"Oh, come on. “ I groan, lifting my unsuspecting hand out of the mess of maple syrup on my plate of waffles.
“Oh, Oof.” Avril snickers as she bites into another strawberry. “Hate it when that happens.”
We spent all of the rest of yesterday trying to figure out which specific Qdoba the clue was talking about and thinking we are zeroing in on something near here, but so far nothing seems to match. We don’t know any of the places here, none of the ones we do have a Qdoba in them, and I’m getting a feeling what we’re looking for isn’t in Milwaukee. Or maybe it’s the just the syrup hardening on my skin.
“Well,” Rory quietly takes a sip of his glass of milk. “I suppose syrup is part of the IHop experience. Never been here before so I really wouldn’t know, but I feel like the laws of breakfast restaurants are stagnant throughout all franchises. Like the laws of physics.”
“Oh, please do elaborate on your breakfast restaurant laws, Doctor Rory Meeking Ph.D.,” Avril jokes. “The scientific community would greatly appreciate your contribution to humanity.”
“Well,” He puts on a smug expression, tugs on his sweatshirt like he’s straightening a lab coat, and then points one finger to the sky saying, “The first law of breakfast restaurants is that the kids menus are free game for anyone, even the employees.” Just then, we watch a scrawny waiter hurry past our table and into the kitchen clutching a trembling fistful of cheap crayons and crying. Rory turns to Avril and I and continues. “Scratch that, especially the employees.”
“The second law,” He raises another finger, “states that even though the drink machines are out in the open in the middle of the restaurant for some reason, it is not condoned in any way shape or form to get up and refill your empty glass on your own free will. That’s for the waiters to do or they won’t have jobs.
The third law of breakfast restaurants is that if you don’t leave with maple syrup or a jam or jelly of some sort on your bare skin or an article of clothing, then you didn’t really go to a breakfast restaurant.”
“Wow, did you plan all that out?” I ask, scraping my hand hopelessly against the edge of my plate to remove what little of the stiff syrup I can.
“No, just improvised.” He smiles. “Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention the rarely discussed fourth and final law which just concerns Denny’s being a prime site for alien abduction and also portals to other Denny’s all over the known universe. That proposition got many a respected scientist ruthlessly executed via a Denny’s which is a portal to a Denny's that was sucked into a black hole. It’s the one in Cleveland, Ohio, for those interested.”
“I can see why it’s rarely discussed.” Avril folds her napkin in half twice and sticks it in the syrup on her plate. “And I have to mention how crazy it is that you thought all that up in just a couple seconds. You’re pretty good at that.”
“Thanks. I try.”
“So, Doctor Meeking. About the third law…”
“Do you have an objection to scientific fact?” He says, not breaking character for a second.
“No, of course not. I just think you should face the music you’ve composed.” I stick my hand back in the maple syrup on my plate, reach across the table, and smack my gooey fingers down on his open palm before he can even think to move. “Gotcha!”
He squirms at the gross stickiness as I wrap my hand around his, and then shakes his head and laughs. “You are such a weirdo.”
“What can I say?” I shrug. “I had to get back at you for the rain of Pringles somehow.” I look at Avril next to me and move my other hand towards my plate. “And don’t think I forgot about you!”
Her face goes blank and she slams her hand on her plate, right into the syrup, and makes the table shake. “I can get my own two hands dirty whenever I please, thank you very much.”
“That’s what she said.” Rory snickers, and we groan. I suddenly remember that my hand is still clamped onto his, so I try to pull it off and… crap.
“Oh, boy, looks like we’re stuck. That was really fast.” He says, not seeming to care all that much.
Oh my God.
“Stuff must be like cement after it hardens!” Rory tries to separate our hands as well, but to no avail.
Oh my Gooooooooooooooood.
“At least your arms aren’t twisted all weird.” Avril says, scooting her chair back and standing up. “I’m gonna go try and wash this stuff off.”
When she leaves, I grab the knife off my napkin. “Okay, what are you doing now?” Rory questions with the energy of an exhausted soccer mom who just got home from a very stressful PTA meeting in which Carol Adams, the regional PTA manager, just cancelled the bi-monthly bake sale and booster in favor of the annual teacher’s Trivia contest, and yet the only pointless nugget of knowledge anyone there actually wanted to know was what happened at Sharon Smith’s block party between Hank Conners and his sister’s friend’s husband trying to one up each other’s burgers when they know deep down they all tasted like cardboard.
“I’m gonna saw my arm off.”
“Not in public you’re not. There are innocent eyes here that don’t need to experience live action Grey’s Anatomy.”
“But I need two hands to use my phone!” I pout.
“Not necessarily.” He says. “And why do you need it if we haven’t even figured out the clue yet?”
“Uh, I don’t know, to figure out the clue?” I remark. Rory looks at me with his eyes at half staff, expecting the truth. I sputter out, “And to find some good memes…”
“Figures.” He smiles. “We can probably take care of this back at the hotel room.”
“Sure.” I put down the knife, and before I can contemplate chewing off my arm instead, Avril comes back, asks for the check, pays, and manages to help maneuver us and our, dare I say it, sticky situation, out the door.
“Dude, I think this soap is gonna give me a rash or something.” Rory squirms. “It smells like cherry blossom but it’s stinging like a buttload of papercuts.” He pulls my arm as he moves our hands under the running faucet. “Let's hope nothing happens.”
“And the stuff's not doing anything to get us unstuck,” I sigh. “I want to move my fingers so bad right now.”
“Maybe there's something online.” He suggests, getting his phone out of his sweatshirt pocket with his other hand. I sit there in silence, watching him type with one finger with the utmost difficulty. He bites the tip of his tongue, which is what he does when he is either semi-panicking or thinking really hard, and then puts it face down on the bathroom counter with a groan. “It says the best thing would be wait until it's completely dried and then pull it off like a bandaid.”
“Oh, ouch. Well, I assume it's about the same for super glue.”
“Are you suggesting this is super glue?”
“Might as well be if we can't hope to get unstuck any time soon.”
“Well, only eight hours. That's how long it said it should be.”
“Eight hours.” I look down at our super, er, syrup glued hands and quote Avril from thirty-something minutes ago. “At least our arms aren't twisted all weird.”
I walk in front of him and open the bathroom door. He turns around and follows me out of the bathroom to Avril. She is sitting on one of the beds and the news is on on the TV, but she is also on her phone and seems to be more concentrated on that.
“Hey, Avril.” Rory says, forcing her to look up from the screen. “No progress.” He holds up his hand, er, our hands, sorta like the wrestling announcer guys do when the one dude who is covered in blood wins by a single bodyslam.
“Bummer,” She says with a sarcastic smile as she puts her phone down on the bed and walks over to us. “Guess you guys will just have to make the most of it.”
“You don’t sound worried? And what do you mean by ‘Make the most of it’?”
“Well, isn’t every day you get your hand stuck to someone else’s with maple syrup, so I say enjoy it while you can. And if you want it to last longer,” She reaches for something in the back pocket of her pants and pulls it out. One of my cameras! “Pictures seem to work great for that.”
“Where did you get that?!” I ask, jerking my hand towards it and accidentally yanking Rory’s arm forward.
“Ow! Watch it, Oliver.”
“Sorry, Rory. But seriously, Avril, did you take that out of my bag?”
“‘Course not! I found it in the mini fridge for some reason.”
“That is… creepy. Hope it’s empty.”
“Yeah, I checked the film when you boys were dilly-dallying in the bathroom.”
“Alright, Margaret Williams from the PTA.”
She smirks, puts the camera back in her pocket, and reclaims her spot on the bed as a commercial for Ozempic comes on and fills the room with its awful parody jingle of the Pilot song Magic.
“Oh, oh, oh, Ozempic!” Rory shouts when it plays a second time at the end, and I look over at him and his frenzied face and laugh. “Sorry, it’s irresistible.” He says, rubbing the back of his neck with his free hand.
“No, it’s fine,” I say. I walk over to the other bed, and he follows suit cause he kind of has to. We sit down on the edge while my mind decides to focus on the fact that I can still feel the stickiness of the syrup between our hands while the exterior is hard as a rock.
“Any more progress on the clue, Avril?” Rory asks.
“About as much as your maple syrup sitch, I’d say.”
“This one isn’t very easy at all.”
I suddenly have an idea, but I’m not sure it would do much to help. Regardless, I tell them. “Well, we shouldn’t just sit around all day and worry over it.” The two of them look at me like I just got a terrible tattoo on my face, but I continue. “Why don’t we go have a little fun for a while?
There is a lot of stuff to do in a big city like this, I suppose. We could take our minds off the game and follow that last rule on the list. And maybe along the way we’ll find something out! Who knows?”
Avril shrugs and hops up from the bed. “Might as well. We’ve got the cash, we’ve got some time,” She looks down at our hands, “And it would be boring to just sit around while we wait for your guys’s improvised band-aid to solidify.”
Rory looks over at me with surprise. “That’s a phrase I never thought I would hear in my life.”
“And one I never thought I’d use.” Avril rounds the bed and puts her things back in her backpack, and then slings it over her shoulder. “Now, what are you guys doing just sitting there? Come on! Let’s have fun like Oliver said!” She motions for us to stand.
“You seem... cheerier than what we’ve seen from you in these last few days.” I mention, following her to the bathroom and dragging Rory along. "Not that it's a bad thing or anything—"
“Oh, yeah? Well, I’m feeling great!” She smiles a clenched-teeth smile and her right eye seems to twitch. “Absolutely awesome!”
That turned around quick. The voice is almost convincing, but the face isn't in the slightest. I exchange glances with Rory and then look back at her. “Uh, huh. Sure. Don’t lie. What’s wrong?”
She releases the tension she was holding in that forced smile and her shoulders sink. She looks down at the floor and says, “My wish shouldn’t come true now.”
“What do you mean?”
“I faced the enemy that I entered this game in the first place just to prove wrong. Now I’m not scared of her anymore, she’s not a part of my life any longer, and I have no reason to try and prove to her that I am worthy of the attention I so desire. I shouldn’t want what I want anymore. It would just make me look petty,” She sighs in distress. “I don’t even need to be here.”
“But you do,” Rory insists from beside me. “You need to show her that you can move on from what happened. That you are the stronger person. That despite everything, you can do what you have always dreamed of doing. That you are Avril Kalici-Peterson, and you will not be manipulated ever again.”
"Wow, Rory," I remark when he finishes. "That's like, super inspirational coming from someone who almost an hour ago made up a bunch of breakfast restaurant laws and turned a perfectly normal conversation into a 'that's what she said' joke."
He turns to me, shrugs, and then turns to Avril again. "But seriously though, you deserve this. We all deserve this. And—" He turns us around as he reaches for our bags. "We also, as Oliver so rightly said, deserve to have some fun."