Evan didn’t need to think about his response to the first question of the thirty-six, regarding who he’d invite to have dinner with him. He grinned at me, wrapping his long fingers around the handle of his mug. It was clear to me that this was something he’d thought about before.
I narrowed my eyes at him as I watched him sip his unsweetened coffee. “I don’t think Shakespeare is in the world anymore.”
“But you said anyone,” he insisted.
“The question clearly indicates in the world,” I emphasized.
“Yes, and Shakespeare was in the world,” he noted agreeably.
“It doesn’t say in the history of the world; it says in the world,” I argued.
He stared back at me. His lips were moving, but no words came out of them and he looked terribly disappointed. “But I really want to invite Shakespeare.”
I curled up my lip and glanced away, contemplating whether to allow the answer. “To your house?”
“Oh, I didn’t get that far," Evan complained. "Is that the next question?”
“No, I’m just wondering.” I shrugged at him.
“I thought this was thirty-six questions.”
“Well, I’ve added to it, haven’t I?”
“I think that’s cheating.”
“I think you’re just evading the question.”
Biting his lip and tugging on his shirt as he stretched his back, he relented. “Fine. I’ll invite him to a restaurant.”
“Is this going to be thirty-six questions on the first question?”
“I don’t know, but since you’ve said Shakespeare, now I want to know where you’re going to take him, what you’re going to eat, and what you’re going to talk about. Shakespeare isn’t just anyone. You can’t just say ‘Shakespeare’ and then expect me to be like ‘Oh, cool,’ and then that’s it,” I maintained.
“But I’d have to think about it.”
“Well, you should probably know these things before you invite him.”
“What if he says no anyway?”
“Well, first you’re going to have to dig him out of his grave.”
Evan grimaced. “But I was thinking something a little more paranormal with a lot less necromancy.”
“Like popping back in time in the T.A.R.D.I.S. and inviting him to dinner, but then, after surprising him with the bigger-on-the-inside blue box, wow him even more by dropping into modern London.”
I stared at him with my jaw hanging open. “So, now it’s not just dinner. It’s time travel, too.”
“Well, how else will I invite him?”
I glanced away and then back at him as I considered that. “I mean, fair point.”
“Is it a bad idea?” Evan wondered, squinting at me.
“No. I sort of want to go along,” I admitted with a sheepish snicker.
He bit his lip again as he smacked the table with his hands, creating ripples in our coffees. “You can help me steal a T.A.R.D.I.S., set it for the 16th century, possibly early 17th century, invite Shakespeare to dinner, hopefully he says yes, and then we’ll treat him with a trip through time to modern London dining.”
“We should watch one of his plays while we’re there,” I mused, resting my chin in my palm.
“Yes! Let’s do that!” Evan nodded with glittering eyes as he lifted his mug. I nodded back, slightly more subdued in my enthusiasm. Before he took another drink, he asked, “But who would you invite?”
“I don’t know. Is it going to be the same dinner with Shakespeare? Or would it be a different dinner?”
Evan laughed at me. “I think that’s entirely up to you.”
“Stan Lee.” I finally answered after a moment’s consideration.
His mouth opened with excited envy as I blinked at him with faux innocence over the rim of my mug, drowning a haughty smile in my hazelnut espresso.
“Oh, I want to be at this dinner!” he exclaimed.
“Well, we might need the T.A.R.D.I.S. for him, too,” I pointed out. “Since he’s not exactly in the world, either…”
Sitting up straight again, Evan’s face brightened as he lifted his eyebrows. “Small detour! We’ll pick up Stan Lee, stop in for a Shakespeare play, collect the playwright himself, then we’re all off to dinner!”
We were both about to speak at the same time when a woman touched Evan’s shoulder, distracting him. His eyes quickly surveyed the situation: a pair of women, a shy one behind the bold one. Pressing his palms against his knees, he forced a grin for them.
“Hallo!” he said cheerfully and breathed a laugh at their giggling response.
I hid my displeasure by tilting my drink to my lips, but they didn’t even notice me; they only had eyes for Evan. Concerned that the women would attract more attention to him, I scanned the café. As I feared, several people were eyeing the women and him, some of them craning their necks with unconcealed stares.
“Sorry to disturb you,” the bolder one said, attempting to collect herself.
Evan pressed his lips together in a thin smile and shook his head. “Are you ladies keeping warm in this rain?”
They laughed again, though the same woman managed to mention they’d just happened to come in for coffee and then seen him. When she added that she was a huge fan, the timid one was emboldened to speak up, basically repeating the same words her friend had said. Evan stole nervous glances at me as I watched the spectacle in amusement with my elbows on the table and chin resting on my hands.
When they asked if he could autograph items they’d clearly bought at the convention earlier, he happily obliged them. Then the more daring of the pair asked if they could get a photo with him, and he pushed his chair back as he stood up.
“Here, I’ll stand in the middle,” Evan suggested, wrapping an arm around each of them.
But as the woman raised her phone to snap a selfie with the three of them, her nervousness became more apparent by the way her hand trembled uncontrollably. Evan tried to stabilize her arm, but it wasn’t much help, and he was about to make another suggestion, but I stood up and held out my hand.
“Do you want me to take it for you?” I asked.
The woman stared back at me as if I’d intruded on them, but her expression softened when Evan answered for her, “Oh, that’s kind of you.”
He towered over both women, forcing me to take a few steps back to get the three of them into the frame. I ensured the lens was focused, and when I asked if they were ready, Evan smiled straight into the camera with the expertise of experience. After clicking a couple of shots just for good measure, I offered to do the same for the other woman, so she could have a set on her own mobile phone. While I withdrew myself from their encounter and returned to my chair, he gave them both hugs, placating them with a few more words until they were finally content enough to drag themselves away from him.
As he sat back down, Evan pulled at his earlobe as he took his own assessment of the café. “Speaking of dinner,” he began, “do you maybe want to grab a takeaway and sneak back over to the hotel?”
I nodded, smiling at him. “I am actually starving.”