“We witnessed a murder,” Alissa whispered. We’d returned from Prague a few hours ago, and my iPhone said it was past 3 AM.
“We think we did,” I reminded her.
“Do you think the guys are asleep?”
“Matt is,” I said. Silence. Sheets rustling. Her restlessness made me restless. She clearly needed comfort, but how could I give her that when I needed it just as much? I asked her if she wanted to sit on our porch outside—that’s the only way I could think to describe it, a room on the outside of our cramped apartment that was lodged in-between us and the apartment on our left. She accepted the invitation.
We sat out there, the night chill bringing some sanity into our lives. Being enclosed outdoors brought a feeling of safety, no matter how much of an illusion it might’ve been.
(If the baker worked across the street and met with those guys outside our apartment, it stood to reason that he lived nearby. I shuddered to think he was our neighbor, watching through the windows above.)
Alissa tapped her nails on the plastic table between us. I felt like I should say something, but I was forever at a loss of words. I hoped Florence would help me grow, to articulate and be comfortable in my own skin, but I’d yet to feel any amazing transformations like they promised in literature.
Alissa pulled out her phone and blood pumped through me. I wanted to get to know this girl, to connect with her in some way, but I couldn’t figure out how.
She grunted at something in her phone, smiling. Wanting some happiness, I asked her what she was looking at. Alissa showed me a video of a boy falling off his bike—that sounds bad, but it was a hilarious video trending on Facebook. We scrolled through videos and let the night pass us by.
In the morning, I thought I’d never feel awake again. We’d stayed up all night doing nothing. I loved it, but the thought of facing an entire day made me want to shrivel up. I bundled up in a sweater and coat, still chilled from the night before, and left for class without thinking. Out of instinct, watching the world around me, I glanced into the bakery.
I cursed myself.
I’d wondered if he was on the run while we were in Prague, or if he’d ever existed at all. For some reason, seeing him so calm behind the counter rattled me to the core. I heard a door slam and cheery footsteps behind me. I wanted to run but felt like cement was holding my feet back. A hand grabbed me from behind.
“Whoa, there,” the baker said. I turned to find him smiling at me, waving off the onlookers and saying something in Italian. Oh, how I wished I knew Italian. If this guy had connections all over the city, no one would question it if he killed me in the middle of the street.
I glared at the hand resting on my arm. “I’m not a horse, I don’t need to be calmed.”
His smile reached his eyes and I hated that my stomach did flips. I hated that I wanted to talk to him. “What’s wrong? You were walking pretty fast.”
“Just galloping along.” Really Lauren? If you act mental, he’ll think you’re an easier target. “You know, you’re not in the bakery right now. I’m not going to buy anything. You don’t have to be friendly.”
“Where’s that smiley American I saw a few weeks back?”
“I’m learning to behave like a local.”
“Harsh. Will you let me buy you a donut?”
“No, I have class.”
“It’ll only be a minute.”
I didn’t know if that was somehow a threat, or if I should sprint away, but it seemed wise to sort out his mystery and be done with the whole thing. Besides, he led me into the shop and didn’t give me a chance to respond. Two people waited in line, and another woman served them behind the counter. The baker pulled up two bar stools.
I could see the street outside, the normal lives of everyday people, and prayed I’d be joining them soon.