Hypotheticals, Chapter One

There existed a little Italian restaurant, that sat along the edge of a long and lonely highway by the sea. The highway was one of weary travelers, that climbed a small cliff, wove between large old oaks, past said restaurant, and continued along the rocky shore until reaching a small town that existed solely for those too tired for further driving, and consisted of those who never gathered the strength to drive again. They lived by the ocean, most making their money by fishing and farming. It was a quaint little place, where permanent residents didn’t leave, not for any circumstances, except to eat at the little Italian restaurant.

This little Italian restaurant sat on the lower edge of the cliff, with the icy brine of the ocean hitting the rocky outcrop about twenty feet below them. When you sat in the place, you could stare into the candle on your table, swill your wine in its glass, and imagine you dined on the coast of Italy, the waves of the Mediterranean setting the relaxed atmosphere.

When the residents of the small town left their nice old bubble for the restaurant, atmosphere was only part of the reason they went. The food, mainly, was the greatest thing of the place. Homemade spaghetti, kneaded and cut by hand each morning, tender chicken that spent a whole night marinating, locally grown eggplant so succulent it melted in your mouth. When men sat down with their gnocchi di ricotti topped with fresh pesto, risotto so creamy it constituted a meal, or bread that crackled when broken with a center softer than candy floss, they drank their cheap wine and ruminated that the food in that shack on the cliff by the sea was better than the food in Italy itself.

People didn’t know of the place before they ate there. And most only ate there by chance. The restaurant had no name; outside, a little neon sign read ‘Italian’ and nothing more. None of the residents ever bothered asking if it had a name, and they referred to it as ‘The Italian Place’ or ‘That Shack’ or ‘The Place On The Cliff By The Sea,’ but most never referred to it at all, for they never needed to speak of a place they all knew of.

The year was 1953. The weather was cold and harsh. The waves hit the cliff by the sea.

A traveller drove down a dark road, and squinted to see the asphalt just beyond his headlights. The radio had long turned to static, the motor hummed, his breathing was shallow. The earth around his car felt still, and he felt as though he was the only occupant of the planet, and that all of life would be silence now. This was an isolated little cliff he’d found during his voyage to nowhere.

He suddenly noticed a light in the distance, next to the road. A little shack with a little neon sign. He slowed to read it, found the word ‘Italian’, and peered through the curtains to see a couple of small tables, with a few people eating around them. He sighed and considered how much change he had in his pocket, then the growl of his stomach. He pulled into the parking lot reluctantly, then stepped out into the cold and the wind before rushing into the shack.

The place was shockingly warm, hot even, and he pulled off his coat as he sat by the bar. Looking around at the place, he saw walls painted this earthy terra cotta color, and that the whole place was lit up by candles placed at every table. Though the curtains facing the road had been drawn, those at the back were left open, showing the deep abyss of ocean stretching on and on. He looked over to the people in the place; all burly men who’d slipped out of coats and hats and had taken off their belts to sit and eat together. They were probably fishermen, and they looked oddly exposed in only their undershirts and denim jeans. Some had even slipped off their thick rubber boots, leaving only well-worn socks.

A waitress in a little yellow dress came by as he sat at the counter, diverting his attention.

“Coffee, please.” He said, pulling a wallet from inside his cheap suit. She poured a cup as he placed some coins on the counter.

“Anything else?” She asked, and after he shook his head, she asked “Are you sure?”

“Maybe after my next paycheck, doll.” He said with a polite smile, and she nodded and walked into the kitchen, doors swinging behind her. He loaded his drink with sugar and cream, then sat in silence, listening to the men around him. They were mostly silent, chewing on their steaks and pastas. Sometimes they’d talk about a barge or fish, but it was mostly some comforting little quiet.

The waitress returned, holding a little blue bowl, steam rising from it. It matched the mug he drank from, and was just as old and worn.

“Risotto on the house. Chef insists.” She said, and set the rice down in front of him. He had to admit he was starving. She handed him a fork and he took it, then took a bite, feeling instantly warmed all over.

“Send him my compliments.” He muttered, then settled into his food contentedly. He felt his cheeks burning pink with how hot the place was, and slipped off his black blazer, tucking it onto his lap before loosening his thin black tie and unbuttoning the top button on his crisp white dress shirt, wrinkled from being worn so long. He mulled over his thoughts as he ate that heavenly little meal; he’d drove down the east coast, then all across the south, now he was working his way up the west.

The waitress returned and refilled his coffee.

“Thank you, Jen.” He looked at her name tag, then poured in some more cream.

“Gin.” She corrected as she walked away, and he heard someone from the group of men snigger behind him, but he payed no attention.

After his silent meal was done and his coffee cold, he left the tiny place, shivering when he was hit with the freezing air. He ran to his car, long legs looking awkward, and sat down behind the wheel quickly. He had hoped the coffee would wake him up long enough to keep him driving, but he was still bone tired, especially after that little bowl of rice. And he certainly couldn’t afford to go the next town over and pay for a room. He listened to the waves and the howling wind and could only consider what a great spot this would be to sleep. The man had no choice but to give up with a sigh, so he pulled off his shiny shoes, sat them on the passenger’s seat, then climbed awkwardly into the back seat of that old Ford, and wrapped himself up in the blanket that resided there, and quickly fell into a wonderful, soothing sleep, badly needed.

. . . 

He awoke to a dim light flooding through the windows, the sky grey and overcast. With a stretch and a groan, he shoved the blanket off him and grabbed his shoes from the front seat. Tying them up and stepping out, he was hit by the cold, and shivered as he looked down the mountain. He hadn’t realized how close the parking lot next to the restaurant was to the cliffside; he was about twenty feet from falling to his death. Unnerved, he turned and stepped toward the Italian joint, seeing a man in jeans and a leather jacket having a smoke outside the place.

“Where can a fellow take a piss around here?” He asked the man gruffly. The smoker gave him a quick glance and nodded, looking back at the stretching road.

“In the restaurant.” He pointed his thumb. “Door’s open.”

He thanked the man and walked in, finding that the shack must’ve been built long ago, because there were no lights in the place, only melted candles everywhere and the soft light coming in from the windows. There was an oil lamp in the bathroom, and he suspected there would be some in the kitchen too, but he didn’t stay long, finding the little shack far colder than it was the previous evening. He washed his hands and walked out, seeing the man in the same spot, now moved on to his next cigarette.

“Can I bum one?” He asked, straightening his tie.

The man nodded and pulled a silver cigarette case from his inner pocket, handing one over. Then he tossed his Zippo, and they smoked in silence for a moment. The smell of cigarettes and salty air mixed with this tinge of fry oil, something that reminded the traveler of walking down the boardwalks of New Jersey and breathing in funnel cakes and cigars. Something clicked in his head.

“You’re the cook, right?” He asked, and examined the man. His brown hair was gelled back, not as neat as his own but more loose, with a few locks falling in front of his face. He wasn’t clean shaven — though neither was the traveller, both had stubble on their face, it was just that the traveller’s came from long nights and no hotel rooms. But the cook was far more pale, and had bright blue eyes to contrast his own dark brown.

“Yeah, I’m the cook.” He nodded passively.

“Thanks for that free grub last night.” He said, and the cook nodded.

“We’ve all been low.” And the traveller nodded now.

“Anson.” He extended his hand. The cook tossed his cigarette to the side and shook it.

“Heath.” He replied. “What do you do?”

“I’m a bible salesman.” Anson replied. Heath raised his brow.

“You drive a lot for that?”

“All the time. All across the country.” Anson replied, warming up to him a bit.

“That’s why you’re way out here.” He said, understanding. “What kind of bibles you sell?”

“Nice family bibles. Good old King James.” He tossed his cigarette and rubbed his freezing hands together.

“How much they go for?” Heath asked him, and Anson smiled a bit.

“A lot. Five sixty-five a pop.”

“Shit.” Heath said with a chuckle. “Well you know what, bible man? A nice holy book to pay for a man’s meals and hotel room seems like a damn good deal to me. Grab me one of those and I’ll buy.”

“Wha–” Anson asked, astounded, but Heath had already rushed back into the Italian place with nothing but a clap on his back. He walked back to his car, shivering in the cold, then opened the trunk and pulled out one of the thick, ornate bibles he made his living off of, and followed the cook into the restaurant.

He entered to find the cook behind the bar handling some bills, and the waitress in her yellow uniform striking a match for the candles. As he walked over, the chef shot him the smallest possible smile, then looked to the waitress.

“This ‘just coffee’ cat’s a bible seller.”

“Oh, let me see.” She extended her hand and he gave her the book. Her eyes went wide. “It’s beautiful.”

“Five sixty-five.” Heath said and held out the money. Anson held out his hand and Heath poured in the bills and change. 

“Thank you kindly.” Anson said, shoving it in his pocket. “I guess I’ll be off then.”

“Well you drive safely dear, good luck to you.” Gin said with a nod, and took off to the kitchen.

“Yeah, good luck.” Heath said quietly, shutting the register’s drawer.

“You know if there’s a place in the next town where I can get a map?” Anson asked, thinking of the refreshments he needed before he went on his way.

“Joe’s General Shack. Big sign, can’t miss it.” Heath answered, and Anson thanked him and left without another word.

. . . 

The next town was only a minute’s drive away, the nameless home of the fishermen who ate at the little Italian shack. The roads were dirt and the buildings were old wood warped by the sea air. Anson parked in front of a real old job, the paint peeling away from the ‘Joe’s General Shack’ sign posted on top. He walked in, and was minding the dirt on his shoes and running his fingers through his gelled hair when he approached the cashier and grabbed a map from the stand on the counter.

“Morning.” Said the clerk.

“Morning.” He replied, walking around the shop. “Got a weather report?”

“Where ya headed?” Asked the clerk as Anson grabbed a bottle of Coke.

“North.” He put the coke and map on the counter and walked amongst the shelves once again.

“Let me pull up the wire.” He grumbled, and started shifting around a pile of papers underneath the counter.

Anson didn’t respond and instead grabbed some snacks for the road. Twisties, Moon Pies, can of Planters, Ray Rogers cookies. Not as good as last night’s meal, but at least he’d be filled up. He placed them on the counter as the clerk winced.

“North, huh? Big storm coming. Hundred miles up should be the eye around four.”

“Goddamn.” Anson sighed. He couldn’t cross the mountains in bad weather, he and his car wouldn’t stand a chance. “Trying to avoid the coast in foul weather.”

“I bet if you don’t hit traffic you could pass through before it makes landfall.” Said the clerk. “I’m not a betting man, either, but traffic’s rare around here and you seem to have room for error.”

“I guess I’ll chance it.” Anson said as the man placed his items in a brown bag. 

“I think you’ll be fine. ‘Sides, it’s headed north, so if it hits you real bad you can turn ‘round and head down here no trouble. A dollar even.”

“Alright.” Anson handed him the bill and thanked him. “Wish me luck, Joe.”

“How’d you know my name?” Asked old Joe with a wild smile, and Anson said nothing, but left with a cheery expression.

. . . 

He didn’t even hit traffic. Just a wall of rain thick as a sheet, hung over him like some goddamn laugh-fest from up above. Of course he had to get fucked by the weather, of-fucking-course. He made a decent attempt at trying to drive through, but the road was soaked and his tires were slipping all over the place, and far too close to the mountain’s edge for his comfort. So he turned and headed back to town, until all he saw was a drizzle and the warped wood buildings yet again, a day of driving wasted. 

It was already late, far too late to go find a room, so he decided to park in the lot he picked last night, and drove up to that little Italian place. Once he parked his car, he debated going into the joint for some grub, something a little better than peanuts and cookies. He finally decided he wouldn’t buy a big meal, but he would use the bathroom, and walked through the drizzle to the door.

Stepping inside, he found the place empty, save Gin, who was wiping down a table. She looked up to him, and he was suddenly a little flustered.

“Sorry miss, didn’t realize you were closed.” He made to shut the door, but the waitress held up her hand.

“We’re not, come on in.” He nodded in thanks. “Thought you were headed out of here.”

“Got stopped by some real bad weather, decided to turn back.” Anson said, closing the door behind him. “May I use the restroom?”

“Sure thing, doll.” She said pleasantly, and he excused himself.

He found once again that the place was loaded up with candles, and all the curtains closed except the ones on the window that faced the sea. Because it was so late and the world so dark, again the ocean spread out like some deep ravine. But he took his quick piss and stepped out, all rearing to go until someone called out to him.

“Bad weather, huh?” He turned to see Heath standing at the kitchen door.

“Yessir.” He paused, thinking he ought to go, but the room was as warm as last night, and he’d like some warmth before he went to sleep. “Don’t suppose I could get a cup of joe?”

Gin heard that request and went behind the counter, grabbing a little blue mug as Anson sat at a barstool. Heath said nothing as the cup was poured, but moved aside politely when Gin went into the kitchen for some cream.

“Want anything to chow down on?” Heath asked, but Anson shook his head. “You sure?”

“Trying to save up.” Anson said, and Heath pondered that a moment.

“Look, I’m already going to whip something up for Gin and myself. If you like, I’ll make you a plate too, and you can do the dishes and take the cot in the kitchen. Then you won’t owe me a thing.”

“I guess.” Anson replied. “Why the cot, though?”

“It’s better than a cold car.”

Anson felt a little flush at that. Maybe he was a trifle embarrassed that he’d been caught by another fellow sleeping in the back of a Ford instead of in a hotel room, or a real home like the rest of the normal folk. Maybe he just felt a little surprised at being cared for.

“Go sit down, I’ll fix us all something.” Heath said, and Anson returned to his barstool as Gin returned with the cream.

“No need to be formal, sugar, you can take off that tie. You must be suffocating.” Gin said with a smile as she went back to cleaning tables, and Anson had to agree. His full suit was a bit much compared to Heath’s undershirt and denim jeans, what with the heat of the place. He pulled off his coat and tie, rested them on the back of his chair, and unbuttoned the top buttons on his wildly wrinkled shirt.

He sat and listened to the clinking of pots and pans in the kitchen, and Gin’s near-silent footsteps as she walked from table to table. He turned to see her holding a razor blade, scraping up candle wax.

“You need help?” He asked, nothing better to do.

“Yes actually, can you scrape up some wax?” He walked over to her, and she handed him the blade and walked away. He leaned it against the old wooden table and scraped up the pools of hardened wax around the group of candles that sat on the table, still lit and melting. She returned silently, from a supply closet or the like across the kitchen (that would be the wall directly next to the parking lot on the side of the building) and set down a tin bucket.

“We throw the wax into the bucket.” She said, picking up the hardened stuff and tossing it in. “Then that wax goes into making a new candle. Eventually we add new wax to the mix.”

“Where’d you learn that?” Anson asked, and tossed a handful into the bucket.

“You pick these things up.” Gin answered simply. “And it’s nice to have a hobby.”

“Why put them here though? Why not keep them home?” They picked up their blades and bucket and moved to the next table.

“I do keep them home. But I make a lot, and this place gets cold, so I put them out here too.” She said conversationally, and Anson stayed silent, wondering if he should voice his next question.

“So how’d you end up working here?” He asked her after a moment of silence.

“God dammit!” She cried out, but not to him. She quickly put down her blade, and he saw that she’d drawn blood from her finger. He instantly regretted distracting her.

“Shit, I’m sorry.” He said, putting down his own blade and reaching out for her hand, but she pulled away, pinched down her own finger, and hissed a little.

“It’s fine, it’s barely bleeding.” She said, a little wobble in her voice from the pain. “I’ll go bandage it up.”

She took off to the kitchen where Anson assumed the bandages were, and he picked up his blade and kept scraping, though he now felt a little guilty. But he was only at it for a minute before he heard the doors swing open again, and saw the chef walk out with a steaming plate.

“Come and eat.” He called out, and Anson halted his work and sat at the counter. As Heath grabbed three forks and three knives from underneath it, Gin returned, holding two plates. 

“Are you alright?” He asked her, and she nodded. She set down the plates in front of them and sat next to Anson. Heath grabbed the stool in front of the cash register and sat opposite.

“What is this?” Anson asked, examining his plate. “It looks incredible.”

“Mashed potatoes topped with pork chops and a warm winter frisee salad with a concord grape vinaigrette. I mean, vinaigrette is debatable, it’s the sauce for the pork chop but I thought it would go nice with a salad so—”

“It’s wonderful.” Gin interrupted, and Heath flushed, which was as much emotion as Anson had ever seen on the man. He was glowing with pride, even if he looked a bit embarrassed to be the center of attention.

Anson settled into his meal and groaned aloud at his first bite. The potatoes melted like butter, the pork was juicy with an amazing crust, the sauce was tangy from the vinegar and fruity from the grapes, yet still delightfully savory.

“This is so good.” He said with another groan, and Heath smiled a little, but kept his head down.

“Thank you.” Heath mumbled, and Anson could sense that he was a naturally bashful man.

“You know, if you’re gonna stay the night, you oughta shave.” Gin said with a teasing smile. Anson rubbed his stubble and grinned.

“I’ve got traveler’s shadow, I admit.” He said. “But the chef here’s not shaven a bit.”

“Hey, I look good with a beard.” Heath joked, and Gin giggled. He pulled out his comb to manage his slicked-back hair, probably disheveled from a hairnet, and picturing it made Anson grin to himself. He took another bite and groaned once more.

“Is this on the menu?” He asked, and Gin nodded while Heath chewed.

“Only the fall menu.” Heath swallowed and answered. “But replace the salad and plain potatoes with roasted vegetables and mashed maple sweet potatoes.”

“It’s my favorite.” Gin said, and Heath nodded. “You make it just for me?”

“Don’t flatter yourself, we needed to use up the pork.” Heath said, and Gin playfully smacked his arm. “I still think using the sauce for a warm vinaigrette could make its own salad, though.”

Anson hummed as he scarfed down his food, interested in the way the chef thought of food and what could be done with it.

“Frisee, fennel, maybe some pickled beets and eggs.” Heath said thoughtfully to himself, and Anson screwed up his face.

“Pickled eggs?” He asked, astounded, and Gin laughed.

“Yeah!” Heath fought back. “The blank pallet pairs great with the brine! They’re a pub staple in England.”

“You’ve been to England?” Anson asked, and Heath sunk back a little.

“No, I read it in a book.” Heath said, and Gin noticed his discomfort. He was clearly not often the one leading the conversation, and she saved him the brief stumble and quickly cut in.

“And once we had a man from London pass through.” Gin quipped. “I asked him, and he said they were always on the shelf but no one ever ate them.”

Anson laughed at that, and Heath just grinned.

“Scallops!” Heath said suddenly, clearly to himself, then pulled a notepad from beneath the counter and began to scribble something down in unkempt writing.

“He’s always thinking of recipes.” Gin leaned over and said to Anson. “Writes them down on scraps, experiments with them later.”

“Is he a chef or a mad scientist?” Anson asked with a quirk of his brow, and Gin smiled through a bite of mashed potatoes.

“A bit of both, I’m afraid.” She said with a smile as Heath ripped the page and stuffed it into the front pocket of his apron. “He calls them his ‘hypotheticals.’”

“They don’t always come out so good.” Heath said, and Gin leaned back into her seat. “But they’re fun to try.”

“And ridiculous, at times. How long has that pot of garlic been sitting in our stove?” Gin asked, playfully cruel.

“Only two weeks!” Heath replied defensively. “That’s how they make them in Korea!”

“Well they better taste good, for the smell they’ve been giving off.” Gin teased, but it was light and cordial. “I know this is an Italian place, but really, that was some strong garlic.”

“It’s faded now.” Heath smiled. “Must be almost done. But this place’ll still reek of garlic when we’re dead and gone.”

“Nothing wrong with that.” Anson murmured, and Heath nodded. “Say, you hear about that prison on Devil’s Island closing down?”

“The last of many french prisons.” Heath said. “Apparently there weren’t many inmates to move, the place was so run down.”

“Imagine that big empty place, all stone walls and drafts.” Gin said wistfully. “A dark island with a hard past, ripe for exploring, ready for adventure.”

“You seem pretty fond of tall tales.” Anson observed.

“I dabble.” She answered, and Heath grinned.

“She likes the prison stories. We’re so far north of Alcatraz, but she still likes to imagine break-outs.” Heath said, and Anson laughed.

“I can’t help it! Ol’ Machine Gun Kelly and Al Capone and Creepy Karpis all behind the same bars, it’s so exciting!” She practically jumped from her seat as she clapped her hands together. Then she made a funny face, in the form of a winking eye and a lilting grin.

“Yeah, see?” She said in a nasal voice, and Anson laughed. Heath quickly set down his fork and brought his hands up as though holding a rifle.

“I’m glad to see ya, slim, but my tommy gun ain’t.” He replied in an equally nasal tone, and pointed his imaginary gun towards her.

“If you’ve got the moxie, ya goon.” Anson cut in then, and held up two fists in faux defense.

“Now how ‘bout you blow this stand before ya get the big sleep.” Gin threatened, and Heath threw up his hands in surrender.

“Alright, alright, you’ve got me.” He said with a soft smile. “Blow this stand?”

“That’s what they say!” Gin said, and Anson snorted.

“Sure they do.” He answered with a grin. “You guys done eating?”

“God, no.” Anson said, and defensively pulled his plate closer to his chest. Heath smiled again, complimented by his enjoyment, and they all sat in silence for a moment, with only the sounds of their knives against their plates and the distant crashing of the ocean waves to fill their ears.

“I’ve got to go to town soon.” Gin commented conversationally. “I’m running low on candle wax.”

“Thought you had another week?” Heath asked, and Gin nodded.

“Just wanted to warn you. The weather’s being so unpredictable lately, I’m not sure if I should go earlier or what.” She said thoughtfully, and Anson watched her think to herself. It had been so long that he’d been on the road, he’d forgotten people’s mannerisms, the humanity in simple conversation. Not just having a laugh with a random waitress, but the normalcy of just sitting and talking. His loneliness was suddenly a touch more pronounced.

“We have no storage space.” Heath distracted him from his thought. “We just got our last batch of squash. Wait awhile, I’m sure the weather’ll be fine.”

Gin nodded begrudgingly at that.

“Weather turned him around.” She noted and pointed her fork to the traveller.

“Just for tonight.” He replied. “But there was no way I could drive in that. Rain like a wall. Could’ve drowned if I rolled down the window.”

“Well, it could’ve happened in a worse place.” Gin said with a kind smile, and as he returned it, Heath stood and took their plates.

“Let me help.” He said, about to stand as well, but Heath shook his head.

“You’ll help later when you clean them. Let me grab dessert.” He answered, and went back into the kitchen.

Even though Anson had just eaten, his mouth watered at the thought of tasting an authentic Italian dessert. He looked over to Gin to see the expectancy in her expression; it was only a testament to how good the food was, the fact that a woman who ate it all the time was still so excited for it.

“Let me work on these candles a little more.” She stood and gave him a wily grin. “I can’t possibly take the anticipation.”

“I’ll help.” He said, and followed her back to the tables.

“As long as you don’t slice up my hand again.” She joked, and Anson was relieved to realize she held no ill will towards him for his earlier slip up. He quietly picked up his razor blade and scraped at some wax, and they worked together in comfortable silence.

Heath returned only a moment later, with two shallow bowls in each hand and one balanced precariously on the crook of his arm, and Gin stood in a rush and took that one from him.

“You make it look easy.” He said to her in an appreciative tone as he set one dish in front of Anson, and the other at his own place. Then he reached under the counter and handed them both a spoon.

Anson sat patiently with wide eyes as he examined the jelly-like white pudding and the cherries and sauce beneath it; a shard of nut brittle that jutted from the top tied the dish together. Heath must’ve noticed.

“Panna cotta sitting on a bed of morello cherries poached in star anise-spiced red wine, and topped with coffee almond brittle.” Heath explained the dish, and Anson looked at it appreciatively.

“Panna cotta?” He asked as he lifted his spoon and Heath sat.

“It’s like Italian Jell-O.” Gin said, and Heath gasped and put a hand to his chest.

“Italian — Italian Jell-O?” He asked in astonishment, and Gin stifled a giggle. “How dare you?”

“Well hold on, let’s get a review before we fight this battle again.” She said, and turned to Anson.

He cut through the gelatinous white pudding with the side of his spoon, like silk, and scooped it up with half a pitted cherry before biting in. The neutrality of the firm yet creamy panna cotta perfectly complimented the steaming cherries, their deep flavor, and the cinnamon-like spice of the star anise.

“Oh my god.” He said simply around a mouthful of fruit, and Heath beamed once more.

“You’d think he’d get used to this praise by now.” Gin said as she dug into her own dish. Anson only nodded as he pulled out the shard of brittle and took a bite.

“This is so good.” He said with a crunch as he savored the deep coffee flavor and the way it complimented the red wine.

“Thank you.” Heath said quietly, yet he still beamed.

“It’s gelatin and heavy cream. Remind you of anything?” Gin asked with a quirk of her brow, and Heath pointed his spoon as her.

“It’s a type of pudding, it’s nothing like that disgusting lime garbage—”

“It’s exactly like it, it’s just a fancier version!” Gin cut in. “Anson, back me up—”

“What, don’t drag him in!” Heath grinned. “In Japan they use agar-agar to make something far more comparable—”

“But that’s seaweed! I’m talking gelatin!” Gin fought back, and Anson felt an incredible sense of endearment for the pair. 

“And I’m talking good food!” Heath countered, then, sheepishly added: “Not to be a snob.”

“After making a meal like this, you have every right to be a snob.” Anson said earnestly, and Heath grew shy yet again, and merely smiled down at his plate.

“I’m too tired to fight. But you better believe I’ll bring up the Great Jell-O Debate next time we eat this.” Gin said, and Heath rolled his eyes.

“A mousse or a chiffon pie has gelatin, you know.” Heath said, but Gin, her mouth stuffed, shook her head.

“Too late, can’t fight me, too tired. I’m fading away as we speak.” She dramatically held her hand to her forehead, and Heath let out a huff, but it wasn’t a harsh one.

“Well finish dessert and you can get going.” Heath said, nearly done with his own meal.

“Look at this, trying to push me out the door.” She said, but Anson could hear the weariness of her voice and knew she’d rather go home than stay around much longer, so he obliged her.

“I’ll start with my dish.” He stood, plate empty and stomach bursting, and Heath did the same.

He walked to the kitchen, and Anson followed him through the steel kitchen doors. Inside, he found a large gas stove, a refrigerator, and a basin with a small stack of dishes in it, but not much else he recognized. A few other large pieces of equipment, but clearly professional grade, nothing familiar to him. As Heath led him towards the basin, he spotted a small cot in the corner, and he felt a rush of gratitude at being able to sleep in a warm building instead of a cold car.

“Few sponges, plenty of soap.” Heath said as he put the dish into the sink. “There are rags under here for drying, and the plates get stacked over there.”

“Fair enough.” Anson said, and set his own plate in.

“I’ll check on you in a bit.” Heath said, and now without cheerful company seemed to fade back into the restrained gentleman Anson had first met earlier in the day. He then walked out, and Anson cleaned without qualms, too grateful for the cot to be even the least bit upset about dirty dishes.

By the time he’d finished, Heath hadn’t come to check on him, so he washed his hands and exited the kitchen to find the cook sat at a table, eyes on a book. Gin had to’ve slipped out while he was tidying up, as the razors and bucket of wax were gone and the candles all blown out, save for the one in front of Heath. When Anson swung the kitchen door open, he looked up and nodded curtly.

“The appliances are hooked up to a generator.” Heath said. “So if you need water in the night, stuff in the fridge is cold.”

“Alright. Promise I won’t mooch.” Anson said with a courtesy smile, and Heath shifted uncomfortably.

“I’m downstairs if you need me. But the door’s locked.” He said, and Anson nodded.

“Course. Ya gotta be careful when you’ve got random travelers around. You never know, nowadays.” He answered, and Heath seemed relieved that he hadn’t come off rude.

“Well, goodnight.” Heath mumbled, and closed his book. There was a spiral ham on the cover, and were they closer friends, Anson would’ve laughed aloud at the knowledge that Heath read cookbooks in his spare time, for fun it seemed. But he only nodded and returned to the kitchen.

He had really taken a shine to Heath and Gin. Heath was reserved, surely, but he admired that solemness, even if it only partially existed because the fellow was shy. Gin was cordial as well, formal as a waitress yet pleasant company in a casual setting. They were clearly kind, clearly generous, to sit with a stranger and trade food for favors without hesitation. Yes, he couldn’t help himself but to indulge in human company after so long doing nothing but his business with the bibles, and who better to do it with. He really liked them.

And they didn’t know shit about Devil’s Island.

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