I allowed myself to limp along for a few blocks, moving as quickly as possible. But after receiving a few unsavory looks from men I passed who left little doubt in my mind what they were thinking,
I opted for moving more slowly and appearing less weak. Normally, I would laugh at the thought of a couple random creeps trying anything, but at the moment, I was somewhat vulnerable. If not for my
injury, for the probability that I was being hunted and couldn't afford to waste time fighting anyone off.
Not wanting to make myself too easy to follow, I turned corners arbitrarily, still keeping Times Square as my objective. Or at least, that was my intent. I didn't know the city that well yet and every time I made a new turn, I had a bad feeling that it was in the wrong direction. But having no choice, I pushed on, hoping to get on the right track soon.
Just as I was about to turn another corner, I heard a car stop short somewhere behind me. Unable to help myself, I threw a brief glance back before disappearing around the corner, and caught a glimpse of that same man with the briefcase, stepping out of a sleek black car at the other end of the block.
I couldn't be sure that he'd seen me, or even that he'd know it was me if he had, since I pulled on my red hoodie once I was a few blocks from the church. But I also wasn't about to take chances waiting around to find out. Besides, it didn't bode well if he'd gotten this close to me so soon.
I checked that my hood was secure before forsaking my previous plan to hide my limp, and instead began hobble running down the thankfully somewhat crowded sidewalk. But within a few seconds, I knew this wasn't going to work. My leg was already screaming with pain, and I barely covered half a block. I was also certain the man would be coming around the corner any second.
Not able to think of anything better, I quickly ducked behind the group of military guys standing in a circle, talking and laughing boisterously.
The man I huddled behind was huge, easily concealing me as I peeked through the spaces between his group of friends to watch for my pursuer.
I only had to wait seconds before the man that I was starting to despise, rounded the corner, searching expectantly. Obviously he'd seen me and I couldn't help wonder why he was neglecting his remote. Strategically, it seemed like a no brainer for him. But I wasn't complaining.
He hurried down the street, looking passed the place I was hidden, and I maneuvered my way around the circle of men in uniform as he walked by, in case he happened to turn back. Thankfully, he seemed to be working alone so I didn't have to worry about hiding from anyone else.
Again, I couldn't help but wonder why that was. Nothing about this man made sense and it was starting to frustrate me. He was apparently very good at finding me, but based on the way he was working, choosing not to use some obvious advantages, I couldn't figure out how that was possible.
He hurried to the end of the block and paused at the corner to figure out where to go next. I held my breath, waiting for him to disappear in one direction or the other.
"I'm not harboring a fugitive, am I?"
I gasped, startled by the unexpected voice so nearby, thinking I'd been wrong about the man working alone. But in another second, I realized it came from in front of me, not behind.
I looked up to see a pair of hazel eyes, watching me with interest. The guy I was huddled behind was half-turned and peering at me over his shoulder, no doubt waiting for an explanation as to why I was using him as a shield.
Straightening and careful to keep an eye on, while staying out of view of the man who hadn't yet picked a direction, I stared back at the person who spoke to me, with wide eyes.
"I..." I tried, but couldn't think of what to say that wouldn't sound crazy. I was too focused on how close I'd been to being caught and how close I still was, to give this man my full attention.
"Um..." Think, Sam, think. I could use the stalker excuse, but that wouldn't explain why I was limping or why he was so openly pursuing me. Or why I most likely looked like such a mess. At least, not without making it sound bad enough for him to want to call the police or something.
Nothing else plausible was coming to me and my hesitation was making this man look at me strangely. Which made me realize that he had a teasing gleam in his eye before.
Nice going, genius. Way to blend. Just answer the question!
I forced a smile and shook my head while stealing another glance at the corner. "No."
He gave me an easy smile but looked pretty curious now. Clearly he was waiting for that explanation, which of course was my own stupid fault for acting so suspicious in the first place.
My instinct was to mumble something and sneak back the other way - I didn't have to explain anything to this guy. But I couldn't forget about the car that might still be waiting around the corner or the possibility of that man turning around and seeing me. For the moment, at least, I was stuck.
"David," one of his friends said scoldingly, getting both our attention.
"Stop hounding the lady," the shorter of the five said. "She's obviously flustered by my shocking good looks." He winked at me.
I couldn't keep the small but genuine smile from my face. He vaguely resembled Mario Lopez, so it was easy to tell where his confidence was coming from, but it was also apparent that it was an act. Mostly anyway.
"Man, your looks are shocking, alright," said the huge one I'd originally hidden behind. "But it aint because they're good!"
The other guys guffawed while the shorter one raised his chin, seeming unfazed. "Don't be hatin cuz you're jealous."
I took another anxious peek down the block just as the man disappeared around the corner, allowing me a moment to relax and watch the banter going on in front of me.
"Jealous of what, Tiny Tim?" the bigger one answered.
"I haven't had any complaints about my size," he said. "At least I'm not a mammoth."
"Hey, how about we go eat now!" the man with dark waves, to my right interrupted. "I'm still starving and that table's finally free." He glanced at me, his expression apologetic but still amused. "They can go at it for a while." He looked back at the group, "Like two old ladies."
The others laughed again, voicing their agreement on eating and David turned to me. "Care to join us?" He gestured to the pizza place we were standing outside of.
"Oh, no," I said. "Thank you." I was already planning on heading to the alley across the street. I couldn't just hang around the exact spot that man lost sight of me, for more than a few minutes. That was practically asking to be found.
"Come on," he pushed. "Moose lost a bet, so the bill's on him, and it'll be more fun for the rest of us to add an extra person."
I was about to decline again, but I couldn't help asking, "Moose?"
David nodded to the large man now walking through the door of the restaurant, followed by the others. "As in, big as a."
Of course. I smiled and shook my head. "No I really can't, I-"
"Besides what if your friend comes back?" he asked, wiping the smile from my face. That was a good point. What would I do if he came back? Standing still or running away, he seemed to be able to find me. And right now I was in no condition to run anywhere anyway.
I threw another nervous look toward the corner. When I met David's gaze again, he was watching me strangely.
"What are the odds you'll find another ruggedly handsome group of guys to hide behind?" He was still joking, but there was a definite suspicion in his eyes now, and I honestly wasn't sure if it was in my favor or not.
But he was right. My odds were probably better if I stuck with them for a little while. Blending was much easier when you had a group to blend into. Besides, that man would be expecting me to be alone and on the move. Not sitting and eating with a big group.
"You're not one of those cruel women who likes to see men beg, are you?"
I couldn't help giving him another smile, which he interpreted as a victory. He gestured to the door and said, "After you."
Sighing, I gave in and went inside. The alternative wasn't a good one and the smells wafting from the open restaurant door were making my stomach growl. And if I could save a little money on a meal, it was all that much better for me.
"Hey! It's our little fugitive friend!" The dark-haired man said when I stopped at the large table where the group was getting settled. The others acknowledged my presence with good-natured comments and friendly smiles. Their easy comradery was a welcome change from the sort of solidarity I'd been forced into recently.
"You have a name, little fugitive?" David asked, standing beside me. I wasn't accustomed to being called little, but to these guys, I was pretty small. Compared with Moose, I was positively petite.
"Sa-" I reflexively began before thinking better of it. "Sarah," I finished with quick check out the window, hoping they wouldn't think too deeply into my hesitation. An alias was undoubtedly best for me. No sense leaving any kind of a trail.
"Well, Sa-Sarah," David teased, that suspicion apparently not going anywhere. "That's Moose, Peter, Jason, and Alex."
It was interesting to see each of their personalities show in their responses when David said their names. Moose gave me a big goofy grin, and his ultra white teeth practically shone in contrast with his dark skin. Peter, the dark-haired one who spoke to me before, gave a small wave. Jason, apparently the quiet one of the group, only bobbed his blonde head in congenial acknowledgement. And Alex, the shorter, overconfident one winked again.
"And I'm David," he finished.
"Hi." I smiled, sliding into the seat beside Alex on the bench of the round table.
David sat next to me before scooting over to make room for Jason, and that claustrophobic feeling hit again. I was almost directly in the middle of the booth and wouldn't be able to jump out with ease if I needed to. But then, if I needed to, it probably wouldn't do me any good to go anywhere. At least I had a clear view through the front window of the pizza place. And we were in the corner of the restaurant, so I wouldn't be seen easily from outside.
Not wanting to make myself stand out, I pushed the red hood from my head as the waitress came over to take the order.
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