Kitso picture by Foxzombiej

Tito and Henke picture by Janiko

Hours before the sun was to rise, Tito lay half awake in his bed. His body felt drained of all energy, and filled with anxiety for the coming day. He had hoped that he could hold onto those precious few hours of sleep he had managed to get on a consistent basis, but it wasn’t to be. He wrapped his body tight in his thick covers; the desert, as warm as it could get, was much colder at night. His father Otto, the other repton in the apartment, had the fortune of a furnesean husband who was like a living blanket. Tito had to rely on the insulation of his room, which wasn’t immune to the chilling effect of the canyon at night.

Tito got up from the bed and threw on a pair of boxer-briefs. His feet felt cold on the carpeted floor as he walked down the hall to the kitchen; the kitchen floor was even colder. How did anybody in this house not covered in fur survive nights like this? Tito stretched himself out, his mouth wide open in a yawn. Kitso was absent from the living room side couch, likely having gone out to meet one of his ever-rotating sets of fellow drifters. Tito wondered if they were off to hang out or otherwise.

For somebody who had no full-time work, Kitso had a remarkably active lifestyle. Tito could turn his radio to 205.5 Red Rock at 2am and hear Kitso’s warm, smooth voice between R&B and soft rock tracks. Tito could smell Kitso’s discarded laundry in the middle of the apartment hallway. Kitso’s various paintings hung slightly crooked in the hallway, depicting the orange and yellow sights of the canyon. One in particular depicted him playing the glockus on a sandy hill. Of course, if you saw him curled up for a nap during the afternoon, you’d never know how much he had to do. While Blassna’s ordinary denizens hashed out their lives in the harsh desert sun, Kitso worked around and between the bounds of any conventional desert-dwelling lifestyle, wedging himself into everybody else’s business whether they liked it or not.

Tito scratched himself as he looked in the cupboards. There was a box of steel-cut grains, a box of spicy whole-grain crackers, and some kolkewa cookies. Kolkewa, the bitter desert spice, was the flavor of the preferred treat of the Imperial colonist depicted on the cookie box; it was a helmeted, tall figure, in full health, beaming with pride of the splendor that surrounded them in all its dull-colored glory. And now Tito wanted a couple of those little cookies and a glass of loapmilk.

As Tito reached for the box, he felt a tingling at his feet. He shifted his stance as the tingling grew into a steady thrum. He heard the boxes inside the cupboard shuffle around and the loose papers on the kitchen table shift toward the edge of the table. He braced himself against the counter as he waited for the tremor to end. He glanced over and saw that the papers on the table were about to fall to the floor. Tito leaned over to catch the papers, having to let go of his grip on the counter. He lurched and stood on one foot as he leaned down to catch them. He teetered on one foot as the rumbling died down. In just under thirty seconds, Tito felt as if the canyon was going to collapse around him.

Despite the sudden disruption, Tito got his cookies and milk. There were just a couple of cookies left in the box; any number of big appetites in the apartment could have depleted it, but he didn’t let it bother him. He dunked one of the spicy cookies in the glass of milk, softening it up. The pleasure from the snack made Tito feel a tad warmer. Though, as he ate, his mind wandered to the new employee, starting in a few hours. The terms of his employment were tied up in such a sudden, traumatic event. Would his presence there be one of penance or one of prejudice? The uncertainty made Tito cold again.

Tito went out the back door. He bristled at the cold of the early morning air. For a place that was so hot during the day, it was too cold at night. He wrapped his hands around his elbows as he stared out at the street. Once again, his little metallic tube upstairs was calling him louder than the blowing wind.

Several hours, several vapor sessions, and several more cookies later, Tito waited outside of Nicor Noodles for Henke, the new employee. In any other circumstance, Tito would have rather been asleep, perhaps dreaming of another world with sights beyond the same sands he saw blow around the cracked sidewalks, like they were driven by the snores of some long-forgotten spiritual presence. For now, he was alert, keeping watch for a blassnaught who wasn’t going to make him move back inside the restaurant to avoid a pounding.

He bounced on his toes, feeling a bit frisky, due to an impulse decision to finish off the almost-stale gescka powder sitting at the back of his powder drawer. Unlike the calming effect of the stuff he normally smoked, this stuff made him want to be friends with everybody, including a big ‘ol guy whose body was quite literally rock-hard. The high of gescka powder was best enjoyed in any other circumstance than the first day of a potentially controversial new employee, but if there was a better way to paint over the uncertain landscape of the near future, it was with a couple of puffs, and then a couple of more puffs. If it worked for Uncle Kitso in almost every other life event, why couldn’t it work for Tito? He could stand to learn more from Kit, though he was unsure if he was ready to learn how to aim for the head off of the barrel of a sniper rifle on a sandy dune.

Tito licked his lips and glanced back inside the restaurant. The rest of the early-morning set-up volunteers were inside, preparing for the re-opening. They had been told about a new employee, though they didn’t know the circumstance of the newbie’s hiring; and as long as their curiosity didn’t turn into gossip and paranoia, they never had to find out.

Soon, Tito saw Henke’s big head arrive over the crest of the street. He wore a black shirt, sneakers and jeans. His shoes had to be bigger than Tito’s entire head, and his shoulders blocked out the sun behind him. Tito flinched as he felt Otto tap his shoulder.

“Morning, newbie,” Otto said with a lazy grin, handing Henke a light red apron. They were a lighter shade of red to indicate the new employees. “This is the only one we had in your size. It used to belong to another big guy who worked here for a while.”

“He’s not here anymore?” Henke asked, tying the apron around his torso, which had to be at least one and a half times’ that of Tito’s.

“Yeah…let’s go with that,” Otto said. “Don’t worry about that. He’s not you.”

“I’m gonna be training you today,” Tito said. “Just shadow me for a little while and then I’ll let you try it on your own for a bit. Sound good?” Henke nodded.

“I’m ready when you are,” he said earnestly. Otto smiled and slapped Henke on the back. Otto pretended that his hand smarted, making Henke look concerned for a second, but Otto just smiled at him again. Otto leaned over toward Tito.

“Dude’s shoulders are the size of my old noodle cart,” Otto whispered to Tito. “Think he can lift Ray and carry him around?”

“Not before he meets him proper,” Tito said as he saw Ray walk slowly towards Henke. Ray wrung his hands together, his tail swishing behind him.

“Hello,” Ray said, his voice trembling a bit. “You’re…Henke, I take it?”

“Yeah,” Henke said. “Ray, right?”

Ray nodded. He looked up at Henke as they greeted each other. Ray’s forehead looked sweaty already. Otto took hold of Ray’s hand. Otto’s warm gesture made Ray close his eyes and breathe deeply. “Henke,” Ray began again. “I’m glad that you decided to work for us. It’s…not what I expected out of the…incident, I admit. But, that’s behind us now, right?”

“Right,” Tito said ahead of Henke. His mouth was starting to feel a bit dry, but he continued talking more than he needed to. “So, he’ll be doing tables today. I figured he should get to know the restaurant first.”

“That makes sense,” Ray said with a nod. “If things go a little too fast, just signal me or any of the other waitstaff. And if you need me, I’m usually at the front desk or in the office in the back. Otherwise, look for Otto.”

“I’m everywhere,” Otto said, raising his index finger. “But always where you need me.”

“Thanks,” Henke said. “When do I meet the others?”

“As you go,” Tito said. “They already know about you.”

“What did you tell them?”

“Enough,” Tito said suddenly. “Don’t worry, you’ll fit in fine.”

“Good luck,” Otto said, tilting his head to the side. “And if that’s not enough, we’ll always have tomorrow.”

The tip of Otto’s tail whipped the small of Tito’s back as he and Ray departed the other two. Ray looked back at Henke before wiping his forehead of sweat.

“You okay?” Tito asked Henke.

“Yeah,” Henke said, sighing. “Let’s get started.”

The morning preparations went on as normal. Sure enough, Henke was just another figure clad in an apron, however lightly-hued his own apron was among the others. Some people gave Henke a wider berth than he needed, and some people watched Henke’s large hands as he handled small pieces of cutlery and dishware, as if he was going to drop them or make cracks in them; but otherwise, everything went as normal. Koa, standing almost as tall as Henke, laughed as he saw Henke in his light red apron.

“This our new guy? Look at his arms! He could punch me and all the air would come out.”

“I wouldn’t do that,” Henke said, lowering his head.

“Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” Koa said, putting his hand on Henke’s shoulder. “Do well out on the waitstaff and maybe you can try washing dishes or something. Just don’t hold them too tight or they’ll crack!”

Koa laughed again, while Henke made a nervous smile.

Dugat almost fell onto the ground when he ran into Henke the first time, and thankfully he didn’t bruise his back too much. Rocky just yawned and stared at the water tanks opposite him at the dish-washing station. Even if Henke was coming up to Rocky with a crowbar, Rocky would just blink and tell him where the bathrooms were.

After Tito finished telling Henke how to clock his time, Tito froze in place. He had been so busy that he didn’t write the day’s special.

“Henke,” Tito said sharply. “Help me figure out a special for the chalkboard.”

“O-okay,” Henke said, walking fast to the specials board with Tito. With a hand on his chin, Tito stared at the blank chalk board.
“Hm…” Tito muttered. “The Sandstorm went over pretty well, but what can we do today?”

“What do you usually do?” Henke asked.

“It’s always different; I cycle in things, sometimes, but it helps to be a little clever so that people know you’re trying.”
“Well, what’s good to try?”

“Dunno, what do you like?”
Henke froze, looking away from Tito.

“Uh,” Henke stammered. “Starter bowl?”

Tito stared at Henke in confusion before he smiled at him. Tito grabbed two pieces of chalk. He scribbled and swooped with the chalk, colored green and black. As Tito drew, Henke marveled at Tito’s swift drawing skills. Then, Tito put the chalk down.

“There we go,” Tito said, brushing chalk off of his hands. On the chalkboard, he had drawn a bowl of noodles with a star floating to the surface of the broth. And above that drawing, he had written the words ‘STARTER BOWL’. “Sheo broth, yudo noodles, fried loap chunks, and a big hunk of kabba root cut into a star on the edge of the bowl.”

Several other employees had apparently witnessed Tito’s epiphany.

“Starter?” Gosha said. “I hope we have enough loap for that.”

“Maybe start asking other people before you put something up there,” Pross said with folded arms.

“There should be enough room in the frier for some extra meat,” Gosha replied.

“Don’t cry when you get splashed with hot oil,” Pross shot back.

“That sounds so good,” Mag the furnesean server said. “I wanna try that.”

“It sounds really heavy,” another server said. Tito hadn’t even seen this guy before, but he wore a half-and-half colored bandana on his scaly head.

“It won’t be…” Tito stammered, “Uh, Bandy.”

“What?” the server replied, scratching his head.

“I want to try the special later, if that’s okay,” Henke said.

“Good plan,” Tito said with a smile.

As the lunch hour approached, people began to form a line outside of the restaurant as usual. Today, though, people pointed at Henke through the front window. They began to tap on the window, making faces at Henke. As Tito guided Henke around, Henke would try not to look at the silent hecklers through the window. At least there was a fresh new window to separate the two for the moment.

There was also a possibility that the repairwoman who had graciously helped the unfortunate Nicor-Banno family would start to come for lunch, ensuring that Tito’s digital wallet would invisibly burn from the unpaid debt. The best Tito could do was to serve her lunch and steer the conversation away from fiscal matters. Tito began to wonder whether humans had a taste for noodles; they might have been the equivalent of the blassnaughts in the Federation, but they had none of the stature and none of the tendency to eat rocks whole. Still, Tito could feel Ellen’s stare from wherever she was in Southtown.

With a ring of a bell, the lunch shift began and the customers began to enter the restaurant. Henke stood by one of the rear-front tables, making people glance over at him when they passed by on their way to the front counter. Some of the hecklers from earlier started to grin at each other as they took their seats at the front counter. They were clad in thick cloth and hard hats, which they removed as they looked right at Tito.

“Good afternoon,” Tito said, notebook in hand. “What can I get you?”

“The red bowl,” one of them said. “My tab should be good for now. Sorry if I haven’t paid it off.”

“Same for me,” another said.

“Me, too. But put me down for the special.”

“No problem,” Tito said, marking down the group’s orders down accordingly. He glanced over at Henke, who yawned as he observed Tito. Henke must have come a long way to get to Southtown. Tito moved down to another portion of the counter.

“Give it a shot, Henke,” Tito said.

Henke stopped in front of the group of customers, who appeared to be spackle-spreaders, as their shirts were stained with various shades of white.

“Hello,” Henke said, staring at his notepad. “Can…I take your order?”

The patron just stared at Henke for a second.

Have…a fire…bowl,” the patron said in stilted Blasnah. “I get right, blassnaught?

Henke looked back at Tito for a second before looking back at the customer.

Do you not speak Common?” Henke replied in fluent Blasnah.

“I thought you didn’t, to be honest,” the patron said in Common, turning to Tito. “Peppreka bowl, extra kespek flakes.”

“Thank you,” Tito said, pressing his pen hard into his notepad. “Anything else?”

“Maybe get your blassie friend a towel. He looks like he could use it.”

Tito nodded as he finished taking the customer’s order, as well as his insult.
“Right away,” Tito said, looking away from the customer. “C’mon, Henke.”

Tito proceeded to observe Henke taking a couple of more orders. He started looking at the customers in the eye rather than staring down at his notepad, and even engaging them in a couple of jokes about his unusual stature. Meanwhile, there were always a couple of people who whispered to their table-mates about “the blassnaught”, or otherwise singled Henke out. A couple of times, Tito heard a table or two crack jokes about Henke in flicktongue, the language of the reptons. He tried to keep a pleasant face on as he refilled their drinks.

In the midst of all of this, there was a group of rough-looking reptons sitting at a booth in the back of the restaurant. With Mag off to the bathroom, Tito and Henke visited the table to check on the party. They smelled strongly of smoke and many of them had their claws grown out, looking like knives on their hands. They had a variety of papers spread out on the table, and one of the reptons, sporting a shaved head, stared at Tito as they approached.  The other members of the group started turning the papers over as Tito and Henke approached.

“What do you want?” the bald one asked Tito.
“Nice to see you, too, Prod,” Tito said, his hand on his hip. “Do you need more water?”

“No,” one of them said sharply between slurps of broth. “Get on, kid.”

You see that big bastard?” one of the reptons said to Prod in flicktongue, the language of the reptons. “How’d he get in here? I’m surprised he can fit inside the building.”

I’m surprised you were able to find it,” Tito replied in flicktongue, almost, but not quite regretful of his barb.

Henke looked between the two of them, his hands straight at his sides.

“Let us know if you need anything,” Henke said in Common.

“Get lost, blasshole,” the repton next to Prod snapped, making Henke flinch. Her eyes were bloodshot and his hands shook as she gripped the countertop tightly.

“No need to get defensive, Ria,” Tito said, holding steady. “Just doing my job.”

“You want me to use these?” she said, tracing her claws with her fingertips. “Just sharpened ‘em. Might be good for that smug face.”

“Get out of here if you’re gonna be that way,” Tito said, keeping his distance.

Prod stared at Tito before he nodded at the others and they began to leave. They didn’t bother to clean up after themselves or pay, which Tito would have pressed, if he wasn’t trying to set an example at the moment. As one of the last of the group was leaving, they clawed the air in front of Henke, making him flinch. Ria glared at the repton in the bandana, who just stared at her as she slammed the front door behind her. Henke sighed and turned away from Tito as he approached him.

“Don’t listen to them,” Tito said.

“It’s nothing,” Henke said, shrugging. “I’m used to it.”

“They’re gonna have to get used to you,” Tito affirmed.

Henke forced a smile, which quickly turned to a sad frown. Tito patted Henke on the shoulder.

“Let’s take lunch,” Tito said. “That’ll cheer you up.”

Tito and Henke settled themselves at an empty booth for lunch. He might not have had much room for his knees, but he fit. It had been a while since any blassnaught had come into the restaurant. Henke stared out the window, his eyes watching the street.

“Don’t let jerks like earlier get to you,” Tito said. “Hecklers don’t matter.”

“Sure,” Henke said with a sigh.

“I mean it,” Tito said with a slap on the counter. “I’m not gonna let anyone get to you if I can help it. Lunch’s on me today, big guy. What d’you want?”

Henke’s eyes widened. He glanced between Tito and the counter.

“I’ve…never had noodle soup before, actually” Henke said, brushing his neck.

“Never?” Tito said with surprise. “Well, let me be the one to enlighten you to the noodly way.”

Tito hopped down from his seat and started to head toward the kitchen. Then, he stopped and leaned back toward Henke.

“You wanted the starter bowl, right?” Tito asked.

“Yeah,” Henke said, trying not to laugh.

Tito nodded before he glided into the kitchen. He leaned against the threshold, smiling at Koa.

“What is it, Tito?” Koa asked.

“Jumbo starter bowl for a certain blassnaught, and a regular kakkuto bowl for me.” Tito said. “Rush it.”

Koa shook his head as he watched Tito’s tail wave back and forth lazily.

“You been puffing again? I thought you’d know better than to do that before work.”

Tito just shrugged, folding his arms.

“Well, it works for me,” Tito replied.

Koa shrugged, grabbing an extra-large bowl.

“Don’t spoil the new guy too much. He’ll get soft and slow.”
“You’ve got the soft part down, brother.”

A couple other kitchen-staffers chuckled at Tito’s quip.

Get outta here,” Pross said in the Hauke language; there was one word that followed the first phrase that Tito didn’t quite know, but the tone was sharp and clear. Tito feigned a salute to Pross and sauntered out of the kitchen. He could always count on Pross to be the chief crank of the kitchen, even if he was just a line cook.

Tito sat down at the front bar again and put his head between his elbows. Henke stared down at Tito.

“You made the order?” Henke asked.

“You bet,” Tito yawned. “It’ll be out quick.”

“Even if it’s this busy?”

Tito snapped his fingers and pointed at Henke.

I maake it happeen,” Tito said in smug Blasnah.

Henke scrunched up his face.

“Your accent’s super weird,” Henke said, scratching his stubbly face. “You sound like you’re a drill instructor.”

“That’s not too far from the norm for a blassie,” Tito said, stretching himself out.

“Sure, but you sound like you’re chewing on your words.”

“I don’t get to speak your language that much, dude. Not ‘less I’m trying to chew one of you guys out.”

“Didn’t you learn it in school?”

“Yeah, but do you think I get to talk to you guys all that much?”

“I guess. But I can help you, if you want.”

Tito smiled at Henke.

If inseest,” Tito stammered. Henke cringed, but nodded his head. True to Tito’s claim a minute ago, the regular and extra-large bowls of noodles came out, served by Bandy.

“One jumbo starter bowl and one K-bowl,” Bandy said.

“Thanks, Bandy,” Tito said, taking his bowl. Bandy paused and tilted his head.

“It’s Tekna, dude,” he said.

“Whatever,” Tito said, waving him off. “Nice to have you with us. We’ll talk later.”

Tenka shrugged and walked off. As he was walking away, Tito could see that he had a bandage wrapped around the end of his tail. Tito wondered if that was a new style, or if he and a door had a rude interaction.

As Tito contemplated the new server, Henke seemed to be struggling with the chopsticks.

“Never used them before, I take it?” Tito asked.

Henke nodded, looking a little embarrassed.

Tito picked up his chopsticks, bringing his right hand into focus.

“Hold it like this,” Tito said, holding the sticks between his fingers. “I dunno if this is how everyone does it, but it works for me.”

Henke held the chopsticks between his thick fingers in a manner resembling Tito’s fingers. When it looked like Henke had it down, they both turned their attention to their noodle bowls. While Tito picked up his fried loap without fail, Henke splashed his meat into the broth and into his face. He picked up a napkin and gingerly wiped off his face.

“Eat it, don’t splash it,” Tito cracked.

“I’m tryin’,” Henke said, picking up the meat again with wobbly chopsticks. He chewed on the tender loap, his eyebrows perking up. He dug into the bowl once more, trying to pick up a couple of pieces of meat at once, but only getting one in his mouth.

“There y’go,” Tito said. “Easy, right?”

“Maybe for you,” Henke said. “You’ve done this your whole life, probably.”
“Basically,” Tito said. “I took some breaks here and there, but you’re right.”

They ate together in silence for a moment. Henke’s initial hesitation had turned into the trademark blassnaught voracity. Tito wondered if the jumbo bowl would be enough.

“How would you say ‘noodles’ in Blasnah?” Tito asked.

Henke looked away from his bowl and thought for a moment. Then, he said it. Tito scratched his head.

Naw…dools?” Tito said slowly.

“Almost,” Henke said. “You’ll get there.”
Rowger,” Tito replied.

Henke put down his chopsticks. He closed his eyes as he tasted the broth with a spoon. When the broth hit his tongue, he relaxed and licked his lips.

“Isn’t this supposed to be spicy?”

“Yeah, but I didn’t want to overload you on your first try.”

“I like a little bit of spice, but not a lot,” Henke said. “And less on the noodles, more on the meat. I have a weight class to maintain.”

“You’re careful about your weight, buddy? You’re probably all muscle.”

“I just don’t wanna fill up too fast. I’ll feel all bloated.” Henke said as he continued to eat slowly. Tito watched the muscles on Henke’s elbows and shoulders bulge as he raised his arm up to help himself to the chunks of meat.

“Don’t you guys eat rocks?”
“Not…quite,” Henke said, wiping his chin of broth. “Notice how I’ve got flecks of darker brown around my face and elbows? If I eat more of that mineral, soon I’ll have a denser pattern going on. It all breaks down and into the skin pigment. Some people like it looking all speckled and earthy, but I don’t really bother.”
“It’ll make you look scary when you’re fighting.”

“I don’t wanna look weird,” Henke said, brushing the back of his neck again. “I’ll look like a dirty boulder.”

“Fair enough. Just don’t get rocky around customers.”

“Like those two jerks earlier today?”

Henke paused, staring at Tito. Henke’s eyes seemed full of doubt.

“Don’t worry about them,” Tito said, patting Henke’s shoulder. “Not every customer’s gonna be a good time. Some’re too full of whatever they’re on, if you know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” Henke said, returning to his bowl of noodles. He put down his chopsticks and picked up the bowl, preparing to drink the broth. He drank the broth for a few seconds before he put it down suddenly, his mouth scrunched up. He went for the glass of water at his side.

“A little hot, huh?” Tito said with a smile.

“Oh yeah,” Henke said with a sigh. “Phew…”

Tito and Henke went on with the rest of the shift. Henke stammered a few times on a few orders, and almost got knocked over by Ray’s tail, but otherwise, the day ended without much more fuss.

The other employees clocked out of their shifts, giving Henke congratulations on his first day. Some just went on their way, not saying a word to him or anybody.

Dugat paused in front of Henke; he almost said something, but just rushed ahead with his eyes closed, leaving as quickly as he could.

Mag went up to Henke and bowed her head.

“Thanks for covering my table, Henke,” she said. “I didn’t know what those guys’ problems were.”
“It’s not your fault,” Henke replied. “If they want to be jerks, then that’s their deal. We just need to do our job.”

Mag nodded.

“You’re right,” she said. “See you soon!”

Henke waved to Mag as she left.

“Such a sweet girl,” Tito said.

Rocky yawned and walked right past Henke. However, one of Henke’s large feet was in his way, causing Rocky to almost trip and fall. Henke caught Rocky’s fall and put him back on his feet. Rocky looked up at Henke, not sure how to respond.

“Thanks, man,” Rocky said, continuing on his zombie-way.

Tenka glanced over at Tito as he was about to leave, but before Tito could address him, Tenka left through the front door. Tenka’s bandaged tail, upon further inspection, looked like it was three-quarters the size that it ought to be on a repton.

Tito asked Henke to stay behind and help clean up. Equipped with Ray’s trusty broom, Henke made sure none of the dust and grit that accumulated on the floors of Nicor Noodles over the course of the day remained. Tito focused on cleaning the new window; in the window’s clear reflection, he could see Henke inspecting the floor of any lingering detritus.

“All done, buddy?” Tito asked.

Henke looked up from the floor and nodded.

“Looks like it,” Henke replied.

“Okay,” Tito said. “You can head on home when you’re ready.”

Otto went up to Henke as he was removing his apron.

“You did good, kid,” Otto said with pride. “Now, let’s see if you know how to keep a streak.”

“I dunno,” Tito said, staring at the clean window. “I didn’t leave any streaks.”

“Not you,” Otto said with a chuckle. He turned back to Henke.

“You get paid next week,” Otto said. “And if you’re lookin’ for a bus pass to Southtown, don’t be lookin’ my way.”

“I’m not,” Henke said, looking at his watch. “Thanks for giving me a chance, sir. I’ve gotta get the bus.”

As Henke walked toward the door, he patted Tito’s shoulder again.

“Thanks for showing me around,” Henke said.

See tomorrow, Henke!” Tito shouted in Blasnah as Henke left.

See you soon,” Henke replied with a wave.
Once Henke departed, Ray came out from the hallway. Otto went towards Ray, who stared out at Henke heading down the street.

“I…” Ray stammered. “I’m sorry if I was a little–”

Otto took Ray’s hand.
“Don’t be,” Otto interrupted. “The kid did good.”

“I hope it doesn’t drive people away,” Ray said. “I know he means well, but…I don’t know if other people will see it that way.”

“You saw him out there, Ray,” Tito said. “I’m sure he’s gonna be great.”
Ray took a deep breath.

“I’m going to lie down for a bit. Otto?”

Otto kissed Ray on the cheek.

“Say no more,” Otto replied.

Once again, Tito was left alone in the restaurant. There were no customers, no waiters, cooks, thugs, or blassnaughts left. It was just Tito and his thoughts. As much as those occupied him on a regular basis, he felt something, from his feet to his core, was going to change soon. It could even come as soon as tomorrow.