I’ve invited my author friends to drop by with what we’re calling Story Spirals or outtakes from their books. Stories that could be happening alongside the main plot, stories happening to the main character but aren’t in the book, stories that are connected someway, somehow.
Today, we have a story spiral from author Stella Torres for her book Crushingly Close. Read the short story below that happens alongside Agnes and Daniel’s love story:
Continental Breakfast: A Crushingly Close Short Story by Stella Torres
Mang Buboy might not be what they called a “foodie,” but he was an expert on the kind of food that his team encountered on the road. Take breakfast, for example. Many hotels offered it for free, but rarely was that food anywhere close to delicious: the meat would be too salty, the fried rice would be too greasy, the eggs would be rubbery from being cooked all the way through.
And yet, breakfast was breakfast, and if he didn’t have anything in his stomach for the next six hours, he’d faint and lose his concentration. So eat it, he did.
This breakfast buffet at their hotel in Jakarta was no different. This was a Continental breakfast—nothing more than baked goods, fruit, and coffee. The pastries tasted like wax and the melon slices were almost dehydrated. If it weren’t for the thick slices of whole wheat bread that he’d spotted on the table for toasting, he would have pictured his inevitable starvation.
He took one sip of the coffee that the waitress had poured for him. He knew nothing about nuanced flavors and aftertastes in his coffee, but this particular brew was rich and earthy, like he could taste the soil where it had grown.
“Good coffee, Mang Buboy?”
Mang Buboy looked up at Kelvin Chua, who was part of the Jakarta team as his co-cameraman. Kelvin was an expert in file transfer protocol, which was basically a fancy term for “sending all your shit over the Internet.” Kelvin was old enough to be his son, and there were times when Kelvin reminded him of his own kids that it made him wistful. Then Kelvin would open his mouth, and Mang Buboy would find himself wondering how these young people would have managed back in his day.
“It’s a good thing they have strawberry jam,” Kelvin continued. “I wouldn’t be able to tolerate this breakfast otherwise. That raisin roll you warned me about was the worst.”
“I told you. Danish pastries are horrible.” Mang Buboy took another sip of his coffee. “And this buffet has real butter, too. Nothing beats real butter for toast.”
“Yeah.” Kelvin looked at his watch. “Where are Daniel and Agnes, by the way?”
Mang Buboy snorted. The handsome anchorman and the straight-shooting producer had been inseparable since they’d boarded the plane from Manila. He’d worked with them before, on an assignment in Davao, and back then she’d come across as cool and stand-offish and distant. The story went that Daniel had invited her to a karaoke bar with the other cameraman covering the event, and she did nothing but stare into her Coke while the others drank and made merry.
He’d noticed something during the ride on the van to the hotel, where they were sitting next to each other and—maybe he was imagining things, but what the fuck had Daniel done to her shoulder? Because it didn’t sound like an ordinary massage to him, and it was a good thing he wasn’t looking, because if he was—
Agnes had arrived at the table, with Daniel trailing close behind. Her eyes had that steely gaze that he noticed whenever they were at work, but there was something different about her posture. She seemed…taller, which was odd because she was a little over five feet and could get lost in a large crowd if she wasn’t careful. Maybe Mang Buboy should ask Daniel to work on his shoulder, because the girl looked like she wasn’t carrying any stress on hers.
“So, what’s on the agenda this morning?” Mang Buboy asked.
“Pool workouts,” Agnes said. “Pinky said she was going to meet us at the lobby of the hotel. Then she’ll take us to meet the guys and the conditioning coach.”
“Ooh, hot guys in swim trunks!” Kelvin clapped his hands. “Looks like Daniel’s going to have some competition on-screen.”
“Shut up, Kelvin.” Daniel rolled his eyes.
Mang Buboy took another sip of his coffee. “What are we going to shoot, abs?”
Agnes laughed. “We’re shooting the workouts, of course. Abs are unavoidable.”
“But it’s going to be all about their bodies,” Mang Buboy said. “You know how your boss feels about that.”
“True.” Agnes nodded at him. “But Gerry understands that we’re doing human-interest stories about the guys to drum up more interest in Philippine football. We can shoot this in such a way
that doesn’t make the team look like pieces of meat.”
“And that means we have to put our heads together for this story,” Daniel added. “They’re exercising, so they’re shirtless, but we can find a way to cover them in a respectful way.”
All the time, Mang Buboy could not help but notice how Daniel sat next to Agnes and positioned his chair so that he could lean into her personal space. And yet, Agnes seemed to maintain close eye contact with the rest of the table, like she wanted the team to think that it was no big deal for her to sit next to Daniel—just like it was no big deal that he agreed with her on everything.
Mang Buboy had seen this before, in other press junkets, with other reporters. It would happen in close quarters, first with shared opinions and inside jokes. Then there was touching, then flirting, and the next thing you knew, an affair had blossomed. It would be the talk of the newsroom for a long time, and it sometimes led to disaster.
Rarely did it lead to a love match.
Except Mang Buboy had a good feeling about this two. Agnes’s eyes seemed to sparkle, which they never did back in Manila. And Daniel lost a little bit of that arrogance that came from being a rich kid who’d just been handed a job on a silver platter. But it was too early to call, and none of this was guaranteed.
Or was it?
“Is everything clear?”
Agnes wasn’t smiling, but nothing about her serious face fooled Mang Buboy. He could tell that she needed answers, just like she needed coffee and toast and possibly another massage on her shoulder. He saw right through her anyway.
“I have your notes,” Mang Buboy said. “But I think we should get through breakfast first.”
About Crushingly Close
At twenty-four years old, Agnes Escueta has risen from the ranks to become a producer for Sports Tonight. No one can touch her, it seems—not even crush-worthy anchorman Daniel Ferrer, who she gets to work with every single day. When a road trip to Indonesia throws Agnes and Daniel together, they find themselves working in close quarters. It doesn’t take long before Agnes finds herself being charmed by Daniel, and her defenses start to melt with his touch. With deadlines looming and a big game coming, Agnes must figure out how to let Daniel into her life without risking her professional reputation—and without breaking her own heart.
Buy it here on Amazon.
About Stella Torres
Stella Torres is the author of Save the Cake and the short story “Be Creative” from Kids These Days: Stories from Luna East Arts Academy (Vol. 1)). She has a bachelor’s degree in English literature and worked briefly in public relations, but has chosen to pursue her post-graduate studies in the field of education. She loves dark chocolate, hates flyaways, and is constantly in search of comfortable shoes.