Miller’s eyes followed where Aliss was staring, searching across the street for something out of the ordinary. “What did you see? Did something happen?”
A reflexive, “No,” crossed her lips.
“Aliss, don’t do that. Tell me why you jumped.” While she wasn’t answering, his eyes lit on the man she’d seen. Miller scrutinized the unfamiliar face, squinting at the dark figure blended into the shadows as if staring out from a window hanging in midair. “Is it him?”
She waited another moment, testing her breathing and letting go of Miller’s waist. “Yes.”
Miller looked at Aliss for a few seconds before turning back to the man and keeping him in his sight. “Do you know him?”
“Have you seen him before?”
“Who is he?”
“I don’t know.”
Miller’s voice was agitated. “Has he been bothering you?”
“He tried to talk to me a couple of times,” she said, hands on the concrete stair, palms already pushing her up a fraction of an inch.
“And you don’t want him to?”
“I’ll go talk to him.”
Aliss grabbed at Miller, holding him by his clothes next to her on the stair. “Don’t do that. Don’t get yourself hurt. He’ll go away.”
“Then why are you so scared?”
“Why are you so … taken aback?”
“I hoped he wouldn’t be there.”
“But he is and you’re bothered.”
“Yes, but he goes away after a while, or he lets me pass if I’m walking.”
Miller’s voice approached a shout. “He lets you pass?” He put a hand on her thigh and squeezed as he kept watching the man who was watching them. Aliss felt somehow better under the firmness of his touch, loosening her grip on him as they sat in silence. Miller’s breath came faster. He made sharp sounds with his teeth. She thought he was trying to put together another sentence but hoped she could think of something to calm him down before he did.
A car came up the street from the right, its headlights illuminating the bald man in the dark clothes that blended into the night — she thought she saw a change in his face, an angry look around his mouth as if he’d seen something he didn’t like.
“That tears it. I’m gonna talk to this asshole,” Miller said, shooting up and getting down two steps before Aliss could muster a sound.
She grabbed his pants leg as she rose up, nearly falling before she let go. “Stop it, Miller! Do you want to get hurt?”
“I don’t plan on it,” he said.
She lowered her voice as if the man could hear them. “What if he has a gun or something?”
Miller paused for a beat. “You have your phone?”
“Get it in your hand and go inside.”
“No,” Aliss said, getting her phone out of the satchel.
“Get inside. I’m going across the street after the door locks behind you.”
“Aliss, for once, do something my way. Not because I said it, but because you know it’ll keep you safe.”
“I want you to be safe …”
“Have you noticed I’m six-foot two?” His eyes were still on the stranger though his face was cocked toward Aliss. “And not skinny? Have you noticed my body? Other women have.”
“Please, go inside, Aliss. Call the cops if I get hurt.”
Aliss withdrew into the vestibule and watched through the glass in the door as Miller went down the stairs and crossed the street. Clutching her phone, she moved farthest right, holding both hands up to block reflected glare, pressing her face close to see as far as she could. “Don’t get hurt, Miller,” she whispered. “You have to come back.”