Familiar Face

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Chaper 8

Chapter 8

Anna spotted Mark striding towards her as she reached for her luggage.

He called out, “Hold on. I’ll get your bags.”

When he reached her side she said, "Aren't you taking this buddy thing a little too far, Mark?”

“Could be, but why take chances?” He retrieved her laptop and briefcase from the back seat and handed the items to her. “I'm putting your irreplaceable possessions in your capable hands.”

“Thanks. I’m glad you recognize that I’m not completely helpless. How did you know when I’d be home?”

“Your Mom called.”

“Conspirators! I suppose you talked to Dr. Drummond, too!”

“My understanding is that you gave her permission to contact me.”

“She also said that she didn’t think I was in any danger.”

“Neither do I, but the Foundation needs you to be focused for the next few months. If you aren’t, I’m the one who will have to do the heavy lifting.”

His words shut her up. Was that why Mark had volunteered to shadow her? Was she letting her fears affect her work? She didn't believe that's what she was doing, but she couldn't deny being less focused. They had reached her front door. She shifted her briefcase so that one hand was free to unlock the door.

Mark set her luggage inside. “I’ll be back. I need to get something out of my car.”

When he reentered the living room, he was clutching two grocery bags. Thought you might need some basic food items.”

Anna rolled her eyes. “A few items,” she said sarcastically. "Looks to me like you bought a week’s groceries.”

He ignored her sarcasm. “When did you last eat?”

“Breakfast, but I was seriously considering a day of fasting. Mom loves to cook, and I’ve never been able to resist her home-made pies and yeast rolls. I think I’ve added an inch to my waistline.”

“If so, it looks good on you. How does an omelet with peppers, onions and cheese sound? I can whip up one while you are taking a shower. After you’ve eaten, we can discuss how we are going to handle the next few weeks.”

“Fine! I’ll leave it to the super hero, who knows how to make a girl feel like a nutcase who needs a keeper." She flounced out of the room before he could respond.

After fifteen minutes of pouting, she couldn’t resist the enticing aroma of coffee.

Mark handed her a mug of coffee when she silently entered the kitchen. After what seemed like an hour, but was only seconds, she said, “I’m sorry. I’ve been fending for myself for so long that I don’t respond well to hovering. Mom and Dad spoiled me, and now you’ve picked up where they left off. I appreciate your concern, Mark, but overdoing this protection thing is adding to my anxiety.”

He slid a delicious looking omelet in front of her, and took a seat across the table from her. “Believe me, I know that you pride yourself on being independent. For the immediate future, you need to put aside your pride. It’s a temporary solution, Anna. I don’t want to make you uncomfortable, but you are important to the success of the Foundation. If we can get through the next few months without an incident, I’ll back off. Let me help. If for no other reason; it will give your parents and Dr. Drummond peace of mind knowing that you have support here in Raleigh.”

“I over-reacted, Mark. Can’t we let it go at that?”

“In the five years I’ve worked with you, I’ve never known you to over-react. Your instincts are sound. I agree with Dr. Drummond that you aren’t in immediate danger, but someone has been watching your condo. Before I left for California, I hired a friend of mine to keep an eye on your condo and the Foundation. He spotted the same car across the street from both. The license was spattered with mud, so he couldn’t trace the car. I don’t like coincidences.”

Anna didn’t like coincidences either. “You’ve convinced me. For the moment, let’s forget about the issues I'm dealing with. I want to hear about Sharon. Did you find her?”

“I did, and spent some quality time with her. I didn’t convince her to go back to school, but she did promise to contact Mom. That’s a step in the right direction. I’ll let you know if she follows through.”

“And the boyfriend?”

“She admits that she left with him to antagonize Mom. She walked out months ago, and she hasn’t seen him since.”

"When did you get back?"

"Yesterday."

“Have you checked in with Marian?”

“No, but I did stop by the office to check on my voice mails. Alicia has set up an appointment with the Cantrell’s for one o’clock tomorrow. I thought you would want to know.”

“Back to reality. I was hoping that I would have a day or two before facing the Cantrell's. The Foundation can't afford a repeat of my behavior. Pray that I can get through the meeting without antagonizing Philip. I'm not objective where he's concerned.”

“Relax. I’ll be sitting in on the meeting. If the tension starts building, I'll suggest that we need refreshments. That way, you can take a few moments to clear your head.”

“I’m relieved. Your powers of perception are superior to mine. If you tell me that my animosity is misplaced, I’ll find a way to work with him.”

To Anna’s surprise, only Janette showed up for the meeting the next day. She claimed that her husband was putting out business fires, but her explanation didn't ring true. Anna wasn’t convinced.

By mid-week, Anna was tired and cranky. She was grateful that she’d slept in during her week off. The Foundation's busy season reminded her of a roller coaster ride, highs, lows and terrifyingly fast-paced. Fortunately, the actual events eventually ran smoothly. It was the incidents of broken or malfunctioning equipment and the run-ins with bad-humored volunteers that frustrated her. On Thursday, feeling slightly claustrophobic and edgy, she took a long break at lunch. She tried to sneak out without Mark seeing her, but the man had eyes in the back of his head.

He sensed her aggravation. “I’ll stay three feet behind you if you like, but you are not going out without an escort.”

“Don’t be absurd. If you insist on going with me, the least you can do, is act like a friend instead of a stalker.”

They ate lunch at a cozy little restaurant a couple of blocks from the office. Mid-way through the meal, Anna got up to refill her tea glass. When she was returning to the table, a man jostled her sending her glass flying through the air, splashing tea on several nearby customers. She apologized profusely before turning her attention back to the man who caused the accident. He had already picked up her tea glass, and was crouched down wiping up the spilled tea. A server hurried over with a mop, and waved him away.

Seemingly embarrassed, the man handed her a ten-dollar bill and apologized. “Pardon my carelessness. Please buy another drink, and use the change for your cleaning bill.”

She tried to return the bill, but he refused. He apologized to the other customers and rushed toward the exit before she could comment further.

The manager brought over a glass and handed her a coupon for a complimentary dinner. “So sorry about the wet garments. I hope you don't have plans to meet an important client."

"I don't, and there's no real damage. The few wet spots will dry quickly."

"Please come back to see us. We don’t want to lose your business.”

“I'll definitely come again. The accident doesn't reflect on the restaurant. All of us are in such a hurry that accidents happen.”

She watched in amazement as the manager handed out coupons to the other customers who were standing nearby. She filled her glass and returned to the table.

Mark remarked, “That was odd.”

“Yes it was, but no harm was done. The manager couldn't have been nicer."

“I think that's because he saw what I saw. The man deliberately ran into you."

"Surely, not. Why would he do that?"

" Good question. He immediately headed toward the waste receptacle, but he didn't put the glass in the bus tub for dinner and glassware. He looked around to see if anyone was watching, tucked the glass under his coat and scooted out the door before he could be stopped.”

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