The empty chair slid back a foot from the table and then stopped. Victor chewed and swallowed his mouthful of food, and then set down the half-eaten wedge of toast in his hand. He looked around the room but saw no one. As his eyes turned back across the table, the chair opposite him became slightly warped, or fuzzy, as if he were viewing it through water, and it took on an orange tinge. The colour grew darker and brighter like a flame, and then flashed—white light filled the room for a split-second and then vanished. Victor blinked and rubbed his eyes. When he opened them, he opened them wide, staring at the man now sitting across from him.
The man looked to be in his sixties. He was shorter than Victor, thin and strong. Thick grey hair flopped atop of his head, and bushy sideburns sprouted from his cheeks, framing a weathered face. His eyes were noticeably bright and innocent, refusing to meet Victor’s, instead preferring to stare down at the table. He wore a long out of fashion suit, and seemed to do so with mild reluctance. The knot in his tie was too big, and off-centre.
For a silent, uncertain minute, Victor stared at the old man, while the old man stared at the table. Finally Victor relaxes his shoulders, puffed a breath from his nostrils, and picked up his toast. As his teeth crunched down on it, the old man glanced up.
“Do you like your breakfast?” he said, and then lowered his eyes.
Victor chewed slowly and then swallowed. “It’s great,” he said, with caution. The old man made no response. “I was, uh… I was starving, actually,” said Victor, “so this really hits the spot.” The old man glanced up again, the hint of a grin daring to sneak from the side of his mouth. Victor picked a crunchy hash brown from the top of the breakfast pile and broke off a piece. “And I’ll tell ya what, these hash browns are the best I’ve tasted.” He popped the piece in his mouth and chewed with a sigh of satisfaction.
After he swallowed the piece of hash brown, he sat and waited. The old man seemed to loosen up a little, looking about the room. He looked at Victor and shrugged his shoulders, his feet swinging forward and back beneath the chair. “I’m pretty good at cooking,” he said.
“You made this?” asked Victor.
The old man smiled and nodded. He looked down at the table again. “I wanted to thank you,” he said. “You know, for helping me.”
“Yes… You know, I thought about what you said… about the doctor.”
Victor leaned forward and peered at those bright eyes, out of place in the old man’s leathery face.
“I think maybe,” continued the old man, “you might have been right. Maybe the doctor wasn’t trying to kill me. Maybe…” A tear welled in his eye. “Maybe I was wrong.”
Victor gaped, bug-eyed, at the old man, and then reeled back on his chair. “Holy sh**! Gary? Is that you?”
The old man’s timid eyes looked up, and he shrunk in his chair. A look of failure washed over his face, and he lowered his head.
“No, Gary,” said Victor, “it’s all right. I just… didn’t recognise you, that’s all. It is you, isn’t it?”
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