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River City series by J Scott Coatsworth

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Other Worlds Ink
10 November 2021
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Everyone in the River City has a secret, and sooner or later secrets always come out.

A group of strangers meets at Ragazzi, an Italian restaurant, for a cooking lesson that will change them all. They quickly become intertwined in each other’s lives, and a bit of magic touches each of them.

Meet Dave, the consultant who lost his partner; Matteo and Diego, the couple who run the restaurant; recently-widowed Carmelina; Marcos, a web designer getting too old for hook-ups; Ben, a trans author writing the Great American Novel; teenager Marissa, kicked out for being bi; and Sam and Brad, a May-September couple who would never have gotten together without a little magic of their own.

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Matteo stared out the restaurant window into the darkness of Folsom Boulevard. It was getting dark earlier as summer edged into fall. Streetlights flickered on as cars drifted by, looking for parking or making the trip out of Midtown toward home.

The sign on the window read “Ragazzi” (the boys), lettered in a beautiful golden script just two months old. Investing in this little restaurant his uncle had left to them when he’d passed away had been their ticket out of Italy. But now with each passing day, as seats sat empty and tomatoes, pasta, and garlic went uneaten, the worry was gnawing ever deeper into Matteo’s gut.

Behind him in the open, modernized kitchen, Diego was busy cooking—his mother’s lasagne, some fresh fish from San Francisco, and some of the newer Italian dishes they’d brought with them from Bologna. The smells of boiling sauce and fresh-cooked pasta that emanated from the kitchen were entrancing.

They’d sent the rest of the staff —Max and Justin—home for the evening. The three customers who had shown up so far didn’t justify the cost of keeping their waiter and busboy on hand.

Matteo stopped at the couple’s table in front of the other window. “Buona sera,” he said, smiling his brightest Italian smile.

“Hi,” the man said, smiling back at him. He was a gentleman in about his mid-fifties, wearing a golf shirt and floppy hat. “Kinda quiet tonight, huh?”

“It always gets busier later,” Matteo lied smoothly. “Pleasure to have you here. Can I get you anything else?”

“A little more wine, please?” the woman said, holding out her glass so the charm bracelet on her wrist jangled.

“Of course.” He bowed and ducked into the kitchen.

He gave Diego a quick peck on the cheek.

His husband and chef waved him off with a snort. “Più tardi. Sto preparando la cena.”

“I can see that. Dinner for a hundred, is it? It’s dead out there again tonight.”

Diego shot him a dirty look.

Matteo retrieved the bottle of wine from the case and returned to fill up his guests’ glasses. “What brings you in tonight?” Maybe they saw our ad.…

“Just walking by and we were hungry. I miss the old place though.… What was it called, honey?”

Her husband scratched his chin. “Little Italy, I think?”

“That’s it! It was the cutest place. Checkered tablecloths, those great Italian bottles with the melted wax… so Italian.”

Matteo groaned inside. “So glad you came in” was all he said with another smile.

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Chapter 57: Rice and Roses


Dave checked the Spanish rice. It was never as good as when his mother made it. She had a true gift in the kitchen. A pinch of this, a spoonful of that, and her recipes always came out the same. And always delicious.

The calabacitas, as his mother called the cheesy zucchini soup she used to make, was almost ready, and the chili verde, his favorite of all her dishes, was practically falling to pieces.

He had cheated on the tortillas, picking up a bag of Micaela’s from Nugget. They were just about as good as the real thing and a hell of a lot less messy.

It had been ages since he had cooked for someone else, but it had come back to him as easily as if he had been preparing banquets all year long.

His mother would be proud.

For dessert, he had prepared something decidedly not Mexican—an angel food cake topped with a slathering of whipped cream, strawberries, and bananas. It wasn’t traditional, but it was a family tradition.

Maybe he was overdoing it. With his luck—which was almost always bad—he’d scare Marcos away with his overabundant table.

Better to be who he was than pretend to be something else.

* * *

Marcos pulled into the driveway of Dave’s place, a cute little brick-and-wood-slat bungalow painted a cheery yellow. It was just around the corner from Carmelina’s. In fact, they were attached at the garage.

He parked the Prius and got out of the car, grabbing the bundle of red roses and a bottle of wine from the front seat.

He waved at a man and woman going by on bikes. They waved back and were followed in quick succession by a young boy with a dog, a father trailing three little girls, and a green Karmann Ghia roaring by from the other direction.

It was like that old movie The Truman Show, where the kid grew up on TV in this weird dome thing, and the same six sets of people circled by on a loop in front of his window, over and over.

Marcos waited a moment to see if the couple on the bikes came back around.

No such luck.

He shook his head and went to knock on the door.

Dave opened it, flashing him a big grin. “Hi!”

“Hey there.” He kissed Dave’s cheek. “Um, nice apron.”

It was the statue of David, from Florence. Dave glanced down at David’s tiny cock. “Well, that’s unfortunate.” He grinned again. “Hey come on in!”

Marcos followed Dave inside the house. The place was cozy; the walls were painted in a nice Tuscan gold, and candles flickered all around the room. “Very nice. And it smells heavenly in here. Oh, these are for you.” He handed Dave the bouquet.

“They’re beautiful.” Dave took a deep breath of their perfume. “Come on into the kitchen. I’ll put them in some water.”

The kitchen was old, with white cabinets and white tile and grout.

“Sorry. The landlady hasn’t redone the kitchen yet.”


Dave laughed. He had a beautiful laugh. “I keep telling her it’s not a big deal. I’m only here for a little while.” He sighed. “At least, that’s what I thought five years ago.”

Marcos glanced down at the linoleum floors. “Uh huh. Anything I can do to help?”

Dave was trimming the rose stems. He plopped them into a glass vase full of water and handed it to Marcos. “Want to take them out to the dining area and put them on the table? I think we’re about ready to eat.”

Marcos did as he was told.

A seemingly endless selection of Mexican dishes followed. Chile verde. Rice. Some kind of zucchini soup. Tortillas. Chips. Fresh made pico de gallo. Guacamole.

“Hey, are we expecting other guests or something?” he asked, eying all the food.

Dave stopped, a bowl of refried beans in his hands, and actually blushed. “It’s too much, isn’t it?”

Marcos laughed and shook his head. “Not at all. It’s just a lot of food.”

“Have a seat.” Dave put the beans down on the table on a trivet. “It’s my mother’s fault. It’s just how she is. You stop by her house and she says to sit down, she’ll make you a little something. And the next thing you know, it’s Mexican dinner service for six.”

Marcos sat. “My mother was the same way. She was constitutionally incapable of cooking a meal for less than eight people.”

“Was? Oh Marcos, I’m so sorry—”

“Oh, no, not like that.” Marcos grinned. “She lives in Palm Springs now, and she and my dad have a chef who cooks for them most of the time. Now she only goes into the kitchen on the holidays, when the family gets together.”

“Got it. Go ahead. Get started.” Dave gestured at the food. “You’re probably starving.”

Marcos was. It had been a long day of coding and then running Marissa around. He scooped up some rice and beans and a helping of chili verde. He took some of the salsa too. He used a tortilla to scoop up a bit of each thing. “Damn, this is good,” he said through a full mouth.

Dave wrapped his own food up burrito style and wolfed it down.

“The soup is amazing.” He fished out a spoonful of broth and zucchini and cheesy, gooey goodness.

“It’s called calabacitas—one of Mom’s specialties.”

“She must be a great cook.” There was something else he wanted to say, but he was a little scared to bring it up. “I’ve… been thinking about you, a lot,” Marcos said at last, afraid to look up at Dave lest he be disappointed by his response.

“Me too.”

Marcos looked up. “Maybe we could… take things a little faster?”

Dave’s face lit up. “Yeah?” He reached out to touch Marcos’ hand. “I’d like that.” He glanced at all the food. “This will all keep for a little bit—”

knock knock knock

Dave laughed. “Foiled again. Just a sec. I’ll go get rid of whoever it is.” He jumped up and ran to open the front door, while Marcos took another bite. He’d need to keep up his stamina, after all.

“I’m so sorry to bother you.”

Marcos knew that voice.

“Not at all,” Dave said. “Come in.”

Carmelina entered the house. Marcos could see she’d been crying, even from a distance.

Her gaze registered the candles and the table. “You guys are on a date, aren’t you? I’m interrupting you. I’m so sorry. I’ll talk to you later.” She started to leave.

Dave looked at Marcos, who nodded. “Don’t be ridiculous. Come sit with us. We have plenty of food.”

She sniffed. “Are you sure? I don’t want to be a pest.”

Dave nodded and guided her to the table. “Here, have a seat. I’ll get you some sparkling water.”


Soon they were all together around the table.

“Now,” Dave said, putting his hand on Carmelina’s. “Tell us what happened.”

As she began to recount what she’d discovered earlier in the day, Marcos turned to look at Dave. He was fully engaged with their friend, the look on his face a mixture of care and true concern. He set everything aside in an instant to help a friend in need.

That was the moment, Marcos would realize much later, that he started to fall in love.



Scott is giving away a

$25 Amazon gift card with this tour.


Scott lives with his husband Mark in a yellow bungalow in Sacramento. He was indoctrinated into fantasy and sci fi by his mother at the tender age of nine. He devoured her library, but as he grew up, he wondered where all the people like him were.

He decided that if there weren’t queer characters in his favorite genres, he would remake them to his own ends.

A Rainbow Award winning author, he runs Queer Sci Fi, QueeRomance Ink, and Other Worlds Ink with Mark, sites that celebrate fiction reflecting queer reality, and is a full member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).

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