"Man, just ask her out already."
"I did! She shot me down."
"Man, asking a girl to hang out in your crappy-ass apartment watching black-and-white shit on tv ain't a date." Donte laughed. "It's assisted suicide. Ask her on a real date."
Russ shook his head. "I don't know, Donte. I mean, dating someone you work with can backfire. I've seen it happen. I know."
"Man, nobody in their right mind would choose this lame-ass job over a woman. Get right in the head, man! And go man the booth, man."
"Man, alright! Just leave it."
Russ dragged his skinny, sullen ass over to the chair by the glass doors, and sat down. "Theater 23 is upstairs level four. Theater 2 is on your right. Theater 4 is on your right. Bathrooms are by Theater 3." On and on in a robotic voice as his mind churned furiously. Ask Aimee out, again? God, he'd just about crapped his pants asking her the first time.
And she'd said no.
The paper heart was burning a hole in her pocket. She was dying to unfold it, but every time she had a minute Russ was at her elbow, or looking her way while sweeping across the lobby. She'd once asked Russ if she could, in the interest of their investigation-game, unfold his collection of cranes.
"Are you kidding? No way, Jose! I don't want them destroyed." Russ threw his arm in front of their roost on the popcorn machine. "One, if you unfolded them, I'd end up with a collection of receipts. Boring. Two, it would take a serious dent out of the mystery of Blade Runner's identity. And," he finished, "without the little perqs I manage to create around me, I'd go postal. I would. And I don't want to be the star of a prison movie, thanks."
"So hands off the cranes, Aimee."
She finally went into the women's room and sat down in a stall.
The crooked little heart, No. 14 in an erratic series, had been folded with the printing on the inside, so she carefully unfolded it, smoothed it flat against her thigh, and took a look. 11/19. Harry Potter. Well there goes that theory. Red Vines, large Coke.
And written in black ball-point pen, a phone number.
Aimee crumpled the receipt in her hand, poised to flee back into the lobby, then slowly flattened it out again. She didn't recognize the exchange. Probably a cell phone. I wonder if he's one of those pricks who text-messages through movies. Her purse was in the break room, and her highly-unattractive polyester Multiplex 24 uniform didn't have any pockets, so she slipped the paper inside the left cup of her bra, washed her hands, and went back to the snack bar.
"Oh, hey, Aimee. You look glum—but fabulously glum. You know, noir. Very noir."
"I'll take that as the compliment it might have been in a better life, Russ. Thanks. Any news on the Bladerunner front?" Sound casual, act casual.
"No, nothing since the 13th heart last week. Eleven cranes, two pinwheels, six little boats, and thirteen hearts. For awhile I thought it was a mathematical code, but apparently not." That's right, man, casually intelligent. That's right.
"So, no clues as to identity?" Aimee was looking down at the glass countertop.
Dazzle her, man. "Still have my short-list of suspects, the usual suspects," Cool! Stay cool, "Goth Chick With Roots, Neo, Retired Guy, and our neighborhood Comic Book Guy. Haven't been able to definitively weed any of them out. Although," Russ cleared his throat, "I never see Goth Chick hanging out with other women, so I can probably scratch her off my list. Heh, maybe Retired Guy has a thing for girls in polyester."
Aimee looked up at Russ, not smiling. "Thanks for that mood-lifter, Dr. Robert. I'm feeling ever-so-noir now."
Russ managed to squeeze words out of his frozen throat. "Sorry. I'm a dick. I didn't mean it that way. It's just that, uh, a bunch of paper hearts with 'Aimee' written inside, which only started appearing after you started wearing the origami earrings, it just seems like he's flirting with your."
"How do you know it's a guy? It could be a girl. It could be someone not on your list." Russ saw that while Aimee didn't resume her pose slouched over the counter, she didn't turn away, either.
"Yeah." Now. "Aimee, I, uh, I...go to the movies with me."
"I am at the movies with you."
No! "I mean, go out with me to the movies. Or to...someplace else. A date kind of place."
Aimee stood there, her arms crossed, chin lowered. "Are you asking me out?"
Russ felt like he was going to have an Olestra event righ there and then. "I, uh, yes. Please go out with me."
Aimee stood there, broadsided, not knowing what to say. Skinny, geeky Russ was asking her out. The guy who their coworkers once called the Andy Stitzer prequel. Glasses-wearing, comic-book-reading Russ. Under her arm Aimee could feel the unfolded, crumpled, and flattened origami heart against her breast. Maybe it was the guy they called Neo who'd left her his number. Tall, dark, fashionably rumpled Neo. That would be a score. Or maybe Russ's joke was nearer the mark and her secret admirer was the grizzled, pot-bellied Senior Discount. Or Comic Book Guy. Aimee's face crumpled in distress thinking about their obviously socially inept, body-odor-ridden patron leaving her love notes.
"Aimee, I'm sorry—don't cry!" Russ felt about two inches tall, looking into the face of a woman ready to cry at the prospect of a date with him. "I didn't mean it, Aimee. I'm sorry I upset you!" He turned and bolted down the hall toward Theater 4.
[I thought I could finish this today, but I ran out of time! —Suzanne]