I relate this story to Alexandria as we sit down in the diner to eat. I was almost in tears when I looked up to see the pale cream and brown neon sign of this place and she is almost in tears as I tell her the touching story of how I met my wife.
“That was beautiful Dr. Blay,” she says. “Now I see why you love this place so much.”
“Welcome to triple B’s, may I take your order?” A waitress with a white shirt, a triple B’s brown apron and a pair of jeans walks up and flips open her tablet device and waits for us to place our order.
“Ummm, why don’t you order Dr. Blay? You know, since you know this place very well.”
“I would rather not.”
“Don’t be shy sir. Do you want to hear our specials?”
“No thanks let me just order.” She clicks her electronic pen on her teeth and stares in my direction ready to take our order.
“Go ahead,” Alexandria says when I notice she’s staring at me.
“Okay,” I take a deep silent breath to calm down. “I’ll have a cheese burger deluxe, a side of fries and a large double berry punch.” I exhale the breath I was holding but then notice that Alex and the waitress are still staring at me, “Oh and she’ll have the same too.” I exhale another huge sigh of relief after jumping that seemingly final hurdle.
I see the waitress crease her eyebrows then bite the butt of her pen as she writes our order, muttering something inaudible to herself the whole time.
“Is there a problem?” Alex asks her then looks at me with a weirded-out face at which I smile.
“Oh, yeah, sorry but, there actually is a bit of a problem.”
“What is it?” Alexandria says.
“Well, we kinna stopped serving the cheese burger deluxe quite a long time ago.”
“How long ago?” I ask this time.
“Oh, well about the time where we used actual paper to take orders instead of this fancy doo-hicky,” she shows the tablet to us by holding it up then flips it close. “I remember when my grand pappy used to bring me here for one of those burgers on Saturdays; those sure were the days,” she says as she looks up to the roof to reminisce in her memories.
In those sentences, particularly the second one, I detect a slight hint of a southern accent. As Alex follows her gaze to the ceiling, I formulate a plan in my head that just might get us those rare burgers.
“Ummm, hello,” she breaks her trance and looks down from the ceiling at me, “Yeah, I hope you don’t mind me asking but, what part of the USA do you hail from?”
“Oh, I’m from Tennessee, you know, when it used to exist. Why do you ask?”
“Imagine that, I’m from Tennessee too!”
“Wow, what luck, a fellow Tennessee native,” she bends over to hug me and I return it. “You seem to have lost your accent. What happened?” she says as she dislodges from the hug.
“Oh you know, moving here and there, but I still have a bit of it left ain’t that right hun?” I say that last part with a Tennessee accent which I lost many years ago but I just copy hers.
She bursts into laughter and lays her hand on my shoulder. I feel a strange rush of adrenaline pump through me.
“I totally know whatcha mean about that loosing accent thang,” she says while now speaking entirely with a Tennessee accent now. “When me and my pappy moved to Sector twelve to reopen this restaurant, I lost touch with all ma friends back home. Now I’m surrounded by people from New York, Los Angeles and the worst of all New Jersey,” we all burst into laughter when she says those cities with an imitation of their accents. “You know what hun? I’ll see what I can do about this order. Y’all hang on tight now,” she says, waves at us then disappears into the kitchen.
“Thanks a lot hun,” I say as she walks away.
I stare at the waitress until she enters the kitchen then when I turn back to our table, I notice Alexandria staring at me with those giant green eyes and smiling mischievously.
“I know what you did there.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I say as I look at the menu purposely trying to avoid eye contact.
“Don’t play dumb with me,” she says. “I know you lied to that waitress about being from Tennessee just to get our order done,” she leans in really close and whispers when she said that last part so I lean further back into my seat.
“Who says I’m playing?”
“Oh come on, everybody knows that Dr. Ignatius Blay comes from Long Beach Florida,” she says. “It’s even on your Wikipedia page.”
“Apparently she doesn’t know that.”
“Yeah but I do but still that was so not cool,” she say as she sits back in her chair, folds her arms and stares at me with a disappointed look.
“Are you sure you’re hungry?” I ask her.
“I am but still that wasn’t cool. When she comes back you know what you have to do.”
“Which is?” I ask purposely to annoy her and it works because she makes an annoyed sound and lays her head on the table.
“You have to apologise and tell her the truth!” she says as she raises her head. “Do I have to spell everything out for you?”
“Why would I do that? I already told her the truth,” I say as I look back down into the menu and see that they still serve seafood here.
I’m making a mental note to never order that because one of the times I was here with Martina I ate some bad shrimp and we ended up finishing our date in the emergency room but I guess it is still one of my greatest memories ever because that is the night I proposed to Martina.
Gosh I miss her.
“Dr. Blay, Dr. Blay,” I see a hand waving before my face and I snap out of my trance.
“Huh? Were you asking me something?”
“Yes I was asking you how come?” I have a blank look on my face as she asks me this.
“Huh? How come what?”
“Aaargh!” she says as she slaps her forehead with her hand in frustration. “I was asking you how come you said you told her the truth.”
“Oh yeah, I was saying that that so-called page about me says that’s where I was born right?” She nods. “Good, but does it tell you of what happened after my parents passed away?”
“No,” she leans in closer like a child listening to a story, with both hands on her cheeks and eyes firmly on me.
“I knew it; that’s why I never trust the internet.” I also lean in as I prepare to tell her an account I doubt many people know of but for some reason I feel like I can trust her. “Well, after my parents passed away, I was about twenty three by that time and had just gotten engaged to Martina. I received a job offer in Tennessee with a research institute that was just getting off the ground and was looking for bright young minds to drive it forward and they decided that I fit the bill. I was a bit tentative at first about leaving my hometown but Martina, being her usual adventurous self insisted we go for it since it might be a superb adventure. We sold my parent’s house, which we were staying in at the time and moved to Tennessee. At first, we had a bit of trouble adjusting due to the different accents and cultures but after a few months, we finally felt at home. That ended up being where we made our family and most of our closest friends were ones we made in there. I’ve always considered Tennessee as my adoptive home mostly since Florida has all my dead memories in it and Tennessee has all the living ones in it.”
“Wow,” she says as she looks into my face.
“That Wikipedia page doesn’t say any of that huh?”
“Nope,” she says as she relaxes in her seat. “Your past is so interesting. I would so love to meet her.”
“Your wife, Martina. She seems like someone I’ll like a lot.”
“You two are quite similar. I’m sure you will get along perfectly”
“I’m sure we will end up...” Before she can finish her sentence, she is interrupted by the waitress who is back with our food.
“Here we go,” she says as she sets the plates on the table. “Two cheese burger deluxes, a double side of fries and a large berry punch. Will that be all?”
“Yes it will; thank you very much,” I say. “Wait, we asked for two large berry punches.” I hand the large paper cup to Alex and she takes a sip.
“Oh, yes, sorry about that, we have only one left.”
“Okay, no problem, can I have a glass of water then?”
“Coming right up,” she says as she begins to walk away.
“Thanks a bunch hun,” I say and she begins to walk away. “Wait, we didn’t catch your name,” I call out to her a bit loudly as people from other tables stop eating and turn in my direction.
“It’s Ariel,” she flashes us her name tag and then walks back to the kitchen.
“What? Haven’t you heard a man ask for the name of a waitress who delivers excellent service before?” Alex tells the people around us off and they quickly turn back to their meals in embarrassment.
“Thanks,” I say to her.
“No problem; now time to scarf down this meal. It looks so good,” she says as she takes a bite of the burger and an onion falls out. She picks it up and pops it in her mouth, making satisfied sounds as she obviously enjoys the meal.
Yes, now to the meal indeed. I’m so hungry I feel like I can eat the cliché horse.
“Are you sure you don’t you want a sip?” Alexandria asks me for the umpteenth time and honestly it’s beginning to get a bit tedious.
She purposely took an extra straw and stuck in the cup so that I will be tempted to sip from the same cup as her, but no way; definitely not in this restaurant.
“No thanks, I’m fine with this,” I raise my cup of iced water and shake it to indicate my satisfaction with it.
“Okay, if you say so,” she says as she takes another really long slurp from it and then says, “It’s really, really good.” She purposely stretched the second ‘really’ to entice me.
“I know; I’ve had it before.” I destroy her attempt and her face falls at this latest fail.
We now sit in silence, well, relative silence since there is the chattering of people all around us but now I can enjoy my food in peace.
“So, how have you enjoyed the Underworld so far?” Aaargh, more talking! Can’t a man eat in peace?
“Hmmm, I guess it’s been okay,” I say as I decide to honour her attempt to make small talk. “I’m still a bit confused though.”
“Confused? I thought Alfie explained everything to you?”
“Yes, I know, but,” I intentionally pause, sigh and put a fry in my mouth and chew dramatically slowly to create suspense.
“But what?” I seem to have managed to draw her in.
“Well, I’ve just a bit curious about something,” I say as I pop another fry in my mouth.
“For God’s sakes Dr. Blay what is it?”
She raises her voice extremely and the people around us look here but when they see that it’s her who made the sound, they quickly turn away for fear of being told off again. This makes me smirk in amusement.
“I was just wondering what life on the outside might be like, you know?”
“Outside here, outside this place, outside the Underworld Alex. You’ve been there, what is it like? I just can’t stop wondering about it,” I say as another fry finds its way into my mouth and my stomach churns to indicate that I’m full.
“Hmmm.” She just hums while looking into space, certainly not the response I was looking for.
All of a sudden, she bounces of her chair, grabs my arm and starts dragging me out of the diner as people stare at us, obviously thinking that she must be an escaped mental patient or something because that’s what is going through my mind right now.
“What are you doing? Where are you dragging me off to?”
“I need to show you something,” she says as she continues dragging me forcibly out of the diner. She is much stronger than her size and her gender portray.
“But I didn’t finish my fries!” I manage to grab a handful of fries off a plate in an empty booth and pop them into my mouth as we exit the diner.
“Why did you do that?” I wriggle my hand from her grip and stare at her with anger which is hard to do when you have a mouth full of greasy fries.
“I needed to show you something.”
“But you could have at least told me not suddenly get up drag me out of the place like a bag of potatoes.”
“Sorry,” she says as her face drops.
“That wasn’t very ladylike you know.”
“I never really had a mum to teach me all this lady stuff. Sorry,” she says with an even glummer look on her face.
Now I understand her completely. She never really had a mother to teach her common etiquette when she was an adolescent girl and I doubt that Dr. Alfred taught her anything apart from how to balance chemicals or something of that ilk. I place my oily arm around her in a bid to comfort her.
“Look Alex, it’s fine, really it is but please, next time, ask before you decide to abduct me again okay?”
“Okay,” she says her eyes which were formerly fixed on the floor are now looking into my eyes with less depression.
“So, where are we off to now?” I ask.
“Oh yes, Sector 1,” she says as we walk toward the hoverboard station.
“What’s there?” I say as we both step up onto the hoverboard that just arrived simultaneously.
“You’ll see.” She’s intentionally keeping me in suspense to whet my curiosity. “To Sector 1,” she inputs the destination into the hoverboard and we begin moving.
I’m not sure why I feel this way but there is a sneaky feeling deep inside me that knows this girl is going to be one heck of an adventure.