***For readers 18 and up***
One Night At The Palace Hotel
By Bianca Mori
The line to Hot Doug’s snaked down the residential block in a pleasant but decidedly more working class part of the city than the Lincoln Park neighborhood Consuelo lived in. She stamped her feet in the chill fall air. The sidewalk cold seeped into her fashionable but seasonally inappropriate flat boots, but she also stamped in annoyance at traveling all this way for hotdogs. Gourmet, Zagat-rated hotdogs, but still.
Blame her homesickness for the whole thing.
She’d woken up in the middle of the night in a panic, tears streaming down her cheeks. She’d been in the US for six weeks and had gone through a rollercoaster of emotions—something akin to the stages of grief she’d learned in freshman psych, but what exactly her emotional stages were signifying, she did not know or understand. Six weeks ago she was excited and giddy as she watched Manila recede from her airplane window. After a week in Chicago, she felt brave and resigned, like a soldier facing the great unknown. Then the quiet in her small, bare apartment made her anxious. Then she stepped into her first class and felt lost and out of place. Now she had progressed into a full-on black depression.
As soon as the sobs calmed she went online to speak with her best friend. “I want to go home! This is all a big mistake!” she wailed the minute Cora’s delicate features filled the tablet screen.
By the time the call ended, an hour later, Cora had sufficiently calmed her down and bucked her up with typical bluntness–reminding her that wasn’t this the plan all along, to get away from stifling parents and monumental expectations? Wasn’t this why she went AWOL from school in Manila and psyched her parents out by lazing around for a year until they agreed to college abroad? What was all the emotional blackmail and conniving and ingratiating to the wealthy spinster grandaunt for, if not for this?
Cora’s sleep-deprived scowl deepened. “How often have you been out of the apartment, Con? Except for classes and groceries?”
“There was, uh, Art Institute last month…”
“Geez, Con, no wonder you’re going crazy. Get out of your place, get out of your head. Didn’t we make a list of all the places you wanted to visit?”
“And? Get off Skype and out the door, loser!”
So Consuelo brushed off the list, plotted an itinerary, downloaded directions, put on a coat and boots, and did exactly what Cora said.
The first place on the list was famous Hot Doug’s, of which Anthony Bourdain gushed so exuberantly; but she did not realize it was such a long-ass bus ride away. Twenty-two bus stops, she counted. Why did American cities have to be so gigantic? Why couldn’t they be sensibly manageable, like Asian cities—like Singapore or Hong Kong? Or Manila, for that matter, where you could stand on a footbridge in Makati and spit on Pasay?
She also did not expect that the square red brick restaurant—sorry, “Sausage Superstore”—would be as popular as she’d been warned. The store was still closed yet already there were probably 30 people lined up before her. She stamped her feet again and groaned.
“Woah there,” said a male voice behind her. Consuelo ignored it, quickly learning that if you honestly answered the Midwesterners’ reflexive “How ya doin’ today?” greeting you could get sucked into a long, uncomfortable small-talk situation. Better be the unfriendly FOB who smiled mysteriously and then averted her eyes instead of yakking with people one did not actually care about.
“You might break a toe if you keep doing that,” said the voice. She let out an irritated huff in response.
“That’s a pity,” the voice pronounced. “Pretty, but rude.”
There was something so smug and self-satisfied about the voice, and the way it announced things like it was the authority on everything, that pierced through Consuelo’s self-imposed remoteness, making her turn and confront the speaker.
And promptly lose the ability to speak for a few moments.
The accent, pitch and volume had her preparing for a blue-eyed blond jock with a beefy neck and chapped, wind-burnt cheeks; she did not expect the tall Asian with the swimmer’s body that perfectly filled in a beat-up leather jacket. He also had piercing brown eyes and a sardonic, self-possessed smile. Of course. He had to be just her type.
“Hi. I’m Sam,” he said, taking advantage of her shock to thrust a hand and introduce himself. “I take it you’re not a regular?”
“What makes you say that?” She did not taking the offered palm.
He put it back into his pocket without missing a beat. “The look of annoyance. If you come here often, you’d know what to expect. See anyone else complaining?”
She looked at the pleasant faces around her and the buzz of good-natured small talk and sighed. “Those hot dogs better be fucking good.”
He laughed. “So fucking good you’d want to take them behind the middle school and get them pregnant.” She bit down a smile. “Come on. That was a good line, yeah?”
“Only because you stole it from 30 Rock,” she said tartly.
His laugh was unperturbed. “So what do they call you, then, gorgeous?”
Was this guy for real? “Excuse me?”
“What’s your name?”
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