Rob stepped off the sidewalk, separating from the herd to cross traffic in time. He received petty asides from fellow pedestrians at the breech in sidewalk etiquette. However, lulled by the drone of their lives and the next annoyance, they forgot him a moment later. He ignored them, as they ignored anyone sharing the cracked cement, and kept his focus on her.
Half a block ahead, with a dark dull ponytail and a dark dull jacket, she moved with destination instead of purpose. Headphone wires, a badge of disassociation, dangled from her ears to disappear into the unseasonable scarf rolled around her neck.
The light changed. Vehicles crawled by slower than the foot traffic. The savory smells of gasoline and smog wafted up from the veined asphalt as he crossed at another light. Her pace wasn’t brisk enough and her head was down. He only needed a few more careful blocks amidst the herd.
Rob pushed, sliding his shoulder in front of a middle aged woman’s. Then past a young student who seethed at him before returning to a phone screen. A block behind now. He saw faded jeans and low scuffed boots. He saw tan cheekbones and muscled legs.
Glares found his back as he shoved through the river of human bodies. He ignored them, but stirrings began around him. People edged away. Something was amiss, someone wasn’t moving right.It made his path clearer. Half a block.
Her head was bowed to the sidewalk, hands resting in the pockets of her dull jacket. Her world would be muffled. His became very sharp. So sharp he could see the scar bubbling at the base of her skull. The mark showed just above the soft rolls of the scarf. It was her.
Now three steps behind and still walking. The current kept them close, pressing everyone between shopfront and street. So close, he could marvel at the red flesh puckering the top of her spine, visible only so long as she kept her head bowed.
Rob took a breath and almost reached out. Before his hands would brush her shoulder, or catch her wrist, or wrap around that damning scar, she stumbled.
It was a graceful thing, barely even a misstep, that caused her to knock almost gently into the well-dressed man in front of her. Rob didn’t see her hands move, only the shudder that ran though the man she’d fallen into.
The moment passed. She folded something back into her pocket and resumed her steps. The man did not. Rob froze, watching the man waiver on his feet, fail, and then crumple against the cement.
The crowd ahead kept moving, the victim’s strangled gurgle not loud enough to wake them from their migration. She fell back in with them seamlessly, another dull piece in a larger herd.
Those around Rob pulled back, jolted from their progress by the sudden collapse of one of their own. Some kept walking, with only glances to spare. Others hovered. Someone yelled, others held up phones. There was chaos and the desire to get away from it. Rob blinked away the momentary stupor and searched the river.
A block ahead. She walked in a dull dark jacket, headphone wires dangling from her ears.There was nothing to set her apart from the rest of the faceless mass. Nothing to hint at what she’d just done with a stumble and a flick of her wrist.
Nothing until his gaze caught, like a fishing line going taut. She turned her head and met his eyes. There was no pause or surprise. She’d knew exactly where to find him.
The cries of alarm started around him. People’s hands were coming away red as they turned the fallen man over.
Rob took a step back under her gaze, feeling ice grow through his stomach. He’d thought to catch her. Did she recognize him, or had she simply caught her tail? Rob tore his eyes away from her’s to look at the corpse beginning to soak the sidewalk. The latter. It had to be the latter. The years had aged him after all, and she’d been young.
She was lost when he looked up again, long gone amidst the hapless herd. He closed his eyes. He’d thought to reach out and catch her, perhaps finish what had begun years ago. He breathed out the acceptance of just how close he’d come to the last mistake of his life and how close he might still be.
Was this theft legal? I don’t know, but I am a thief so I don’t care. The last line came from Bek.