I get to work late, trying to figure out why I feel so disoriented, because I was mostly on time when I left and the traffic wasn’t that bad and there’s no reason I should be so off-schedule right now, but I am. And there was something I was supposed to be doing, or something I figured out that I wanted to tell someone, but I can’t fucking remember what it was or what I was working on.
“Travis!” a familiar voice calls out, and no, no, I cannot deal with other people yet. I need some food and some more coffee and some time, time alone, to maybe stop having a migraine.
Instead, there are two picture-perfect faces beaming at me, with hands waving in that practiced not-quite-unison that makes it look natural instead of rehearsed. Or, hell, maybe it is natural and I’m just being paranoid because I’m upset about having to deal with people already.
“You look kind of tired,” Stranglehold tells me. “Have you been sleeping okay?”
I shoot a scathing glare at my new tablemates. “I sleep fine.”
“You know it’s not quite as convincing when you’re that touchy about it,” Sass says. “Also, because I’ve seen your medications.”
Stranglehold raises an eyebrow. “He needs sleeping pills? Wait, sorry, none of my business.”
“Coffee,” I say, walking towards it, instead of addressing the issue, because as much as I need for people not to be talking about my medical history, I need to be talking about talking about my medical history even less.
Stranglehold laughs. “You should try the sticky buns. They’re really good today.”
“Or there’s chowder, if you wanted lunch,” Sass adds.
I scowl at her. “Lunch. Do not talk to me about lunch.”
“Do brownies count as breakfast or lunch?” Sass asks.
“Neither, I don’t think,” I mutter, darkly. “Dessert is its own category, I’m pretty sure.”
I organize my tray as I sit back down, staring forlornly at my orange juice, because now I basically have to either down it before I start eating anything, or save it for later, and it’ll get warm and gross in the meantime. I should’ve just stuck with coffee. This is why coffee is the go-to drink, and not things with flavors, no matter how appealing the bottles might look while you’re waiting in line.
“What?” Stranglehold asks.
“You think I should save my juice or drink it first?” I ask.
Two sets of eyes turn to my juice. “Is this really this big a dilemma?”
“Fine, don’t give me any advice, some friends you are,” I say, deciding that I’m thirsty enough after all, so I may as well just drink all my juice. Ahh, taste that vitamin C.
Stranglehold nods sagely. “Well, at least that’s one problem solved.”
I flip him off.
“I don’t actually give good advice in this type of scenario,” Sass says. “I pretty much enjoy the fact that everything tastes tart or sour when accompanied by sugary foods.”
“You what?” I ask.
Sass grins at me. “Not everyone has as much of a sweet tooth as you.”
“I know that,” I mutter. “It’s just breakfast. I’ll eat real food in a minute. I eat real food all the rest of the time I don’t even know what the problem is.”
Stranglehold glances nervously at me, shares a look with Sass, and drums his fingers against the table. Apparently deciding to break the tension, he adds, “I mean, not me, I have a huge sweet tooth.”
“There you go,” I tell her. “What diverse and interesting lives we lead.”
She shakes her head. “I like sugar sometimes, anyway.”
I nod and try not to stare off into space while they’re still attempting to talk to me.
“Anyway, the brownies are really good,” she says, “Although, a bit rich, so you’d have even more of the same problem, trying to eat them with juice.”
“You seem to be done with your juice, though,” Stranglehold adds.
“There are blondies, too, if you’re in the mood for them,” Sass says, “but no cookies today. I guess they decided to go for various dessert squares entirely. And some sort of fudge.”
“I saw the fudge,” I say, “I can’t tell what flavor it is.”
She glances over at it, shrugging.
“Did you try the fudge,” I ask Stranglehold. “Can you answer this question.”
“They’re just fudge,” Stranglehold says. “It seems to be plain and mint, why?”
“Wait, what do you mean plain fudge,” Sass asks, crossing her arms, “that would be basically sugar dough, like, butter-flavor sugar candy. It’s at least chocolate.”
“Plain chocolate, right,” Stranglehold says, nodding his head.
“Plain like nothing in it, or plain but with chocolate chips?” I ask him.
He chuckles. “That would be double chocolate, I would venture.”
“Double chocolate,” I repeat.
Sass makes a face. “Is there even double chocolate fudge? I’m pretty sure it’s only for cookies. I mean, I have seen brownies labeled that way, but not fudge. I don’t think that’s correct.”
“I don’t think I have either,” I tell her. “No. Double chocolate can’t be for fudge.”
“I have,” Stranglehold says. “Not that often, but I’ve definitely seen that label before.”
“Well, you know what? Lots of people can be wrong,” Sass says, shrugging. “I’m sure more than one person can independently make that mistake. But it’s delicious, so I don’t hold it against them.”
“It’s alright,” Stranglehold says, “it’s not a very interesting flavor.”
“It’s still fudge,” Sass says. “Who doesn’t like fudge?”
“Weren’t we just talking about people without a sweet tooth?” I ask.
“Yeah, but even they like a little bit of fudge from time to time, don’t they?” Sass asks me back.
I shrug. “I’m sure there are people who don’t, but only if you’re not planning to get on my case about not caring strongly one way or the other. You aren’t, are you?”
“Some people hate sugar with a passion,” Stranglehold tells us.
We both stare at him.
“I had a friend in high school like that,” he says, “he would never eat any dessert. I mean, it wasn’t just him, his whole family was like that. His sister even hated fruit, but I didn’t know her so well.”
“That’s a shame,” I tell him, “because I would really like more explanation for that one.”
“I never could figure it out. She liked citrus fruits okay, I guess because they’re sour, but she hated mangoes with a passion, like, specifically mangoes,” he says.
I shake my head, grinning. “Even though that’s the perfect fruit.”
“Fruit bats love them,” Sass backs me up, “they just hang out in mango trees, all upside-down, nibbling on mangoes because they’re delicious.”
“I heard they were the most popular fruit in the whole world,” I say.
“For monkeys, too,” Stranglehold says, “apparently, they’ll just up and wander into your house, looking for fruit. And they love mangoes.”
“That settles that,” I say, “aside from this one person Stranglehold sort of knew in high school, everyone at least likes mangoes. Other sugar preferences may be more subjective.”
“Well, that one person and a lot of her family,” Sass says. “Maybe it’s some sort of familial curse. Maybe they tried to feed their children to the gods or something.”
“With sugar on top,” I say.
“That is a horrible explanation and a horrible idea,” Stranglehold says, exasperated.
“It was mildly funny,” Sass defends, “it was acceptably jocular and low-level humorous.”
I pick up my phone because that reminded me of something and if I can just figure it out – I mean, I think it was something I wanted to look up before….
“Oh my god,” she says, laughing, “wait, what if it’s the other way around, and they have this boon of not liking sugar, and the rest of us are just cursed and like, oh, yeah, this curse is awesome.”
“And we just don’t even know we’re cursed, and all the gods are just hanging around, just frustrated and lowkey pissed,” Stranglehold adds.
“And they can’t even use it as a punishment-reward system anymore, because now there’s ice cream and shit, so people just won’t have that,” I say.
Stranglehold considers that for a moment. “Okay, so we have, like, these gods hanging around, promising to reward people with, like, this cursed food.”
Sass grins. “Double chocolate fudge?”
“So, okay, we’ve figured out the sugar thing,” Sass says. “What’s the explanation for people who don’t like coffee?”
“Beats me,” I tell her, because I have had that discussion before, and no matter how many times I’m presented with the data, it just boggles the mind, it really does.
“There are people who don’t like coffee?” Stranglehold asks. “My god, where, and what do they look like, and how do I avoid them, is there some sort of amulet or something?”
“Yes,” Sass says, “it’s a necklace shaped like a bean, combined with talking nonstop about specific blends of coffee and nuances of minor differences in cultivation and roasting and brewing.”