This is another installment of “Magatama: Moon and Tara’s Saga”. View the parent page to read the complete introduction and for links to read the previous installments in the correct order.
Content warning (for the overall story, not necessarily in every installment): domestic violence, explicit sexual content, general violence, emotional/verbal/psychological abuse, queer issues.
Friday lunch in the Teachers’ Lounge at Catlett Memorial High School, Dae wanders in and stakes a claim on a chair at the white, round table currently occupied by a group of Humanities and Social Sciences teachers. He opens his backpack and pulls out a container of his leftovers from Curry Mee Home and heads across to the microwave to heat it up.
While Dae waits for his food to cook, he wanders back to the table in time to catch Koa’s query, “—if any of the rest of you don’t have plans for Thanksgiving break next week?”
“What’s that?” Dae asks.
“Oh I was just thinking it could be fun to get a group together to make some plans for those of us who don’t have families to celebrate the holiday with,” Koa says. “Like maybe getting a cabin up in Lake Tahoe to share, or renting a van and heading down to LA to hit some theme parks.”
Since this is Koa’s first year at Catlett, Dae decides to take the opportunity to get to know them better. “You don’t have family or you don’t celebrate Thanksgiving, Koa?”
“It’s a bit much to fly out to Kauai for Thanksgiving. My family would prefer me to fly out during the summer so I can spend more time with them than the holiday breaks we get.”
“Neat. I might be down,” Dae says, thinking it could be a good opportunity to get to know Koa—who teaches classes in Ethnic Studies, Economics, and U.S. Government—better. “My family lives locally but we don’t celebrate Thanksgiving. They never got into the American traditions even though they moved here when they were young back in the nineteen-fifties.” The microwave beeps. “Be right back.”
Dae heads back to the microwave to retrieve his lunch, then returns to the table and takes his seat, sitting almost opposite Koa.
By this time, the tenth grade English teacher, Maggie, is sitting beside Dae and talking animatedly about her most recent trip to Disneyland. “So that’s why, if I were you, I’d vote for Magic Mountain instead,” she finishes. Then she notices what Dae’s eating, and changes topic. “Ooh, Dae, that looks delicious. Where’d you get that?”
“Do y’know that Thai restaurant downtown, Curry Mee Home?” Maggie shakes her head, so Dae continues, “It’s over on Broadway, between eleventh and twelfth.”
“Good huh?” Maggie asks, and Dae nods. “You know, I’m not sure I’ve had Thai before.”
Dae swallows the noodles in his mouth. “Really? We’ll have to remedy that.”
“Here we go,” Nichelle—the psychology teacher, sitting on the other side of Dae, to his left—jabs. “You don’t know what you’re getting yourself into, Mags.”
Dae drawls out a “Whuuuuuuuut?”
“Just teasing, Dae,” Nichelle says, giving him a light elbow to the ribs. “I’m just remembering when you took me out there. Hey, why don’t we all meet up there for dinner tonight? Have a rowdy time together so those of us who do have Thanksgiving plans can still let off steam with our fellow teachers before we head out of town?” Nichelle looks at Dae. “Uh, if that wouldn’t be too much Thai for you in the same day?”
Dae smirks. “I don’t have to order the same meal. Sure, I’m game.”
Koa asks, “Nichelle, where’s your family you’ll be visiting?”
“Baton Rouge, Louisiana,” Nichelle answers. “That’s for my Daddy’s side of the family. Mom’s from here. East Oakland, born and raised, but my Gran’s still out east, and she don’t like to fly.”
“I’ll be flying out to Cheyenne tomorrow,” Maggie says, even though no one asked her. “Wyoming. Then I have to rent a car and drive to Casper, and hope it’s not snowing too bad.”
“Oh, wow,” Dae says, not knowing how to take this news. It’s Maggie’s first year at Catlett, too, and he hasn’t gotten to know her well enough to decide whether he should judge her for where she’s from, or claim understanding for why she’d move to California. He settles on something neutral. “What’s that like? I’ve never been, but I’d guess there isn’t much variety of Asian restaurants out there, and that’d explain why you’ve never had Thai.”
Maggie shrugs. “I guess. It was nice to spend summers at Yellowstone. But, you know, politically it’s no California.”
“What time’s your flight, Mags?” Nichelle asks. “You up for going out tonight? Getting a few drinks together too?”
“Yeah, I think that’s manageable. Plane isn’t scheduled to depart until like one-thirty, I think.”
“Great,” Dae says. “Sounds like that’s settled then. Shall we meet at the restaurant around six?” He suggests an early enough time that would hopefully still give him enough time to stay up for costumed activities later, though after the previous night, he’s not sure if Tara will be in such a rush to get together again.
“Can we do seven?” Nichelle suggests instead.
Maggie and Koa nod. Koa adds, “Seven would be my preference too.”
“Seven it is, then,” Dae says, feeling a little less excited at the later start, but still looking forward to getting to know some of his colleagues better.
Once he’s back in his classroom, Dae sends a text to Tara: T – had a lovely time with you last night. I hope we can get together again soon. Since it seems like it’s a good idea for us to take things slow, I think at least a night off tonight would be good. Let me know what works for you.
Since Dae has to teach for the next couple of hours, he’s not able to read Tara’s reply until after the school day ends. Once he reads it, Busy tonight anyway. Maybe Sunday, Dae feels some relief. He can just relax with his colleagues and enjoy the carefree evening with them, and not worry about his romantic life.
Or, at least, that’s what he hoped for.
When Nichelle and Dae arrive at the restaurant the earliest, Nichelle nudges Dae in his ribcage again. “Hey, so, I hope you didn’t mind me pushing for this tonight. It looked like you might’ve been taking an interest in the new girl, and I know how shy you are with the ladies. I thought I should help you along.”
Dae opens his eyes wide at her. “Ni—”
Nichelle interrupts, “Don’t thank me yet.”
Dae purses his lips together. When he notices Koa across the street, he opens his mouth to reply in a whisper, “Nichelle, Maggie looks like she’s half my age. I’m not interested in her like that.” Dae doesn’t know Maggie’s actual age, but given that he’s forty-four, he might not be that far off if she hasn’t been teaching long.
“Cute little thing from cowboy country?” Nichelle raises an eyebrow at him. “You could do worse. A lot worse.”
Dae doesn’t have time to offer a retort back because whilst he’d been watching Koa trying to cut across traffic without an intersection, he completely misses that Maggie was just outside until she walks through the door. Though he wants to glare at Nichelle, instead he warms his face up to greet Maggie.
The moment Koa walks through the door, Dae hears a voice he recognizes behind him.
“Two nights in a row, Mr Kim?” It sounds vaguely like Tara, but—“You must really like my cooking.”
Dae turns around and, rather than faced with green make-up, he kicks himself for being so silly. He should’ve realized it was Chariya.
“I promise that hadn’t been my intention. One of my colleagues here,” he indicates Maggie, “said she’d never tried Thai before, so this all just sort of came together over lunch.”
“Oh, I see…” Chariya looks the girl up and down. “Make sure she doesn’t order anything too spicy. She might not be able to stomach it, and I’ve got a reputation to uphold.”
Dae tries not to smirk. Being unable to stomach spicy food would be strike two against Maggie, for why he would not be interested in dating her.
Chariya heads back into the kitchen, and the host shows Dae and his colleagues to their seats.
As the foursome peruse their menus, Maggie consults Dae, “What should I order?”
Koa inserts their opinion, “You know, I think we should order a few dishes to share, and ask for separate plates. That way, Maggie, you get to try a variety of options and see what you like best.”
“Sounds good to me,” Maggie agrees.
When the host returns to take their order, they’re not ready yet, so they start with drinks—two Tiger beers, imported from Singapore, and two Thai iced teas. The tea being for the women at the table, and the beer for Dae and Koa.
“I’m not a beer drinker,” Maggie says. “We should head somewhere else afterwards for drinks. Maybe that Irish bar up the street a bit, that I saw on my way in?”
Nichelle agrees, as does Koa.
“Maybe. I’ll see how I’m feeling after we eat,” Dae says.
Dae feels Nichelle’s foot kick him gently under the table. He knows exactly what she’s doing, but he ignores it.
When the drinks arrive, the host takes their food order and wanders back to the kitchen.
The group spends most of the evening just getting to know each other better—except Dae and Nichelle to each other, since they’ve been friends since Nichelle started working at Catlett about six years ago. Occasionally someone will bring up something about one of their students.
Dae learns that Maggie is older than she looks, but still too young for his tastes at twenty-six. He’s more interested in learning about her problem student, who Maggie says must be “ironically” named Charity, in case she’s a kid he needs to look out for. Charity isn’t one of his students, so she must be taking different social science classes than what he teaches. Dae doesn’t press Maggie for information on the kid, though. He recognizes the possibility that it could come across as creepy to anyone who has no idea that he’s a powered-vigilante-by-night. Instead, he stores the name in the database of his mind.
Nichelle makes faces at Dae all night, trying to get him to flirt with Maggie, and he uses all his willpower to stop himself from rolling his eyes at her.
Meanwhile, Dae and Koa continue to discuss plans together for the Thanksgiving break. Koa informs Dae that they may have roped in the eleventh grade math teacher, Matias, to join them too, and Dae asks if it would be okay for him to invite his roommate to tag along.
With the meal over, Nichelle tries to guilt-trip Dae into joining the rest of them for drinks, but Dae says he needs to call it a night.
As Nichelle, Koa, and Maggie leave the restaurant, Dae hangs back to thank the chef. He waits by the entrance for about three minutes before Chariya comes out after the host lets her know he’s waiting.
“Hey, I just wanted to thank you for all the food. It was great, and my colleague is a new fan of your cooking.”
Chariya smiles. “Thank you, Mr Kim. I hope you enjoy your Thanksgiving break.”
“Thank you,” Dae replies. “I hope so too. And same to you and Alice. Or, just Alice, I guess, since I suppose you’ll be working.”
“Most days, anyway. We’re closed on Thanksgiving. Well, I better get back to it. Nice seeing you again.”
Dae waves to her, and Chariya bows her head, before they both turn around and go their separate ways.