The host greeted us upstairs, a handsome young man but clearly more interested in Imtiaz than he would ever be in me. He didn’t hide it.
“Dinner, party of two?” He directed his question at Imtiaz, furnishing him with a dazzling smile.
Imtiaz smiled graciously accepting the subtle overture without complaint. He instead covered my hand with his own answering in what I was quickly observing as his own distinct signature; liquid warmth with an unmistakable underlying, unyielding steel.
The host, otherwise known as Darryl cocked his head to the side, pursed his lips and snapped his fingers. “Well alright now!” He snatched two menus and sashayed his nonexistent hips through half the restaurant before stopping in the middle.
“This ok?” He posed the question to Imtiaz sans warmth. Guess he wasn’t used to be being ignored. Sorry pal but your gay-dar is off on this one.
Imtiaz turned to me before patting Darryl on the shoulder as if he were a familiar. “Actually my man, I think we would prefer the booth over there on the side.”
I arched an eyebrow in surprise. He answered the question checking me with his eyes for confirmation. I dug it. I was shocked at how utterly comfortable I felt having him in the driver’s seat.
Darryl visibly softened and smiled at us once more. “Sure no problem, follow me.”
Once we were seated opposite each other, Darryl handed us the menus, bracing a hip against the backboard of Imtiaz’s bench. “I’ll send your waiter over to you in a minute; give you a chance to check out the menu and if you need anything my name is Darryl.” He pointed to his name tag “and you know where to find me.”
He nodded curtly and sauntered back to the front albeit less bounce.
I smiled to myself as I opened the menu.
“Why are you smiling?”
Damn, does this cat miss anything?
“I just thought you handled yourself well.” I revealed honestly.
“You talkin’ bout’ dude?” He dropped his menu flat and leaned forward waiting for my answer.
“Yes. I thought he was a bit much but I see that you have a way of putting people at ease, making them more compliant. It’s quite a gift.” I remarked.
His forehead wrinkled as he gave it some thought. He shrugged his shoulders reacquiring his menu. “I guess.” He replied dismissively.
My eyes widened at the sudden mood change. Had I hit a nerve? I couldn’t imagine why. Before I could react any further he suddenly dropped his menu and reached across to lay my menu flat to the table. He had my attention.
“I assume my brother, being that you two are pretty tight, he told you about me right?” He wasn’t asking. His tone made a statement out of the question.
I swallowed hard. I wasn’t sure how honest I should be. I liked his bro, we were pretty cool. I didn’t want to get him in trouble.
“He told me a few things.” I answered vaguely.
“He told you that I got in trouble a while back didn’t he?” He was direct. His eyes developed a hard edge, the question an unwavering light piercing directly into mine.
“Yes Imtiaz. Yes he did. Please understand he had to tell me on account of the paperwork. I would have read it in your file in any case.” I explained nervously, leaning forward, attempting to get my meaning across.
He shook his head from side to side. “No it’s ok. I mean Derrick is my employer and you’re the one in charge of the office so I didn’t expect it to be a secret.”
I straightened back into the bench clearly relieved and smiled.
“It’s just that the waiter, that dude, you see a lot of them when you’re locked up. You find out they’re really not so bad. Once you let them know you’re not down with none of that funny shit they tend to be pretty cool with you.”
“Oh I see.” I wanted to tell him that his brother never expounded on the circumstances of his incarceration. But the fact that he was being so open, revealing this much to me now, so quickly, to ask for more seemed insensitive and rude. It could wait. Truth be told I was honored that he trusted me with the information he decided to share. On another level I couldn’t even begin to comprehend the rudimentary thrill coursing through my body. I never had any experience with a genuine John Dillinger. Sure they always appealed to me in movies, their devil may care attitude, the way they lived their life on the edge, the way they loved their women as if there was no other, hell who wasn’t fascinated with them?
I decided I wouldn’t press him but allow him to tell me in his good time.
He nodded his head. A habit he seemed to display when he was working things out.
“You know I never been here but this stuff looks good. I’m not sure what to choose. I’m trying to decide between a couple of things.”
“Yeah, what are you thinking about getting?” I asked, glad to switch the topic. I didn’t want things to get heavy this soon.
“I was thinking about either the salmon, the burger or the chicken fingers. If you were to go by the pictures everything looks really good.” He chuckled.
I was lulled into a trance by the tenor of his voice. There was nothing about this cat that didn’t appeal to all of my senses.
We went back and forth discussing the menu options before I finally settled upon the salmon and he the burger.
For the rest of the evening we laughed easily, ate and drank heartily and were utterly transfixed by each other. When I finally realized that we weren’t actually alone and stopped to view our surroundings it seemed as if everyone within striking distance kept a close watch on our movements. Everywhere I looked I was greeted by one smiling face after another. It was as if our magic radiated outward. Hard to believe I know and had I not witnessed it for myself, had I not been a part of it, you wouldn’t have been able to convince me either. But there it was. Mesmerizing attraction in all its glory. By the time dessert arrived we both seemed satisfied and comfortable and quiet. The check arrived and he asked me to fill in the tip amount. One more thing between us that I started categorizing as the natural unnatural. I did my usual calculation and came up with $10. It was a bit more than the standard 15% but I was always a generous tipper. He didn’t question anything. He simply placed the full amount in cash on the table before asking me if I was ready and rising only after me.
I knew every gesture, move, smile, kindness was new relationship best foot forward shit. The realization did not make it one ounce less than intoxicating. I was sorry that in a few short moments our time together at least for tonight, would be at its end.
We stopped at the same spot right outside of the restaurant and this time he asked me if I wanted a cigarette. He lit me up, passing it to me before lighting one for himself. We were both mellow, quiet, lost in our own thoughts, inhaling possibilities and exhaling outcomes.
“I had a really great time Imtiaz.” I smiled a little sadly.
He kicked his foot over the gravel beneath him and nodded his head.
“Are you in a hurry? I mean do you have to go home right away?” He looked at me with such anticipation. Dreading an affirmative answer or was I reading into things?
Ooooh na na. Look what you done started. Oooh na na, why you got to act so naughty?
“No.” I answered a little quicker than I would have liked. “I was going to take a walk up to 53rd and Lex. I like to walk after I’ve eaten.”
He grounded out his cigarette abruptly and shoved his hands into his pockets, rocking on his heels and grinning.
“Ok cool let’s go.”
“You wanna walk all the way over there? Which train do you have to catch? The E and the M, 4, 5 and 6 are the only trains that run at that station.” Oh geez I hope I didn’t sound like I wanted to ditch him when I felt exactly the opposite.
“It doesn’t matter. I mean unless you have something you need to do I could walk with you.”
“I don’t have curfew tonight. The kid’s at her boyfriend’s house. So it’s all good.”
He nodded his head and raised his elbow in an old fashioned move. I threw my head back and laughed before linking my arm in his.
Neither one of us wanted this night to end. And I suddenly knew this tiger before me, if I let him, would devour me whole.