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Serial: Down the River – Chapter Six

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!

Today, the bi high-school student is all grown up, and has a new crush, and an old flame too…

< Read Chapter Five | Chapter Seven >

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Down the River Header

Chapter Six
That Was Then

Marissa blinked, staring at the endless line of red taillights in front of her. After a pause for the pandemic, traffic in Sacramento was worse than ever, and the line of cars inched down Folsom Boulevard a few feet at a time.

At least the rains had let up for a bit, returning the weather to springtime warmth, the air fresh and clear. She rolled down her window and was struck by the unexpected aroma of fresh-baked bread and rosemary.

She glanced over to find the welcoming windows of Ragazzi facing her. A smile crept across her face. So many memories there.

Triss and the Adolescent Army. Finding her grandmother, Carmelina. Her time with Gio.

She frowned. It had been good between us for a little while, right? Until she’d screwed it all up with that other girl in her Econ Masters classes. What was her name? Ally?

She’d never told Gio, but the affair had signaled the end of them. Not my proudest moment.

Now she’d decided she was probably better off alone. She had a good, albeit somewhat boring job with the state, and was slowly figuring out the rest of her life.

An open parking spot beckoned, and she pulled over impulsively. That bread had smelled so good. She’d treat herself to a quick meal and see a couple old friends. I deserve it.

It had been ages since she’d been to Ragazzi, and surely by now things would be smoothed over with Gio. Time heals all wounds, right? Even the self-inflicted ones.

She fed the meter—she hoped the Kings appreciated her unwilling donation to the cause—and returned the two blocks down the street to the Italian restaurant. When had she last been there? Let’s see. It’s March of 2024. Last time was… no, it can’t be.

Pre-pandemic. Probably 2018 or 2019, when she was still in school. Holy crap.

She crossed the street to stand in front of the place that held all those memories, like the Prodigal Daughter returned home. It was early yet—the place was only half full. Thankfully Gio was nowhere to be seen.

She took a deep breath, steeled herself, and pushed open the door.

“Welcome in. We’re a little short-handed at the moment—grab yourself a table wherever.” The speaker was a beautiful Asian woman—Korean, if she had to guess—dressed in a crisp white shirt and short red and green tie, her black hair tied up neatly behind her head. “I’ll be with you in just a moment.”

“Thanks!” Marissa watched her disappear into the kitchen, a smile crossing her face. Cute.

She chose a table by the window and was just about to take a seat when a booming voice sounded behind her. “Marissa! I thought that was you. So lovely to have you back.”

She spun around to find one of the owners, Matteo Bianco, standing before her. “Uncle Matty!” She threw her arms around him, hugging him tightly. “It’s good to see you.”

“You too. I didn’t see you on the list of reservations.”

She giggled. His mostly-right English never failed to bring a smile to her face. “An impulsive thing. I was driving by and smelled rosemary…” She looked around hopefully.

“Ah. Diego is baking up a batch of Romagnola bread next door. I’ll see if I can sneak for you a little.”

“I’d like that.”

The server appeared at his side, handing her a menu. “I see you know the boss.” She flashed Marissa a bright smile.

“We go way back.” She glanced over the menu. Still the same old comforting dishes, although she spied a few new things, too. I need to come by here more often.

 “I’m Ainsley and I’ll be your server. Can I get you started with something to drink?”

“Just water, please.” She still had a lot of student loans to pay off, and the new job didn’t pay that well.

“I’ll send Gio out to say hi when he has some moments.” Matteo bowed and slipped away before she could protest.

“Water coming right up.” Ainsley glanced over her shoulder at the kitchen door. “So you know the boss’s son too?”

Marissa nodded, hoping she wasn’t blushing too obviously. “We… have a history.”

“Ah.” That little word spoke volumes. “He is handsome. I’ll be back with that water, and to get your order.” She left an aroma behind, something halfway between watermelon and citrus.

Marissa closed her eyes. Slow down, girl. You’re finally on your own now, remember? This was not the time to start up another romance.

Her gaze slid down the menu and settled on an old favorite, the chicken piadina.

She closed her eyes, remembering her hands buried in flour, Triss’s arms around hers, kneading the dough together in this very room…

“Ready to order? Matteo sent this over.” Ainsley placed a basket of fresh bread on the table. The tantalizing aroma made her mouth water.

“Oh my god, that smells amazing.” She broke off a piece and popped it in her mouth. “Pure heaven. Here.” She held out a piece, grinning like an idiot. “You have to try this.”

Ainsley looked around. “I really shouldn’t.”

“Oh come on. It’s your job to know what you’re serving right? You wouldn’t want to disappoint a customer.” Okay, maybe she was laying it on a little thick.

Ainsley laughed, a delightful sound that sent a thrill up Marissa’s spine. “I suppose when you put it that way. Just one bite.” She took the proffered piece and slipped it in her mouth, and her lips widened in pleasure. “Oooh, that isgood. We should serve that all the time.”

“I know, right?” The server was getting under her skin, and she wasn’t even trying. Marissa imagined those fingertips on her face, those lips brushing her neck…

“So are you ready to order?” Ainsley seemed blissfully unaware of her interest. Or maybe she was just a good server.

“Yes. The chicken piadina? And a side salad?” She should at least make a stab at eating something healthy. Besides, she didn’t want Ainsley thinking she only ate carbs.

“Coming right up.” The server winked at her, and Marissa’s heart fluttered.

Down, girl. She sat back in the smooth wicker chair and just breathed, letting herself slow down for the first time since daybreak. She should treat herself a little more often. Life was more than just work.

A squeak announced the opening of the kitchen door. Gio appeared there and stared at her for a moment. He looked the same—young, Italian, and adorable—though somehow he seemed a little more seasoned than before.

She waved at him tentatively.

He frowned and disappeared back inside the kitchen.

So that’s how it’s going to be? The welcome sense of warmth fled, replaced by a familiar but still searing sense of guilt, a cold ball in her stomach. He didn’t know about Ally, did he?

She’d never told him about her affair, but he had to have guessed that something significant had happened. He was a good man. Just not the good man—or person—for her.

Still, she wasn’t dead. Just in zombie mode. She’d castigated herself for it long enough, putting her personal life on hold.

Maybe it was time to come back to life.

When Ainsley returned with her meal, setting down the beautiful and aromatic open-faced Italian sandwich on the table before her, so did the warmth in Marissa’s heart. “It’s perfect, thank you.”

Life had a way of surprising you, just when you’d all but given up.

< Read Chapter Five | Chapter Seven >

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

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