Forget, for a moment, that Malik isn't even supposed to be driving. He isn't even supposed to be here, stuck in the driver's seat while his little brother leans across his lap to shout a drunken order into a rusted tin box with speakers. It's a school night, and Malik as a political science exam tomorrow—today, technically, since it's now twelve in the morning—but he can't very well let Kadar drive home from a frat party with his friends, who are horrible enablers besides. And, because they are horrible enablers, they had gotten Malik to be their designated driver. How that happened, Malik isn't even sure himself, but he supposes that there is justification in letting a one-armed man drive when everyone else is drunk out of their minds.
What he can't figure out, though, is how they manage to get him to drive to McDonalds. Considering how much they drank (and the fact that it's McDonalds), Kadar and his friends would probably throw up whatever they ate.
The menu is way too bright in his eyes and, in the haze of interrupted political terminologies still swimming in Malik's mind, everything feels slightly surreal. Too many burgers and too many items that start with a Mc-prefix.
"I want one," Kadar proclaims to the speaker.
"One of what?" The voice that answers is flat and unamused, much like Malik himself. A kindred spirit, perhaps, stuck in its confines of grease and the wafting scent of fried oil.
"One of everything," Kadar slurs, breaking out into laughter when all three of his friends (in the backseat) start to giggle at this apparent display of wit.
"Sir, I think you're drunk, and it's worrying that you are using the Drive-Thru, which implies that you are using a car."
And, great, now Malik has no choice but to interject here. "Nope, I'm the designated driver."
"I'm so sorry."
"Me too," Malik replies, nudging Kadar back into his seat. "Just give me four of your cheapest meals, cokes for all of them."
"Right," the voice says, giving them their total, and the order shows up on the display screen. "Pull up to the second window."
Malik does, wondering if there is any way to cover his face so that he would not die from embarrassment. In the end, it doesn't matter; he pays a woman at the window, and she doesn't even bat an eye at them, much less Kadar and his friends lolling around in the car.
"You're the best, bro," Kadar hums, grabbing the meals.
"You owe me," Malik grunts, but before he can throw the gear back into drive, the woman from the window thrusts out a steaming cup of coffee. He stares for a moment, wresting with the decision to just take it—god, he could use a coffee—but honesty wins this round. "I didn't order that."
The woman snaps her bubblegum and directs her gaze to some part of the kitchen where Malik can't see.
"He says you're going to need it," she says.
Malik wants to ask for a name, but the coffee drips from the lid as he takes it and by the time Malik has stopped wincing in pain, the woman has closed the window without even apologizing. Come to think of it, he didn't even get the chance to say thanks either.
He puts the coffee in the cup holder, absently wiping his hand on the back of Kadar's shirt. Kadar squirms and asks why he didn't any coffee, but Malik's mind is already trying to come up with a thesis for his term paper (also due tomorrow)—he hasn't got the time to think of anything else.
But the coffee is still hot when he finally goes home and sits in front of his laptop, so there's that at least.
Malik has read somewhere that you're only supposed to have fast-food once a month, if any at all. It's been less than a week, but he's at the Drive-Thru again. This time, it's at a slightly more reasonable hour of eleven at night and Kadar is thankfully back at home, studying organic chemistry and starving in the process.
"Cheapest meal with a coke, and an extra side order of fries," Malik says, drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. This is what he gets when he can't be bothered to cook.
"Oh, it's you," says a familiar voice. "Driving the party-car again?"
Malik groans at the memory, even as he smiles despite himself. "Not tonight," he says and adds, belatedly, "Thanks for the coffee last time. It really helped."
"Your total's six-ninety-four. Window two. And I don't know what you're talking about. I'm not giving away free coffees to suffering designated drivers. Where did you get that crazy idea from?"
"Oh. Must have been a mistake, then," Malik says, grinning. There's no way the guy at the other end can see it, but the speakers fall silent for a bit and when the voice fizzes back, there's a trace of laughter in it.
"Of course, sir. It won't happen again. Window two, please."
Malik pulls up, a little curious, but it's the same woman at the window who takes his money and hands him the food. She doesn't give him coffee either and just snaps her bubblegum at him.
He goes home, dropping the McDonald's bag in front of his bleary-eyed brother, who practically tears it open in his hunger. Ten honey-packets explode from the bag, plopping to the floor like rain.
"Why did you get so much?" Kadar asks, bewildered.
Malik shakes his head, kneeling down. "I didn't," he grumps, and picks up the packets.
"It's 'cause you're sweet," says the voice. He pauses, his flippant tone turning somewhat embarrassed. "And it was funny at the time."
"Wow," Malik says after a good long while. "I'm not sure what's worse—the delivery itself, or the fact that you're telling me two weeks later."
"Most people would call it charming," the speaker box says, sounding miffed. "And the two weeks is your fault."
Malik rolls his eyes. "I can't be eating McDonald's every day. And while I'm at it, I'll have the Caesar salad."
"The salads are just as unhealthy, you know. You're going to get fat."
"I bet your managers love you."
"I'm the best carhop they've got," the voice says, well-versed in conveying sarcasm without the use of expressions. "My customer service is flawless. Window two, asshole."
Malik pulls up, and he gets his not-very-healthy salad with a free definitely-not-healthy McFlurry to go along with it.
He gives it to Kadar. If anything, it's his little brother who's in danger of gaining a few pounds.
The speakers are broken.
"I can't hear you," shouts the speaker-box, clear as a bell, but apparently he can't hear anything Malik is saying. "Maybe if you lean closer!"
Malik grumbles and unbuckles his seatbelt. Putting the car into park, he rolls down his window even further and sticks his head out.
"The McChicken Nuggets," he yells, and he's been changing his orders every time. "The special for five dollars! God, can't you hear me without the speakers? Stupid, stupid, incompetent newbie!"
"Hi," says the box, and the order pops up in the display screen, along with all the other ones. The total is over a hundred dollars.
"Look up behind you."
Malik does, and he sees the little black half-sphere of a security camera blinking back at him. He wishes that he has both his hands, but one middle finger will have to do.
"You're a fucking creeper."
"Window two, please!"
"When are you going to send me to window one?" Malik asks, watching the display screen light up. He forgets what he had just ordered, but by now it doesn't really matter. "Does it even exist?"
"Oh, no. I can't do that, sir. Window one is for special customers. And it's been a month; Maria misses you."
"She spilled coffee on me that first time."
"Cute, right? She's—"
A different voice interjects, and Malik recognizes it from the snap of bubblegum that seems to punctuate every other word.
"He's been dying to ask for your name," Maria laughs over what sounds like wires being pulled and headsets being thrown around.
"Window two," grits out the first voice, and the line cuts.
When Maria tells him his total at window two, Malik hands her his credit card.
It's a little unorthodox for Malik, but he comes back after three days. He takes the Drive-Thru, of course, and orders a list of meals that he's scribbled on a post-it note.
The voice sounds neutral, though Malik has the deep suspicion that the guy behind it is surprised.
"Right. Three number fives; no tomato on one, no pickles on one of the ones with no tomato and the one with tomato. One number one, extra lettuce with cheese, just the burger, not the meal. Two number sixes, no sauce on one. Cokes for all, plus a coffee and two apple pies. Is there a party tonight or something?"
The display screen lights up like a crazy videogame and, for the first time since he's started talking to mysterious-speaker-box-guy, Malik starts to think that the man really is good at his job.
"Study group," he says. "And I'm actually in a hurry this time."
"It's not called fast-food for nothing, Malik," and the voice sounds a little too delighted beneath its usual wryness. "Window one, please."
And Malik lurches the car forward.
"I couldn't even see you," he grumbles, two weeks later.
"Maybe if you ordered less, I wouldn't have had so many bags covering my face," the speaker-box says. "So what can I get for you tonight?"
"One chocolate-chip cookie," Malik says evenly.
"That'll be fifty cents! Window two!"
Malik thumps his head against the car horn.
"Girl toy or boy toy?"
For a moment, Malik needs to remember that they're talking about Happy Meals.
"Boy toy," he says, turning around to glance at the security camera. He grins.
The speaker goes silent, like it's also trying to remember the exact same thing.
"Cool," it says, intelligently, and forgets to tell Malik to pull up to window two.
Malik is studying in his room when Kadar walks in, cheeseburger in hand. His nose wrinkles at the smell. Honestly, he's getting tired of McDonalds.
"You wouldn't believe what just happened," Kadar says, hanging by the doorway.
"Let me guess; you went to McDonalds, and some nutcase started flirting with you at the Drive-Thru."
Kadar gives him a funny look. "Exactly. Have you been using my car?"
"And if I am?"
"Malik, you have one arm."
"You let me drive before," he replies, distracted from writing his notes.
"That was one time, three months ago, and I was drunk." Kadar puts a hand over his face in mute distress.
"Three months?" Malik asks, looking up just in time to catch a cheeseburger wrapper with his face.
"Yes, so you might as well order a Romantic Steak Dinner Combo with a side of Long Walks on the Beach the next time you steal my car," Kadar huffs.
Malik very slowly puts his pen down. "What?"
"That's what the Drive-Thru guy was saying before he realized he wasn't talking to you. He asked when you're going to order a Romantic Steak Dinner Combo with a side of—"
"I heard you the first time, and it doesn't get any less embarrassing."
"I know, right?" Kadar says cheerfully. "I'm no connoisseur of masculine beauty, but you've got yourself a real looker there."
That, more than anything, gets a rise out of Malik. "You've seen him?"
"You mean you haven't? Do you even know his name? Oh, god, you don't. His name's—"
"I'm stealing your car," Malik announces, interrupting Kadar. He stands up and holds out his hand expectantly.
With a laugh, Kadar throws him the keys.
When Malik pulls up to the Drive-Thru, he sticks his head out of the car and waves at the camera, not even bothering to look at the menu board, and orders a number one with coke.
"Will that be all?" the box asks, oddly professional. Malik would have found it weird if he hadn't known what had happened with Kadar.
"Yeah. I'm just not feeling the romantic steak combo and long walks on the beach tonight," he drawls.
The speaker-box practically radiates horrified mortification. Even the display screen is blank.
"Your brother," the voice grates out, "is a liar and a horrible person."
"Window one?" Malik asks sweetly.
The person Malik sees through the window is not what he expects.
"I was expecting an old, balding, seven-hundred pound guy," he admits. "But at least you've got the grease stains on your shirt."
"And you've got one arm. How do you even drive?"
"Very carefully with lots of wide turns."
The man stares at him; he's got golden eyes and a scar running down one side of his lips, and wears an expression that seems to default to being serious—but Malik doesn't spend too much time on the details. It's the voice he's more familiar with, anyway. He glances down at the name tag.
"Altair," he reads, and that serious expression shifts into a small grin.
"Welcome to McDonalds, Malik," Altair says, leaning out the window. "May I take your order?"
And Malik loathes pick-up lines, but he'll use it just this once, because Altair has been waiting for a long time. He orders one date combo with a side order of movies, music, and dancing.
It ends up being the only thing he'll order at McDonalds again.