As much as I hate to admit it, the more time I waste getting to the police station, the less of a chance I have to get my car back. I should have just called from the newspaper's office, but it's too late for that now. I guess I'll just have to suck it up and go with him.
Gives me more time to figure out why he makes me uneasy, at least.
"Well... I guess that makes sense," Nathan said, rubbing the back of his head. "Just around the corner, you say?"
Alton nodded, smiling eagerly. He shifted the books he was carrying to his other arm and motioned for Nathan to follow him, starting down the sidewalk. "Actually, it's one store down from the shop at the intersection up ahead, but that's close enough. Mind if I ask your name?"
"No, not at all!" he lied, jogging to catch up with him, cringing that he now had to tell him. "It's Nathan."
"Nathan..." Alton hummed and chuckled a bit, looking over his shoulder towards him. "I'm sorry for your unfortunate, uh, welcome to Virtue. Let me be the first to give you a better one."
"Uh, thanks, I guess..." Nathan was still having trouble shaking his discomfort when the Alton suddenly stopped walking and narrowed his eyes at him. He said nothing at all, silently staring at him, his lips pressed in a thin frown while his eyes darted back and forth, looking Nathan over from head to toe. So much for shaking his unease. "What are you doing?"
Alton lifted his gaze to meet his, and the source of his anxiousness finally hit him: his eyes. That couldn't possibly be a natural shade of blue, and Nathan's mind immediately began running through every shade he could think of to describe the rich, vibrant color of Alton's eyes. The writer in him was trying to grasp at a name that hadn't been used before, but he kept falling back on sapphire, azure, cobalt...
"You're afraid of me."
The simple statement derailed his train of thought. "Huh? What?"
"You're afraid of me," Alton said again, sighing as he turned around and started walking away. "Clearly, I make you uncomfortable, and I wish you would have said so rather than follow me."
"I..." Nathan bit his lip, knowing it wasn't worth arguing with him when he was right. He jogged to catch up with him again. "I didn't want to be rude, but yeah, you really creep me out. Guess I'm not use to this place yet..."
"Don't worry about it. I get that a lot here." Alton's cheerful demeanor had quickly faded, and he said nothing at all to Nathan, not even looking back, until they reached the front steps of the bookstore. Stenciled on the large picture window in black outlined copper letters were the words Sterling & Son, and Nathan mentally checked off finding a bookshop from his list of things to do.
"Sterling & Son?" he read out loud, looking over while Alton unlocked the door, trying to lighten the mood. Alton nodded, crumpling up something and shoving it in his pocket before he opened the door.
"It was my father's shop before he and my mother retired to Hawaii. I still occasionally get mail for him." The smile was slowly returning as he looked back at Nathan. "But that's what happens when you're a junior."
"Glad to say I've never had that problem," Nathan said with a grin, glad for the smile. "Although I still don't get why my folks named me after my grandmother, of all people..."
Alton laughed, holding the door open for him before following, moving to the front counter and setting down his keys. "Your grandmother? I didn't know Nathan could be a woman's name."
"It isn't. Nathan's my middle name. There's a reason I go by it."
"Ah, embarrassing first name. I understand. I'll spare you by not asking what it is." He gestured towards the phone. "Go ahead and make your call. I need to get things straightened up before I open shop for the day."
Nathan didn't hesitate, quickly scooping up the phone and dialing 9-1-1. He gave the operator all the information he could, right down to the specific parking space he'd been in, just to be sure. By the time he was finished with his call, Alton was turning the Open sign around on the door, ready for business. "Is there anything else I can help you with today?"
"No, nothing," Nathan told him, breathing a sigh of relief that he had finally gotten done all that he could with the theft of his car. "Thanks to you, I've checked off two more items on my list."
"Yep: report the theft and find a bookstore." His stomach growled. He hadn't noticed it was almost lunch. "I guess I'll go find a place to eat next."
Alton laughed again, sitting down behind the counter and picking up a book. "I believe I can help you there as well. There are two places within walking distance from here."
Nathan raised an eyebrow. Even knowing that it was Alton's eyes that had made him initially uncomfortable, he still couldn't help but be wary of him. He really seemed too helpful. Then again, it was possible Nathan was just being paranoid. "Sounds perfect to me, since I obviously need to walk."
"Obviously," the shopkeeper agreed, rolling his eyes as he leaned forward, propping his elbows on his knees and pressing his hands together. "Depending on what mood you're in, you have the choice of the Golden Frog in one direction and Five Little Piggies in the other. Chinese and American coffeehouse, respectively. Both have good prices and great food, although I personally think the asiago pretzels at Five Little Piggies are sinfully good."
Any food would be sinfully good right now. I guess it's just a matter of what I'm in the mood for, like he said. Wow, tough choice, but I'll end up going to both of them eventually, I'm sure. The question is which one first...
Should I go to the Golden Frog or Five Little Piggies for lunch?