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It’s been a long time since Mom died and it’s still a little difficult every single day. It was worse coming to terms with her death than Dad’s probably because her passing left me all alone now. I know I’m not alone in the world. I still have my siblings and my cousins who live nearby and my friends as well but currently I’m the only one living in this large house. And some days it gets lonely. Really lonely!

I used school as a distraction. I spent so much time on campus studying and hanging out with my classmates only going home when I needed to eat, sleep and shower. But now after graduating I no longer had culinary school as my excuse to be away from home. I thought for sure I would go stir crazy being in this house all by myself.

Honestly, it’s not as bad as I thought.

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I suppose it helps to have a pool, a Jacuzzi and a library full of books at my disposal for whenever I get bored. I do miss having people around to cook for though. I had to learn how to prepare meals for just one. The amount of leftovers that spoiled in the refrigerator during those first few days because I couldn’t eat it all by myself!

It’s hard to get people to come over and hang out even with the promise of free food. Everyone is so busy now. Patrick and Ashley are still in their honeymoon phase and they travel a lot. Nate is now dating Justine, and I’m still a little creeped out by that! Aden is pursuing his master’s degree at a university in Champs Les Sims. Aunt Jo and Aunt Izzy were regular visitors when Mom died but then they too passed away. My brother and sister are still living their own lives in San Myshuno. Basically, the only people I get to hang out with often are Tatiana and Darren.

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But I try not to do it too often because I don’t like feeling like a third wheel. They’re very nice to include me when they go out but I know they’re in love and would rather spend some time alone instead of having me tag along with them all the time.

If I had someone in my life, I know that’s how I’d feel. Unfortunately my dating life is about as active as it was when I was in high school which isn’t saying much. I’ve gone on dates with guys at school but none of them ever went pass the first date. Tatiana tells me I’m too picky but I just know what I want and I refuse to settle for less. These days I’m just unlucky enough to attract a bunch of guys who just want to ‘simflix and chill.’ Whatever happened to good old fashioned courting? Why do guys just expect me to hook up with them just because they took me out on one date? That’s not any significant amount of time to get to know someone. I’d rather be single than to have to settle for guys like that.

That’s why I don’t mind treating myself every now and then instead of waiting for a man to do that stuff for me.

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There was this restaurant that I’ve wanted to go to for so long called Sakura. It was reviewed to have the best tasting Japanese food in town. They even claimed to have a few experimental dishes that I couldn’t wait to try. I was about to start my first shift as a Line Cook at the Nookstone Café that evening so I treated myself to a celebratory dinner. I also wanted to check out the competition.

“Good evening Miss, welcome to Lotus.” The host greeted.

“Good evening. I have a reservation for one under Sloane.”

As the host checked his computer I locked eyes with a man who strolled pass me. He had long chocolate coloured hair, a wide toothy grin and pale blue eyes that looked right back at me with such warmth. And the way he smelled!

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“Right this way, miss.” The host said, breaking me out of my thoughts.

As the host led me to my table I lost sight of the handsome stranger. He probably went back to his table where his girlfriend or date was waiting for him.

I sat down and began to scan through the menu and saw the description for one of the experimental dishes – cubed ahi tuna with veggie wasabi matrix. As tempting as the nigiri looked I knew I just had to order that experimental option.

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I closed the menu and looked around to see if I could find the waiter so I could place my order. I was so hungry I thought I could hear my stomach growl. Then I suddenly I got this weird sense that someone was watching me. I looked around and everyone else was minding their business paying attention to their food and the person they were with but then I glanced through the aquarium next to my table and saw him.

The handsome guy with the smile, he was the one staring at me.

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“Can I help you?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound annoyed or anything.

He grinned wider. “Sorry for staring, it’s just that…well, you’re just freakin’ gorgeous. I mean…crap. I hope I’m not coming across as some kind of psycho or anything.”

“Not yet. How about if I take your compliment in exchange for a ‘thank you’”

He kept looking at me through the glass as I sat there wondering why my waiter had not come to take my order as yet. The service in this place was really slow so far. I could feel his eyes inspecting me and usually that kind of thing would creep me out but this time I didn’t mind. Kinda flattering, really. “Are you gonna stare at me all night?” I said with a grin.

“Well, you’re the prettiest thing in this room so it’s kinda hard not to look your way.”

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I laughed, probably a little too loud. Even he winced a little after saying it once he realised how it sounded.

“That was the cheesiest line I’ve ever heard!”

“I’m probably a little off my game tonight.” He shrugged. “I usually have better pickup lines than that. Are you dining alone?”

“I am.”

“Seriously? Don’t tell me a guy was stupid enough to stand you up.”

“No, no. I just wanted to try out this place and didn’t want to let the no-date thing stop me.”

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“So you’re just here for the food?”

“Pretty much,” I nodded.

“Well I’m also here for the food as well. I had a date but she texted me to cancel and I’m not gonna let that stop me from trying out the ramen.”

“A date huh? Then what was all that gorgeous talk back there?”

“I said a date, I didn’t say girlfriend.” He laughed. “Besides, I don’t think she was that interested anyway if she stood me up at the last minute. Her loss is your gain.” He winked.

This guy was too cocky! “My gain? How is it my gain?”

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“Because now you have the opportunity to join me for dinner, what do you say?”

I shook my head. “I don’t even know you…”

“Well, let’s fix that. My name is Michael, what’s yours?”

“Um…” Should I tell him my name? “…Maia.”

“Nice to meet you Maia. If you’re not interested, you can tell me to go screw myself and leave you alone and I will. But if you are interested, how about we combine our dinners for one into a dinner for two? No strings attached, I promise. You pay for your meal and I pay for mine but we just share each other’s company?”

I probably should have said no and take him up on his suggestion to tell him leave me alone but there was just something about this guy…

Next thing I knew, I moved to his table and was sitting across from him.

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“Do you know what you want to order?” I asked.

“Hmm…I settled on the ramen before I came in. A friend told me it was best you can get in the OS but now…the pufferfish nigiri looks good too. I’m also thinking I may want the stir fry as well. It looks like they add sesame seeds to theirs…mmm…I love sesame seeds, almost as much as I love poppy seeds.”

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“You sound like a total foodie.”

“I am and proud!” He beamed. “What about you?”

“I guess you can say that I am. I just graduated culinary school and I’m supposed to start my first shift at the Nookstone Café this evening.”

“Oh I’ve been to that place. It’s nice. So you’re a chef? That’s awesome.”

“Well not yet. I’m just a line cook. I haven’t earned my chef hat as yet.”

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“Better than me, I’m just a bartender. I love food but I don’t have the skills to cook excellent quality meals, at least not yet. You must be really talented.”

“A little bit.” I smiled, feeling a little embarrassed bragging about my skills.

“Ah, and modest too. So tell me Maia, besides cooking, what do you like to do for fun?”

“I don’t really do much these days besides cooking cause I don’t have the time. I like to hang out with my friends.”

“No boyfriend?”

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I shook my head and he looked at me like he was pleased with that answer.

“What about you? What do you do for fun?” I asked.

“I paint. I don’t just do it for fun though. I wanna do it professionally, maybe have a gallery showing one day but until then I gotta pay the bills. I don’t wanna be a starving artist. A foodie like me can’t function while starving.”

I laughed. He was funny in a very endearing kind of way. It was sweet.

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We continued getting to know each other for a while before the waitress finally arrived at our table to take our order. Afterwards, she briskly went back to the kitchen.

“The service here is really slow,” I began, “And it doesn’t even seem to be that busy tonight. I hope the food doesn’t take as long to get to the table as she did coming to take our orders.”

“They’re probably short-staffed. I don’t see a lot of other waiters around. She’s probably the only one working tonight. That happened a lot at the restaurant where I used to work.”

“Where’s that?”

“It’s a small café in Windenburg. I worked there for a few months before I moved here.”

“Oh you’re from Windenburg? That’s interesting. My good friend was born there but she grew up in Willow Creek.”

“Actually, I’m from Sunset Valley. I just lived in Windenburg for a while. I backpacked across Europe after high school and well I fell in love with Windenburg so I stayed and lived there for a while.”

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“So what made you leave an exciting place like Windenburg for a boring town like Oasis Springs?”

“Well let’s just say that there is such a thing as too much excitement. The quiet suburban life is a welcomed change. I also like the warm weather.”

The food arrived surprisingly quickly given how long it took to order and it tasted amazing. The ahi tuna was succulent and the wasabi with the strips of nori used to make the ‘matrix’ was very clever and creative. I was really impressed by the whole meal.

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I don’t like to talk a lot while I’m eating because I like to savour the food. I hate letting my food get cold because I have to take time in between bites to respond to the questions of the person next to me so I won’t come across as rude. It’s one of the reasons why I started to enjoy eating alone.

I thought Michael for sure would start up a conversation but he didn’t. Neither of us talked much at all during the dinner. Until I finally asked, “How’s the ramen?”

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“It’s a little underrated. I’ve had better.”

“Is that why you’re so quiet?”

“Well, that, and I’m not much of a talker while I’m eating. I hope you don’t think I’m rude but I just like to eat in quiet. I don’t mind talking before or after but when I’m hungry I just like to eat and enjoy the flavours. I hope you don’t mind…”

“No, no, I get it. I’m the same way but I didn’t want to look rude either.”

“Well thank goodness I’m in the company of someone who gets it.”

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I felt the same way.

Just as the last bite of tuna entered my mouth the alarm I set on my cell phone went off. I set a reminder so I would know when it was time for me to leave the restaurant to get to work on time.

“Well, that’s my cue to leave. My shift starts in an hour. I have to get home to change.”

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“Do you live nearby? I could drop you home?” He suggested.

“That’s okay. I live up in Acquisition Butte. I don’t want to put you out of your way.”

“Oh. You live there, huh?”

“Yup, all my life.”

He looked a little disappointed and then quickly recovered. I figured he didn’t want our time together to be cut short. “I had a lot of fun. Thanks for keeping me company, Maia.”

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“I had fun as well.”

I sat there for a little bit waiting for him to say something next. I thought he would ask me out on an actual date or at least ask for my number. Then it became clear that none of that was going to happen. “It was nice meeting you Michael.”

“See you around Maia.” He said with a smile.

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He was trying to be nice even though he was rejecting me. For the first time, I had a dinner with a man who was sweet and charming and didn’t act inappropriately or anything, a guy I wanted to go on a second date with but now he was the one that wasn’t interested.

I wondered if I should have made the first move. Perhaps he was leaving the ball in my court and I totally blew it. But then if that was the case he wouldn’t have said ‘see you around’. No one says ‘see you around’ to someone they actually want to see again.

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I hid my disappointment as I walked away. Then again, this wasn’t a first date so I shouldn’t have been so disappointed. And it wasn’t exactly a rejection. We were just two strangers who decided to eat together instead of eating alone and that was all it was. I went to the host to pay my half of the bill before I left.

Maybe it was for the best. I mean, he was older than me, though not by much, maybe Lyra’s age. And appearance-wise, with the tattoos and long hair – he looked like the kind of guy she would go for. Then there was the fact that he was supposed to be on a date with another woman before he settled for me…

He seemed like the kind of guy who likes clubbing and does exciting things and I’m the kind of girl who likes to stay home and watch cooking shows in my pyjamas. I’ve gone on dates with guys like that before and they were only interested in a girl like me for one thing. He probably sensed my inexperience and decided to back off.

Whatever Michael’s reason was, it didn’t matter. I wasn’t gonna let his disinterest hamper the confidence and excitement I had towards my first day working as a culinary professional.

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