The Artifact (Book 2, Time Trilogy) (EDITING)

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Chapter Eleven: A New Take on American Food

July 2023
University of Richmond
Richmond City, Virginia

}}}-----> MORGAN <-----{{{

“Yeah, we’ll take two cheeseburger combos, both with fries,” Morgan tells the girl across the counter at the fast food restaurant.

Looking up at Wahya next to her, she smiles, “Here’s introducing you to real modern American food!” He glances down at her before his attention flies back to the events happening on the other side of the counter. She senses his apprehension. No one in the semi-bustling eatery seems to be paying him any mind, but still, he eyes the crowd with reservation. So, Morgan tries to make him feel at ease by distracting his attention to food options instead. If she were in doubt that he wasn’t from her world, his reactions to every little thing in the restaurant are proof enough.

She chooses a table tucked against the floor-to-ceiling window and more secluded from the other tables. As excited as she is to show him her world, she’s also anxious about whether he’ll like what he sees, and how he’ll be treated in return. Focusing on the moment though, Morgan picks up her burger, showing Wahya the proper technique, then takes a bite. As Wahya follows suit, she watches him intently for a reaction. He chews the first bite carefully, then raises his eyebrows, studying the composition of the food in his hands before taking a much larger bite. Morgan’s mouth turns up in humor as he maintains eye contact with the sandwich, barely breathing as he takes a third bite, determining the combination of bread, beef, cheese, mayo, mustard, lettuce, onion, tomato, and pickles is pretty good.

“Good? Mmmm?” Morgan rubs her stomach as she giggles at his enthusiastic appetite. He nods, taking another ferocious bite. “Don’t forget about the fries!” She points to the salted fried potatoes. Taking another bite of her own burger, she can’t help but wonder when Wahya ate last.

He eats the fries with almost as much vigor, then watches as Morgan sips her Coke through the straw in her cup. Tentatively, Wahya picks up his own drink, soon figuring out how to suck up the liquid. His expression is one of intrigue and delight, making Morgan wonder at the things people take for granted—little things like bubbly carbonated drinks. Sitting back in his chair with the cup firmly between both palms, Wahya’s satisfaction comes off of him in waves. But Morgan knows what happens when you down too much Coke in one gulp, like he is now, overwhelmed by an apparent thirst. Past the point of no return, she’s unable to warn him. Biting her lip in anticipation as that oh-so familiar burn hits his throat on its way to his stomach, she holds her breath as his eyes go wide. She can’t help but grin at his surprise, then waits. Sure enough, the carbon gathers force inside Wahya’s stomach—likely already full of air after gulping down his food—and he lets out what is probably one of the largest belches he’s ever had.

Unable to stop herself, Morgan tries hard to stifle her laughter as his expression turns to sudden astonishment. “Oh, Wahya, I’m sorry! I should have warned you!” she wails.

Her laughter is contagious, and soon Wahya laughs, too, seeming to revel in the new experiences as his eyes crinkle with mirth—his own candid chuckle full and contagious in its own right. Morgan hadn’t had this much fun eating lunch in forever, and she’s glad Wahya trusts her enough to be able to enjoy himself as well. She can’t imagine how she’d feel in his place, suddenly in a new world, with strange people who couldn’t understand what she’s saying or doing. Yet, they seem to be getting on just fine, trying to communicate and solve his mystery.

He’s nothing like I would’ve expected someone from the past to be like. He’s really trying to work with us and seems... nice. Imagine what he’d be like if he could speak English. Digging back into her own food after their laughter dies down, she steals a glance at him as he stares out the window again, examining the parking lot. She can’t help but smirk to herself, noting how the thin cotton top hugs his muscles. And he’s pretty nice to look at, too—with and without clothes!

Finally done, Morgan leads the way to the car when a familiar voice calls out, “Morgan!”

Turning with her hand on the car door, Morgan’s heart sinks as Emory appears, quickly making his way towards them. Pasting on as sincere a smile over her grimace as she can muster, she replies in kind, “Hey, Emory. Fancy meeting you here.”

“I know, right?” He flashes her a brilliant white smile, briefly glancing at Wahya standing on the passenger side, before returning his gaze to her. “Are you coming or going? I was going to get take out, but if you’re coming…”

Morgan cuts him off. “No, we’ve already eaten, sorry.”

“Ah, well, maybe another time.” Emory addresses both Morgan and Wahya with his eyes, “So, you taking the rest of the day off to see the sights or something?”

Morgan’s brief confusion is evident, her answer sticking in her throat. Then, remembering she’d told him Wahya was from out of town, she blurts, “Yeah, that’s right. Do a little shopping and see the sights.”

Emory nods, but Morgan can tell he’s trying to size up the situation. Boldly, he points his chin to Wahya, addressing the brave, “You guys were in such a hurry earlier, I didn’t catch your name.”

“Wahya,” Morgan answers for him quickly, “But he doesn’t speak English.”

“Oh yeah, you said that earlier,” Emory replies, not taking his eyes off Wahya. “Good to meet you, Wahya,” he projects his voice over to the opposite side of the car.

Flustered, Morgan gives a feeble introduction between the two, “Wahya, Emory. Emory, Wahya.”

“So, what language does he speak?” Emory returns his attention to Morgan.

Her heart constricts. “Uh. Well. Uh, a foreign one,” she sputters as a tickle forms in her nose. Emory’s cologne wafts on the slight breeze, and the fragrance mixes with her nerves, causing her to sneeze. One, two, three times, she sneezes into the crook of her arm.

“Gesundheit!” Emory steps back, her sudden fit surprising all of them. “I hope you’re not coming down with a cold or something.”

“Ugh, no. It’s just allergies,” Morgan replies, thankful for the change of subject. “Anyways, we’ve got to go. I’ll see you later this week, then.” She motions for Wahya to get in the car.

“Yeah, I’ll be in.” Emory’s eyes flicker to Wahya, now shut up in the car. Returning to Morgan, he scrutinizes her for a moment, then lowers his voice. “Is everything okay? I mean... I don’t mean to pry, but... you just seem a bit uptight, and I thought there might be something I could do to help.”

Morgan is taken aback.

When she doesn’t reply, he continues. “I know we don’t know each other really outside of the lab, but if you ever need to talk or... or anything.” He clears his throat nervously. “Well, you have my number. You can call anytime.”

Confused by this strange and very untimely exchange, she finally replies as she opens the driver’s side door, “Well, that’s really sweet of you, Emory. But I’m just fine. Thank you, though. I’ll see you Thursday, okay?”

Emory nods in an I-get-it sort of way and turns to leave, “See ya Thursday,” he calls over his shoulder, giving her another award winning smile, grinding at her nerves.

Morgan lets out a breath as she climbs into the car, finally allowing her grimace to surface. Wahya looks at her with a mixture of uncertainty and relief, and Morgan realizes just how much her body language must be apparent. “What the heck was that all about? Why would he think I needed to talk? And why would I talk to him about my problems, if I had any?” she voices more to herself than Wahya.

Then, it hits her, a knot forming in her stomach. Oh no! Emory likes me! Ugh! Had he thrown hints out like that in the past and I never noticed? Not wanting to entertain the thought further, she shakes her head, rubbing her nose to get the last bit of the tickle from Emory’s cologne out.

Again, thankful for her sneezing attack to mitigate Emory’s questions, another reality hits her with force—Wahya isn’t just a visitor from some foreign country, he’s from a time before the current variations of germs and viruses ever existed. He’s not only vulnerable to today’s fast-paced technology, but to the microscopic world of illnesses, too. God, think about what happened to the Native Americans when the Europeans came to the Americas! How many thousands were killed just from diseases brought over alone? And I just dragged him into a fast food restaurant full of germs he’s never been introduced to or inoculated against!

Her expression sobers as her mind reels. Turning to Wahya she apologetically starts, “Well, it’s a little too late to quarantine you completely now, but we shouldn’t expose you to too many people and public places from here on out. Still, we need to get you some clothes.”

She thinks for a moment, deciding against the large superstore she’d planned on taking him to. Remembering a small shop she used to frequent when she lived on campus, Morgan’s eyes light up. “Alright, ready to go shopping, Wahya?” She smirks with mirth, purposefully hitting the gas pedal a little harder than usual as they speed down the road.

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