Chapter 1: In Which a Drunk Jonathan Meets Arabella
“Jonathan,” whispered Gilbert, “why are we here again?”
Jonathan frowned. “I’m hungry.”
“You’re drunk. Let’s go home. It’s late. I have a history exam tomorrow and a book waiting on the…” He sighed. It was too late.
Jonathan had already staggered over to the counter, where a pretty brunette forced a smile and asked him, “Hello. May I take your order?”
“You,” slurred Jonathan, leaning over the counter, “may take my—Gilbert.”
Jonathan looked down at his friend, who was tugging on his sleeve. “Gil!” he said dazedly. “What are you doing here?”
“I’m sorry, sir, I'm not interested in a Gilbert,” replied the brunette.
"Well that's not very nice. I like him. Sometimes," he added as he swatted Gilbert's hands off of him.
"Sir, what would you like to order?" the cashier asked, more firmly this time.
"I would like—Gilbert!"
Gilbert had kicked him in the shin.
"I'm afraid we are not currently offering Gilberts on our menu," the brunette answered in a deadpan.
Gilbert ignored her. "Jonathan," he hissed, "It is after midnight. We've just been at your stupid Gamer Club party for four hours. I want to go home.”
“Not now. Can’t you see I’m talking to lovely Miss…” here he put his face disconcertingly close to the cashier’s chest, in an effort to read her nametag. He tried to form the vowels, but his lips did not seem to be cooperating. “A…re…ra…a…”
“Arabella, her name is Arabella,” finished Gilbert tersely.
“I am talking to lovely Miss Arabella, Gilbert.”
Lovely Miss Arabella was grimacing a little bit, although Gilbert also thought she looked as though she was used to this sort of thing. It was a feeling he could relate to.
“No, you're making a fool of yourself. Let’s go.” The smaller man grabbed his friend’s arm and gave a mighty tug. Surprisingly, Jonathan did not protest at this. He stumbled along after Gilbert, never taking his eyes off of Arabella.
Chapter 2: In Which the Gang Decides to Go to McDonald's
Gilbert worried that Jonathan would go back to bother the girl from McDonald's, but to his surprise, Jon didn't mention her even once for the next few days. As Friday rolled around, Gilbert supposed he had forgotten about her. At any rate, he was relieved; he didn't think he could set foot in there again. Suddenly, he heard a knock on his dorm's door. Frowning, he peered through the peephole suspiciously to see who it could be, feeling foolish when he saw Jonathan with their other friends.
"Did you forget your key again, Jon?" Gilbert asked.
Jonathan shrugged and threw his jacket on the floor. "I'll try to remember it next time. Anyway, the gang's here. We wanted to know if you wanted to grab lunch before class."
“We want to go somewhere nice today," interjected Christopher.
“Well, there’s that new Italian restaurant,” Henry offered.
“I have an idea,” Jonathan said suddenly. “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”
Four faces turned to him in confusion.
“McDonald’s?” asked Christopher. “I said somewhere nice.”
“Well, I like McDonald’s,” Jonathan replied. “Everyone does.”
“I don’t,” replied Henry with a sniff. “I’d rather not go somewhere where I’m eating a heart attack wrapped in wax paper.”
“Italian food is just cheese and carbs. How is that any better?” asked Strange.
Henry sighed. “McDonald’s is disgusting. It’s so…”
“Greasy?” offered Christopher.
“Provincial,” finished Henry.
Childermass let out a bark of laughter. “Provincial? What is this, Lascelles, Regency-era England?”
Henry turned an angry shade of red. “Well, it’s true.”
“You’re just being an elitist jerk, Henry. As usual.”
Henry made no reply, but by some miracle, turned even redder.
“Norrell?” asked Childermass. “What do you think?”
Gilbert knew very well why Jonathan wanted to go, and he was very against it. He looked at Jonathan, who was gazing back at him with a look of silent pleading.
“Well,” he started, uncomfortably, “I’m not a huge McDonald’s fan…”
“Not a huge McDonald’s fan?” asked Jonathan incredulously. “We went there last weekend! You love McDonald’s! Doesn’t he, guys?”
The other three looked as though they very much doubted it.
“We didn’t eat anything that time," Gilbert reminded Jonathan. "I don’t think you remember much, but you were very drunk when we went there. Remember, you talked to that girl? I don't think she was impressed."
Judging by the look on Jonathan’s face, it had been the wrong thing to say. But while Jonathan covered his face with his hand, the other three started to grin in understanding.
“A girl, is it, Strange?” laughed Childermass. “Why didn’t you say so? Of course we can go to McDonald’s today. What, does she work there?”
Jonathan mumbled something that sounded like “cash register.”
Henry smirked. “Well, that sounds delightful. Let’s go see this cashier you’re so infatuated with.” Leaning down to Christopher’s ear, he said in a stage-whisper, “That’ll at least be amusing enough to make up for the quality of the food. And the people.”
As they walked to the restaurant, Drawlight turned to Gilbert and asked, “So what actually happened last Saturday, anyway? You never explained.”
“Oh,” said Gilbert, “the usual. He tried to flirt with her, but it didn’t work because he was too drunk to say anything intelligent. She wasn’t amused. Luckily, I got him to leave before he took his shirt off or something.”
“Thanks, Norrell,” Jonathan said through gritted teeth.
“You know, Jonathan,” Gilbert continued, oblivious to Jonathan’s tone, “I think you should probably, you know, apologize to her.”
Strange sighed. “Yeah. I was planning on it.”
Chapter 3: In Which The Boys Arrive at McDonald's
“Alright, John,” said Arabella cheerfully. “How are you feeling about running the cash registers?”
“It’s not too bad,” John replied.
Arabella smiled. “I'm glad to hear that! It does get a little bit busy around lunch time, so brace yourself. And hey, there are wonderful people who come in, but there is also an occasional jerk. Don't let a rotten customer get to you. And don’t worry—I’ll be manning the register right next to you, so I can help you deal with any problems that may come up.”
He looked relieved. “Sounds good to me.”
There was a short silence, and then she said, “So, what’s your major?”
“I’m in the classical studies department.”
“So can you speak, like, fluent Latin?” she asked jokingly.
“Well,” he said sheepishly, “I guess…kind of. Yeah.”
There was a pause before she said, “Well, that’s pretty cool. I’m an English major. And before you ask, yes, I can speak fluent English.”
They both laughed, and John started to think this job wasn’t too bad. They stood for a while in amiable silence, but it wasn’t long before the lunch crowd started trickling in.
Arabella gestured toward the register and said, “Would you like to do the honors?”
“Yeah, sure,” he replied nervously.
The first few customers went smoothly. There was a dark man with curiously slanted eyebrows and a conceited air (though otherwise quite courteous) who ordered a large quantity of chicken nuggets and fries to be split between himself and his four young female companions. After that came a toothless, homeless man, who, despite his state, very cheerfully ordered a Big Mac meal. After his third customer (an older woman reeking of cats who ordered seven Filet-O-Fish sandwiches), John remarked to Arabella, “This is great so far. Everyone’s been really nice.”
She smiled. “I’m glad. But we’re not out of the tunnel yet, are we? It’s still only eleven thirty.”
John scanned the room when his glance happened to fall on the homeless man, who was wreathed with blue tattoos on every inch of exposed skin. What he saw astonished him. “Arabella?”
“That man over there. He ordered a Big Mac meal. That's all. I put it together and handed to him on a tray myself. Where did the extra McChicken and fudge sundae come from?”
She laughed. “He always does that! We have no idea how. We’ve tried to investigate, we even hired a private detective once to figure out how he does it, but no one knows. For a while, we thought that maybe he bought extra food items at a different McDonald’s and brought them here just to mess with us. Then we started doing really strict inventories. We always end up finding that we're missing whatever unordered food we saw him with that day, so he must be taking it from us. And none of us have been sneaking him food—everybody has an alibi. It’s so weird. He’s been coming here for two or three years now, almost every day, but we’ve never caught him in the back or anything. We’ve given up now. At least he pays for the meal he orders. It’s probably difficult for him to get any food, and he’s really nice to all of us, so there’s really no harm in letting it slide.”
They shared a good laugh, but stopped when they heard the restaurant doors open. They craned their necks to see the new customers. As they came closer into view, Arabella swore under her breath. “Not him again.”
John looked at her, startled. “You know them, too?”
“What? No, not at all. That tall guy with the reddish hair came in over the weekend, drunk, and tried to hit on me. The shorter guy walking next to him dragged him out of the place, thankfully, but I didn’t expect to see him again so soon.”
“Oh, you must mean Jonathan and Gilbert.”
“Yeah, I think that’s what they said their names were. Wait, how do you know them?”
John’s face was flushed, but whether from embarrassment or anger, it was hard to tell (though Arabella thought it was a little bit of both). “They’re in my department,” he mumbled.
As the boys walked in, Christopher and Henry started prodding Jonathan’s ribs and teasing him.
“Is that her?”
“I think she’s pretty, actually.”
Jonathan, red-faced, hissed, “Shut. Up.”
But Childermass had seen someone else. “Norrell?” asked Childermass, brow furrowed, “Isn’t that Segundus?”
Norrell blinked at him.
Childermass raised an eyebrow. “You must remember. The one whose dreams I crushed for you?”
Gilbert squirmed at this a little bit, then glanced at the cashier, who was very pointedly looking in the opposite direction. “Yes. It is.”
Childermass sighed. “Well, let’s get this over with.”
Chapter 4: In Which the Gang Attempts to Order
Childermass made a beeline for the girl’s cash register, but a young couple beat him to it, and he found himself in front of John Segundus. Childermass cleared his throat and Segundus flicked his eyes away.
“Hello, Childermass,” Segundus replied with a tight smile. “I hope you’re doing well. What would you like to order?”
“Um, I’ll have a Quarter Pounder with cheese, I guess.”
“The meal?” Segundus prompted.
“Hey!” interjected Drawlight. “Childermass, you lost that bet last week. You have to buy everyone lunch today.”
Childermass opened his mouth to say something, then, thinking better of it, settled for rolling his eyes and sighing loudly. “Fine. What do you want?”
Christopher turned to Segundus. “Oh! Segundus!” he exclaimed in mock surprise. “Fancy seeing you here! I didn’t know you worked here.”
“Yes, I do,” replied Segundus. “What would you like?”
“Ohhhh, that’s hard. I think I’ll have…” Drawlight trailed off. “Henry?”
Lascelles looked up from his phone. “I’m not eating any of this greasy garbage.”
“I don’t know what to order,” fretted Drawlight.
Meanwhile, next to them, Gilbert and John Childermass were having a heated discussion.
“Norrell, you have to choose something!”
“But—there are so many choices, I can’t decide…”
“Fine. I’ll decide for you.” He turned to John. “One Big Mac, please.”
As John started to put that down, the small man grabbed the dark man’s arm. “No, no, no, do you know how many calories are in that?”
“Well, then,” snarled Childermass, “what do you want?”
Between the two pairs of men fighting, Segundus wasn’t sure what on earth he could do. He looked over to Arabella for help, but she was too busy fending off the tall man’s advances.
“Look, Jonathan. Is that your name?”
“Well, my friends call me Jon, and sometimes they call me Strange, but you can call me—“
“Jonathan,” she interrupted, “If you’re not going to order anything, I need you to please move out of the way so that the customers in line behind you can actually order their meals.”
He looked behind him and saw two rather fierce-looking men glaring at him. “Sorry,” he mumbled and moved off to the side.
“And I can see why your friends call you strange,” Arabella said to him with a sidelong glance.
Slightly taken aback, he grinned.