Larry Lebowski loved the smell of sunrise. Every morning, when he opened his Tavern, The Average Lebowski’s, he could smell sunrise. By lunchtime, the restaurant had a variety of smells as he made meals for his coming-and-going patrons. Sunrise was the purest smell. He could smell it over car exhaust, trash, or whatever else was lingering on the sidewalk. But it only lasted a moment, until he cracked his first egg of the day. Fried his first piece of bacon. Mixed his first bowl of Hollandaise sauce. He loved those smells too, but it meant that the quiet awakening of the day was over.
Lunch--like in many other restaurants--was crazy, but Larry never felt overwhelmed. Cooking was more than his livelihood, it was his soul. In fact, the more dishes he had to make, the happier he was. He would prep, cook, sprint around his kitchen with only one employee to run and grab things. In the dining area, Larry’s husband, T’Challa Harkin, would seat people and run the cash register. But Larry talked to every patron that came in and even made his kitchen open for everyone to see. People even watched him cook, commenting on how strange it was to see a bear-like man move gracefully around counters and burners. Most commented on how he made cooking look like a cross between ballet, painting, and poetry. And his food was always perfect.
An officer came in and sat at the counter. Larry smiled and nodded to him. "Hello, sir."
The officer smiled back.
Larry poured a cup of coffee, added precisely two and a half tablespoons of hazelnut almond creamer, two quick shakes of nutmeg, and a dash of salt, and served it to the officer.
"Here’s the coffee you ordered."
The officer breathed it in. "Damn that smells good." He took a sip and smiled. "You remembered the salt like I asked for. Other places never remember."
"Well, I serve it just like you ask, officer. Your order of a Monte Cristo will be up shortly."
The officer took another sip of coffee. "Thanks."
Larry turned to the counter and cracked an egg, whisking it quickly and adding a dash of rum flavoring and cinnamon. He took two pieces of sliced challah bread, 2 ounces of carved turkey, two ounces of carved ham, and a thick slice of brie cheese. He formed a sandwich and coated it in the egg mixture before placing it on the griddle. As that cooked, he sliced an onion, took the thicker rings and tossed them into some pancake batter, and then into the frier. He flipped the sandwich and slid to a storage unit on his side. He took raspberry jam scooped a 4th of a cup into a small saucepan, adding a touch of maple syrup and let it cook slowly. He then carefully stood the sandwich on its side.
The onion rings surface. Larry put them on the plate, put some strawberry syrup in a sauce holder and sprinkled a little cayenne over the rings. He turned the sandwich to fry another side and took the raspberry jam mixture off the burner, pouring it into another sauce holder. He turned the sandwich one more time, breathed in slowly, and took it off the griddle. It was perfectly golden brown all around. He placed it on the plate and cut it in 4 quarters, followed by a sprinkling of powdered sugar, then served it to the officer.
"You said you wanted just a touch of cayenne, right?" Larry asked.
"Yes, thank you." The officer replied.
Larry smiled and turned back. He never felt bad for lying to his patrons, since they were always happy. He didn’t know how his power worked, but there was undoubtedly some deception involved. Whenever he saw someone, he knew exactly what they wanted to eat, even before they knew. Sure, he had menus, to look normal, but none of his patrons ever looked at them--and they didn’t even realize it. They all assumed they had placed an order, but Larry would be cooking and prepping as soon as he saw them come into the Tavern. He even went to the tables to act like he was taking orders but skipped right to reading their "orders" back to them, and the patrons confirming it was what they wanted.
It might not have been the coolest or sexiest of Scifian powers to have, but Larry was appreciative of it. For ten years, he ran a thriving Tavern, where people came and ate and were always happy with their meal. Thanks to this job he met his husband, who came in his first year and fell in love first with Larry’s pineapple upside-down cake. T’Cahllah taught Sociology when they met, but as Mayor Boone made the lives of Scifians more complicated in Philadelphia, he decided to help Larry at the Tavern instead. And together, they were pretty happy.
As the lunch crowd died down, the voices of the patrons rose above the din. Apparently, Mayor Boone was going to address the city later that day, and people were already speculating how the mayor would make it even more difficult for the Scifians of Philadelphia and the surrounding areas.
"How has President Sanders not stepped in yet?" A patron in a black shit complained.
"Why should he?" Another, wearing a yellow polo returned. "What’s so wrong with wanting to keep Philadelphia safe from Sci-Freaks?"
A few patrons shifted uneasily hearing the term Sci-Freaks.
"What?" Yellow Polo returned. "They were responsible for the Baltimore disaster, remember. Do we want more people to die?"
Black shirt spoke up again. "And a regular human gunned down 75 people in Cincinnati."
"Yeah, one lone wolf. These Scifians work together, and you know it. I can’t wait to hear what Boone has planned next."
A woman in a white blouse shook her head. "I just don’t like how much of our taxes he’s throwing at this. Sure, I don’t like the idea of Scifians, but they haven’t done anything to me. How about we fund our schools instead."
"What good are schools if there’re no living kids to go to them?" A man near the back grumbled. "That guy has it right. The more Boone can do to get these fuckers out of our city, the better."
As the patrons argued, Larry continued to cook, taking glances at T’challa as he did. Beads of sweat were forming on his brow, making his black skin shine just a little. He was getting angry.
Larry took a look at the patrons and took a deep breath. Red Velvet Cake, Boston Crème, Carrot Cake, Key Lime Pie, Apple-chocolate pie.
He started making single serving versions. T’Challa edged back towards the kitchen. "What are you making?"
"Just a little something to calm everyone’s nerves before this gets a little too loud." Larry reached for a particular ingredient--cannabis oil.
T’Challa bit his lip in contemplation. "Can you make me--
"A pineapple upside down cake with raspberries and a caramel rum glaze."
His husband smiled. "I don’t care what you say, that’s the best superpower ever."
Larry kissed him quickly and went back to his work.
"Scifians aren’t even responsible for most of the crime in the country, even in cities where they’re embraced." Black shirt was standing.
Yellow shirt stood up too. "So what? It just takes one of them. A Sci-Freak can kill dozens of people in a matter of seconds."
"So can an AK-47, but Boone isn’t trying to get those off the street."
"People need them now ever. We have the right to bear arms."
"Wait, so it’s okay if someone protects themselves with a manmade weapon," the woman started, "but if they defend themselves with powers they might have had no control over getting, it’s wrong?"
"It isn’t natural!" Yellow shirt waved his hand. The man in the back was still quiet.
Black shirt scoffed. "Are you kidding? Some of these manifestations just happen. Person just suddenly has powers. Some are accidents. Some are aliens--"
"All things the left-wing media wants you to believe," the man in the back spoke up again."
Yellow shirt leaned forward. "Even if those types didn’t have a choice, what about magical assholes like those wizard fucks in Bucks County? They taught themselves how to be more dangerous."
Black Shirt shook his head. "And a martial artist doesn’t? Do people go to shooting ranges not to become more skilled in using weapons? Plus, the magicians can do stuff that is constructive and not destructive. Did you hear about the wizard in Japan who used his magic to steady the city during an Earthquake? He died doing it, and saved an entire city."
"Fake story!" the man from the back called out.
When possible, Larry preferred using a traditional oven, but with new technology, waiting for fresh baked foods now only took minutes--and cooling was much the same. He was already frosting the cakes and getting ice cream on the apple pie.
He started to distribute them. Every customer remembering that they ordered dessert.
The man in the back of the room--Boston Cream Pie--was last.
"It’s not like you can always tell who might be a Scifian," Black Shirt stated. "I mean, for all we know, the cook is a Scifian."
Larry kept walking as if the guy didn’t say anything. He put the small cake in front of the man.
"So," the man asked. "Are you a Scifian? Am I eating contaminated cake?"
Larry shook his head. "I’m just a cook."
"He’s no Scifian," Yellow shirt proclaimed. "You can tell."
Black shirt spun in his seat. "How can you tell?"
Larry turned as the door started opening.
"Scifians got a smell to them. You can just tell when you encounter one. They stink. Can’t describe it, it’s like putrid flesh and gasoline."
"Is that how I smell?" a woman asked as she walked in. She caught the patrons off guard. Maybe it was the vibrant red hair or supermodel body, but no one talked.
Finally, Yellow Shirt continued. "You’re one of them?"
"What if I am," she asked, taking off her sunglasses. For a moment, it looked like there was a fire in her eyes--but after a blink, they were a dazzling green. "Maybe I can turn you to cinder with the snap of my finger."
Yellow shirt shook his head. "Nah. A Scifian could never be as gorgeous as you."
The woman rolled her eyes and sat at a counter.
The cannabis oil was also taking effect. The customers were slowly starting to mellow out.
Larry walked over to the new patron, but he knew her already. She was a regular. "Hello, Lorelei."
"Hi, Larry, nice bit of civil unrest we have a building here."
T’challa scoffed. "It’s every day now. Seems like the entire city is ready to go war over the Scifian community.
Lorelei shrugged. "What do you think, Larry?"
As much as Larry appreciated her as a customer, he always found her a little odd. She never seemed to know if she belonged here--"here" being Earth.
"I don’t like the idea of anyone being persecuted for their difference. I’d like to say it’s because I’m gay and my husband is black, but the guy who said he could smell Scifians? He’s also gay. So...not sure what sets us apart."
Lorelei smiled. "Maybe you’re just a good person."
T’Challa hugged him. "He’s the best."
Blushing, Larry pulled away. "I’ll get started on your order," he told Lorelei.
She giggled. "Yeah. My order--thanks, Larry."
He wasn’t sure what to make of that. Did she catch on that in the few years she frequented Average Lebowski’s, she never actually placed an order? Or was it just the weird way Lorelei spoke?
The only thing Larry really knew about her was how she liked her food--burned.
He made her an afternoon breakfast of steak--burned, eggs--burned, and waffles--burned. And for her, Larry heated the syrup to a boiling point before drenching the waffles. She drank burned coffee and never wanted creamer, though he crushed the oil of a ghost pepper into it. She never even sweat when she ate.
Larry wondered how it tasted. In fact, he wondered how anything tasted. Ever since his power developed, he seemed to lose the sense of taste. He liked to eat and loved to cook, and prepared things he remembered enjoying, but it’s been ten years since he genuinely tasted the food he made. He even caught himself tasting his new dishes, maybe out of the habit of being a chef.
Now that it was quiet enough, he took T’Challa’s cake out of the regular oven and finished making it. T’Challa, smelling the cake, moved over to him. Larry handed him a fork and watched as his husband slowly took a decent piece of the pineapple upside down cake, making sure to include a raspberry and a nice glob of caramel rum.
T’Challa’s expression melted with relief. He let out a sigh as he slowly chewed. He scooped a bit of caramel onto his finger and held it towards Larry.
Larry laughed and licked the caramel off his finger.
"Larry, this is the best you’ve ever made," T’Challa said.
"You say that every time I make it."
"And every time it gets better."
Larry turned back to his stove, making sure Lorelei’s steak was perfectly ruined. He caught a glimpse of the fire-haired woman grinning.
"You two are fucking adorable," she said, taking a long drought of her ghost pepper coffee.
Larry smiled back. He liked being adorable.