Thackery and the Blue Guard
Inside the Demitasse, I found a seat near the back where I could wait for Jason. Rather than facing the wall as I always did, I looked out over the people as they came and went and sipped their drinks. What looked to be a dad and his son were sitting at a table across from me. Even though their emotions were stilted, they were obviously enjoying each other’s company. The boy, about ten years old, reached over and grabbed the last potato strip from his father’s plate, then laughed. Dad rumpled the boy’s hair and smiled. A couple in the corner were experiencing the beginning of an attraction neither seemed to understand nor felt comfortable with. He kept averting her eyes and stared into his cup with a hidden grin. I had to smile. Being part of the world was an amazing, new experience. Maybe I had been aloof in the past, just as Jason had teased.
Then, a man entered the café and looked directly at me without glancing away as most people did. He not only kept his eyes fixed on me, he continued to approach me from yards away. I squirmed a little in my seat as the bold, strange man continued toward me. In the present era, men simply do not openly watch a Legacy woman. When he got to my table, he leaned on it heavily with the knuckles of both his hands and whispered.
“Hi, Gorgeous, I haven’t seen that beautiful, shiny hair around town before.”
I was both irritated and afraid. Men not only didn’t talk to Legacy women, they did not flirt—with anyone. The truth was, in our current age, men simply didn’t have the emotional capacity or adequate hormonal level to flirt.
How was I going to respond to him? He frightened me in a way that made me want to run and hide. I thought of my grandmother and the kind words she had for everyone while maintaining a razor back dignity. Looking at the man with Grand-mère’s royal authority, I spoke with all the confidence I could muster. “Young man, who are you and what do you want?”
He grinned arrogantly at my response. “Well done, My Lady.” Then he leaned in even further. “I wonder if you have noticed how bright the lights are today. The reds and greens are great.”
“Yes, but ―”
“Thomas thinks the blues are casting dark shadows though.”
“Who are you?” I demanded. A cold chill shot across my back and his mentioning Thomas’s name offered no comfort. Maybe it was because my world had never been intruded on before and it was now being bombarded with stimuli from every angle. I sipped on the water the waitress had placed on the table, hoping to calm the sickening feeling that refused to be controlled.
“I’m Thackery, Ma’am. A friend of Sean’s.” Then he winked.
His brashness amazed me. “You also have a friend at the medical center don’t you,” I said. It was a statement, not a question.
He smiled mischievously. “You mean . . . well never mind. You may be talking about someone or something else.”
“There are others?” I whispered.
“There are many of us, Christiana.” Again he smiled and then suddenly became serious. “Are you with us or against us?”
“I’m just learning who us may be, Thackery.” My discomfort had changed to interest but a measure of fear remained. I didn’t know what to think about the man or of all the new people in my life. “I have one singular goal at this time. Nothing else can get in my way, Thackery. I can tell you that.”
“I know My Lady,” He whispered.
“What do you know?” I questioned indignantly. I didn’t like his smugness. He seemed to know my mind before I knew it myself.
Thackery boldly slipped onto the chair next to me. “I know you have dear ones who will be celebrating their birthdays very soon.”
“I don’t think I like your knowing all about me and I know nothing about you.” The feeling of being spied on crept in again.
“You and all the Elites, Christiana. We may not be able to print your pictures in magazines that were banned a long time ago, like the celebrities in ages past, but we still know. The underground newspaper announces your every move, each and every event in your life. You are our stars today, My Lady. It’s just against the law for us to intrude on your privacy. You must not see us watching.”
I suddenly had a need to rub the chill from my arms. “Being watched is just creepy,” I said.
“Maybe. I wouldn’t know. I’m not the focus of all that adoration.”
“Adoration? Thackery, is it admiration? I thought it would be disdain, not respect.” My thoughts wandered to the many times I knew I was being observed and my experience was not Thackery’s experience.
“You don’t have to be afraid of us, Christiana. But, have you noticed the increase in Blue Shirts on the streets? There had been fewer last evening, but now just before the holiday, there is definitely a stronger presence.”
“Until the last few days, I don’t think I noticed anything going on around me.”
“I have. I don’t know what it’s all about, but you’d better be careful. No smiling in public, no laughter, no display of affection or emotion of any kind.”
“That’s hard to do.” I thought of Jason.
“I know. When you have someone in your life like the Doc, it’s hard not to smile all the time. Dahlia gives me the flutters.”
“Dahlia?” I tried to show no surprise then stopped. What had he just said before referring to Dahlia? “Wait! Have you seen Jason and me together?”
“Many of us have, Ma’am.” He lowered his voice to a whisper and looked around the room. “Do you still hear the music?”
My heart stopped its beating and my breath caught in my throat. “You know about the music?” I could not resist rambling on. “Isn’t it the most miraculous sound you have ever heard?” Then I stopped.
“What is it?” Thackery asked without turning around. He slowly sat back in his chair, apparently not wanting to give away any urgency in our conversation.
“Some high ranking Blue Shirt has just come in,” I whispered, then unobtrusively dropped a detox table into the water the waitress had previously placed in front of me. I held the glass to my lips, hoping I could block any expression of curiosity or fear. “I’ve seen him around town several times this morning, and I think last evening as well.”
“A lot of people have.” Thackery responded nonchalantly as if he were talking about the price of peaches in the winter season. He smoothed imaginary wrinkles from the table cloth. “Is he sitting down?”
“No, he’s coming this way.” I stopped and replaced my glass on the table.
The Blue Shirt touched his hat but didn’t remove it. “Ma’am.” He looked at me then at Thackery. “Is this man bothering you?”
I had to think fast. Was he asking me about my association with this man I had just met? I didn’t know who Thackery’s friends were. If I responded in the affirmative, I may have admitted to an association with those engaged in seditious actions or words. If I said I didn’t know him, it might place Thackery in jeopardy.
“We have a mutual acquaintance,” I said. “He was asking for a suggestion on a possible Gift Day present for her.”
Stoner’s facial expression never changed. With his steely eyes fixed on me, he demanded in a frighteningly friendly manner, “And who might it be, Miss Applewait, that you both know?”
“Dahlia Zoobamba lives in my building.” I responded confidently, then added. “She is also my physician’s nurse.”
“Yes, I know. Dr. O’Reilly.”
“You know when I’ve gone to the doctor?” I blurted out. I should have let the comment pass. I was close to revealing an emotion I dare not display. Novels described it as anger.
“No Ma’am. I happen to know that Dahlia Zoobamba is Dr. O’Reilly’s nurse.” He stared intently at me and then asked? “What have you suggested?”
“About what?” I stammered.
“She thought Dahlia might like a brightly colored silk scarf to wrap around her head in this cold weather.” Thackery interjected.
“I wasn’t asking you,” Stoner glared. Then he turned to me again. “That sounds fine, Ma’am. Just where might one find such a scarf.”
“I was just in the boutique down the street. They have a whole display of beautiful, brightly colored scarfs in floral and geometric patterns.” Luckily I had just admired the scarfs as I was leaving the shop.
“Yes, Ma’am. I’ll check on that.” He looked at me again and stated flatly as if he were reading from a formal report. “You have had a busy schedule this morning, My Lady.”
“Yes, thank you for keeping your eye out for me. I’m finishing my shopping for Gift-giving Day.”
“Oh you are?” he stated doubtfully. “And what have you bought this morning?”
I felt uncomfortable. It was as though the hunted had turned and faced the hunter. A chill came over me that threatened to freeze out my fledgling confidence. Again, I could hear the faint sound of angel voices singing their calming songs. Peace warmed my spine and recharged the boldness battery I had inherited from Grand-mère. “I bought a lovely caftog just a little while ago at that same boutique. I’ll enjoy wearing it at my family’s dinner on Gift-giving Day.” Then I added, because I rarely bought anything and had some sudden need to justify my purchase, “I haven’t bought anything new in quite a while. Would you like to see it?” I reached for the shopping bag I had stashed under the table. I froze. The book, would the Inspector see it if I opened the package?
“That’s not necessary, Ma’am,” Stoner replied flatly. He turned and walked away.
I finally exhaled and sat back.
“That was interesting,” Thackery whispered.
“What was interesting?” Jason came up to the table while I was still trying to shake the jitters I had just acquired from the inspector’s prying comments.
“Jason,” I gasped in relief.
“Calmly,” Thackery warned.
“I can be calm,” I assured him. “Did you see him, Jason? The Blue Guard officer that was at the apartment building last night. He was just in here. He was asking questions and trying to trip us up.”
Jason stood for a second and then started to take a seat. “Are you all right?” Then he looked at Thackery. “Who is this man, Christy?”
Thackery jumped to his feet. “Here, Dr. O’Reilly, take my seat. I was just leaving and you two will probably want to be alone.”
“How did you ―?”
“Dahlia called me last night. I had hoped to get over to see her during the evening but I was helping Sean. I’ll see Dahlia later.” Then he bowed slightly. “I’m Thackery Swift.”
Jason seemed to be shuffling through recent memories in his mind. “Oh,” he restrained a smile, “Swifty. Dahlia has mentioned you, one or two or twenty times.”
“Yes, Sir,” he admitted.
Swifty’s cheeks turned red and I remembered the warmth of my own cheeks the day before. So that’s what we look like when we blush.
Thackery pulled the chair out for the doctor and leaned forward a little as he moved. “Dahlia will be at home on her piano bench again this evening if you want to join us.”
“I would love to,” I agreed with enthusiasm. “The music was so soul strengthening I long to hear and sing more.”
“See you tonight,” Thackery waved as he headed toward the door.
Jason frowned as I told him how the Blue Guardsman had almost threatened me. “I see him lurking around wherever I go, Jason.”
“We must be careful not to give him anything to be suspicious about,” Jason said. “But as Legacy Citizens, we should be free to move about the city, to take a walk, to have an uninterrupted cup of coffee. Are you ready to go?”
Ward Stoner had accomplished little at the Demitasse. As he stepped out of the coffee shop, he looked out on the street and shook his head. No one had stood up to him in so many years he had forgotten how it felt. Chalky Boone always stood her own ground, but, she didn’t count. That was her job. Besides, her keen investigative mind and her resistance to intimidation were two of the reasons he had kept her around. Now, there was a new person in his life who didn’t flinch in his game of political poker.
Well now, we’ll just see about you, Missy. He jerked open the door of the store his new opponent had mentioned. There had better be scarfs near the entrance.
“May I help you, Sir?” Valley asked as the inspector entered the store.
“I was told about these scarfs you have on display here,” he began in his skilled way.
“Yes, Sir,” she smiled and picked up one of the colorful pieces of silk.
“Perhaps you waited on her . . . Lady Applewait?”
“Yes, she was in here.”
“Well, what did she buy?” Stoner had lost his patience years ago and raced through life on raw adrenaline charged by anger, excitement, danger, or any other experience in his day.
“Sir, I’m not supposed to gossip about our patrons and certainly not if they are Legacy Citizens.” Valley smiled slightly and pursed her lips tightly.
“She just told me she had bought a caftog,” he tried to mask his agitation and managed only a fair imitation of a real person. “That sounded like a good gift for my mother. She’s young at heart and would enjoy wearing one just like Lady Applewait’s.”
“Yes, Sir,” Valley perked up with the thought of another generous commission for the day. “They are right here. Lady Applewait chose this gorgeous green. I’m sure it will be lovely with her hair.”
“Those things seem to be important to some people . . . not my mother.” He ran his fingers over the fabric. It was exquisite, with hand embroidered details on the hem. “I’ll take it. Wrap it up,” he ordered.
“Yes, Sir!” she smiled. Valley didn’t mask her surprise or joy. With that additional sale, she had earned more in one hour than she had all that day.
Stoner grabbed the package and started for the door where he passed the scarfs again. You may have won the first hand, but I will win the game, he snickered. You don’t even realize you’re in a high stakes game with your own life in the pot. The challenge of each hand he was dealt invigorated him. No one was clever enough to trump him. He would not lose for any reason. By the time he had reached that hand in the game, he would have marched into hell to win the match.
A Dance in the Snow
As we left the café, I shivered as I looked around to see if the Blue Guard might be waiting outside. I was still upset over the contact with the Guardsman.
“Are you cold?” Jason asked as he put his arm around my shoulder.
“No, it was something Thackery said.”
“According to Dahlia, Swifty has quite an imagination.”
Looking up ahead in the square, I saw a car pull to the side of the street. Two more men from the Blue Guard got out and stormed the area, running in cadence toward the hospital. I tried not to think about them or the cause of their increased activity. I wanted to enjoy my time with Jason.
Focusing on the season rather than the sinister, I turned back to what Thackery had said about Gift Day mentality. “They think the lights cause the little moths to cluster around so they can spend their hard earned money until they get burned on the bulbs.” I snuggled closer to Jason as we walked along in the crisp air of the winter day.
“I guess they think if you have nothing in your life that brings you joy except spending money, you’ll spend until you bury yourself in debt you can never repay, just to get a small reprieve from the numbness of your existence.” Jason looked to the changing sky and the world around him. “Those who drink the water can’t find happiness in even the smallest things around them.”
“I understand now what you’re saying,” I agreed in amazement. “It’s like I’ve never seen clouds before, and I want to take in every glorious image I possibly can, in case the beauty is taken back again. Do you have time for us to walk a while? I want to absorb all the color I see around me.”
“I can’t think of anything I’d rather do.” He patted my hand as it rested on his arm. It fit there like we were made for walking together.
“How much time do you have?” I could have walked all day if I were walking with him.
He checked the clock on the courthouse tower. “About twenty minutes. I have to make two phone calls and do some paper work this afternoon and then I’m going to leave the office for the rest of the day.”
“You’ll come to the apartment so we can talk and then join the group for singing later this evening won’t you?” I whispered.
“I wouldn’t miss it for anything.” He patted my hand again.
“If you come about three, I’ll have a special concoction for you to try. Then, we could go down to the lobby ―” I saw the inspector coming out of the boutique and didn’t finish what I was saying. He eyed us suspiciously as we walked arm in arm, but I thought if I pulled away, it might raise more questions. I pretended not to see him. He walked on past us. Is he checking up on me? That thought made my skin prickle with fear.
Jason and I said no more for a few minutes until we got to the town square where the old octagonal, shake roofed structure stood in the center. Twinkling lights were artfully wound in and out of the white railing that surrounded it. The afternoon sky was overcast with fluffy gray snow clouds that dropped a linen-like film of shimmer over the day.
“I’m dreaming of a white Christmas, just like the ones I never knew,” I improvised.
Jason took my hand and led me up the steps and onto the stage-like platform of the octagon. He pulled me near him and took me in his arms, like dancers I had read about in the books of old. He hummed the melody that streamed under the words, in my ear, “Where the tree tops glisten and children listen . . .”
“We’d better stop, Jason.” I knew dancing would be just as forbidden as the music and the joy that the holidays had inspired.
“I don’t know if I can stop anymore now, Christy. I know I’m moving fast, but I have waited so long for you to come along. Attraction is a powerful thing and without additives, it is like it was in the days of old. They called it love at first sight.”
“I’ve heard of such an emotion, and for the first time, I understand what that means.” Being with Jason this short time had awakened me to the new emotions that had the power to make me understand risky behavior. “What will happen if someone sees us dancing, Jason?”
He stepped back and looked into my eyes. “Yes, I know it is best not to draw attention. It’s best no one sees us. If our outward behavior gives away our inner emotions, people may notice. That could be dangerous.”
Warmth from a Distance is No Warmth at All
It was too late. Someone had already seen the doctor and his Lady in an embrace. Inspector Stoner sat in his strata-car at a nearby curb. The frosty air was fogging up his windshield so he cleaned it with a small scrapper. It made him even angrier. Every small inconvenience was interpreted as a personal affront to his worthiness, his intelligence. The gods were against him. Why does it always . . . ? Then he would fill in any complaint to complete his protests against life.
Well, well, well, he mumbled to himself as he watched the happy couple dancing in the park. I may have caught a really big fish. This little mermaid does anything she wants to do. He sneered into the emptiness around him. Why do they always think they can get by with breaking the law? And why are they so sickeningly happy?
He had watched them with irritated interest from the time they left the café. He saw the couple laugh and twirl together in each other’s arms. As he watched, he could feel his stomach tie up in its usual knot as he tried to process his loneliness without acknowledging his wife’s death. Stoner had no one to smile with. No ear to whisper into. No love to hold next to his heart. His heart had ceased aching. He felt nothing anymore.
Stoner had seen enough. He pulled his car back into the street and headed in the direction of his headquarters. Still, he couldn’t resist the need to watch the couple through the rear-view mirror until they disappeared when he turned the corner. He had to acknowledge the reality of his burnt out feelings but couldn’t figure out why the romance between the Lady and the doctor fascinated him. Romance had died in the sleep chamber with Miriam. He preferred feeling nothing. It was easier. His heart beat only by habit. It had become like his name, a stone.
Eyes in the Apartment
It was still early when Jason and I left the town square with the promise that he would come to my place later. In the evening, we would join the singing group again. The city had turned the holiday lights on earlier than other days. Now, it was the afternoon of Gift-giving Eve and the colorful lights seemed to encourage the shoppers to spend more money. Society liked to pretend that it was a time to honor one another with gifts and an opportunity to bring families closer together in celebration. But, there was little joy or meaning in any of it anymore, not like the old books had described. It was no secret that Gift-giving was a vital part of our economy and provided the financial support to keep stores and businesses open the entire year, based on the proceeds from gift purchases. So, the cities were brightly decorated to stimulate what fragile emotions remained, to prompt more and more purchases. At least that was my theory. I looked for the blue lights among the precious gold, and I shuddered a little.
I had ridden the P-T back to my building. I hurried into my apartment and threw the curtains open to let in as much of the afternoon light as possible. It was nearly 2:00 p.m. so the long shadows of trees and buildings stretched out across the city. The holiday lights twinkled even brighter than I had previously noticed. I stood at the large wall of windows and looked out on the city I loved. With few private cars and the tremendous cost of air fare and high speed train tickets, very few people traveled beyond the boundaries of the city, since that was as far as the Public Transit system ran. And, it was forbidden to travel to the other zones. Mass communication offered a sterile education about other places but that was different from actually walking in their green woods.
I turned on the large wall mounted communications screen and curled up on the couch. Society reserved one channel that looped a video throughout the day. The scene was of softly pounding waves on a pristine beach.
Suddenly, the doorbell rang. As I turned to respond, I noticed something strange near the bookcase. Was it something that was there that hadn’t been there before? Or, something that wasn’t there, that had been there before. But . . . what was it? What was missing? What had been moved? What had been added? No one could have been in my apartment. It was forbidden to enter the home of a Legacy Citizen unless treason, sedition, or other acts against society were suspected.
The doorbell rang again and interrupted my thoughts. I hurried to answer it, hoping it was he.
“Good afternoon Christy,” Jason’s speech was carefully measured there in the public hallway, but his eyes spoke bushels more.
I hung his coat in the closet with mine and then grabbed Jason’s hand and almost dragged him into the room. He pretended to be surprised and stumbled in, then regained his balance once the door was closed. He whisked me nearly off my feet and hugged me long, with all the emotion his words could not express.
“It is so good to see you and I was just with you a few hours ago,” I laughed softly. I found myself whispering in my own apartment. “Come out to the kitchen, I have made something special.”
I led him into the food preparation area and ladled a full cup of cold creamy liquid into two cups. I handed it to him and waited for his reaction.
“Looks good. What is it?”
“Eggnog, Jason. I read about it in one of the books. It’s made with eggs, cream, milk and nutmeg. It’s a holiday drink they used to serve at Christmas parties. What do you think?” I was too excited to sip mine until I got Jason’s reaction. When Jason smiled over the rim of his cup, as he savored the sweetness of the drink, I tasted a sip of my own.
“This is wonderful, Christy!” He closed his eyes. “I want to enjoy the entire flavor of the drink with no other distractions—just taste.” He tipped up his cup and emptied the contents.
“Would you like more?”
“You know I would,” he admitted as he placed his cup on the counter and dipped out another ladle full.
We took our drinks into the living room and sat them on the table in front of the windows. It was beautiful there. The late afternoon lights were even more magical than they had appeared earlier.
“This looks wonderful, Christy.” Jason waited for me to be seated.
We talked and laughed and enjoyed each other, as red and green and gold lights danced across the scene beyond the building.
The events of the last day and a half raced through my mind like a collage of snippets and glimpses into a whole new world of emotions and color. Practicality was no longer the word that would define my life. But, I had few feeling-words in my verbal vocabulary to express my experience. I had read them but never expressed them. I was just a mass of sensitivity, and the raw nerves hurt at times.
I finished my eggnog as we sat in the quiet for a while. Later, I smiled at life, love and the cozy shadows that had settled into the apartment as I looked around the dimly lit room.
“Something wrong?” Jason asked as he followed my gaze into the corners of my space.
“I don’t know.” I looked at the bookcase again. “Just as you rang the doorbell, I noticed that something has been moved or added. I can’t put my finger on what it would be.”
We both looked around but couldn’t see anything out of place. “I must have imagined it,” I said. “Or, the kitten may have moved something.”
“I am so sorry you’ve been frightened so many times lately. I wish I could take it all away.” Then, Jason paused. “I know we forgot to finish something.” He stood up and took my hand, guiding me from the table. “Our little dance was interrupted,” he said as he gathered me in his arms in an old-fashioned waltz position. I remembered a well-written chapter in a book that described the dance and the music and the romance of it all.
We moved in a simple step in the silent room, but music soared within me. “The whole world is missing out on so much. I wonder why they banned the music.”
“Emotions ride through the air and lodge in the heart on the strings of musical notes. If we weren’t permitted to feel anything anymore, they had to ban that which stirs the emotions.” Jason twirled me around. Then, like a grand ballroom move in an old book, he bent me back in a low dip.
“Jason!” I whispered a muffled gasp from my upside down position. It’s funny how we see things differently when we view them from another angle.
“What?” he hurriedly pulled me up. “Are you all right?”
“Oh . . . yes, but I saw something.” Again, I looked toward the book shelves.
Jason followed my gaze, looking for some clue, though neither of us knew what we were looking for.
I walked over to the books and searched up and down the shelves, pretending I was looking for a particular volume. The intruding object was there just as I suspected. I turned slowly and quietly, as if nothing were out of the ordinary. With my back to the bookcase, I winked solemnly at Jason.
“Well, now I’m ready for that ice cream you promised me this afternoon.” I was glad I hadn’t identified a time when we supposedly talked about ice cream. I had seen Jason during the early afternoon hours but I was so shaken, I didn’t remember when. A misspoken time frame would have alerted whoever was watching us that a story was being fabricated. Would he take hold of the subtle thread I had tossed out? I could only hope that he had pulled together all the hints I had dropped.
He never missed a beat. “Ice cream it is,” he agreed with a smile. I grabbed my hat and our coats from the closet and walked out the door. Jason looked at me seriously, quizzically.
“If we hurry, we can get to the ice cream shop while they’re still open. I imagine they’ll close early today, since it’s Gift-giving Eve,” I added to the impromptu conversation.
We hurried to the elevator, hopped in and said nothing. We rode to the first floor in nervous silence. My limbs were shaking from the anxiety I was feeling. We slipped through the front door and took long strides to Jason’s automobile.
When we were safely inside, I began shaking totally out of control. I buried my face in my hands and screamed.
“Christy?” Jason’s voice was full of bewilderment and concern as he rocked me in his arms. “What did you see on that book shelf? What was it?”
“Someone has been in my apartment, Jason.” I searched my bag for something to blot my eyes. I couldn’t believe I was crying again. Jason took a handkerchief from his pocket and tried to blot my covered eyes.
“What? Someone is watching you inside your apartment?” he gasped as he pulled me even closer.
“Drive, Jason, drive, move. I don’t know who may be watching us.” I was yelling through clinched teeth. I knew I dared not make any noise or draw attention to us but my restraint had dissolved with my tears.
He started the engine and pulled out into the street. “Christy . . . what . . . ?”
“Jason, there was a small camera of some sort stuck in among my books. I could feel that something was there. Someone must have been in my apartment, probably earlier this afternoon. When I saw the camera, I knew someone had been there. Now, someone may be outside too—watching our every move.”
“You felt it? You didn’t actually see it?” Jason eased slowly in and out of traffic like any other traveler on the road.
“Yes, I felt it at first, but then, when you bent me back, I saw it. So when I went over to the bookshelves to get a better look, I saw it clearly, Jason . . . like a camera thing I had seen in an old book. It takes motion activated pictures of anyone who happens to be in the room.”
“How does something like that, an old camera maybe, continue to operate?”
“I don’t know. I just glanced at it and kept pretending not to see it. But, some of the old cameras turned on and recorded when movement activated them. I read about them last week in an old spy novel.” I sat back and tried to gather my thoughts. “Motion sensitive, I think they called them. The one in the book took one picture after another as long as there was movement within the range of the lens.”
“I see another problem.” Jason shook his head as he looked in the rear view mirror.
“What is it?” I turned around and tried to see what had caused alarm.
“No,” Jason snapped and then added, “sorry. We’d better act like we don’t notice it.”
“What?” I asked but resisted my need to look.
“Maybe nothing but every time I turn, the car behind us turns too.” Jason went around another corner to test his theory and looked in the mirror. “I was right. He turned again.”
“With that camera in my apartment, if it had sound, they may have heard us. We’d better go to the ice cream shop like we said we were going to do, in case the camera had sound. Marion’s Ice Cream Parlor is on North Main Street.”
“Right,” Jason agreed and turned the last corner to get us back on course.
“Who do you suppose would be following us and why?”
“I don’t know but maybe they’ll give up once we go into the ice cream shop.” Jason said as he checked his mirror again.
Even when Jason stopped the car at the curb, I resisted the urge to look around. We had to pretend we were happily spending an afternoon out. By this time we both knew it was important to maintain that charade or we might be caught, accused, and tried for crimes against the state.
Ice Cream as an Alibi
Luckily for Jason and me the little ice cream parlor was still open. I started to get out of the car but Jason touched my arm and stopped me.
“I’m not going to let whoever is back there, make me less than a gentleman.” He smiled, walked around the car and opened the door for me. He offered his hand and I slid out. I resisted the temptation to look back to see if the other car had also stopped.
Once inside Marion’s, we moved past the other patrons eating frozen treats. Their eyes told the Gifting Day Eve story. There usually was no life, no joy, no gift of Hope, but for the Gifting holidays, there was a faint glimmer of something beautiful. I wanted to find a shadow to hide in. My new happiness may have been dangerous to reveal and hard to hide among the walking dead.
We settled into a small booth in the back. I inhaled the sweet aroma of rich cream and chocolate. I used to think that some wise soul would finally make a perfume from those scents. “No, an aftershave.”
“What? We came to the ice cream parlor, and you want to order aftershave?” He smiled but held in his laughter as a precaution.
“No silly. You must have read my thoughts. I was just thinking of a perfume fragrance, then realized the scent would be better put to use as an aftershave. What woman wouldn’t be attracted to a man who smelled like chocolate?”
“Chocolate? You design the fancy bottle, and I’ll invest in the company.” He smiled.
“I would really be in trouble if you started using our new fragrance, Chocolate Mystery.” I couldn’t believe I had said it, but it was already out.
“Wow, that almost sounds like forbidden talk. Remember, women aren’t attracted to men anymore. They have no libido.”
“Well, most women don’t,” I teased.
We laughed softly and allowed ourselves to forget. Had we actually been followed? Was there someone—waiting and watching us?
Read Faster: Get eBook or paperback by clicking on the cover to the right, or go to www.amazon.com, www.b&n.com or www.cokesbury.com. 1st in a trilogy.