She stepped slowly over to the man sitting at the counter, gently placing a menu in front of him and trying to hide the wariness in her clear blue eyes. He did not look up but managed to utter a word of thanks anyway. She lingered for just a moment. “Something to drink?”
Sirius looked down at the menu on the counter, and he was overcome with a craving for a thick vanilla milkshake. It would be wonderful, the sensation of the cool, sweet cream sliding down his parched throat, populating his taste buds with milk and sugar for the first time in years. He dug in his pockets absently, knowing that he had no access to his own money but hoping that the homeless man he’d stolen the trousers from might have been foolish enough to leave his meager earnings in this pair of pants. He had no such luck, however, and he tried not to sound embarrassed as he asked for some water instead. As she moved down the counter to put ice in a glass for him, he watched her, noting that something seemed off about the blonde in the apron.
“Rachael, lunchtime.” Casey said, passing her as she began to pour spring water into the glass. “What’ll it be today?”
It didn’t matter. She always chose something different, but she never ate much of whatever she got. She thought for a moment, considering what she’d had for lunch for the past week or so. “Poached salmon. With chips.” She said at last, and Casey nodded, scribbling it down on a piece of paper and handing it back to the cook.
“I wouldn’t.” Sirius spoke up without meaning to do so. They all looked at him.
“I—um, do you get the fish fresh from the market?” He added in explanation.
“Of course.” Casey frowned slightly.
“Well, I passed it this morning, and some of the fish smelled a bit off.” He looked at the blonde, who offered a grateful smile. Lunch was always a struggle for her, and she thought her manager had caught her scraping her mostly full plate out in the back alley for the dogs once or twice. Eventually, whatever sympathy Casey had mustered for her would wear out, and she would lose her job. They simply couldn’t afford having a waitress who wasted so much quality food.
“I’m not really hungry.” She said, turning back to Casey. “I need to take his order, anyway.”
“Nonsense, I can take his order. You know you get a free meal.” The manager said. “Think about what you want while I go check the rest of our fish supply.” She entered the kitchen with a sigh.
She stood there awkwardly for a moment, trying not to panic. A garden salad would be easier to pick at without looking suspicious, but the lackluster taste of the iceberg lettuce would also do very little to spur her taste buds into producing any semblance of hunger in her stomach. She glanced over at the man, who was contentedly sipping his water, and an idea came to her.
“What would you suggest?” She asked, coming to stand in front of him.
Sirius looked up, puzzled. “You’re the one who works here.”
“Well, I’m terrible at making up my mind.” She said, turning on the charm. “I trust your opinion.” She locked her blue eyes on his face, forcing him to acknowledge her presence.
“Oh, I’m not really hungry, either.” He said, but his stomach released an inopportune growl.
“Doesn’t sound that way.” She smiled softly. “You pick something, and we’ll split it.”
He smiled in appreciation of her kindness, resigning himself to the fact that his dirty exterior displayed his poverty for all to see. “Okay.” He glanced at the menu once more. “How about a grilled cheese?” He wasn’t sure what a grill was, but cheesy items were usually good.
“Sounds great.” She wrote the order down and passed it to the cook, grabbing a clean glass and getting some water for herself. A few moments later, the ding of a bell signaled that their shared meal was ready. She gingerly picked up the hot plate, setting it down before him.
Sirius took one look at the hot, melted cheddar cheese that spilled out of the toasted sandwich and had to consciously restrain himself from sticking his tongue out and drooling. He waited a couple of seconds out of courtesy for the waitress, and then he grabbed the slightly bigger half of the sandwich, taking a huge bite.
She smiled with satisfaction, picking up a very small French fry and biting off the tip.
Casey emerged from the back, grateful that only the salmon appeared to have gone bad. She glanced over at the waitress and her customer, fully aware that it was against their policy for the employees to eat with those they were assigned to serve. However, none of their regulars had come in yet, so she let it go, busying herself with mopping the floor behind the counter.
The waitress ate her way through three and a half chips, not daring supplement them with ketchup lest her stomach decide that enough was enough. As she had predicted, the half-starved man in front of her devoured both halves of the sandwich without even asking if she wanted a bite. They both drank three full glasses of ice water each, and Sirius picked up the crumbs off the plate with the pads of his fingers, popping them into his mouth one by one as dessert.
“Thank you. That was delicious.” He remarked, digging in his pockets once again as a show. “I—I seem to have forgotten my wallet… could I come back in tomorrow and—?”
“Don’t worry about it. My lunch is free, remember?” She smiled. “But you can come back in tomorrow if you want. It’s nice to have someone to have lunch with.”
Her plan had worked perfectly, and now she wouldn’t have to waste food. Genius.
“Yeah, it is nice.” Sirius said, looking up into the woman’s pretty blue eyes. “Rachael, was it?”
“Yes.” The waitress said quickly, shaking his hand gently. “And you are?” She already knew.
He paused for a moment too long, but she ignored it. “Stephen.” He said at last.
“It’s nice to meet you, Stephen.” She said, picking up the empty plate and taking it back into the kitchen. “I’ll get you another glass of water in just a minute, okay?”
He suddenly felt very bad for eating the majority of her lunch. She looked as though she’d barely had more to eat than he had for the past few years. “No, that’s all right.” He stood up, flushing as he realized he didn’t have any money to tip her, either. He heard her coming back toward the front, and he quickly slipped out the door, leaving his empty water glass behind.
She came back out, picking up the glass and shaking her head a bit as she washed it out. Poverty was nothing to be embarrassed about, not in this part of town. The little bit of money she earned as a waitress was more than enough to pay for her one bedroom flat, which she had rented just before the local government was about to demolish it and the others nearby. The diner was one of only a few businesses that remained open in this district, which was far removed from both the main part of Muggle London and the wizarding world. She had chosen the area for that reason.
She concluded her shift a few hours later, locking up the diner and saying goodnight to the manager and the cook as she prepared to walk the four short blocks to her apartment. As she dug in the pocket of her apron for her keys, however, she noticed a familiar figure crouching in the alleyway next to her building. “Hey.” She said, as if this scenario wasn’t unusual in the slightest.
“Hey.” He said shamefully, stepping out into the light.
“You need someplace to stay?” She asked, opening her door.
“No, I’m going to keep looking for a hotel.” He said quickly.
“You won’t find one around here.” She countered. “People don’t visit too much.”
“Ah.” He said, biting his lip. “Um… yeah, could I crash here?”
“Of course. I offered, didn’t I?” She teased slightly, amazed at how easily she’d fallen into a pattern of friendship with a wanted criminal. “Come on in.”
He took one more look around him at the deserted street, and then he followed her inside.