I was amazed by how quickly I felt comfortable with these guys. I still compulsively glanced out the window, but I talked and laughed freely with them, which was a something of a new experience for
me. I always shied away from groups like this before, finding them juvenile, obnoxious, and more often than not awkward. But I suppose captivity, fugitivism, and forced isolation will work wonders
for a person's social skills, spontaneity, and tolerance. I even found myself participating when Alex flirted with me. Something he didn't appear capable of not doing.
I used to feel that flirting was mindless and sometimes revolting, but right now, it was fun. And just like the rest of my interaction with this group, it made me feel like a person again. To these guys I wasn't Sam, the genius who never fit in anywhere. I wasn't Abi, the freaky or pitied lab rat. And I wasn't some nameless runaway, trying desperately to be invisible. I was Sarah, the mysterious, witty stranger who effortlessly made friends and astonished them with my ability to polish off pizza like a man.
I was on my fourth slice and that was pushing it for me, especially since the slices were huge. But I only did it to see their faces. When I took my second piece, I got raised eyebrows from David and Alex. I guess the girls they were used to, ate like birds. When I'd taken my third, the others started paying attention and betting on if I would throw up. So just for fun, I lifted the fourth slice to my mouth and took a big bite, wanting to laugh when Jason's jaw dropped.
"I'm gonna have to man up and eat another one," Moose announced. "It's pathetic if I can't beat this little girl."
I had just swallowed and was about to retort with a bet that I could down a fifth, when I caught an unwelcome glimpse of a growingly familiar accountant type, out the window.
I'm not sure if the guys heard my unladylike comment as I dropped the pizza and slid under the table, hoping that man hadn't looked inside the restaurant before I was out of view.
I tried not to think of what I was going to say to everyone to explain my behavior, or the kind of bacteria that was probably living on the floor. At the moment nothing mattered but making sure I wasn't noticed.
"I think you insulted her," Peter joked, making the others laugh.
I twisted and looked up to see that David wasn't laughing along with the others. He was watching me intensely.
My eyes widened and I jumped when I heard the bell that signaled someone coming into the restaurant. Had he seen me?
"Please don't say anything," I whispered. What would I do if I'd misjudged this man? I allowed myself to do exactly what Lily advised me not to and now I was completely at this stranger's mercy.
David watched me for another few seconds before looking in the direction of the door. I breathed a little easier noting the scowl that crossed his face. He was siding with me.
He nonchalantly slid over so that it wouldn't appear as if a person were missing from the bench and I took the opportunity to curl in a ball, ducking partially under his long legs.
I rested my head on my knees, just able to see a little of the area between our table and the register, from my vantage point between everyone's feet. Thankfully, they were all taking the hint and didn't mention me again. Instead they carried on as if I didn't exist.
Even hidden as I was, my pulse sped with every tap of the shoes that brought him closer, and my heart seemed to stop altogether when the expensive-looking shoes came into view, halting not ten feet away.
You don't know it's him for sure, I tried telling myself. It could be anyone. Don't panic.
But then a familiar black briefcase with J.P. inscribed on it, landed quietly next to the shoes, and I allowed myself to panic.
It was almost impossible to breathe the few everlasting moments until those shoes pointed toward the counter and away from me.
I strained to listen passed the conversation and laughter above me and heard the man order a coffee. Fitting with his persona of nerdy accountant, there was an unpleasant, nasal quality to his voice.
My logical side insisted that I was going to be fine. He wouldn't be ordering coffee if he knew I was here. He'd be seeking me out just like before.
But the paranoid side that was triggered that day Wescott had me pulled into the van, kept my heart racing with the possibility that he knew, or at least suspected that I was here. He did seem to be inexplicably good at finding me, after all.
The more I thought of it, the more that paranoid part was making sense. Supposing he did know where I was, the guys hiding me were wild cards. Even an ounce of chivalry could compel them to defend me, and clearly they had much more than that. And quite honestly this man was no match for even one of the young and fit military guys, let alone five. He wouldn't have the leverage over them that he had with me.
But they wouldn't stay here indefinitely, and they didn't understand the situation. All it would take would be for this man to wait them out and then come for me once they'd gone.
Please leave, my mind chanted over and over as my eyes bore a hole in those shoes.
After a few minutes that seemed far longer, I heard the exchange that told me he had his coffee and was free to leave.
By some miracle he began moving away. So maybe he really was oblivious. But in another second, I nearly had a heart attack when he suddenly stopped and turned toward the table.
I heard the guys go quiet. No doubt they were staring him down.
"Do you have the time?"
"Just after one." Alex sounded serious for the first time tonight. And if I wasn't mistaken, a little hostile.
I assumed that the man nodded or gave some other acknowledgement because he didn't linger after that. He strode out of sight and I heard the sound of his retreat to the door, where the bell indicated his departure.
It took a minute for me to move even an inch. What if he was only pretending to go?
I felt David slide away, leaving my space at the table open once again, and I looked up, meeting his gaze and still not at all sure about emerging from my hiding spot.
"Coast is clear," he said, seeming strange. I knew that suspicion was still there in spades, but there was something more to it now that I couldn't read.
"How do you know?" I still kept my voice down, just in case.
"He got into a car. Drove off. I assume they aren't going to circle the block."
He was probably right. If he'd known I was here, he never would have allowed me a reprieve to slip away. And I guess I couldn't stay down here forever.
But now what to say to these guys? They did me a huge favor and were going to be looking for an explanation. Particularly David.
No way out of the situation, I pushed myself off the floor and back onto the seat, where I proceeded to avoid eye contact since I couldn't think of that explanation. The truth wasn't an option, so that left me obligated to come up with another plausible story. Which, just as before, wasn't exactly a simple task.
"Please tell me that's not your ex," Alex said, effectively getting my attention.
"Him?" I was sure the shock and revulsion was clear on my face. "No."
"Good. You could do much better." He grinned. "Heck, I could do better."
"Givin' yourself an awful lot of credit aren't you?" Moose piped up, making Alex scowl for a minute before he looked thoughtful.
"I'm not sure if I should be offended or not," he laughed and the other guys joined in. I nervously did too, glad that they were back to their jovial selves and not seeming likely to ask me too many questions.
After an anxious peek out the window, I decided to stick with more comfortable topics by picking up where I left off with the pizza. At least until I discovered that my plate was now empty.
I looked up, perplexed before I spotted David, looking amused and slightly guilty.
"I thought it'd be best to eliminate the evidence." He grinned before shoving the last bite of my slice in his mouth.
"You were just afraid I'd outdo you," I accused, forcing that same aloof attitude and staying on a safe subject while throwing yet another glance to the window.
I could see that David didn't miss my obvious avoidance, but he played along anyway.
"You never would have finished this one. You'd explode first," he said and the other guys heartily agreed.
"Too bad there's no more, or I'd prove it," I bragged, more than happy that I wouldn't be able to try. I really did feel close to exploding. Of course I wasn't about to admit that.
"In fact, I could have gone for another." I crossed my arms and raised my chin.
David held my gaze for a minute before giving up the pretense of being serious and grinning. He had one of those contagious smiles that people couldn't help but return and I was no exception.
"Sarah," Alex said.
I momentarily forgot that was supposed to be me, only remembering when he lifted my hand from the table. Still, I responded a second late.
"I have a favor to ask." He looked uncharacteristically somber, so I watched him seriously, sparing another look outside.
"I have to go here in a minute," he said. "I ship out in a few hours and I'll be out to sea for months. We're headed for hostile territory and you might be the very last woman I ever see alive. Could you grant me a kiss before I go?" He started leaning in, sure that no girl could resist that.
I tried very hard to keep a straight face and answered before he could get too close.
"You mean they're so short on naval officers, they're pulling ones from the Army? That can't be good." When I was a kid, I went through a phase where I was obsessed with the military. While the other girls my age were dressing like princesses, I was in camouflage. That obsession is the only reason I was able to identify the differences in the Army and Navy officer uniforms that most people wouldn't have noticed.
Alex was most definitely not Navy. He grinned guiltily as the other guys howled with laughter.
"How many girls have you used that on anyway?" I raised an eyebrow.
"A few," he admitted sheepishly.
"Try a few dozen," Moose corrected, making the guys laugh louder.
I tisked mockingly. "Are you even going anywhere?"
"I have a train to catch soon," he tried with a hopeful gleam in his eye.
I just watched him, fighting a smile and shook my head.
"Ah well." He raised my hand to his lips briefly. "I guess that'll have to do."
"You're right, it will," I laughed.
"I do have to be going though," he said, triggering an unexpected feeling of regret that only multiplied as the other guys agreed and started getting up.
It was irrational, of course. I couldn't expect them to stay, but after this little taste of semi-normalcy, it was going to be much harder to tough it out alone again.
Moose paid the bill and one by one, the guys said goodbye, all bound for the train or some other form of transportation.
After a minute, only David remained. I turned to him, a little surprised he hadn't moved to get up yet.
"Don't you have a train to catch too?" I tried not to sound too pathetically sad.
"No, actually, my apartment's only a few blocks away," he said. "Although I guess I should be going. It's getting late."
I expected him to leave then, but he didn't. He just sat there, watching me with that look of suspicion in his eyes.
"What?" I asked defensively.
"What about you?" he said. "Where are you headed?"
"Oh, I'll be going home too." I tried not to cringe at how noticeably I choked on the word 'home'.
David didn't miss it. He just watched me some more.
"What?" My slip ups were making me self-conscious.
"You don't have anywhere to go, do you?"
"Of course, I do." I forced a smile. "I just said-"
"Yeah, I heard what you said." He was apparently finished playing dumb. "I also happen to know you're lying."
"Why do you think that?" I asked cautiously.
"You mean, how did I figure you out?" He laughed. "I hate to break it to you, but you're not that mysterious. Sarah," he added with a sarcastic tone.
I watched the table for a few seconds, before I decided to see what he thought. I wasn't really worried, since he couldn't possibly know very many specifics, but I wondered at his theories.
"Well, why don't you enlighten me then."
He shifted, so that he was facing me a little more, seeming to take that as a challenge.
"For starters, I know that guy who was in here not too long ago is after you."
I couldn't keep my eyes from flitting to the window and David raised his eyebrow.
"And I know it must be pretty serious because he's got you scared to even tell complete strangers your real name."
I looked away, not liking how that sounded. And I really didn't like that it was the truth.
"Which really makes me wonder because you seem smart and capable of handling yourself."
"I know that if you had anywhere to go, there's no way you would have stayed in such a public place where you could be found so easily. In fact, you probably wouldn't have been on the street to begin with."
"I know that guy wasn't a cop, so I doubt it's anything to do with the law, but you're not going to the police anyway. Probably because they couldn't help. How am I doing?"
Perceptive, that's what David was. I struggled to fit him into a category like I had with the others. Moose was the goof ball, Alex was the flirt, Jason was the shy one, and Peter was the mediator. David had a mix of different characteristics. Sometimes goofy and flirty. Subdued and content to let the others have the attention some of the time, but not shy about stealing the spotlight at other times. But now I knew where he fit best. David was the smart one. The one who didn't miss much.
I wasn't sure what to say, but I knew trying to deny any of it was pointless. So I just looked at him, wondering what he was getting at.
"Look, I don't know what this is about," he admitted with a heavy sigh. "But why don't you...come with me?" He cringed and laughed nervously. "Wow, that just sounded terrible. I don't usually ask girls back to my apartment."
I thought he was sweet, but I also didn't trust him anywhere near enough for that. "David, you don't know anything about me."
His eyebrows shot up, making me smile. "I mean as a person," I clarified. "I could be a thief or a psychopath or something."
He grinned. "Well, if you're a thief, you're a pretty crummy one because you didn't bother mine or anyone else's wallet all night. And I'm sure it's not because you don't need money."
Observant, I confirmed. He'd have no way to know about the other guy's wallets unless he was paying close attention.
"Well, maybe I'm a psycho then."
"You're not," he said simply, his smile disappearing.
"How do you know?"
"I've seen psychopaths," he said. "Lots of them. Murderers and terrorists. Kinda part of my job. You're not like them."
"What makes you say that?"
"Because not one of them had the kind of fear in their eyes that you do. That's something unique to the victims."
I stared at the table, hating that I felt so afraid. I hated that he could see it, even more.
"Come with me," he tried again and I met his eyes, not even trying to hide my emotions any longer.
"I can't." As tempting as his offer was, I couldn't trust him. I couldn't trust anyone.
"Sooner or later you're going to have to trust someone." He read my mind. "Or that guy's gonna catch up to you. And you could do alot worse than me. Besides, that ankle's not going to help you out any."
He was quiet for a minute, waiting for my answer. I only shook my head stubbornly, keeping my eyes on the table.
"Well, I guess I can't force you." He sighed. "And I really should be going."
I looked at him, somehow more sad to see him go than the others.
"Good luck," he said sincerely before he slid out of the booth and headed for the door.
As I watched him move away, I couldn't shake the feeling that I was letting my lifeline slip away. He was right about everything. That man nearly caught me three times already, and I'd only been in the city for a few days. How long until he found me again? Plus, every time he seemed to get a little closer to actually catching me. What if next time was it? My bad ankle was only going to slow me down.
He was probably right about me having to trust someone eventually too. I already had to trust quite a few people, and David had already proven himself in that area.
What about when I needed to sleep again? The safest place I found so far, wasn't safe at all. And what about other things like bathing? Baby wipes could only cut it for so long...
I took a deep breath, hoping I wasn't throwing my life away with what I was about to do.
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