Last night, you said, Let’s go somewhere nice for dinner. Let me take you out, so we go to Bavel when it opens, hope to snag a table without the long queue. (I hate queueing for food. So do you.) We’re seated at one of the high marble-top tables behind the bar, directly across from the open kitchen, and you note that all the cooks on the line are men, except for one woman way at the other end. There’s a giant oven; we know they bake their breads in-house, that they offer flatbreads on their menu; and it’s a beautiful space, planters hanging from the ceiling, marble countertops gleaming in the natural light that floods the space, colorful tiles in geometric patterns along the floor. There’s a wide patio area. There are young servers with attitude and immigrant workers offering water and asking if they can take plates away.
There’s you, sitting across from me, looking cool in your crisp button-down tucked into your skinny black jeans. You parted your hair on the side tonight, combed gel through it, just enough to hold your hair in place, and I like seeing you like this, in your non-casual attire, as you say. It’s not much different from your everyday attire of skinny jeans and fitted shirts. The hair makes the difference, the absence of the backwards baseball cap.
The food is great, and I know I’ll remember it the way that I remember food, especially great food, but it’s you who’ll be seared into my brain. I’ll associate this restaurant with you now, picture you sitting there, tearing bread apart with your fingers, licking off the eggplant purée that’s gotten onto the side of your hand, listening attentively as servers explain each dish as they set it down. When your eyes stop their usual dance of flitting around a room, you have a way of looking so directly into people’s eyes that it makes them want to look away, and I’ll think of that, too, the servers who avert their eyes from your focus, the way I ignore all that to sneak tastes of sauces and purées and yogurt dips with my finger while they talk, you listen, they try not to look away.
Is it good? you ask, laughing, and you’re not really asking because we've both been oh my god!-ing non-stop the whole meal. Should we get another foie gras halva? you ask, too, and you’re not really asking that either because we’ve been fighting over the foie gras halva, trying to eat more than each other, making sure to get some of the date paste into every bite.
I love you, I want to say, but that’s crazy — I’ve known you for ten days, and that’s if we count from the day I first saw you at that party, if we count all the empty days between that night and the night you showed up at my apartment with takeaway sushi.
That’s crazy because I’ve never said those words to anyone before, could barely get myself to write them down on birthday cards, Mother’s Day cards, holiday cards, and yet here we are, losing our shit over eggplant escabeche, lamb flatbread, grilled cauliflower, and beef cheek tagine, and all I want to say is I love you, I love you, I love you.
Let’s get dessert, I say instead.
Is that a question? Rose clove doughnuts or paglava? you ask. Or the strawberry sumac and sweet cheese pastry? I think that one comes with ice cream?
Did you memorize the menu?
Oh, like you didn’t already know what you want for dessert, you say, reaching for my hand and kissing the back of it. Nothing to say, eh?
I swallow, want to say, There’s a lot of things I want to say, but our server is back, asking if we want to look at the dessert menu, and you’re smiling, saying, No, we know what we want. I don’t hear what you order, though, because she’s smiling back at you, and I feel like scowling, even while your fingers are laced through mine, your thumb tracing slow circles on the side of my hand. You’re cute, yeah, and, sometimes, I want to carry you around in my pocket so no one else can see you and I can have you all to myself — but, then, the server’s gone, and your eyes are back on my face, and I wonder what expression I’m wearing on my face because your eyebrows are arching and you’re laughing and saying, Shit, did I order the wrong dessert? I got all three? Was there another one you wanted instead? Should I have gotten four?!