The waiter levels me with those cold eyes and it actually makes me shiver. It's enough to make me uncurl from the ball I was still curled into and slip off the large sunglasses which do little to obscure my face to an observant eye. Now there's no pretending he doesn't know exactly who I am.
"We serve Indian and Pakistani food and in some cases, a combination of both," I send him an inquiring quirk of my eyebrow and he sighs before elaborating, as though it's not the first time he's done so, "My mom is Pakistani, dad is Indian. They both like food so," he gestures around the restaurant, "Here we are. What do you want?"
"Could I have a menu?"
"I guess you could," he replies before promptly stalking off behind the counter and into a place I assume is the kitchen. I take a moment to look around the dining area which appears to be empty. Outside it seems people have stopped scouring for me which puts me a little at ease. In my tightly clenched hand is gripped a bag that I'd nearly forgotten about. I open it to gaze admiringly down at the shirt I'd purchased. I'll wear it tomorrow, just for Henry and Orla, and for myself too of course.
A moment later the waiter reemerges from the kitchen with a menu, a napkin containing silverware, and a glass of ice water. It's only now that I notice how tall the guy is at maybe 6' 2" by my own estimate, but then again I guess at 5' 10" anything above 6 foot impresses me. He sets down the water, menu, and napkin but immediately walks back to the counter, leaving me to contemplate the menu by myself. Picking up the piece of thick paper, I gaze down at the words on it but struggle to find their meeting. I've only had Indian food a handful of times and I don't even know what qualifies as Pakistani food so the menu might as well been written in a different language. In fact, I'm sure most of it was.
"Excuse me!" I call out to the waiter, who sits behind the register, gazing down at a book in his hands. He doesn't look up to reply.
"Umm, well, I don't really know what to order," I squeak out, embarrassed and very out of my element.
"That really is quite unfortunate," He replies so sarcastically, it makes my skin crawl. It's been a long time since someone has so clearly disliked me and it has me wondering if this boy has some sort of personal vendetta against me or if he just treats everyone like this. I'm guessing it's a little bit of both.
"Do you treat all your customers like this?"
"Only the ones that annoy me."
"You hardly know me," at that, his cold eyes turn up from the book to give me an assessing look.
"Fine, I'll make you something you'll like." He turns to go to the kitchen but I quickly call out,
"As long as it's Kosher! and preferably not too spicy, I have a weak Jewish stomach." He turns to face me with a mildly amused expression on his face and a question in his eyes.
"Sure thing, sparky," he says before turning into the kitchen. Sparky. that name probably didn't mean a lot to most people but in the comics that Electric Pheonix is based on, Max Miller is frequently called sparky by Agent Trace in later editions. It's something only a true nerd would know and I snicker at the thought.
I still remember being a kid, obsessed with the Electric Pheonix comics, and waiting patiently every month for them to release the latest addition. Most people figure I wanted the role of Max Miller for the opportunities and credit it would give me, but no one knew the movie would blow up the way it did. No one could have predicted my sudden rise to fame. I wanted this role, 2 years ago, because as a kid I'd always been inspired by The Electric Pheonix because he made me feel like I could do anything, and even if I didn't succeed, I could always rise back up. Like a Pheonix from the ashes.
Seeing as my waiter wouldn't be returning any time soon, I pull out my phone to keep myself entertained. The screen flashes the time, 4:25, and just below that, it shows I have 4 missed calls from Midge. That woman is physically incapable of being chill about anything ever. I let out a frustrated sigh as I push the button to call her back. She picks up on the first ring.
"Where the hell are you?"
I can hear the anger seeping in her voice through her reply, "That wasn't the question, Liam"
"I went into town."
"Yes, I realized that 2 hours ago when I couldn't find you anywhere in the hotel."
"Well, you did say I had the afternoon off,"
"Not for you to go into town where people could spot you! You could have at least told me so I could send Quinn with you!"
"I'm almost an adult, I don't need my bodyguard looming over me for a simple visit into town,"
Midge lets out a stressed sigh, "You know very well that you are not just some kid that can go places as they please. You have a career to uphold for fucks sake!" She goes on, asking me if I was spotted, where I am, who I'm with, but I don't hear her. There's something buzzing in my ears, making my heart beat like crazy, and my breaths become more and more shallow. My life is so different from what it used to be, and I don't know if I like it. I hang up the call.
"Are you okay, dude?" the emotionless voice snaps me out of my panic and I turn to see the waiter holding a tray full of various dishes. The sight and smell make my stomach rumble as I think back at my meager lunch.
"I'm fine!" I say a little too quickly, a little too cheerily. He sets the dishes in front of me and I feel my mouth begin to water as I look down at it all. "What is all of this exactly?" I ask without my gaze leaving the beautiful food.
He points to the main dish, "That's some chicken tikka masala over Kabuli pulao inspired rice," he points to a small basket of flat bread, "That's naan," he finally points to the cup of mysterious rich liquid, "And that's sweet mango lassi." I don't know what any of it means but It all sounds delicious.
The waiter turns to walk away but for some reason, I call out after him, maybe because I don't want to be alone, "Wait!" he stops and turns, giving me an expectant and mildly annoyed look, "I don't think I can eat this all on my own." It's true, I'm hungry but there's no way I can finish all this, and I can't bring home leftovers because then Midge will find them and she'll find out about this place.
He gives me that assessing look again, eyes flitting from my face to the food, to my hands that are still clenched on my lap. He doesn't say anything, only leaves. I feel something deflate in my chest and for a moment I have to fight off... tears? What the fuck? Why do Midge's words still bother me so much, why do I keep anxiously looking out the window, why does it hurt so much to be turned down by someone I just met?
My thoughts are cut off a moment later by the screech of the chair in front of me as it's pulled back. The waiter takes a seat in it. In his hands are his book and another set of silverware. He looks up to meet my shocked gaze, "What? I'm not going to give you a discount for letting me eat some of this food y'know."
"Of course!" I spit out and he picks up his fork to rummage around my plate and I quickly start to do the same. The first bite of that rice and chicken stuff is amazing, and so is the second, and third, and maybe I shouldn't have offered to share. But it's still a little spicy for me so I guzzle down water and I can feel the boy's eyes on me as I do so.
"Not used to spicy food?" he asks casually, taking a bite from the bread he called naan.
"It's really not that spicy, I'm just a bit of a bitch"
He chuckles and replies, "The lassi might help with the spice,"
I nod and take a sip of the strange creamy drink and can't stop the satisfied sigh that escapes my lips. It's refreshing and sweet and creamy and I better pace myself or I'll guzzle down the whole thing right now. "This is amazing. I mean all of this is amazing but- did you cook all this?"
"Yeah," he replies, clearly amused at my enjoyment of his cooking. My praise seems to have melted away his scorn just a bit and his eyes seem a little less cold as they look at me. "Have you tried the naan?"
"I was getting to that!" The bread he refers to is almost flat but when I bite into it, the surface gives a wonderful crunch and the inside is fluffy and chewy. "You're a magician!" I say through a mouthful of food. One corner of his pretty mouth quirks up into a handsome grin for just a second before disappearing. The action is enough to send my heart skipping a beat. This guy is just too attractive for his own good. "What's your name?" I ask right as he takes a bite of that chicken and rice stuff that I'd already forgotten the name of.
He takes his sweet time chewing before replying, "Elliot."
Elliot. The name flutters something deep within me but I shake that feeling away as I put my hand forward over the table, "I'm Liam."
Elliot hesitates before taking my hand and awkwardly shaking it, "I know." I shoot him my red carpet, camera perfect smile, before resuming shoving food in my face.
"Introductions never hurt," and that's when a wonderful idea hits me. I take a piece of naan and pile it up with chicken, rice, and that wonderful sauce. Then, I fold the creation up and shove as much of it in my mouth as I can. It tastes heavenly and Elliot appears quite amused by my actions as he picks up his book once again.
After a pretty short amount of time, all things considered, I've finished everything off with little help from Elliot, who still sits with his nose in his book, snacking on a piece of naan slowly. I lean back in my chair, stuffed, and let out a satisfied sigh, earning me the attention of my companion.
"I've never seen someone eat so quickly and efficiently before. You were like a vacuum."
"I'm going to take that as a compliment."
Elliot sets down his book and gathers up the dishes, taking them to the kitchen and leaving me alone once again, but this time I feel much better, whether that be from the food or- you know what it was definitely the food. While he's gone a take a peek at his book, The Picture of Dorian Gray. I think I've heard of it before but It sounds much too smart for me to read.
A moment later, Elliot reemerges, this time with the bill and I'm almost sad to see it. It means I'll have to leave soon. He places it down in front of me but then takes his seat. I smile faintly as he picks up his book and I begin filling out the bill, with a 30% tip of course. "How old are you?"
He doesn't look up as he answers, "17"
"I feel like that was sarcastic and you should know I am too dumb to comprehend sarcasm." despite himself, Elliot laughs, but only briefly before resuming his stoic demeanor, "Anyways, here's the bill"
"Is it normally this empty here?" I call out to Elliot as he goes behind the register to swipe my card.
"We don't usually have a lot of customers on Wednesdays at 4:00 in the afternoon."
"Is that why you're the only one working right now?"
"You ask a lot of questions." he returns me my card and I slip it into my wallet before realizing a little mournfully, this is the part where I leave.
"How else will I get answers?" I say as I stand, picking my shopping bag up from the floor and pulling the hood of my sweatshirt over my head. Elliot gives me another one of those assessing gazes. "It was nice meeting you Elliot,"
"Sure thing, sparky" and with that, I shoot Elliot one last smile before exiting the restaurant.
The sun hasn't quite begun to set, but the streets are still less crowded than before. However, that's not the reason I step with a little hop in my stride, that's not the reason I'm able to call Midge a block later and ask her to send a car to pick me up, that's not why my soul feels a little less burdened by the expectations of the world. It must have been that magic food, I tell myself.