“Approach her, and then turn away and sit at a nearby table,” Steve said.
His moment of hesitation before he turned and sat at the next table over got Ana’s attention. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see her watching as he pulled out one of his books and started reading. He gave her enough time to get a good look at him and then turned to her slowly enough that she had enough time to look away. Then he went back to reading.
This back and forth went on for a few minutes. When Ana got up to get a coffee refill, John went for a cup himself. He thought he’d have to be the first one to speak, but she turned to him as they waited in line.
“I saw you reading 1984.”
“Yeah.” John paused a little before he spoke and kept his voice low, mimicking nervousness.
“Do you go to school around here?”
“I just started at St. Joseph’s.”
“Ah, I have some friends that go there. Who’s teaching 1984?”
“Oh, no one. At least as far as I know. We read Animal Farm at my old school so I picked this one up.”
Ana seemed impressed. They’d known from her file that she was a George Orwell fan. Now it was Ana’s turn to start acting shy, so John had to speak up to keep the conversation going.
“My name’s Mark, by the way.”
“You’re the first person I’ve met here who actually likes reading.”
“Adjusting to a new place can be hard. My family’s moved around a lot.”
“Ah, so at least you have experience with this sort of thing.”
Ana and John both had their coffee by now, and they were standing next to the counter. Ana tucked her brown hair behind one ear.
“Well, I hope you enjoy the book,” she said, and started turning back to her table.
“Proctor, don’t let her disengage,” Steve said into his ear. “Proctor, do you read?”
“This is Proctor,” John said, leaning and whispering to his earpiece. “I’ve got it under control.”
John could almost hear Steve grumbling on the end of the line. The thought made him want to smile, but instead he leaned over his coffee cup and stirred it with a plastic straw, letting his head droop down.
“Hey Mark, do you want to sit with me?”
He turned and saw Ana looking a little surprised at how loud she’d spoken. A few of the other patrons had looked up at her. He gave her a reassuring smile as he walked over, which only made her blush a little more.
“Let the record show that Newton bet against the master and lost. It’s too bad you aren’t as good at picking up girls as Proctor.”
“Watch the chatter, Turing.”
Steve and Mal were in the van in the parking lot. Obviously, Mal had hacked into the security cameras for the bookstore, because they were commentating on his every move. John sat down next to Ana.
“So, where do you go to school?”
“I go to the Huntsman Institute. It makes St. Joe’s seem down-to-earth,” Ana said.
“My dad always says ‘only the best’ for his daughter.”
“You don’t sound too happy about that.”
“It’s just that I don’t really see him much.”
“I can relate to that,” John said. “I can’t even remember my parents, I was too young when they…”
“Proctor, you’re going off book. That’s not part of your Mark alias.”
“I’m so sorry Mark,” Ana said as she reached out and squeezed his hand.
“I shouldn’t be laying all this on you,” he said. “You must think I’m an emotional wreck.”
“You’re a real person dealing with real problems,” she said. “What’s wrong with that?”
John was starting to feel bad. His training told him all the right buttons to press to get people to trust him. It was so much a part of him at this point that it was like a sixth sense. He was worried he’d start manipulating people without even realizing it.
“Thanks,” was all he said.