Sweet Venom
Page 9

 Tera Lynn Childs

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When I knew for sure we’d be moving to San Francisco, I researched the city online. I read a lot about the cable cars and their history and construction. I know the ropes and brakes are supposed to be safe, but I’m not entirely convinced. As I watch the people climb off and the car execute a complicated, man-powered turnaround, I’m getting a little apprehensive.
“Don’t worry,” Milo says quietly in my ear. “It’s fun.”
A warm, melty feeling spreads from my ear to the rest of my body. I smile and let him lead me to a seat while he and Thane stand, hanging out over the street. I look around and see that other riders are hanging out over the street too, but it doesn’t make me any less nervous.
My eyes stay squeezed tightly shut most of the ride, so I don’t remember much. There are a lot of jerks and stutters, and one time, when the car stops for a couple minutes, I hear a lot of shouting. I force one eye open and find Thane and Milo gone. Panicked, I lean out to search for them, only to find them—and a bunch of other passengers—actually pushing the car up the track. I keep my eyes open long enough for Thane and Milo to return to their spots, and then clamp them shut again.
Two stops later, as the car slowly climbs up a hill, I feel a warmth on my cheek just before Milo whispers, “You’re going to miss the best part.”
Despite my fear, I force my eyes open. For a second, Milo fills my vision. Then he leans back and reveals the view. We’re at an intersection at the high point of a hill. Straight in front of me is a narrow street leading steeply down to a wider one, full of light and lanterns and activity. It’s beautiful.
I smile at Milo for making me open my eyes.
I smile even bigger when he smiles back.
At the next stop, Milo’s hand wraps around mine and tugs me to my feet. We’ve survived. Next time, I’ll keep my eyes open the whole time.
“This is the world-famous Chinatown,” he says, still holding my hand as he leads me down a very steep street.
My heart is racing, and not just because of the harrowing ride.
“And this,” he says, pulling up in front of a glass storefront full of hanging meats and birds and unidentifiable things, “is the world’s best dim sum parlor.”
Although I can sort of see through the windows, they have layers of dirt caked at the corners, as if every so often someone grabs a rag to wipe only the centers. It doesn’t exactly scream Great Place to Eat. Or even No Health Code Violations.
Milo throws the door open wide, flashes me a brilliant grin, and says, “Wait until you taste it.”
Shoving my hesitations about the sanitary conditions aside, I follow Thane through the door and to a once-white Formica table with chipped edges. I take the seat opposite Thane, which means that—deep breath—Milo is sitting next to me. My blood is pounding in my ears, and I have to make the hostess repeat her request three times before I finally hear her ask, “Hot tea?”
“Yes, please,” I say, ducking to hide my blush.
“No menus?” Thane asks.
“Not with dim sum,” Milo explains. “The waiters will bring around trays of dishes, and if we see any we like, we get them.” He spins a small piece of paper beneath his finger. “They stamp this order sheet to keep track of what we eat.”
“Sounds complicated,” I manage.
“It’s great,” Milo promises with a wink.
I’m not so sure. But when the first trayful of goodies comes by, my mouth waters at the wonderful smells. It’s like I never even ate dinner.
“Barbecue pork buns are the best,” Milo says, pointing to a metal tin containing three puffy white balls of dough. “Just don’t eat the paper stuck to the bottom.”
The waiter sets the tin on our table, pulls a stamp from his apron, and marks a symbol onto our order ticket.
“Oh,” I say, eyeing the pork buns. “I, um—”
“Grace is vegetarian,” Thane explains, so I don’t have to.
Milo gives me a serious look. Great, now he thinks I’m some kind of hippie-granola weirdo. No, I’m just eco-conscious and doing my part to lighten my footprint. I wave a mental good-bye to my very slim chance with him.
But then he says, “Why didn’t you say something?”
He calls the waiter back over, and soon there is a tin of doughy buns—these filled with barbecued veggies—sitting next to the pork.
“Thanks,” I say, and then drop my gaze to the food. Cute and considerate. As if Milo weren’t already my dream guy.
It takes only a quick tutorial from Milo for me to manage the chopsticks well enough to pick up my bun and lift it to my mouth.
“Uh-oh,” he says, as I’m about to take a bite. He reaches toward me and, for a heartbeat, I think he’s going to touch my cheek. Instead, he peels a thin piece of waxed paper off the bottom of my veggie bun. “Trust me, this does not add to the experience.”
I laugh at his teasing comment, but inside, my heart is doing cartwheels. Play it cool, Grace. Don’t want him to think I’m totally boy-illiterate.
As if I’m totally together, I lift the bun the rest of the way to my mouth and am about to bite in when a repulsive smell washes over me.
Instant nausea.
I clap my free hand over my mouth as the bun drops and rolls, forgotten, to the floor.
Milo asks, “What’s wrong?”
“Grace?” Thane’s jaw clenches into a block of stone. “What is it?”