The Fall of Nathaniel Reed
(One shot short story)
It was not everyday a person as rich and famous as Nathaniel Reed would fall at my feet. What an inconvenient time, though. I could've taken men falling at my feet any other time, but not right when I was about to get off work.
"Excuse me, can I help you? We're closing."
He glanced up at me, grimacing, before starting to heave himself up from the entryway to the restaurant I was, indeed, closing. His formerly pristine suit was now totally covered in dust and wrinkled. The only thing that had survived the impact of meeting the floor of Amy's Savory at a very close distance, was his dark brown hair that was very much in place. A thing only achievable with products with price tags that likely exceeded my monthly wage. Including tips.
No, scratch that. My previous monthly wage. Things were supposed to get better now that I was a manager. Once I would actually get the first paycheck as a manager, that is.
"Yes, actually you can," he murmured with the deepest, yet sultriest voice I had ever heard. "Just hide me for a minute."
My eyes widened a little as he straightened himself to his full height in front of me. He didn't look that tall in pictures. Well, to be fair, he didn't look clumsy in pictures either. Yet there he had been, face-planting at my feet less than a minute ago.
Any of this didn't change the fact that I was really supposed to close the damn restaurant and go home. It wasn't like I had the luxury of just hanging with tall, handsome, clumsy, rich people in my downtime. I had responsibilities. One of the most important ones was sleeping on the break room's couch because I couldn't afford child care for the evening shifts and Amy graciously let him stay at the break room those nights. It was even child proofed. I liked to think all these work accommodations were because I was just that great of an employee, but in reality it was more likely that it was due to the five-year-old's own charm.
"Um, sir, with all due respect...we're really closing," I said, trying to (gently, in a very customer service-y way) push the giant out of the door and back to the street with not much of a success.
A slight, genuine panic flashed in his eyes before he downright pushed me against the wall. I would've worried about wrinkling the poster advertising our new lunch menu, if I wasn't damn nearly shrinking under Nathaniel Reed's extremely enticing stare that he was offering me with his incredibly deep blue eyes.
From my peripheral vision, I could also see a bunch of paparazzi running around the corner directly towards us.
Nathaniel Reed was begging me. Actually, literally begging me. Yes, in this universe. In this economy. In real life.
As if I had never stood a chance against him anyway, I sighed in surrender and pointed inside with my thumb. "Behind the counter. I'll deal with them."
I had never seen a man walk as fast as Nathaniel Reed did then, directly after giving me a brief nod of appreciation.
Once the man wasn't at an intimidatingly close proximity, I could finally breathe normally again. I quickly brushed my vest in case it would've gotten wrinkled by the commotion--which it had not, miraculously enough--and confirmed that the tight bun in the back of my head was still in place. Then I turned back towards the door I had been about to lock and close right before the man who was now most likely squatting behind the counter had fallen inside.
I was in no hurry, though. I had, after all, promised to deal with the paparazzi that were still running towards the restaurant like it was an oasis in the middle of a desert.
The first one to reach me was a middle-aged, somewhat fit man with a distinctive, red scar permanently pulling down the right corner of his mouth.
"Excuse me, err, madam—" his eyes swept past my very flat chest, "eh or sir..."
It was totally fake politeness. He was very much checking me out and judging me from head to toe while catching his breath.
I only narrowed my eyes at him.
"Would you happen to have seen Nathaniel Reed, around here, by any chance?" he finally said after a small uncomfortable silence I tended to cause around people who weren't actually polite.
Instant, raging dislike. I didn't get why people felt the need to put me in a box of either male or female right upon the first encounter ever. I mean...Nathaniel Reed hadn't. Surely this total low-life nobody didn't need to. I still offered the dude my best customer service smile, though. "I'm sorry, who?"
The guy legitimately squinted at me, squeezing his camera so tight his knuckles turned white. I guess it wasn't very believable to not know who Nathaniel Reed was. "Nathaniel Reed. You know...tall, handsome, dark? Wealthier than me, you and the rest of New York's working class combined."
I pretended to think for a second.
"Oh yes, I think someone tall and such an obviously rich dude that one could smell the money in the air around him, rushed that way a moment ago," I said, and pointed down the street.
The guy peaked above my shoulder while rustling through his pockets. Then he waved a fifty on my face. "Or, you don't happen to hide him somewhere inside, hmm?"
Please. I was poor but not so desperate I would sell anyone to this hyena. "Unfortunately no, I'm not hiding anyone. Now excuse me, we're closing up."
I pulled the door close in front of his nose.
What an arrogant little bastard. While some of the crowd continued searching down the street from the direction I had pointed, this obnoxious man lingered. Even lit up a cigarette. Started to pace around while staring inside. I pretended to tidy up some of the tables while making my way towards the bar at the back.
When I did reach the bar, I couldn't help but glance behind the counter. Sure enough, on the floor behind the counter sat one Nathaniel Reed, a very wealthy and famous, handsome individual. It looked absurd. I almost rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn't dreaming.
What was I supposed to do with him? I couldn't just chase him out. That would've totally countered against all my actions before. That annoying paparazzi-man was still pacing outside like a cat waiting for his prey to show up.
"Um, unfortunately I couldn't get rid of them all," I half-whispered. As if the man outside could hear. I rolled my eyes at myself before continuing with a normal voice. "Would you mind waiting at the back while I clean up? Maybe they'll go away meanwhile."
"Sure," the man on the floor said.
Once we entered the kitchen, he straightened himself and offered his hand. "Nathaniel Reed," he introduced, as if the whole city didn't know his name. He was, after all, a regular on page six. "You can call me Nate. And who do I owe my life?"
I took his hand and shook it. I guess I wasn't that surprised that his handshake was...stern. "Jason Chen. And you hardly owe me anything."
"Ah, but I do," he let go of my hand and pulled a wallet from his jacket's pocket. It was just your ordinary brown one, but I bet it had cost more than all the furniture in my tiny apartment combined. "How much did Aaron offer you?"
"The photographer outside. Pretty annoying. Scar. Ring a bell?"
So he was on a first name basis with the damn paparazzi? Figured. "Oh. A fifty?"
Nate handed me two. "Here, I'll double it. For your troubles. And as a thanks for not selling me out."
"I can't possibly take this. I didn't do anything."
"But you did. A lot." he said and one corner of his mouth turned up. "Consider it a nice tip, if that makes you feel better."
Reluctantly, I folded the bills and put them in my breast pocket.
"Right. Well, this way," I said and started to lead Nathaniel-fucking-Reed, of all people, through our modest kitchen and into the break room at the back.
As predicted, my sweet Theodore was soundly asleep, curled up on the couch. The drawing in front of him was left incomplete on the table in front of him as he had most likely passed out in the middle of drawing it. His lips were adorably pouty and glistening a little under the fluorescent lights.
I kneeled in front of him and shook his shoulder in the gentlest possible manner.
"Hey little man," I said. "Slept well?"
At once, he bounced up into a sitting position and rubbed his eyes. "I wasn't...I wasn't sleeping!"
"I wasn't!" he exclaimed. "I was just...just relaxing my eyelids. Are we going home yet?"
A sting of guilt hit my heart. "Not quite yet. I still have to tidy up."
Theodore's shoulders dropped. "Okay. I'll wait a little more."
"Well, I was hoping you could keep company to dad's new friend while I'm cleaning. Can you do it?" I asked and pointed at the dark, tall man patiently waiting at the threshold. "Meet Nate."
Theodore's eyes widened as he finally registered the stranger. "Umm, hey Nate. I'm Theo!"
"Theodore. How about you try again?"
He rolled his eyes. An annoying habit he must've picked up from me. At least I didn't have anyone else to blame for it. Then he stood up and waddled sleepily over to Nate and offered his teeny-tiny hand for a handshake like a champion.
"Hey Nate. My name is Theodore Chen. Nice to meet you, sir!"
I couldn't possibly have been more prouder of my little five- almost six-year-old who looked absolutely tiny in front of the very tall man yet didn't even hesitate while properly introducing himself. He even articulated perfectly even though he still tended to stutter a little when in rush. My poor heart all but bursted.
Nate took the tiny hand and shook it, way more tenderly than he had shook mine. And he smiled. Genuinely. Well, at least looked more genuine than the toothy over the top -smile I had seen in magazines.
"Nathaniel Reed, at your service."
Meanwhile, I crouched beside Theodore and made him face me. "Dad still has to go to work for five minutes. Now, remember what I have taught you about if strangers try anything weird at all?"
Theodore nodded. "The three S's."
"Scream, Sprint and Seek Dad."
"Good, now apply that to Nate, if he does anything weird. And under any circumstances, do not eat anything he gives to you or go anywhere with him."
"But Dad, didn't you say he's a friend? No stranger?"
I almost face-palmed to my own stupidity. "Well, he's still a half-stranger, not quite a friend-friend."
His eyebrows knitted together and his face turned a little red. I could practically see the gears turn in his head when he tried to think things through. Eventually, he gave up. "I don't understand."
I sighed. "Just do what I've taught you, okay? I'm only going to be away for five minutes."
I stood up, turned to face Nate with my best, most genuine 'I will kill you if you try anything with my boy' -expression I could muster up on the spot. "Now, this place has a lot of sharp objects I can and will use against you if you try anything, anything weird at all, while I tidy up the hall."
Nate had the most amused smile on his face, yet he still raised his arms up in a sign of surrender. Good.
"And there's surveillance in this room," I continued, pointing above the entryway. The camera there was even real so I wasn't technically bluffing. Okay, it was actually only for the sake of the safe that was placed in the opposite corner of the room but I guessed the footage might still turn useful in the worst case scenario that was running wild in my head.
Not that I believed anyone as...visible...of a person as Nathaniel Reed, would risk their businesses by, for example, kidnapping Theodore or worse... But one could never be too careful.
Nate's amused smile only widened as he shrugged.
I gave him another death glare, before turning on my heels and practically running through the kitchen to tidy up the dining hall. I don't think I've ever in my life been that fast with the end of day tasks. Thankfully I had already checked the cash register before the commotion and put it to the safe, so I didn't have to worry about that. Still, even taking the five to ten minutes I would've spent with the register into account, I finished the tasks record fast.
After glancing over the hall for one last time, I decided it was going to have to do and rushed back to the break room.
I worried for nothing.
As weird as it looked, Nathaniel Reed was totally focused on finishing a bad drawing of a blue blob that remotely resembled a fish together with Theodore. It was adorable, to say the least. "Hey."
Both of them snapped their eyes up from the paper in front of them.
"So, the photographer has left," I said to Nate. "If you want I can still let you out from the back if it helps?"
"Sure," Nathaniel said, getting up. "Thank you."
"But we need to finish Nemo!" Theodore said. Well, yelled.
He sounded pretty darn heartbroken too. I didn't even have the heart to tell him Nemo was orange. After watching Finding Nemo for at least a dozen times, I was pretty sure the blue one was Dory.
Thankfully Nathaniel saved me. "Next time."
At least Theodore bought it. Me? Not so much. Instead, I changed in the dressing room as quick as I possibly could and then led us all out, locking the doors behind me. The chill of a New York in November hit my face ruthlessly, reminding me that as fun yet nerve wrecking tonight had been, I'd have to part ways with Nathaniel Reed--the handsome, rich, tall, and clumsy man that once fell at my feet--here.
"It was genuinely nice to meet you, Jason Chen," he said with an unreadable tone and face, and then turned to look at Theodore with an amused smile. "And you too, little Theo."
Theodore stomped the ground. "I'm not little!"
Trying my best to keep from grinning at Theodore's little outburst, I grabbed the little man's hand instead and looked directly in the deep brown eyes of the "slightly" taller one. "Likewise. Have a nice life, Nathaniel Reed."
"Hmm, does that awful sounding goodbye mean I won't be acquiring your phone number tonight, then?"
At first I wondered if I even heard that right. Then, my eyebrows raised a little. I hadn't realized he would want it in the first place. This wasn't exactly the situation I found myself very attractive, with a five-year-old restlessly tugging my arm and the long evening shift undoubtedly weighing my eyelids down.
Don't get me wrong, I didn't think I was ugly. That didn't mean we still undeniably weren't living totally different lives with Nathaniel-fucking-Reed, most likely the wealthiest man under forty in New York. I was...a waiter. Well, okay, now a manager by job title, but still basically a mere waiter.
Plus, who even asked for phone numbers these days? If he ever wanted to reach out to me, he could've just typed my name into, say, in some of the most popular social media sites and sent me a message upon finding me.
Not that it wasn't flattering. And strangely nostalgic. God I felt old.
Nevertheless, he wasn't wrong with his theory. "Yes, it means exactly that."
"You know I'll get it in the end if I really put my mind to it," he said, his formerly friendly smile turning into a little more wicked version.
"I always get what I want," he continued when I didn't reply anything and glanced over my shoulder at the building behind me. "And I know where you work, now."
What I wanted to say as a reply, went along the lines of, 'Well, at least you'll have to work a little for it.'
At the moment, though, my usual confidence had washed away with the long evening shift and everything that happened afterwards. So instead, I replied a simple, "I know," before walking away.