I stared around, feeling a slight panic building in my gut. My eyes darted from the busy streets to the busy sidewalks and past the businesses lining both. I flinched as a car honked its horn while driving past. I did not miss the crowded streets of Indianapolis at all. Particularly downtown.
I looked down the sidewalk, knowing we still had a few blocks to go. We were lucky to have parked so close to the Circle Centre mall. The meeting would be starting in a few minutes and we were hoping to be just a little bit late to avoid running into Keith before the show. I wanted to see what was going on before we had to confront him.
I gasped a little as we jogged through an intersection, coughing on the fumes from the passing trucks.
Joseph eyed me. “Getting too used to that fresh country air, are you?”
I snorted and coughed again. “I knew there was a reason I kept smoking for so long after I left. I had to wean my lungs off the CO2.”
Joseph laughed and picked up the pace. I flipped off his back before increasing my own walking speed.
We entered the mall and headed for the escalators to the third floor. It was obvious where we were headed; in the busy mall full of trendy clothing and flashy gaming stores, the white-papered windows and hand-painted signs stood out.
We got to the storefront just as the last person in line closed the door behind him. I eyed the sign, painted on the glass, announcing the meeting times for the Covenant of World’s End.
I turned to follow Joseph inside, but a pleading “Miss!” brought me to a halt.
I looked over my shoulder and saw an older gentleman walking towards me. He held out a clipboard and pen, and I decided he was looking for signatures for a petition. Since I'm always up for a good damn-the-man petition, I shrugged at Joseph and turned to smile at the man.
“I am Dr. Corvus with the University of Indianapolis. I'm doing a study on randomization and random choice clusters. Could I take a moment of your time and have you fill out our survey?” He thrust the clipboard into my hands.
I held the man's gaze while he spoke to me, though I noticed that his eyes didn't quite match up. I looked down at the clipboard. A single sheet of paper asked for my demographics and one question.
“Just this page?” I asked.
The man nodded, and I noticed the eye thing again. Not a lazy eye; maybe glass.
Joseph moved to my side and peered over my shoulder as I turned my attention to the form. I quickly checked “female”, “unmarried” and “multiple race”, then scratched out “32” for the age.
I read the question: randomly select 4 items from the list below, then I skimmed through the options, which seemed to be a granary inventory list. I picked ones that caught my eye or had meaning to me, which is my MO for random picks.
I scrawled my signature on the bottom, dated it, and handed the whole thing back to the man. He smiled and turned to leave, and I headed back to the storefront. Joseph opened the door for me and we took our places at the back of the room.
The number of people was a bit too much for the size of the room, especially since there was a large stand-alone fire pit cordoned off just a little back from the dead center. A wooden table-like thing stood over the fire pit, and I wondered what it was for.
Joseph nudged my arm and I turned my attention to the small group entering from the back of the room. My eyes went straight to Keith.
He looked a little more haggard and older than he should be from the six years since we'd been together. He'd put on some weight, losing the little bit of toning he'd had and hiding any wrinkles on his pale complexion. His hair seemed a lot more gray, but then he was a brunet and the gray showed more.
I turned my attention to the three in his entourage. The first guy was about 20 years old, dressed like an army vet, and strutted around like he was in charge. Too much ego for any real power on that kid.
The second was an older man, around Keith's age of nearly 40. He had a predatory look about him that raised my hackles. This guy was what that kid only wished he was.
The last one, a woman in her 20s, hung on Keith's arm in a skimpy shirt and tight jeans. My lip curled in disgust.
Joseph leaned over. “Jealous?”
I turned to look at him in surprise. “Of what? Keith?”
Joseph nodded, sympathy showing on his face.
I smiled. “It's sweet of you to care. I just don't like women who allow themselves to be used just to display some guy's masculinity.”
I turned back towards the procession and nodded my head at the woman. “She's only there to make Keith look manly-like. He doesn't touch her, talk to her or make eye contact with her, and she doesn't do any of that outside hanging on his arm. So their being together isn't about his feelings for her, or even her feelings for him.”
Joseph looked back toward the couple approaching the fire pit; the two men had dropped out of sight. “You got all of that from them walking together?”
I shrugged. “Isn't that why you dragged me into this?”