The man was tall, perhaps 5 or 6 inches taller than me, standing at about 6”1’. He was well built, muscles toned. His hair was curly and brown, the color of melted dark chocolate, ending just at the nape of his neck. His features were sharp and strong, defined. His eyes were dark, chestnut colored. He was a very interesting man to be sure. But even though I hadn’t seen him, he seemed to be a native. Was he from another neighborhood?
His clothes were simple but well put together, a black long sleeved shirt, navy jeans, and a striped scarf. He walked through the crowds with an ease only learned by living in the city for a long time. So he was local, but not close enough I ever saw him. He looked as if he could have some money, but he wasn’t rich. Middle class? It didn’t matter in the end, I supposed.
The trick here would be to navigate to his weakness. Was he forgetful, nervous, or distracted? Perhaps he would fall for the innocent young girl act. But with the way he walks so fearlessly, he couldn’t be that naïve. I would just have to find out. I had to be careful though, or this situation could end badly. Smart people got kids like me in trouble. Still, he was new and interesting, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.
He was looking at a newspaper, a coffee cup in his hand. He bounced up and down on the balls of his feet, seemingly aware of his surroundings. He moved when a person was about to run into him, sidestepping just in time. Damn, that meant he was observant. I was fairly confident that I couldn’t sneak up on him, at least not with time to get away. That meant I’d have to charm my way into making him trust me.
I pulled my hair into a pony and took a few deep breaths. I would have to attempt the cute girl voice, almost an octave higher than my normal one. I fixed a smile on my face and changed my gait to almost a skip, bouncy and bubbly.
I flounced over to the newsstand he was at, surveying the papers with youthful curiosity. The man glanced at me for a fraction of a second, then returned to his paper. I picked one up and scanned it quickly, looking for a common topic. Ah! Celebrity getting a DUI and crashing into a couple! I could use that to promote my innocence.
“That’s so terrible,” I said ruefully, almost crushed over the situation, “How could someone do something like that?”
The man looked up once more; curious as to whom I was talking to. I turned to him, pretending mock outrage that someone could be so careless, venting my feelings like an over trusting girl would do.
“Don’t you think that’s just the most irresponsible thing to do? They shouldn’t be driving if they’re drunk! Why were they?”
He paused for a moment, confused as to why I was speaking to him. He glanced about to see if there was anyone else, but I was clearly looking at him.
“Are you talking to me, kid?” he asked with a deep voice.
I looked up to his face, making my eyes wide and a little hurt.
“Yeah,” I said, “I saw you reading the same paper so I thought maybe you’d understand what I was talking about. Oh… Are you not there yet?”
He obviously wasn’t approached a lot, because his suspicion seemed to grow.
“No, I read it…” he trailed off, trying to figure out what he was supposed to say, “Yeah, I guess. What’s new with the world though? It happens all the time.”
I looked down sorrowfully, hoping he would engage again in the conversation. What the hell was his problem? Most people would have had their money gone by now, falling for the trick. Was he just really antisocial?
“That’s a little bit of a depressing way to look at it, don’t you think?” I asked, throwing in a light laugh.
“Don’t you have parents to go bother, kid?” he asked gruffly, looking at his paper disinterestedly.
Hey! What kind of person says that? What an ass!
I made my eyes water, looking as offended as possible by his comment.
“That’s a terrible thing to say! What did I ever do to you?” I asked, but continued before he even answered, “And for your information they’re on a business trip. So, no, I can’t go ‘bother’ them.”
He looked at me strangely, and then turned away.
“What about you, Mr. I-Don’t-Know-How-To-Talk-To-Anyone? What are you supposed to be doing?”
Without turning around, he said, “I’m supposed to be going home. And ending this conversation.”
He paid for his paper, but the window of time for me to grab his wallet was too small, and he’d be on me within minutes. I could run, but I wasn’t a miracle worker. He stuffed it into his inside coat pocket, probably the hardest place to take things from. He was definitely a smart one.
As he started to walk away, I wondered if he was too big a fish to fry. He’d been in the city for too long. Maybe I should just stick with tourists.
But there was something interesting about him, something that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He was too suspicious and too readily snappy, something that meant he had more going on in that head than any of these brainless people. I was too curious sometimes, you know they say curiosity killed the cat, but I couldn’t help studying people. I like to know what makes them tick, so irregulars attract a lot of interest.
Well, it was only 5:30, so I could wander around and “accidentally” run into the man again. If nothing else was accomplished, it would at least piss him off. I enjoyed irritating people as much as possible.
He was walking down the row of shops owned by chains, the gaudy colors and bright screens a painful assault on one’s eyes.
I kept a respectful distance, studying his numerous choices in stops on the way. Going home my ass. While he was busy, I took the opportunity to gather some more “assets” if you will. I didn’t want to go back to Klaus’s and give him less than usual, not since he’d just come back from his trip.
I turned around from looking at a store poster, only to come face to face with the man from earlier. Well, it was more like face to sternum. It took all my self control to not squeak in surprise. His expression was something that was beyond irritated, and I might have been a bit scared if I didn’t live where I did. Klaus made that face a lot.
“What the hell are you doing, kid? Are you following me? Have you lost your mind?” he asked angrily, a bit too close for comfort.
I didn’t know what to say. How had he noticed I was here? There were a bunch of people around me.
Thinking on my feet and hoping I wouldn’t screw up, I replied, “Following you? Please! Sorry to burst your bubble, but this town isn’t owned by you. I go places too. Besides, if I was going to follow someone, they’d be more interesting than you. And my name isn’t kid. It’s Lucy, if you’re going to call me anything.”
He looked agitated for a moment, and then gave me a bitter, sarcastic smile.
“Is that so? Well, it sure is a coincidence that you’re in the same area as me at the same time, and so far from the place we met too. How small the world is.”
“Well that’s what they say. Although it doesn’t make that much sense because the world is an entire planet, hardly something small. I suppose it has some metaphorical meaning I don’t get.”
He paused, caught off guard by my statement. I think he might have laughed, but he didn’t seem quite capable of laughing now.
“Are you always this irritatingly stubborn, kid?” he asked, softer this time.
I gave him a glare for the title, but answered anyway.
“Pretty much. I think it’s the hair. Or maybe just that I like to argue.”
“No kidding,” he responded.
He sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose, collecting his thoughts.
“Okay, look,” he said, looking at me, “I don’t know what weird little thing you have against me, but I need you to stop. I can’t have kids following me around.”
That was an open challenge to me.
“I’m not following you, I already told you that. I have some business to attend to in this part of town, that’s all. I don’t have a ‘weird little thing against you,’” I said, making quote signs with my fingers.
He scoffed, muttering something about weird, stubborn people.
“Just…” he trailed off, “Just don’t get in the way if you’re going to ‘attend to business.’”
I rolled my eyes, and he stepped away.
We walked along the street, watching the pedestrians slowly return to their homes. I made sure I wasn’t close enough to him that I was “following” him, but I was going in the general direction.
If he was going put up with me tagging along, I was going to use him to cure my boredom. He was fun to argue with, his banter imaginative.
The sun was going down, but I figured I still had plenty of time to get back. How long could it take to get home?
When the man came out of the store, he looked satisfied and content with himself. He must have been done with his errands. Without a look in my direction, he continued on his way. Judging by the route he was going, I could guess where his house was. I had nothing better to do than to irritate him as long as possible. I quickly scurried to catch up with him.
“Let me guess,” he said suddenly, “You have some business the same place I do. Sure in an awful lot of effort for an errand. What exactly is it you need to do?”
His demeanor and clothing suggested middle class, so he couldn’t live in the slummy apartments nearby. The roads only led to a few places easily, so that meant he’d have to live in the close by buildings, the extension of that part of housing in the city. What was over there? A few chains, a mom and pop souvenir shop… none of those would work. Oh! There was a car shop that sold specialty parts. It was the only one relatively close where a person could buy parts. Michaelo’s was the name, if I remember correctly.
“I have to drop by Michaelo’s and pick up a part if you must know,” I answered.
He faltered for a half second, surprised at my knowledge and ready answer to his question. I was sure he expected me to stammer at the very least. But he recovered quickly, hiding his shock.
“A part? Are you going to tell me you’re a mechanic now?”
“Oh, yes, it’s always been my dream to wheel around in small spaces while covered in car fluids. It would be such a joy.”
His lips twitched slightly, fighting the urge to smile.
“No,” I continued, “It’s for my friend Abby. She works on motorcycles and has a special one in her garage.”
This wasn’t entirely untrue. Abby did work on them and needed parts, but I wasn’t going to buy them for her. And it wasn’t in her garage, but the coffee shop back parking lot. The best lies have some truth in them.
As we were talking, Michaelo’s came into view. I walked up to it, looking to see where the man was. He hadn’t moved, and when given a questioning look, he simply said, “Go on then. This should be interesting.”
He thought I couldn’t back up my story. What he didn’t know was that Abby told me about parts so many times I had the rarest ones committed to memory.
I went in and asked the clerk for the rarest part I knew of, knowing he wouldn’t have it in stock. And sure enough, he told me I was out of luck, just in the earshot of the man behind me.
The look on his face was priceless when I came out. He was expecting me to have no more tricks up my sleeve, and he had been very, very wrong.
“Told you I wasn’t following you,” I said snarkily
He scoffed in disbelief.
“You really are stubborn.”
It looked like it was time for me to head back, as I had no reason to keep going besides curiosity. But the man was so interesting; I had to ask a few more questions.
“Did you just move in? I’ve never seen you here before.”
“Yeah, I came from the next city over. That doesn’t mean I’m a newbie to the city though. It’s the same over there.”
That made sense, and explained his actions from earlier and his ability to deal with others.
“You know, you never told me your name,” I said casually.
“What is this, 20 questions? Why all of a sudden so curious?”
He was guarded again, his rougher side present in the face of possible danger.
“I just wondered. I gave you my name,” I replied defensively.
“Well that would be your problem, not mine.”
If would have to irritate him into telling me. But god, he was infuriating. .
“Fine, I’ll just give you one. Zachary, Casey, Fred. Oh, I know! I’ll call you Eugene!”
He gave me a glare, paired with a discontented face.
“Or, you know, you could just tell me,” I said with an innocent smile.
“You’re so bizarre! All right, fine. My name’s Aaron, okay? Are you happy now?”
“Yes. That wasn’t so hard, now was it?”
I gave him a cheerful smile, one he didn’t return due to his face being overcome with exasperation.
“Now that you didn’t get what you came for, isn’t it time to go anywhere else but here?” he asked.
I looked at my watch, my eyes widening when I noticed the time. That couldn’t be the correct time, right? It said 9:50 p.m. Oh, god, I was so dead! Even if I’d been back at The Friendly Bean, I still wouldn’t make it in time. The doors closed at 10 and nobody was let in, under almost any circumstances. I was doomed. Klaus wouldn’t let me in no matter how much I begged. What was I going to do?
I could spend the night over at Abby’s house, but how was I going to get there? She didn’t have a car that really worked without the fear of it breaking down, and there was no way I was getting home in a cab. It was impossible to catch one this time of day. So I was left with walking home, a prospect that scared even the roughest and toughest of bikers in the city. All the crazies and psychos came out to prowl the streets. I didn’t even have any sort of protection. Crap.
“Hey! Earth to kid! You still alive?” Aaron’s voice jolted me out of my panicked state.
We had been walking without me noticing it, and now we were in front of the houses I thought about earlier. He must live here.
Wait a minute… I was already at a house! If I could get Aaron to let me sleep here, everything would be all right. It didn’t seem likely or that much fun, but it was a hell of a lot better than trying to make it out in the streets until I got to Abby’s. There was a stabbing just last week because a guy had been walking home alone. But how was I going to convince him to let me stay?
“Uh, yeah…” I responded, “I was just thinking about how late it is… and how dark it is…”
He looked at me strangely, trying to see where I was going with this.
“Aaron… do you think that maybe… because it’s so late and we're already here that maybe…” I trailed off, hoping I wouldn’t have to ask outright.
“What? What do you want?” he asked, pausing a moment in thought.
But then his confusion cleared, and his face took on a fixed adamant expression.
“No way. The last thing I want to do is spend even more time with you than I already have today. I don’t let strangers sleep in my house.”
“We’re not strangers,” I protested, “I’m Lucy and you’re Aaron. We just spent a whole day together. By coincidence of course.”
“No. I don’t even understand why you would want to. Just no.”
“Are you going to make me walk back in the dark? By myself?”
I shuffled my feet together and looked as scared as possible, something not hard to do in this situation.
“But there are psychopaths out here!”
“What makes you so sure I’m not a psychopath?”
“I just am. I’m a good judge of character.”
“That’s an awful lot to bet just on your ability to judge people.”
“Whatever. Besides, if you were going to hurt me, you would have done it by now.”
He turned away, going up the small steps to the cozy little house made of bricks, searching through his key ring for the correct key in the darkness. I had to keep trying.
“But what if I get mugged, or assaulted, or even kidnapped?”
If I couldn’t make him understand, I’d have to make him feel bad.
“Well, that would suck. Have fun with that,” he said, indifference coloring his voice.
“But it’d be your fault. Are you okay living with that?”
“I’ll take my chances. I can always just drown my ‘sorrows.’ Bye.”
He found the key and turned it in the lock, stepping in the door. Any second now he’d close it on my face and I’d be faced with dangers I couldn’t handle. I needed this. With one last attempt, I had to show him how scared I really was, to put my actual emotions into my voice. He seemed like the kind of guy who couldn’t stand tears.
“Wait!” I interrupted hastily to stand in the view of the door, “I-I… Please… Look, I’m scared of the dark, and I live really far away from here, and it’s impossible to catch a taxi this late at night, and I have no other way of getting home but walking there. Please don’t make me walk all the way back to my house. Please.”
He stopped closing the door, only to stare at me with an incredulous look.
“So you’re telling me that you followed me clear across town, despite any of my protests, and yet you still want my sympathy? Did you think you could just transport home? What went on in that little brain of yours?”
I didn’t say anything, looking down at the ground. He was going to leave me here. After all, why shouldn’t he? I was not his friend, just a random annoyance. Suddenly, his voice broke through my clouded mind.
“God, I know I’m going to regret this,” he said reluctantly, then paused before saying, “All right, you can sleep on the couch, but only until the sun comes up. Got that?”
Was he serious? I looked up at him, his reluctance and the way he was holding the door suggested he was. He was actually going to let me stay!
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” I exclaimed, still elated and relieved that I didn’t have to face the dangers of the night.
While Aaron could be a serial killer, I was never wrong about the intentions of someone, and he didn’t give me that kind of vibe.
“Oh, but don’t touch anything,” he warned, looking uncertain about whether this was an intelligent thing to do or not.
“Can I touch the couch?” I asked playfully.
“Don’t make me change my mind, pipsqueak.”