He turned the corner and ducked through the first unlocked door, looking frantically behind him. His pursuers ran right on by. He would stay here for a bit, let the trail grow cold, then venture back out into the streets.
It was a good five minutes before the reality of his surroundings permeated his brain. He was too busy calculating escape routes to take notice of the large number of kids at first. At least until he felt a tug on his pantleg. He looked down into the serious blue eyes of a little girl.
"Mister, are you gonna watch the movie, too?"
He looked around and for the first time noticed that he was in a movie theater. A movie theater packed with rowdy, screaming, crying kids. A movie theater showing, if the poster was any indication, the new Elmo movie.
Nothing he had ever done deserved this punishment.
With nothing to do but wait, he resigned himself to spending the next however many minutes watching puppets sing and dance. If he thought of it from a logistical standpoint, it was perfect. They would never think to look for him in here.
He bought his ticket and made his way to the concession stand under the wary eye of many a mother. When he finally reached the front of the line, he decided on some milk duds and a pop before heading into the theater.
He settled into a seat near the emergency exit, just in case. As he munched on his candy, he got an uneasy feeling. The kind of feeling he got when someone was watching him.
He turned and surveyed the room. Nope. Nobody suspicious. And yet, he still couldn't shake that feeling.
He turned back around and found himself once again staring into vivid blue.
"Are you here all by yourself?"
"Yes. I am." He hoped that being brusque would get the damn girl to leave him alone. The subtlety, however, was lost on the eight year old.
"I'll sit by you if you want," she offered, smiling brightly.
"Don't you think your mom is getting worried about you?" he asked, turning his head this way and that in search of someone to get this dimple factory away from him.
"My brother brought me," the imp replied. "He always brings me to the movies. Then he leaves and sneaks to the arcade with his friends."
"That's not very nice of him," he observed. "And it's not very safe, either. You shouldn't be talking to strangers. You can't tell about people nowadays."
"My name's Alyssa. What's yours?"
"It's Alex," he replied tersely, shaking his head once in frustration. "Why?"
"Now we're not strangers." She sat down on his left, pleased with her solution. Ebony ringlets shook as she wiggled into the chair. Her blue-jeaned legs just barely cleared the seat, the tiny Nikes dangling in the air.
After they sat in silence for about five minutes, he was sure that he was through being pestered. That was the moment that Alyssa chose to speak up again.
"Mr. Alex, would you trade some of your milk duds for some of my sno-caps?"
"Here, just take them." He dumped some candy into her hand.
"Don't you want some of mine?" she asked him.
"No, I don't."
When did the damn movie start anyway? He checked his watch, then took a sip from his straw.
"What kind of soda do you have?"
This child was driving him nuts. He sighed.
"I hope it isn't Dr Pepper. My brother ate some milk duds once," she cut in, becoming quite animated, "and he drank a big Dr Pepper and his belly got all big and sore and he started barfing all over the place!" Her arms waved in the air, her face taking on interesting contortions as she pretended to throw up quite loudly.
Alex found the corners of his mouth turning up for a brief second. He caught himself and affected a stern look. He'd found a cover, and he was not about to screw it up. If anyone questioned the theater patrons about him, they would be clueless. To them he was just a parent, albeit a bad one, taking his daughter to the movies. It was perfect.
"Alyssa," he said just loud enough for the sound to carry a few rows, "quiet down a little, okay hon?"
The little girl sat still for a moment, beaming from the endearment he'd called her. He almost felt bad for taking advantage. But not quite.
An usher started talking in the front of the theater. Good. Anything to divert his attention from the little thing sitting next to him.
The usher was saying something about special promotions and grabbing a bag. Next thing he knew, a puppet had walloped him upside the head. Alyssa pointed and giggled loudly. He groused a little before handing her the toy.
She took it happily and settled down as the lights dimmed.
He shifted in his seat impatiently through the first few minutes, but as the movie continued on, he was drawn into Elmo's plight. He too had had a favorite blanket. His mother had thrown Mr. Binky into the trash when he was six. If the memory wasn't such a painful one, he would have laughed at the parallels.
Aside from the little bastard who kept kicking his seat all through the movie, he had a good time. When it came to an end, an audible groan escaped his lips.
Good God, he had to get out of here. His brain was turning to mush.
He stood and began making his way to the exit, Alyssa following close behind. He stepped out into the now overbright afternoon and heard a shout from down the street.
"Alyssa, get yer rear in gear!"
"I have to go now. Thanks for the milk duds!" She smiled, her dimples once again overpowering her chubby cheeks.
He turned and began to walk up the street.
"Wait! Mr. Alex!"
He stopped and waited.
He turned just as she thrust the toy at him.
What the hell? He didn't want a freaking puppet.
"I have two Elmos at home, and you seem kind of lonely. You take him."
She hit him with yet another saccharine smile before running off toward her brother. He could hear him yelling as they headed home.
"What are you doing talking to strangers? I'm gonna tell mom!"
"Oh yeah? You gonna tell her why I was at the movies all by myself, you big booger?"
They continued squabbling until they were out of sight. He smiled. No question which kid got the brains in that family.
He looked down at the bright red puppet and made to throw it into a nearby trashcan.
Thinking better of it at the last second, he tucked it under his arm and headed home himself, muttering under his breath.
A nice clean story from Mal--shocking, isn't it? I didn't want to write it; it just sort of forced its way onto my computer screen.