The Takeout Girl
“I think my teacher is a robot,” I told Nicole.
I’ve actually never met Nicole, but she works at my favorite Chinese restaurant. I really like Chinese food so I’ve gotten to know Nicole pretty well. I can’t tell if she is Chinese or not. She doesn’t have an accent, but there are Chinese students at my school who don’t have an accent at all. I think she’s about four years older than me based on her voice. I once recorded her voice through my phone and ran it through a program that claimed it could tell a person’s age by their voice. It thought she was sixteen too, so there’s that.
“Your teacher’s not a robot, man,” Nicole said. “Why would you think that?”
She told me that the restaurant was slowest between 3 and 5 in the afternoons, so I always call her at 4:00 sharp that’s when she starts her shift. That way, I can order really slowly and we can talk.
“You should see him sometime in class,” I said. “He kind of freezes on the screen, and you think his connection has lagged but you can see the clock moving in the background. It’s like he’s rebooting.”
Nicole laughed. It was a nice sound. “Lots of people can be really still. Doesn’t mean they’re a robot. Oh, Mr. Yang’s glaring at me. What do you want to order?”
“I . . . will . . . have . . . the orange chicken,” I said. “With fried rice.” I knew what I wanted before I called but I wanted to draw out the call for as long as I could.
“Is your dad eating?”
“No, not today,” I said. It’s just me and my dad these days. He works from home so we’re both home all day. But he’s got a lot of health issues, especially with food. Sometimes he will eat some normal food if he takes a lot of meds with it, but he usually eats special things that are expensive and not that good-tasting. I usually cook for myself or when I can, order out.
“Didn’t you have orange chicken last week?” Nicole asks.
“No, that was lemon chicken.” I am going through the menu and trying everything, except the ones with the hot pepper next to the name. I can’t do spice.
“I still don’t have my license,” I said. She laughed again. I don’t know why that was funny, but I was glad.
“You should come by the restaurant,” she said. “You know, after corona.”
“Really?” I think I sounded too surprised.
“Yeah, of course! It’d be great to meet you. I’ll treat you to an order of Crab Rangoon or something.”
“That’d be great,” I said. She was describing my greatest dream and terror at the same time. Nicole had probably not put my voice through a modulator to guess my age. The idea of meeting her, like face to face, was terrifying enough without worrying that when she saw me, her face would get that disappointed look that I’m just a kid.
“Later, man,” Nicole said. “I’ll throw in an extra fortune cookie for you. Tell which one’s the best next time.”
“Okay,” I said. The line went dead.
“I love you,” I said. Then I was so embarrassed that I’d said it out loud that I went and hid behind the couch until the doorbell rang.