With a job at the local newspaper, a rented room at the home of a retired schoolteacher, and a clandestine love affair with closeted police officer Mike Spencer, Seth Adams has a pretty good life. But what Mike doesn't know is that until a few weeks ago, Seth didn't even exist.
Though Mike is no stranger to sex, Seth is the first person he's ever fallen in love with. When Mike discovers that Seth was made, not born, he breaks off the relationship and refuses further contact. Seth feels he's already made enough sacrifices, agreeing to keep his and Mike's relationship secret, so he refuses to call Mike. Though the separation is unbearable for both of them, neither is prepared to back down and make the first move. But when Mike learns that Seth is leaving town, he has to decide which is stronger: his fear of being outed, or his love for Seth.
"You'll be fine," Zahir said, squeezing Seth's hand. "And good luck with Officer Mike."
Seth nodded, his heart pounding with excitement and, if he was honest with himself, not a little fear. "Thank you. For everything."
He stood back and watched as Zahir closed his eyes. One second Zahir was there, the next, vanished into thin air, leaving Seth alone in the alley.
Taking a few deep breaths to calm his nerves, Seth focused his thoughts on the instructions Zahir had given him. He was to go to the café around the corner, order something, take his time and look around at the people, observe how they interacted, and ask the waitress for directions to somewhere he could spend the night.
Right. That sounded easy enough, always assuming the place the waitress directed him to had a vacancy. And even if it didn't, he'd make do somehow -- the clothes Zahir had conjured up would protect him from the chill of the autumn night. He might be new to this world, and Zahir had said Seth could call on him for help any time, but he'd be a pretty poor human being if he went whining to his maker at the very first setback. Zahir had provided him with everything he needed to make his own way in life. Much as Seth enjoyed the magician and former genie's company, he resolved to call for Zahir's help only as a last resort.
Pushing open the door to the café, he was a little surprised to see only a handful of people inside. At this hour, with the sun already beginning to set, he'd expected the place to be packed with diners, so he'd be able to blend in with the crowd. He hesitated, standing in the doorway; maybe he should just leave and try again another time, when he wouldn't be so conspicuous. But at that moment, the young lady standing behind the counter glanced up at him and gave him a welcoming smile.
"Hi, can I help you?"
Seth swallowed hard and smiled back. "I was just… it's just that… I'm sorry -- you're not about to close, are you?"
"No, honey," she said, "you're good. We don't get many people in on a Sunday evening, but the kitchen will be open for another few hours yet. Just go pick yourself a table. I'll be right with you."
"Thank you." With the cardboard file Zahir had given him clutched tightly in his hand, Seth made his way to an empty table and took a seat, his back to the wall so he could, as instructed, observe. Not that there was that much to observe. A pair of elderly men bickering good-naturedly over a couple of beers; a middle-aged man in a suit making notes on various sheets of paper spread over his table; and a young family, the harassed-looking mother seeming eminently grateful that someone else was cooking for a change.
"There you go," the waitress said as she arrived at his table and handed him a single laminated card. She placed a mug in front of him and poured a steaming, brownish liquid into it without being asked. "You can take your time, but if you know what you want you may as well tell me now."
So that was what coffee smelled like. Nice. Ignoring it for the moment -- he'd try it later, once it had cooled a little -- Seth perused the menu. Wow, he could actually read! And not only that: in addition to the sum knowledge of Zahir's own mind, which had been inadvertently copied to Seth when his template had been created, he now possessed all the knowledge that Zahir had deliberately culled from every accessible source and downloaded directly into his brain to help him make his way in this strange new world. All Seth had to do was concentrate and the relevant information would pop into his head, just like that.
Zahir had told him to eat if he was hungry. Seth didn't know what it felt like to be hungry, not yet -- he'd only been alive for a matter of minutes -- but there was no harm in experimenting. And in any case, he'd have to find out, sooner or later, what kind of food he liked or didn't like. Looking up at the pretty waitress, he smiled and pointed at a line on the menu.
"Is chicken and fries okay?"