The annoying chime of my phone wakes me up what feels like moments after my head hits the pillow again, but the dastardly device lets me know it’s actually early in the afternoon—what usually constitutes an early morning for me. It’s a text from Kelly, letting me know that she’s a bit under the weather and if I could please get her some chicken soup from the Asian place around the corner. Not the one with the overflowing dumpsters that must be some kind of money laundering scheme as their food is inedible and I’ve never seen a single customer enter or leave that place. The restaurant she’s referring to serves authentic Korean cuisine and is actually amazing. Just thinking about their menu makes me salivate—and reignites the stomach aches from earlier, reminding me that I haven’t eaten anything is close to twenty-four hours.
With my mind still foggy from sleep and getting woken way too early by the harpy and the army hottie, I’m stunned when it takes me three tries to load up any of the myriad of food delivery apps on my phone, and not a single one of them works well enough for me to order. The connection issues from yesterday must still be going on, although the patchy reception was good enough for Kelly’s text to get through.
Glaring through a crack in my blinds, I hate the very concept of having to go out there to get the food myself, but at least I can order at the place by text as well—on the second try. Our usual five orders: Kelly’s soup, then the dish Kelly will actually be eating—because she’s one of those girls who asks for “just one fry” and will then go on to demolish an entire super-sized meal. My dish, Mario’s dish, and dessert that we always split.
Did I appear to be aloof and unfriendly with Kelly this morning? She knows me that before noon, I’m not to be trifled with. She’s actually a good friend—or as good a friend as forced friendships go that you develop with chatty neighbors. Mario’s the third part in our little triumvirate. He has great aspirations to become a stuntman but makes a decent living as a personal trainer and bartender. He lives in the apartment above Kelly’s, which is great for them since that means that he can just scamper down the fire escape to her for a booty call. Which happens often—way too often for how thin the walls in this building are.
But I digress.
It’s my turn to get the food, and since deliveries seem to be a no-go today, it looks like I’ll have to brave the heat and get our meal the old-fashioned way.
I spent some minutes moping to myself but am actually not too unhappy about the turn of events. The quickest route to the restaurant is right by Mike’s Deli, so I get to snoop and don’t have to rely on second-hand information.
That turns out as a bust since the empty squad car parked outside the closed-down deli tells me about as much as the—literal—red tape closing off the entrance. It has flashy black biohazard signs all across it. I’m sure Mike must be thrilled about that. From that I can tell, it appears that there used to be more tape but idiots must have cut off parts of it since it looks cool. It does seem like overkill, but then I had a bona fide CDC agent grumping up my doorstep, so there’s that. Since my knowledge about procedure hails from TV shows, I have no way of verifying whether this is normal or scary as fuck.
It still makes the most sense to traipse along quickly, using the sidewalk on the opposite side of the road. Just to make sure.
I’ve been out in the heat for less than ten minutes, but that’s still an eternity too long. I’m a sweaty mess by the time I breeze into my destination, seeing the telltale stack of containers in a flimsy bag already waiting for me on the counter.
Yes! I know there’s a reason why this is my favorite restaurant!
I’m literally a foot away from my bounty when a long arm—clad in black leather—reaches over and in front of me and plucks the bag right off the counter.
Blood-vomiting junkies are one thing. But this? I’m not okay with this!
While most of my mind is screaming in outrage, a tiny part of it draws up short and goes “No way!” in a different manner. Who’d be fucking insane enough to be wearing a black leather jacket in the oven that is L.A. in the summer? One particular recent acquaintance comes to mind.
I can’t fucking believe it when, before I even get a chance to look up and confirm my guess, I hear a deep male voice drawling, “I don’t think so, Weird Girl.”
Not literally—or figuratively—and I’m damn glad that doesn’t automatically makes it over my lips. That’s the one thing that could make the situation worse. The only thing, really, unless there’s a blood-vomiting junkie waiting to get between me and my food yet again.
On second thought, I prefer the junkie.
I take a deep breath as I half-turn to face him, confirming for good that it’s the asshole from last night. The moniker wasn’t just something he keeps throwing around; he has obviously recognized me. He’s smirking down at me with the same arrogance as yesterday, only now with a dash of triumph in the mix.
Yeah, like possibly stealing my take-out food just made his day.
“Sure that’s yours?” I quip, eyeing the bag as if that would give me a hint about the contents. There’s obviously too much food for one person in it.
“Yes,” he says with more assuredness than I could possibly have mustered if I’d watched the meals getting prepared and packed up myself. I can tell that he knows how his statement affects me because he’s not done yet. “Your spring roll or whatever else you ordered is up next.”
I huff, because what else am I supposed to do? I am not one of those women who only eats “authentic food” in air quotes, meaning spaghetti bolognese and chicken lo mein all the damn time.
“They don’t have any on the menu,” I tartly inform him, feeling superior in my knowledge.
His smirk grows.
I know I’m getting served up before I hear the lightly-accented voice of the chef behind me as she brings another large bag to the counter—presumably mine. “I can fix you some pork bulgogi rolls, if you like.” She knows me; she knows I prefer pig over cow. And, to make it worse, she confirms my order. “The same five items you always order, Miss.”
Yeah, so what if I’m a basic bitch. At least the food is good, and the same goes for Kelly and Mario as well. Neither of them would be offended. Kelly would probably laugh it off with a pumpkin spice latte in hand, wearing yoga pants.
I grab my bag, ready to flee, but the asshole isn’t done with his show of superiority. Not only does he refuse any change when he pays for his order—and I know their prices; that just there was a generous tip. He goes as far as to say… something I have no chance of understanding, but it’s likely Korean since the chef titters a laugh as she replies. Judging from how he repeats a part she says more slowly, she gently corrects him on something. He ends with something else with a smile—the universal “thanks & bye.”
Never one to be stingy, I also tip well. I get a friendly but much more neutral response. Of course he doesn’t miss that, either, his smirk blooming toward shit-eating territory.
I don’t know what it is; his superior behavior or the fact that I can tell that he’s laughing at me. Before I can stop myself, I blurt out, “So, did the CDC accost you as well?”
Gasoline to the flames, ladies and gents. Pure gasoline.
He doesn’t even pretend to hide his mirth as he grins in my face. “Right. They got your details because you paid with your registered credit card. Amateur.”
I glare, because what else am I going to say? That apparently everyone but me thought about that? It’s supposed to be a security feature! Or at the very least not something any of us need to worry about on any of the myriad occasions that we pay for something without touching money that’s likely been inside a stripper’s ass crack.
When he realizes I won’t budge, he shrugs, as if that’s just fine by him. “What did that guy have? C’mon. No secrets between friends, right?”
I huff. That we are not. And way to make me feel stupid about my neglect to ask the very question that should have been on my mind the second Agent Slater introduced herself.
“I don’t know.” Nope, the truth does not set me free.
“They didn’t say, huh?”
I shake my head, hoping that implies I asked but they clammed up about it.
“Too bad,” he says, clearly not giving a shit—or at least pretending not to. He must be curious; else, why are we still talking?
Sudden inspiration strikes, although it’s mostly just a fizzle; a last straw my dignity is clinging to.
“If you give me your number, I can tell you, provided they call to let me know.” I’m sure Hottie Mason would tell me. Only problem is, I have no way of reaching him unless he calls me first. But the asshole doesn’t know that.
The man in question snorts—and my, is that one derisive snort. What’s behind it, he is only too happy to share.
“Babe, if you want to hook up, fine with me. But don’t go around making up shit excuses like that.”
Indignation and outrage war inside of me, making me want to hurl the food at him—but then I would have to wait for a new order to be prepared, and I’m not sure we’d both survive this conversation dragging out until then.
“You and your ego can go fuck yourselves,” I utter. Very mature, I know. Also, oddly satisfying.
His lip curls up into what I know will end up being a leer. I’m not wrong. “I’d rather you do that.”
“Fat chance of that ever happening.” I’m proud that my conviction rings true.
Not that he cares, but I’ll take my victories where I can get them.
“Your loss,” he informs me.
I pray that he leaves.
He holds out his hand instead. When I just stare at it stupidly, he snorts. “Give me your phone so I can type it in. I don’t want to miss this chance to random shit like dyslexia.”
I swallow the impulse to be a smart-ass and point out that would be called dyscalculia, probably, and shake my head. “No way I’m giving you my phone.”
“And yet, the CDC showed up at your door.”
“You’re not a federal agent, last time I looked.” At least I hope he’s not. It doesn’t seem likely, unless he’s deep undercover in a biker gang—and I doubt that he’d chat with me about another federal agency if that were the case. Whatever. “Are you from around here?” I hear myself ask, because clearly, I have lost my mind. “You don’t look like it.”
One dark brow shoots up. “And yet, we meet again, less than a day since our last get-together.”
This is getting ridiculous. Maybe insulting him might do. “I’m just wondering. This might not be Sunset Boulevard, but there are no trailer parks around here.”
I can tell the hit lands—if only for a second.
“Did you just call me white trash?” he asks, more amused than anything else.
I do my best to give him my cheekiest smile. “Maybe.”
He shakes his head, laughing under his breath. That’s not what I was aiming for.
Apparently, I just can’t win with this guy.
“Suit yourself,” I quip as I get ready to brave the heat once more.
He’s still grinning as he digs out the receipt and scrawls something on the back. “Since I paid cash, there’s no problem with you having that,” he states as he hands me his number. I don’t look at it; I know it’s on there. I’m certainly not going to say thanks. I can’t wait to check what he ordered, but since it’s likely one of the super unpronounceable specialities, it’s maybe better if I don’t.
“Stay weird, Weird Girl,” he tells me with a last grin as he turns to the door—and, of course, doesn’t hold it for me, instead leaving me standing there in the purgatory between heat blasting in and cool air reclaiming my clammy skin once the door swings shut in my face.