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Serial: Down the River – Chapter One

I’m finally revisiting the characters from The River City Chronicles nine years after their original timeline. I’ll be running the series weekly here on my blog, and then will release it in book form at the end of the run. Hope you enjoy catching up with all your faves and all their new secrets!

We start out in a familiar place, but with someone new…

Read Chapter Two >

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Down the River Header

Chapter One

Ainsley Kim stared out of the window at the cars as they passed on Folsom Boulevard in a steady row of sparkling red and white, their lights scattering and twinkling like fairy dust across the rain-splattered glass. It was mesmerizing—so much life out there… and in here, as she was rudely reminded by the diner clearing his throat behind her.

“So sorry!” She spun around, reaching for the Toast point-of-sale device that hung from a custom-made pocket in her clean white apron, which said Ragazzi in neat black letters. She turned her attention back to her customers. “Are you ready to order?”

The one who’d cleared his throat was a sharply dressed man in his mid-fifties—lawyer if she’d had to guess—his neatly trimmed black hair turning silver on the sides. He glared at the menu as if it were opposing counsel, squinting through his wire-framed glasses and scowling. “Damned print is so small on these things anymore.”

His dining partner, another man in a black suit and tie, but without a hair on his head, chuckled. “You’re just getting old, Andy. Order the tagliatelle. It’s what you always get.” Bald Head offered her a warm smile. “So sorry for my partner’s behavior. Rough day in court today.”

Ainsley hid a grin. She was good at reading people. “Not a problem. So… the tagliatelle?”

Andy nodded. “Sure. With arrabbiata sauce. And ask the chef to make it a little extra spicy.”

She tapped it into the POS, feeling more like a glorified data entry clerk than a waitress. “You got it. And you, sir?”

“Don’t let him fool you. Kel knows what he wants. He just likes to play with his prey.” Andy grimaced, then managed a weak smile. “Sorry for the foul mood. I hate losing.”

Rich, white, and a lawyer to boot? You have no idea what losing is. “Not a problem.” She flashed him her best you’re the customer so I’ll pretend I like you smile.

“I’ll have the gnocchi in a ragu sauce, and an appetizer of your delightful burrata.” Kel flipped the menu over. “And a glass of Chateau Ciel. I, unlike my friend here, had a lovely day. Signed a new artist for the gallery, a talented Korean painter named Jun Seo Jang.” His eyes fixed on her. “Do you know him?”

Ainsley blinked, caught between the casual racism of assuming that all Koreans knew each other—maybe he didn’t mean it that way?—and the fact that she did actually know them. Or of them, anyhow. Jang was one of her idols.

Customer service won out. “Yes. They are very good. I studied them in art class.”

Kel grinned. “Then you must come see his… their pieces. Sorry, old dog, new tricks. I’ll be getting the first of them next week.” He pulled out his wallet and extracted a card. “Kelton O’Malley, Red Roof Gallery.”

She took it, staring at it. It seemed to sparkle under the restaurant’s mood lighting. She blinked, and the sparkle went away, so she stuffed it in her pocket.

Nobody used business cards anymore. So old school. “Thank you. I’ll try to come by. It’s a bit busy, with school and work and all…” And taking care of her mother.

“Ah, what’s your major?”

“Molecular biology.” It came out automatically. Her father had wanted her to “make something of herself,” not just be another poor immigrant like himself, working at minimum wage jobs. She’d been at it so long, doing what her parents wanted her to do, that it almost seemed like she wanted it, too.

“Impressive.” He winked. “Still, it’s good to hear that you have an appreciation for the arts, as well.”

She blushed. That hit a little too close to home. “I’ll find some time to stop by.”

“Wonderful. Jun Seo will be there next Thursday night, if you want to meet… them.”

Ainsley touched the edge of the table to steady herself. “They’ll be here… in town?” She was already calculating how she could rearrange things to be at the gallery.

“They personally supervise the set-up at all their new galleries.” He grinned. “See, Andy, that whole pronoun thing’s not so hard.”

She suppressed a snort. Boomers were always making such a big deal about it. “Let me get those orders in for you.” She gave them a small bow—ingrained behavior from two decades growing up in the Kim household—and slipped away.

“Need anything here?” she asked her next table, a young gay couple from the looks of it, who were busy staring rapturously into each other’s eyes like a couple lovestruck teenagers.

“Just some water,” the blond said, never breaking his gaze, his hand wrapped tightly around the other man’s. A single plate of pasta sat between them.

“You got it.”

A two-for-one, or twofer, they called it—when two clients shared a dish, usually to save costs.

Matteo had needed to raise prices again last month to account for inflation. Luckily Ragazzi was doing well enough that they’d expanded into a new addition, taking over the space next door for Diego’s cooking classes.

She twirled through the restaurant like a ballerina, checking on tables, her footsteps lighter than they’d been in months. Jun Seo Jang was coming to town. She had so many questions for them.

How did you find your inspiration? When did you know you wanted to be an artist? How did you let your parents down gently?

Because Ainsley Kim had a secret. She wanted to be an artist more than anything else in the whole wide world. She wanted to create things, pieces of art that would make people frown and smile and nod knowingly as they stood in front of it, stroking their chins. Like her father used to. She wanted to meet Jang, but she also wanted to become them.

The thought of life as a medical researcher left her cold, but her parents had invested so much in that dream, both money and hope. How could she bear to disappoint them?

Maybe it was better if she didn’t go. Better for everyone involved.


Read Chapter Two >

Like what you read? if you haven’t tried it yet, check out book one, The River City Chronicles, here.

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