Marie hurried through the double doors and nearly walked straight into Dakota, who quickly grabbed her shoulders to prevent a straight-on collision. They stared at each other briefly in surprise before Dakota broke into a wide smile.
“Couldn’t get enough of me?” he asked jokingly. “I’ve never had a stalker, but it’s pretty flattering of you.”
Marie was thrown off guard, and blinked.
“No, this is my office building,” she explained, jerking her thumb back towards the Everline skyscraper. He looked up at it instinctively, following her motion.
“And of course I’d be stalking you, who else would I stalk?” she added coyly, a beat too late.
He shot her a sideways glance.
“Out for lunch?” he asked innocently.
“Care to join me?” he added.
“That was the plan,” she shot back. He chuckled and started walking again, Marie tagging along.
“Where do you work?” she asked, to fill the silence.
“You know the old library down on King Street?” he asked. Marie didn’t, but nodded anyway. “I work the special editions section, you know, all the really old or rare stuff. Cataloguing mostly, but some research stuff. It’s pretty fun.”
“So what are you doing in this part of town? King Street’s nowhere close to here.”
“I started a small publishing company a little while ago, and the office is just down the street from you.”
“That’s ambitious of you.”
“I suppose. I just wish I had more publicity. Business is slow.”
He stopped in front out of a small restaurant with Vera Jon’s painted above the door in a pink that stood out from the garrish green door frame.
“How’s this?” he asked, looking down at her for a reaction.
“Here?” she blurted out incredulously.
She shrugged, swallowing the words Because no one else will be in here and smiling.
Dakota led her into the small restaurant, which had a bunch of small wooden tables packed between it’s crumbly brick walls. The chairs and tableware were mismatched and brightly colored, and several surrealist charcoal drawings hung on the otherwise unadorned brick walls. It had the air of a coffee shop, complete with several college students poring over piles of books and a shy couple out on their first or second date.
The perky hostess, who wore a brightly colored scarf wrapped around her hair and had different colored fingernails, led them to a back table between a student reading Shakespeare and a group of middle aged women clearly on lunch break. She handed them each an organic looking menu with Vera Jon written brazenly across the front, told them her name was Shay, and left them to her own devices.
They flicked open the menus and read in silence for a while. The restaurant was advertised as a ‘Sand – Which’ shop, and the menu featured 3 or 4 pages of creative options. All could be eaten on gluten-free bread or as a wrap, and all could be halved and eaten with either a soup or a salad. The most expensive was 16 dollars and had lamb, avocado, basil, balsamic vinegar, walnuts, and pear slices between its two slices of challah.
“Ham and turkey on multigrain with cranberries, sliced apples, mayo, and cheddar cheese,” Dakota mused.
“Bacon and marmalade on pumpernickel?”
“Grilled cheese on country white with pesto, pine nuts, sundried tomatos, bacon, and garlic paste.”
“That sounds simultaneously terrible and amazing,” she said, looking at Dakota over the top of her menu.
“Most of these sound simultaneously terrible and amazing,” he replied. Marie nodded.
“But in a good way.”
“In a good way.”