The steam wafted up towards her nose, teasing her with the strong scent of caffeine. Peggy Lee crooned about missing her lover on the old jukebox in the corner and she could taste the apple pie as the scent wafted out to her from the kitchen.
The old diner was something out of an old Hollywood film, but it was the only place open round the clock. Not to mention that she had grown up coming to this little 24/7 diner, when her dad would take him with her on his way to work at the base just north of Death Valley. They had been regulars until she'd gone off to college, but she'd never stopped wondering about the little diner situated in the middle of the stretch of Nevada highway between Death Valley and Hoover military base. How many years had passed since she'd been back here, sitting in this same booth, where she'd carved her name in the underside of the table as a kid? Too many to count.
And now, here she sat, waiting for him to show up so they could continue their little game- what appeared to be a more chaotic form of the playground version of Tag but was called Cat and Mouse, except it involved the one who was 'Mouse' being dropped into a city somewhere in the country with a bundle of important information the 'Cat' wanted, with the goal of eluding capture by any means possible for however long- ranging anywhere from weeks to months- and if the 'Mouse' was caught- well, no one was ever sure what exactly happened if the 'Mouse' was caught, because the 'Mouse' was always sworn to secrecy in order to keep the air of mystery surrounding the game; this time, it just so happened to be her turn.
It was also exceedingly strange that this whole game had started over a dispute between those who worked at Area 51 and those who worked at NASA as an extension of Eureka, but it'd been going on for so many years now, no one remembered the exact dispute that had caused it to begin with. She checked her phone.
He was late; she couldn't sit here for the rest of the day, waiting for him to show up, if he even knew where to look. There was a reason she was A-51's best 'mouse'- she could avoid and evade like no one's business. It was part of the reason why when it came to The Game, A-51 always came out the winners.
The bell above the diner door jingled lightly, signaling a new arrival, but she kept her head down; she knew the rules, and always followed them to a T. Or tried to. She felt the air shift as a gaze moved about the diner, and continued to stare at her phone; the cup was warm against her palm.
Don't look up. Rule #1- Don't acknowledge the Cat once it enters the scene. They can acknowledge you, but you must never acknowledge them. Sighing, she tucked her phone away, feeling the gray USB stick with the information they wanted tap against her breast from where it resided in the inner pocket of her leather jacket. Then, she wrapped her hands back around her mug, waiting.
Hiking boots squeaked slightly along the linoleum floor towards her. Obviously new, if the squeak was anything to go by. Good. He'll need them. Since he's gonna have to trek through the desert to catch me. She released a slow breath. Rule #2- Use the state you're dropped in to your advantage; the more space the Mouse has, the easier it is to lose the Cat and get away.
And I fully intend too; I grew up here, after all. You've pitted a Native-born Nevadan against a Bostonian who, until six years ago, had never even been out of Boston. Idiots; send me a greater challenge in a different state next time. This is almost gonna be too easy. She took a sip of her drink; the taste was bitter and sharp and she coughed softly.
They slid into the seat across from her, but she kept her gaze locked on the steam dancing before her eyes. "Can I get you something, dear?"
"No, thank you… Glory." She heard the waitress's footfalls retreat; good ol' Glory, always trying to be courteous to her customers. "Long time no see," She swallowed, knowing he was using the beat to rattle her. "Jo."
She slowly dragged her dark gaze from the rim of her cup to meet his. "Zane." His blue gaze sparkled with mirth and she wanted nothing more than to grab him by the front of his wrinkled button-down and- "Took you long enough, you get lost? Go to the Clown Motel in Tonopah instead? Or did you hit Coaldale? Hard to ask for directions there considering Coaldale's abandoned."
"Funny, Jo. And no, but I'm here now. Did you miss me?"
She frowned, and shook her head. "Me? Miss you? Not at all." Rule #3- Make small talk as long as you can while you formulate the quickest way of escape. Keep all options open and don't let them see you sweat. Her gaze subtly darted towards the counter where Glory was serving a slice of apple to Bill, who'd just gotten off a fourteen-hour shift at the mine. If she needed to, she could vault the counter and dash out the back way through the kitchen- but that would be a last resort. "Why? You really think you're that important to me, Zane?"
He chuckled, that quick smirk he was known for flashing, and she forced herself to take a deep breath. "Well, I seemed pretty important to you four months ago when I caught you in New Orleans at Mardi Gras."
She rolled her eyes; of course he'd bring that up, just like he'd bring up Tulsa and Seattle and Bar Harbor and Louisville- "First off, we weren't playing then; it wasn't our turn. And second, what makes you think you caught me? For all you know, I caught you," She smirked, letting her gaze rove slowly, hungrily, over him this time. "babe."
She watched him wrinkle his nose and knew she'd struck pay dirt, if the brief shifting in his seat was any indication. "Below the belt, Jo, completely below the belt."
"I know, that was the point."
Silence settled before he leaned close, reaching for her hand, which she pulled away. Rule #4- You can touch the Cat , but the Cat cannot touch you unless the intent is to capture. She shook her head. "No, no, no. No touching allowed." And then, to mess with him, she stood, leaning over the table; he eagerly met her in the middle, and she grinned. "See Zane, the thing I like about being the Mouse, is I can get away with something like this."
It was brief, chaste; perhaps the chastest kiss she'd ever shared with the man across the table from her. From the moment they met, it had been nothing but sparks, challenges, and something akin to hitting the jackpot in Vegas. They were dynamic and explosive and they just understood each other so well; he didn't look down on her for what she did- though he didn't know what constituted as work at A-51- nor her high IQ, and she didn't poke fun at him for the enjoyment physics brought him at either NASA or Eureka or his love of restoring vintage motorcycles. Sure they had their fights, but what couple didn't? And they loved each other, that much was clear; if the ring on the chain tucked into her blouse wasn't proof enough, but still, the fact that they worked for essentially 'rival' programs- the people who sent people into space with physics and the people who 'supposedly' experimented on aliens from space- and was it any wonder they were always pitted against each other in this game?
A quick grin tugged at her lips. "I missed that."
His grin soon matched hers, though he hadn't opened his eyes yet; closed in response to her impromptu kiss. Rule #5- Never get involved with the Cat; it will end badly for the Mouse. So they'd broken Rule #5, even though they'd tried not to. It was the rule put in place after a pair had abandoned the Game back in the late sixties and run off to the Soviet Union, turning spy for the Russians. But for them, it was bound to happen anyway, given their attraction and history- and how was she to know he'd been tapped for the Eureka and the space monkeys that first year he took part? To have her former university lover walk into the restaurant in Orlando she'd been sitting in, waiting for her Cat to appear six years ago was… Well, six years was a long time to be together, a lot of Games to play, and even though the engagement was fairly new, that didn't mean either one was going to abandon the Game.
A moment passed; she sighed. She really did love this man, no matter the pain in the ass he could be, which was what would make this next move painful in so many ways. His blue eyes slid open and he smiled at her; her heart constricted, but she quickly shook herself. Sorry, babe.
Her mind ran quick calculations; with the force of her throw and the time it took to stun him, she could dash past the counter and make it out to her car in under five minutes, giving her enough of a head start that she could lose him if she took the back roads. This was her home state, after all. She knew the desert and her roads like the back of her hand. Steeling her resolve, she picked up her mug and stuck her pinkie in it. No longer scalding hot, but not cold either. Lukewarm.
"Sorry, Zane, but we're on a winning streak, and we're not gonna lose it just because my base desire at the moment is to have sex with you on the table," He furrowed a brow, confusion flashing over his face.
"What are you-" Lukewarm coffee hit him square in the face and he stumbled back with a shout; the cup shattered as it hit the ground and she vaulted over the nearest tables and onto the counter, dodging plates of food, hands, utensils, angry shouts and cups of coffee as she went.
She was out the door and gunning the engine of her car in under five minutes, like she'd predicted. As she tore off down the back roads of the Nevada desert, headed upstate, she reached into her pocket, feeling the USB still in the inside pocket. Pulling out her phone, she shut it off and tossed it in the backseat before turning on the radio, leaving her fiance and her childhood diner behind. Sliding her sunglasses on, she rolled down the window and let herself enjoy the drive. The beach was calling her name; plus it'd take him a while to figure out there was more to just Nevada than desert and Vegas.
Tahoe, here I come.