Had anyone asked Garak five or ten years prior how he felt about fast food, he would have made a face of disgust, and then most likely have made a subtle threat to your life or your loved ones. Anyone who had known him, even just a little, had been well aware that he liked everything in his life to be high quality. The kind of work he did back then didn't really allow for the unreliability of shoddy workmanship, and this translated to everything he surrounded himself with. He had no patience for things done by halves. Say what you will about Garak and his methods, but he never had anything but his whole heart in it.
Which made it even more tragic when his situation changed dramatically, and he suddenly found himself forcibly settled in the lower part of town, unable to change his circumstances even slightly without risking his head. No doubt Tain thought there was a beautiful irony in exiling Garak to a place where the social nexus was a strip mall, full of knock-off clothing and greasy diners. Needless to say, it took substantial effort to get himself settled.
But live anywhere long enough, and some things start to rub off on you.
Garak's own work was still top quality, even though he was in a vastly different industry these days, and at least the nearby library kept him supplied with enough intellectual challenges to not rot from the inside. However, to get to the library he had to cross the mall and, inevitably, this would lead him by the new pizza place. It used to be some form of Chinese restaurant, but Garak had had no more desire to go there than to any of the other food and drinks suppliers in the mall. Except maybe Quark's, when the sniveling little weasel occasionally had some rare bourbon or something in stock.
Deep Dish Nine seemed surprisingly clean and well-run as far as Garak could tell, glancing through the glass front. It still didn't tempt him to go in, but he allowed himself a moment of satisfaction to see at least one establishment here raising the bar just a little. When he got back from the library and passed it again, there seemed to be some slight commotion going on inside. Utterly deprived of entertainment in his life, Garak didn't even feel bad for sitting down on a bench opposite the entrance, and quietly observing what was going on inside. To his endless amusement it turned out to be his old “friend” Dukat getting thoroughly tongue-lashed by a fiery red-red, no doubt for being his usual sleazy self. The confrontation got loud enough to draw attention from the proprietor, who came out from the back looking like a storm cloud in a tomato-stained apron.
Dukat somehow managed to convince them to let him stay, and he even ordered a pizza, although it was abundantly clear that what he really wanted to sink his teeth into was currently seething at the register. Oh, this was glorious!
Clearly wanting to avoid Dukat, the red-head covertly convinced one of her co-workers to go to his table instead when he started drawing attention to himself again. The co-worker in question was a young man, tall, and somewhat weedy, but even from the distance, Garak could easily see him vigorously roll a pair of expressive eyes, and take away Dukat's plate with a casual insolence which made Garak chuckle. Clearly the young man was unimpressed with Dukat's blustering.
That alone made Garak take notice.
It was clear that this particular employee was fairly new to the trade. He had to ask for help with the register a couple of times and constantly checked the menu for people's orders, making sure he got everything right. Garak assumed from his age and his frayed jeans that he was a college student, probably on a scholarship, trying to make a little cash. Or possibly to get laid, if the way he kept following around the tall, shapely brunette was any indication. Too bad he was never going to get lucky there. She clearly didn't have anything but fond, motherly feelings for the poor lad.
Before he knew it, Garak had sat on the bench for over an hour, his self-designated lunch time having come and gone twice over, and he grudgingly went back to his shop and his meager livelihood.
The next day he ventured out again during lunch and somehow found himself on the same bench. He'd brought a book with him, intending to read it, but ended up watching the pizza place again. This time the register was manned by a tall, dark-skinned and frankly intimidating man, who looked much better suited for battling charging rhinos than serving pizzas. He didn't look like he'd ever cracked a single smile, either. As the lunch rush slowly started, Garak was initially disappointed when the large oaf was directed away from the register and into the back, depriving Garak of the entertainment of seeing him handle customers. But then again, it was probably a wise move to have someone less intimidating handle the masses of hungry people on a deadline. Good social skills tended to move things along more smoothly.
To Garak's luck, the one replacing him was the tall brunette, and as if pulled on a string behind her came the weedy youth, practically swooning at her every move. She wasted no time putting him to work, though, and in the end, the entire lunch hour ended up being woefully devoid of drama. So Garak ended up just watching the young man wiping down the tables or bringing people their orders.
There was something eye-catching about him that Garak couldn't quite put his finger on. At first glance the lanky limbs and energetic gestures seemed to indicate nothing but the usual. Youth, enthusiasm, naivete. He was favored with attractive facial features, which were sadly counteracted by his somewhat bumbling social gestures. And Garak didn't even need to hear a single word spoken to realize all of this. But still there was something there which piqued his interest.
By the time Garak's lunch hour was over, he'd decided that perhaps the next day it would be time for him to brave the grease-soaked world of strip-mall dining.
He went to lunch a little earlier the following day. Setting one's own hours did have its advantages, and he stepped into Deep Dish Nine about half an hour before the usual lunch crowd would start rushing in. He picked a corner table where he could see the entire room, and picked up a menu. Everything on it looked equally unappetizing, but since he didn't really come for the food, this was inconsequential.
The tall brunette came striding up to his table, wearing a customer pleasing smile, and a name tag that said Jadzia.
“Hi, and welcome to Deep Dish Nine!” Garak looked up from the menu, and to his surprise, the girl smiled even wider at him. “Oh, hey you're that tailor! Garak, right? From the south corner of the mall?”
“Indeed I am. You know my work?”
“I know that I'd kill for that ball gown you have on display this week. I pass your shop to drool over it when I come in every morning.”
Garak sent her his own customer schmoozing smile. “Well then you do have exquisite taste. And I believe that particular gown would look extremely flattering on your slender figure.”
“Well aren't you just a sweet talker,” Jadzia said with a wink. “So what can I get you?”
Sensing that the girl was good humored, Garak decided to gamble a little bit. “Well...” He looked around, as if concerned that people might see them, before leaning in conspiratorially. “I hope you won't take this the wrong way, but... there was a nice young man in here yesterday... would it be too much trouble to have him serve me today?”
Jadzia's smile turned positively wicked. “Oh, Julian? I don't see why not. And don't worry, I'm pretty sure I'm taking this exactly the right way.”
“And you're sure you don't mind? It's not that I don't appreciate your delightful company, you understand.”
“It's perfectly fine. I'll send him right over. You'll have to be patient, though. He's new.”
“I can be a very patient man, I assure you.”
Jadzia winked at him again and waltzed back to the register, positively gleeful, before ducking quickly into the back room, calling out the young man. Evidently, Jadzia had something of a mischievous streak, or at least a taste for drama to equal Garak's own. Julian, on the other hand, seemed perfectly unaware of anything other than the fact that Jadzia had just spoken to him. Poor, deluded boy.
He came over to Garak's table and just as he opened his mouth, no doubt to dutifully deliver the usual greeting, Garak cut him off, smiling.
“Julian, is it?” He then pointedly glanced at his name tag. “Ah, but of course it is.”
“Uh... yes? Yes, that's my name,” Julian stammered. “How can I... help you?”
“All in good time. But firstly, may I introduce myself?”
“Uh... yes, yes of course.”
“Wonderful. My name is Garak. You're new here, aren't you?”
“I-I am, yes.”
Garak smiled even wider at him, and from the look on Julian's face, it clearly had the effect of making the boy very uneasy. It made for great entertainment, as far as Garak was concerned. Not offering anything further, Julian was eventually forced to attempt to pick up the conversation somehow.
“Though... though I understand that you've been here quite a while. In the mall, I mean.”
“Ah, you know of me, then!” Garak said with a level of enthusiasm which made Julian squirm delightfully with awkwardness.
“Well, yes, Jadzia has mentioned your shop a couple of times.”
“I see. So you have no interest in fashion yourself?”
“I, uh... no, I can't really say that I do,” Julian said carefully, obviously worried he might offend.
“Ah, that is a pity. However, should you ever be looking for a bit of lively conversation, as I often do, or perhaps just feel in need of some... enjoyable company, do feel free to stop by my shop. Whatever you need, I'm at your disposal,” Garak said, his tone carrying just a hint of a purr, as he slid a business card across the table. And this was the exact moment Julian realized he was being flirted with. His reaction was everything Garak could have asked for.
“Oh... uhm... I mean... err... that's very kind, Mr. Garak, but-”
“It's just Garak. Plain, simple Garak.”
“Garak. Right,” Julian breathed, wide-eyed and so very out of his depth.
Taking pity on him, Garak picked up the menu. “I can't say I've had much experience with... pizza. What would you recommend?”
“Ah, well, uhm. Being new myself I haven't tasted everything yet, but Sisko seems very proud of his new seafood pizza. I'm told it's a secret recipe.”
“Really? And how did you like it?”
Garak had to exert quite a bit of self-control to keep from laughing when Julian shifted uneasily, torn between being honest and being faithful to his employer.
“I, uh... I'm not much for seafood, really, so...”
“I see. So, considering what you've tasted so far, which one is your favorite?”
“Well, I don't normally eat here, so I've only tasted a couple of the simple ones. But the Idanian Sweet Spice is very good.”
“Forgive me for saying so, but not eating here seems... odd, considering you work at dining establishment.”
“Oh, it's not that the food here is bad or anything,” Julian rushed to explain. “It's just that I'm a college student, and since eating here comes out of my pay, it's just cheaper to bring lunch in with me.”
“A student!” Garak exclaimed. “How delightful! What do you study?”
“Medicine. Neurology, in fact.”
“My, that is an ambitious career choice! But then again, a bright young man like you will no doubt accomplish great things. I wish you the best of luck... doctor.”
“That's very kind of you to say, Mr– uhm... Garak. But I'm not a doctor yet.”
“I have every confidence that you will be, some day soon.”
Julian smiled, obviously flattered, and while Garak truly enjoyed making the boy uncomfortable, there was also a surprising amount of gratification in making him genuinely happy. Garak decided he needed to spend a little time later considering exactly where he was going with this course of action.
Evidently, the flattery had made Julian a lot more comfortable, because he was the first to break the now much less tense silence.
“I'll tell you what... you seem like a man of–“ he looked Garak up and down briefly. “–more refined tastes. I think that you'd be much happier with one of the salads. Sisko's chicken and olive blend is very good.”
Garak smiled broadly and handed Julian the menu. “I am in your capable hands, doctor.”
Julian smiled again at the use of his future title, and Garak resolved then and there to use it as much as possible.
“We also have a few nice teas. Would you like to try one of them? I personally prefer the Tarkalean with a couple of sugars. Very... soothing.”
“Sounds lovely,” Garak said, even though he generally didn't like sweet things. But as Julian smiled again and slipped away to make the tea, Garak decided that even if the tea and salad was unfit for consumption, he'd definitely be back. There was just something about Julian... but for the life of him, he could not figure out what it was.
Garak decided to hold off on his frontal assault for the moment, and merely smiled when Julian brought him the tea. Much too sweet. But perhaps without the sugar it might actually be drinkable. He'd try it unsweetened next time.
While pondering the tea, he sat back and watched Julian prepare his salad. It was almost done when another employee had to pass him, and Julian stopped her. Garak couldn't hear what was being said, but he saw Julian reach under the counter and hand an item to the girl. She looked just a little bit like Jadzia, which probably also explained why Julian was so enthusiastic about whatever it was he was telling her. The girl looked surprised and held up the item– a book! Interesting. She leafed through the book quickly, finding the last page and looking back up at Julian, disbelief all over her face.
The book wasn't exactly a lightweight, and Julian colored slightly, apparently trying to brush off the girl's questions without causing offence. Interesting indeed! It didn't take a genius to deduce that the girl had lent him the book and was amazed he'd made it to the end. The checking of the page count made Garak suspect that Julian had in fact also read the entire thing in an amazingly short time. Obviously his flattery about being bright hadn't been too far off the mark. Unsurprising really, considering the boy's chosen study.
And right there was his in. Garak smiled to himself and fished out a pen, while Julian let the girl pass and finished the order.
“Here you go. Enjoy!” Julian said, placing the salad in front of Garak.
“Ah, that does look delicious, thank you.” Julian was about to leave again, so Garak impulsively got up and stopped him with a gentle touch to his shoulder. As it turned out, he and the boy were almost exactly the same height, which was a plus, since Garak was aiming at being unintimidating for once.
“Just a moment, young man. If I might be so bold, I couldn't help but notice your little exchange behind the counter, and since I myself have a special interest in literature, I thought I'd offer a little recommendation, in case you lack leisure reading.” He handed Julian another business card, the title of a moderately obscure book written on the back. Julian took it gingerly and read it as if half expecting it to bite him.
“Meditations On A Crimson Shadow? Yes, I've heard of it.”
This was honestly baffling to Garak. Even people he used to call friends had practically never heard of any of the books he enjoyed. He beamed at Julian. “Is that so? Well I highly recommend it. And as a matter of fact, I only just returned it to the local library, so unless it's been requested by someone else, it should still be there. It's not in high demand, but not having to wait for the library to have it shipped back would surely make it the perfect time to give it a read.”
Julian seemed to actually consider the suggestion. “Well... I don't know. From what I hear it's a rather unique style, difficult to grasp for some people.”
“Ah, but not for you, I imagine. And if nothing else, I'm convinced that at the very least you would keep an open mind and reserve judgment until having actually read it.”
The slight jab had the desired effect, and Julian held up his hands in surrender. “All right, you do have a point. Thank you for the recommendation. I'll be sure to give it a chance.”
“Excellent. And if you need someone to discuss it with once you're done, let me once again remind you that my door is always open. Anytime.”
Julian swallowed visibly and mumbled something semi-polite before scurrying off, cheeks burning.
Garak sat down smoothly and dug into his salad. For the first time in years, he got the thought that he might actually end up liking it here.
Even though the salad was really quite dreadful.