Madison caught a glimpse of him in the mirror, as she was re-folding jeans. She shifted her position slightly to get a better view. It was definitely him. He was on a bench near the store entrance, and though he was looking down at his phone and had a ball cap on, she was quite certain of his identity.
She walked casually to the back of the store. “Hey, okay if I take my break now?” she asked the manager.
“I’m doing inventory,” her manager called from the back room. “You got coverage out there?”
“Yeah, Cathy is on the register.”
“Okay then,” the manager called back.
“Back soon,” Madison said.
Madison walked the long way around the store toward the entrance, hoping he wouldn’t notice she was on the move. But by the time she reached the front, the bench was empty. Damn it! she thought to herself. She looked down the hall in one direction and then the other but didn’t see him. Not this time, she thought as she jogged to the children’s play area positioned dead center in the mall. She hopped the low plastic fence that surrounded it and quickly ascended the wooden tower in the middle. From this perch she could see the four main corridors. She looked frantically from one to another of them, but there was too much visual clutter.
Madison took a deep breath through her mouth and let it out slowly through her nose. She centered herself and looked carefully at the south corridor. She worked to focus on every soul she saw as she scanned all the way down the right side and then all the way back on the left. He might have taken off the cap or the jacket. Most of the people she saw were women. Some were old. Some children. She eliminated suspects one by one until her gaze reached the floor in front of her.
She turned ninety degrees. The east corridor was longer, and she fought the urge to rush her search. She was slow and steady and thorough. Still nothing.
Then ninety degrees again. She started scanning the north corridor. She focused on her breathing. The key to seeing everything was to not rush. Not panic… Gotcha!
She took the slide down to floor level and hurdled the fence heading north. She jogged around the kiosks and people in her way, being careful to not hurt anyone. She reached a clearing and saw that her quarry was running, too. She shifted from jogging to a full run but could see she wasn’t going to catch him. He was fast. She stopped running.
“Lucas Johnson!” she yelled as loud as she could muster.
He stopped dead in his tracks.
Madison steeled herself and walked purposefully toward him. She passed him, then turned around to face him. He had tears in his eyes and one of those tears had let loose and was running down his cheek. He was breathing hard. She took him in. It was then that she understood why she recognized a face she was quite sure she’d never seen before. She had seen those eyes every day of her life. First thing every morning when she brushed her teeth and last thing at night when she brushed her hair. Madison was looking into an older version of her own eyes.
“Hey, Dad. Do you drink coffee?” she asked.
The corners of the tearful eyes crinkled as he smiled.
“Hey, Mads. Yeah. I like coffee a lot,” he replied.