"You..." she whispered. She shook her head, trying to remember words and how to use them, "You clean up well."
He didn't answer. He wasn't used to this attention anymore. Before this would've been normal. It would've been expected. Now, he hadn't been looked at like this in years.
She recognized his discomfort and quickly bent down for the ladle, picking it up off the floor. "The um, the food -" she thumbed over her shoulder toward the kitchen. "Yeah. The food's ready. If you're ready." She paused. "Ready. For it."
Words, Mally, she thought, Speak words.
"Yeah," he said.
"I'll be in the kitchen." She turned and bolted.
Nick stood there for a moment, staring after her as she disappeared around the door of her kitchen, then turned back to look at her bathroom. He frowned at the mess he'd made. He quickly set to straightening up. He found a can of scrubbing bubbles on the floor beside her toilet and sprayed the crap out of the inside of the shower stall, figuring it would give the soap time to soak up some of the scum that had fallen off his body. Amazing what happens when a guy only has one shower for four years.
He scooped up the bag with the towel and hair in it and carried it out to the pile of his stuff by her door, sitting on a plastic mat so her floor didn't get all crappy from it, and laid the bag with it. He felt bad.
Mally was standing in the kitchen, spooning macaroni and cheese into funky painted bowls. She'd washed the ladle and set the table with napkins and forks and cups. He stood by the door and stared into the room awkwardly.
"I have milk, soda, cranberry juice..." she said, putting the first bowl down at the setting closest to him. She tried not to stare at him.
"Water's fine," he croaked, his voice breaking mid-word, like a boy going through puberty. He closed his eyes and a hand moved to his neck. He rubbed.
Mally opened the fridge and pulled out a bottle of Fiji water and put it on the table.
"Tap's fine," he said stepping forward and holding the bottle back out to her. "This shit's expensive, you don't need to waste it on me."
"My tap is gross," she said, pushing his hand back toward him.
Nick shook the bottle insistently towards her. "I've drank toilet bowl water before," he said, "I think your tap will be fine."
Mally took the bottle, her limbs feeling cold as the blood rushed through them. She bit her lips and turned quickly, shoving it back in the fridge. He has quite a potent way of articulating, she thought.
He stared down at the macaroni and cheese - it was homemade. Shells dripping with cheese and breadcrumbs sprinkled over the top. He felt like his stomach was being ripped out through his throat. It smelled amazing and he was starving, even though they'd just eaten at the diner less than five hours before. He was always starving.
Mally finished ladling out her own portion and put her bowl on the table and pulled a bottle of cranberry juice out of the fridge. She grabbed Nick's glass from the table and turned to the tap, letting the water run to get it cold. "Warm's fine, I'm not picky," Nick said.
She waited anyways.
He didn't sit until she'd sat, then he lowered himself into the chair opposite her, and folded his hands on his lap and waited.
Mally lifted her fork and started eating. Nick was staring down at the table, his lips moving slightly.
Shit, she realized, He's praying.
She dropped her fork beside her bowl.
He peeked up.
"Sorry," she said.
He smiled and looked back down, starting over. His voice was scratchy and low. "Thanks God for everything today. Thanks for Mally and her heart. I'm not real great at these prayers, you know that, but I feel thankful for the food and the opportunity to be clean - heart and body." He paused. "Take care of everyone we love." He stopped, and looked up at Mally. He hesitated. "Anything you wanna add, while we got his attention?" he asked.
How unconventional, she thought.
"No I'm good," she whispered.
"Okay. So that's it, God," he said, "We're gonna eat now." He paused. "Peace." He tapped his chest with his fist twice, then pointed up in the air and smiled awkwardly.
Nick picked up his fork and took a bite of the macaroni and cheese. "This is good," he complimented her.
So he was done. She hadn't been sure. She took her fork back up and started eating, too. "Thanks," she said. "It was my mother's recipe."
They ate in silence and Nick drank his tap water dutifully. Every bite of macaroni, though, burned in his stomach. He couldn't stop thinking of Brian. Damn it, he thought.
Mally hesitated. "So... Nick..." she said slowly.
He looked up at her.
"You look really familiar to me," she admitted.
"Yeah," he muttered.
"So you should look familiar," she said. It was a statement, not a question. "You're Nick Carter."
He stared down at the table.
"Yeah," he said.
This admission was followed by the longest, weirdest, most awkward pause yet.
"What happened, Nick?" Mally asked finally.
Nick's eyes wouldn't move from the table.