Marian hurriedly stepped in a puddle with her pointed ankle boots, and water splashed onto a nearby shop window. Her eyes searched the buildings on both sides of the street, hoping to spot the right one. Rain fell sideways through the streetlights and pounded on her hoodie; if she didn’t find the place soon, it would certainly soak through.
She finally found the restaurant and ducked under its pine and cranberry-colored awning. A slight hesitation came over her as she reached for the door handle, and she briefly considered forgetting the whole ordeal altogether. Pursing her lips, she lowered her head and stepped inside.
The sound of clanging dishes and drunk laughter flooded her ears immediately. She scanned the room; there was still time to return to her car. Marian shook her head and peeled her dripping jacket from her slim body. It wasn’t like she hadn’t done this before.
“Hi there!” a waitress exclaimed as she glided over. “Welcome to the Sherwood Bistro. How can I help you?”
“I have a reservation,” Marian replied and told the waitress her name.
“Oh, your partner is here already,” the waitress said with a smile. “Right this way,”
Marian furrowed her eyebrows. He wasn’t her partner.
For a small restaurant, it always bustled with people. The bar in the middle desperately needed renovation; the cracked stools squeaked when they spun, and the alcohol-stained countertop chipped if someone so much as looked at it sideways. Whenever live music played on the stage in the front, their microphones were so loud that nobody could hear each other speak over the band’s mediocre voices. Unfortunately for Marian, no band was booked that evening.
She spied her date before he spotted her. When he finally looked up, he stood and flashed a million-dollar smile. Water from the puddle started to seep into her sock. She shifted her foot uncomfortably and regretted leaving her waterproof combat boots at home.
“Hey! Sorry I’m late,” Marian greeted, a little too sweetly. She cringed inside and mentally noted to tone it down.
“Hi, Marian,” he replied, his smile unwavering. He leaned over to kiss her cheek, while she embraced him briefly. She only needed two seconds.
The man motioned to the chair opposite him and she sat down awkwardly, the scent of his cologne lingering in her nose. She ordered a strawberry lemonade when the waitress asked. She preferred not to drink on the job.
“It’s good to see you again,” he began. “Maybe this time we can make it back to my place.” Marian nodded and mustered up the best flirtatious smile she could manage. He went on to mention how he had just had the master suite remodeled, along with the library and the ballroom.
“Wow,” she responded, eyes wide with faux interest. His rambling only solidified the fact that she would never go home with him.
Their drinks came after a few minutes of courteous nodding, and the man paused for a moment while he took a swig of his beer. While the waitress recorded their order, he looked around the restaurant and seemed to take in his surroundings for the first time.
“I’m not sure why you wanted to meet here,” he said between sips. “I could have treated you to somewhere much more… elegant.”
Marian refrained from rolling her eyes. “And turn down the best sweet potato fries in the city? I don’t think so.”
He shrugged skeptically and didn’t make another comment about it. The subject of conversation changed several times after that, ranging from high school glory days to current favorite books.
The more they talked, the more Marian realized they had in common. Flirting had never been Marian’s strong suit, but words seemed to flow naturally that night. They hardly noticed when their food arrived.
At one point, Marian caught herself laughing at one of his jokes. Her tawny, shoulder-length hair fell out from behind her ear and covered her hazel eyes. As she stirred her strawberry lemonade with the straw, she noticed her heart beating a little faster, at which she shook her head and took a sip of her drink. She hadn’t expected this man to actually be nice; that aspect of him hadn’t shown up on his online dating profile. Nice guys were always the hardest to deal with.
And she couldn’t just let go of Robin that easily.
She glanced around the bistro to distract herself. A waiter carried a brownie with a candle in it to the young boy in the far booth. The boy’s smile widened to showcase a gap where his front teeth used to hang, and neon light from a nearby Budweiser sign reflected in his big brown eyes. His mom snapped a photo as he blew out the flame.
Marian turned her attention back to her date when she realized he had said something.
“Hmm?” she hummed, sticking her straw in her mouth.
“Have you heard about the serial thief on the news lately?” he repeated. He took another sip of beer.
Marian nearly choked on her straw. “No,” she lied. “What happened?”
“They think he’s some sort of vigilante,” he explained. “He goes by Robin. Just last night, he stole from three mansions a couple streets away from me. Jewels, cash, you name it.”
Light from the overhead lamp glinted off his Rolex into Marian’s eye. She suddenly became aware of her wet sock again. “Oh really?” she replied coolly. “Tell me more.”
He shrugged. “There’s not much to tell. Nobody knows who he really is. The police chief is looking for him, but he doesn’t have any leads.”
Marian let out a relieved sigh. Robin was safe, for now.
“I wonder what he’s doing with the money,” she said dumbly, stirring her lemonade again. She knew exactly what Robin was doing with the money.
A slightly awkward silence ensued. Marian was unsure of what to say next.
“What would your father have thought about it all?” he asked.
Marian balled her left hand into a fist under the table. “What does my father have to do with this?”
“I mean, he was the police chief before he died in that freak shooting incident,” he shrugged. “Come to think of it, he died around the same time Robin showed up.”
“Maybe he’d try to understand the reason why Robin is stealing rather than starting a manhunt for him,” she responded in frustration.
“Why does that matter? Robin’s a dirty thief, clear as day,” he countered. He took a bite of his fettuccini alfredo, and a giant glob of sauce dripped on his silver tie.
Her stomach dropped. She knew Robin was a thief, but she wanted to believe it was for the right reasons. She took a deep breath to calm herself down. “I’m just saying, my father would figure out the ‘why’ and then know how to catch him.”
“That just sounds more difficult,” he said in the middle of chewing.
“He would have done a hell of a lot better job than the guy who took over,” Marian spat.
Her date obviously missed her angry social cue. “Really? I think he’s been doing well from what I’ve seen. He’s even giving a reward to anyone who finds this Robin guy.”
Marian was done. Staying with Robin would never be a hard decision for her.
She briefly caught the eye of a tall brunette woman sitting across the narrow aisle and then looked back at her date. Shortly, Marian’s phone rang.
“Hey,” she said. There was no response from the other line, which she had expected. “Oh my god,” she whispered loudly. “No, of course; I’ll be right there.”
“What happened?” her date questioned anxiously.
“I’m so sorry. It’s an emergency; I have to go,” she lied. “Thank you for dinner!”
The man stood up as she turned to go. “Wait, where are you…” he stopped and patted at his pockets. “Hey, have you seen my wallet anywhere? I swear I had it when I walked in.”
Just then, someone ran into him while walking by. “Oh my, I am so sorry,” the tall brunette apologized. Her fingers slipped into his right pocket, and she slid out his smart phone without brushing the fabric in the slightest. While he regained his balance, she dropped the phone into her knee-high boots, winked at Marian, and strutted away. Marian followed closely.
Once outside of the restaurant, the brunette handed Marian the phone. “You ever going to stop seducing random men to get what you want?” she asked, smirking.
Marian lowered her eyes. “Johnnie, am I a bad person?”
Johnnie looked surprised. “Of course not.”
“You don’t think I’m getting carried away?”
“No way!” Johnnie laughed. “If anything, you’re just getting started.”
Marian gripped her fingers around the phone. A rush of adrenaline suddenly pumped through her veins. She lifted her eyes with a new determined gleam, and the women parted ways before too much time passed.
She strutted confidently toward her car, avoiding puddles wherever possible. Her sock had only just dried, after all. She pulled a brown wallet out of her purse and proceeded to flip it between her fingers, having cleverly picked it from her date’s left pocket during their initial greeting.
In her peripheral vision, she spied a homeless man sitting in a covered corner out of the rain. He held a damp cardboard sign.
“Here you go, sir,” she sympathized, handing him five $20 bills from her recently-acquired wallet.
The homeless man’s eyes lit up as he accepted the gift. He turned the bills over once, then one more time, as if to make sure they were real. “Thank you,” he murmured, hesitating at the end like he was waiting for a name.
She grinned. “My name is Robin,” she replied with a wink. Flipping her hood up, she strode toward the darkness and disappeared into the night.
Self-professed “Robins” were found many times over the years—always confessing the wildest of tales and most heroic of deeds—but in all that time, the police never stopped to consider “he” might be a “she” with tawny hair, a lion heart, and a tendency toward chronic tardiness.