Authors: Barbara O'Neal
“No, Mama,” she said. “You weren’t dreaming.”
Mama kissed her hand. “Good. I been saying a lot a prayers for you, you know.”
On the way home, she read the script. It didn’t take long. It was a tale of a woman tortured by the loss of her family, long ago, and how she made her way to a whole life again. When Elena finished, she closed the folder and lightly pressed her fingers against it, and looked out the window, letting it fill her up.
It was a mature ghost story, scary, but also tender and wise. And it wasn’t really about Elena and her losses at all, but like everything else he wrote, it was Julian’s attempt to make sense or make peace with his mother’s murder.
So much love, she thought, gazing down at the craggy tops of mountains. So much love he had in him.
ulian was writing in his office when he heard Elena come in. He put his pencil down and walked to the mezzanine, where he could see the entryway. She hobbled into the hallway and bent to give hugs to Alvin and the pup, who came racing out to see her. Portia, too, came leaping down the hallway, an elfin creature who said something chirpy to Elena and took her coat. Elena said, quite clearly, “Please don’t mind when I do this, okay?” And hugged the girl.
Portia hugged her back, fiercely. “I don’t mind at all. Not at all.”
He took a breath against the arrow of emotion that went through him. Elena said, “Where’s your dad?”
“In his office, I think. Are you ready to eat? I made macaroni and cheese. From scratch.”
“You did?” Elena squeezed her arm. “You are becoming quite a cook, aren’t you? Let me talk to your dad for a minute, then I’ll be right back down.”
“I’ll set the table,” Portia said, and this, too, pierced her father, standing overhead. He’d never known till now that such a little thing like that could make such a difference. A simple meal, eaten together. She loved to set the table. “And should I maybe make that spinach salad? Would that be good?”
“Perfect. You have good instincts.”
“Thanks!” Portia bounced off to the kitchen, followed by hopeful dogs.
Though he was tempted to spare Elena the climb, Julian stayed where he was. Behind him, in the study, played the soundtrack he’d created for the restaurant, which had somehow become the soundtrack in his head for the script. Below him was the great room, and beyond that, the brightly lit kitchen where his daughter sang along to her iPod and made supper for them all. He was standing almost exactly where he’d kissed Elena the first time, and now he waited as broken Elena made her way up the stairs in her determined and laborious way.
A softness of air moved over his face. Julian thought he smelled Tabu, the strong and exotic perfume his mother had loved. For years after she died, things she’d owned still smelled of it. He wished that he really did believe in ghosts, that he might one day really see his mother again.
Elena came down the mezzanine, one hand on the banister, and she stopped a few feet away from him. She looked absolutely exhausted, her face bare of makeup, her eyes swollen. She held up the script. “I read it,” she said.
“I went to Espanola today,” she said, and he could see she was struggling with great emotion. “To…um…see the place where we wrecked. I haven’t been able to stand it before this.”
“That night,” she said, her voice breaking slightly, “we went to see a movie. It was a ghost story. I thought it was the saddest movie I ever saw in my life, and not a single person in that theater seemed to understand that it was a movie about losing somebody you love and not ever wanting to say goodbye.” Tears were pouring down her face now, a remarkable thing all in itself, but Julian felt so poised for her next words that he couldn’t take that in yet.
She took a breath and steadied herself. “The movie was
The Importance of Being Earnest,
by this hotshot young director, who didn’t know he was writing my life, because he was writing his own.”
He moved as she did, and he gathered her into his arms and she fell hard against him, and both of them were crying, and it was so strange and so weirdly beautiful. “Maybe there are soul mates, huh?” he managed to say.
And his broken love, his sad and lonely lost soul mate, nodded against his chest and clung to him. He pressed his mouth to her hair, and touched the scars on her back, and said, “Please let me take care of you.”
“Yes, please.” She raised her head and breathed in. “What is that perfume? Something you wear, sort of dusky. It feels like I should recognize it.”
A sweet waft of air brushed his face, smelling of Tabu, and Julian was too overcome to speak. He let his own tears fall into her hair and they stood like that, rocking back and forth.
The doorbell rang.
Julian raised his head, smiling. Perfect timing. “Remember that I ordered a Christmas present for you that didn’t quite get here?”
“It’s here?” Elena asked. “Cool.”
“I’ve got it!” Portia cried.
The sound of voices reached them, and Elena’s face went absolutely still. She looked up at Julian, eyes filling with tears. “Is it Juan?”
“Merry Christmas,” he said. “It took a little bit of doing, but he’s here to stay.”
“Oh, Julian,” she whispered. “You are the real thing, aren’t you?”
“I guess you’ll just have to stick around and find out.”
From downstairs, Portia called, “Come and get it, everybody!”
Elena took Julian’s hand.
“Let’s eat,” she said.
1 cup butter
cup white sugar
2 tsp vanilla
2 tsp milk
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup chopped almonds
cup confectioner’s sugar
In a medium bowl, cream the butter and sugar. Stir in vanilla and milk. Add the flour and almonds and mix until well blended. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Shape dough into small balls and bake for 15–20 minutes. Let cool slightly, and roll in confectioner’s sugar while still warm. Cool completely, and roll one more time through the sugar.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Barbara O’Neal fell in love with restaurants and the secret language of spoons when she was sixteen. She spent more than a decade in various restaurants, dives to cafes to high cuisine, before selling her first novel. O’Neal teaches workshops nationally and internationally, and lives with her partner, a British endurance athlete, in Colorado Springs.
THE LOST RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS
A Bantam Discovery Book / January 2009
Published by Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved
Copyright © 2008 by Barbara Samuel
Bantam Books and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks and Bantam Discovery is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data
O’Neal, Barbara, 1959–
The lost recipe for happiness / Barbara O’Neal.
1. Women cooks—Fiction. I. Title.