Can an always-tardy garlic mogul and a punctual Silicon Valley librarian fall in love?
The world needs garlic and somebody’s got to sell that garlic. Cedric Johnson is that man. But even though he’s got just about everything he can wish for, Cedric is still missing one thing in his life: someone special. Fate may be on his side, but he encounters a few distractions along the way—like almost being killed by a UPS truck. Oh, and a little case of blackmail.
Ellie Fontaine is a walking Wikipedia with clear professional goals, but when it comes to landing Mr. Right, she doesn’t know jack squat. She gives online dating a shot, but ends up with an unappetizing buffet of unibrows and losers. What’s a girl to do?
After Ellie saves Cedric’s life, serendipity takes over as they continue to run into each other. Their connection grows stronger with each meeting, even though he embodies her number one pet peeve: he’s always late. But even if they can get past their issues and misunderstandings, Ellie’s ex-boyfriend, an unscrupulous cop, will do anything to keep them apart.
FIVE MINUTES LATE is a hilarious fast-paced romantic comedy, full of snappy dialogue and fun, quirky characters, guaranteed to warm your heart.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Five Minutes Late started out as a short story that I wrote for a Stanford class in 2012. My hot Spanish wife loved the story so much she encouraged me to turn it into a full-length novel. So I did! 🙂
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Good question! And the answer is: I don’t know! Seriously, the main thing I wanted was to have the characters feel so real that you could picture the story as a movie in your head as you were reading it. I love crazy characters, silly characters, sweet characters. I knew I wanted a balance of different personalities and started from there.
“For the last time, I’m not possessed by demons,” said Cedric Johnson.
“Could have fooled me,” said Tony. “I need to perform a circumcision on you.”
“Okay, number one, you know it’s an exorcism, so quit trying to steer the conversation back to body parts and sex. Number two, it was just a dream about death. Everybody has them.”
Cedric loved him like a brother, but Tony Garcia’s imagination didn’t have an off switch.
“I’m going to wear garlic around my neck.”
Cedric rolled his eyes. “Great, now I’m a vampire.” He pressed the speaker button on his cell phone, set it on the kitchen counter, and prepared his morning coffee. “And why are you calling? I’m going to see you in fifteen minutes.”
“I’m having a light bulb moment.”
“Of course you are.”
Tony was his best friend and general manager of Cedric’s company, Papa George’s Heirloom Garlic. He liked to brainstorm on expanding the company, and although he was the smartest guy Cedric knew, some of his ideas were out there.
“How’s this?” Tony continued, “We could sell garlic necklaces at the midnight showing of Twilight at theaters across the country.”
“And why would that appeal to teenagers?”
“You’re right, you’re right.”
Cedric added sugar to his coffee and took a sip as he waited for Tony to continue. He knew he wouldn’t have to wait long.
“Okay, got it,” said Tony. “Perfect for teenagers. Condoms. Garlic-scented condoms.”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“Wait, I need to tell you—”
“Tell me when you get here.”
Cedric disconnected and reached down to scratch Tofu between the ears. The West Highland Terrier dropped to the floor and rolled over on his back, his short white legs shooting to the ceiling in an obvious effort to give Cedric more area to work on.
Ten minutes later, the doorbell rang, followed by a Phil Collins drum solo on the door.
Tofu went nuts—as usual—sprinting toward the door. “Arf. Arf, arf, arf.”
“Tofu, it’s Tony. You should be used to him by now. Relax.” Cedric opened the door to Tony, who sported his usual jeans and rocker T-shirt: Maroon 5 plastered across his broad chest. Cedric gave him the why-the-hell-do-you-do-that look.
Tony shrugged and tucked some of his long black hair behind one ear. “I can’t help it if I like to hear the little guy bark.” He ran his hand along the length of Tofu’s back, stopping at his butt to scratch it. Tofu leaned into the scratch and moaned as his body shook from the power of Tony’s hand. “Dude, he’s having an orgasm.”
“And that’s why you don’t have a woman in your life. You think orgasms are disgusting.”
“No. I think dog orgasms are disgusting. And the reason I don’t have a woman in my life is I choose not to.”
The exchange may have sounded immature coming from a couple of guys in their thirties, but Cedric enjoyed the occasional silly verbal sparring with Tony. Plus, life was too short to be serious all the time.
Cedric held up his index finger. “Hang on, I’m not ready.”
“What a surprise.”
Cedric ran to the family room, put on his shoes, grabbed his coffee cup from the kitchen counter, and returned to the front door, where Tony was still petting Tofu.
Cedric grabbed Tofu and tucked him under his arm. “Come on …” He closed the door behind them.
Tony slapped Cedric’s arm with the back of his hand. “I almost called you at two in the morning. You won’t believe the news.”
“Get in first.”
They piled into Cedric’s SUV and took off on their weekly trek to the farm in Gilroy. He loved the early-morning drive from San Jose, and never got tired of watching the sun come up over the mountains to the east as they passed through Morgan Hill on Highway 101.
“I hope your news has to do with our numbers and not with the latest woman you’ve fallen for.”
As the general manager, Tony handled the marketing as well as Internet sales of the products on their website.
Tony did a drum roll on the dashboard. “We tripled our normal monthly sales.”
“… in two days.”
Cedric gritted his teeth. “Very funny.” He glanced over to Tony who had a dead-serious look on his face.
Tony had built the company website from the ground up and maintained it. It included an online store, recipes with garlic, company history, and a secure payment system. His degree in Web Programming and Graphic Design at San Jose State came in handy.
But what Tony just told him was insane.
“A hundred and twenty thousand?” said Cedric.
“In two days?”
“What caused the spike?”
“The fresh heirloom garlic. There was also a huge jump in the fresh peeled. The shallots kicked ass too.”
Initially, Cedric only sold fresh garlic, like his grandfather. Tony had convinced him a few years back to expand their online presence by offering roasted garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, fresh ginger and shallots, and many other specialty items. Tony’s instincts paid off as regular garlic customers began adding other items to their online shopping carts before checking out. The business doubled within a year and has steadily grown ever since.
Cedric glanced over to Tony and then got his eyes back on the road. “Where are the hits coming from?”
Tony laughed. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
Cedric’s mouth dropped open as he turned to Tony in disbelief.
“Hey!” Tony grabbed the steering wheel and straightened the car after Cedric had veered off into the other lane. “You trying to kill us?”
“It’s your fault! You got me excited!”
“If you expect me to believe you had an explosive erection that hit the steering wheel, knocking us into—”
“Focus! Back to Martha Stewart. How the hell did that happen?”
“Remember when I sent samples of our garlic to some of the top restaurants in California?”
Cedric nodded. “We got like ten contracts from that.”
“Okay, how does Martha Stewart fit into the equation?”
“So! I had the brilliant idea of also sending our garlic to Rachael Ray, Mario Batali, José Andrés, Bobby Flay, The Barefoot Contessa, Wolfgang Puck, and Martha Stewart. Not exactly in that order.”
“You’re a genius!”
“Tell me something I don’t know. Anyway, Martha was talking on her television show yesterday about the quality of garlic available in the United States, that most of it comes from China, yadda yadda yadda. Get this … then she said ‘if you want to kick up your recipes a notch, you can always use Papa George’s Heirloom Garlic.’”
“Holy crap is correct. I went into our client database and saw her name right there, Martha Fucking Stewart. She purchased garlic from us four times over the last year. She’s got a million people who like her on Facebook. We hit the jackpot.”
“We’re going to run out of garlic.”
“That’s a good problem to have.”
Cedric chuckled. “Have you told your dad yet?”
“Yeah, I called him on the way to your house.”
Tony’s father, Antonio, managed everything on the garlic farm: the workers, soil preparation, planting, mulching, harvesting, cleaning, grating, packaging—everything. The farm was a well-oiled machine that produced some of the finest garlic in the country, year after year.
“Speaking of my dad … you know we don’t have to do these weekly meetings with him anymore. If you need to talk with him, just pick up the phone. It’s a lot easier.”
Cedric knew that. Their weekly jaunt to Gilroy wasn’t about the business—hell, they probably only talked about garlic five percent of the time. For Cedric, it was about being with good people. The Garcias were the closest thing he had to family.
“You know how much your family means to me,” said Cedric.
“I know. You spoil my parents.”
“Anyone else in my position would do the same.”
Cedric appointed Tony’s parents, Antonio and Ana, co-proprietors of the company and moved them to live on the farm, free of charge.
“No way,” said Tony.
Cedric felt as if someone had grabbed his heart and squeezed it. “We take care of each other. That’s what families do.”
“Well, Mamá says you need to come over more often and eat more.”
Tony’s mother, Ana, was always cooking something. Chilaquiles was a typical breakfast in their home—corn tortillas, scrambled eggs, cheese, and green chili. It was Cedric’s favorite Mexican dish.
“She’s trying to fatten me up.”
Tony laughed and rubbed his belly. “I know the feeling.”
Thirty-five minutes after leaving San Jose, Cedric exited Highway 101 and drove through Gilroy, along one of the rural county roads toward the farm.
“What the hell?” muttered Cedric. He slammed on the brakes and pulled off to the shoulder. Tony grabbed Tofu before he fell off his lap, as the car slid on the gravel, coming to a stop slightly sideways.
“I’m pretty sure I shit my pants.” Tony looked down at Tofu. “What about you?” He lifted Tofu’s tail and looked underneath. “All clean.”
Cedric didn’t say a word. He just stared at the farm across the street, Papa George’s old property.
“You see dead people? Do I need to drive a stake through your heart?”
Cedric kept his eyes on the property and didn’t respond.
Papa George started the garlic revolution in that house. It had history, not only in the garlic industry, in Cedric’s family as well. His grandfather sold the property back in the fifties and bought a much larger property—where they’ve been ever since. Cedric drove by the place every week, but it seemed different today.
Cedric cocked his head to the side and continued to study the farm. “Something’s not right.”
Tony squinted. “The driveway is chained off.”
“And the farm equipment is gone.”
“You think the Abbotts sold the place and moved?”
“I’d be surprised. Mr. Abbott swore he’d sell it to me if they ever decided to move. I’m not sure what’s going on, but I’m going to find out.”
Cedric made a promise to his mom on her deathbed he’d acquire the land when it became available, to build a garlic museum there and keep the family history alive.
“Maybe my dad has heard something,” said Tony.
A few minutes later, Cedric drove under the wrought iron arches of his farm and down the long driveway lined with palm trees on both sides—queen palms his grandfather planted over fifty years ago. The classic white farmhouse with the wraparound porch, complete with rockers, always brought back wonderful memories of Cedric and his grandfather rocking and talking after dinner, as they watched the sunset.
Cedric spotted Tony’s dad in the field inspecting the garlic. “He never stops working.”
Antonio climbed the tractor and drove to the main house to meet them. Cedric pulled in behind Antonio’s old Chevy pickup and opened his door. Tofu leaped from the car and sprinted toward the chickens, sending them skittering off in different directions. Cedric laughed as he approached Antonio.
“Buenos días, Cedric,” said Antonio, smiling as he hugged Cedric
“Buenos días, Antonio.” Cedric smiled back, admiring the silver-haired man with tanned, wrinkled skin weathered by four decades of hard work under the hot Gilroy sun.
Antonio turned to Tony. “Buenos días, hijo.” He kissed his son on the cheek.
Antonio shook his finger at Tony. “You’re losing your Spanish.”
Cedric put his hand on Antonio’s shoulder. “Do you know what’s going on with Papa George’s old property? It looks like the Abbotts are gone.”
Antonio shrugged. “I saw him and his wife a couple of weeks ago at the Farmers’ Association meeting and they didn’t mention anything.”
“It almost looks as though they cleared the land to sell it.”
“Let me text him and see.”
Cedric laughed and eyed Antonio’s phone.
“What? You think I’m too old to text?”
“I didn’t say that.”
“You don’t think I’m hip, that’s it. Well, I’ll have you know that I was thinking of getting an Xbox.”
Cedric blinked a couple of times. “Really?”
Laughter erupted from Antonio. “No. Not really.”
They laughed and headed inside for the meeting—more like a great meal, with a side of chitchat. It was held in the kitchen, at the large solid oak farmhouse dining table that seated ten. They would discuss the latest news in the world of garlic, farming, the weather, this year’s crop, and any issues with the equipment, but it wouldn’t last long. Sooner or later—usually sooner—Ana would change topics to Cedric’s nonexistent love life.
Cedric entered the kitchen with Tony and Antonio and smiled as he stared at the back of Ana’s head, her black hair up in a bun.
She placed a bowl in the sink, wiped her hands on her rose-print apron, and turned around. “Buenos días, hijo.”
Cedric loved it when she called him son. “Buenos días,” he said, kissing her on the cheek. He was sure the lines he saw around her eyes weren’t from aging, but from all of the smiles she shared with him over the years.
Tony kissed his mom. “Hola, mamá.”
“Hola, hijo.” She spooned chilaquiles onto the plates and gestured to the chairs. “Sit down and eat.”
The men obeyed orders, grabbed the forks, and put them to work.
Ana sat and turned to Cedric. “Have you found yourself a good woman yet?
Right on cue.
“It’s been exactly one week since the last time you asked me that.” He took a bite of food and moaned.
“And what’s your answer this week?”
“Yes.” Three heads turned in his direction. The chewing stopped as Ana, Antonio, and Tony waited for Cedric to continue. “And I’m in love.”
Tony pointed his fork at Cedric. “Bullshit. I would have heard about it.”
“You don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to.”
“Okay, what’s her name then?”
Cedric grinned. “Martha Stewart.”
Laughter filled the kitchen as the eating continued.
“Well, if that’s the case, I’m in love with her too,” said Tony.
“Me too!” said Antonio, promptly smacked on the arm by Ana.
Ana wiped her mouth and tapped her fingers on the table. “I’m still waiting for a real answer.”
Cedric finished chewing and set his fork down. “No, I don’t have a good woman. But if it makes you feel better, I don’t have a bad woman either.”
“You’re going to meet someone soon, I know it.” Ana rubbed Cedric’s arm. “She’ll show up when you least expect it, you need to be open to it.”
“I think I’ll just place an advertisement on a billboard. Wanted: Woman who cooks as well as Ana Garcia and is just as pretty.”
Antonio let out a hearty laugh. “Impossible!”
Ana kissed Cedric on the forehead. “Gracias, hijo.”
There was a noise at the front door.
Tony pointed. “That must be her, Cedric, your new love.”
“Right,” said Cedric.
Ana laughed as she got up and walked to the door. A few seconds later, Tofu sprinted into the kitchen and screeched to a halt in front of the cupboard below the sink.
“Arf! Arf, arf, arf.”
Ana opened the cupboard and pulled out a plastic container filled with rawhide treats.
“Someone is spoiled,” said Cedric.
Antonio’s phone beeped and he grabbed it from the table as Cedric watched with anticipation, hoping it was from Mr. Abbott.
Antonio read the text. “You were right.”
Cedric’s eyes opened wide. “About the property?”
“The Abbotts lost the property after five years of unpaid taxes. They moved to Oregon just last week.”
Cedric sat up in his chair and leaned forward. “Please tell me I have a chance to buy the place.”
Antonio scrolled down on his phone. “He says the Tax Collector is going to sell it at auction, so yes, it looks like you have a chance.”
“Good.” Cedric flopped back in his chair and smiled. “That’s what I wanted to hear.”
Antonio smiled. “You’ll have a lot of competition for that land.”
“True. But all I need is a chance.”
“How much do you think it’ll go for?” asked Tony.
Cedric shrugged. “Hard to say, I’m guessing two to three million. I’ll pay whatever they want. My promise to my mom is the most important thing in the world to me.”
Ana smiled. “This is wonderful.”
Cedric nodded. It was more than wonderful.
He couldn’t help but wonder how much better it would be with a woman in his life.
On second thought, he needed to scratch that thought from his brain.
The last thing he wanted was his success marred by another tragedy.
Rich Amooi is a former Silicon Valley radio personality and wedding DJ, now a writer of comedy and romance. He believes in public displays of affection, silliness, infinite possibilities, Betty Crocker Super-Moist Yellow Cake with chocolate frosting, gratitude, laughter, and happily ever after.
Rich lives in San Jose, California with his wife and their very hairy dog. He enjoys writing stories that are light, fun, a little bit crazy, and romantic. 🙂
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