They strolled rather aimlessly down the boulevard, soaking in the brisk September breeze and the sounds of a politely bustling neighborhood district: patrons dining outside, college students cheerfully arguing with one another, dogs investigating smaller dogs. The film had ended 20 minutes ago–Jennifer Lawrence’s performance as an embattled UNICEF ambassador was practically guaranteed to snag Best Actress–but still they lingered, meandering around public benches and food carts, marveling at their own finery.
“Still time for a G&T, Sar,” James said hopefully, slowly wrapping his arm around hers like a timid boa constrictor. “We haven’t tried that place on 13th, and it’s just a few blocks.” He tugged at the sleeves of his dress shirt, a vestigial high school habit he’d never been able to shatter.
Sarah smiled, once again silently complimenting herself for choosing so well. Intelligent, kind, hip in the undaunted, geeky manner that only people who use “hip” as a descriptor can command. “Why not?”, she said. “We get a responsibility-free night so rarely these days. Might as well make it a late morning too.” Her hand slipped into his and they headed toward the crosswalk. As they waited for the arrow, her husband swooped down. “Hold up one sec. Damn laces came loose again.”
“Miss! Miss, you dropped something. Miss!”
Sarah froze. It’s a busy street. He’s calling to someone else.
“Miss, I think you–“
She whirled around, exerting all her concentration to not appear panicked. She squeezed James’s shoulder lightly. “Be right back. Business card probably fell out of my purse.”
The caller reminded her of a young Eddie Redmayne, though he wore a faded denim jacket that looked old enough to vote. His earnest eyes flashed, the picture of concern and cordial. “I’m glad I caught you. You lost–“
“Shut up,” Sarah hissed. “I mean, thank you, but keep quiet. Move a few steps to your left.” James had tackled the shoelace issue and was upright, watching curiously. “Good. Laugh like I said something witty, then give it to me.”
He chuckled unconvincingly, and slipped a tiny rectangular box into her palm. A broken chain dangled from one end, the links misshapen and frayed. “Is this a USB drive? What–“
“Thanks for returning it,” she growled, her voice cold, yet brusquely apologetic. “Get out of here.”
The young man’s face formed a question, but he resumed his route. He shook her hand. Sarah’s mind reeled. How could I have been so fucking careless? Right there in the street. He could’ve kept it. Worse, JAMES could’ve picked it up. I can’t hide it at home. Too risky. It’s only safe on me. Have to get a stronger chain. Only safe on me. Only–
“So what did he want?”, James asked, taking her arm again.
She faked a slight chortle. “Oh, I guess I forgot to close my wallet clasp and my purse shifted the wrong way. Guy could’ve been $20 richer, but I suppose there are some decent people left in the world.” She smiled sweetly for his benefit.
James gazed at her quizzically, mouth crimped, and she was certain he didn’t believe her. But he simply said “Excellent. We’ll toast to him, then.” They pushed on towards the bar, his heart content with the joy of a date night long postponed, and hers burning with multitudes of fire she dared not name.