The multirhythmic, wavering tones of world music were playing from disguised speakers set under the varnished bamboo cornices that edged the restaurant as Kevin Cox tried to find a comfortable position for his legs underneath the low table. He wasn’t sure whether to set his feet out to either side, cross his legs at the ankles, or just cut his losses and stick his legs out at an angle so they emerged from under the table beside Esther’s chair. He squirmed his feet into a few different positions, trying them out. Mid-adjustment he bumped into Esther’s legs and they both drew their feet back, embarrassed.
“Sorry,” said Kevin. “I’m used to having a little more leg room.”
“Yeah, it takes some getting used to, but I like how different this place is,” said Esther. “I mean, we aren’t sitting on cushions on the floor or anything, but with all the bamboo, and the neat textures on the walls, it has that kind of Eastern vibe to it…”
“I’m half expecting someone to come out of the kitchen wearing one of those paper dragon costumes they use in parades,” joked Kevin.
“It isn’t that Eastern,” said Esther. “And they’ve got lots of Western food on the menu. It’s a really neat fusion. I love cultural crossover.”
“Yeah, it is kind of cool,” admitted Kevin.
“I usually get the caramel-glazed chicken when I come here. You should try it. The mango sauce is amazing.”
“I’m not a big fan of mangoes,” said Kevin. “Ooh, but I am a big fan of steak.”
“You’re such a boy,” laughed Esther.
The waiter approached and filled their water glasses. “Welcome to New Science,” he said. “Our dinner special today is salmon in plum sauce with a side of red rice. We also have a wide selection of wines. Are you ready to order?”
“Sure,” said Esther. “The special sounds really good. I’ll have that, with a glass of chiraz, please.”
“A lime-seared Porterhouse for me, medium rare,” said Kevin. “And what the heck, how about a rum and coke?”
The waiter gathered their menus and disappeared into the back.
“There’s so much great food in Victoria,” said Esther. “I heard it has the highest number of restaurants per person out of any city in North America.”
“I believe it,” said Kevin. “Seems like there are two or three places to eat on every street corner. I wouldn’t have expected to find something like this in the middle of Esquimalt, though.”
“That’s because you’ve bought into all the ‘other side of the tracks’ talk that gets spread around about Esquimalt. It’s nice out here. There are a lot of hidden treasures.”
“Are you an Esquimalt apologist?” Kevin grinned. “I’ve heard that people like you exist, but I’ve never met one before. Fascinating.”
Esther chuckled and threw her napkin at him.
The waiter returned with their drinks and set them out with a flourish. He gave them a knowing half-smile as he turned towards the next table.
“Did you see the way he looked at us?” asked Esther.
“What do you mean?”
“That little smile… And I think he winked at me.” Esther smirked. “I bet he thinks we’re a cute little couple.”
Kevin’s cheeks burned. He forced a small laugh. There was a brief, mildly awkward silence. “So…” he said. “Uh, where did we leave off before?”
“On our last date, you mean?”
“Yeah. We were talking about…”
“The weather or something, probably. Current events? I think you brought hockey up at one point.”
“Hmm,” said Kevin. “That’s pretty much my entire topic list. Unless you’re interested in hearing how I feel about tigers.”
“Oh, yeah. I’ve got lots of opinions about them.”
“Well they’re terrifying, for one thing. Any cat that can fit my head inside its mouth or that weighs more than I do is just a little too big, by my standards. Shere Khan is maybe the creepiest Disney villain of all time. And orange? What kind of animal would want to be orange? Orange is the colour of carrots and, well, oranges. Who decided to associate tigers with fruits and vegetables? It doesn’t make any sense. Not to mention that vertical stripes are a major fashion faux pas.”
Esther laughed aloud. “So you’re a fashion expert?”
Kevin smiled goofily. “Enough of one to know that stripes make tigers look silly!”
“I thought most guys liked tigers. Because of the big predator thing and all that. Did you have a bad childhood experience at a zoo or something?”
“No, not that I remember. You should hear Andy’s tiger story, though.”
“It’s complicated, but basically a tiger grabbed his arm and ran off with it, and he had to spend like two weeks searching through a forest trying to find it back.”
“No word of a lie! I was there when it happened, and I had to help him with the searching. It was pretty crazy.”
“Where did that happen?”
Kevin shook his head. “It’s not my story. I can’t steal his thunder! If you want all the details, you’ll have to ask him.” Besides, it had happened while he and Andy were doing a job for Ian Innis, and tonight wasn’t the right time to tell Esther about any of that.
“Does Andy have a lot of crazy stories like that?” asked Esther.
“A few. He’s done some pretty, uh, ‘weird’ things. Related to his job most of the time.”
“Maybe I’ll ask him for some of his stories next time we hang out.”
“Yeah,” said Kevin, “you should.”
“But tonight,” said Esther, “I want to hear more about you. We’ve been through some pretty interesting stories of our own lately, but we haven’t really taken much time to get to know one another. In a lot of ways we’re practically strangers. So, spill the details. Who are you, Kevin Cox?”
“Wow,” said Kevin. “That’s heavy. Where should I start?”
“The beginning tends to be a pretty good place. Tell me about your family. What it was like being a kid who could summon bacon out of thin air?”
So Kevin told her. He described his childhood, his adolescence, the first time he created bacon out of nothing, the struggles he went through after high school when he was trying to figure out what to do with his life… And Esther related her story, in return, sharing about her relationship with her brothers Caleb and Max, Caleb’s jealousy of Max’s ability to draw patterns of light in the air with his fingers, the car accident as a teenager when she had discovered her own special ability, Caleb’s growing resentment, the court case and the restraining order, the move to Victoria with Max to escape Caleb’s escalating violent tendencies.
“Then Caleb came to Victoria and found us,” said Esther, wrapping things up. “You know the rest. You were involved. He really wanted to kill me and Max. The fact that we were special and he wasn’t ate him up inside, and now he’s in that prison ward, strapped down on a bed… It’s hard, trying to figure out how to feel about it all.”
“Yeah, I can imagine,” said Kevin. “But at least you guys are safe now.”
“It’s good to have a friend here in Victoria to share this with,” said Esther. “I know my parents in Vancouver are just a ferry ride away, but sometimes it feels like it’s a lot farther.”
“I’m here to listen whenever you need me,” said Kevin sincerely.
“Thanks, Kevin. It means a lot. You’re a special guy.”
“Shh,” said Kevin, looking over his shoulder conspiratorially. “I like to keep the ‘special’ thing a secret, you know.”
Esther giggled. “Oh, right. Your secret is safe with me!”
She looked up, and their gazes met. They smiled into each other’s eyes for three seconds, five, ten.
Their food arrived, and this time the waiter definitely gave them each a wink.