Movie theatre

Erin spotted the man who was to become her tormentor as soon as he entered the crowded theater. The old man in the drivers cap and sports jacket was a strange sight in an auditorium crammed with young people. He looked dumbfounded as he surveyed the dimly-lit cinema for a place to sit, sticking out like a sore thumb.

Erin's friend, Steph, who was nursing an extra large Coca-Cola, turned to her and asked, "What's that guy doing?"

Steph was one of her oldest friends and also happened to be her date for the night. They were here to see some romantic flick that she would not stop gushing about. Erin suspected her friend had a crush on the main actor. That was fine, but she knew she'd be tuning out of the featured programming shortly. No way would she be able to focus on all that lovey-dovey stuff for a full two hours straight - not without going crazy, at least. As for herself, well, she was more of a horror-flick girl.

At the moment, Erin and Steph were sitting on the top row, to the far right of the majority of the audience. Their row was noticeably empty. Steph liked it that way because whenever she needed to pee she could make a quick exit, which, knowing her, would be more often than not.

Erin's attention drifted back to the man who'd just come in. She felt a slight pang of sympathy for him. He looked sort of pathetic there all by himself, as it seemed that no one had bothered to join him on a night at the movies.

A grandpa with no company. It was sad in an odd way.

"I have no idea," she replied.

Then he noticed the open seat beside her and she saw his expression light up. For some reason, a knot formed in the pit of Erin's stomach. Suddenly, the man started moving towards her ...

***

Bingo.

Stanley Kovacs was not a trivial man. He liked plans and schedules - partly because that was his job as a professional driver, but also because they kept him sane. Anything that deviated from his well-set agenda was at best an inconvenience, at worst a threat. Which was why he was surprised to find himself standing here, in a theater full of young people - a demographic that, by and large, he loathed.

But he was here with a very specific purpose in mind. He was here with an itch to scratch.

Howdy, beautiful.

He saw her before she saw him. Upper left-hand corner. Red-head. Wearing a short skirt with fishnet leggings and knee-high leather boots, as well as a t-shirt with a hoodie overtop. She was sitting beside a second girl with blonde hair. He walked up the stairs, slowly winding his way towards her, making a show of trying to find a seat as if he hadn't already picked one, and the closer he got the more he liked his choice. She was breathtakingly beautiful. She had a teardrop face dotted in freckles and dark, mascara-painted eyes; a mane of fiery red locks that tumbled over her shoulders; thick, rose-colored lips; and she was young, but not too young. In another life, she could have been a movie star or a singer. Or maybe that was too generous. Either way, she would do just fine.

When he reached the top of the flight of stairs, he sat down a few seats away from them. His mark's friend leaned over and whispered something into her ear. His brain was working double time, figuring out his next move.

He always had a plan - for Stanley Kovacs was not a trivial man.

No. Life had beaten that tendency out of him long ago.

***

Before the guy even had a chance to sit, Steph pulled on her arm. "For an old man, he's kinda hot," she whispered.

Erin blushed with embarrassment, worried that he might have overheard them. She shot another glance at the old-timer sitting to her right, a seat away. He wasn't that old. If she had to guess, she would have put him somewhere in his forties or fifties. His face looked pleasant enough but there was something about his body language that worried her. Maybe it was the slightly old-fashioned way he was dressed - corduroy pants, dress shoes, cap tilted to the side. They all made him look like a character right out of The Great Gatsby. She supposed he could have been a coach at a local high-school or something, but she didn't recognize him as such. She happened to play for her varsity volleyball team. As a result, she knew many of the more prominent coaches in her region, and this guy definitely wasn't one of them. After all, it wasn't like they lived in a big city or anything.

"Silver fox!" Steph squealed beside her. Erin gaped at her friend, horrified that she would say such a thing, and mouthed the words shut up as distinctly as she could. She turned away and forgot about the old man for the time being, and chatted with her friend. Soon the conversation shifted to boys.

"So, how are you and Matt?" Steph asked, taking a sip of her beverage. "Still an item?

Erin chuckled and shook her head. "Sort of."

"Just sort of?"

"I mean, we're still seeing each other, I think," Erin replied.

She didn't spill the whole truth, which was that she and Matt had hooked up recently - under the bleachers, no less. It had been a hot, steaming mess as far as she was concerned, because, truth be told, Matt had been an awkward lover: fumbling with the condom when it came time to put it on, whacking his head off the underside of the stands. And it was all over before she really had a chance to enjoy herself. She winced as she remembered his frantic, no-holds-barred humping and the way he'd kept recycling the same cheesy line over and over - "Oh, baby, you like that, baby? Tell me how much you like it" - like someone whose idea of intimacy had come from some crappy porno. She'd read some forums online about what the first time was supposed to be like. Frankly, she'd been less than impressed with the whole experience: when the finale arrived, he'd accidentally ejaculated onto her dress. She grimaced at the memory of walking through the halls with his semen staining her attire, despite her best efforts to clean it off in the girls' washroom.

Making love under the bleachers was supposed to be a rite of passage for many people. Thank goodness she could cross it off the bucket-list. Never, ever would she repeat that mistake again. In any case, she didn't want Steph to know that she had lost her V-card, especially not in such a cringeworthy fashion. Word got around a small town like the one they lived in and Steph was a notorious tattle-tale. No way did she want that story spread far and wide, not on her watch. Besides, she failed to see how it was anyone else's business.

"I don't know, it's a bit confusing. I'd rather not talk about it."

Steph pouted her bottom lip. "Okaaaaay."

An advert started playing on the screen. A talking hamster in a lab coat was discussing the benefits of a little purple pill to a married couple. It took her a second to realize that it was an advertisement for morning after pills.

The man beside them made an odd noise. From where they were seated, it sounded like an exasperated 'tsk' sound.

"Ridiculous!" the man growled, taking his hat off and running his hand over his head. He started to rise. "Don't they know there are kids in here? Letting smut like this run in a public theater. Bah!"

He appeared to be getting quite agitated. While he wasn't being terribly loud, a few people in the seats below them obviously heard the hubbub, casting wary glances back at their row. The man was almost standing up, glowering up at the projector room. Erin was worried he was going to make a scene. But then he appeared to think better of it and sat back down, grumbling. Those who had turned around to watch the spectacle began chattering to their friends amusedly, delighted by what had just transpired. Erin glanced at Steph in visible alarm. But her friend wasn't paying attention: she was texting on her phone, probably to some boy, Erin assumed.

She shifted in her seat a little and found herself regretting coming out tonight. Oh great, there's a crazy guy sitting beside me. Just my luck. Why didn't they just stay home and watch a movie there? You know, Netflix and chill. It would've been so much easier.

Fortunately, the commercial changed and the guy seemed to cool off a bit. He was still muttering something under his breath about 'back in his day' but she promptly tuned him out. Maybe he should have stayed home and spared the rest of them his attitude. And why was this crabby old dude out seeing a romantic movie all by himself, anyway? There were plenty of women and girls in the audience, with a few couples spread throughout. But as far as she could see, he was the only single man in the entire auditorium. It was weird - and, honestly, she was more than a little freaked out by it.

She took out her phone and pretended to check through some of her messages. The movie was going to start soon, and she figured it was a better use of her time than sitting here and waiting for -

"Hello."

Startled, she turned towards the source of the disturbance. The older guy was facing her now, his expression void of emotion.

Erin sputtered, and replied, "Erm ... h-hello?"

She had a better chance to appraise him now that he was only sitting one seat away. He was brawny for his age. Without his coat, she noticed that he had broad shoulders and large forearms that looked suited for a butcher's shop. And his arms were coated in a thick layer of hair that trailed all the way down to a pair of large, bear-like hands, which were steepled in front of his massive chest. She also noticed just how tall he was: even sitting down, he was an enormous human being. He possessed a square jaw with a close-cropped beard that had streaks of white in it. And even though he was well past his prime, his face carried barely a wrinkle; he suddenly appeared surprisingly youthful to her, as if his appearance belied his true age.

But what caught her attention most of all were his eyes: cold, ice-blue, calculating ... and they were riveted on her.

A lump formed in her throat. The knot in her stomach twisted even tighter. And yet, despite her dread, she noticed - with horror and shame - a number of reactions happening within her at the same time that she was at a loss to explain. It was as if someone had knocked over the first domino in a long line of dominos, triggering a chain reaction that swept through her body in record time. For example, under the gaze of this strange man, she experienced a sudden flash of heat in her face, a growing dampness in her palms, and a point of warmth spreading in her lower-abdomen -

Erin almost gasped out loud. She nearly fell out of her seat she was so flummoxed. W-what is this? What's happening to me? She sat there frozen as a deer in headlights, her mind rendered completely and hopelessly blank, as the man resumed resumed speaking in that rough, gravelly voice of his.

"You girls from around here?" he asked, nonchalant as could be.

Steph looked up from her phone and saw something social was happening. She wasted no time and decided to leap headfirst into her natural element.

"Yes, we are, actually," she replied, leaning forward to show that she was interested. The collar of her blouse drooped as a result, revealing her smooth collarbone and a healthy eyeful of cleavage. Erin had no doubt the move was intentional: Steph was (among other things) a massive flirt. If she thought she could soak up some male attention along with the added bonus of embarrassing Erin in the process, she'd be the first to do it.

The man looked at her briefly before, seemingly indifferent, his gaze slowly returned to Erin, who was still clutching the armrests of her chair with her hands like a bird about to take flight. "Oh, really?" he purred, missing or ignoring her discomfort. "What school do you go to?"

Hesitantly, Erin muttered, "We go to Holly Oaks." She wondered why this man was talking to them. She never understood what compelled people to strike up conversations with complete strangers. It was a skill she herself had never used and, indeed, never wanted in the first place.

The man nodded. "Oh, I see, I see. Still in highschool, then."

"We graduate this year," Steph offered, with no qualms whatsoever. Erin resisted the urge to dig her elbow into her friend's side.

"Interesting," he said, scratching his bearded chin.

He began asking them about their lives, their hobbies, so on and so forth. Steph filled in the blanks for both of them, and Erin was happy to let her do most of the talking. She was never any good in social situations. Besides, her mind was still racing, mired in doubt, as she tried to rationalize her prior reaction to the man's sudden and unwelcome intrusion. She shook her head to clear her thoughts.

You were just surprised, caught off guard, she mused, only half-listening to the conversation taking place between Steph and this new guy. Physiological reactions are beyond our conscious control. There's no point worrying about it. Yet, she was worried. And she was finding it difficult to break through the awful clouds of wrongness in her head. Maybe I'm coming down with a cold. Yeah, that has to be it.

Finally, after some back and forth, he asked them what they wanted to do after they graduated.

Steph took a deep breath before launching into it. "Well, personally, I want to go to college - with my bestie here," Steph replied, wrapping her arms around her neighbor and giving her a big, cutesy hug. She chuckled. "My mom is a psychiatrist, and I've always wanted to follow in her footsteps, so, you know ... I'm lucky I got her brains instead of my dad's." She laughed while Erin did her best to hide her discomfort. She noticed the man watching them both with an eerie intensity.

"That's good, I'm glad to hear that," he said.

He behaves so stiffly, like a scarecrow or something, Erin thought.

"I'm Steph, by the way. And this is Erin." Steph patted her arm and giggled. She really was like a big overgrown kid.

The stranger nodded to them both and a rare smile broke out across his face. "Steph and Erin - nice to make your acquaintances." He glanced around for a moment as if looking to make sure they wouldn't be overheard. Then he leaned in and whispered: "Can I give you guys some friendly advice?"

"What kind of advice?" Steph asked.

He licked his lips. "You girls look like a couple of smart kids to me. So, I know when one of your elders gives you some wisdom, you'll remember it."

Erin almost rolled her eyes at this part, but she was afraid he'd notice. For some reason, she was worried about angering him.

"You're both of an age now where you're probably pretty darn interested in boys, am I right?" He looked at them both, and she heard Steph giggle again, this time in the affirmative. "That's what I thought. I mean, I can hardly blame your generation. Look at the filth they're showing on TV these days. Birth control commercials? In a public theater? Are you kidding me? That's the kind of stuff they should show on late night infomercials, not in a place for kids." He sighed and shook his head sadly. Then the man blinked in confusion. "Say, you two don't happen to have ... "

"What?"

He lowered his voice as if he had some salacious rumor to share. "Boyfriends?"

Steph shot Erin a knowing look, then turned to the man, her chest more pronounced than ever. "And what's it to you, sir? So what if we do?"

The man looked away for a moment, taking his hat off to run a hand through his wavy, gray hair. He seemed overcome with emotion. "Well, ain't that a damn shame."

"Excuse me?"

He glanced back at them and then stood up. Breezily, he moved to the seat beside Erin's without even so much as a word of warning. As he sat down, Erin caught a whiff of his scent: tree bark mixed with cigarette smoke. She shifted uneasily in her seat, wishing he would move away and leave them alone.

However, the man pressed on. "My advice? Don't."

"Don't what?"

"Don't get involved with 'em. Put them off for as long as you're able. My momma had me when she was young, real young, and always regretted it. From what I heard she never had the chance to go live since she always had one of us hanging off one of her arms. Trust me when I say that at your ages, you got better things to worry about than boys and all the sinning that goes with 'em, especially if you're thinking of going to college. And I bet two pretty young girls like yourselves have to spend all day beating horndogs off with sticks." His eyes drifted back to Erin and settled on her for an uncomfortably long time. If he seemed tall before, now he practically towered over her. With his voice lowered, he added: "In any case, if the goods are worth anything, then they shouldn't exactly come free, now, should they?"

There it was again - that stare, pinning Erin in place with its intensity. Her heart thudded rapidly in her chest from both fear and excitement. She wanted to run, but the promise of violence contained there in his eyes prevented any serious action in that direction. Besides, did she really want to make a fool of herself? She was probably overreacting.

"Guess I'd never thought about it that way before," said Steph, who was sucking her lower lip as she sat there, deep in thought.

The old man seemed to relax a bit. He released Erin from his stare and sat back. "Just a nugget of wisdom from a lonely old man, ladies. Don't give it a second thought."

Everyone in the theater suddenly fell quiet and Erin soon knew why. The previews were running. A man with an eye-patch drove over an embankment in an old muscle car with an explosion going off behind him and a title card flashed on the screen. Most of the time she enjoyed watching the previews, but not here, not now. All of her attention was focused on the individual sitting in the seat beside her. She began chewing at the skin on her finger, desperate to take her mind off him. It was as if her instincts were kicking into overdrive, alerting to the presence of an unknown danger. She hated feeling like this.

Why am I so afraid of some weird old man? she wondered, casting a few uneasy glances in his direction.

They were in a public place, after all - if he tried anything she could scream, and there would be good Samaritans on him in an instant. Still, with a growing dread, she saw that his massive legs were blocking the aisle, preventing an easy escape. She told herself to calm down, to not make a scene - because it wasn't like the dude had done anything to them besides try to strike up a conversation, which wasn't a crime by anyone's standards - and yet she knew this movie couldn't be over soon enough.

After a few minutes passed by without incident, a hand touched her arm. She turned and saw Steph looking at her intently.

"I've got to pee."

"What?"

Steph shook her soda cup: the thing sounded practically empty.

It took Erin a moment to fully absorb the scope of her accomplishment. "You drank an extra large soda in under twenty minutes?" she exclaimed, flabbergasted. "Are you crazy?"

To this, her friend merely shrugged. "I was thirsty. Hey, you can't blame a girl for having a sweet tooth." She started standing. "Be back in a jiffy. Watch my bag." Then she awkwardly squeezed past Erin's legs until she reached the next roadblock. "Excuse me, mister, mind if I come through?"

The man in the seat smiled as he rose, making room for her. "Not at all, little miss, go right ahead."

"Thank you."

As she shimmied down the row, her friend stuck out her bottom enough to visibly drag it across the man's groin as she crossed in front of him. Her tight jeans did little to conceal the firm shapliness of her butt. If the guy noticed, he didn't make a show of it; he just kept staring straight ahead as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. After this performance, her friend moved quickly out to the aisle, down the stairs, and then towards the exit. Erin thought she caught her grinning mischievously before she left for good.

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