Someone threw a brick through the front window of Nicor Noodles. Tito poked his head out of the order window. Broken glass lay around the floor surrounding the brick. The patrons of the restaurant kept their distance from the projectile, as though it was going to get up from the floor and attack again. Despite their fear, Tito walked out of the kitchen and right up to the brick, staring at the orange clay in silence. Glass crushed under his shoes as he shifted his stance. He looked through the hole to maybe catch a glimpse of who had thrown the brick, but nobody was around to claim responsibility. A small crowd of passers-by had gathered to gawk at Tito through the broken window, and he could hear fading, scornful laughter down the street. Otto went forward to look at the glass before he pointed a finger at the gawkers.
“You see who threw that thing?” A few shook their heads, and a few people muttered “no” or “nope”, but most people stayed silent. Otto grumbled to himself before heading over to Ray, who was hiding behind the front desk. He whispered in Ray’s ear, making him stand up. Otto addressed the concerned crowd inside. “Look, don’t get all worried. Keep eating your food. It’s good, right?” People murmured their agreement, making him smile. “Good! We’ll take care of this. Now, I just gotta get to the phone.” Tito went up to Otto.
“You’re calling the police?” Tito asked. Otto shook his head.
“I’ve gotta get this window replaced.”
He walked past Tito, running his palm down his face. As Otto went to the office, some of the patrons continued to stare at Tito. They had stopped eating, though their bowls were still piping-hot. Some resumed eating, their pace much quicker than before the brick. Some beckoned wait-staff to wrap up their uneaten lunch, postponing conversations with friends until they could leave. Ray was in the middle of the departing crowd.
“I am so sorry, please, don’t be–” People continued to push past him. He stopped himself, letting his hand drop to his side. He went to console Tito. “You okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” Tito shrugged Ray off. “I’ll take care of the glass.” Tito left his father and went to get a broom and dustpan. As he swept, people either crowded around the broken glass or kept a safe distance from it. They took photographs of the hole or the brick, both of which would probably end up online. The waitstaff inside continued to help the remaining customers pay and leave. Some didn’t even bother paying for their food, leaving hot bowls to become tepid and unwanted. Koa and the kitchen crew fulfilled the rest of their orders before being dismissed early, leaving the restaurant more and more empty. Tito’s head throbbed as the heightened atmosphere of the restaurant surrounded him. Any sense of safety the customers had felt earlier was replaced by fear and uncertainty. By the time Tito was finished sweeping, all of the customers had left. He exited the restaurant and stared at the broken glass from the other side. Ray had put a sign next to the hole, saying that the restaurant had closed early for the day. The brick had made a hole the size of Tito’s head in the glass. He could have poked his head through, though he risked cutting his neck up with glass. It was covered up from the other side with thick paper and several layers of heavy tape. So much for shatterproof glass. As much as it wasn’t kosher to say out loud, there was only one group of people who could have done this.
“Hey,” an unfamiliar voice said behind Tito. He turned to see who had called him, and he froze. It was the stranger from earlier, the human. Her hood was off, and Tito could see her short hair and fixed expression. “I heard the glass break just now. I think I can fix it.” Tito was still in a haze as he glanced at her tool belt, with hammers, a drill, a narrow saw-blade, and holsters for other tools Tito had never seen before. She waved her hand in front of Tito’s face. “You in there, repton?” Tito just stared at her.
“How do I know you didn’t do it?” The human winced at Tito.
“You’d know if it was me.” She extended her hand to greet him. He kept his arm at his side.
“…What are you doing?” he said.
“Sayin’ hello. You do that here, right?”
“Humans do that with just their hand?”
“How do you do it around here?” Tito extended his arm, flexing at the elbow. She perked her eyebrows up. “The whole elbow, huh? Cool.” They embraced elbows. “Ellen,” she said.
“Tito.” Tito tried to look casual for someone whose business was just vandalized. “I don’t think I’ve seen a human around town…ever,”
“It’s ‘cause I just got here.”
“From where? Must’ve been a long flight to Blassna…” Ellen pointed up to the sky, where a number of ships could be seen in high orbit.
“I was with Gallahay Orbital Works, but I just ended my contract the other day.” Tito imagined himself miles above the ground, up in orbit, staring at Blassna below his feet. In his head, he felt himself sandwiched between the intense heat from the main sun and the coldness of space, as he floated in the abyss.
“Space, huh,” he murmured.
“Yeah. I was working up on some orbital platforms and kept looking down at Blassna. There was just something about this planet that made me curious. So, here I am!” Tito swore he saw a sparkle in her eyes. Or, it could have been her eyes watering from the dust. It was one of the many things to “love” about living in a desert. Ellen bent down to look at the broken glass. She pulled out a tape measure and began to measure the frame of the window. She pulled out a mobile and took some photographs.
“Hey,” Tito said, reaching out to her. “Wait a second.”
“Don’t worry about the money. Just cover my lunch when I’m not working. I’ll get you a materials quote.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Am I interrupting something?” Ray stepped out of the restaurant and stared at Ellen. “Is this a friend of yours, Tito?”
“Yeah,” she said. “Ellen.” She reached out her whole elbow, surprising Ray.
“You know that?”
“Tito showed me.” She nodded at Tito, who glanced between the two as they greeted each other.
“Uh, right,” Tito said. “She wants to fix the window.”
“I think Otto is already calling somebody,” Ray said, scratching his head. “It’s not gonna be a cheap repair.” Tito leaned back against the non-broken glass.
“She says that she’d work for free,” he said. Ellen flinched at Tito’s bluff.
“That’s not what I said,” she said. “I said that you could just cover my lunch.”
“I don’t think we’ll be open tomorrow,” Ray said. “And I’d feel bad if you did something like that for free.”
“I really don’t mind,” she said. “I just need some work. It’s better than wandering around with nothing to do.” She folded her arms and looked towards the ground. “Really, don’t worry about it. I can handle it.” There was some desperation in her voice. Tito and Ray looked at each other for a moment.
“I’ll talk to Otto,” Ray said. “He was gonna have someone look at the window first.”
“I was just doing that,” Ellen said. “I just need some more time.”
“Who’s this human?” Otto appeared, narrowing his eyes at Ellen. She extended her elbow, but Otto didn’t return the greeting. “You throw the brick?” Ellen put her hands on her hips.
“You think someone my size can break a reinforced window?” she said. Otto’s hands trembled and he looked away from her.
“Well…did you see who did it?” he said.
“I heard the glass break, but I was down a ways,” she said. Otto gritted his teeth.
“You know who would’a done something like this, though,” he said. Everyone likely had the same image in their minds, but no one said it out loud. Otto dug his hands in his pockets.
“You some kind of repair girl? I already called somebody. It’s gonna be a fortune to fix this kind of glass…”
“Lemme put it this way, repton. It’s not even worth putting in the same kind of glass,” she said. “Why get the glass replaced when you could get a synth-printed, translucent covering for half the cost?” Otto took a moment to try and understand her technical terms. He stood up straight.
“It’s gonna be 800 credits to get this hole repaired, base,” he said. “Can you beat that, human?”
“I can get a deal on the glass for 700, and I’ll do the labor for free,” she said.
“500,” Otto shot back.
“You seem to be the expert here, lady,” Otto said. “I’m just a crook.” Ray elbowed him.
“Otto, lay off,” he said. “You don’t even know her name.” Otto scoffed.
“I know enough,” he said.
“Well, just so I’m not ‘the human’ anymore, it’s Ellen,” she said with folded arms. “And 700’s my offer.” Ellen and Otto stared each other down for a moment. Tito snapped his fingers.
“You said before that you wanted your lunch covered,” Tito said. “And if it takes, say, a week, at most, to do the job, that’s, say, 50 credits for lunch, tops. Materials are 600, labor is free, and lunch is 50 credits. That’s 650, right?” Otto dug his fingers into the side of his pants.
“Whose side are you on, here?” he said with a slight growl.
“The problem is two-sided,” Tito said. “And I think we all wanna see from both sides of the broken window.”
The three mulled over the dilemma. Otto stood up from his slouch and extended his elbow.
“Deal,” he said. “Get over here tomorrow morning ‘round sunrise.”
“The sun rises pretty early around here,” she said, looking pleased as she affirmed the deal with Otto.
“Just don’t expect breakfast,” he said. “We’re no charity.” He dug his hands into his pants pockets and muttered to himself as he walked back inside. Ray put his hand on Ellen’s shoulder.
“Don’t mind Otto,” he said. “He’ll warm up to you.”
“If you screw up, he’ll throw you on the grill,” Tito said. Ellen snickered.
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll see you tomorrow morning.” She waved Tito and Ray goodbye and she headed down the street. Ray tilted his head at Tito.
“The kind of people you meet on the street, huh?” Ray remarked.
The day began to wind down. Tito helped his dad roll the grate back over the restaurant entrance. Otto looked even more drained than this morning, his shoulders slack and his eyelids threatening to close up along with his restaurant. Tito was no better, feeling his father’s lethargy seep into his own body. They headed back to the apartment and Tito threw himself on the living room couch, the worn, but plush surface hugging him. Ray was sitting in the kitchen, his head down on the kitchen table. Otto scratched Ray’s ears, but Ray didn’t look up. Tito sat up on the couch and looked at Ray.
“You okay, Ray?” Ray looked up at Tito, his eyes watering.
“I don’t know what we even did!” Ray said, sniffling.
“You never can anticipate these things,” Otto said, pouring himself a drink.
“How are we gonna pay for something like this when we barely get by as is?” He went over and stroked Ray’s head.
“We’ll figure it out. Or we can panhandle at the family meeting.”
“I don’t want to have to beg…”
“Let’s call it ‘asking’, then.” He took a sip of his drink and glanced towards the door. “Where’s Rocky been? I haven’t seen him pretty much all day.”
“He said he was ‘working’,” Ray said.
“Hiding again?” Otto said, heading over to the room. Tito got up from the couch and stopped his father from heading down the hallway.
“Don’t,” Tito said, pushing him away. Otto resisted against Tito.
“Quit it,” Otto said, his words slurring. “I wanna talk to him.” Tito pushed back against his dad, pressing him to the wall.
“Don’t,” he repeated. “You’re not thinking.” Tito snatched the drink out of Otto’s hands. Otto glared at Tito as he knocked on Rocky’s door.
“Rocky,” Tito said. “Come on out. We’ve gotta talk.” Tito and Otto waited a moment. Otto turned toward the door, making Tito point a finger at Otto. The two froze as Rocky came out of his room. Tito saw that he was still wearing the same clothes from this morning. Tito still had his finger pointed to Otto, but he put it down.
“What’s going on?” Rocky murmured. His room was still dark. Tito and Otto glanced at each other.
“N-nothing,” Otto said, grasping his elbows. In an instant, Tito and Otto buried the argument that almost started in front of Rocky.
“Where the hell were you all day?” Tito said.
“You wanna lay around all day?” Otto said, raising his voice “Maybe ‘stead of doing dishes, you can take out the garbage, like I told you. Don’t say you’ve got friggin’ studying to do.”
“ Dad,” Rocky said, trying to talk over Otto.
“Don’t ‘Dad’ me, kid. You’re lucky we don’t send you back to your real parents, wherever they are. I bet they’ll be real proud of you!” Tito could hear Ray sobbing in the hallway.
“Dad,” Tito said. “You’re making Ray cry.” Otto held his mouth closed, closing his eyes. He took a deep breath and headed back down the hallway to console his husband.
“Don’t yell at him!” Ray said. Otto tried to touch Ray again, but he swiped him away. Otto stood there, staring at the floor. Tito could see Otto’s blank expression belied by his eyes watering up with tears. Tito looked back at Rocky, his face full of guilt.
“You know what happened today, right?” Tito whispered. Rocky nodded, avoiding Tito’s eyes.
“Yeah,” Rocky said. “I…I just needed to finish this release. It’s my schedule.” Tito put his hand on Rocky’s shoulder.
“Go out there and say you’re sorry,” Tito said. Rocky stared at Tito for a moment before coming out of his room. Otto had sat down with Ray, the two not speaking to one another. Tito gestured towards Rocky.
“Rocky’s got something to say,” Tito said. The two looked at Rocky; Ray’s face was wet with tears, while Otto’s face was tired and blank. Rocky bowed his head.
“I…I got tunnel vision,” he said. “I just wanted to work on my app. I only thought of myself.” Otto’s expression softened and he got up from his chair. He reached his arms out to Rocky, not saying anything else. Rocky went to hug Otto. Tito approached Ray, grabbing his hand to help him up. Ray brushed Rocky’s hair before hugging him.
A loud gong sounded outside. By the blessing of Lord Ragna, midnight had fallen.