Character Backstory: A Chance Encounter

The rain was never really much of a bother to Alessandro Comitini. It had become a bit more of a frequent occurrence within the Maurelius Biodome since Letheia had taken over Lingus Ores. Most of the miners thought something was a bit fishy about the way the takeover happened but never spoke of it lest the foremen were nearby. Al, alongside his good friend and comrade Pierluigi Lazzandro, knew better. Someone within the family had ratted out the boss to the Protectorate. No one was sure who it was, and they probably never would. Pete had disappeared around the time it happened. It was speculated that he’d probably fled but had been picked up by the Protectorate.

A clap of thunder echoed out across the dome as the townsfolk and miners began scattering to get to some shelter. The paunchy Sicilian sniffed lightly to clear his nostrils before setting himself to set the tables in the little diner he’d been running since his promotion to caporegime. La Cucina Siciliani had been his pride and joy, often serving as a gathering point for the others to discuss business as well as providing the miners a taste of family-style cooking; however, business had been severely lacking as of late. The miners were often being overworked and underpaid.

I might have to consider shutting this place down in a few years if things keep this way, he thought, a dour expression adorning his visage as he finished setting the last of the tables. His thoughts were shortly interrupted by a loud crash and the sound of a scuffle going on in the kitchen. Making haste, he hurried back to the kitchen in time to see one of his workers manhandling a young girl by the scruff of the ratty leather jacket she wore.

What is going on here Miceli?” Al asked sharply of the cook in his mother tongue.

I found this stray rummaging about the pantry!” Miceli (or Mike as he was known by his friends) replied, struggling to keep the young girl held in place. She appeared to be no more than twelve years old but had a ton of fight in her.

“Lemme go!” the young lady huffed angrily as she continued to violently struggle to get out of Mike’s grasp. Al found himself quite impressed with the amount of energy she seemed to contain in her small body. He knelt down and brought himself eye-level with the struggling girl.

“You’ve got a bit of fight in ya, kid. What’s yer name?” he inquired.

“Get him off of me,” the girl huffed in reply.

“I will soon enough. I just want to know your name.”

“Cinder… Fields…” the girl mumbled, still struggling to get Mike’s hands off of her jacket.

“Cinder…” Al pondered for a moment before continuing. “Nice name. What were you doin’ in my kitchen?”

“Put… me… down…” Cinder huffed irately.

“Not until ya tell me what you were doin’ in my kitchen. You’re not in much of a position to tell me to have Mike here put you down.”

Realizing she wasn’t getting anywhere, she stopped struggling with the taller man’s grip in frustration.

“I just wanted some food…” Her voice sounded a bit defeated.

Al nodded at Mike, the latter setting Cinder back down on the floor. She straightened out her jacket and rubbed her neck before asking, “Can I go now?”

Ignoring the question, Al turned to Mike and spoke to him in Sicilian. The latter nodded and headed into the dining room as the former headed toward a stove. Cinder followed him over and watched as he set a small stockpot on the stove. The paunchy man took a bottle of olive oil and poured a bit into the pot before turning on two burners. Taking a sauté pan and setting it down on the second burner, he put a bit of oil in it and tossed in some sliced sausage and a few meatballs so as to begin browning them.

“So, kid,” he spoke to Cinder as he began cooking, “what’s a nice young lady like you doin’ in this corner o’ town?”

“... I live over here,” she replied before asking, “What are you doing?”

Ignoring the question, Al threw a bit of garlic into the stockpot. Once he had browned the garlic nicely, he poured in a couple of cans of tomato sauce and tomato paste, stirring it lightly before turning the fire down under the pot. On the third burner sat a pot of boiling water in which the Sicilian threw in a dash of oil and a bit of salt to season the water.

“Do your folks know you’re here?”

Cinder grew a bit quiet after the question, drawing her ratty, leather jacket about her. Glancing about furtively, she took notice of the time.

“I should leave… it’s getting late.” she said rather tensely.

A moment of silence followed after Al threw a handful of spaghetti into the water.

“... You don’t have folks, do you?” he asked, turning briefly to face the young lady.

Another couple minutes of silence passed before she shook her head, responding, “No… but Mr. Cooper’s gonna notice I snuck off.”

Al scoffed slightly as he poured the sausage and meatballs into the tomato sauce, stirring it well before turning the burner off to let the sauce finish cooking in its own heat. If it was who he thought Cinder was staying with, the old bastard had grown to care less and less about the orphanage he ran. Most of it was compounded by the fact that the overseer put in charge by Letheia didn’t care about the quarter where most of the miners lived. The other fact of the matter was that Roger Cooper had grown exhausted with his age and often fed his addiction to alcohol to the point he’d sleep most of the day, leading the kids in his care to have to learn to fend for themselves.

“Cooper? You live in that shithole of an orphanage?” Realizing what he’d just said, Al cleared his throat apologetically and said to Cinder. “Excuse my foul language. I forgot I was in the presence of a lady.”

Cinder seemed to ignore the fact that Al had indeed sworn in front of her. She huffed, “It’s the only one around.” She wrapped the jacket about her a bit more, stewing in her thoughts.

Why does this stranger care? He could easily just throw me back out into the street, yet he’s cooking food for me. What’s his motive?

She watched as the paunchy Sicilian added a bit of sugar and a splash of red wine to the pot of tomato and meat sauce. He stirred it again before setting the pot to the side. As if almost like clockwork, he set a colander into a food prep sink and poured the noodles into it. Once he was satisfied the water had drained completely, he poured the heaping mountain of noodles onto a plate and ladled an equally heaping portion of the sauce on top. Grabbing a nearby fork and napkin, he picked up the plate and motioned for Cinder to follow him.

Reluctantly, the young lady did as she was beckoned to do. Upon entering the dining room, she noticed Mike was busy cleaning the windows as Al walked over to a small table. He pulled out the chair and -- with a fair degree of exaggerated flourishing -- beckoned for Cinder to take a seat. Once she had done so, he set the plate, fork, and napkin down in front of her before grabbing a pitcher of water and pouring some into a glass at the table.

“For you, spaghetti with gravy, my specialty,” Al proclaimed proudly. “Bon appititu!”

Cinder nodded in thanks before taking a small bite of the food. The taste was unlike anything she’d ever had before; it was much more delectable than the usual pre-packed food she and the other orphans were used to having. With the first bite finished, she began digging in as she practically stuffed her face full of the noodles.

Al felt pity for the young lady but politely stated, “Easy there, kid. You’re gonna get a stomach ache if you eat it that fast.”

Cooper’s really screwed up this time, he thought to himself as Cinder reluctantly slowed her pace down, the food half gone by then. She paused for a moment, looking directly at Al.

“Why’re you helping me?”

Al pulled up another chair and seated himself next to the young lady.

“Because you remind me of someone I know very well who was in the exact same position you’re in now. I mean, it’s the right thing to do, regardless of whether it’s you or if it were another kid in the same circumstances.”

Cinder looked up at him, inquiring, “Oh? Who’s that?”

He looked down at the young lady, his past coming back to him in flashes… about the time his father had died in a mining accident… about the time his mother died of a broken heart… how he’d ended up on the streets of the biodome… and how the boss had taken him under his wing and gave him an opportunity he never would’ve had.

“Me.”

With that word said, he began to tell the young lady about himself and the circumstances leading up to his running the restaurant. While he deliberately left out some of the less-than-savory details about his illicit activities, he spoke in a way which Cinder could relate. As the night wore on, she finished her food and asked questions whenever one arose. Any distrust she had of the stranger was soon replaced by a sense of familiarity as she got to know the man who shared a fate similar to hers.
 
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