Rilah sat still in the car, her thoughts crowding her and her hands fidgeting. She knew that Charlie meant well, and she appreciated it, but him defending her like that would only make the bullying worse than it was, much worse. And she wasn't looking forward to it.
Charlie also knew the consequences of his actions. But he would always be there for Rilah, and he would end anyone who dared to hurt Rilah. He cleared his throat, breaking the silence that was so taut in the car. "I'm sorry about what happened there. I know it doesn't help in any way. But I meant it; if Cynthia does so much as touch you, she'll be sorry."
Rilah nodded timidly. She saw the vein tick in Charlie's face, and his knuckles whitened as he gripped the steering wheel tighter.
"What's the name of the restaurant?" she tried to break the tension.
"You'll see when we get there", he turned to shoot her a dazzling smile. Rilah relaxed, feeling anxious but happy for the surprise that was to come.
Charlie pulled into a parking lot of a Japanese restaurant, which Rilah had failed to get its name because she was giddy with excitement. She had never had any fast food, let alone been in a restaurant. She had only ever tasted pizza at the Cunnings' home but either than that, she never knew the taste of a burger, chicken wings or any expert-cooked food.
Charlie held her hand and led her into the restaurant, removing their shoes at the entrance, as was custom for the restaurant. He consulted with a waiter, who led them to a low round table, with cushions for seats. Charlie showed Rilah how to sit properly, with their legs folded beneath their bottoms. He watched silently as Rilah cast her eyes around the restaurant, assessing it. Her gaze swept over the red and chrome hues, the somber atmosphere, the stealth and ease that the waitrons moved with, and the general content hum of conversation in the restaurant.
Her lips broke out in a slow smile, and Charlie let out the breath he had not noticed he'd been holding.
"Charlie, this is beautiful! Really beautiful", she whispered. She couldn't stop looking around; this place stunned her but Rilah's expression, her happiness, stunned Charlie. Seeing her this excited made him ten times more happy. The waiter arrived with their menus and Charlie perused through his, immediately deciding on his favourite; tempura.
He lowered his menu and looked at Rilah, who looked utterly lost. At first he figured that maybe it was because she had so many choices she wasn't sure which she wanted but then she put her menu down in frustration.
"I don't know anything here; I'll just have what you are having."
Charlie smiled and said, "No you won't. Try the okonomiyaki. It means pizza but is actually an omelette stuffed with different things."
Rilah contemplated it but then shook her head. "No. If I'm gonna be in a restaurant for the first time ever, I might as well try something new."
Charlie grinned. Rilah was ambitious and he loved that. "Okay. We'll order tempura, ramen and shabu shabu."
Frowning, Rilah asked him to explain what those dishes were. Charlie gave the waiter their orders of one plate of each and two drinks. Animatedly, he explained each dish to Rilah.
"Shabu shabu is a Japanese hot pot dish. Basically it's ingredients dipped into a kelp based soup."
"Kelp? Isn't that some kind of sea plant?" She asked, her brows raised. Charlie nodded. He laughed at Rilah's expression, which was a little surprised.
"Ramen is noodles with bamboo shoots, chives, chashuu and eggs." Rilah shuddered.
"Seems like anything green can be food here. What is chashuu?"
"Pork. Tempura is seafood and veggies covered in batter and fried. It's really nice, my favourite actually."
Rilah smiled wryly. "I thought your favourite was cheesecake." She laced her fingers and rested her chin on them, looking at Charlie.
"Favourite dessert", he clarified. "Favourite dish has to be tempura."
"Nice to know." If only Rilah knew how much she was affecting Charlie by looking at him like that, she would probably stop all together. It amused Charlie, and baffled him, how innocent Rilah was. She could have been seducing or flirting with a guy and she wouldn't have the faintest clue about it. It was one of the qualities that drew Charlie in; one could never find a seventeen year old female with half as much innocence as Rilah. These days, girls challenged boys. It was a feat to find a girl who still blushed, and Rilah did it bountifully.
These were the thoughts that went through Charlie as Rilah realised that Charlie was staring at her, and colour flooded her cheeks. Thankfully, the waiter arrived with their food, and served it with a flourish.
"Okay. We will start with the shabu shabu." He pushed the dish to the center of the table and handed her a spoon. At first Rilah seemed a little apprehensive but then her stomach rumbled loudly, like dry thunder.
Laughing, Charlie pointed to the bowl and said, with his mouth full, "Eat up."
Once Rilah had taken a spoonful, a wave of flavours hit her taste buds and she couldn't seem to stop. Charlie was stunned; this girl could eat! There were no lady-like little bites. She didn't wait to swallow and make conversation before taking another spoonful, she didn't dab at her lips to wipe sauce. She didn't care at all and Charlie loved that.
"Woah! Slow down. We still have two more dishes." He chuckled, pulling the bowl away from her. He pushed the ramen to the center, handed her chopsticks and taught her how to use them. Within five minutes they were digging into the noodles.
"This is so much better!" She exclaimed, her mouth full of food. She felt so happy, like she was in seventh heaven.
"So the way to your heart is through your stomach", Charlie remarked, taking moderate amounts of noodles and letting Rilah eat to her heart's content.
"Oh, give me this everyday and I'll give you more than my heart."
Charlie felt a yearning churn within him but he hid it with a smile. He pulled away the plate, much to Rilah's protests and they dug into the tempura.
"Oh Dios Mio! Any man who can cook this, I would marry in a heartbeat."
Charlie laughed out loud, earning a few looks from other customers. However, he made himself a goal to learn how to cook tempura.
When the waiter came, he ordered a takeaway of tempura to be delivered to him later, and yakitori to go. While he settled the bill, Rilah went to the restroom, feeling full for the first time she could remember. She reflected on the day, not regretting for once coming with Charlie. One thing bothered her though, she had said 'Dios Mio' quite naturally and it bothered her that she couldn't recall where she'd heard it from.
When she came out, she met Charlie by the door, holding up her school shoes. She put them on, and took the grilled skewered chicken from Charlie.
He opened the door for her, and diverted her from the car. "I have one more thing to show you," and he led her down to what looked like a fair with a circus in the middle. Rilah's smile only got wider.
As they made their way back home, Rilah couldn't stop talking about all the stunts and tricks she had seen at the circus. The brilliant lights had dazzled her and she couldn't think of a day that could equal the one she'd just had. She admired Charlie, who put up with her as she talked his ears off. He finally shut her up by handing her a plain black box.
"Don't open it now", he cautioned.
"Why not? What's in it?" She shook it experimentally and it produced a dull sound.
He squirmed, looking uncomfortable. "Just open it at home Rye."
"Okay". There was considerable, comfortable silence for a while until Rilah, with renewed vigor and excitement, started going through the highlights of the day again. Charlie smiled widely.