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Aren't You Tired of Being Nice?


Gizmo

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Monday, January 11, 2021

3:26 PM

 

"C'mon, this'll be great!"

 

An offhand comment about being a bit underwhelmed by the variety of vegetarian options in the Claremont Academy cafeteria on Utsuwa's part had been all the excuse his roommate needed to drag them into the downtown of the Freedom City. Ryder promised he knew a little place in Riverside that did every imaginable variation on a lentil bowl under the sun and was evidently worthy of quite a bit more effusive praise even after Utsuwa has assured him he was convinced.

 

The street they were walking down had done its best to fit as many businesses as possible into its limited space, street-front real estate divided and subdivided, skinny little stairways leading up to second floors and hand lettered chalkboard signs competing for space with pedestrians and bicycles. The soundscape was no less overbearing, from the halves of cellphone conversations to the wailing toddler in the stroller across the street, from the young woman busking with an electric guitar on the corner to the mishmash of chimes, bells and electric chirps that sounded as every door opened.

 

From the way he was grinning Ryder might as well have been strolling through a meditation garden. "Look at that blue sky! Hope you're hungry bud, I know how you feel about American portion sizes. Here we go!" He stopped in front of a vertical sign with red block letters on a black background reading 'LentALL'.

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Utsuwa's eyes danced over the crowd scanning and assessing constantly.  It was exhausting but a habit he'd been unable to break.  He carefully measured his breathing forcing himself to remain calm despite the many distractions as he moved through the crowd.  The black coat zipped tightly over his torso was unremarkable devoid of identifying branding likewise the dark jeans and off brand cross trainers below.  Only the borrowed beanie emblazoned with the sigil of one of Ryders favorite cartoon characters deviated from the artfully generic appearance Utsuwa put forth for their journey outside school grounds.

 

His tone was flat as he spared a brief glance for Ryder, "Yes I look forward to a meal not robbed of texture by industrial cooking and eternity in a steamer tray."  he assured his roommate quite proud of his expanded skill at small talk.  Thankfully he was rarely called upon to offer more than token filler in the conversational gaps that so disquieted most American's he had met, Ryder was expert at insuring no silence lasted long enough to become uncomfortable.  "After seitan surprise I think an American portion will be welcome."  he added with a hint of a smile.  He tried to keep the tension from his voice as he spoke, replacing it with his go to combination of teen sarcasm and aloof indifference.  

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"Trying to recreate mystery meat seems misguided on a couple levels," Ryder agreed with the sort of disapproval he reserved for poor culinary service. His puffy jacket looked like its designer had been getting a commission based on how many different coloured stripes could be worked into it while his loosely fitting pants were an orange that didn't occur in nature. He paused for a moment before pushing the door open to give Utsuwa a sidelong glance. "Hey, so, I know being out in the city is still pretty stressful and all for you. It's legitimately impressive that you're just, like, tanking that but if you need to cut out, just say the word, yeah? But for now: food!" He led the way into LentALL before his roommate had to endure the indignity of responding to the heartfelt sentiment directly.

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Utsuwa simply shrugged, "A for effort I guess?"  he suggested with smirk as he took note of the building they were approaching and the neighboring business's and upper floors layouts.  As his roommate paused in the door his eyes fell toward the ground, "Have to get used to it sometime."  he replied with only slight discomfort with the revelation of how poorly he was hiding his discomfort from the enthusiastic teen.  He was glad not to have to meet the other boys eyes in the immediate aftermath certainly.  

 

He followed Ryder into the shop and looked over the posted menu with intense interest.  The smells alone drifting from the kitchens were already making promises he hoped the establishment would be able to keep.   "Any recommendations?"  he asked as he looked over the extensive offerings.  His mouth opened to thank Ryder for all of this then slammed shut as the fellow teen looked at him once more.  Gratitude was one thing, gratitude and eye contact was another level entirely.  "You weren't lying they really do have it all."

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"I usually go for the daily special 'cause I figure that's what the cooks actually felt like making that day and food's always better when the person making it is into it, y'know?" Ryder replied philosophically, resting a knuckle on his chin and nodding. If he'd noticed the specific source of Utsuwa's discomfort he had the good grace not to mention it further. Scrawled in marker on one of the dry erase boards behind the counter the special of the day was a sort of lentil-based pineapple curry with fried cauliflower. Other offerings included build-your-own bowls and bowls themed around being high in protein, low in calories or promoting 'gut health'.

 

"I'm really sorry about the mix-up, sir. We can get that made up again right away," the freckled teenager manning the cash register was telling a customer holding a takeout bag as the boys joined the line.

 

"Hnngh, no, it's fine, it's fine," the man with dishevelled blonde hair told her in a tone that indicated it was anything but. "I can't wait, I'm already running late." His slate grey business suit was a little rumbled, one shirt sleeve sticking out further than it should have from the cuff of the jacket, the collar misaligned on one side.

 

"I can get you a gift card, then--"

 

"It's fine!" he reiterated a little more loudly than would have been polite, snatching up the bag and hurrying his way back out to the street, shouldering past another customer and muttering something under his breath.

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"Your perpetual optimism borders on madness you know."  Utsuwa replied with a small shake of his head and faint smile at the gentle ribbing.  His eyes followed the angry man to the door with a shake of his head and vague disgust on his features as he turned back to the counter.  "I suspect it is not in fact fine."  he murmured under his breath with a shrug but said nothing more about the man who clearly needed more refined anger management techniques.

 

The fit teen looked over the menu arms crossed across his chest and the flat line his mouth fell into left the already rattled cashier dreading the next customer as he perused.  When the time came he stepped forward and ordered succinctly, "I'll take the Green lentil Protein Bowl,"  he pointed to the menu, "Oyster mushrooms and kale yes?"  he added to make sure his order was clear.  He then turned and nodded to Ryder, "And whatever he is having is on me."  he snuck in paying since Ryder had come all this way to get him more palatable food.  His lack of designer wear and simple lifestyle might have suggested he was note well funded but it mostly meant his school stipend went largely unused.

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