Strawberry Cheesecake

“Gary, party of two,” he said to the hostess in the lobby.

The young woman looked at the monitor, scanned the screen, then grabbed two menus. “Right this way,” she said and led him into the restaurant.

Gary rubbed his arms, elbows and wrists as he followed the young lady through the busy eatery. He felt an itch near his crotch, too, but fought the urge to scratch.

“Here you are.”

Thank God, a booth.

She sat the menus on the table. “Your waiter will be right with you. Can I get—”

“It’ll be a sec… still waiting on someone.”

“No problem.” She smiled and walked off.

As soon as he sat in the four-person booth, he slid to the end and scratched his inner thigh. Forget about his arms, he had to deal with this below the belt issue. It felt good killing those itches but it deeply concerned him. Sort of disturbed him. What the fuck? Did something bite me? The itching in his crotch finally went away, then he started on his arms. Rubbing them more than scratching. He ultimately assumed it was the breeze bringing a chill to his arm.

He looked up and around and admired the décor of this place. The fanciness of it. If reserving an hour ahead of time wasn’t enough to convince him…the patrons, the attire of the waiters and waitresses, the damn prices on the menus screamed ‘You can’t afford this!’ But he wanted to make an immediate impression on his date. Kamilia. The one that got away. His high school crush and one-time lover before she’d left the country for school. Gary had dressed the part tonight, but was way outside his element.

“Can I get you started with a drink, sir?” A waiter appeared from behind him.

Startled, he grabbed one of the menus in the middle of the table. “A few more minutes please.”

As the waiter left, he turned his eyes to the menu, but something caught his attention. Out of the corner of his eye, on his arm, something moved. He was sure of it. It felt cold but this was no chill bump. More like a mountain, alive and well, popping up and down whenever it felt like it. He slapped over the spot in his forearm so hard, so loud that he felt eyes all around zoom in on him. He lifted his hand to see and it was nothing. Poor guy still felt the itching though and continued rubbing up and down his arms.

“You cold?” A sweet voice whispered in his ear.

He turned and saw her, Kamilia, and smiled so hard that it wiped away the uncomfortable feeling in his arms. “Kami!” He jumped out of his seat, stepped out of the booth, and wrapped his arms around her, lifting her from the ground.

“Whoa there,” she said, slapping his shoulders and back. “Good to see you, too.”

“My bad.” He released her and she moved to the side across from him. He sat after she got comfortable.

The waiter came immediately after and they both ordered water, for now. The waiter left and they stared at each other, smiling. “So, you’re back?”

“I’m back… for good this time.”

“Good thing you found me on my page, I was just about to delete my account.” He snickered.

“Fuck outta here, dude. You know good and well you’ve been stalking me for months. Liking all my pics and videos. You just finally had the balls to message me.”

Cat caught his tongue with that one. He’d forgotten how quick and sharp she was. “Damn, you haven’t changed a bit.”

Kamilia grabbed a menu and scanned the page. “Man, I hope you brought cash, I’d hate for your card to get declined here. That’d be embarrassing for you.”

He shook his head. Damn right I brought cash. The waiter came with the waters and they ordered their meals. A steak and salad for him. Some pasta and bread for her.

The evening was going well. Better than he’d expected and they picked up right where they left off ten years ago. She laughed at his corny jokes and he tried not to choke on his food every time she’d say something. Kamilia was the funniest person he’d ever met, and the most beautiful.

They finished their meals and he leaned back and patted his belly like he was stuffed. But he wasn’t really, just felt the need to do it. The waiter stopped by… “And your dessert, ma’am.” He presented Kamilia with a piece of double-fudge chocolate cake. She rubbed her hands together, grabbed her fork and went to town. She offered him a piece and he shook his head.

“Suit yourself.” She shrugged and kept on eating.

On the last few bites, she damn near forced him to try some. Still, he declined. But explained why…kind of.

“I already had my dessert for the day.”

“Oh yeah?”

“Strawberry Cheesecake. Leftovers from a work party yesterday. Didn’t eat my piece so I took it home and ate it today. Well…some of it.”

“And that’s why you don’t want a piece of my cake because you already had dessert? I seriously doubt you’re watching your weight, homie…not with those love-handles.”

He almost spit up his water, reacting to her bluntness. She had that affect. Kamilia was an open-minded woman who spoke her mind and never truly judged a person. But how would she react if he told her why.

“Spit it out,” she demanded as she took small bites of her cake.

“All right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“You didn’t warn me, but whatever. Let’s have it.” She dropped her fork and leaned back in her seat. Now, she was the one rubbing on her belly.

“So, I woke up craving something sweet and grabbed the cheesecake on the counter. I’d forgotten to put it in the fridge, that was the problem. But it didn’t occur to me that something had happened to it. So, I took a fork, opened the box and just went crazy. It was hella good, like, best cheesecake I’d ever eaten. But halfway through, one of the strawberries dropped from my fork and landed on the table. As soon as I went to pick it up, the damn strawberry moved. I jumped back, but then it fucking transformed into this black thing and scurried away. I looked in the box and all the little strawberries were changing from red to black, moving, eating the rest of the cheesecake. Fucking roaches, Kami. Roaches in the cheesecake.” He waited for her to do something. Say something. But she just stared at him. “So, that was my day today and I swear before God, I will never eat another sweet thing again.”

Then, she busted into a great big laughter that caught everyone’s attention. Waiters stopped and turned, couples ceased chatter and looked, Kami couldn’t help herself. She was almost reduced to tears.

Gary smiled but he didn’t find it funny.

“That’s good, yo. That’s really good.”

“What? True story.”

“You haven’t seen me, the girl of your dreams, in ten years and you tell me about roaches living in your apartment. Fucking transforming alien roaches!”

He looked around, wanting her to keep her voice down. “I don’t have roaches,” he whispered. “They were already in the cheesecake. I guess you can say, I brought them home.”

She found it all amusing and she was still giggling about it. “Did you toss them. I mean… outside your place?”

“Of course.”

“Well, it’s not like I’ll be coming over anymore.”

“Wait. You were going to come over?”

“I planned on it until you said you’d never taste anything sweet again.”

He choked that time, started coughing and nearly gagged.

That only increased her amusement. “You good, dude?”

“Yeah.” He grabbed his glass of water and took a sip.

“Yo, what if you ate some?”

“Huh?”

“Roaches. You said you ate about half the cheesecake before you noticed them. What if you ate some of those things?”

Fuck no! “Shut up.”

She shrugged and sipped her water as he sat there, overthinking it.

“You’re fucking crazy, Gary. Thank you. Thank you for that laugh.”

“I’ll be right back. Gonna head to the bathroom.”

“Leave your phone,” she said.

“My phone?”

“Yep. And your keys. Leave ‘em on the table. Don’t want your ass skipping out on the bill.”

He thought that was the funniest thing and it made him smile and forget all about the terror he’d gone through earlier in the day. “Fine,” he reached in his pocket and grabbed his keys and phone, tossing them on the table. Then, he went to the bathroom.

On his way there, the itching returned, more intense and spread out. Now it was on his neck and the middle of his back, dead center where he couldn’t reach it. He hurried to the restrooms and kicked the door open. He scurried to an open stall, locked it, and panted.

“What is happening?” He didn’t care if anyone heard him. This was serious. He took his polo shirt off and stood there in his tank top. He looked at his arms and saw bumps moving up and down like a water wave. “What the fu—what the fuck is this?” He scratched them, same with his legs, crotch too. He plopped his butt onto the seat of the toilet, and pulled his pants legs up. If he’d had nails, he’d gladly claw his skin off to get to this evil force terrorizing him from the inside out.

He ignored his legs, his arms and started grabbing at his throat. It swelled up and he gagged. Then, he vomited. Steak and blood all over his clothes, all over the bathroom floor. Seconds later, more came spewing out his mouth like a faucet. Only blood this time. In clumps.

Suddenly, a pain in his fingers became more unbearable than the swelling in his throat and he looked at his fingernails. They were bloody, peeling off on their own. Then, from his wrists, a wave rolled until it reached his fingertips and a baby roach pushed the fingernail off. Same thing with the other four fingers.

Poor guy tried to scream, but only choked more. He fell to the ground, in a puddle of steak, blood and roaches.

He must’ve seen and felt a hundred of the things crawl out of every part of his body until he checked out permanently.

copyright © M. Sydnor Jr.

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