25: Better Than Shawarma

In a small Italian diner in the southeast area of Portland, Oregon, six weary people gathered around a table. Empty and half-empty plates and bowls and glasses covered every available bit of space. Charlie sat at one end of the table, his lasagne mostly finished off. He looked around, watching and listening as the others chatted about things that he’s have believed impossible just a few weeks ago.

Lynn noticed his silence and leaned toward him slightly. “Don’t feel as though you shouldn’t join in.”

“Ah, no, it’s not that.”

Andrew, sitting across from Lynn at Charlie’s left, said without looking at either of them, “Leave him be, dear. I bet he’ll be glad of the peace and quiet soon anyway.”

She rolled her eyes. “Part of the problem is that he can’t get a word in edgewise with you jabbering constantly.”

“That’s not true,” Andrew replied in a mildly indignant tone. “I’m not talking when I have a mouthful of food.” He turned to Charlie. “You weren’t kidding, by the way. The rollatini is amazing.”

Sarah, at Lynn’s right, asked, “Rollatini? I saw that on the menu but wasn’t sure what it actually is.”

“You’ve had chicken cordon bleu, right?”

“Okay, yeah.”

“This is the Italian version of the same basic idea: Stuffed with more, bigger, and better. With red sauce. It’s amazing.”

Amy, seated next to Andrew, chimed in. “It’s so amazing that you’ve never cooked it for us?”

“I’d forgotten about it until I saw it on the menu. Hey, Charlie, do you suppose Papa would share the recipe?”

Charlie frowned. “Uh, probably not. Sorry.”

Michael piped up from the other end of the table. “Maybe if I make it a matter of national security?” He’d flashed his fake badge around earlier, impressing Charlie’s employers by way of giving him a reprieve from recriminations after being absent so often in recent weeks. The exact nature of “the government’s” need for Charlie’s presence was left deliberately vague. Top secret clearance, after all.

Andrew sighed. “I wish I could do that.”

Sarah laughed. “What, impress people with a badge?”

“No, no, pretend to be a federal agent. Pretend to be anything, really.” Andrew turned to Charlie again. “See, this honesty thing, it can get in the way of the job.”

“Why did they do it?” Charlie asked.

“Seems you’ve asked me that before.”

Charlie sipped his wine and said, “You avoided actually answering the question before.”

“Yes, well. I suspect that what my creators wanted was a perfectly obedient super soldier. If you can’t lie, you can’t hide any subversive intentions very well.”

“How did you get away with leaving?”

“I told my handler right to her face that I was leaving. Then I left.”

Amy laughed. “You are simplifying the hell out of the story, Andrew.”

“Yes, yes I am. I can live with that.”

Charlie laughed. “It’s okay, I don’t really need all the details.”

Lynn was watching Andrew rather closely. “How are you feeling?”

Andrew chased down another bite’s worth of food on his nearly empty plate, chewed, and swallowed, all while looking Lynn right in the eye. “I’m fine.”
She gave him a wicked little smile and said, “Prove it.”

He glanced to Charlie then back to Lynn again. “Charlie, are all Italian restaurants supposed to be so dimly lit? Normally,” he stressed the word, “I’d barely be able to see what I’m eating.”

Conversation stopped while everyone else looked up. And noticed several extra candelabra bulbs over their table. Bulbs with no visible means of power or support.

Sarah said, “Are you sure that’s a good idea…?” and indicated the kitchen area with a tilt of her head.

Amy said. “Nobody will notice unless we make a big deal about it.”

“Smoothly done, Mister Wolfe,” Michael added. “I didn’t pick up on that at all.”

“Thank you, Revered Ancient Teacher Mister White Sir.”

Michael just shook his head and loaded up another forkful of spaghetti.
Lynn asked Charlie, “How are you feeling, then?”

Andrew leaned toward Amy and quipped, “Somebody’s developing a maternal instinct astoundingly late in the game, wouldn’t you say?”

Amy replied, “I wouldn’t say, because she’d probably smack whoever did say such a thing.”

“We’d better not say it, then.” Andrew nodded sagely.

Lynn sighed. “Are you two done?”

“Never,” Amy and Andrew chorused.

“I shouldn’t have asked.” Lynn rolled her eyes dramatically. “Anyway. Charlie. All the excitement, all the danger, all the monsters and destruction, and we’ll be leaving soon, and everything… how are you feeling about it all?”

Another sip of wine passed Charlie’s lips while he thought about his answer. “I saw another world. I mean, it was only for a few seconds. But, that’s going to stay with me forever.”

Sarah gave a little laugh. “It never gets old, trust me. It never stops being amazing.”

Andrew said, “The difference is, Charlie only gets the one peek.”

Charlie shook his head. “That’s okay. Really. I don’t want to do what you do. I’ve had enough of that kind of excitement. But I feel like…” He struggled for the right word. “Perspective. It gave me perspective.”

“You’ll never see the world around you the same way,” Lynn said.

“As long as there aren’t any more orange glows in dark alleys, then I’m happy.”

Everyone laughed at that.