The entire safe house is upset with me come morning.
“How could you let him get away? Why didn’t you run faster? Did you not realize how urgent this was? The bloke’s probably already been snatched at this rate. He hasn’t got a bloody clue where he is right now,” grumbles Arnie as he leans against the kitchen table, tapping his feet impatiently.
“Hey, you remember that time I got all stabbed and shit? And you had to stitch me up and explicitly told me: Alice, you probably shouldn’t run too hard so you don’t start bleeding in the middle of the street or feel like you’re dying?”
Arnie rolls his eyes.
“Just following orders,” I shrug.
“That is true, but come on Lissy! He didn’t even know where he was going, and you know every short cut there is,” sighs Lewis, “we had him. He was so close.”
“He just picked the quickest way out, I guess. How was I supposed to know where he was going?” I sigh impatiently, sick of the interrogation and trying my hardest not to reveal the truth.
“The biggest question is--why didn’t you call someone to help catch him?” asks Jim suspiciously.
“Enough, already!” I screech, “you were all busy getting drunk and I would’ve lost him if I stopped to get help. Plus, don’t you think it would look a little suspicious if I just pulled you out of there for no apparent reason? And it was dark,” I point out to Lewis, “I could barely see my own two feet, let alone someone trying to escape me.”
“But--” begins Jim.
“Enough,” I stomp my foot, “I’m going to get us food,” slamming the door extra loud on the way out as I grab my cloak and wrap a shawl around my face to conceal it.
I decide to take the long way to the market, not wanting to spend the entire day having to deal with any more questions.
I think about the man’s words, though. Why was he so desperate to not get help? What could they have done to him to make him lose so much trust? Surely someone so willing to hide people from the law wouldn’t change their minds and sell them out like that...
But then again, this is America. If I’m not even considered a person, I suppose anything is reasonable.
After snatching up two loaves of bread and some dry meat, I retreat to a small street a fair distance away from the unlucky merchant and settle down. There’s a few people around me, but they’re all of the homeless people in Preston so I wager they shouldn’t bother me too much.
I rip off a piece of bread, enjoying its warm taste in my mouth when I catch a flash of pale blue eyes staring hungrily into my own.
I pretend to ignore the contact, as I know as soon as I take the bread home I won’t be seeing it any more. Still feeling his presence studying my own, I try to avoid his eyes awkwardly, feeling them studying ever pore in the freshly baked bread.
“That’s alright, lass,” says the man with a cheeky smile, “you earned it, you eat it.”
Ah, there it is.
Right on time.
I succumb to guilt a few moments later, motioning to the pale blue eyes to come over in defeat.
“You don’t have to rub it in--we’ve all stolen to get by,” I say weakly.
“No need to justify your actions, darling,” he says with a laugh, “a hungry hand cannae be tamed by even the most truthful mind.”
He’s covered in hair--literally. His face is unkempt, a prickly beard concealing much of it, aided with a curly mess of hair atop it. His clothes haven’t been washed for more weeks than I can count on my fingers, but he doesn’t carry himself with any pity.
“You’d oughta take more care of where you’re eatin’ your goods next time, ya know,” he says between mouthfuls of warm bread, “the cop station’s only two blocks from ’ere.”
“I think you are the more immediate threat,” I laugh as I rip off another section and hand it to him.
“Nay, you keep the rest,” he says with a warm smile, “yer kindness is worth more to me anyway.”
“You’re quite young to be living on the street,” I observe, looking at him sadly. He’s only a few years older than me. There’s a familiarity to his face that I simply can’t place.
His eyes flash as he looks away. “I get by. Everyone’s got their own reasons fer living in Preston, and some do better than others. The city’s a cruel mistress, but I miss’d ’er and I can’t stay away.”
“So you’ve left Preston before?”
“Aye. Been here a few times throughout my life, and every time I try to leave somethin’ brings me back.”
“What was it this time?” I ask curiously.
“I’d wager you can guess what brings a young, handsome lad like myself to such a ruddy place.”
“What’s she like?” I say with a laugh, still trying to place his familiar eyes to a face. I know I’ve seen them before.
“Beautiful. Her eyes light up the room, I tell you. She’s funny, and clever, and a hell lot smarter than I am. I don’t deserve her.”
“Is that why you hide in a suspicious alley? To bask in her glory from a distance?” I tease.
“Something like that,” he says quietly, as we both observe the rustling of fall leaves against the alley tiles.
“And yourself? What brings you here?”
“Wasn’t much of a choice to come, but it was a choice to stay,” I say vaguely.
“Ah,” he says, unsatisfied with my answer, “you’ve got no better places tah be, then?”
“Perhaps I do,” I say faintly, letting my voice drift away without further explanation to myself or the stranger.
When I’m finished, I rise from my spot and began to head home.
“Thank you for the bread,” says the man with a grin, “I won’t forget your generous donation to my hungry belly.”
“I wish I could do more,” I smile sadly, turning away from the blue eyed man, “good luck with your lady.”
“Ah, I’ll be needing a fair share more courage than luck with my lass,” he says faintly, “but the best of luck to yourself. I hope you find your better place.”
I enter the safe house with a satisfied smile, thinking about my conversation with the curious young man.
An angry shout pierces my train of thoughts, bringing it to a shrieking halt.
“Alice? Where in Chrissakes have you been? It’s already noon and you’ve been no where to be found for hours now!”
I sigh impatiently, turning to see Lewis glaring at me as she leans against the dining table.
“Mighty long breakfast you had at the market, dincha? Jim’s already gone out lookin’ for ya. What were you thinking, disappearing in the wee hours of the morning for that long?”
“I got sidetracked,” I say vaguely.
“Oh? Sidetracked? Next time you want to go exploring as an escaped convict in a town of racist bastards, maybe you should have the decency to give us a heads up so we can prepare a coffin for you! We’ve been worried sick, Alice! Did anyone see you? Don’t you know there are hangings this week in town square--not exactly the best time to be wondering around like some--”
“Mother of God, Lewis, I’m fine!” I shout, “I didn’t talk to anybody and I’m sure no one saw me!”
She shakes her head angrily, throwing up her hands in defeat. “Fine, fine. Just do whatever you want--god forbid I actually worry about you! Maybe I just don’t want to lose another partner like I did Alex!”
“Alex! That’s it!” I shout, bursting out the door without another word.
I knew I’d seen those eyes somewhere before.