“Hey I’ll come with you,” Noah’s voice was smooth and confident. He had the slightest hint of a southern accent and she noticed a small dimple on the left side of his mouth when he smiled down at her.
“Oh, huh, erm you don’t have to do that,” Alina desperately tried to sound self-reliant but her voice seemed small for some reason. “I just need to move around for a bit, I’ll be back.”
Alina started to walk away hoping Noah took the hint and went back to the table but she felt him move next to her again.
“That’s fine, I know this place pretty well, in case you get lost.”
This annoyed her. He didn’t know her, what if she had a great sense of direction? Alina clenched her teeth.
They walked in silence for a few moments. Alina slowed her gait slightly when she realized she would not be able to shake Noah.
“So, not into basketball huh?” Noah asked.
“Not particularly,” she replied.
“Well what are you into?”
She thought about this for a moment. She hated this kind of small talk.
“Air conditioning,” she said.
At this Noah laughed, it was genuine and warm.
“Yeah it can be pretty hot here if you aren’t used to it.”
“Are you used to it?” She asked like she didn’t believe anyone could acclimate to this unbearable climate. Noah laughed again as they approached the edge of a pavilion. Alina scanned the shops below wondering which one had the best air conditioning.
“Are you looking for a hair salon? The nicer one is on the other side, my friend Gen works there and she’s really good. I can see if she's available if you want.”
Alina turned and looked at Noah in shock.
“Why would you say that?”
“Well I thought maybe you wanted to fix...this.” Noah reached up and took a particularly choppy strand of Alina’s chestnut brown hair between two fingers and examined the freshly cut ends.
“Fuck you,” Alina said. Noah raised his eyebrows behind his glasses and lowered his chin but his smirk didn’t budge.
“Hey, I think it looks cute but I know girls can be sensitive about their hair. Plus a little self-care goes a long way when you’ve been hurt.”
Alina balled her fists up at her side. She felt heat spread across her cheeks. Who the fuck did this guy think he was? She hated that he had already learned so much about her, that she knew nothing about him. She hated his confidence and his southern accent and how calm he was about revealing his observations of her.
“You don’t know anything about me Noah,” and with that, Alina tucked the strand of hair behind her red ear and stormed off towards the nearest store.
Noah caught up with her in a half skip/half jog as she ducked into a clothing store, not bothering to hold the door for him. Noah offered a smile and polite wave to the greeter as Alina pretended to scan the nearest clothing rack. Thankfully there was air conditioning and the store was pretty large. Now if Alina could just get Noah to leave her alone, she might be able to salvage her mood and this vacation that she was already regretting.
“Hey, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” Noah said slightly out of breath.
Alina pretended not to hear him and moved to the next clothing rack. A couple other shoppers looked up as Noah continued to follow her and offer apologies. Wherever Alina darted to, Noah was right there next to her. Finally she stormed out of the store.
“Alina, wait up!” Noah shouted as he tried to keep up with her. Her heart sped up when he said her name. Why wouldn’t he leave her alone?
She walked into another store, she looked up and realized she was in a room with all sorts of gadgets and electronics. A large “I Love Science” sign hung over the register and the air conditioner was on full blast. She breathed a sigh of relief when the door didn’t ring right behind her but then she felt something else. Disappointment? Oh well, she was alone in air conditioning and could busy herself with science gadgets, her mood was finally lifting.
She slowly walked out of the store 15 minutes or so later feeling remarkably better, even as she hit the wall of heat. As she left, she saw Noah leaning against the railing right outside of the store. His elbows were propped up on it and he held medium sized cups with lids and straws in either hand.
“Still mad at me?” He asked with a smirk. His glasses were up on his hat now and she saw for the first time his dark blue eyes. He walked over and offered her one of the drinks. “A peace offering.”
She looked at the cup, then at him as she slowly took it. She looked at the cup in her hand again, trying to decide what to do with it.
“Try it, it’s good.” He stuck his straw in his mouth and sipped his own drink. They started walking slowly down the line of shops.
“So, you're into science,” Noah said matter of factly, like he finally figured out some big secret about her.
“Yeah I guess. I have to take a lot of science classes for my degree.” They walked in silence for a few more minutes. Alina absentmindedly took a sip from her drink without realizing it. She was surprised not to taste soda or water, but a sweet, cold juice of some kind.
“Whoa,” she said.
“Good right? It’s fresh squeezed mango, one of my favorite places around here,” Noah said.
Alina finally started to relax a little. It was obvious Noah wasn’t going to leave her alone and she thought his peace offering would suffice for his earlier offenses.
They approached a balcony that looked out over a lower level of the mall. It was bustling with shoppers and food vendors, voices echoing throughout and various smells drifting through the air. Alina enjoyed people-watching and they sat for a minute or two watching all the activity below as Alina tilted her cup up to capture the final drops of the mango juice.
Finally, Noah turned around and put his elbows on the railing again, looked over at her and smiled.
“What?” Alina asked.
“You have some mango pulp on your mouth,” he replied.
Alina furiously started rubbing her hand with her mouth but didn’t feel anything. Suddenly Noah reached a long hand over and plucked it off of her lower lip. She felt tingling heat where his fingers had touched her skin and she was worried she was going to blush again. Why did this guy illicit so many involuntary reactions from her?
"Hey, want to go swimming?"