Stellar Observation

“Something funny?” Sophia asked Craig. The pair sat in a red and white booth in a bright, quiet diner. They sat next to a window that looked out at the morning traffic. A thick wall of pedestrians passing the window obscured the gridlocked cars on the street. Sophia wore blue jeans and a rainbow hoodie; the hood was pulled back showing off her short, dark ponytail. Craig turned his attention from the TV in the corner to his date; he shook his head and gave her a smug, amused smile. He did not realize the smile was why she asked the question. It steadily grew on his face as he watched the news.

“Just these idiots protesting Earth 2,” he chuckled.

“Oh?” Sophia asked. She sat up straighter and looked at him with interest. “Why do you say that?” she asked. She rested her hands on the table; her left hand showed a small star tattooed on her thumb with the number 35 on it.

“Well,..” he gave a cursory look around the diner. The morning crowd moved steadily. People came in and people left at almost the same rate. A couple of old men drinking coffee at the counter seemed to be the only other dine-in customers. He turned his attention back to Sophia and leaned further over the table. “It’s only our second date, but I’m feeling confident about a third,” he winked. “I think I can tell you. I’m working on the Multiverse Mapping Project,” he made a gesture at the TV. “The thing they’re protesting.”

“Really?” Sophia smiled at him with sparkling blue eyes. “How’s that going?” Craig tilted his head slightly and his eyes narrowed.

“You believe me?” he asked. Sophia nodded and shrugged.

“Sure. Have you found any other Earths?” she asked. She wore a constant expression of amusement as she asked.

“19,” he said. “Well, technically 18 I guess because we already knew about this one,” he chuckled.

“19? Neat,” she said. “Have you visited them?” Craig shook his head.

“We haven’t figured out portals yet,” he said with a sigh. “We can detect them but communication and travel are still out of our reach.” Sophia smiled.

“Well, maybe if we get along for a couple more dates I can give you a hand. I know a bit about that stuff,” she said. She was mildly put off when Craig broke into a heavy,  obnoxious guffaw. Lucky for him, he was quick enough to stop laughing when he noticed her hurt feelings.

“Wait, you’re serious?” he asked. “You said you were unemployed?” Sophia nodded, relaxed then sat back resting against the booth seat.

“I don’t need to work; I prefer to travel.”

“Uhuh. And I suppose all that traveling taught you the secrets of the universe.”

“Yeah, pretty much,” Sophia said with a half-smile.

“I appreciate the offer but I don’t think your LSD trips through the Himalayas are on par with a Doctorate from Yalevard. Don’t worry,” he said with another wink. “I still have a hard problem you can help me with.” A waiter appeared with their food at the same moment Sophia decided there would not be a third date. She looked at the waiter as he set down her pancakes in front of her; he was not the one that took their order. He was in his 20s, about her age. He had a long green ponytail that matched his green apron. His nametag said: Mundo.

“Hola, Estrella,” he smiled at Sophia.

“Hey Mundo,” she returned the smile. “How’re things here?” she asked. He shrugged and pointed at the footage of protesters.

“Zeros are Zeros,” he said. Craig looked ready to bust. He could not believe the disrespect she showed by talking to another man in front of him. “Safe journey, Estrella,” he smiled and turned to walk away before Craig gathered his courage to say something.

“You two know each other?” He asked as she poured syrup on her breakfast. The bacon and eggs too, not just the pancakes.

“Never met him before,” she answered his question then stuffed a forkful in her mouth.

“He seemed awful friendly for never meeting him before,” he said; his plate was still untouched. Sophia nodded while chewing. “And.. estrella? That means ‘star’ in Spanish, right? Why was he calling you a star?” Sophia took a sip of her juice with one hand but lifted her other to show him the tattoo on her thumb. Not only would there not be a third date, but their second was also over now too as far as she was concerned. The star on her thumb appeased Craig and he finally reached for his food.

“So, let’s talk third date,” his expression easily changed back into a smile. “I’m off today. If breakfast was our second date, our third can be as soon as we get to my place from here. Since,.. you know. third date.” he raised an eyebrow at her.

“No,” Sophia said and set her silverware down. She ate fast; the breakfast was more than half gone. “There won’t be a third date, and you’re finishing this one alone. I’m leaving,” she said with a polite, business-like smile. She slid out of the booth and Craig scrambled to get out of his side to catch her.

“Wait, why?” He grabbed her arm and squeezed.

“If you’re this possessive and condescending on the second date I’m not interested in finding out how much worse you can get.” He rolled his eyes and relaxed his grip; but, he did not let go.

“Fine. If it’s that important to you I’ll let you come down and watch me work. Maybe we could use a woman’s perspective anyway,” he chuckled. “We’re too smart for our own good and sometimes miss stupid little things that you might catch.”

It was Sophia’s turn to laugh. She yanked her arm free of his grip, waved at Mundo and walked out of the diner still laughing.

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