She turned to face Crys. Her grin didn’t seem like a complete façade, but it wasn’t genuine. With her hand on her cocked hip and an attitude threaded into her voice, she asked, “Why follow me when you could walk with me if you had asked?”
Crys was nearly insulted. He wasn’t stalking her, or following her as she put it. They just happen to be going in the same direction. He stuck to honesty, “I’m going to the Square.”
“Like me?” she asked, still in interrogation mode.
“Yes.” Crys answered like a reflex, without question.
A brief feeling, like Crys had done this before, or something like this had happened before lingered in his thoughts. Then Crys knew that idea was silly. He rarely spoke to women and never in a park. He never had a woman make him feel like he was on trial when she asked questions. He’s never had a moment like this before today.
“Where are you going in the Square?” The woman asked as she took a step towards him.
“Ned’s Diner,” Crys replied.
With each chance she got to speak, she took the opportunity to move closer to Crys.
“Do you always eat breakfast there?”
“Every day,” Crys said.
“How long have you lived in apartment C?”
“How do you know I live in apartment C?” Crys asked, stepping forward cautiously.
“You were standing right in front of door C; I just assumed you lived there.”
Crys nodded and said, “Your assumption is correct. I’m the tenant in apartment C.”
“What’s your name?”
“Is Chris short for Christopher, or Christian or Christoph or maybe Christof with an f?” She questioned with a raised brow.
“C-r-y-s… Crys not cries.” He answered. He added, “My last name is not typical either. A, l, dash, i, n… Al-in.”
Perplexed, the woman questioned, “Have you always been in Sector 1?”
He told her he was from Sector 10.
When she heard that, it was like a light turning on in a dark room. She made sense of Crys’ oddly spelled name. She retorted, “You’re an orphan?”
Crys never thought of himself as orphaned, but based on fact, he had no parents; therefore, the woman was right. Crys Al-in was an orphan.
The two stood within arms-length of each other. The woman held out her hand as she introduced herself, “I’m Sophia James.”
Crys tenderly took her hand. She firmly gripped his hand as they shook to conclude their introduction. Crys massaged his hand after she released it to release the tension her handshake crafted.
“I was heading to Ned’s for breakfast. I just got back to the city and I eat there every morning and most evenings when I’m not with my parents. I like to eat in public. Not only am I a bit of a people watcher, eating public makes me feel less alone… We might as well eat together, at the same table. If you’re going to stare at me, you can stare at me up close instead of from afar. Shall we dine together?”
She disliked loneliness too. She dined at Ned’s for the same reason as Crys, to avoid solitude. Crys’ initial instinct was right. She was special and one day he would ask her to marry him.
At Ned’s Diner they sat in a corner booth, toward the back of the restaurant. The red, shiny pleather booths were warm and cozy as usual, but somehow, comfort resonated with Crys better than normally. Perhaps the mysterious, dark, exuberant presence of Sophia caused peace in Crys’ heart.
Together, they built a bubble all their own as they people-watched the restaurateurs. Sophia showed him an entertaining game while they observed people. She would pick a fellow woman and he would select a man as if life were a silent movie and Sophia and Crys provided the subtitles. Long after breakfast was finished, the plates were cleared, and their food settled in their stomachs, they remained in the corner booth.
With Sophia, Crys felt natural. Any form of anxiety that occurred only fueled the euphoria of being in Sophia’s company. Only one thought egged him.
‘How do I ask her out… on a date?’
She demanded to pay for breakfast. Terrified to displease her, he allowed her insistence to take over and she paid for the meal. Then with a hypnotic gaze into Crys’ eyes, she convinced him to go window shopping. Crys found the act to be pointless. Who found enjoyment in trotting shop to shop looking, but not buying? The certainty of boredom awaited him. Well, Crys took a liking to window shopping in this moment, but mainly because Sophia enjoyed it immensely. If she didn’t, she put on a good act.
Inside Mickey’s Toy Shop, as they perused aisle to aisle, they picked up toys, examined the mechanics, and overall studied the wonderment of the toys. While Crys was dazzled by a self-moving spiral chain, called a slinky, Sophia cut him off guard. Like a covert agent, she snuck up behind him and he felt something gun-like press against his back.
“What are-,” Crys began to ask questions, but Sophia cut him off.
“You’re out gunned. I’ve got a Warf Toy Gun,” She whispered in Crys’ ear.
Crys just noticed her height nearly matched his. For a woman, that made Sophia tall.
She explained the Warf Toy Gun shot blue foam darts, which melt into a cooled, chewy gum substance on contact. The gum-foam comes off as easily as a weak adhesive and loses its sticky quality after human hand oils touch it. The gum-foam was biodegradable and eventually dissolved.
“You have ten seconds to run,” She said and then began to count, “One…two…”
He glanced over his shoulder as he moved away from her. He noticed the Warf was a bulky purple and gray toy gun. Sophia’s grip on that gun appeared natural, as if she were a gun woman.
She had three seconds left to count.
Crys juked right, darting down the nearest aisle and then sprinted for cover. He scanned the aisles as he excitedly raced through each one, looking for protection of some kind, whether from a toy weapon or toy shield. Crys tucked himself in a corner, in the far back of the store. He felt safe and secure. Out of nowhere, a foam dart hit his neck. Sizzling, the dart cooled with a tingle as it glued to his skin. As a reflex, Crys was on the run again. He fled down an aisle running the direction from which he just came. At the end of the aisle, Sophia appeared, holding her ground defensively and pointing her pistol offensively. She was prepared to shoot.
“You have nowhere else to run. Surrender now,” Sophia gently commanded.
Crys noticed a brown leather ball on his left, aerodynamically designed to spiral through the air. He pretended to juke right, and then rapidly reached left, grabbing the ball. As he stepped forward, he threw the ball, aiming for Sophia. Sophia fired twice, hitting the ball and just barely missing Crys’ forehead as he ran towards her. One of the pointed ends of the ball hit Sophia in the chest as he rushed past her.
Goofing around reached an all-time high as Crys began to conjure up ideas to make the playtime merrier, but Officials appeared, causing him to jolt to a halt. As usual, Officials came in pairs. Dressed like security guards in black uniforms, the Officials approached Crys. The taller of the two Officials stood directly before Crys and pulled out a tech-pad from his utility belt. The tiny lens on the back caught Crys’ eye like it always did. The Official gave the typical command. Crys compiled by giving his name, occupation, and apartment building. The other, shorter Official asked, “Aren’t you too old to play in a toy store?”