*Disclaimer: Please remember, this fictional story is still a work in progress and has not been edited. Please forgive any mistakes or mistypes…hopefully they’re minor.
Pulling up in a new town was always a risk. Just because laws had changed didn’t mean that people’s attitudes had changed with them. Most times, Amari could tell the mindset of a town by who was hanging around the gas station and how the attendant reacted. The last town was a hotbed of bigotry and had ended up in the taillights as soon as the gas was done pumping. But Amari was tired of town hopping, and Haviner seemed nice and safe enough for now.
The rinky dink hotel had a bed, hot shower and surprisingly, internet access which were all the requirements Amari had until able to find an apartment. It was a good thing web design could be done remotely or else looking for a job would be in the plans also. Not wanting to draw attention with a greater sense of fashion than most could appreciate, Amari pulled on a pair of loose jeans and graphic tee with a hoodie over it. The outfit was neutral enough and the cooling weather justified the hood if Amari felt the need to hide the odd hair color. It would have been easier to just crash in the bed for the day, but Amari figured it better to get a look around town than waste time if it wasn’t going to be a good fit.
With the way the diner looked on the outside, Amari assumed that the inside would be like stepping back in time. The simple look of the diner would probably turn away most patrons and the boxcar shape promised that it couldn’t hold most of those who decided not to judge a book by its cover. The promise of a near empty restaurant lured Amari forward. The tinted windows didn’t allow Amari to see just how many people were inside before stepping through the door. It was beyond shocking that the place was packed. Frozen like a deer in the headlights, the only thoughts bouncing around where “too many people” and “try to be normal”. A jingling sound had Amari turning on heel and back out the door, before realizing that the sound was the bell over the door and not a signal to attack.
In the rush to flee, Amari didn’t realize there was someone on the other side of the door until it was too late. Bumping into someone stopped the rising panic as ingrained manners took over because it was considered rude to hit and run. Mumbling an excuse, Amari tried to take off around the newcomer, only to be stopped by a tug on the arm. “Wait, you’ve already stepped inside. Aren’t you going to stay and eat?”
Looking up into the most gorgeous chocolate brown eyes ever seen, Amari couldn’t stop a gasp from escaping. They were framed by long lashes and stared out of an extremely handsome mocha face. Thick, luscious lips moved and Amari guessed the majestic individual blocking the way was repeating the question, which of course, required an answer.
“Um, no I’m heading back, um… that way.” Pointing in a random direction over the shoulder, Amari hoped that the attractive stranger wouldn’t try to make any more conversation. Intelligent responses were hard to grasp at the moment.
“But, why? You haven’t eaten yet. Come on in.”
Hell. “I..um..that way.” Double hell. Amari couldn’t believe the rate at which the ability to speak was deteriorating.
“Is it all the people?” Determined not to sound more of a fool, Amari just nodded, not quite paying attention to how easily the stranger picked up on the issue. “Well, don’t worry. We can eat in the back. I know the owners.” The dream stepped into the diner, throwing the last bit over the shoulder along with a smirk and a wink. Curiosity just barely overtook the need to flee. Amari decided to take a chance by following the lovely backside through the diner door.
Amari was usually able to keep nerves in check and project a calm outward appearance, but something, maybe everything, about this situation was disconcerting. Feelings of nervousness fought against the sense of peace being near this stranger gave. Maybe it was a mirage, the perfect world that Amari had so long imagined.
“I’m Tatum, by the way.” Amari rolled the name around, liking how it sounded. Neutral just like Amari. Tatum led Amari around the long counter through the double kitchen doors, stopping to speak with the chef for a moment, then into a small office. Even though the offices held a desk, chairs and couch, it wasn’t claustrophobic. “I hope you’re flexible. Food will be here in a moment.” Amari just shrugged, feeling strangely comfortable but, at the same time not knowing what to say and not wanting to presume by picking a seat. Tatum shook off a light jacket, revealing a black shirt that clung to a long, lean build. Tatum turned back, gesturing toward the couch. “Have a sit down, uh…”
Amari realized in all the chaos, most of which was internal, that the name sharing hadn’t been mutual. “I’m Amari.”
“Amari, nice to meet you.” The name was said as more of a sigh, or caress even, than as a way of calling attention. It served to soothe the nerves even more.
“You too. I mean meeting you. I’m not sure why you did, as I can’t have made a great impression, but thanks for inviting me back.”
“To be honest, it was for purely selfish reasons. There’s something about you. You looked so lovely that I couldn’t let you run away.” With dark skin, Amari was so rarely called out on blushing. The fact that Tatum mentioned how lovely the blush looked didn’t help turn down the heat now spreading down under the hoodie. Amari looked down, unsure of how to handle the attention, especially now that it was all positive.
“So, um, you said you know the owners? Will we be alright in here? I hope we’re not intruding on their space.”
“We’re not intruding, Amari. My partner, Zila and I are the owners of this little hole in the wall.” Amari’s jaw dropped. Right then the chef swept through the open door, quickly setting out a delicious looking spread from the tray, while saving Amari from finding a way to respond to the comment. “Eat up” was barely heard as the whirlwind left, pulling the door closed.
Tatum started plating up food, but Amari was curious as to how the food was cooked so fast, as they hadn’t been in the office long.
“Oh, since I’m here just about the same time every day, ol’ Landry starts on it and surprises me with an assortment of some old recipes and some new things to try out. Here.” Amari took the plate Tatum held out, a little shocked that Tatum had answered the question as if it had been spoken out loud. Amari barely saw the wince as Tatum turned back to the desk. The delicious smells wafting up distracted Amari into writing off the answer and subsequent wince as a fluke. From across the room, the aromas were mouth-watering, but with food in hand, it took a great amount of will power to keep from digging in before the host sat down.
“Oh, yeah.” Tatum popped open a small door Amari hadn’t noticed at first and pulled out a couple of TV trays, before setting water and juice on them. “Sorry about that. This should be more comfortable. Usually when I’m here by myself, I just eat on the desk. So what brings you into town?”
Amari wished manners weren’t so important. A full mouth would give more time to come up with a better answer. Amari couldn’t just blurt out the majority of people hated on principle because of specific choices in romantic partners. It got even worse when hounded about sexual choices, or lack thereof. If the amount of people who couldn’t separate romance from sex was translated to dollar signs, Amari would never want for anything. Where it got downright hairy was when gender expression brought up, usually with a sneer. “Just needed a change of pace” seemed more like a non-answer but that’s what happened to fall out.
An odd look passed over Tatum’s face. “Hmm, I know that story. Well, I’m sure this little place will provide all the change you need for a while. It surely changed my outlook on things.” Once again, Tatum seemed to be able to read more than Amari tried to show since an explanation followed. “I came here to get away from people who’d rather see me dead than happy with the person, or persons I love.”
Amari gasped, realizing more understanding would be found here than originally thought. It was like Tatum could read minds, but other than the blushing Amari never thought about being easy to read. “I thought so. I’ll admit, I watched you crossing from that motel and could tell something was off. You had the look of few people that have passed through. That look that says you think that no one’s on your side. But like I said, there’s something more that made me stop you from leaving. I’d like to get to know you better. And introduce you to my partner, Zila.”
Maybe this little town would provide a new beginning and overshadow all the past pains.