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by Jessica Freely
Category: Gay Fiction/Erotica
Description: Genre: LGBT Multicultural Paranormal
Welcome to the Dharma Cafe, a restaurant like no other. There is no menu. The waiter, Samura, uses mystical powers to read what each customer needs, and the cook, Agatha, prepares the food with ingredients like love, hope, and courage.
The cafe is a refuge for the new busboy, Charlie, who was kicked out of home on his eighteenth birthday. Irresistibly drawn to Samura, Charlie soon discovers that the stern, formal waiter harbors a heartbreaking past and a dangerous secret.
Samura lives in fear that one day, the darkness inside him will burst forth to destroy all he loves. Now that includes brash, infuriating, delectable Charlie, who has broken through all Samura's defenses and taught him to trust himself.
Just when Samura thinks it might be safe to reveal the truth, his worst nightmare walks back into his life: His father, Akio, the evil food sorcerer who runs the burger stand on the other side of town. Akio's business is expanding and he wants his son to manage his new location, where the Dharma Café now stands.
It will take the combined resources of an ancient cook, a novice dishwasher, and a cursed waiter to fight Akio and protect the cafe. But when Samura succumbs to Akio's magic, will it be enough?
Publisher's Note: This book contains explicit sexual situations, graphic language, and material that some readers may find objectionable: male/male sexual practices.
eBook Publisher: Loose Id, LLC, 2012
eBookwise Release Date: February 2012
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [276 KB]
Reading time: 171-240 min.
What a shitty eighteenth birthday this was turning out to be.
Even as the chill night air soothed Charlie's sore eye and swollen lip, it sent icy fingers down his spine. All he had for a coat was his Windbreaker, and it wasn't nearly enough. He shivered as he walked down Woodward Avenue in the dark.
The street was deserted at this time of night. On either side, tall office buildings loomed over Charlie the way Dan and his friends had when they got him on the ground. Up in the sky, the pitiless moon stared down, grinning. It cast light but no warmth. Just like Dan.
Charlie had been walking for hours with no plan and no place to go. Hunger coiled in his belly like a whipped dog, circling, begging for food, for kindness. But he'd lost his chance at those things too. They'd kicked him out. On his birthday, they'd kicked him out.
The moment he'd told them how he got the black eye and the fat lip, the mom and dad he thought he knew had transformed before his eyes. They'd turned to stone. No yelling or hitting, just cold rejection while his fucking birthday cake sat on the kitchen counter, forgotten.
He still couldn't get his head around it, but here he was, homeless with nothing in his pockets but the note that had led to his downfall. He should have seen through that. And he should never have told his parents the truth. But he hadn't, and he had, and now he had nothing.
The bench at a bus stop ahead beckoned him. Someone else was already there, so Charlie couldn't stretch out like he really wanted to, but it was better than nothing and likely the only resting place he'd find tonight. He sat down. It felt good to stop walking. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them, trying to warm up.
"Hey, kid. You hungry?"
Charlie looked at the stranger. He wore a dark wool overcoat on top of an expensive-looking suit, also in a dark color--blue or gray, Charlie couldn't tell in the moonlight. His hair was trimmed short, and he was clean-shaven. He looked like a banker. Except for the hat. He wore a fedora with a peacock feather in the hatband and the brim pulled down so Charlie couldn't see his eyes. Who the hell wore hats these days? And why was a businessman sitting at a bus stop in the middle of the night?
"You hungry, kid?"
Something didn't seem right, but Charlie nodded, watching the man closely.
The stranger smiled and held up a five-dollar bill. Where it had come from Charlie wasn't sure, because he'd been watching the guy the whole time. He'd have seen him reach into his pocket. The money was just there.
The man's smile grew wider, and he dropped his hand to his crotch. "I've got something you can eat."
Charlie shot up off the bench as if propelled by jet fuel. He ran down the street, the man's laughter following him for what seemed like blocks. At last he stopped and turned around. His heart pounded so hard it felt like it would burst through his rib cage, but no one followed him. Charlie leaned against a towering stone building and shook. His breath came in ragged gasps. That had been... Was that guy a sorcerer or just an ordinary creep? He'd made that money materialize out of thin air. He had to be a sorcerer.
Fuck. Up until now, he'd been in a daze, just wandering around, wondering what to do but not really grasping the depth of the shit he was in. But he should have. Everyone knew what happened to young people who ran away from home or got kicked out. They wound up in thrall to sorcerers.
Charlie started walking again, faster this time. Fear overwhelmed his exhaustion and hunger. He had to find a safe place to sleep and some food, and then he needed to figure out a plan for how he was going to survive without becoming the hapless puppet of some degenerate magic user.
Several blocks later, Charlie spotted an oddly shaped window aglow with golden light. It reminded him of the way the windows of his old elementary school had looked when he arrived from a long walk in the dark and cold of a winter morning. He'd never forget how it felt to walk into his third-grade classroom, to be greeted by the smell of chalk and Mr. Hubbard's smile. Like he was shedding more than just his heavy winter coat. Like he was free.
As he neared, Charlie saw that the window was a five-sided polygon and it belonged to an establishment that was unlike the tall, impersonal office buildings all around it--a two-story wood-framed structure with a peaked roof and a chimney that zigged and zagged toward the sky like a brick-and-mortar lightning bolt. Smoke issued from the chimney, scenting the air with the aroma of something delicious.
Charlie walked closer still until he stood bathed in the golden illumination pouring from the window. A sign proclaimed Dharma Cafe: We will give you what you need.
If only. The tantalizing smells issuing from the restaurant made Charlie's empty stomach clamor for food. He remembered his Grandpa Billy's pot roast and his mother's apple crisp. Suddenly, his hunger would no longer be put off. He needed to eat.
But he had no money.
An alley ran between the cafe and the building next door. Desperate, Charlie made his way past broken bottles and pallets stacked against the wall, entertaining mad thoughts of sneaking in and stealing from the kitchen or even scavenging from the trash if necessary.
He didn't expect to find the mother lode of cast-off food.
Behind the restaurant stood the cleanest Dumpster Charlie had ever seen, positively overflowing with burgers, potpies, and chocolate chip cookies. Maybe he was dreaming. Maybe that weirdo back at the bus stop had enchanted him. At the moment, he didn't care. He took a running start and dived headfirst into the Dumpster.
On each table in the dining room of the Dharma Cafe burned a candle. Looking out over the quiet, softly lit room, Samura fancied those candles to be stars in the night sky, each forming an oasis of light and comfort for those who sought refuge from the darkness.
Certainly the cafe had been his sanctuary for many years now. He would always be grateful to Chef Agatha for taking in the frightened child he'd been when he arrived here. He'd already been tainted, of course, but she accepted him anyway, and with patience and kindness, she'd taught him how to do his job. He worked hard every day to honor her faith in him and to fulfill his duty to those who came here seeking help.
At table three, Mr. Olshinski, who'd just lost his grandmother, sat waiting for his food. At table six, Ms. Parker ate fried fish and plantains for her self-esteem. Mr. Rangarajan had just seated himself at table nine. It was time for Samura to take his order.
As he always did before waiting on a customer, Samura prayed. Please let me be worthy. The thought of getting an order wrong, of dishonoring the Dharma Cafe and betraying Chef Agatha's trust, made him queasy. But he could not afford to get distracted. Samura set aside his fear and approached Mr. Rangarajan, order pad in hand.
As Chef Agatha had taught him, he planted his feet firmly, hip width apart. He drew breath deep into his belly, cleared his mind, and looked at his customer. "What would you like tonight, sir?"
Mr. Rangarajan sighed. Horizontal creases appeared on his forehead, and the corners of his mouth turned down. "I need more love in my life," he said.
Samura noted the wedding band on his left hand and the way Mr. Rangarajan wiggled it between his pinky and middle finger. He also took in his crisply pressed shirt and neat haircut. In the way that things came to him now when he was calm and clear and there was space in his mind to accept them, he saw a woman pressing that shirt, and Mr. Rangarajan with a towel around his neck while the same woman trimmed his hair, biting her lip in concentration as she snipped the strands to make sure they were even. She wore a wedding band similar to his.
Samura breathed and waited to see if anything else arose. Yes. The movement of Mr. Rangarajan's hand--that twitching of his ring--emanated another image, a young woman behind a counter in a coffee house. She was very beautiful, and she smiled as she handed Mr. Rangarajan his mocha.
"More love. Yes, sir," said Samura and headed to the kitchen.
Compared to the serenity of the dining room, the kitchen of the Dharma Cafe was busy with bubbling chaos. Strings of sausages and garlic hung from the rafters. Sacks of flour sat side by side with wheels of cheese and baskets of fruit on the shelves along the wall. Steam issued from numerous pots and pans on the stove, scenting the air with the aromas of Irish stew, congee, and paella. In the middle of it all, Chef Agatha floated cross-legged in midair, an ancient woman with unruly white hair tied back in a bandanna. The skirt of her peasant dress hung down below her knees, and the sleeves of her haori were pushed up to her elbows. She sliced an onion, her hands and the knife a blur. The pieces dropped like snow falling onto the large butcher-block table in the center of the room. Humming to herself, she drifted over to the stove. From the spice rack on the wall, she snatched a jar labeled Acceptance and sprinkled some of the contents into a large pot of simmering red cabbage. She replaced the jar and picked up another, this one labeled Love. She sprinkled a generous amount of that into the pot as well.
Samura didn't really know how old his boss and teacher was, or what her last name was, if she had one. She was simply Chef Agatha.
At the sound of his footsteps on the threshold, she pivoted to face him. She smiled, and it illuminated her whole face. Samura basked in the glow. "Mr. Rangarajan is at table nine, Chef," he said.
"Yes, and what does he need?"
"He says he wants more love in his life."
Chef Agatha unfolded her legs and dropped to the ground. She approached, took his hand, and peered up at him. Since his growth spurt, he towered over her tiny, five-foot-tall frame. "That's what he says he wants. What does he need?"
She squeezed his hand. "Go on. You know it's okay to make a mistake."
After all these years, he did know that, but would he ever really feel it? His heart pounded. He couldn't possibly have it right, could he? Still, the two women he'd seen--particularly the one cutting Mr. Rangarajan's hair. "Um. I think he needs to appreciate what he already has." He explained to Chef Agatha what he saw.
"Yes!" she said.
A warm glow came to life inside him.
Chef Agatha hugged him, her wiry arms squeezing the breath out of him. She released him and stood back, beaming. "You are a very good waiter, Samura."
His face aflame, he couldn't meet her eyes. Uncomfortable and happy in equal measure, he stared at his feet. "Thank you, Chef Agatha."
She hopped up and went back to levitating. "So, sambal and dosa for Mr. Rangarajan, with a healthy pinch of contentment to help him remember how lucky he is." She drifted toward the rack where the dishes were kept and grabbed a plate. "And for Mr. Olshinski, dumplings with paprika sauce, green beans, and red cabbage." She began spooning the food onto the plate. "All seasoned with lots of love and acceptance to help with the loss of his bubbe."
He remembered when Mr. Olshinski came out to his bubbe. Samura had just arrived at the cafe then, a frightened child of eight. That was ten years ago now.
Chef Agatha handed the plate to Samura. As he turned toward the dining room to serve the food, she called out after him. "Oh and the garbage needs to be taken out."
Until today, Charlie's parents had always provided for him. He'd never known hunger, but by that same token, he'd never encountered so much delicious food in one place at the same time. And all kinds! Onion nan and beef pasties. Corn on the cob and cheese pierogi. Bags and bags of unspoiled food, if a bit mixed up.
His first hunger sated on fried chicken, egg rolls, and cupcakes, he waded chest deep among the black plastic bags, browsing. He felt fantastic. Dizzy with the pleasure of a full belly and the enticing prospect of more to come. Charlie ripped open a new bag to find a cannoli still with its cherry on top. He loved cannoli. It was his favorite dessert. He grabbed it, pulled a carrot stick free from one end, and raised the pastry to his mouth. The world spun gently around him in a slow arc, but that was okay, because at the center of it all, of the whole universe, maybe, was him and his cannoli.
Charlie ignored the voice in the distance. It was irrelevant. The cannoli drew him toward its creamy lusciousness with a slow, sweet power, like a riptide in a sea of molasses.
Charlie opened his mouth.
"Don't eat any more!"
Charlie could already imagine how it would taste--sweet and rich, with a hint of chocolate from the shavings. He extended his tongue.
Out of nowhere, a hand swept out and knocked the cannoli from his grip. It spun end over end, arcing through the air to land with a splat on the concrete.
For a moment, all he could do was stare in horror, numb with the suddenness of his loss. Paradise had been within his grasp, a place where everything felt good and tasted delicious and his troubles could not reach him. And now, all of that was reduced to a forlorn pile of crumbs and mud-smeared custard.
He turned to face the villain who had crushed his dreams.
Beside the Dumpster stood a guy about his age, only about a head taller. He was handsome, Asian, with dark hair and eyes and a serious expression. He wore black slacks and a black, long-sleeved tunic with a tab collar and buttons running up the front.
"My cannoli," yelled Charlie. "You asshole!"
"That food is really bad for you."
His calm demeanor only pissed Charlie off more. "Fuck off, health Nazi! I'll eat all the pastry I want."
"You don't understand. You need to get out of there. Now."
"No! This is my find!" Charlie backed up and clutched the bags around him. A caramel apple poked up through one of the tears in the plastic. It wasn't like the cannoli, but it was better than nothing. He reached for it.
In one smooth movement, the Cannoli Killer vaulted the side of the Dumpster and wrested the caramel apple from Charlie's grasp. "Cut that out," he said and threw the apple after the cannoli.
"I'll kill you!" Charlie threw a punch, but the other guy grabbed his wrist, pushed Charlie's arm up, and ducked beneath it. The next thing Charlie knew, he was sprawled across strong, broad shoulders, anchored firmly by one hand gripping his wrist and another his knee. "Hey! What are you doing?"
His assailant tipped him over the edge of the Dumpster and let go. Charlie landed hard on his butt on the ground. "Ow! Who the hell do you think you are?"
The other guy leaped out of the Dumpster using the same fluid move as before. He stood over Charlie, his arms crossed. "I am Samura, the waiter of the Dharma Cafe."
"You're an asshole! I'm not doing anything. You're just throwing this food away. Why can't I have it?" Tears sprang to his eyes, and his voice wavered. Humiliation only made him angrier. Charlie jumped up. His stomach gave a sharp twinge of complaint. That spinning feeling was back, only now it wasn't as nice. In fact, it was making him feel a bit sick. He needed something to settle his stomach. A bagel, peeping out from one of the torn bags, beckoned. He braced to hoist himself up over the edge.
"No." A hand gripped his shoulder.
This guy didn't know when to quit. "Leave me alone!" Charlie spun and swung his fist at the waiter. This time, he connected--a solid punch to the jaw.
Samura reeled backward. "Hey!"
Charlie charged him, ready to deliver another blow. "Destroy my cannoli will you, you--"
Charlie's gut twisted. A wave of nausea rolled through his body. The world spun faster and faster, his vision narrowing until all he could see was Samura's face, and then that too was sucked up by the roiling blackness.
Samura's opponent packed a wallop for someone so short and skinny. His jaw stung from that punch. Samura prepared to dodge the next blow, but just as the other guy was about to swing, his eyes rolled back, and he went limp. Samura leaped forward and caught him before he could hit the ground.
He lifted the stranger in his arms.
Judging by the guy's fat lip and black eye, he'd been beaten up pretty bad recently. But apart from that, his clothes were clean and new, his blond hair trimmed if untidy. He looked like an ordinary, middle-class boy about Samura's age, yet he carried about him an air of desperation that went deeper than the effects of food intoxication. Who is he, and why is he out here in the middle of the night scavenging for food?
The answers to those questions didn't really matter. The very first thing Chef Agatha had taught Samura was that the Dharma Cafe existed for the purpose of helping people. Whatever sort of trouble this guy was in, whatever help he needed, they'd give it to him. Samura stared at the stranger's face a moment more, mesmerized by the curves and planes of his features, then snapped out of it and carried him inside.
Chef Agatha took one look at the boy in Samura's arms and set down her rolling pin. "Oh dear! What's happened?"
"He was eating from the Dumpster."
"Oh no! Oh I knew this would happen one day. Why do I always make so much food? It's wasteful and dangerous." She shook her head. "I'm going to have to mend my ways."
Samura didn't like seeing Chef Agatha upset. "It's not your fault. You can't risk there not being enough to eat, and the food can't be given to anyone else. I'll put a padlock on the Dumpster, though. It's my fault. I should have thought of that before."
She smiled at him, and a warm glow spread outward from his heart. "You're so smart, Samura. A padlock is an excellent idea."
He lowered his face so she couldn't see him blushing at her praise. The boy in his arms moaned.
"Now, this young man is my responsibility," said Chef Agatha. "He's in this fix because of my mistake."
A sharp twinge, unexpected and painful, shot through Samura's chest at the thought of this...this Dumpster diver being Chef Agatha's responsibility. "No," he said. "He's mine. It's my fault for not thinking to put a lock on the Dumpster before this. I take out the trash. I should have known the danger."
Chef Agatha gave him a slow, sly smile. She was pleased about something, but he wasn't sure what. "Be careful what you say, Samura. Words matter--almost as much as what we eat."
Sudden dread filled him. What had he done? Was he going to have to spend the rest of his life looking after this bad-tempered garbage hound? He looked down at the boy again. Would that be so bad?
The guy was starting to go a little green around the gills, but there was no denying how handsome-- Anyway, it was better than him taking Samura's place with Chef Agatha.
Samura looked up to see her watching with that amused expression again. What was she thinking?
The Dumpster diver moaned.
"Oh dear. We'd better get him to bed. He can use the extra bed in your room, okay, Samura?"
He had to share his room now? "Yes, Chef Agatha."
She chuckled as if she knew exactly what he was thinking. But there was no help for it. He couldn't refuse Chef Agatha anything. He owed her his very life, and even more importantly, the sanctity of his soul. Besides, hadn't he just taken responsibility for this young man? What had he done?
He followed Chef Agatha up the stairs, his heart heavier than the burden in his arms.
As soon as they laid him down on the spare bed in Samura's room, their patient began vomiting.