It really didn't look like much.
Just an old-fashioned diner, like something that hadn't changed since the sixties, like John Travolta could turn up in a jacket and start singing about the misery of being popular and in love with a beautiful girl who loves him back. The only difference between this diner and all the others Stiles had seen was the sound system and the narrow catwalk down the middle.
Stiles had to work hard not to raise an eyebrow at the decor.
"We're not open," said a grumpy voice.
Stiles spun round, guiltily, then remembered he had no reason to feel guilty. "I um... got invited..." he said at the figure in the shadows by the door.
The figure grunted. "You're one of the wannabes?"
"No!" Stiles cried, trying hard not to think about his YouTube videos, "I mean... who... I ... never... heard of that song. Or the group that sang it... "
"What?" said the figure.
"Nothing," said Stiles.
The figure stepped forward, out of the shadows. The better view did not help Stiles' ability to think.
"What are you doing here?" asked the most beautiful but also terrifying man Stiles had ever seen.
"Um... auditioning..." said Stiles, knowing his face was probably a horrible shade of purple.
The beautiful man folded his immaculately sculpted arms.
Stiles swallowed and tried to be less of an idiot, "There was a guy called Peter, and he..."
"Peter!" shouted the man.
Stiles hid a flinch, "Um, yeah, called Peter..." he said. “He said I could ... come see about a job ... and... um...."
"And here you are," said a new voice, this one sounding far more like the slimy one from the phone call.
"Yeah," Stiles confirmed, "Here I am. In all my skinny, flailing glory." He looked at Peter, hopefully. And added, "Ta dah."
Peter smirked. "Well then, Mr Stilinski," he said, "Let's see what you got."
Stiles looked around himself. "Um..."
Peter settled himself into one of the chairs facing the catwalk. The grumpy-beautiful man merely adjusted his unwelcoming stance slightly.
"We're waiting, Stilinski," said Peter.
"Yeah," said Stiles, "About that, I did say on the phone that I'm not really a ... you know... singer."
"Then why are you wasting our time?" the grumpy one demanded.
"Slow down, Derek," said Peter, "I can see his potential."
"Um... Scott said... that not everybody sings?" said Stiles. "I just... need a job..."
Peter smiled, "But we need someone who can perform," he said.
"It's just... I'm a writer?" said Stiles, "I'm trying to get some of my stuff shown, and ..."
"And this is a great place to make connections," Peter finished for him, with a smug smile, "But if you want the chance to work here, you are going to get on that stage and sing your timid little heart out. Or we can find somebody who will."
"But..." said Stiles.
"Peter, this is not what this place is about," Derek interrupted.
"I'm trying to run a business here, Derek," said Peter.
"Derek, there are pans that need washing," Peter interrupted, "Or potatoes that need frying or something. Leave the hiring and firing to me."
Derek glared, but he didn't say anything more. Instead he turned away, went back the way he came, leaving Stiles alone with the slimy one.
"When you're ready," said Peter with a smile that made Stiles shiver.
So Stiles swallowed and sang. He picked the first song that came into his head.
"You say I only hear what I want to..." began Stiles shakily. “You say I talk so all the time, so."
The door to the kitchen area slammed opened and Derek surely marched up to his uncle, Stiles lost where he was immediately.
"I think we've heard enough, haven't we Peter?" said Derek.
"The kid's only sang two lines,' said Peter, sighing dramatically. "Give him a chance."
"Those two lines were chance enough, it made my ears bleed from the kitchen. He has no formal training and he'd be taking the place of someone who actually deserves the job," he turned to Stiles. "Thanks but no thanks. You can go now."
"Now wait just a minute," said Stiles, flailing slightly. "What crawled up your ass and died dude? That was totally out of line!"
Derek's eyes flashed at him. "You didn't have to deal with the last person Peter hired, played with and fired."
A smug grin stretched across Peter's face. "I can't help that I like to play with my food and eat it. Besides I don't think poor Mason had any complaints."
"He's trying to sue us."
"Potato Po-ta-to nephew."
"Can I try one more song?" asked Stiles, seeing his dream of eating something other than instant noodles escaping before his eyes.
Said the warring family members at the same time.
Stiles picked up the microphone, taking a deep breath. The right song came to him in an instant; the whisper of a memory.
"Can anybody find me somebody to love." he sang out clearly.
"Each morning I get up I die a little,
Can barely stand on my feet,
Take a look in the mirror and cry
Lord what you're doing to me
I have spent all my years in believing you"
A single tear slipped down Stiles' eye as the memory of his mother sitting on his bed singing the same some. Her beautiful voice very much alive in his ears. He stepped onto the platform as he started to sing the next part.
"But I just can't get no relief, Lord
Can anybody find me somebody to love?"
In his memory his mother was tucking the sheets around him, running a finger through his long hair. For months after she'd died he always used to think he could hear the whispered lyrics of this song and a ghost hand through his hair. He'd practically wept at the barbers when they'd shaved the locks after some kid at school had stuck bubble gum in it. He closed his eyes as he continued to sing.
"I work hard every day of my life
I work 'til I ache my bones
At the end of the day I take home my hard earned pay all on my own -
I get down on my knees
And I start to pray
'Til the tears run down from my eyes
Lord - somebody - somebody
Can anybody find me - somebody to love?"
He opened his eyes trailing off, for a moment he thought he caught a glimpse of his mother smiling at him across the room. She was only there for a millisecond and was gone before he could really take the sight of her in. Stiles hadn't sang her lullaby since she'd died, it was almost as if she was with him singing, it with him.
The sound of a single pair of hands clapping forced him out of her reverence. Stiles turned, realising he was still in the cheesy dinner with Peter and Derek.
"That..." said Peter, a massive smile on his face. "Was something. Don't you think Derek?"
Derek was staring at Stiles, an unreadable look on his face. It was almost as if he was in a trace, until Peter elbowed him.
"It was okay." grunted Derek, refusing to look anywhere other than the floor.
"That was more than okay." exclaimed Peter. "When I met Scott I practically wanted to bite him he was so good. But Stiles...I want to eat him right on up."
"And that's why we have several on-going sexual harassment cases." grunted Derek, as he once more returned to the shadows and, presumably, the kitchen.
"Where did you learn to sing like that?" asked Peter.
"My Mum used to...sing and she sometimes liked to sing with me." said Stiles, not quite wanting to tell the whole story.
"She must have been some singer." said Peter.
A secret smile spread across Stiles' face. "The best."
Stiles found the customers fascinating.
Some of them loved every minute, singing along to choruses even with their mouths full of fries, dancing to Scott's soft rock numbers, swaying to Lydia's smooth and sexy ballads, and jiggling to Danny's big band tunes. Some of them barely looked up from their food and seemed to run the second their plates were clear.
The staff were awesome. Scott was fun and cute, Danny sexy and confident making the women flushed and the girls (and a few guys) drool. Kira's pop songs were a big hit, too, and Allison's cute country style had everyone smiling. Stiles was already half in love with Lydia.
They were all pretty awesome. Stiles sort of understood Derek's objections to hiring him. Compared to some of these guys, Stiles really should go home. But he’d also half written a song for every member of staff before the end of his first shift. Including Peter. And Derek…
Derek worked in the kitchen. Stiles and the others brought him the orders of food, and he and a guy called Boyd put together the best looking fries and burgers Stiles had ever seen. (And serving several thousand of the things didn’t help.)
He wasn’t called to sing the first night. Peter told him he would have to have a chance to settle in before he got called up. He was, however, ritually humiliated.
Peter had set himself up as some kind of Master of Ceremonies. He didn’t seem to actually sing, but he showed a natural charm and wit as he introduced each act with delicious details that made Stiles forget to work in anticipation of the performance. He then watched each act with an eager glint in his eye, and sent nearby women into fits of palpitations with sly comments that Stiles couldn’t overhear.
Just as the applause was dying down from a stunning blond girl called Erica, Peter stood and grinned directly at Stiles.
“Those of you who regularly join us here at Talia’s Dream Diner, will have noticed a new face joining us tonight.”
Stiles flushed as he put the steaks he was carrying down in front of a pair of old ladies who grinned at him, as though they were in on a secret with him. They were probably regulars.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is our promising young hopeful, Stiles,” said Peter, “Come on up here, Stiles.”
He held out a hand to Stiles. Stiles, probably the colour of tomato ketchup, wasn’t sure he had a choice but to make his way over. He didn’t take the hand, but tried to Smile at the gathered eaters. He got some interested looks from the old ladies and a group of teenaged girls around a big round table in Scott’s area. And an alarming wink from a huge guy sat by himself.
“Isn’t he delicious?” Peter asked the world at large, putting a far too familiar hand on Stiles’ cheek. He smiled at Stiles, then put his hand on Stiles’ shoulder, spinning him back to face the room. He put his arm around Stiles’ upper chest, holding him on display to the public. “This afternoon, Stiles sang to me. And you know what? It was like having an angel before me. He meant every word he sang, isn’t that right Stiles?”
“Um…” said Stiles, “You’re a bit of creeper, dude.”
Peter laughed. The diners laughed. Scott rolled his eyes. Derek emerged from the kitchen, and glared at him viciously. Peter’s breath danced on his ear. “He’s insulting the boss already!” cried Peter, then more quietly, “You are certainly something.”
“So, I know y’all are desperate to hear our little new boy sing,” said Peter, “And guys, you’ll have to be here next week. I think we shall debut you on Wednesday. How do you feel about that, Stiles?”
“Uh, sure…” said Stiles.
Peter ahhed him. The crowd joined in. Stiles wondered if there were a darker shade of red than the ketchup to compare his face to.
“Beautiful, talented and modest too,” said Peter, “What a charmer.”
He released his hold of Stiles, who nearly bolted back to the kitchen. He heard the whole diner laughing behind him. Derek followed him back in to the kitchen. He looked at Stiles with judgemental eyes. Stiles decided it was time for a break. He snuck out a side door into the alley where all the kitchen staff who smoked went.
He leaned against the wall and closed his eyes, taking in deep breaths.
"I hope you're not smoking." said a female voice.
Stiles opened his eyes and noticed Lydia staring at him with a perfectly raised eyebrow.
"Not one cigarette has touched these lips oh beautiful one."
Lydia's lips quirked into a smile. "I'm glad to hear that, smoking can ruin your vocal chords. Plus there's nothing worse than the smell of smoke for customers."
"What are you doing out here?" asked Stiles.
Lydia looked down at her nails. "Curiosity more than anything else. It's not often Derek allows Peter to hire someone with no singing experience. All of us here are trying to make it big in the business and this is just a stepping stone or a place to wait until our next job comes up. Allison was Belle in Beauty and the Beast, Erica's been in Cats, Kira's played Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and Danny's been in the Jersey Boys. I pretty much know everyone in the business and I've never even heard of you."
Stiles shrugged his shoulders. "I'm pretty forgettable."
Lydia rolled her eyes. "Don't insult my intelligence Stiles. I just want to work out what's so special about you."
"We could go out for coffee and you could figure it out." said Stiles bravely.
"That's cute Stiles, but you and I both know I'd eat you alive. Besides I have a boyfriend who is the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera. And let me tell you under that mask is pure perfection, although if you ever tell him I said that I will cut off all that pretty bed hair you have going on at the minute."
"Understood," said Stiles, in awe of how beautiful and terrifying Lydia was.
Lydia pushed herself off the wall. "Just a word to the wise Stiles, don't sleep with Peter; he gets bored of his toys very quickly."
Stiles swallowed hard. "Have you been one of his toys?"
"I'm no-one's toy." said Lydia.
"Neither am I' said Stiles boldly back.
A knowing smile spread across Lydia's face. "I can see why he agreed to hire you. I think you're going to make life much more interesting around here."
"I'll do my best." said Stiles.
Lydia turned and walked back to the back door, she paused before she went in. "I can't wait to hear you sing."
Stiles took one last deep breath before he followed her back into the diner. He stepped through the door and walked straight into Derek. Stiles felt himself being knocked backwards, until Derek's strong hands grabbed his shoulders and steadied him.
"Oh my God, are you made out of rock or something dude?" Stiles exclaimed.
"Your order for table five is ready." grunted Derek. "And you should look where you're going."
"Okay," said Stiles, forcing a smile onto his face, trying to remind himself how much he needed this job. "I'll get right to it and try to be more careful of lurking creepers in the future."
Stiles went to brush past Derek. But the other man grabbed his wrist, they silently stared at one another.
"You might want to use your words dude, I can't read your mind," said Stiles, ignoring the tingling he felt from Derek's hand being on his wrist. Just his luck that he seemed to find the serial killer look sexy, or maybe he'd just lost his mind lately. His Dad did say he was the king of idiotic decisions and this new development that his body seemed to find Derek Hale attractive would definitely be his most idiotic one to date.
"I just wanted to check that you're okay." Derek finally grunted out, his hazel eyes full of conflicting emotion. "Peter can be intense and so can Lydia."
"It's fine." said Stiles firmly.
"Just sing like you sang the other day and you'll be fine." said Derek, glaring down at the floor. "Your singing can't be any worse than your skills as a waiter."
“Dude!” Scott greeted him after the last customer finally, after much wittering about talented staff, shuffled unwillingly out of the door, “Your first shift!”
“Yeah,” said Stiles, shyly. “You guys are awesome.”
Scott grinned, “Did you listen to Allison?”
“Uh, how could I miss her?” said Stiles.
Scott grinned even wider, his puppy dog excited face, pride at his beautiful talented and wonderful girlfriend. “Will you write something for us?” he asked, “A duet for me and Allison?”
“Uh, I can try…” said Stiles, with a blush.
“Please!” said Scott, “You’re amazing!”
“Dude, I already said yes!” Stiles complained.
Scott threw a relaxed arm over him. “It’s so great you’re working here!”
“Yeah, a warning might have been good,” said Stiles.
“About what?” asked Scott, frowning.
“How about creeper Peter and perpetually angry Derek?”
Scott frowned, “Peter’s not a creeper.”
“Uh, yeah,” said Stiles, “He’s basically sexually harassed me a bunch of times already.”
Stiles flailed. “Yes!” he cried.
“Oh,” said Scott, “I didn’t… I always thought he was into Lydia…”
Stiles stared at Scott, because sometimes his stupidity surprised even Stiles, even though they’d been best friends since forever.
“Gentlemen, when you’ve quite finished discussing my sexual preferences, there are tables to be cleared,” said Peter from beside Stiles.
Stiles jumped in shock and embarrassment. Scott gaped.
Peter smiled at them both. “Well?” he said, “Dishes?”
Scott and Stiles both sprang into action simultaneously. Stiles was aware of Peter watching him work throughout.
After they left the diner, leaving Peter to lock up, Scott said to Stiles, “Ok, so Peter is a bit of a creeper. But Derek’s OK.”
Stiles gave him a sideways look.
“OK.” Scott conceded, “He’s a bit grumpy.”
“A bit grumpy?”
“But, dude, he’s kind of got the right to be pissed.”
Stiles paused, about to open his jeep. “He’s got the right to be pissed? Permanently pissed at the whole world?”
“Yeah,” said Scott.
He didn’t elaborate so Stiles spread his arms wide in expectation.
Scott got the message. “Dude, his whole family died!”
Stiles gaped. “How?”
“Um… I don’t know?” said Scott, “But, like, the diner used to belong to his Mom?”
“Talia was real?” asked Stiles, “I thought that was a marketing gimmick!”
“No, the whole place was her idea,” said Scott, “Apparently, she loved Broadway so much, she just wanted to support all the actors when they were between roles, you know? So she made this place so they could earn a living and practice their performances, yeah?”
“So… how did she die?” asked Stiles, “Derek can’t be more than thirty, so she would be… how old?”
Scott shrugged. “I thought you knew all this.”
Stiles flailed again, “I know you’re used to me knowing everything, but my Dad’s the Sheriff of a tiny town in California. I know nothing about New York!”
“Oh,” said Scott, “Sorry, dude. Can I have a ride?”
Stiles sighed and nodded. He knew he wasn’t getting to sleep any time soon anyway.
He dropped Scott off, then drove on to his own place. It was stupid to have any sort of car in New York, and a beat up old jeep in constant need of repair was even more stupid, but it had felt wrong to leave it in California, so he ignored the never ending horns and drove anyway.
His first stop was his laptop.
Talia Hale, her husband and all but one of her children, two of her siblings and a number of their children, died while on holiday in Cape Cod. The only surviving members of the Hale family were Derek and Peter.
Stiles couldn’t find any more useful information than that. They were out on a boat, Derek stayed at the holiday home, Peter hadn’t even gone on the holiday, and then… None of them had returned.
Stiles was still reading articles on his phone when he got to the diner the following evening for his shift. There was a small lull between three and five, and he was hoping to maybe talk to Lydia about everything he’d discovered. She was obviously smarter than Scott, and seemed like she was more experienced. Maybe she’d been there longer, maybe she’d heard stuff about Talia and the others. But Lydia wasn’t around, so Stiles put his stuff in the back, and wondered through to find people to talk to.
Naturally, when he heard voices he followed them. They were out where he’d gone the night before, just outside the back door, a man and a woman. He must have been very deep in thought he didn’t hear the obvious anger in either voice.
He opened the door to see Derek with his hand about a woman’s neck.
Derek’s head snapped to Stiles when the door open. Stiles froze in horror at the sight.
Derek dropped his hand from the woman’s neck and blinked at Stiles
“Uh…” said Stiles again.
Derek turned at the woman with a look of pure hatred. “If you show your face around here again, I will kill you,” he told the woman.
The woman, a blond maybe a little older than Derek, gave Derek a look if extreme hatred. She righted her clothes, a business suit, and marched angrily away from Derek. As she passed Stiles, she said, in a ringing voice, “Be careful of him, whoever you are.”
“Get lost,” Derek growled.
“He’s not all he seems,” the woman whispered. Then she broke into a jog, away from Derek, back to the street where tourists and locals passed by, without even looking in Stiles and Derek’s direction.
Derek looked at Stiles, but Stiles had no desire to be alone with him. He turned on his heels, back into the diner. A few more people were arriving now, and Stiles put on his apron and started early. Working for nothing was better than dealing with his thoughts.
Derek was a violent and angry young man. He’d been the only person not to get on that boat, the only one to escape the tragedy.
Could he, possibly, have made it happen?