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Aliss and Miller managed to strike the stranger from their conversation as they walked to the store for orange juice. After that they slipped into the flow of Saturday night foot traffic on Clark Street and went north to Belmont Avenue. With its late shows, concerts, movies, and restaurants open until well into the a.m., that area would be busy hours longer. Aliss felt at ease there with Miller whose vigilance hadn’t lost its edge, though his glances around corners had become less obvious and much smoother as minutes went by. They agreed to discuss the problem later.
Turning left onto Belmont, they headed to Clarke’s Diner and were able to get a booth right away. Miller slouched low into his seat like he’d just run a race.
Aliss piled the juice, her bag and jacket onto the seat between her and the wall. She looked over the menu and after deciding what she wanted, watched Miller from behind it until the waitress came. “I’ll have a buttermilk short stack, with potatoes and an egg over easy.”
The waitress asked, “Anything to drink?”
Aliss said, “No. Water’s fine.”
Miller didn’t look at the menu. “I’ll have the strawberry banana pancakes and coffee.”
As the waitress walked away, Aliss said, “No potatoes?”
He tried to smile while stifling a sudden yawn. “I’ll just have some of yours.”
“That’s what you think.” She put her elbows on the table as Miller straightened up, and after a few wordless moments, noticed she was making churches and steeples with her hands, making her finger ‘people’ appear and disappear in turn.
“You know,” Miller said, “I should stay over at your place tonight. You shouldn’t be there alone.”
Aliss looked into his eyes and was glad that he didn’t seem nervous. She scanned his hair, then his shoulders in the jacket he hadn’t taken off yet. His coffee came and she watched him stir in a little sugar and two tiny containers of cream. He drank it fast and she watched as he prepared another cup to his liking. When their food came she placed about three heaping tablespoons of her potatoes on his plate next to his pancakes, and said, “You’re welcome,” when he thanked her. Then she buttered her stack, poured a bit of syrup between each one, placed the egg on top, thinnest side down, and pressed on the yolk just a little with the back of her fork. She looked up at Miller before digging in, and saw that he was watching her with the kind of knowing smirk she didn’t mind.
“Okay,” she said.
“Okay?” Miller repeated.
“Okay what?” he said as he stuffed a forkful of banana, strawberry and pancake into his mouth.
“You can stay over tonight.”
He said, “I know.” But the slightest glaze crossed his eyes, giving him away as she watched him process what he hadn’t been so sure of.
Halfway through his pancakes, he slipped off his jacket and raked a hand through his hair, loosening the curls into long waves as he lifted them off his face. Aliss supposed he was warm then and wondered why it had taken so long.
After their meal, on the street again, he started out with his jacket over his shoulder and a smile on his face. He didn’t seem tense, but she noticed he was paying attention to their surroundings again. Aliss wanted dangerous, unknown things to be over with and done, so she forced them out of her mind. She focused on how clear the night had become and how fresh the breeze smelled despite all the businesses and traffic, and remembered something Miller said earlier, turning that around in her mind instead.