I notice him right away, from the moment he steps into the store. It's not just his looks that catch my attention, though they're pretty striking too: tan skin, broad shoulders, and standing at least six feet tall.
It's the way he walks, sort of hunched forward, with his eyes focused downward, like maybe he has some secret. He's hiding his face as well. It's partially shrouded by the hood of his sweatshirt. The sides of fabric fold inward, over his cheeks.
The guy—probably around my age, seventeen or eighteen at most—makes furtive glances around the store from behind dark waves of hair that have fallen in front of his eyes.
I look toward the store owner to see if he notices him. He does, and reaches for something beneath the counter. A phone? A baseball bat? Mace? Should I grab Jeannie and bolt?
Instead I take my cell phone out of my pocket, kick it into camera mode, and zoom in, over the shelves, as the guy looks at a display.
I take a snapshot of his profile, but the angle's bad. He won't look up.
"Can I help you?" the store owner asks him.
He doesn't speak, just shakes his head and moves to my aisle. Wearing dark gray pants that get caught beneath the bottom of his shoes and a tattered zip-up sweatshirt, he's standing only a few feet away now, looking for something specific.
"Are you ready?" Jeannie asks me, moving toward the register with her predictable box of Bugles.
"Just another minute," I tell her.
I've come here on a mission, with a hard-core craving for taffy. The packages of Saltwater Twists are on the shelf above where he's looking. But he's obviously on a mission too, comparing tuna cans like they're diamonds. I mean, does it really make that much difference if the tuna's packed in water versus oil? Or if it's albacore rather than chunk-light or yellowfin?
I wish I could freeze the moment—press pause, take another snapshot—but I pocket my phone instead and take a few steps closer. "Excuse me," I say, just inches from him now.
He peeks at me—light brown eyes, a startled expression, a glance toward the mole by my mouth.
I step on the bottom shelf and then reach upward, standing on tiptoes. The box of peanut butter‒flavored taffy is inches from my fingertips. I stretch a little farther, finally able to grab it. But then I lose my footing. My heel drops, and I stumble back.
Off the shelf.
The box of taffy flies from my grip.
The guy stops me from falling by catching me in a backbend of sorts—like one of those ballroom dips they do on dance shows—with his hands around my waist.
I gaze up into his face, noticing a cut on his cheek—a horizontal slash that sits right below his eye. His breath smokes against my forehead. He smells like gasoline and something else. Salad dressing? Garlic oil?
I stand up straight, regaining my footing. "Nothing comes between me and my sugar fix," I say, in an effort to be funny. But it isn't funny and he doesn't laugh—not even a snicker.
The doorbells chime. "What's taking Day?" Tori asks, poking back inside, shouting to Jeannie.
The guy moves to retrieve my box of taffy.