Stepping carefully down from the hard packed snow mounded at the street corner curb, Lily quickened her steps along the semi-cleared sidewalk where thick snowflakes were concluding languid descents. As long as she maintained her current stride she’d cross the railroad tracks with a decent seven to ten minutes to spare before the morning train made its daily appearance. She welcomed the cool emptiness of the vacant sidewalk and street after the heat of the crowded breakfast bar. She took a huge bite out of the cinnamon roll and chewed with gusto while moving into the full length of her stride. The roll’s thin glaze, fresh dough and spice combined with the satisfying aftertaste of recently devoured eggs and buttered toast to produce euphoria resulting from finally filling a too long empty stomach. With only a single other person passing her by in a solitary snowplow going the opposite direction down the one way street, Lily reveled in having the space from one side of the empty street to the other all to herself this morning. Another deep breath of moist snowy air, another tearing off of a large portion of the sweet roll for gleefully mashing it into her mouth and Lily went on her way through the gloomy grey cast morning. All was currently just right in the surrounding snow globe world.
Then, in the space behind her, Lil’s ever alert ears detected footsteps. Without breaking stride, her attention moved from scanning any possible obstacles of piled snow or icy sidewalk ahead to the sound of someone quickly coming up out of sight at her rear. Ears itching for more information, she checked the small storefronts for signs of life forms readying to meet the day’s forthcoming challenges and found them all sorely wanting. Still, even though her auditory organs had detected the inhaling and exhaling, probably of a male closing the distance between her and him, she maintained her calm. Despite the relative darkness of the snow clouded morning it was still morning hours and she reminded herself that even in this part of the small city the to-be-evaded-by-all-means crazies had by now staggered into their own bedding for a respite from their darker versions of the daily grind. Odds were in favor that whoever’s feet were speedily devouring the cement space was as un-intent on criminal behavior as herself. If not, then grabbing her would commence a swift, albeit unhappy, emptying of the contents of her stomach all over the grabber followed by violence to whatever soft target he might unwittingly offer. Lily kept walking, scanning ahead and listening until suddenly there he was walking beside her less than a hand’s breadth away filling the cold air with steaming warmth and an awkward, “Hey, um, . . Poached Eggs . . . “
Lily abruptly stopped walking and turned to look directly at the man who was unexpectedly now at her side. When he stopped also, his feet slightly sliding on an uneven patch of ice, then stood facing her with his hands in his pockets, Lily stepped backwards closer to the store window now behind her. Recognizing the man who’d sat beside her in Big Bob’s Bar a few minutes earlier did nothing to ease her mind. She remained on red alert as she assessed his threat potential to her physical well-being. Instead of speaking, her head turned ever so slightly to the left, she gave him a much more serious looking over than she had during breakfast. When he’d been sitting on the stool with his shoulders hunched over the bar counter, she hadn’t gotten any sense of his actual height. Now it made an imposing and intimidating impression she didn’t much care for when considered in conjunction with the rest of him. His unbuttoned long wool army coat didn’t add bulk to his broad frame but rather strained to wrap around it. Looking up to make eye contact had the effect of thrusting her chin out and forcing her to adjust her balance. Hands now in her pockets, she eased off her mittens wishing she hadn’t clipped her fingernails last night. That regret passed quickly as she realized it would be a bit of reach for a useful poke in his eyes. Adam’s apple location and his solar plexus were within more effective striking ranges. Lily held her breath as packed snow cracked under his weight when he stepped back away from her as far as the piled snow mound on the street allowed. It was clear he’d accurately read her body language which prompted him to increase the distance between them to something more acceptably polite between strangers. “Hey, sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you . . um . . .”
Nothing moved on the street or on the sidewalk. Thick snowflakes the size of Lily’s bare palm languidly descended between them. Her black eyes took note of his hazel ones that had the disconcerting effect of reminding her of her neighbor’s way too clever cat. She watched the man watching her consider speaking, then remain silent waiting for some sign from herself. With a little shrug of her shoulders and small shake of her head, she acknowledged his effort to put her at ease. “It’s ok. Did I take your roll by mistake or what?”
He answered with a short, deep laugh and a fleeting grin that Lily nearly missed seeing due to a mustache and beard as badly in need of a trimming as the rest of his hair. “No. But I wouldn’t put it past you to snarf it right along with yours.” Lily nodded a little and waited. She’d relaxed just enough to be aware that time was passing and her window of opportunity for crossing the tracks before the train was closing. Still she left him to his own devices for creating conversation. She stared at him and he stared back while snow continued drifting downward. When he took a deep breath, she found herself doing the same then holding it until he spoke again. “Ok, yeah, this is kinda weird even for me, but . . . um. Hey, I don’t exactly have a lot of options here, right. You follow? I mean, come on, it’s pretty lame just saying something like ‘I want to ask you out for a date ‘cause I like that you eat poached eggs . . . and lots of ‘em.’ Yeah, right. Not going so well, but, hey, it’s all I’ve got to work with here and now. Umm, maybe I should have opened with ‘Can I buy you coffee some time?’” Lil watched his ungloved hands come out of his pockets in an effort to help him talk. “Yeah, that’s not flying too well either, is it?” His left hand began nervously combing through his hair when he went silent again.
Lily bit her bottom lip while considering the man’s increasing nervousness, the distance he was maintaining and his uncertain age. Deciding keeping things polite and calm seemed like a good way to put an end to this encounter, she curbed her desire to tell him nothing was flying much less approaching lift off and just walk away. “A date? You’re asking me for a date? Seriously?”
Something about her response, or perhaps just the fact that she had responded, brought about a noticeable change in his attitude. Suddenly his hand ceased the nervous hair action, he straightened up and leaned back slightly still meeting her gaze. “Seriously. Yeah.”
Lily’s black eyes narrowed to speculative slits. “Seriously. Okay. What do you have in mind? Another round of Big Bob’s Breakfast Specials or what?”
This time his grin lasted just long enough for Lily to wonder about it under the mustache and beard. She herself grinned inwardly thinking he’d back off now that she’d set him the task of doing more than badly chatting her up on the street.
“How about ‘Or what?’” Lil frowned, but he pressed on. “As in, your choice. You pick when, where, what.” He made a gesture of handing her a plate with both hands. “Lady’s Choice.”
He nodded. “Yeah, your choice. I’ll meet you wherever, for whatever. You decide. ”
Lily watched several snowflakes settle in his unkempt thick brown hair. “My choice. Okay. Sure.” She considered several options, all of which could do the job of sending him the way of melting snow, until the ticket the theatre student she tutored had paid her with for their last session came to mind. A smile slowly appeared on her slightly flushed face. Seeing his hazel eyes narrow slightly, she had the distinct impression that he not only sensed she was trying to be sly about this but that he was enjoying it. “Next Friday. Seven p.m. Orpheum Theater. Volpone. Meet up outside. Fair enough?”
He nodded. “Friday, 7, Orpheum. Yeah, fair enough.”
She took a step on her way then stopped to make a tiny effort to play fair. “The Orpheum is at—“
“Third and Main. I got it.” He watched her take another step. “Hey, I’m Sarge. What’s your name?”
Lily started walking slowly backward. No point in rushing now as she could hear the train’s location from here. Sarge wasn’t following her. He’d moved to stand in the middle of the sidewalk watching her moving away from him and waiting for her to share her name. Instead of replying promptly, she wondered why he wasn’t looking at all smaller as she put distance between them. Only when she reached the corner where she would have to turn around in order to traverse a not inconsiderable amount of piled snow did she call out: “Lily. I’m Lily.” After speaking, she stood for a moment feeling all of eleven years old when he acknowledged her answer with a wave. She then put her attention to navigating her way over and around the hard packed snow. Upon reaching the point where she needed to turn down the intersecting street, she looked back to see Sarge was now walking backwards on the sidewalk still observing her progress. Three more steps took her closer to the passing train’s roar and cut her off from the man’s sight and he from hers.