The brown-red liquid bubbled as the concoction in the pot simmered.  Pop. One bubble burst.  I stirred the contents once more, adding in a dash of pepper.

            “Are you sure that’s what you want?” Leslie asked, sitting at the table behind me.

            “Not really,” I replied as I put in the final touches, “but it’s better than nothing.”

            “I guess.  Though, you should know, ifhejtsangrhyngnewmyjobeoiwkdmhwebrdsfhl.  Wehtkefdsnhghewoidksmghewbdsjlgjehsdiognhhwebgiujsmdfkncvbh.”

            I turned to face them as they kept talking so I could at least to try to read their lips.

            “You may not be prepared for what they put you through in recruit training.”

            ‘If it’s anything like my job’?  Is that what they said? I thought as I stared blankly at them.

            Leslie looked back at me with a confused look.  “Is it that shocking?” they asked.

            “Uh, no,” I replied, turning back to my creation.  “Food’s ready.”  I spooned out the dish onto a couple of ceramic plates and set them on the table for us.

            Leslie stared down at the dish before them.  Shredded chicken mixed with some vegetables in a reddish ooze probably wasn’t what they were expecting.  “What in the world did you make?”

            “It’s called shut up and eat it,” I responded, settling into my seat.  “You’re the one who wanted to try my cooking.  This is what you get.”

            They looked up at me with a smirk, then moved their fingers as if tying something.  Flickering candlelight gleamed off the polish of Leslie’s brightly painted nails as their fingers twisted around the air.  For a moment, I thought I could even see the strings myself.  Then, two forks appeared from nothing.

            “Really?” I asked as Leslie handed me one.

            “What?  Less dishes to clean.”

            “Do you even have real utensils?”

            Leslie paused.  They turned in their chair, eyes roaming the apartment.  “I think I have a box I never opened.  Amfdfjoewmtnfhdiefm my parents.”

            I rolled my eyes, stabbing a piece of chicken with the strung together fork.  “As I was saying, Ramona’s idea works for me.  Letting the military tell me what to do with my life is…easier than trying to figure it out right now.”

            “Alright,” they replied, stuffing in a bite.   “And manheydguadklgwjeuay.  This is delicious!”

            “Thanks.  Also,” I paused, hesitant to go through with it.  What if this still didn’t feel right?  What if it still wasn’t me?

            Leslie rested their fork on the plate, looking at me expectantly.

            “My number,” I continued, staring down at my food rather than look anywhere else.  I took a deep breath.  “I…don’t want it anymore.  So, I – ”

            “You want a name?!” Leslie exclaimed, slamming their hands on the table and grinning at me.  I jumped, staring back at them wide-eyed.

            “How about – ” they started.

            “No.”

            “You haven’t even heard – ”

            “No,” I repeated.  “I want this to be my own, not someone else’s.  It’s taken me some time to find the right one, but I think I have it.”

            “Really?” Leslie settled back into their seat.

            I nodded.  “And I…wanted you to be the first to hear it.”

            Leslie fidgeted as they waited for me to continue.

            They didn’t have to be this excited – it just made me more nervous.  “Dax,” I said finally.  “My name is Dax.”

            Leslie beamed.  “Well, Dax,” they said, stretching an arm across the table.  “It’s a pleasure to meet you.”

            I smiled as I accepted Leslie’s handshake.  After saying it out loud, my choice for a name felt absolutely perfect.

To be continued…

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