Archie noticed the girl moving through the edges of the crowd, noticed her pause and speak to the frazzled mother of new born triplets, noticed the way the setting sun gave her blonde hair red lights that were probably not normally visible. Her hair fell around her face, half hidden by those huge sunglasses women wore for reasons generally unknown to him. No one looked good in them, even if they were fashionable.
Archie didn't think fashion was her aim though. Her clothes were generic and a bit worn. Not much, and probably no one else had noticed, but there is was. Her short denim skirt looked faded, and not in that "bought it that way" style. Her blue button up had clearly been tailored and just as clearly not tailored for her. The sleeves were too long, but the shirt pulled slightly across her chest.
She leaned down, tickling one of the babies under the chin and smiling. Her smile was nice. Archie shook his head and turned back to face the traffic signal, waiting for the words "Walk" to flash. As the group moved off the curb he noticed her walking a bit faster, moving with more of a purpose. She walked past him, easing through the crowd gracefully, deceptively relaxed for the pace she was setting. Some odd premonition made him check his back pocket. He was barely even surprised to find his wallet missing.
He could still see her at the edges of the crowd. Archie's lips curved slightly and he stuck his hands into his pockets, beginning to move at a deceptively lazy pace of his own. It wasn't stealing to take his own money back after all.
Still, Archie couldn't deny that it felt kind of nice. Nice to use his whole mind. He'd bought an honest new life and at times he found it ridiculously boring. Now that he was following her, using all of his senses, including his sixth one for cops, he realized it felt good.
He followed her for a while, keeping her just in sight, waiting for the right moment. When the crowd thinned to just the busy types, guys on cell phones, girls texting or chatting with friends, Archie lengthened his stride and caught up with her, draping his arm over her shoulders and pulling her against his side. Her body went tense as she glanced up at him.
"Hey!" he said in a friendly voice.
He felt her shoulders slump as she recognized him and he squeezed her arm as he said, "It's criminal the way you've been avoiding me."
She swallowed hard, but her voice was steady as she said, "Yeah, well. What are you gonna do?"
"Not much I can do," he responded. "Except," he held up the wallet. "Maybe buy you coffee and make you explain yourself."
"Sounds like an offer I can't refuse," she replied, her tone guarded but her expression impressed that he'd gotten his wallet back so quickly.
"That's exactly what it is," he informed her, keeping his arm where it was.
She was short, maybe 5'2 and that was with shoes on. He wasn't a tall guy and he liked how far back she had to tilt her head to meet his gaze.
"And where exactly is this coffee coming from?"
Archie could tell she was trying to sound tough and nonchalant, and with anyone else she would have succeeded. He heard the slight waver of uncertainty though. He didn't know why it made him feel bad. She was the one who'd stolen his wallet. She had to have been caught before, or at least had several near misses. She had too experienced a hand to be new at this. He'd never even felt her lift the wallet.
"Starbucks," he answered, pointing across the street where the green awning was just in view.
"You're paying," she said wryly.
"Didn't pick enough when you were babysitting?" he asked, just to let her know he'd seen that too.
A slight blush tinged her skin, but she kept her chin up and her gaze forward.
"Doesn't mean I have money for five dollar coffee," was her only reply.
Archie didn't really have an answer for that so he only nodded and continued walking. He opened the door for her when they got to the coffee shop.
"A gentleman?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.
"I want to keep you where I can see you," Archie informed her.
He had meant to let her know that he understood that she'd cut and run if she saw the chance. He hadn't meant to sound so…possessive.
A slight smile, crooked in an attractive way, touched her lips so briefly that anyone else might have missed it. Then she cleared her throat and said, "Freakin' huge French Vanilla cappuccino. And if you're eating I want something too."
"Yeah, because I'm just going to leave you standing here while I stand in line," Archie scoffed. "Good try though."
"Worth a shot," she agreed with a shrug. "Where did we land on the food thing?"
"Get whatever you want," he answered, trying to decide what he wanted to drink.
He also tried to figure out what he was doing. He didn't miss his old life…exactly. But, well…his new life was so damn adrenaline free that it nearly put him to sleep. He worked a 9-5, he should actually be there now, but he'd called in sick for no other reason than the fact that he had sick hours to use for the first time in his life. He went to the grocery store every Sunday, deposited his entire check in the bank account he'd opened as soon as he arrived every Friday, and he'd included hundreds of other little habits to integrate into the small town he'd chosen.
People knew him, people trusted him, hell Janice Burgess had practically tried to marry her middle daughter off to him three weeks ago. Unfortunately, she wasn't his type. He was starting wonder if anyone was. Denise Burgess was a Nice Girl, capital N, capital G. And it turned him off.
In the past, he'd only been with bad girls because he was…well, sort of a bad guy. He hadn't wanted to go to the trouble of lying to a nice woman about where his money came from or worse, run the risk of being turned in by his own girlfriend. Maybe the constant interaction had deadened the part of him that wanted a stable, good woman. Or had he ever really wanted that? At first it hadn't mattered, because he was so broke. What good were dreams when you couldn't afford the basic necessities?
Then, when everything happened with Divana, or Nadia, or Melissa, or whatever her real name was…well, at the end he was just tired of the game. It had taken a lot of time and energy and nerves of steel. But he'd done it and then he'd had setting up this new life to occupy his mind. Had he wanted this or had he just been desperate for something different? Had he…
"Hey, you gonna order or what?" the girl poked him in the side.
"Oh yeah," he gave the barista a half smile. "Sorry." He ordered for both of them and when their order was up, they divided the food and coffee between them and walked to a booth.
Once they were seated, she sipped her "freakin' huge French Vanilla cappuccino" and made a face.
"Not good?" he asked.
"Burned my tongue," she responded. "I always do."
He smiled and shook his head, blowing on his own black coffee before sipping cautiously.
"So, Mark," she said, making him look twice at her. "Saw it on your driver's license," she explained. "Mark Powell. It doesn't fit you."
"You don't think so?" Archie tilted his head. "What about you? What's your name? And keep in mind that I'll know if you're lying. You don't have to give me all of it…first names are usually pretty safe."
"Ellie," she answered after another sip. "It's not my first name. But it might as well be."
"What's it short for?"
"My last name. Which isn't any of your business, Mark Powell."
"How long have you been doing this?" he asked.
"Drinking coffee with strange guys? As often as possible," Ellie replied, taking a bite out of the chicken salad sandwich she'd ordered.
"It does add spice to life," Archie said, taking a bite of his ham and swiss.
"You often have coffee with strange men?" Ellie teased.
He laughed. He liked Ellie. He liked Ellie a lot.