“Trust me, it’s gonna be good.” I didn’t know if I’d lied or not, it was my first time at the restaurant as well. I’d bet on the fact that my girlfriend liked to try new food, well that, and her inexplicable tendency to put up with my mistakes; rare were the moments that either proved worthwhile, but even rarer than those were times in which she acted to the opposite. Idiot.
I loved her for it. She noticed me staring, sucked in and stored air so her cheeks would puff out more than usual; I did the same. I have no clue how, why, or when we’d started that, but if you ask her I’m sure you’d get the right answer. Given time, any relationship will develop inside communication; us, though, we had our own culture.
“These tables are weird.” A cheer came from a group of people behind us.
Our waiter appeared, as people in the profession are apt to do, soon enough after insult to definitely have heard. My girlfriend blushed. “Drinks?” The employee asked in a bored tone.
“I’ll have the same,” I said over the clanging of cutlery and sizzle of oil on grill.
He disappeared. “It’s group-style,” I patted the countertop outline of the U-shape we sat at, “Grill on the inside, and there’s space between for two cooks to work back to back.” I noticed a twinge in her bottom lip. “It’s just for seating, each group gets their own orders.” I finished in anticipation of her question.
The scent of frying seafood, soy sauce, and steak snuck over our shoulders; my girlfriend smiled, trust inspired; I returned the gesture. We were the only occupants of our table, alone in the world; I angled my arm over head, used middle finger to push up the tip of my nose; my girlfriend laughed, shook her head, encroached to pick my boogers anyways-
The waiter reappeared, set down our drinks but I could see right through my glass. He smiled, turned to leave, “Can I get a coke?” He looked at me confused, went to take my glass but didn’t, then walked away; the hostess immediately took his place, sat a pair of girls directly next to us that didn’t talk to each other, were busy browsing, typing, doing whatever on their phones. I counted four pairs of empty chairs that were further, but by the time I was done, the complaint in mind, the hostess was nowhere to be found.
My girlfriend’s eyes ran up and down each of the newcomers’ bodies as they sat down; she hadn’t turned to me which meant she wasn’t impressed, but there was a meaning to be read from the way she held her shoulders:
They were dumb for dressing like they were going to the club, it was a middle of Fall day, but at least they were the type of dumb to be pacified, silenced by their smartphones. I lightly pinched her left shoulder to let her know I agreed.
Sometime during my observation my proper drink had appeared, I pressed the cold glass my lips and ice slid against my mouth’s boundary, liquid slipped in, down my throat, bubbled, burned, my eyes watered but I chugged twice more. It sat in my stomach, my weight had increased thirty pounds; a burp jumped up my esophagus, vibrated my lips and I felt perfect. Almost at true comfort, I grabbed the back of my seat, twisted my body so that cracks snapped out of my back; I’d achieved what I’d wanted, sat back, sighed in pure pleasure.
I wasn’t looking but felt eyes on me, knew it wasn’t my girlfriend who cared because I’d burped in her face before, and on top of that, I fart in my sleep; I opened my eyes, saw our tablemates staring like I’d meant to offend them- meanwhile, I hadn’t even considered their presence. Narcissists.
“So anyways,” One said to the other after another sideways glance at me, “I don’t trust Mark yet, all he does is talk about his past girls around me. Boobs, butts, stuff like that.”
“You totally shouldn’t.”
Vindicated, the first continued, “So I was thinking I wouldn’t want to go somewhere far with him like Italy. Our two-year is coming up but that’s like Rome and stuff, a different country, you know?” The second nodded. “But maybe like Mexico.”
My girlfriend turned to me dead-eyed, even without our intimacy I’d have been able to tell what she was feeling: absolute annoyance.
Thankfully the chef chose that moment to make his entrance; when it comes to quelling a woman’s rage, there are few things as effective as food. He boxed himself into the middle of our table’s ‘U’ with a cart, produced a knife and sharpening stick from its depth then dragged blade against steel fast; loud enough to drown out the idiots next to us, send the baby from the ‘oohing and ahhing’ table into a cry, make me take another gulp of my drink to calm my nerves.
My girlfriend’s attention was locked into the routine; that, at least, I was happy about.
The chef held his weapon up to the light, must’ve been satisfied with the sharpness, decided it could slice photons because he set it gently on the grill. “Order?” He asked, turned the grill top on and arranged six shallow sauce bowls on its surface.
My girlfriend jumped at the opportunity. “I’ll have the-” I squeezed her thigh to stop her; the chef looked up, her sudden stoppage of words shocked him from his pouring of white sauce into half of the bowls.
“We’regonnahavethespecial.” I said it fast so my voice wouldn’t crack; I’d never ordered for the both of us before.
The chef poured a brown mixture into the three remaining bowls, picked back up his knife, pointed it at me, “Cooked?”
He smiled. “Risky.” He twirled the knife in the air, caught the handle without looking like he’d led a parade or two, “I like it.” I returned his smile though I felt my girlfriend’s eyes lasering a message into the side of my head: YOU BETTER
YOU BETTER NOT’VE JUST FUCKED UP.
I rested elbow on table, chin on hand, pressed my lips together; she’d didn’t have any choice but to trust me now. She saw that I’d pressured where my words had come from, doubled down, and so grabbed my free hand under the table to show support, albeit significantly harder than was necessary.
“You two?” The chef asked; the girls who didn’t seem to notice anything looked at their phones for a few more seconds until one glanced up, and it took another second but then it registered that she’d been asked a question; the chef’s posture curled slightly, and though I couldn’t say whether it was out of disgust or disappointment, the gesture’s roots in sadness were easily identified.
The one nudged her friend, who took another moment to look up, each grabbed a menu, stared.
“Filet and shrimp.”
And then were back on their phones.
The chef recoiled, didn’t seem offended so much as drained; fucking hurts when you try, make a spectacular effort and get brushed off for a reward. He clanged around in his cabinet, set down a squeezable, shootable bottle of oil next to the grill, looked like he wanted to spray it but didn’t; instead, he swore at himself in a language I didn’t recognize.
He dealt the warmed sauces, two per sitter, like a blackjack dealer who, for some reason, found himself in charge of a roulette table; wrist still limp he squeezed out enough oil from bottle to cover the grill, flames danced in response but not so much; he didn’t want to be there, neither did they.
The chef went to crack an egg but there was no finesse, the shell shattered into the yolk; he sighed, slammed through his cupboard for a scraper that, when found, he used to shove the mess into the table’s trash hole.
I turned away for my mood’s sake – sadness is useless on any date except the first, and only then if attempting to get pity fucked – my girlfriend had done the same, she leaned away from me, eavesdropping; when between car-accidents you gotta pay attention to something, right?
“Did you know that the bottom of the Grand Canyon is older than the top?”
“I’m a sophomore now so I can have boys sleep over.”
Dinner had gone awry.
Then rice and noodles slid onto mine and my girlfriend’s plates; she seemed to relax after the first bite, but I was extra miserable. It took me two.
A sizzle caught my attention but I didn’t want to stop eating, I used one eye to look up to the chef laying out two similar looking steaks and a few hunks of white flesh on the grill, all smelling better than it looked.
He used his tools to press meat against the grill, expedited the cooking, he finished and my girlfriend and I just set down our forks, saved similar sized portions to accent our main course.
The chef slid all the meat onto the obnoxious duo’s plates; they finally dropped their phones into purses, picked up utensils, ate.
My girlfriend raised an eyebrow at me.
I held out my arm.
The chef’s skill returned, he sliced a ribbon of flesh out from my wrist to elbow, gently laid the cut of me onto the grill.
The waiter appeared, bandaged my arm, then was gone again.
It only took a moment, the special was done, on her plate; she mixed me with the rice and noodles, ate, used a sauce for her next bite then smiled.
She offered her arm, he cut her flesh the same and I ate though I’d have been content to let her pick me to the bone.
It was a perfect date.