The hostess tapped something into her tablet and smiled. “Ah yes. Please follow me.”
Oh great. When they walked into the restaurant proper, it became clearer and clearer why Rishi was dressed the way he was. Everywhere, couples and groups who looked like they were either heading off to conferences or cocktail parties smiled and laughed over candlelit tables. On every gold clothed table was a glass bowl full of pale yellow flowers. In the center of the space, an actual fountain gushed. Dimple was the only person there in a faded kurta, jeans, and Chucks.
As the hostess wound deeper and deeper into the restaurant, Dimple turned to Rishi. “Why didn’t you tell me?” she said. “I’m so underdressed. You said I was fine!”
“Sorry!” The anguish on his face from seeing her discomfort was clear. “They’re more casual in the afternoons, so I figured you’d be fine. I’ve never done dinner here before.”
Dimple sighed. “Celia said they did a mean mac and cheese. I was expecting some small, down-home kinda place.” Another thought occurred to her, and she paled. “Crap, I can’t afford this.” She could, but only if she used the emergency credit card Mamma and Papa had given her. Which she really, really didn’t want to do. The bill went straight to them.
“Don’t worry about it,” Rishi said immediately. “I got it.”
She turned to him, her cheeks burning. “Absolutely not.”
“I don’t take handouts. Besides, I’m not going to be the only one not able to pay for myself, Rishi. That definitely will not help my case with the others.”
He sighed and, after a moment, nodded.
The hostess led them to their table, a large one in the corner that had its own carved wood chandelier hanging above. It was empty.
“First ones here,” the hostess chirped. “Please have a seat and your server will be right with you.”
“Thanks,” Rishi said.
Dimple sank into a seat and he took one next to her. She looked even more despondent than before. Her phone beeped, and she fished it out of her bag and looked at the screen. “Great,” she muttered. “Celia got stuck watching a movie with her grandma. She’s going to be thirty minutes late.”
“It’ll be interesting to see if the Aberzombies beat her here. At least she texted.”
Dimple smiled, a wilted thing. “Well, if they don’t come, that’ll be good for my wallet, at least.” She pulled the menu to her and opened it, scanning the items with what could only be described as fear.
Rishi cleared his throat. “Hey, um, I’m going to run to the restroom. Be right back.”
He walked quickly to the back of the restaurant, where the double doors led to the kitchen. A middle-aged waiter in a bow tie approached him, smiling. “Hello, sir. Can I help you with something?”
“Yeah, hey. I’m at that table over there.” He gestured vaguely in the direction. “It’s a table for seven, reserved under ‘Ramirez.’ I’d like to pay for everyone’s food at that table.”
The waiter smiled kindly. “Okay, sir. What we’ll do is bring you the check and—”
“No.” Rishi shook his head. “You don’t understand. I want to pay anonymously, in advance.”
The waiter stopped, his mouth slightly open, brows knitting together. “Anonymously?”
“Yes.” Rishi tried to keep his tone patient. Had no one ever done this before? Well, now that he thought about it, maybe not. “I’d like to pay now, and for you or whoever our waiter is to not mention that it was me who paid. Maybe you guys could just say someone decided to pay our bill. You know, like those pay it forward things. Okay?”