Fallon awoke groggy. It was dark outside, but she wasn’t too sure what time it was. I really need to start setting my alarm, she thought, swinging her legs off the bed, willing herself awake. With her stomach grumbling intensely, she got up and made her way to the small kitchen. She opened the fridge door to find nothing. That was hers anyway. Lorena had labeled all of her food, placing them in little plastic containers or zip lock bags with “LORENA” written in sloppy black sharpie. With a sigh she closed the fridge, the humming noise emanating from it now muted with the door closed.

The house was quiet aside from a softly playing radio, so Fallon assumed that Lorena was still at work. Glancing at the clock on the stove, the time read 7:02PM. “Damn. When did I get home?….” she muttered sitting at the kitchen table as she searched through the Hungwah24 app on her phone. After a few moments of searching, she gave up. Nothing close by looked appealing, and the places that did; didn’t even deliver to this part of town. I’ll just…drive around then. Maybe the next town over…see what I can find, she thought dressing quickly in jeans and touching up her makeup before she headed out.

With a twist and a slight push of the key into the ignition, she started her car, a familiar growl greeting her before SZA came on blasting over the speakers. Fallon startled, turning the volume down quickly. She always forgot to turn the radio down when leaving her car, and everytime it scared her. Shaking her head at her own forgetfulness she put the car in gear and made her way down to the main road, onto the expressway.

After nearly 15 minutes driving, she started seeing exit signs for the Spice District and decided to chance it. This was the next closest city, there had to be decent food around. She found metered parking along a side street near the bridge leading out of the city. Locking her car she made her way to the series of food vendors set up in a large plaza.

Seeing the city at night was amazing. She had only been once or twice as a kid, visiting the Science and Space museum with her father who passed a few days before her 15th birthday. Seeing it as an adult felt bitter sweet. This was definitely San Myshuno, with its 20-story office buildings, honking horns, awful traffic and chilling breezes that seemed to cut around corners. So different from her little suburban city of Willow Crest, four hours south, with its large swamps and warm southern air. Fallon wandered around a bit overtaken by the largeness of it all, before she found a Vietnamese food stall across from the pedestrian park. It was still open despite how late it was. Fallon smiled to herself, Omg! I’ve always wanted to try Pho, she thought as the approached the vendor, excited to be trying something new.

“Hello! What can I get you?” the worker behind the counter smiled, waving Fallon over.

“I would like a bowl of beef pho please!” She paused pensively for a moment, “Wait. There’s no pork in it right?”

“The meat?”

“No, the broth”

“Oh, no its beef broth,” the vendor smiled reassuringly,

“Okay great!! One beef pho please!”

“Alright, it will be 14 dollars. Here’s your ticket, your number is 42,” the vendor handed her a small yellow piece of paper, with foreign symbols written next to simlish text. A little smiley face was imprinted in the background with the tagline “thank you for dining!” written in swirly cursive.

Fallon handed over the cash and stood to the side waiting for her food to be ready. As she stood there, she took in the environment around her. It was a cute little area. Very open, with tables for people to sit and eat. There were a few people milling about, but for the most part, it was quiet. She was so entranced by her surroundings that when the vendor called her she nearly jumped in the air.

“NUMBER 42!”

Quickly she returned to the counter, her mouth watering at the smell of her hot meal. “Thank you!” she grabbed the tray containing her dinner, a napkin and a pair of chopsticks and started to walk away.

“There are spoons and forks on the right,” the vendor called out after her.

“Thank you!” Fallon said continuing to walk away finding a seat near by.

I can use chopsticks nooo problem! she thought.

She wasn’t…terrible at using chopsticks but she was also no pro. After a moment of trying to situate her fingers on the chopsticks after a few more noodles had splashed into her bowl for the 5th time, she heard a voice behind her.

“You hold them like this,” a man said as he sat across from her, demonstrating the positioning of his chopsticks. He adjusted his fingers and held them up for her to see. Fallon blushed and changed the positioning of her fingers to match his.

“There you go,” he said smiling and going for a piece of beef that sat on the top of his bowl of pho.

He said nothing else, sitting in silence enjoying his meal. As did Fallon. The silence was awkward. He offered the advice with no follow up. Was she to try to make conversation with this strange man?

“Thank you,” she said out loud, finally deciding to try to drum up a conversation. “I’ve only used chopsticks like…a handful of times. And I swore I had it the last time!” she laughed at herself.

“Muscle memory. Practice makes perfect,” he poked around in his bowl for a moment before giving her a sideways glance.  “But looks like you’ve got it now. Thanks to me,” he boasted, turning take another bite of his food.

Fallon looked at him closely, he was very tan, his skin almost the same complexion as hers. Bristly jet black hair hung slightly onto his face, framing high cheekbones. He hunched over his meal, slurping at rich broth.

“Well. Thank you,” she smiled at the side of his face, he nodded and continued eating.

They sat in silence as she finished her meal. What the hell was she supposed to say?  Maybe he was just being nice and that was it. Hm, she thought, gathering her purse and dirty dishes to take to the trash. He didn’t move or even flinch as she stood, hypnotized by the bowl in front of him.

Once at the trash can she dumped her disposable bowl and looked back at him not sure if she should say anything or just walk away. She caught him gazing at her blankly, and he jumped up as if he had been suddenly shocked,

“I don’t think I caught your name. I’m Mathias,” he scurried over to her.

She answered him cautiously, “I didn’t give it.”

Feeling a bit uncomfortable at the encounter she made a move to walk away. The man was odd. Nothing wrong with odd people. But, it was time to bounce, it was going on 9PM and she had a bit of a drive ahead of her.

“You’re not going to give me your name?”  he called after her, sounding disappointed.

Speaking loudly, she responded hesitantly not bothering to turn around, “Fallon.”

He continued to follow her, asking another question, “I haven’t seen you around here before. Are you new to the area?”

“Yeah, I don’t live in San Myshuno though,” she answered, slowing down to a full stop. No need to lead him to her car.

“Oh really? Well. I could uhm. Show you around sometime? San Myshuno is huge….it’s easy to get lost wandering around”.

“Not all those who wander are lost,” she said smiling to herself for the well-placed reference and for her quick come back.  

“Your a Tolkien fan?!” he looked shocked.

“Yeah, I have a thing or fantasy and sci-fi,”

“Do you know about the bookshop in Brindleton Bay? They sell some choice titles,” he half asked half stated, practically bragging.

She knew there was a bookstore in the area but hadn’t checked it out just yet. With limited funds it made no sense to go buy books when she could check them out for free at the library. Bah. What was the name of it? The name was on the tip of her tongue, she swore she had seen it in an article that she read in the paper one morning.

Lorena subscribed to the Bay Bugle, a small local newspaper that mostly contained coupons and town announcements. There has been an ad for a sale on Mercy Griffin books…..“Uhm. The Fox and the Bookcase right? I think I’ve heard of it.”

“Yes! That is exactly it. They are hosting a book club this weekend! It’s the first meeting of the season. You should check it out,” he responded excitedly.

“I might!” Fallon responded. It would be good for her to start making friends around here. Reading was her favorite past time so why not meet some like minded friends? Despite how odd this man was, a book club certainly couldn’t be too bad.

“Okay then!” he replied, stuffing his hands in his pockets, grinning ear to ear.

“Maybe I’ll see you!” she gave a small wave before turning to head for her car. For real this time.

“Can I call you beforehand?” he called behind her.

She glanced behind her shoulder and saw he wasn’t following her, at least not physically, his eyes were boring a hole into her back…well. Ass more likely.

“I’ll catch ya later!” she waved, she didn’t give out her number to anyone. Certainly not to this guy, she would check out the bookstore and then, maybe if he was there she would see him.

“I’ll see you there,” she turned giving him acknowledgement before continuing on her way. Taking a longer route back to her car, just in case.

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