Personal chef Beau St. Clair, recently divorced from his cheating husband, returns to the small Ohio River town where he grew up to lick his wounds.
Jack Rogers lives with his mother, Maisie, in that same small town, angry at and frightened by the world. Jack has a gap in his memory that hides something he dares not face, and he’s probably suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Maisie, seeking relief from her housebound and often surly son, hires Beau to cook for Jack, hoping the change might help bring Jack, once a handsome and vibrant attorney, back to his former self. But can a new face and comfort food compensate for the terror lurking in Jack’s past?
Slowly the two men begin a dance of revelation and healing. Food and compassion build a bridge between Beau and Jack, a bridge that might lead to love. But will Jack’s demons allow it? His history could just as easily tear them apart as bring them together.
The only light in the room was from a flickering big-screen TV mounted on the wall opposite the bed. Thankfully, the volume was low. Jack appeared to be watching an episode of House Hunters, this one revolving around a home search in the Detroit suburbs. How grim.
A figure, shrouded in shadow, huddled on the bed, covered with a quilt and with knees drawn up to his chest. It was hard to make out much detail. For a moment I stood, uncertain, at the threshold.
“Oh, for heaven’s sakes, Jack,” Maisie chided. She crossed the room, picked up a remote from the nightstand, and switched the show off.
“Hey! I was watching that!” Jack snapped in the now-dark room.
“And you also have it recorded,” Maisie snapped back. “You can pick up right where you left off. Let’s not be rude to our guest.”
I was beginning to wonder if this entire interview would be conducted in the dark. The shades and curtains were drawn tightly against the feeble sun outside. Maybe Jack and I, like blind men, would feel each other’s faces to get acquainted. The thought incited an urge to burst out into laughter, an urge I had to mightily resist.
Fortunately, Maisie crossed to a dresser, upon which was a small ginger jar lamp, and switched it on. The room was flooded with a warm yellow light.
And I got my first look at Jack.
He stared at me, smirking, his pale blue eyes glinting with indignation. The weird thing was, I immediately felt like I had seen him before. That wasn’t possible, was it? I supposed we could have been in school together, way back when, since we were about the same age.
But I didn’t feel that was it. Something gnawed at me, telling me I knew this man on the bed, and our acquaintance, although not recent, was more recent than school days at Fawcettville High.
It wasn’t so much his overall appearance, which was mostly sad, that aroused in me this sense of familiarity. Clad in an old and holey T-shirt, Jack was painfully thin. I could see why his mom wanted someone to try to fatten him up. His arms were like twigs, and I had a suspicion that, if I could get close enough, I could lift the T-shirt and easily count his ribs. His blond hair was stringy and in need of a cut. An unkempt golden beard hid the lower half of his face, which I could see might have once been handsome.
But no more.
His nose was crooked, just a tad off-center to the left.
He smelled bad.
But it was his eyes that drew me, which rang the bell of familiarity. They were icy blue, so pale the irises appeared nearly translucent. Although most of Jack looked very weak, bedridden, as though a strong wind could lift him and carry him to Oz, his gaze on me was strong. There was something in those eyes I couldn’t quite put my finger on, but it made me nervous. Was it amusement? Disdain? A wish that I would simply go away?
Whatever it was, I had the odd sensation that Jack had the upper hand here, despite his wraithlike and weak appearance. I have to admit, I felt a little intimidated by him.
In spite of this, I forced myself to move toward the bed, my hand extended. “Hi, Jack!” My voice was full of goodwill, and I hope it didn’t sound too fake. “I’m Beau. Beau St. Clair. Pleased to meet you.”
Jack glanced at my hand as though I were holding out a piece of rancid meat and kept his hands under the quilt. I was so taken aback, I glanced down at the outstretched hand to see if it was dirty or if there was something unsanitary clinging beneath my nails. But my hands were clean.
Maisie stood near the doorway, fidgeting. “Jack,” she warned. “Don’t be rude.”
Jack glanced over at her and then rolled his eyes. “Yes, Mother.” He smiled big, kind of like a death rictus, and drew one hand out from beneath the covers. We shook, and I refrained from commenting that the handshake was akin to grasping a dead fish.
Awkward silence reigned. Finally Maisie -- God bless her -- spoke up. “Beau’s here to talk about maybe cooking for you a couple, three nights a week while I’m at work.”
“Got any experience?” Jack eyed me from the bed.
I nodded. “Graduated near the top of my class from culinary school, worked in several restaurants, going from sous chef to executive chef, before I started my own business as a personal chef.”
Jack sat up a little straighter, and as he did, I had that pang of recognition again, but I couldn’t for the life of me think how I might have crossed paths with this man.
“Wow.” He moved his gaze from me over to Maisie. “You win the lottery, Toots?” he asked.