He leans up against the wall she’s standing at, stepping too close into her personal space. There is a moment, small and fleeting, that she is too focused on the display in the window to notice his presence.
When she does, her shoulders tighten, her hands flex by her side, and her body shifts ever so slightly to the left—away from him—as she glances up and to the right.
The eye contact is brief. As it always is. She’s never been one to stand her ground. I wonder if he knows this as he flashes her a toothy smile, coy and flirtatious.
He doesn’t see—or doesn’t care—that her returning smile is strained. Misses the pointed step away from him she takes as she pulls out her phone and pretends to check something.
They’re too far away for me to hear what he says, but it’s obvious from the flush that creeps up her neck that she’s not comfortable. She ducks her head, tucks her hair behind one ear, adjusts her shirt.
He probably thinks his tricks are working. That she’s getting all flustered and bashful under his attention. He doesn’t know her well enough to understand that she’s nervous. That his presence—standing too close, towering over her short stature, flexing his arm beside her—is doing the opposite of attracting her. Everything about him would be setting her alarm bells ringing.
I grit my teeth. Try to look away. Try to focus on something else. Remind myself that I’m not supposed to be here. Remind myself how angry she’ll be if I intervene.
It’s not like it’s my fault though. After all, she’s not supposed to be here either. I guess we both had the same idea, and really, it’s not a surprise that we’ve managed to pick the same stores for our Christmas Shopping. Still, I should know better.
I do know better.
I try to convince myself to leave, to focus on what I came here for.
Christmas shopping does not involve beating random guys up at the slightest provocation.
Except…except that as she pulls away from him—starting off at a brisk pace down the row of shops—and he follows her, I start to think that maybe it does.
I leave my half eaten lunch abandoned at the table and set off after them.
She weaves in and out if the crowd, small and unobtrusive and I see the moment he looses sight of her. See him pause, stupidly bright orange sunglasses making him a beacon amongst the crowd. His head turns this way and that and I think it’s over. I think she’s gotten away from him. I think maybe I won’t have to give any lessons in manners.
She darts sideways through the crowd, manoeuvring through a cluster of giggling girls to duck into a stationery store.
My eyes find Orange Sunglasses and I sigh. He’s seen her. I start moving at the same time he does, cutting sideways across the hall to intercept him.
Before he can enter the store and continue his unwanted attentions, I grab his arm and yank him back out of view.
‘What the fuck?’
He spins around and his expression has already lost that smug, self confident look and morphed into something irritated and outraged.
I want to tell him to go screw himself. I want to tell him he’s a sleezebag who should take a hint, I want to tell him that no, means fucking no and don’t go chasing after girls who clearly aren’t interested. Hell, I’d settle for a single word. A simple ‘pervert’ would be great.
But once again my throat refuses to unlock the sounds. I spend a heartbeat waging war against myself.
Speak. Speak god damn it. Say it. Say something, if only for her.
The words fail. I scowl, glaring back at this idiot who has turned my day of present shopping into a battle of self will.
‘What the hell man? What d’you think you’re doing?’ Orange Sunglasses says.
My glare intensifies. I glance pointedly into the shop but he’s either too stupid to get the hint or he’s being deliberately dumb.
He turns to go, shaking his head, and I grab him again, taking several steps backwards away from the store and dragging him with me.
‘The fuck? Get off me you loser!’
I let him go.
‘You wanna tell me what the fuck you think you’re doing before I break your face in?’
I raise my eyebrows and slowly the scowl turns into a wry smirk.
Well, here’s a language I can talk.
I punch him in the face.
Ten minutes later I’m sitting in security next to Mr Orange Sunglasses feeling much more relaxed. My ribs hurt and I suspect I have a black eye, but it doesn’t stop the satisfaction from creeping up my spine.
The door swings open and a familiar figure steps in. Heavy boots stomp across the floor as big, deft hands flick through a security report. Brown eyes lift from the paper as he comes around the table.
His gaze rests first on Orange Sunglasses, then on me, then lift skyward as resignation, irritation and bemusement cross his face.
‘Freddie,’ he says as he drops into the seat, his exasperated expression settling back on my face. ‘Any chance I can not run into you this week?’
I flash him a quick grin and a rueful ‘what-can-you-do’ shrug.
Officer Dench sighs. He drops the report onto the table, looks to my companion and leans back in his chair.
‘What’s your name?’
Orange Sunglasses glanced between me and the Officer. ‘Brian,’ he mutters, his lip curling.
Dench taps his pen against the leaflet of papers in front of him. ‘Last name to go with that Brian?’
Brian scowls, slouching in his chair as he shoots me another glare. ‘Shaw.’
‘Hm.’ Dench jots down the name. ‘Any chance you were harassing a young girl today, Brian?’
Dench eyes him shrewdly, his brown eyed gaze narrowing. ‘Really, now? So you weren’t interacting with a young lady right before your altercation with Mr Hart, here?’
Brian looks lost. He glances at me, then back at Officer Dench. My fists clench under the table. Stupid prick has already forgotten her.
‘No, the psycho just hit me. I wasn’t bothering anyone.’
‘Sixteen, short, long dark hair, silver eyes. Got an odd scar on her left shoulder, might’ve caught your eye.’
Before Dench has even finished his description, Brian’s face clears, his eyebrows lifting and his eyes widening as they shoot in my direction and back again.
‘Nothing wrong with talking to a girl,’ he mutters with a scowl. ‘I wasn’t harassing her.’
Dench’s gaze slips to my face and back to Brian so fast that if I wasn’t watching for it, I would have missed it. ‘I’m sure.’
Brian leans forward in his chair and snarls, ‘I didn’t do anything wrong. He hit me. What’re we talking about a girl for? I was chatting to her, it’s not illegal.’
‘It is if it’s harassment.’
‘I wasn’t harassing her! We were just talking! And she said she doesn’t have a boyfriend so whats the harm?’
‘No…’ said Dench, tapping his pen again. ‘She doesn’t have a boyfriend. But she does have a brother.’
At first Brian is too clueless to catch on. His face goes white as he stares at Dench in horror. He’s misunderstood. Considering Dench is scarier than I am, I’m quite happy to let this misunderstanding draw out a little longer.
‘Now, if I were to get the young lady in question brought in her, what would she say about your…conversation?’
If possible, Brian’s face goes even paler. ‘I…I wasn’t harassing her, I swear. I just…I thought she was…interesting. I wanted to get her number that’s all, but she walked off before I could and that’s when this psycho hit me!’
Dench continued to tap his pen. ‘Hm.’
He glanced my way again, brief and inscrutable. ‘Well, let’s just say we forget this whole incident ever happened, eh? Wipe the slate clean, as it were.’
Brian started nodding, still pale-faced and Dench slapped the report closed, a bright smile lighting his face.
‘Excellent. Well in that case you’re both free to go. Let’s have no more brawls in shopping centres in the future and I think we’ll all be fine.’
Dench got up, tucking the folder under his arm and heading around the table. He opened the door and gestured for us to leave. Brian shot up and out the door, disappearing no doubt before the Officer could change his mind.
Off to harass some other girl, probably.
I rolled my eyes and stood.
Dench shifted, blocking the door as I approached. He rolled his eyes again and sighed.
‘Freddie…mate, I can’t keep doing this.’
I huffed and stuffed my hands into my pockets, dropping my gaze.
‘You’re seventeen, you need to stop getting into fights. He had every right to press charges, no matter what I said about your sister. Does she know you’re here?’
I slouched my shoulders, glanced sideways at him and shook my head.
Dench crossed his arms. ‘You shouldn’t be keeping tabs on her like this, you know she hates it.’
My gaze snapped up and I shook my head hard. I hadn’t been keeping tabs on her. They were just…there.
Dench sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. ‘Alright. I’ll drop it. But I can’t keep pulling favours for you. This is the third time this month and it has to be the last. I hate to do this but…you need to go back to your therapist. This isn’t a request. I want you booked in by the end of the week. I will check, you got that?’
I nod, gaze fixed on the floor and blinking. I’m not crying.
‘Alright, go on then.’
I bypass him without looking. I know he’s done me a favour. More times than I can count. I know that he’s right. But it doesn’t make it suck any less.
I abandon any further ideas of shopping and head straight to my car. Maybe I should go for a run?