Gina was feeling severely underdressed. Sam had somehow produced an amazingly stylish and well-cut suit, but she had packed nothing nice. She was in a tank top and a floor length skirt - the skirt was ok, but she didn't feel nearly dressed to his level - or like the journalist she was supposed to be. And she felt very stupid scribbling things in a notebook when she was supposed to be on a date.
But then, she'd never really been on a date.
"This place is cool," said Sam, "You pick a batter and some toppings and you can make your own pancakes right here on the table." He gestured at the flat black depressions in the middle of the table.
"Pancakes for dinner?"
"Why not? I'm still technically on vacation."
"I thought you were one of the lawyers."
"Well, I am a lawyer so it would have been superfluous to hire one. Let me start at the beginning."
He paused for a moment to let the waiter set down their drinks - he had a beer and she'd asked for iced tea.
"I've been coming here every year to dive in the summer for years. I don't dive to look for anything, just because I enjoy it. Seeing underwater caves and stuff, it's exciting. And it's athletic too, swimming with all the gear on. Anyway, about 4 years back I started coming at the same time as this other guy - James Brixon. He's an older guy, a family man. I think he's an electrician. Anyway, we've been diving together since then - for the company. This year, about four weeks ago we were diving pretty deep and we found a tiny passage we'd never noticed before. It took us two or three well planned trips to get in there, with a flashlight, but when we did we found these springs - tightly coiled, only a couple of centimeters long. Five or six of them. Now I know everybody thinks we're crazy, but these aren't ordinary strings. For one thing they've been down there a long time and they haven't rusted. But there's also, I can't explain it, hey!"
"Isn't that your boyfriend at that other table."
Gina whipped her head around behind her in the direction of Sam's finger. There was a menu covering his face but she recognized Eric's build and the shirt he'd been wearing earlier in the day.
"No," she lied unconvincingly, "Eric's off doing his own interview. And he's not my boyfriend."
Eric didn't see any reason why he shouldn't try out the famous restaraunt at the springs, as long as he didn't share a table with Sam and Gina. He wasn't keeping an eye on them, he told himself. That would be silly. He was just going to eat at the same restaraunt. If he happened to catch the odd glimpse of them throughout the course of the evening, then so be it. And he'd only asked to move to a different table because of a bad draft, not to get a better view.
'I am a horrible liar, even to myself," he thought as he pulled the menu up in front of his face.
The couple was conversing quite smoothly, smiling a lot and laughing from time to time. Gina's manner seemed even more relaxed then usual, the notebook and pencil seeming oddly natural in her hands and the man, now in a well tailored suit instead of swim trunks, looked the perfect date; the dictionary definition of "better then him." He had to keep reminding himself it was a business dinner. Why did that feel like lying to himself as well?
"Can I get you anything?" asked the waiter, "Something to drink?"
"Oh, right. Milk - No, beer. Naturally."
The waiter chuckled. "What kind?"
He stared blankly at the list. He didn't drink beer. Why had he ordered it? To look tough in front of the people who weren't supposed to know he was here?
"On second thought I'll stick with milk."
The waiter stifled another laugh with an obviously fake cough.
"Alright. I'll be back with that in a minute."
Eric put the menu back up over his face when he saw Sam gesturing his way, but he feared it was too late. He'd been spotted. It was too small a restaraunt.
Sam shrugged at Gina's explanation. Their waitress asked if they were ready to order.
"We're gonna make pancakes. We want the wheat batter, and the lady here can pick the toppings."
She smiled, surprised. "Well let's do, hmm... Strawberry's and Blueberry's. You like berries, right?"
"I like them just fine if they make you happy."
She blushed. "Mr. Stalwart! Now go on, finish you're story."
"Well, there's not a whole lot more to tell. The springs are worth holding onto, it's hard to explain why. But the park wants them for itself, who knows why. I don't know how they even found out about them."
"Do you really think they're DeLeon's springs of life?"
He laughed out loud.
"James came up with that one. Dumbest thing he could have done. Brings a horde of media here, helps the State's claim by establishing it as our position that the springs are an archeological find, and makes us look crazy. Before that it was an open and shut case. And some weird folks have started showing up, too. Hoping to get a look at them"
"And where are the springs now?"
"You'll understand if I'm not making that info public. Sufficient to say they're safe until the legal process makes them mine."
"Well, mine and James's of course. Anyway, enough about me, tell me about yourself."
She was put off by his subject change, and besides she wasn't sure what she had to tell that wouldn't weird him out.
"That's not usually how it works in an interview," she said.
"Ah, but this is a date."
"Oh it is?"
"Yeah. I thought it was an interview too, but you're not writing anything down so I can only assume the interview was a pretext for a date."
She glanced down at her blank notepad feeling very stupid. And now she'd have to play along or come clean. Playing along seemed easier, and a date with Sam didn't seem like the worst fate.
"Alright, well, I have to warn you my story's a little weird..."
"I'm eager to hear it, but would you excuse me a moment?"
Eric had long ago stopped trying to eavesdrop or spy. As he nursed his milk, he simply reflected on how sad it was that he was here, doing this. He needed to get out more. As a result he was startled by the voice in his ear.
"Milk. Nice choice, Builds strong bones and teeth."
It was that man. He had left Gina alone.
"But you seem to be almost done with it. Why don't you drink up, and give me and your coworker some privacy."
Eric was oddly speechless. The confidence of the quest was fleeting in the face of this man.
"I'm just eating. It's a free country," he finally managed.
"No, you're lurking and you've scarcely taken your eyes off Gina and I since we sat down. She didn't want to hurt your feelings, but I told her I'd take care of it politely and quietly. She wants you to go somewhere else, so she can enjoy her evening. Will you do that?"
Eric sighed. "I was finished anyway," he said, and walked out the back door.