Match Two: Washington Oak:
Usually on his birthday, Alfred loved to call and harass Arthur reminding him of what day it was. This year, the American man lay in bed smiling to himself. He counted down to reaching over to his phone and calling up his older brother. Dude, he’s going to flip out when I ask him what he got me this year! The American man covered his mouth as he snickered.
Suddenly, his phone rang on the nightstand. Alfred’s facial expression changed to a confused look. Huh? Alfred reached over and pulled his phone to his ear.
“Hello?” he asked.
“Alfred?” a woman’s voice asked on the other line.
The American man sat up in bed with his jaw dropped. “Wait, how did you know that today was my birthday?”
“You kept talking about it while you were drinking yesterday, don’t you remember?”
Alfred tried to pinpoint the frame of reference Florence threw at him. “Heh? Oh! I did say that, I guess. Thanks.”
“Come out with us,” she said.
“Please? We really want to give your present.”
Alfred’s jaw dropped. “My present?”
“Well, where are you?”
“Look out your window.”
Alfred climbed out of bed and walked over to his window. Florence and Lydia stood outside of his house, looking up. The older sister held the phone to her ear as she waved at him. The American man didn’t know whether to be shocked or be excited.
“Okay, how did you find my house?” he asked.
“I asked Matt,” Lydia said over the other line. “He’s a nice guy like that.”
“I guess he is…” Alfred said. “Uh… I’ll be right down in a couple of minutes.” He hung up and got dressed.
In ten minutes, Alfred met with Florence and Lydia. He noticed a big basket in the younger sister’s hands.
“What you got there?” the American man asked. Florence giggled.
“Come along and you’ll see,” she said.
“Okay… but where are we going?” Alfred asked. She turned with a smile on her face.
“To our favorite place,” the tree spirit said. Florence grabbed Alfred by the hand and led him down the street. Lydia followed behind with the basket to her chest.
“Slow down!” she shouted. “This basket is really old and delicate!” Meanwhile, the American man had no choice but to follow out of peaked curiosity.
The trio arrived at the girls’ house. Alfred raised an eyebrow.
“We’re just at your house,” he said.
“I know,” Florence said. The birthday boy tilted his head.
The tree spirit turned to him with her arms held out. “You haven’t seen the best part of it.”
“And what is that?”
“The backyard!” Florence grabbed Alfred’s hand again and led him over to the fence. With one quick movement she unlocked the gate and led everyone through. At first glance, the back yard looked standard like it had been the times that Alfred had been over. On the left side sat Florence’s garden looking as green and healthy as she was. A bike leaned against the wooden fence surrounding the back yard. To the right was the old swing set. Alfred was surprised that it was still standing. Florence walked up to the fence and felt along the wooden panels.
“Let’s see,” she mumbled. “Where are you?” Her fingers brushed against the wood with each step. She paused when she found a loose board. “Ah! Here it is!” Florence pushed open the panel. Alfred’s jaw dropped when he saw a dirt tunnel leading downwards.
“This was back here?” he asked.
“Of course,” Florence said. “This tunnel’s been here since this house was built.” She was the first to begin the trip downwards. “Lydia, could you hand me the basket?” Her sister walked up and handed her the big, stuffed wicker basket.
“Thank you,” Florence said. She grunted as she continued to climb down into the tunnel.
“Dude, you sure that’s safety to do that?” Alfred asked.
“Of course,” she said. “I’ve done this many times. Sometimes carrying heavier things down here with me.” Florence pushed the basket further up her arm as she climbed further down. “Are you coming?”
“Oh, yeah. Right,” the American man said. He too began climbing down the tunnel.
“Watch your step!” Florence shouted. “The walls can be pretty slippery.” Alfred about lost his footing and clung desperately to the wall as little rocks rolled down the side.
“I see that,” he said.
“Hurry up! I have to get down there too!” Lydia shouted.
“Yeah, yeah,” the birthday boy said. He resumed climbing when he regained his footing. Lydia joined them in the climb downwards.
“How far down does this tunnel go?” Alfred asked.
“Far enough,” Florence said. “We’re just about there.” The American man still had many guesses as to what this present could be. However, he found himself even more surprised that Florence could climb down with that heavy basket without any problems. It probably helped that it was summer. He couldn’t see her doing this in December. Florence could barely stand on their trip to Coney Island. Alfred remembered how many times he had to help her to her feet and sit down. He even had to pull her along with him on the boardwalk. It was almost impossible to believe this woman climbing down this thick clay and mud tunnel without a sweat was the same woman on the Coney Island trip.
When Florence’s feet were inches from the ground, she hopped down and let go of the wall.
“We’re here!” she shouted. The tree spirit stepped aside to let Alfred and Lydia climb down. Florence felt along the wall for the switch. She smiled when her fingers clung to a tiny switch.
“Behold!” Florence said. She turned the little brown wheel and little lights came on around the clay walls. Alfred gasped as he said a huge blanket laying on the ground under a what looked like thick roots of a tree.
“This was down here?” he asked.
“Uh-huh,” Florence said as she set the basket down on the dark red blanket. “We come down here for picnics from time to time.”
“I can see why you would,” the birthday boy said. Florence began to unpack the big wicker basket.
“On today’s menu,” she said. “We have veggie tofu burgers, fried green tomatoes, a pasta salad that I made for the first time, and fruit mix.” This didn’t surprise Alfred. His girls didn’t eat meat after all. Still, a real burger would be nice for a change. But, Florence and maybe Lydia put their hearts into this meal for his burger.
“Sounds tasty,” Alfred said. He and Lydia joined her on the blanket. Florence handed them yellow and blue paper plates before serving them lunch.
“I just tried out this recipe that I had been sitting for about three now,” she said as she scooped out the pasta salad and put it on the birthday boy’s plate. “I think I got it right.”
“So you want me to taste-test this?” Alfred asked.
“Just tell me how it is, okay?” Florence said. The birthday boy gave her an odd look.
“Okay…” he said. Alfred picked up his plastic fork and took a bite of the yellow, orange, and green noodles soaked in dressing. Florence and Lydia had their eyes on him.
“How is it?” the older sister asked. Alfred chewed for about five minutes before swallowing.
“It’s got an interesting taste,” he said. “Where did you find the recipe for this?”
“On a vegan web site,” Florence said.
“So, you’re vegan?”
“Oh no, I eat diary.”
“Yes, my parents fed me milk and dairy products when I was younger.”
Alfred lowered his fork with perked interest. “I didn’t know that. What else did you eat when you were a kid?”
“Bread, wheat, nuts, vegetables, and fruit.”
“What about sweet stuff?”
Florence took a second to think. “Yeah, but it was really rare. My parents didn’t spend much on lavish things. They were more interested in nature than material possessions.” Alfred didn’t know what to make about this.
“What about you, Lydia?” he asked. The younger woman blinked rather caught off-guard.
“Me?” she asked. “I used to eat meat, but I stopped when I started to live with Florence and her parents.”
“You know,” Alfred said. “I have been meaning to ask you guys something. Do you promise you won’t get offended by this?”
“How can we do that?” Florence asked.
She put down her fork. “It’s a strange thing to ask of someone. Because if I did promise not to get offend and I do after you tell me what’s on your mind, I would be breaking my promise, wouldn’t I?”
“What did you want to ask us?”
“Why don’t you guys eat meat? Is it a health thing or something?”
“You can say that in a way.” Florence pulled out three bottles of basil water. “My parents rarely ate meat. My mother was a vegetarian, but my father ate meat when he went into the town.”
“So you were just raised vegetarian? It has nothing to do with you being a… you know?”
“That might play a part in it, but I have never tried to eat meat and never had the need to either.”
“Why is that?”
“We just don’t,” Lydia cut in. Her stern tone was enough to quiet Alfred and make him eat his meat-free birthday lunch. It didn’t taste, actually. Plus, he got to learn a little bit more about his girls. It felt rather… nice. Could every day be like this? Would be nice if it could. Florence put down her fork when she finished eating.
“Oh, there is one more thing before I forget,” she said. The tree spirit reached into the basket and pulled out a cake in the shape of a giant hamburger. Alfred felt like flying through the roof of the cave.
“Sweet! Is that for me?” he asked.
“Happy birthday,” Florence said. Alfred leapt forward and hugged her as she set the cake on the blanket.
“Whoa there!” she shouted. “You’re welcome, I suppose.”
“Oh man, this is the best birthday ever!” he yelled in her ear. This sure beat calling and harassing Arthur every hour, on the hour.