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My Dinner With Laurence

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       "You wanna go get dinner or somethin'?"

       Dr. Herville Schtein grinned up at the taller man. Laurence only huffed in response and gently shoved Herville away. He turned and began walking steadily towards the street where his car was parked. Herville skittered behind him, still with that infuriating broken grin.

       "Is that a yes?"
       "I know a place! I mean, sort of, I haven't been there yet, I've been wanting to try it since I got back into town."
       "Yeah, fine. I can follow you in your, uh, your car..." Laurence noticed that the street was sorta deserted. It was rather late in the evening, all the workers has probably gone home by now... Perhaps his friend had just parked farther out?
       "Oh. I didn't drive here. I'll ride with you."
       "You still can't drive, can you?"
       Schtein shrugged, "Look, I've been working in an underground laboratory for 15 years, I never really had a reason to learn. I can drive a forklift. And we had little golf cart type things, those were fun... But a car? No..." He flicked his cigarette butt into the gutter.
       He followed Laurence a little further down the street. No response. Larry was never a chatterbox back when he knew him in college but now he was downright terse. The awkward silence was broken on their approach to a nasty little blue car.

       "Is... is this your car? Kinda small..."
       "Better than no car." Terse.
       "Maybe." Schtein muttered. The car was one of those little two door things, boxy, hatch-back, ugly. It looked very 1980s. So, ancient as well. He was surprised it was still running.
       Watching six-foot-two Laurence climb into it was amusing, like a clown car in reverse.

       "Where are we going?" Laurence gruffed.



       The restaurant was a combo diner and bakery named Strawberry Sunshine Co-op, Laurence grimaced up at the cheerful sign. "Is this a vegan joint?"
       "Uh, duh? Can't you tell by the name?" Herville rolled his eyes, "Look, don't be a jerk about this."
       "I'm not going to be a jerk! I wouldn't... I wouldn't do that. Hey, who baked you a fucking vegan birthday cake for your 17th birthday, asshole?
       Schtein held the door open, and look up thoughtfully. "Hmm. Yes, I suppose that was you. It was a good cake. I think. I'm not really a cake person."
       "Damn right it was a good cake."

       It was one of those seat yourself places, they chose a booth in a far back corner and prepared for the waitress to inevitably be weirded out by their appearance. Herville's weird red on black eyes, for one. Laurence. Well. He was an extremely tall grim looking man with a scary eye-patch. Thankfully his shirts were generally outlandishly bright so that was one point in the disarming column. Today it was an eye searing cyan shirt. Of course Dr. Schtein was dressed in various shades of black or grey like he'd just gotten back from a funeral. So, back to looking strange and threatening. The black gloves he never stopped wearing weren't helping either. He thumbed through the menu and glanced up at Laurence over the top of it, thinking.

       It had been a very long time since they'd last talked. Not his fault! Laurence had fallen completely off the radar in the past fifteen years. Of course... he had not really tried very hard to contact him, but. Hey, life happens! He'd been busy. He was sure Laurence had been quite busy as well. He still didn't know how he'd lost that eye, for one thing. He'd find out eventually, he was sure of that. Herville was very good at pestering information out of people.

       "Hrm." he flipped a plastic coated page over, "You know, Laurence, I remember that birthday quite clearly. First birthday I ever celebrated."
       "I remember. That's why I went out of my way."
       "It was nice, I liked it. Baked me a cake, threw me a party. I got with Christine, uhhh, Thompson that night."
       Laurence pointedly ignored that, "Man, I don't know what to order."
       "Jesus, just get the waffles or something. Don't order any meat substitutes, you'll just compare them and get all mad."
       "Are they bad?"
       "How the fuck would I know? I don't order them. Shit grosses me out. That stuff's for people who miss meat, being that I've never had it I find it unappealing."

       Dr. Schtein was about to say more when a waitress walked up to them, greeted them, took their drink order. A sweet tea for Laurence and a black coffee for Schtein. Laurence groaned when Herv called her 'honey'. As soon as she left he leaned over "Why do you talk to women like that?"

       Herville looked at Laurence like he was some kind of alien, "What do you mean?"
       "All that 'honey', 'my dear', 'darling' shit. It's kinda weird, dude."
       "No it isn't. She liked it. It's friendly!"
       "Ugh, whatever."
       "You're not from the south, you don't get it."
       "I was born in Texas."
       "Oh yeah, how long did you live there?"
       "Uh. Um. A year."
       "Oh, absorbed a lot of culture as a baby then, did you?"
       "Fine, whatever, I don't care."

       The waitress brought them their drinks, and took their orders. Dr. Schtein grinned as he read her name off of her shirt tag, "I'll have the home fries and one of those tofu scrambles and a side of whatever fruit you got, Helen."
       Laurence reddened a bit and grumbled, "I'll take the strawberry waffles."

       Helen left and Dr. Schtein leaned back smugly. "She's nice looking. Was polite enough to not make a face about my eyes."
       "Oh, don't worry, I'm not gonna hassle her, I'm not THAT big of an asshole, I know she's just here doing a job. Still I can look all I want."
       Laurence took a long sip of his tea and narrowed his eye at the pasty little man across the table. "Christine only fucked you outta pity."
       Dr. Schtein's smugness instantly deflated. "She did not."
       "Yeah. Told me. Next day."
       "Yeah, right."
       "Said she did it on account of your mom."
       "Remember? We were having the party and you got the call. Your mom died. Of course, she didn't know you weren't exactly choked up about it. You took full advantage of pretending to be sad."
       "Okay. So?"
       "So she never called you again, right?"

       Dr. Schtein didn't answer, he just gazed out the window into the darkness.



       They ate silently for a bit after the food arrived.

       "You know," Laurence talked through a mouth of waffles, "This is pretty good! But I guess you don't really need a lot of animal stuff to make fuckin' waffles, right?"
       Herville frowned. He'd largely lost his appetite and had just been kinda picking at his food. He'd so been looking forward to it, too.

       "If you are under the impression that I need to be knocked down a peg or two you are quite mistaken."
       "My life is garbage. I'm lonely, I'm a drunk, I cannot get along with anyone to save my life. Even my work was unfulfilling. I just spent 15 years basically pushing a scientific boulder up a hill over and over only to be crushed by it rolling back down every day."
       Herville sighed, "And now I can't even drink anymore! I was told it was killing me. So what's left? I haven't even been with a woman in five years..."
       "Okay, okay!" Laurence rested his face in his left hand. "I'm sorry. I've been kind of an asshole all night, I admit it. I don't know why."
       He sighed, "No, I do know why. I just. It's hard to talk about. Let's pay up and get out of here, I know a good spot, we can talk."