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With two and a half yards between them, Miller stopped and faced the stranger. “You’ve been bothering Aliss. Why?”
The stranger stared at Miller’s shoes, then took in the rest of him by inches until their eyes met.
Of similar height and weight, yet seeming to be mismatched, Miller and the man stood across from each other as if on either side of a dividing line — the stranger with none of the physical signs of age a man past his twenties might have, despite the severity his shaved head lent to his stone-like jaw and unyielding presence — Miller, breathing hard through his glare, wearing his twenties like an imperceptible, impermeable second skin.
Receiving no answer to his question, Miller asked another. “Lurking in shadows and staring hard at women who aren’t interested in you … is that something you do often?”
The stranger’s response to this one was a narrowing of his eyes — less a movement of flesh than like a laser, one focusing on a target.
Miller spoke with more force. “Aliss is not going to be bothered by you anymore. You are not going to scare her. The people who love her won’t let that happen. We’ll support her every way we know how while she fills out police reports and gets restraining orders against you. She is not powerless or alone.” His hands became fists at his side while the stranger’s position remained fixed, with his hands deep in the pockets of his black coat. Miller continued without pausing, emphasizing his next words. “Do you understand?”
“Manufacturing other people who’ll step in to help her, who’ll shield her with their love, was a good impulse.” He looked Miller over again with obvious distaste, lingering on his clenched fists long enough to make the point that they meant nothing to him. “But you can’t protect her. You’ve made the mistake of thinking I don’t know her. Did she tell you that? You’re railing at me because you’re the wrong man for the job. You can’t protect her because you can’t see the real danger.”
Miller’s face showed confusion before he blinked and wrenched it back. “You’re delusional. Whatever you’re thinking, whatever your problem is, it’s got nothing to do with Aliss. You won’t be a problem for her. If you have to wind up in jail to realize that, then fine.” He backed away eight feet or so, almost to the curb, then turned toward Aliss’s, glancing back over his shoulder as he entered the street. Without the sound of footsteps, without a glimpse of any part of him lit by a streetlamp as he passed into the shadows, the stranger was gone. Miller surveyed the block like a second hand sweeping around a clock. He remained in the middle of the street for a moment, before going back to Aliss.
She opened the door and pulled his hand to bring him in faster. “You’re all right,” she breathed out, as if she’d been holding it in. “What happened? What’d you say to him?”
“I wanted him to get that he’s not in control, that you’ll fight him until he goes to jail … if he wants to take it that far.”
“The police can’t put him in jail. I’ve called them before. He’s gone when they get here, even if I can see him when they pull up.”
“We can figure something out. Will you let me help?”
“Let’s get your orange juice, then. Maybe pancakes or something? You hungry?”
“Okay. Let’s go.”
They headed to Clark Street, quiet until Miller said, “He thinks he knows you.”
“I don’t know why. I never saw him before June.”
“After we met?”
“Yeah … the day after.”