“A Little Feast”
It was a sunny spring day, a light breeze in the air as Heath and Lily hung their clothes upon the laundry line strung between two trees to dry. It was a weekly task she looked forward to because they had to do it together, which sometimes led to long lingering touches as clothes were hauled up.
More often than not, it was Lily who pushed things further by initiating kissing, inevitably leading to the use of the bedroom. Seeing Lily’s passionate face was always a treat for Heath.
“Penny for your thoughts,” Lily said, running her hands down a shirt she had just pegged on the line.
Heath averted her gaze out of guilt, reluctant to admit she’d been thinking less than pure thoughts. “Just, uh, enjoying the nice breeze.”
“It should definitely help dry the clothes faster.”
In the middle of handing Lily some pants, Heath stopped. There was a strange smell in the air, some birds nearby flying off in a panic.
She sniffed and cast her gaze towards the edge of the forest line, watching for any fast movement. While monsters generally kept a wide berth from Heath, that didn’t mean run-ins with ones too ravenous to know better didn’t happen.
Lily had stilled as well, picking up on the strange atmosphere. Despite her blindness, sometimes Lily’s senses were even better than Heath’s half-animal ones. “The air changed. Something's…different.”
Heath took a good look around, trying to find the irregularity. Seconds later, she found it in front of a tree at the end of the field. Far from being something disturbing, Heath was puzzled over the item’s mundane appearance.
It was a simple brown door.
“That door wasn’t there a minute ago,” Heath said quietly, uneasy with the situation. She'd learned much about the human world thus far, but the unfamiliar still bothered her.
Lily’s brow narrowed in determination. “I'd like to see it.”
Their laundry forgotten for the moment, Heath held out her arm for Lily, who let herself be guided over to the innocuous object.
Standing free from any building, the door bore a circle-shaped plaque with a Calico cat holding a sign in its mouth bearing familiar characters.
Wasting no time, Lily felt around the door with her hands. She quickly surmised the same thing Heath had with her eyes. That wherever the door had come from, nothing else had come with it. No building, no people.
Lily ran her fingers over the sign’s etched lettering. “Western Restaurant Nekoya?”
“Should we open it?” Heath asked as Lily returned to her side.
Lily took her hand and smiled. “Yes, I think so.”
Her heart in her throat, Heath gripped the doorknob, turned it, and pushed forward as the door opened. If she'd been alone, Heath wouldn’t have been so brave, but with Lily at her side, she could do anything.
The sounds of a peaceful forest vanished instantly as the cozy inside of a large dining room unfolded in front of them. The smell of food permeated the air as a half-dozen pairs of eyes landed on the couple before going back to focusing on their meals.
“Heath?” Lily asked, her head tilting to the side.
Heath squeezed Lily’s hand, even as she swallowed the sudden lump in her throat. Being around strangers made her ill at ease. “I think it’s safe.” No one had shooed them out yet anyway. Maybe it was all right to be here.
A blonde girl in a waitress uniform with small black horns on the side of her head waved at them as she approached, holding a tray full of unusual food. “Welcome to Western Restaurant Nekoya. Please take a seat anywhere you'd like.”
Heath had anticipated being called out as a monster, yet no one batted an eye at her odd appearance. Then again, there was a lion-headed man chowing down nosily with a fork at one table, so perhaps they’d seen stranger people here.
Another waitress with elongated ears and long black hair passed by, nodding at them politely as she headed to a table in the far corner where a man in robes sat with another man in a military uniform.
“Oh, it smells so good,” Lily said, pulling Heath forward. Her stomach rumbled as if on cue. “Can we eat here?”
Heath hadn’t anticipated the need for money. She wondered if they’d be turned away because of it. “I didn’t exactly expect something like this to happen today.”
“Ah,” Lily said, dropping Heath’s hand. She shortly dug into her pocket, coming out with four coins. “It’s not a problem."
Reassured, they took a seat at an empty table, the blonde waitress returning with two glasses of ice water and a pair of menus. “I’m Aletta. I have to ask, can you read Eastern Continental?”
Heath held out a hand for the menu and opened it. Ah, they meant Japanese. “Yes.”
Hearing a soft sound of appreciation, Heath turned to Lily, who was running a hand down one page of her open menu. “It’s in Braille. This is amazing.”
Aletta beamed at them, her good mood nearly infectious. “Great. Take your time perusing it, and let me know when you’re ready to order.”
Lily leaned forward on the table once she’d left. “What are you thinking of getting?”
There were a great many dishes that sounded appetizing, Heath overwhelmed by the choices. “Should we go for savory or sweet?”
“Hmm,” Lily said. “I vote savory. We didn’t get a chance to eat dinner yet.”
Heath read the options again, not too picky about what they ended up with so long as it had meat in it.
“Paella sounds interesting.” Lily sounded excited, almost bouncing in her chair.
Not having traveled as much as Lily and not knowing half the ingredients in the dish, Heath nonetheless agreed with the choice. “I’m happy with it if you are.”
The waitress came back, waiting expectedly. “What’ll you have?”
“Paella, please. Is it all right if we split it?”
Aletta nodded. “That’s fine. I’m sure Chef will make sure you both have more than enough to eat.”
Their order in, Heath went back to surveying their surroundings. It was a small restaurant, the staff numbering three. The customers seemed happy enough, though, the service fast and solid.
Heath had never been inside a restaurant, finding the experience thrilling. Nowadays, her food was reserved to what she and Lily made together at home.
Before her girlfriend had moved in with her, Heath had lived off of whatever she could secure in the forest. Whether that meant rabbit or vegetables depended on her luck that particular day. Simply ordering and having the food brought out was novel.
“What are the other customers like?” Lily asked, putting an elbow on the table.
“There’s a lion-man, believe it or not. Two older men and a brown-haired woman clearing what looks like her second helping of food.”
Lily grinned. “Interesting. Do you think the door that brought us here was magic?”
It was a difficult question to answer. Heath didn’t really believe in magic outside of books, but having been transported here simply by stepping through a door…it was hard to deny the evidence. “I guess, especially since there’s no better explanation.”
Aletta stopped to refill their drinks before moving onto the table where the brunette sat. She placed a bag on the edge of it, pressing forward a bit. “All finished, Sarah?”
Sarah let out a loud sigh as she patted the front of her stomach. “It was so good! How does he do it every week?”
Heath looked on in interest. Every week? She must have been a regular.
Looking pleased, Aletta stacked the empty plates, then grabbed them. The camaraderie between them was clear to see. “Trade secret.”
“I’ll have to tackle work even harder after this,” Sarah said, dumping a few coins on the table. She eyed Aletta for a moment as she stood up, holding the bag that had been brought against her side, before stepping close to Aletta.
“I’ll see you at home,” Sarah whispered as she leaned close to Aletta. Heath looked away but saw from the corner of her eye that Sarah had quickly kissed Aletta on the cheek, color blossoming on the woman’s face in response.
Shooting Aletta a warm, lingering look, Sarah opened the restaurant’s front door. What looked like a dark cave was her destination, confirming that the door appeared in different places at once.
With a small wave, Sarah stepped through the door and was gone.
Aletta went silent, holding her free hand against the cheek Sarah had kissed.
“Hmm,” Heath muttered to herself. So she and Lily weren’t the only interspecies couple around, huh?
The other black-haired waitress gently jostled Aletta, who wandered back to the kitchen to finally return the dirty dishes she’d been holding.
Aletta came back to Heath and Lily’s table with a large platter five minutes later. “Here you go,” she said brightly as she laid it upon their table, closer to Lily than Heath.
Lily’s eyes went wide as she leaned over the platter, pleasure blossoming on her face as the steam from the bright dish of yellow rice, various vegetables, and seafood suffused the air in front of her. Realizing Aletta had placed the platter strategically to achieve such an effect, Heath gave her a nod of respect and appreciation.
“It smells amazing.” Lily reached for one of the empty plates Aletta had left on the table and carefully spooned some of the paella onto her plate. “Shrimp, fish, and mussels, I believe.”
While Heath was well-acquainted with fish and shrimp from her years living in her forest, she wasn’t familiar with the black-shelled mussels that had a bit of orange peeking out from their insides. Experimentally, Heath poked at what lay within it, finding that the meat came out easily.
Meanwhile, Lily took a bite of paella, moaning under her breath. “Oh my god, Heath. You have to try this.”
Curious if it was as good as it looked, Heath followed suit, pleasantly surprised at some of the crunch of the rice as the moist, tender meat of the seafood all but burst on her tongue. Warm, sharp spices amid the tender vegetables assaulted Heath’s senses, strong but not overly so, which added to the overall complexity of the dish.
She and Lily didn’t eat spicy food often, and the mild burn on the back of her tongue was lovely, warming her stomach in seconds. It was an addicting sensation, Heath quick to take more bites, finding that no single one was the same experience.
Paella was definitely one of the best things she had ever eaten.
“What’s a mussel?” Heath asked Lily, having left them alone so far.
“They’re like clams,” she replied. “You can find them in fresh water and the ocean.”
The ocean…Heath hadn’t ever seen it, but she’d read about it enough to know it was different than lakes and ponds. It had salt in it of all things.
Heath popped the orange mussel meat into her mouth and bit down. The closest comparison she could come up with was a mushroom, the mildly sweet, flavorful chew on it wonderful. She was glad she’d left them for last.
Between the two of them, the dish was done in no time, nothing left but the empty black mussel shells on the platter.
Looking pleased, Lily sat back in her seat. “I don’t think I could eat another bite.”
Aletta came back to the table to retrieve the platter and dirty dishes. “Was everything to your satisfaction?”
“Please give my compliments to the chef,” Lily said enthusiastically, clapping her hands together. “It was a beautiful dish.”
The waitress all but glowed. “I'll go do just that.”
Heath chuckled. “This'll be hard to top.”
“Just think of it as an unexpected treat, Heath. No need to try to match it.” Lily dropped the coins she’d showed Heath earlier onto the tabletop.
“Before you go,” Aletta said, appearing before them again. She held a plastic bag in her hand, giving it to Heath, who took it silently, slightly confused. “Raspberry cheesecake for dessert. On the house, of course.”
“But…” Lily started.
“It's too late to protest. Once it's out of the confines of the kitchen, you have to take it.”
In the face of such flawless logic, Lily had no choice but to give in. “Thank you very much.”
“We look forward to your next visit,” Aletta said warmly, her smile wide.
It'd been nice not having to worry about hiding her appearance, eating in public like Heath’s monster status wasn’t an issue. If only there were more places like that in their own world.
Together, they walked towards the door that had brought them to the pleasant restaurant. Heath held it open for Lily, then walked through herself.
“I think the door only appears once every week,” Heath told Lily as they reappeared in the field behind their house. The door had disappeared behind them as soon as it closed. Magic indeed.
Lily hugged Heath’s arm. “Then we'll have to come back at the appropriate time, won't we? I'm curious what some of the other dishes at Nekoya are like.”
Heath smiled. It seemed they’d started a nice tradition together. “Me too.”
“You've never had cheesecake, have you?” Lily asked, glancing up at Heath.
“No.” She hoped it literally wasn’t cheese mixed together with the cake. That didn’t sound appetizing at all.
Lily laughed. “That's two new experiences for you today. I'm a little jealous.”
Heath turned to Lily and hugged her tightly. “I’m always happy to discover new things with you.”
Lily flushed as she stepped back. She opened her mouth to say something, her words interrupted by a bright flash of lightning that was shortly followed by a long rumble of thunder in the distance.
They raced to the drying line behind the house. Halfway through the task, rain began to fall heavily from the sky. Heath wondered how long they had been gone since it had been bright and sunny when the door had first appeared in the field.
“Here,” Heath said, handing Lily the cheesecake from Nekoya restaurant. “I’ll get the rest if you’ll take this inside.”
Her clothes were soaked through by the time she was finished. Grabbing the heavy full laundry basket, Heath went into the house. She put the basket on the kitchen counter and hoped that they had enough extra string around to hang the clothes around the room.
Squeezing the water out of her hair, Heath noticed that Lily was waiting in the hallway, wearing nothing but a towel. “I wondered if you’d like to help me warm up in the bath.”
God, she was adorable. Sometimes Heath couldn’t believe Lily had chosen to be with her out of all the people in the world.
“Yes, please,” Heath replied, beyond sure that however delicious the raspberry cheesecake turned out to be, it would never hold a candle to Lily’s innate sweetness.