I often like to post free excerpts of books I’ve released that go beyond the excerpts published on retail web sites where e-books are sold. The following is one from “Jonah Sweet of Delancey Street.”
The scene takes place during a transitional period in the novel where Jonah and David are getting to know each other better. The last sentence of the excerpt is important because the story is told through Jonah’s POV, and his profession is making and designing puppets.
After the night they made love in David’s playroom, Jonah stopped going back to his mom and dad’s house in Queens to sleep. He did return later that week to pick up a few of his things, like his favorite clothes, a few personal items, and his suitcases filled with puppets. He told his parents he was renting a room at David’s house on Delancey Street and thinking about getting a studio apartment of his own. He didn’t tell them he was in a relationship with David or that they were living together because he still wasn’t certain where he and David were headed in that respect. He loved David with all his heart by then. But some days David made him want to kick everything he came into contact with.
David often sent him mixed signals he couldn’t figure out. And the way David treated other people made Jonah’s stomach tighten and pull. One minute they would be touring one of the restaurants in one of the casinos David owned in Atlantic City and everything would be perfect. The restaurant employees would kill themselves to please David; they bowed and treated him as if he were a king. David would smile and make light comments in approval and everyone took a deep breath of relief. And then David would spot something small, like a smudge of dirt on the floor or a stray crumb of bread on a counter in the kitchen, and he would go berserk. His arms would fly up, his face would turn red, and he would rant about how he wanted perfection at all times. Jonah watched him single people out and bring them to their knees. Someone always paid a price, and it was usually the person closest to him at the time.
On a warm night in June, Jonah watched David fire an assistant chef over a chipped coffee cup without missing a breath. And the chip was so small Jonah could hardly see it. By the time David finished screaming at her she ran for the exit with tears streaming down her face.
On the way home from the Casino that night, Jonah refused to even look at David. When David asked him what was wrong, Jonah lifted his chin and said, “I’ve never seen anyone treat another human being in such a shabby way in my life. I wanted to hit you over the head with a frying pan in that kitchen.”
David punched the door panel, which was usually the way he reacted when he was frustrated with Jonah. “The mug had a chip. My customers spend a lot of money in that casino and I expect perfection. That idiot knew better.”
“Nothing’s perfect, David, least of all you.”
“Neither are you,” David said. “In fact you’re so imperfect I wonder why I have you around.”
David had a way of cutting into Jonah’s heart when Jonah least expected it. But Jonah knew how to fight back. “I never said I was perfect. And if you don’t like it you can just fire me like all the others. I’ll live, trust me. And I won’t run away screaming and crying like that poor woman did today. You can count on that. I’ll look you in the eye, turn around, and I won’t look back once.”
David punched the dashboard. “Maybe I will fire you. You’re the most difficult man I’ve ever met.”
Jonah lowered his tone to what almost resembled a deep growl. “Go head. Do it now. I’ll pull over and just get out of the car right here on the Garden State Parkway. You don’t own me, David. And you’d better get that straight once and for all. I’m not with you for money, cars, or a job. You might own all the other people who work for you, but not me. And don’t you ever forget that.” Although it went against Jonah’s basic nature to react this way, he knew he had to be strong with David. If he let down his guard for a second, he feared David would devour him the same way he devoured everyone else in his life.
“If you’re so unhappy with me and you think I’m such an ogre, why don’t you just leave?”
Jonah softened his voice. He knew when to lighten up with David. “Because I won’t make it that simple for you. I think there’s hope for you, David. I don’t think you’re an ogre. I think you’re a wonderful man and I think you can change. If I didn’t think that, I wouldn’t be here.”
“I’m not one of your puppets,” David said. “You can’t mold me and design me into something I’ll never be.”