Chapter 14: Dinner Done Wrong
Glancing back up at the exterior of the hotel, Eva hoped her Pokemon weren’t disobeying her orders. The last thing she needed to appear on the bill was evidence that her Pokemon had gone pilfering through the fridge’s multitude of “food traps” as she called them. Nor did she want them ordering any movies – especially any that Herc could use to explain what the Pidgey and the Beedrill were to Tsukuyo. She had opted to leave the children’s channel on for them instead but she doubted that the Adventures of Officer McTuff the Wigglytuff and his generic human sidekick Officer Keiji (whose inappropriately tight shirt seemed to be aimed more at entertaining the mothers who had to put up with the show as their child watched) would interest them for very long. Herc would likely find the remote in no time and swap it to some wrestling show so he could try and reenact the moves from the fighters. Hopefully, he wouldn’t reenact them on Tsukuyo and break the furniture while he was at it…
She scratched the back of her arm, waiting awkwardly on the sidewalk as people passed by. A few threw some glances their way making her uncomfortable and wonder if it was because of how she was dressed or how obviously out of place she was.
“Evangeline…?” asked a voice hesitantly.
Eva spun around, wobbling slightly on her high heels with the quick motion. A hand came to her rescue, placing itself on her shoulder in order to steady her. Sycamore gave a small chuckle of surprise before retracting his hand back to his side.
“I expected a lot of things, but… I’m surprised,” he commented as he gave her a quick look up and down. “You actually have a dress.”
“A dress,” she emphasised quietly. “Only one.”
The man put a hand to his chin thoughtfully at that piece of information. “For your only one, it was a good choice.”
Eva gave a quick glance down at the pavement, making sure to keep her mouth shut about who really made the right choice. She had been too pissed off about the fact she had to wear it back when he had first given it to her but now that she had a moment to think, Garrick had actually put a lot of consideration into the dress. Although she had come to tell him less and less over the years, there were still things he knew… things he picked up on. Perhaps subconsciously, she had noticed earlier when she had first put it on that it covered the scars she was the most conscious about. If it hadn’t, she wouldn’t have gone out to dinner with him in the first place.
She grumbled quietly to herself, wishing with hindsight that it had been a bad choice so she wouldn’t have gone and ended up being subjected to that all-too-awkward proposal in front of an entire restaurant of people.
Sycamore was still talking, she realised as she snapped out of the memory.
“...in style, but I hope those heels aren’t your only pair as well – they’re horribly matched.”
Catching the end of the last sentence, Eva looked down at her feet and cringed ever so slightly in the knowledge that he was likely right. The simple pair of black heels she wore simply looked sad and forgotten in comparison to her dress. “I only know what to look for in a pair of hiking boots,” she informed him.
Her stomach suddenly gave a mournful grumble, reminding her that it had already been at least an hour or two since it started its campaign – and unless it got something soon it would embarrass her even more frequently. About to run a hand through her hair, Eva paused and settled for placing it on her hip instead; she wasn’t about to ruin the work she’d put into making sure her hair wasn’t as messy as usual.
Sycamore hid a smile at the sound of her stomach. “I suppose I’ll take that a sign that if we’re going to talk, we should do it whilst walking.” He offered the crook of his arm to his dinner partner, causing her to tense up and think back to what her Squirtle had complained about earlier in the hotel room over what she had so vehemently protested was not a date. Sycamore cleared his throat. “Your heels… I thought perhaps you’d prefer the help with your balance.”
Although she had learnt how to walk in heels quite a while ago, time had worn away that skill more than enough to make her look like a fool by herself. Fighting against the feeling of embarrassment, Eva hesitantly took his arm and hoped that the professor was not the sort that was frequently stalked by paparazzi.
The man gave a cheerful sigh, looking up at the night sky happily as Eva clung on with an obvious air of awkwardness. “Usually I eat alone in my office, you know. No fun going out to restaurants by yourself – even with a good book.”
“By the way you talked, it sounded like you ate out often with people,” Eva commented.
Sycamore shrugged carelessly, causing Eva to rock slightly with her next step. “Only when it’s work-related,” he replied, gently tipping to the side to balance the both of them out once he realised his mistake.
“I thought this was work-related?” Eva raised an eyebrow at him questioningly.
A quick chuckle from the man made her frown. “Well, it is, but when I have such a lovely companion accompanying me, I find it hard to label it as such.”
Eva shot a deadpan look his way, obviously showing her displeasure at what she thought was his attempts at teasing her.
“I’m serious,” Sycamore emphasised to her in a stern tone. “After how you ignored my advice about Lysandre earlier today, I more than expected to come to the hotel and find you wearing a sack.”
“I didn’t ‘ignore’ it,” she retorted. “I just… didn’t choose to follow it.”
“Now you’re playing at semantics, Evangeline,” the man chided her, a slight smirk on his face.
Unable to come up a response, she grumbled quietly to herself for a moment before muttering under her breath, “I wouldn’t have worn a sack…”
She glanced up at the city skyline ahead just in time to see the lights of a skyscraper go out in the far distance. The lights around them flickered unsteadily in response, threatening to join at any second. For just that briefest moment the people on the street paused too, holding their collective breaths in wait of what would happen. Fortunately, the lights held their resolve and clung on. The collective breath released itself and life continued on.
“How long has this been happening now?”
Sycamore silently mouthed some numbers off to count up some unknown amount. “Three months? They began soon after you left for Vaniville but they weren’t quite a problem until around a month ago. We’re fortunate that much of the city still retains their generators since we went through an awkward phase during the building of the power plant… but it’s starting to get to the point where we can’t secure enough fuel for them.”
The answer connected a few of the points in her head concerning what she had observed in the past day; though, it still didn’t answer the biggest question of all. “Why is it happening in the first place?” she asked.
“I haven’t the foggiest,” the man admitted. “Kalos Power gives a different reason every week, but I’m not well-versed in solar thermal engineering so their jargon is lost on me. People are petitioning the government to step in, however, it could mean going back to the very basics of power supply. And that means…”
“Using people and Pokemon…” Eva finished his sentence for him with a scowl aimed towards the topic. There was a reason why the practice had been abandoned and nobody would be happy to see it come back.
“Anyway,” Sycamore cleared his throat awkwardly, “we shouldn’t have to worry about our dinner if the power goes out here. A few of the chefs have abilities that allow them to manipulate temperatures or hold a flame so we’ll get a decent meal. Might mean we’ll be eating by candlelight but I’m sure you wouldn’t mind?”
“Better than eating in the dark,” Eva commented.
The professor paused, a thought coming to the surface in his mind. “I meant to ask earlier when we first met but I imagine you have an ability as well, Evangeline? You don’t see many trainers who were around before the DTS who didn’t have some sort of ability to support themselves.”
Eva pursed her lips, disliking the question immediately. “I do…” she replied slowly, “but it’s not impressive – just a small sixth sense deal that helps me locate living things or avoid them.”
The curiosity in the man’s eyes faded slightly with the disappointing reveal. He laughed it off. “I understand,” he assured her. “I have a weak form of telekinesis myself. Never trained it, of course. I was either burying myself in my studies or burying myself in wome– you know, what, nevermind that last one… All I use my ability for these days is to retrieve pens whenever they roll under my desk – which happens somewhat more often than I like, I must admit.”
Frowning at him and his unfinished sentence, Eva had a hard time imagining how someone like Sycamore wound up becoming a world-renowned professor. It made having his arm wrapped around her own all the more awkward. She felt a tug as the professor veered off the sidewalk and guided her towards a small restaurant. It didn’t exactly stand out on the street but there was a quiet sophistication to it with its stark white awning and the short hedges they had placed around the edge to carve out their spot on the sidewalk. Eva had trouble reading the restaurant’s name with its fancy lettering on the window. However, she soon stopped caring about any of that.
It was because she had seen the food.
Her stomach growled with a low, predatory tone, angry that she was subjecting it to the sight of something she couldn’t have.
The diners sitting out front eyed her nervously as they picked up on her starving intent from behind the hedges. They ever-so-slightly leant in on their meals, subconsciously protecting their half-finished food as the woman was pulled along by her dinner partner and her eye lingered on each plate she passed.
Realising what she was doing, Eva bit her bottom lip and turned her gaze to the awning instead. However, there was no way she was going to escape the smell that hit her nose the moment they stepped over the threshold and into the restaurant itself. Her mouth instantly filled with saliva, causing her to swallow it ungracefully.
“Welcome to Le Petit Feunnec… Ah, professor! So lovely to see you again. Let me find you a table.” The waitress gave a charming smile to the man – one that only Eva noticed faded slightly when the woman risked a quick glance up and down at her.
The smile returned once they were seated and menus were placed in their hands.
“I’ll return in a few minutes for your orders,” she advised the pair.
Eva narrowed her eye at the waitress’ back as she retreated before turning back to her menu. She took a small breath and sighed it out silently, not wanting to feel frustrated on top of being hungry.
“Blanquette de Veau… infused with bouquet garni, served with jardinière vegetables and velouté?” she read out loud slowly with the menu close to her face, as though it would help her understand it better somehow.
So much for not wanting to feel frustrated.
“Evangeline?” Sycamore asked, catching her attention. The woman winced and peeked up from behind her menu, knowing he must have heard the obvious confusion in her reading. “I take it you don’t cook very often at home?”
“Not unless I can put it over a campfire or microwave it…” she admitted to him.
The second she said ‘microwave’, the professor stared at her in abject horror. He slowly shook his head at her and put a finger on the top of her menu to push it out of her face. “I’ll help you find something then,” he offered. He glanced down at his own menu, hand resting on his chin thoughtfully until he seemed to remember something. “Here I am looking at the meat dishes and I haven’t even asked if you’re vegetarian or not.”
“Anything is fine,” Eva replied.
Sycamore gave a small frown at the statement, the hand on his chin tapping gently. “Hm… well, there’s the Navarin D’Agneau or the Boeuf Bourguignon if you would enjoy a stew. Personally, I enjoy the Coq au Vin.”
Eva didn’t know what a single one of those names meant but they were making her mouth water. “Let’s go with that then,” she agreed, not wanting to wait any longer.
Signalling to the waitress from before, Sycamore placed the order with a charming smile of his own to the woman. Perhaps he had picked up on her displeasure over Eva’s presence earlier? It was hard to tell. Maybe he just flirted with everyone…
She watched as the waitress took back the menus Sycamore collected for her, hands brushing against each other for a moment. Eva glanced away from the display.
“I’m surprised that you’re not a vegetarian,” she heard the man say. “I thought most of your region’s dishes used very little meat in them, if at all.”
Realising he was talking to her, Eva turned back and tried not to show her annoyance over what had just happened. “Most people became too unused to it since the war made it impossible to get,” she explained.
“Will you be alright then?” Sycamore asked with a touch of concern.
Eva paused awkwardly at the question, hesitating to answer it. “I… never became unused to it so I’ll be fine.”
“I suppose the government fed their soldiers better than they did their citizens,” Sycamore commented without noticing he had made things worse.
An incensed look spread across Eva’s face, causing him to draw back in his chair. “Taking care of civilians always came first,” she corrected him with a scowl. “Fighting on an empty stomach was the least of my troubles so long as those that couldn’t fight were able to live. The government only gave us as much as they could afford to and expected us to take care of the rest.”
The professor’s mouth twitched nervously, reminding Eva that she was in no position to start an argument at the moment. Sycamore intertwined his fingers together, placing his hands onto his lap and looking like a kicked puppy. “Sorry… I didn’t mean that as an insult.”
Minutes passed by in awkward silence until their waitress returned and placed a bottle of wine on their table. Sycamore sullenly poured both himself and Eva a drink, sliding the glass over to her side. She accepted it in silence, taking a large gulp and pausing to blink at the pleasant flavour.
“How is it?” the man asked cautiously.
“Nice…” she replied quietly, taking another sip.
Sycamore put his hand to his chin once more, a small ‘oh’ escaping his lips once he came to a conclusion of some kind. “Evangeline… the reason you had access to meat – is it because…?”
She wished he had never brought it up or had just dropped the topic once he saw how it pissed her off, but the professor was a professor for a reason and a few unconnected dots weren’t going to stop him from finishing the picture. “It’s not something I’m proud of. Even if they were Pokemon… they were soldiers too,” she told him as she felt a twinge of guilt resurface in the back of her head. She looked over at the table next to them, plates of delicious food piled on them. Her stomach gave another short grumble.
The pity on Sycamore’s face made it seem like Eva was the kicked puppy right now.
She disliked being looked at in that way.
“As someone that’s never gone hungry before I can’t even begin to understand what it’s like, but of all the things in the world, hunger must surely be one of the worst.” He gave her a comforting yet crooked smile.
Eva took another sip of her wine, unsure what he was getting at.
“If you would ever like another good meal and you’re in town, just ask. I’d be happy to take you around.”
Eva shifted in her chair at the kind yet pitiable offer, wondering how much more of her pride she would need to sacrifice to go to another free dinner with the man. “Th-Thanks…” she said into the bottom of her cup before draining the rest of its contents.
She was grateful when her meal was finally placed in front of her. Her stomach gave one last groan before she (as politely as possible) shovelled her first mouthful in. She sat up straight, feeling as though someone had set off savoury fireworks in her mouth.
“...I might have to take you up on that offer,” she confessed to Sycamore after swallowing her first bite.
The man gave her a smug grin, almost as though he knew the meal would win her over. “We’ll go somewhere even better next time,” he promised. “Somewhere with excellent desserts. I know a place that does an excellent Cherry Clafoutis.”
“Cherry what?” Eva repeated curiously whilst stuffing another mouthful in. If it was anywhere near as good at this, then she was sold.
Chuckling, Sycamore began to fill her head with tales of food from around the city. She listened eagerly, taking note of every dish he described and filing it away for later use when she would be on the road alone. The knowledge would go towards preventing embarrassment in the future – a very valuable thing in her book.
Before she could register it, her fork was picking at nothing. Eva stared down at her empty plate wistfully, disappointed that she hadn’t paused to savour her last few bites.
“There’s still dessert to go if you’re interested,” Sycamore reminded her with a grin.
“After what you told me, I’m more than interested,” she replied hungrily, finally giving her first sincere smile for the night. She quickly covered it with a hand, not wanting to make her dinner companion think he had won another round.
“Too late, I already saw,” he teased, glancing up just as the lights above them flickered and died. A collective grumble rose from the diners, obviously annoyed by the disruption to their meals and that they would be finishing them by candlelight.
Looking away from the tiny flames, Eva let her eye adjust a little more to the darkness. She glanced towards the window, checking the situation outside and noticing the street lights were dark as well. Already well-prepared, the people on the sidewalk had begun to pull out flashlights or fire Pokemon to guide their way. She made a mental note to check her own head-mounted flashlight in the morning in case the batteries had gone flat.
The clatter of metal and the shatter of plates on the floor behind her caused her to spin around in time to see a waitress fall towards her, sent toppling by a careless customer standing up in the darkness without warning. The waitress fell back, soups and stews flying out of her hands and backwards. Reacting instinctually, Eva reached out and grabbed the woman before she could land on the table and into the open flame. Hot food delivered fresh from the kitchen sloshed onto the both of them causing the waitress to yelp in shock. Her hand flew up, fingernails scraping up Eva’s cheek and catching the strings of her eyepatch. With a single, sharp pull it snapped off and fell to the floor.
Eva put a hand to her newly-uncovered eye to hide it, absently allowing the waitress to slide onto the floor ungracefully. The woman scrambled to her feet awkwardly, putting her hands to her mouth when she saw what had happened to her customer in return for saving her.
“Oh my gosh, are you okay? I’m so sorry! Let me get some towels from the kitchen for you.”
Unable to say a thing, Eva quickly crouched down and felt around in the dim light for her eyepatch. Her hand brushed against it amongst the gloopy mess on the floor. Still holding her hand to her eye, she stood up and pushed past the waitress in order to retreat to the bathroom. It was even darker inside, with only a single candle set on the counter. She held her eyepatch up to it, seeing there would be no salvaging it with its snapped strings. Stupidly, she had forgotten to bring a spare or any extra strings along with her like she had in her bag back in the hotel room.
“Evangeline? Are you okay?” The door opened and Sycamore peeked inside. Eva put her hand over her eye again, letting her eyepatch fall into the sink and leave a sad skidmark of stew on the side.
“I’m fine,” she muttered.
“You’re obviously not,” the man replied worriedly, pushing his way into the bathroom further so she didn’t have the chance to push him out the door. He held a towel up for her to take.
Hesitantly, Eva accepted it and turned around so he wouldn’t see her face when she wiped the mess off. She leant forward to do her hair, looking down and finally noticing that her dress hadn’t been spared either. She stood there for a moment with the towel hanging over her head, realisation sinking in.
“I’ll walk you back to your hotel,” Sycamore offered solemnly.
Eva nodded silently, putting her hand back over her eye as she tossed the towel onto the basin. No amount of wiping and rubbing would help now. She followed behind him out of the restaurant and into the street, not caring about how her heels made her wobble or she had trouble seeing where she was going. Sycamore fished a set of keys from his pocket and turned on the tiny LED flashlight attached to it.
“If there’s a bill for your dry cleaning, send it to me to take care of,” he offered. “I’m sure the restaurant will be more than happy to pay for it.”
She shook her head and sighed, snapping herself out of her mood. It was just a dress, she told herself, it didn’t matter who it came from and she never liked it in the first place. So why did she care so much that it was ruined? Not having a dress meant she now had an excuse never to be dragged out for dinner again and be embarrassed when things went wrong. So what if she missed out on food? It’d probably end up all over her again anyway.
A small flame of anger replaced her disheartenment.
“I’ll check with the hotel if they have a dry cleaning service,” she lied, shifting her arm slightly from the discomfort of holding it up for so long.
“You can put your hand down if your arm is getting tired,” Sycamore suggested. “I don’t mind.”
Eva frowned at him, bothered immensely by the offer. “I’d rather not,” she snapped at him. “The last thing I need is people running away from me screaming. Scaring people would be a great way to end the night.”
The professor gave her a worried look, taken off guard by the sudden sharp tone. “But what about you? Wasn’t it far worse of an experience for you to lose it?” he asked gently, making sure to drop his pace to match her own.
Eva stopped on the sidewalk, amazed that the man could continue to be so kind after she snapped at him so harshly. The little flame of anger in her chest extinguished itself and she chewed her bottom lip in regret. She began to walk again, stumbling in her heels. When Sycamore offered his arm once more to her she didn’t put up a fight.
“Was it frightening?” he asked, not entirely able to drop his curious nature.
“We were helping with the cleanup effort after the Capture of Landorus landed in the farmlands north of Cerulean…” she explained slowly. “The period between appearances was around four months at that point so we thought we were safe but Tornadus and Thundurus caught us in a surprise attack. I got swept away, woke up a few days later in a medical tent and this eye was gone. I was lucky I was out for most of it.”
She glanced across to see the professor’s bottom lip quiver.
“Don’t,” she warned him. “I don’t need you to cry on my behalf.”
“I can’t help it,” he replied mournfully, wiping a budding tear from his eye. “Just thinking about a little Evangeline lying in a hospital bed all alone after an ordeal like that… it’s too sad.”
Eva rolled her eye at his melodramatics, once again thinking that she still couldn’t work out how someone like him became a well-regarded professor. She felt relief once the hotel appeared in view – for a moment, at least. Even if she didn’t care any longer, Herc surely would at the sight of her dress. Hopefully, he would be fast asleep by the time she got up there.
Sycamore stopped, letting go of her arm gently. “I’m sorry about tonight, Evangeline,” he apologised.
“It’s not your fault,” she grumbled back at him. “These things happen. Thank you for trying, at least… Augustine.”
The smile that spread across the man’s face almost caused her to cringe in regret. Her quick glance away was a mistake, however. Before she could react, he had placed a kiss on her cheek and was waving at her from down the street.
“Come by the lab tomorrow, we still have a few things to cover!” he called out.
Going to wipe the feeling of the kiss from her cheek with her arm, Eva paused.
No, that was okay…
She turned and retreated into the hotel.