakfasts and I never will.” He shook his head, looking severely disapproving, “I don’t wanna hafta’ share a bathroom with other folks, ‘specially outta-towners.”
“I don’t think sharing a bathroom is always a given, but for the people staying in the house at this place, I’m really not sure.”
“Whaddaya mean, for the people staying in the house? Where else would people stay, in the garage?”
“They’ve got refurbished vintage train cars people can stay in, instead of staying in the main building - you’d think those would have their own privies.”
“Oh! I think I heard about that!” Tom suddenly looked much more interested and much less disapproving. “Some place around here looking all over kingdom-come for old train cars to buy. I didn’t know it was a bed and breakfast, though. I thought maybe it’d be for a new train museum or something.”
“Nope, just the bed and breakfast that’s always been over there, but with a new spin,” Steph said before taking another sip. “I guess you could say it’s a little bit of a train museum, now,” she mused, “they’ve got signs with historical info on all the cars I saw up close. But instead of just looking at the cars, now you can stay in one. Pretty neat, huh?”
“Heck yeah! I’ve never been on a train before,” Tom had an ear-to-ear grin. “I’ll have to look into takin’ the missus there for our upcomin’ anniversary – it’s my turn to plan the celebratin’ this year.”
Steph gave him a doubting look, “These train cars don’t move, you know. It’s not quite the same...”
“Well, yeah, I kinda figured as much,” Tom smirked, rolling his eyes. “But I haven’t e’er been on a parked train, neither, let alone slept on one. Quit rainin’ on my parade, woman!”
Steph had been sipping on her coffee and almost blew a mouthful all over the counter. She managed to get it down before bursting out laughing. “Okay, Tom, enjoy that parade of yours. So, when’s your anniversary, anyway?”
Tom smiled. “Next April. So, I still got time to plan, thank goodness…” Tom was about to say something else when the bell above the door rang and a new customer stepped inside. Tom glanced over Steph’s shoulder at the newcomer. “Hold that thought, hon.”
“Okay,” Steph chuckled, shooing him away. As soon as Tom left, she took an enormous bite of her favorite cake. Tom could return at any moment, best enjoy the cake while she could, instead of gulping it down mid-sentence to chat. After only a few moments, however, Tom rejoined Steph at the counter, “This one’s all yours.”
“Mm?” Steph grunt-hummed past her bite of cake. She pushed her plate across the counter to Tom and pouted, hating to be rushed in the middle of a dessert. She drained the last of her coffee to clear her throat.
“The new customer,” Tom answered, waving in the general direction of the register.
Steph looked over toward the register but didn’t see anyone. She looked behind her, “Well, where’d they go?”
“He said he had a very important phone call to take and he’d be right back.”
“Ah,” Steph said, swiveling around on her seat to see out the window. A man in his late twenties was talking on his cell right outside the door, forcing the people walking by outside to swerve to avoid him. A younger couple, each with a toddler in a backpack carrier, shot him dirty looks as they passed.
Tom noticed him blocking the door of his coffee shop, too, “Well, heck. Can’t this guy go sit in his car or somethin’, ‘stead of blockin’ the door to my establishment?” He began to tap his fingers on the counter with impatience.
Steph looked back at Tom, taking note of his irritation, “Yeah, this’ll be an interesting interview, if this guy thinks so little of others he can’t be bothered to stand off to the side.”
Tom grunted, squinting at the man through the shop-front glass. He grunted again and started for the door. “I’m gonna go ask him to move.” Just as he rounded the end of the counter, the newcomer returned his phone to the breast pocket of his well-worn, tweed coat and stepped back inside.
Steph got up off the counter barstool where she’d been sitting while she ate. “Hi, you must b–”
“Greg,” he cut her off, crossing the distance between them with long strides. “Greg Lar… Well, you know, Greg’ll do.”
“Hi Greg, I’m Steph,” Steph said, extending her hand for a handshake. “Nice to meet you.”
“Yeah,” Greg shook her hand roughly, glancing around distractedly. “So, where do we sit? Anywhere?”
Steph groaned internally but put on her best salesperson smile. “No, no… It’s all quite official,” she pointed to the back corner. “I have that table there in the back, please come with me.”
Steph started to lead the way, but Greg was already circling around a nearby table to pass her. She glanced back at Tom over her shoulder and smirked, this’ll be interesting. Tom chuckled, waving farewell from the safety of the counter. She scowled and turned to follow her guest to the back.
Once Greg and Steph were both settled at the table, Steph gave Greg an appraising look, “Did you want any coffee? I forgot to ask ear–”
“No, I’m good,” Greg answered, cutting her off again. “So, do I just start talking or what?”
She had to force herself not to roll her eyes. Deciding pleasantries and manners must not mean much to her latest interviewee, she nodded curtly, “Yes, but I’m going to give you my disclaimer first, and then you can take it from there.”
“Okay,” Greg said, pulling his chair up closer to the table. “Let’s get on with it.”
“Hmm,” she pursed her lips in disapproval. “Alright… I’m a law-abiding citizen who would rather not hear about anything illegal done by you or anyone you know because I don’t want to be put into the position of knowing something that should be reported.”
“You must say that a lot.”
“Can you tell?” Steph smiled.
“Yeah, and you should pace yourself,” Greg explained to her. “If you’re gonna do things, in life, where you need to talk to people, you should learn how to talk to them.”
Looking at Greg from across the table, she realized her suspicions were correct - he really was a certified jackass. Side-stepping his unwanted feedback, she began, “So, what brings you here today?”
Greg gave her a look like she’d just told him she was illiterate. “Well, this,” he said, pointing at her and the table, and then around the coffee shop. “You’re the one who does these interviews, right? About people’s secrets? Don’t tell me I came here for nothing.”
Steph smiled. Maybe she could have a little fun with this guy; not only was he self-absorbed and rude, but he was apparently also, sadly, an idiot. “What I meant was, what would you like to talk about today?”
“Hold on,” Greg ordered, digging in the inside pocket of his shabby sports jacket. “I have something here that may help you to understand if you keep an open mind.” He pulled out a silver business card case where, when he opened it, he had to pop one of the side pins back in so the cover of the case wouldn’t unhinge from the bottom piece. “Here,” he said, handing a business card to Steph. Steph took the card, which looked a little beat up, and read the first line: ‘We take your success too the next level.’ “My company handles the success of other people,” Greg started in with his sales spiel while Steph continued to stare at his business card. “We make sure they get somewhere in life instead of making the same mistakes over and over.”
Steph looked up at Greg, trying not to laugh at the absurdity of all this. She didn’t like to be a snob, but everything about him so far was testing her limits, “So, you’re a success coach, then?”
Greg gave her an impatient look, “I suppose you could make that comparison, but I’m really something much more than that. I’m a personal improvement counselor.”
Steph stared at him hard, wondering if this was a joke. Rather than bothering to ask what distinguished a personal improvement counselor from a success coach, she decided to just point out the typo on his business card and move on. “Yeah, okay, great… Thanks for giving me this – I’ll have to... check into it,” Steph finished lamely. “There’s just one thing on your card here, though–”
“I have a Q and A meeting I’m setting up with the local KC Hall for next month. They said they would be getting back to me today, so it’s really important I take that call when it comes in.”
“Okay, great,” Steph said again, a little confused at the change in topic. “But–”
“Of course, I’m sorry,” Greg said, giving her a sympathetic, patient look.
“For what?” Is he going to apologize for being an ass? Steph wondered, somewhat disbelieving.
“Using technical jargon and not explaining what a Q and A is,” Greg said gravely. He began gesturing grandly with his hands like he was giving an academic lecture to a crowded room. “It stands for questions and answers, where the audience gets to ask me questions and I answer them.”
Steph squinted at him, trying to tell if he was truly honestly being serious. He was, and she was starting to get a migraine. “Okay, thanks for that piece of information,” was the best she could muster.
“Since I can tell you need help with your conversation skills, I’ll take it from here.”
“Sure,” Steph answered, deciding she no longer cared if his business card had a typo on it.
“It all began about a year ago, just after I got married. I thought I would try out having an affair, as is common for most men…”
Steph’s eyes went wide. Someone had married this guy? And who talked so casually about cheating on their spouse like this?
“Oh,” Greg pursed his lips and leaned back in his chair, crossing his arms defensively. “I see I’ve offended you. I thought you might be different from other women, but maybe I was wrong. Why would you interview people about their secrets if you’re just a judgmental nag like the rest of them?”
Still dumbfounded and struggling to get a grasp on the scope of this guy’s horrid personality, she simply waved her hand and said, “Nope, I’m not offended… Please continue.”
Greg’s eyes narrowed and he searched her face for signs of judgment. Apparently, Steph had been able to keep it together, because his face relaxed and he continued. “Anyway - as I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted - we got married, and after about six months or so, an incredibly seductive female started working at the dealership.”
“Yes, I used to work for a car dealership, moving cars, detailing, et cetera,” he huffed, impatient at the interruption.
“Oh,” Steph nodded. In her head, she was screaming at him to fuck off.
“After she started, I figured I’d be able to attract her attention if I made more money, so I started brown-nosing my boss on a daily basis, trying to get promoted to the coveted salesman position. As a salesman, I’d be near her more, too,” Greg explained.
“The new woman at the dealership?” Steph asked.
“Yes. That is what I said, her.”
Steph nodded, “Right…”
“Well, my boss couldn’t appreciate my people skills or genius, so he never gave me the promotion I wanted.”
“Apparently, I was doing such a good job in my current position at the time that it didn’t seem right to move me.”
“Huh,” Steph grunted, fighting to stay interested in this blowhard’s life story.
Greg paused to look at Steph, checking to make sure she was still listening. Seemingly satisfied with whatever expression was on her face - she wasn’t sure, herself - he continued, “So even though I was denied my promotion, I did eventually have an opportunity to put my moves on her if you catch my drift.” He paused dramatically to study her reaction again as if challenging her to reprimand him or express disgust.
Steph smiled sweetly and replied, “Yes, I understand perfectly.” She kept hidden her pity for this poor co-worker of his. “How did you end up getting your chance?”
“She was doing some training at another dealership and I offered to go pick her up.”
“Didn’t she have her own car? How did she get to the other dealership in the first place?”
“She drove one of the dealership cars there. Afterward, the car had to stay at the other lot, but she still needed to get back to our building,” Greg explained, impatiently.
“I appreciate your interest in my story, but I wish you’d stop interrupting me. A woman should never interrupt a man, it’s not her place. Anyway,” Steph felt a vein in her forehead pulsing, “when I got her in the car, I told her right away how I had chosen her as the girl I’d have an affair with.” Greg looked smug with himself, “I told her she was the most attractive female at the dealership. She should have been very honored because I definitely could have chosen from elsewhere.”
Although Greg didn’t seem to understand all the emotions going over Steph’s face, Steph was pretty sure one of her eyes was twitching by now. “So, how did that go for you? Was she receptive to your advances?”
“Well,” Greg started, leaning back in his chair. For the first time, he looked a little unsure of himself, “Here’s the weird thing… And I really didn’t see this coming, seeing as how she is such an attractive female… She said she couldn’t have an affair with me because she’s a lesbo.”
“She used the word lesbo?”
“No, she said the full word, lesbian,” Greg said the word like it was an expensive dish at an upscale restaurant - some pretentious thing he didn’t buy into. “Whatever she wants to call herself, she’s still a dyke.”
“Ah,” Steph winced, shifting in her chair. “So it seems your plans fell through?”
“Forget about my plans, my whole life has fallen apart!”
Steph looked at Greg, puzzled, “Just because she’s a lesbian? That doesn’t make any sense.”
Greg rolled his eyes and sighed, “I’m sure I could’ve changed her mind if she’d just given me a chance.”
Steph was past nodding and simply sat there, staring at Greg, waiting for him to finish his story and leave.
When Steph stayed silent, Greg sighed again and continued, “As we were driving back to town from the other dealership, I pulled off at a bar and told her I needed a drink. I invited the woman in, too - I was very polite so she couldn’t say no.”
Steph could guess where this was headed, “You two went in for a drink?”
“Yes, I ordered a round and we started talking.”
“Cars, sports, then I moved onto girls – I wanted to know how much of a dyke she really was and if I could still get into her pants.”
She cringed. “And then?”
“Eh, she shut me down, and then she told me she wanted to leave. But would she let me be a gentleman and drive her back to work? No, she wanted to call her girlfriend to come get her,” Greg smirked. “I said fine, got up, and left.”
“You just… left?”
“Yes. What would’ve been the point of staying? She’s such a dyke she couldn't even recognize a nice guy when she saw one. Staying any longer would have been a waste of my time,” Greg shrugged.
“No offense but leaving her like that was pretty rude.”
“Hey, there’s no way I was gonna sit there and let some man-hating seductress disrespect me.”
“But, how was she disrespecting you?”
“For starters, I said I’d buy her a couple of drinks and I did, didn’t I? But did she give me any credit for that? No! She could have at least given me a chance.”
“A chance at what?” Steph asked, pretending to not know what he was talking about.
Greg looked at Steph with disbelief, “A chance to straighten her out! Jesus, lady, pay attention when people are talking to you.”
“... Uh, sure. So, what do you mean when you say you wanted to straighten her out?”
“Everyone knows a girl only becomes a lesbian if they’ve never had the chance to be with a real man,” his voice was dripping with condescension.
“It’s just as I said, and I tried to tell her that, too, but she apparently didn’t understand, either. I don’t get why women have such a hard time understanding things,” Greg shook his head. “Anyway, she wasn’t getting it, and she told me I should leave and that she’d call her girlfriend to come get her.”
What a dipshit, she thought. Rather than bothering to try correcting him - there were too many things to try to correct - Steph asked, “You just left, then?”
“Yes. I left the bar, that is what I said,” Greg huffed impatiently.
“‘M’kay, got it. But I still don’t see how this would ruin your entire life.” Steph looked at him expectantly, “I’m sure there are plenty of other women out there to choose from who might be willing to help you cheat on your wife.”
“My life was ruined because, out of curiosity, I sat in my car in front of the bar for about twenty minutes, waiting to see what her little lesbo girlfriend looked like if she even had a girlfriend. Maybe if the girlfriend was even hotter, I could try my luck with her instead.”
“So, what? After twenty minutes, you went back into the bar to see if anyone had shown up?” Steph was hoping this story ended with Greg getting clocked in the face in a bar fight, but since his pallid face was free of any bruising, she wasn’t going to hold her breath on it.
“Actually, while I was in my car, I watched the front door of the place. The only people who showed up were a couple of guys and then my wife arrived. I followed her in.”
“Why was she there?”
“That’s what I was trying to find out. Had she been following me or something? Did she not trust me? I considered for a second that maybe she was there to meet another man, but I told myself she wouldn’t have dared do that to me.”
“Then what?” Steph asked, suddenly starting to see the light through the darkness.
“I walked back in just in time to see my wife walk up to the dyke’s table, bend down, and kiss her!” Greg said, disgustedly. His face was starting to mottle, and his hands were in tight fists on the table. “I was totally taken by surprise. That whore!”
Steph could feel her laughter bubbling up and bit her bottom lip hard to suppress it. Instead of standing up and cheering for the wife like she wanted to, she asked, “What happened next?”
“I turned around and walked out, of course.”
“You didn’t go back to the table and confront them?” Steph asked, genuinely surprised.
“Do I look stupid to you?”
“Why would confronting them be stupid?”
“Because… If I’d gone back over to that table, I would’ve been shut down by two dykes, and laughed out of the bar by everyone there, including my harlot of a wife!”
Steph nodded - not in sympathy - but because she agreed with him that they would have shut him down. “So... neither your wife nor the woman you intended to use in order to cheat on your wife, knew what you were up to? I mean, your co-worker doesn’t know who your wife is? And your wife doesn’t know you were there with your co-worker?”
“Obviously. Why would I have let Jen know where I was and who I was with if I was trying to cheat on her?”
“Right, and your co-worker didn’t know Jen was your wife?”
“I would guess not – I mean, I didn’t tell her.”
Steph sat back in her chair, satisfied with the turn this story had taken. Still trying to keep a straight face, she asked, “So, what are your plans now?”
Greg shifted in his chair and pursed his lips, “Well, I was here to get advice from you. Obviously.”
“I don’t give advice,” Steph shot back automatically.
“Then why would you listen to people talk about their problems if you aren’t going to help them?”
“People like to talk about what’s bothering them, what’s on their mind; I’m a listening ear - no judgment or accountability,” Steph explained. “But if I were you, and here’s my piece of advice – off the record – I would file for divorce and not marry anyone else for a very long time.”
“What will I say when she asks why I want a divorce? And what do I tell others? And why shouldn’t I marry anyone else?”
Steph sat up straight in her chair, “Well, I don’t think you’re going to get much of a fight from your wife since she’s already in another relationship. I highly doubt she will, but if she does ask why, tell her that you’re no longer in love with her and you feel the two of you have grown apart. That can be your excuse for everyone else, too. That story’s probably not too far off from the truth, anyway, is it?”
Apparently not even listening to what Steph had been saying, Greg clenched his fists on the tabletop and half-shouted at her, “If she’s decided to be a lesbian, that’s not my fault!”
“Didn’t say it was your fault,” Steph quickly replied. “But I don’t think you two love each other – especially since you’re trying to find someone to have an extramarital affair with, and she’s having one.”
Greg looked like all the air had gone out of him, “Yeah, I guess… But why shouldn’t I marry someone else?”
“Put it this way,” Steph started. “If you’re not married, you can have all the affairs you want and you don’t have to worry about sneaking around. Doesn’t that sound nice? You clearly aren’t happy being married, anyway.”
“But it’s not an affair unless you’re married!” Greg protested weakly.
Steph examined his face and found he was still being sincere. She’d just about had all she could stomach. She took her phone out of her pocket and clicked it on to check the time. “I had no idea it was already that late!” she exclaimed theatrically.
Greg followed Steph’s lead and looked at his phone, too. “I’ve only been here for thirty minutes.”
“I know,” Steph smiled sweetly, improvising an excuse to leave their meeting early. “I usually only allocate about thirty minutes for a confession, then I have to get going for the day.”
“What do you do for the rest of the day?” Greg asked.
“I have to go to work, of course,” Steph said, perma-grin still on her face as she shoved her belongings back in her bag.
“Where do you work?”
“All over the place.”
“Who works all over the place?”
“Actually, I do,” Steph said, standing up from the table and looking down at Greg, who was still seated. “I don’t mean to be rude, but I do need to get going.”
Greg started to get up, too. “Alright… Well, thank you for listening and for giving me what advice you could… I mean, I don’t know if I’ll follow it, but I will take it into consideration.”
“Sounds good,” Steph said, starting to walk away. “Good luck and have a good one!”
“Wait,” Greg said, catching up to her. “You forgot to shake my hand. That’s the proper way to end a meeting if you want to make a good impression.”
“Right,” Steph said apologetically. She turned around and extended her hand, “What was I thinking?”
“Well, exactly,” Greg smirked, clasping her hand forcefully. “That’s the point - you weren’t thinking! Women rarely do. That’s why you need my class. I can make you into a successful professional.”
Steph jerked her hand out of his sweaty grip and started fast-walking for the door. “I’ll think about it, thanks!” she called back over her shoulder.
“You’re supposed to let me leave first,” Greg called from behind her. “That’s the professional thing to do.”
Steph didn’t stop, she just waved back at him, “Sorry, I’m late for my next appointment… thanks for stopping in.” When she reached the door, she looked back at the café counter and waved to a worried-looking Tom, “See ya!”
Tom waved back, not entirely sure why she was so anxious to get going, “See ya!” Steph was already out the door, though. He glanced over to where she’d been sitting and noticed Greg was still standing at the confessional table, busy dialing his phone for what would be another very important phone call, Tom was sure. He snorted, threw the dish towel he’d been drying his hands on over his shoulder, and disappeared behind the kitchen doors.