Links to parts 1-4 can be found here.
“I’m partial to booths, myself,” said Betty. “Sitting at a table, I always feel so exposed. No, don’t get up.” She put a hand out to stop Shepard. “It’s just something I grew up feeling. I’m used to it now and can function like any other adult in polite company.” Betty laughed at herself, and Shepard dropped his uneasy smile to join in. Even Ben gave a bit of a grin.
“Um, I don’t mind either way,” added Ben. “It’s actually kind of nice to be out to dinner with–with friends.”
Betty reached over to pat Ben’s hand. “We are friends now, aren’t we?” she beamed. She stretched out her other hand to reach for Shepard’s, and clasped it tightly. “We’re all friends on a grand adventure!”
“Um, maybe we should tone it down. People are staring,” said Ben, looking down at the placemat in front of him.
“Let em stare! They haven’t had half the day we have!” Shepard’s good cheer was back, in full effect.
Betty giggled softly and patted Shepard’s hand as she relinquished it. “Let’s tell the lady what we’re having before they kick us out.”
Fortunately, their waitress was tolerant; she checked on them at just the right time to catch the tail end of their conversation. She leaned in conspiratorially to whisper, “We never kick anyone out for being happy, just drunk.”
The trio laughed, and began to order.
Betty selected the Mediterranean omelet with a Sprite, Shepard a classic cheeseburger, hold the tomato, with onion rings and a Coke, and Ben picked a Big Country Smasher and a side of pancakes, with orange juice and coffee.
Shepard raised his eyebrows. “You gonna be able to put all of that away, big guy?”
Ben nodded. “I’m hungrier than I though I was.”
Betty winked at Ben while Shepard was handing his menu to the waitress. He smiled back in gratitude.
“Well!” Shepard rubbed his hands together. “Let’s get started!”
“I think you’re getting a little ahead of yourself, Shepard. Maybe we should recap first to make sure we’re all on the same page with priorities. We opened up more than one can of worms in that storage unit,” said Betty.
“Good point,” Shepard agreed. “We found a bunch of junk, but we also found some interesting stuff.” He paused to make sure Ben and Betty were with him so far. “The by-far most interesting in the jail keys. I vote we go check out that lead ASAP.”
“Shepard!” Betty nearly spit out a mouthful of Sprite at him. “What happened to the recap?”
Ben had cracked a smile, too. “He’s right, though, Betty. It’d be really, um, interesting to have a look around an old jail and try out those keys. The only thing is, it’s a museum now. And not just a regular museum; they have Halloween attractions nearly every night in October.”
Betty turned a stern eye on Ben this time. “I didn’t know we were planning on picking up and going right now, Benjamin. And it sounds a bit to me like you’re advocating sneaking in or something.”
“Um, no, not at all, I just–okay, maybe a little bit, but with, you know, with approval of whoever approves that kind of thing.”
“Now, I know there’s a lot I don’t know, but I’ve never heard of a museum director who gives permission to people to stumble around his museum after closing time!” argued Betty. “I don’t–”
“Calm it down a notch, Bets!” Shepard interrupted her before she got too heated. “I’m sure Ben has the best of intentions here.” Ben nodded his agreement. “You see? But come on, you only have one life. let’s have an adventure! Ben’s on the right track, mostly, but wouldn’t it be so much more fun to just go out there and figure it out along the way?”
Ben seemed perfectly fine with this idea, but Betty was absolutely horrified. “Just pick up and go? I know that coincidentally, none of us are truly tied down, but I do happen to have a rather large dog. As much as he likes car rides, I’m not so sure he could handle a road trip that long. And I’m sure he’s not welcome in the prison museum. There’s your first bump in the road, mister know-it-all.”
Shepard mulled the problem over for a brief moment. “We can research doggy boarding in Philly on the way there. And if Oscar doesn’t like riding all that way, we’ll have to take more breaks. We can do this, Betty, come on!”
The waitress arrived with their dinner, and Betty was granted a momentary reprieve from coming up with a counter argument.
She sighed through a mouthful of omelet and rolled her eyes in pleasure. “This is so good!” Her garbled words came out muffled by egg and spinach.
Ben nodded as he shoveled the food in his face.
Shepard inspected his burger from every side before deciding on the perfect bite, but before he took it, he egged Betty on. “So did you want to leave tomorrow?”
“Shepard! I do have to give my employer a bit of notice before taking off and leaving the state for who knows how long!”
His eyes lit up. “So you do want to go?” He sounded a bit incredulous, but highly excited at her words.
Ben kept his eyes on Betty, fork poised above his plate, awaiting her answer.
“Yes, I do,” she sighed. “I can’t help it. I’ve never done anything like this before, but it feels so right. How about in a couple of weeks?”
“All right!” Ben cheered, with a slight spray of sausage in Shepard’s direction. “Um, sorry, Shepard.”
Shepard hadn’t even noticed.
“But,” Betty continued, “we are bringing those letters and photos along for the ride, that’s final.”
Shepard let out a sigh of relief. “I can agree to that condition.”
“Then chow down, boys, and we’ll work out the details later!”
As Betty finished eating she wondered how she would be able to give Ben a ride. She’d noticed that Shepard was interested in her and seemed jealous–he would probably try to take Ben back to his car. Fortunately, fate stepped in.
Shepard’s phone rang from his pocket. After a brief conversation, he announced that he had to leave. “My friend Steve is on his way to the hospital with his wife, and they need someone to hang out with the kids until his sister gets in town. They’re expecting their third, but she’s way early. Oh! Let me write down my number for you.” He quickly jotted it down on a napkin with a pen he pulled from his pocket.
“I hope everything works out,” offered Betty. “I’ll text you so you have my number.”
“Me too,” said Ben. “Good luck to your friends.”
“Thanks, guys. I’ll see you soon?” Shepard looked hopefully at Betty.
“Of course!” she agreed.
With that, Shepard took one more sip of his drink and left a twenty dollar bill on the table. “Just leave my change for the waitress.”
Betty and Ben chimed out “Bye!” in unison as Shepard took off.
“Well, I guess we don’t have to worry about him finding out your secret just yet, Ben.”
Ben let out a breath. “I was pretty worried he was going to insist on taking a look at my car.”
“Me too,” Betty agreed. “Labor ex machina.”
Ben glanced at her, but Betty seemed to be in her own world again. He wondered what she was thinking about. She shook herself back to the present and looked at him.
“Do you have somewhere to stay tonight, Ben?”
“I–no.” he looked down at his hands, toying with the napkin.
“Then you’re coming home with me, no arguments. And if you try to murder me in my sleep, my dog will rip your throat out.”
Ben took a second before he realized that Betty was joking with him.
“Let’s go, Ben. I have a story that I promised to tell you.”
Inspired by TBP.