About an hour later, after he’d been taken to an all-night diner, far away enough from his former warehouse prison that was now burning to the ground, so that Xander could only hear faint fire trucks and see a distant glow in the San Francisco skyline, all from his position at a table in the back of the restaurant. The one-eyed man’s attention was largely diverted from the reminders of his rescue at something more horrific at hand that he was now viewing in appalled fascination, along with experiencing an actual flashback of the Pack incident.
Xander had watched nature documentaries on cable television that had presented lions, leopards, and other African predators on the Serengeti plain devouring their prey alive, all with more decorous dining manners than that currently being shown by the fat man messily chowing down his double-portion chicken and mashed potatoes meal. Xander glanced at the remaining members of the strange trio who’d helped him, seated across the diner table. These two guys were clearly used to their friend’s eating habits, since both had squeezed themselves as far away as they could get on the upholstered seat they were all sharing, perched on the opposite ends of this dining couch and leaving the eating man alone in the middle, with more than enough room for him to let fly with discarded gobbets of food.
Picking up his coffee cup and taking a sip, just to get his thoughts in order, Xander lowered his cup, and asked casually, “So, how’d you guys get into this business?” That seemed to be the safest and most polite attempt to break the ice between them all, giving the others the chance to decide if they wanted to answer or not, and how much would be revealed.
The guy on the far left of the bench facing Xander just took his own casual mouthful of coffee, all while looking with flat eyes from under his cowboy hat that he was still wearing inside the diner, aiming his blank gaze directly at the Sunnydale survivor. After a few moments’ steady inspection that Xander bore with equanimity, the cowboy then gave a fractional jerk of his head over at the other side of his seat.
Skipping over the middle section where the fat guy was still inhaling his food, Xander now looked with interest into a more cheerful countenance presented to him by the man seated on the other end of the diner seat, as the bearded guy there finally finished polishing his hexagonal, wire-rimmed spectacles on the front of his Grateful Dead t-shirt and replaced the glasses upon his pointed nose, beaming with merry eyes through these lenses. From hurried introductions before, Xander knew this hirsute fellow was named Phineas, who now opened his mouth to start jovially speaking.
“Well, Xander, we’re not really sure, honestly. It’s true that we were pretty ordinary right from the start while growing up, when we were just like any other of the first baby boomers.” Phineas jerked his right thumb at himself, as he continued. “Me, I’m from Texas, and I had the middle-class ‘Leave It To Beaver’ upbringing.” The thumb jerked to the man’s right. “Fat Freddy here, he’s from a Midwest working-class, blue collar family, the usual lumpen proletariant.” The chubby man still stocking up for the next couple of winters ignored this completely, as Phineas made a final pointing gesture with his thumb. “Franklin, he came out of a New York orphanage, turning into the consummate street kid.”
Satisfied by Xander’s uncertain nod that he was following this, Phineas cheerfully went on, “Well, one thing that we all had in common was that we didn’t particularly care for our home lives, so as soon as we could, we left, dropped out of school, made tracks, got out of town, the usual. In the end, we all wound up here in San Francisco, just when the Summer of Love got started, and we met each other. We seemed to get along okay, so we’ve been together ever since.”
Opening his mouth to comment on this, Xander abruptly stopped before actually speaking, as his brain had suddenly come to a dead halt due to some very odd details of Phineas’ story. “Wait a sec-- First baby boomers? Summer of Love? That can’t be right! The only way for that to work out would be for you guys to be in your fifties or sixties, and you sure as hell don’t….”
Xander trailed off in his startled denial, as he met the amused gaze of Phineas, to then peer at the still-deadpan countenance of Franklin, who now had the faintest twinkle of humor in his eyes, and finally, Xander looked down at the top of Fat Freddy’s head, as that man continued his sloppy eating. Leaning back in his own seat, Xander now narrowed his remaining eye, and he put all of the three guys sitting across the table in his field of view, to simply LOOK at them, in his own particular way. A moment later, the trio heard from their new companion, a faint, sheepish, “Oh.”
Chuckling, the hirsute man, who just like his friends appeared to be in his late twenties, confirmed, “Yeah, it wasn’t until a decade or so after we joined up, that we realized we weren’t getting older.”
A somewhat stunned Xander cleared his throat, to start saying, “Do you know why--”
“Nope,” shrugged Phineas, his mirthful features becoming a bit more serious. “Uh, one reason why we took so long to notice it was maybe why it happened in the first place. During all that time, every one of us ingested a truly incredible amount of recreational drugs. Not to mention also consuming my various chemical experiments on finding the ultimate high. Finally, there were the all-too-many-times we were forced to toke whatever strange stuff Fat Freddy brought back after ALWAYS getting ripped off in buying drugs.”
The bearded man and the cowboy now joined together in glowering at their friend, whose only shown reaction to their disapproval was a massive, guiltless belch, before that gullible hippie continued shoveling his food into his mouth. Sighing, Phineas switched his gaze back to a snickering Xander, and an answering smile reappeared in the narrow portion of that hairy man’s face between his spiky moustache and his bristling beard. “That’s also pretty much why we just basically accepted the weird stuff that kept happening to us back then. I mean, when you’re always stoned, the usual reaction to far-out things is, ‘Hey, cool. Ooooo, nice colors!’ We all stayed kind of mellow and avoided going batshit, which was fine with us, considering exactly what happened over the years.”
Xander perked up at this, asking with clear interest in his tone, “Which was….?”
Phineas glanced over past Fat Freddy, to look at Franklin, who dipped his head in a minuscule nod. After receiving manifest permission from his leader, the bearded man looked back at their company, and offhandedly said, “We’ve got a forty-year-old cat back at our apartment.”
Xander considered this, and in an accepting tone of voice, “Well, that’s pretty impressive, but not all that strange--”
“Oooookay,” choked Xander, who had the worrying feeling that more was coming at seeing Phineas’ sudden smirk.
Sure enough, another revelation was announced by the smartest of the hippies, “And it’s as intelligent as most people.”
For the first time since they’d come into the diner, the trio’s leader now spoke in his raspy smoker’s voice, all while sardonically jabbing his pointing index finger at the fat man now ripping apart the last undevoured portion of his whole chicken, “Actually, Fat Freddy’s cat is way much more smarter than his owner, and I ain’t lying.”
Still keeping his head down while greedily slurping the last scraps of chicken off the bones, the named man lifted up his right hand gleaming with grease from his meal, and clenched his fingers into a fist while keeping his middle finger extended stiffly upwards, all in a clear message of: FUCK YOU.
Xander, Phineas, and even Franklin now all roared with laughter, in a moment of shared companionship.