The first thing I did when I entered the restaurant was scan my surroundings for anyone who might immediately stand out as some kind of deity. Nobody fit the bill.
Business seemed to be slow for Burger Baron. A meager few customers were seated in the dining room and there was only one more waiting to order at the front counter. It was warm and cozy inside, which gave it a sense of shelter from the chilly, gloomy weather I’d just left behind. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps” was playing from the speakers in the ceiling. It was a jarringly inappropriate song to be hearing considering that I was about to meet the creator of the universe. In that respect, this place reminded me a lot of my initial arrival in Hell’s waiting room.
A heavyset, balding man who appeared to be in his mid thirties gave me a wave. “Jason!” he called out. “Over here, buddy.”
I moved cautiously toward him. This was God? A jolly, ruddy-faced guy who was dressed like he could be an accountant? Granted, the devil hadn’t been what I was expecting, either, but this was way off. On the plus side, God had just called me “buddy” without any trace of sarcasm. That was encouraging.
“Hey,” the man said, grinning up at me from the booth. “How are you? Have a seat.” He motioned for me to sit down across from him. “I’d get up to shake your hand, but I have barbecue sauce all over mine.”
I numbly slid onto the vinyl seat and stared at him.
“I’m not really that big on ettiquite,” the man said. “I mean, I started eating without you, I haven’t offered you any, I didn’t shake your hand because I’m all messy, and I didn’t even stand up when you arrived. It’s okay, though, because most people are so scared shitless by me that nobody ever complains about my bad manners.” He paused and leaned forward. “Come on, kid, that was a joke.”
“Oh!” I said awkwardly. I let out a weak chuckle.
“Lighten up,” he said with a winsome smile. “I don’t bite, I swear. I’m cute and cuddly.”