I dreaded writing Chapter 6 more than any other chapter. I needed to introduce all six of the dudes (Doc’s housemates) in this scene in an engaging way, and the thought of that was so intimidating that I didn’t even want to try.
My first go was so wooden, boring, and terrible that it scared me from rewriting for days. I trashed it and spent the next couple of weeks jotting down notes about what Doc needed to do in this scene and everyone’s reaction to him. Then, finally, I wrote the chapter from scratch in two and a half hours of fervent writing. Felt great. Hope you enjoy it.
A novel by Peg Cheng, Draft 1
Chapter 6: Dudes
Doc closed the front door behind him as quietly as possible. His face lit up when he saw that the living room was empty. From how their voices carried, he could tell his housemates were in the dining room. If he could make it to the stairs without anyone noticing, he could sprint the rest of the way to his room.
“Doc! That you?” The voice was British and youthful.
How did Krishna know it was him? Doc didn’t stop, just kept going for the stairs.
“What are you doing home so early?” This time the voice was lower, more gravelly, and with a hint of concern. Frank knew it was him. He always knew.
Doc sighed. He turned around and came back down the stairs. He moved like a snail to the doorway of the dining room and slouched against it. “What up?”
A young East Indian man was seated at the table with a small pile of snap peas in front of him. He gave Doc a wide grin. His teeth were speckled with bright green bits. “Hey, Doc.”
“Hey, Krishna.” Doc lifted his chin at him. “How’d you know it was me?”
“Well, you weren’t running off your mouth like Jimmy. You weren’t whistling like Gary. And you weren’t stomping around like Walt.” Krishna shrugged. “I figured it was you.”
Doc couldn’t help but smile. The kid was smarter than he looked.
An elderly Japanese gentleman sitting at the head of the table looked up from his large pile of snap peas and motioned at him. “Doc, come, come. Sit down. I need your help.”
Doc slid into the seat next to him. Frank pushed half of his peas towards Doc. “These need deveining. You know how to do that?”
“Yeah, Frank, I know.” Doc lowered his voice. “I’ve done it a million times.”
Frank gave him a slide glance. It was the kind of glance that shut you up and fast. Doc picked up a pea and snapped off the end, pulling it away so that the vein came off the top. Snap. Pull. Drop.
Krishna crunched into a snap pea. “Better wash your hands or Sanchez is going to get you.”
“He’s going to get you if you don’t stop eating all of them.” Doc got up and gave Krishna a whap on the head on his way to the kitchen. Krishna yowled and clutched his head. Krishna looked at Frank, but he just shook his head. Krishna popped another pea in his mouth and continued deveining.
WHACK! A heavy cleaver came down on a large slab of beef. Wielding the cleaver was an elderly Mexican man wearing an oil cloth apron printed with bright hibiscus flowers. “Doc! You here to help me with dinner?”
“Hey, Sanchez.” Doc washed his hands at the kitchen sink. “Frank’s got me doing peas, but you need help in here?”
“No, no. I’m good. Cleo’s helping me.” Doc and Sanchez were alone in the kitchen. Sanchez leaned towards Doc and whispered. “She thinks she’s a better cook than me.” Sanchez winked at him and went back to hacking the beef into smaller pieces.
Doc smiled and nodded. As he dried his hands on a towel, Sanchez glanced over. “Should I even ask why you’re home early?”
Doc shook his head and mouthed, “No,” and headed back to the dining room.
After he left, Sanchez shook his head. “Aye, miyo’s gone and done it again, Cleo.” He lifts both hands heavenward. “God help him.”
Krishna’s pile of peas was almost gone by the time Doc sat down again. He reached over towards Doc’s pile but Doc slapped his hand. Hard. Frank tried not to smile. “Krishna, why don’t you see if Sanchez needs some help?”
Krishna got up, cradling his hand like an injured animal. He slapped Doc on the back of the head and ran out of the room before he had a chance to retaliate. Doc shook his head and muttered, “Kids.”
Frank’s brow furrowed. “You have something to tell me?”
Doc kept his eyes on his peas. “Nope.”
“I’ll find out sooner or later, you know.”
BAM! The front door slammed shut and seconds later, two men appeared in the dining room doorway: one tall, thin, and lean with an unlit cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, and one short, very short–he was a dwarf, in fact–holding a large lavender box stamped with Dub’s Donuts on top.
Doc ignored them but Frank smiled and motioned at them. “Jimmy, Walt, come in. Sit down.”
Jimmy took the cigarette out of his mouth and stuck it behind his ear. He plopped down in the chair by Doc and rubbed his hands together. “What’s for dinner?”
Walt kneeled on one of the chairs and placed the box on the table. “Well, we know what’s for dessert.” He lifted off the top to reveal seven beautiful round donuts glazed with a coral-colored frosting. “Special of the week. Guava passion fruit jelly.”
Frank’s eyes lit up. “Sanchez loves guava.” He craned his neck towards the kitchen door. “Sanchez! Come out here!”
Doc eyed the doorway and deveined his peas as fast as he can. Snap! Pull! Drop!
Sanchez and Krishna came through the kitchen door. Sanchez’s eyes got wide. “Are those guava donuts?”
Walt puffed out his chest. “Not just guava. Guava passion fruit.”
Sanchez smiled and called out to the kitchen. “Cleo! Come see what Walt brought us!” He pushed open the swinging door between the dining room and the kitchen, waited a minute, and then let it swing closed. No one walked through but Sanchez was beaming.
Jimmy grabbed a freshly deveined pea from Doc’s finished pile and cocked his head. “What’re you doing home so early?”
Snap! Pull! Drop! Finished with his last pea, Doc got up so quickly he nearly knocked over his chair. “Got to go water my trees.”
Before Doc could make it out of the room, Jimmy’s voice rang out loud and clear. “You got fired again, didn’t you?”
Doc stopped cold in the doorway.
“Admit it.” Jimmy crunched into another pea. “You got canned.”
Everyone is silent. Walt and Jimmy exchanged glances. After a minute, Doc nodded without turning around.
Jimmy crowed and held his palm out to Walt. “Pay up.”
“Damn.” Walt reached into his wallet and slapped down a twenty-dollar bill. “Thought for sure he’d last three months this time.”
“You thought wrong, my friend.” Jimmy snapped the bill in front of Walt’s face. “You thought wrong.”
Frank got up from his chair. “Okay, okay.” He waved his hands like he was shooing cats. “Everyone move along.”
Sanchez and Krishna edged slowly back towards the kitchen, their eyes still on Doc. Jimmy and Walt laughed as they scraped their chairs back and got up. Doc turned around.
“I didn’t like that job anyway. My boss was an asshole.”
Frank nodded. “It’s okay, Doc.”
“No, it’s not okay.” The vein on his neck pulsed. “It’s not okay.”
As Jimmy moved past Doc, he patted him on the shoulder. “Better luck next time, buddy.”
WHAM! Doc turned and socked Jimmy right in the jaw.
Jimmy fell back against the wall, and without a word, came at Doc with a fast jab right to the stomach. Doc’s breath came out with a OOF! and he doubled over.
Just then, the front door slammed and a tall black man appeared in the doorway. He looked quickly at Doc doubled over in paid, Jimmy rubbing his jaw, and the rest of his housemates standing and staring. He threw up both hands. “Damn, I always miss the good stuff!”
Photo of snap peas by Forest & Kim Starr