Oliver tipped the taxi driver and watched him drive off into the bright, sticky air of the Virginia afternoon. For once, Oliver didn’t mind the heat. After two weeks in Iceland, he was glad to be warm again. He lingered outside the automatic sliding doors for a moment, still wary of being followed, but none of the arriving shoppers appeared to pay him any mind as they dashed past into the cold air of the mall interior. Eventually he turned and took the twisting concrete and steel staircase up to the third floor of the parking garage, crossed the pedestrian bridge, and entered the mall by the heavy glass doors of the food court entrance.
Amber was waiting for him at a table near the entrance. She was dressed in her typical style: a purple retro-style flower dress with a tight bodice and a loose-hanging skirt. Her hair was topped with a flapper cap that Oliver was fairly certain had been purchased from a handicrafts website.
Some girls Oliver knew had gone through dozens of fashions over the years, but with Amber there had been a neat line of demarcation between her pre-teen years of coveralls and tennis shoes, and the switch to a 1920s retro style. It had happened the same week that Oliver’s mother had informed Amber, in no uncertain terms, that she had to, “stop dressing like an lowborn little waif and start wearing skirts, or you’re never going out of the house again.” Amber had disappeared into her bedroom for nearly two days, then pulled Oliver out to his car on Sunday afternoon and insisted that he drive her to a series of consignment shops. By the end of that weekend Amber had replaced her entire wardrobe with clothes that were certainly less revealing and tattered than her beloved coveralls, but nowhere near the modern fashions that Oliver’s mother had in mind when she issued her ultimatum.
Although Oliver was three years older than Amber, the two had been best friends since she had come to live with his family at the age of twelve. She might have come from the unstylish side of the Lucas clan, born to Oliver’s uncle Norman and his wife and raised on their dig sites throughout South America, but she could hold her own against Oliver’s prep-school education and his parents’ efforts to civilize her. They had bonded over a mutual love of history, his born from books and documentaries, hers from being raised by archaeologist parents, and it hadn’t hurt that neither of them got on with Oliver’s parents or the children of their high society friends.
“Ollie!” she shouted, jumping up and throwing her arms around his neck as soon as she spotted him.
Oliver hugged her back, then bowed formally and kissed her hand.
“Amber, my dear. And how are you this fine afternoon?”