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Strawberry Tarts vs Deep Fried Pickles

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"How often do you come here?" I ask, taking another sip of coffee before diving into the second half of my club sandwich.

Scott shrugs. He finished his meal some time ago. "Three or four times a year? It's a pain to get to, but I find it fascinating." He leans forward, checking the line of the impressively tall tower he's building from another angle.

The waitress, a doppelganger of Kirstie, drops another bowlful of creamers on our table as she passes, a heavy tray balanced in her other hand. Huh. Guess Scott does this regularly. Or maybe another Scott does. Maybe they all do and this Kirstie just knows to bring more makeshift building blocks whenever a Scott is left to his own devices for too long?

Wow, this is weird. But Scott has a point; the psychology alone is fascinating. I wonder if anyone with access has every conducted a study. The value in informing the whole nature versus nurture debate alone is probably more than worth it.

And then I roll my eyes because if I've even thought of doing so, Scott's probably already halfway through writing a dissertation.

I'm mid-sandwich bite when another thought occurs to me. "Wait," I say, struggling to swallow so I can speak. "If you've been coming here for years, did you meet other versions of me before, well, me?"

I don't know how I'll feel about that if he has. Strike that, I do. I know I don't like the idea. At all. I want to be the first Mitch in his life, the baseline. The one to which all the others he meets are compared. And hopefully found wanting.

Scott puts his creamers down to focus his full attention on me. He's always been good at knowing when I need reassurance and when I don't.

He shakes his head, gently. "No. I have no idea how it works, but the Cafe always seems to be filled with versions of people I already know." He lays his hand across the table, and I follow his silent request to take it. "And usually it's only people I know really well. I've met other versions of you since, but I'd never seen a Mitch Grassi, detective or otherwise, before we met."

That's far more of a relief than I'd like to admit.

The little bell above the door jangles and we both turn to see who it is. It's us, or rather another version of us. We met another pair on our way in. They were singers, maybe ten years younger than we are. Scott seemed to know them, or maybe knew people similar enough to them that it didn't matter. From what they'd said and how they were dressed, I think their universe is fairly similar to ours, with the exception of their chosen career paths. I guess I should spend more time singing in the shower; apparently I have the potential to be pretty good.

This new pair of us, however, were definitely not from a world similar to ours.

The clothing is the first clue, sort of medieval-looking. Or maybe Renaissance? I've never been great at history. But they definitely aren't from either San Francisco or LA if they're walking around dressed like that. And that's before I notice their waistlines.

And by waistlines, I don't mean they've put on a few more pounds than we have. That's easy enough to do that I'm sure if we keep coming here we'll run into versions of ourselves of all sizes, just like we will of all ages.

What I mean is they look like Kate did the day before she went into labor with Ben.

"How is that possible?" I ask, trying not to stare and failing miserably.

Scott's also failing. "I...have no idea."

Pregnant Mitch leads the way, making a beeline for a booth in the corner, his Scott trailing after him. Kirstie heads behind the counter and exchanges her regular coffee carafe for the orange-topped decaf one.

"Are they trans?" I ask, mostly because it's the only explanation I can think of. But I'm pretty sure that's not it. They'd probably look at least a bit different to us if they'd been assigned female at birth, right? But apart from their haircuts, clothes, younger age, and, uh, impending parenthood, they seem identical.

Scott shakes his head. "I haven't run into anyone who's had a different body, gender, or even a different sexuality than the version I already knew of them." He cocks his head. "Although maybe that's more to do with my lack of imagination than their possible existences." That brings out a frown, the cute variety that crinkles his forehead whenever he tries to work through a problem. "I'm used to thinking of biology, and to a certain extent gender and sexuality, as inherent traits. The individual's recognition of the trait, and the labels available in their society that they can choose from, might change over time, but the traits themselves are relatively stable. But then, I'm not usually considering infinite universes shuffling things around." He pauses, and then nods. "I'll have to see if the variety of people we run into increases now that I'm actively considering more possibilities. Maybe it's like the individuals we meet; we have to know of them to see them."

At that point, the pregnant Scott absently waves his hand and the mugs at his table flip over. Without anything touching them. His Mitch obviously finds nothing weird about this, and Kirstie just nonchalantly fills them up.

Scott frowns again. "Or maybe I'm completely and utterly wrong about everything."

I certainly didn't foresee the possibility of magic, either, or what appears to be magic. Maybe it's just a sufficiently advanced technology, like that sci fi writer once said, and so it's indistinguishable from magic to me? Either way, it might also explain how they could possibly be pregnant.

The other pair aren't paying any attention to us or our confusion. Instead, they're squabbling over the menu while Kirstie waits, pen hovering over her pad, for them to order.

"The entire point in coming here was for the pickles," Pregnant Mitch is saying. "I can get eggs, toast, and hashbrowns at home. But unless Vesca has somehow bred a--" He turns to Kirstie. "What was the vegetable called again?"


"--A cucumber in the month it's been since we were last here, had time to pickle it, and your chef has spontaneously mastered the 'deep frying' thing that they do it, I'm getting what I came for. They're fantastic."

His Scott sighs, nose wrinkling in disgust. He peers up at Kirstie. "Do you have any of those vineberry--"

"Strawberry," his Mitch corrects.

"--Strawberry tart things you had last time?"

"Sure. How many do you want?"

Pregnant Mitch says "Two" as his Scott says "Three", and they glare at each other for a long moment.

Kirstie waits patiently. It's an impressive feat; my Kirstie would be slapping Scott and I upside our heads by now if we made her wait like this when she was trying to work. Then again, she does art rather than customer service.

"Three," Pregnant Scott repeats. "If you get to order the pickle things, I can make my own poor decisions."

"Three it is," Kirstie says cheerfully, spinning on her heel and heading for the kitchen.

I turn back to my Scott, who doesn't seem to have been focused on the argument, despite still looking in their direction.

"I wonder if they've created a true uterus," he says quietly. "Or if it's an artificial construct sustaining the pregnancies. And if so, how did conception happen? Did they magic the sperm inside to an artificial or transformed egg or is there some sort of in vitro procedure or parthenogenesis? Or maybe everyone is just naturally capable of carrying a child in their world?" He finally pauses for breath and turns to look at me. "You think it would be rude to ask?"

Of course he's still stuck on the science rather than the magic. Or thinking about more obvious consequences of his curiosity. "What would Esther do if someone she'd never met asked her how she'd conceived, alternate universe or not?"

Scott flinches like Es actually enacted what I picture her doing. "Solid point."

"Can I get you anything else?" Kirstie asks, suddenly appearing beside our table.

I'm stuffed, and for once I've even had enough caffeine to satisfy me. However, "Can I get some deep fried pickles to go, please?"

Scott's nose wrinkles, looking disconcertingly like the other one did in the exact same circumstance. "Ew."

Normally, I'd agree. However, since I'm currently eyeing the remains of the three strawberry tarts he demolished, as well as the new ones sitting on the kitchen's pass-through waiting for Kirstie to deliver them: "I have a sneaking suspicion I'll find them to be fantastic."