The steakhouse was packed, and the whole group was starving. When Gregory said he knew a place, he meant he knew one on the opposite side of Seattle. The restaurant was designed like a shipyard, with odd and ends like anchors, fishing nets, and black and white pictures of ships hanging on the walls. The place was pretty well known, and Isaac recognized the name immediately.
“I hate seafood,” Isaac muttered.
“Party of four? Would you like a booth or a table?” He was clean shaven, probably nineteen or twenty, and a bit wiry.
“A booth, please, sweetie.” Kimberly replied, putting on a show of tossing her hair and smiling.
The young waiter just smiled back, seemingly used to the routine. Soon, they were seated and given a basket with a variety of fresh breads, and the young waiter told the group he’d return soon to get their drinks.
Kimberly pouted, disappointed she couldn’t fluster the young man. Next to her, Gregory eagerly scanned over a list of beers. Gretchen sat contently next to Isaac, attempting to sift through the many dishes.
Isaac, however, hadn’t opened the menu. He hated seafood, and was irritated that Kimberly insisted that he and Gretchen sit together.
“You two need to get comfortable, you’ll be training her for at least the next hundred years.” Kimberly said that as if it were nothing, but the last hundred years for Isaac felt like an eternity. The idea of losing more time training a girl he barely knew seemed like a waste. Even if the girl was talented.
“Easy for someone as old as you to say.” Isaac grumbled.
For a split second, Kimberly’s calm, collected self turned wild. “Watch your mouth young man!”
Gretchen was suddenly intrigued, “Wait, just how old is she?”
Isaac grinned, “Nearly seven hun-” He was cut off as his foot nearly shattered under Kimberly’s heel.
“It doesn’t matter, dear, don’t worry your sweet little head.” Kimberly flashed an energetic grin at Gretchen, but the damage was done, and the young mage just stared, slack-jawed, as she tried to comprehend what she’d learned.
“She’s one of the oldest living mages,” Gregory piped in, fearlessly. Kimberly never abused the man, since his wife was one of her best friends, and Gregory wasn’t as easy to rough up as Isaac.
“No way…” Gretchen looked back at Kimberly as the woman buried her face in the menu. “I had no idea mages lived so long.”
“You didn’t notice? You’re already older than any normal human on the planet, you know.” Gregory was very off-hand, as if reciting his favorite beers, but Gretchen was frozen, suddenly aware of her age as she looked around at the other people in the restaurant.
Gregory realized how his words probably sounded, and he was suddenly worried, “But don’t take that the wrong way. Still a kid to us. To me, at least.
“The damage is done, Gregory,” Kimberly sighed, finally composed again, “It’s something you’ll have to get used to, darling. You may be a mage yourself, but there’s a lot you have to learn. Don’t be afraid to interact with normal people. Honestly, it’s refreshing. They usually have a lot more excitement towards life than many of the older mages, like myself.”
“Then, how old are you two?” Gretchen looked between Isaac and Gregory.
Gregory responded in his usual vigor, pointing to himself, “Four hundred and thirty two. Doubt Isaac will admit it, but he’s three hundred and five. A youngin’, like yourself, with a bit more experience.”
“…And a hundred wasted years.” Kimberly added.
Isaac picked up his menu with distaste, and tried to ignore the rest of the table, especially Gretchen’s looks of amazement.
“I had no idea you guys were so old, although I didn’t expect Isaac to be that young.”
“He was known as a prodigy, and an immensely talented Warlock. If he hadn’t run away from the world, he might have surpassed even the greatest of mages by now.” Kimberly stared intently at Isaac. He just acted like he didn’t feel her gaze, and when the waiter finally returned, he was the first to order.
Isaac ordered a ribeye without the shrimp and sauce, along with some red wine. Kimberly ordered a ceasar salad and parmesan pasta with shrimp, with a water to drink. Gregory ordered a salmon steak and dark roast beer. After another moment, Gretchen finally decided on a tilapia dish.
When the waiter left, nobody spoke. Kimberly and Gregory acted like this was natural, but Gretchen began to squirm when the silence lasted longer. Finally, she broke the silence.
“So, how did you guys meet?” She spoke a little too loudly, and she immediately. covered her mouth in embarrassment. Kimberly and Gregory laughed at her sudden outburst. Even Isaac grinned a little.
“Isaac and I met as partners. Stopped a group of rogue mages. Took almost all of’em by himself.”
“Don’t be so generous,” Kimberly scoffed, “He was nearly helpless without you for years.”
The two began arguing about memories, and who helped Isaac the most during missions. The waiter returned with drinks, but when he heard the argument, he quickly handed the drinks to Gretchen to pass around, and he stepped away silently. The arguing went on until Gregory finally waved his hand and groaned, “Enough, enough, ‘point is Isaac and I worked together for a long time. Watched him grow.”
Through all of this, Isaac stared at his drink, trying his best to be invisible. He would have left the table, but Gretchen was sitting on the outside.
Kimberly seemed relieved that the feud ended. She flicked her hair over her ears, and after a sip of water she continued, “I found Isaac on the streets, performing unusually genuine magic tricks. He’d become popular with the folks, and it took some coercion before I could bring him to the Collective. I gave him a place to stay and promised to teach him all I could, and he agreed to join us.”
Isaac and Kimberly made eye contact, and Isaac let out a sigh, “That’s about the jist of it. Honestly it wasn’t too bad, but she makes it sound more charitable than it really was. Wasn’t exactly coercion that got me to leave with her, but she was… convincing. Really, she just wanted an apprentice to drag around the world, and I didn’t have anything better waiting on the streets. It worked out.”
Gretchen didn’t seem satisfied with her answer, but before she could continue the waiter finally arrived with their meals. Gregory cheered and clapped his hands, commending the waiter for carrying so much. As soon as the young man left, everyone but Gretchen seemed more excited to eat than talk any longer. The conversation turned into little quips about how delicious the food was, and Gretchen had no other choice besides joining in.
Gregory was the first to finish his meal. He clapped his stomach loudly, exclaiming, “Best damn salmon steak I’ve ever eaten.” The large man hadn’t taken a single sip of his beer, and he downed a third of it before continuing, “Damn good beer, too.”
Kimberly, who had a surprisingly voracious appetite herself, finished close behind, simply wiping her mouth with a napkin when she finished. Isaac took his time with each bite of his ribeye, ignoring the prying eyes of his partners across the table while Gretchen nibbled away at her own meal, stirring the pasta around the bowl between bites.
Kimberly decided the silence had lasted long enough. “All right, Isaac, I’m going to grill you a moment.”
Isaac let out a disdained sigh, “Go ahead.”
“What exactly have you been up to the past hundred years?”
Swirling his drink around, Isaac replied, “You’ve been keeping an eye on me. You know I’ve just been wandering around.”
“I know you, and you don’t just wander aimlessly. Have you been keeping up your studies?”
“You mean have I been practicing my magic?”
Kimberly rolled her eyes, “Stop playing question games.”
“I haven’t put my practice aside completely, no.”
“You’ve been taking care of yourself?”
“What, are you acting like my mother now? I’ve kept myself alive and well, if that makes you feel better.”
Isaac was obviously annoyed, and Gretchen tried to muffle her laughter. A quick glance towards Gregory told her that he was having a similar struggle.
“Don’t snap at me. You’ve been running around the world for so long, and I didn’t stop you. Humor me, okay?” It was Isaac’s turn to roll his eyes, and Kimberly continued, “How are you doing on money? You don’t seem to have any belongings. Did you sell them off?”
“I still have my wand and staff. I made some investments with what I had.”
“Good. Have you met anyone special in your travels?”
Everyone but Isaac did a spit-take. Even if he’d anticipated the question, Isaac looked livid.
“Of course not! Can we be done now?”
Kimberly remained calm, almost smirking at her last question. She kept up her interrogative stare until it was clear she wouldn’t get another answer out of Isaac. Finally relaxing, she nodded, “Thank you. Your old room hasn’t changed, so you can take that when we return.” She took another sip of her water, content, it would seem, with the result of her interrogation.
Gretchen seemed at a loss for what to do next. The air had chilled, and it didn’t seem safe to continue a conversation. She shifted in her seat, and wished the waiter would return to fill her drink. It seemed he was scared off by her company.
Quick to the rescue, and to Gretchen’s evident relief, Gregory cleared his throat, “What a great meal. Why not head back?”
Embracing this chance, Gretchen quickly shuffled her dishes together, ready to leave. “Yes, let’s head back home.”
“I believe that’s an excellent idea. We can show Isaac the recent changes to the facility. It’ll be nice to have a place to stay again, won’t it, Isaac?”
“I think it’ll be more like living in the lion’s den,” Isaac muttered. Kimberly acted like she didn’t notice, and the group packed up. Lagging behind, Gretchen hastily wrote on a napkin, “Thank you for putting up with our antics,” and left it with a twenty. Gregory gave her a high-five, and the group left to return home.