Time is mischievous.
09/20/2006: Just an Average Day
Either the light coming in from the balcony door, or Artemis scratching around in the litter box, woke me not long after dawn. I was glad either way, ready to be done with all the running in my dream. I always felt exhausted after that one; it recurred at least once a month for as long as I can remember, but usually it stopped with the running. I’d never made it through the archway before.
I got up and went to rummage around in the bathroom. Since it was so early, I took my time as I went through the mundane routines of brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I let the conditioner sit in my hair for an extra five minutes or so, and let the hot water pelt into my back, before reducing it to lukewarm and rinsing my hair.
Bailey and I had a breakfast date, so I picked out a low cut sweater and the princess cut diamond earrings he gave me for our six month anniversary to wear. I brushed on some mascara, put my hair in a twist with a clippy thing and decided I was good to go.
It was still too early to meet Bailey, so I popped a can of Pepsi, relishing in my first gulp of the day. It’s not healthy, I know, but I can’t help it. Screw the dental bills. I took another swig as I walked over to my desk and started up the computer, then opened my working email to see if I had any assignments yet for the day. Several of my clients - webmasters needing writers to fill their sites with content - recently placed rather large orders, which I fulfilled gratefully and in a timely manner. From the looks of my email, I would have a slow week ahead, as I anticipated.
Kneeling down to give Artemis a good scratch down the back once more, I whispered, “I’ll see you a little later, Puss.” She purred, and rubbed her head on my knee, then trotted off. I headed out, locking the door behind me.
When I turned the corner to get to the bakery, I was so lost in thought, I walked right into Bailey. He laughed and threw his arms around my waist to steady my balance.
“Morning, Babe,” he greeted me, and then kissed me deeply, temporarily pushing the dark stranger from my thoughts.
“Wow, uh, good morning.” I managed to sputter out, after I’d reclaimed my tongue. “It is now at least,” I smiled up at him.
It would be physically impossible for me to tire of looking at this man; tall, clear blue eyes, thick dark blonde hair, and a smile that could light up silver screens around the world as far as I was concerned. He was mine, and I liked it that way.
“You seem especially happy this morning,” I observed as we made our way to a booth. “What’s up?”
The corners of his lips twitched, barely able to contain their secret. “You know that project I pitched to Discovery last month?”
“Ohmygodtheydid?!” I blurted in one word.
“Yes, ohmygodtheydid!” He laughed running his finger down my nose across the table. “I’ll be writing it start to finish, credits and all. I may even do the narration.”
“Oh, Bailey, I’m so excited for you!” Then I remembered it meant he would be leaving for Central America, for an extended period of time. “How long will you have to be gone?”
“At least three, maybe as long as six months,” he said softly.
I looked down at the menu, and muttered, “That’s a long time to be away.”
He reached across the table again, this time lifting my chin with the same finger. He surprised me by asking, “Come with me?”
The room began to spin, and my “fight or flight” instinct kicked in. “Bailey, I…” I could not form a coherent thought.
He put his finger to my lips. “No. Don’t say anything yet.” He must have seen the panic in my eyes. “We won’t be leaving for another three months. You would have time to
wrap things up here. Your mom said your passport is still current, and Artemis can stay with her while we’re gone. I’ll cover the lease on your place until we get back.” Then he smiled strangely, “Or you could let it go, and just move in with me when we get back.”
Whoa, this is too much for before breakfast. “Bailey, I, wow, um…”
He put a finger to my lips. “Don’t say anything now, just think. We’ll talk about it in a few days, okay?”
“Okay.” No, not okay. His documentary project would take him to Central America for at least six months, and I was not ready to pick up my life and go with him. I was not ready for moving in together either. But that was best saved for a private discussion.
We ordered breakfast and ate, discussing some of the details of his project. I felt no need to mention my strange encounter the night before, Bailey never knew anything about my previous stalking experiences. I guess I felt if he knew, he might think I was crazy like everyone else said I was. As we finished, we made plans to meet at The Keg and walk back to his place together when my shift ended.
I took my laptop to the park, and spent the rest of the morning working from a picnic table. Being able to move my office outside at my leisure was my favorite perk to the job, and the people-watching opportunities that it afforded were priceless for character development. Working independently can be a bit solitary though, which is why I kept up a shift or two a week at The Keg, to have some contact with other human beings.
While most normal, sane women would swoon at Bailey’s invitation, I was taken aback. Did I seem like the type of woman looking for a man to take care of her? I generally considered myself to be an independent woman, I change my own oil for crying out loud, so what would make Bailey think that I would be ready to pack up my life and move in with him, when we’ve never discussed it, is beyond me.
After years of my life I could never have back had been wrapped up in someone, like five of mine had orbited around Jeff, I was still in no hurry to make another man the center of my world again. No matter how incredibly hot he was.
The tree I was staring at was dangerously close to catching fire from the intensity of my gaze, and rather than burn the park down, I turned my eyes back to the screen before me to write. It was hard to focus on the assignment, given that it was another mundane batch of one hundred and fifty word descriptions of dog beds. Only four of the twenty pieces remained, and I was determined to push through them before my shift.
As I typed, a faint prickling beneath my skin began, spreading from my wrists and up my arms. When the hairs on the back of my neck stood up, I knew again I was being watched. It was the man in the trench coat; I could feel it.
I tried to look around nonchalantly, and thought I caught a glimpse of dark fabric swirl around a tree not far off. I thought my imagination might be playing tricks on me, but he told me he was “with me always,” and something about him made my gut say he was telling the truth.
Not really knowing what to do, I turned my eyes back to my laptop and kept on writing. I figured if he was going to show himself to me again, he would when he was good and ready. Then it occurred to me that maybe I should be ready, just in case. So far he had not done anything to suggest that he meant me any harm, though the whole stalking thing is usually an indication of nefarious intentions. I made a mental note to see if the can of pepper spray was still in my junk drawer, and brush up on self defense techniques at the very least.
Little, nagging questions buzzed around in my mind while I tried to continue working. Who was he? Why was he following me? Why did he seem so familiar? How did he seem to know me? The questions kept coming, but no answers followed.
I managed to put another hour or so into the articles I was working on, before it was time to pack things up and get ready for my shift.
Wednesday nights meant pretty light crowds most weeks, and this one was no exception. I got a text from Bailey around 7:30 that read, “I’m so sorry Babe, just leaving the office, exhausted. Meet my place? Use UR key and wake me ;)”
“thinking about it,” I typed in response. I was seriously considering not going, since he was blowing me off again. It seemed like we spent no time out in public anymore.
Arletta, the owner, had been occupying her usual stool at the end of the bar all night, and at 10:40 there were only two regulars left, Mitch and Joe, along with Arletta’s boyfriend, Plumber Pete. He ran a tire shop by trade; I don’t want to know why she gave him that pet name.
“Sammy girl,” I cringed as she got up to come around the bar. I hated when she called me that. “Why don’t you take the rest of the night off and go see your beau. I can close up after these louses,” she winked as she jerked her thumb toward the three men.”
“Who you calling a louse,” Mitch jeered back at her playfully.
“Ah,” Arletta just waved her hand back at him. “Really, go on,” she grabbed a rag from the sanitizer bucket, and started wiping down the bar. “Get outta here.”
So off I was again, fearlessly trekking the back streets of Novica. Bailey’s place was two blocks further away, and two blocks off the other side of Citrus from mine, so I planned to stop by my place to feed Artemis on the way.
As I crossed First St., I caught a glimpse of a man in a trench coat wearing sunglasses as he disappeared in the opposite direction on the other side of the building. Chills went up my spine, and I quickened my already brisk pace.
After filling her food and water dishes, scooping her litter box, and giving her a good belly rub, I kissed Artemis on the head and locked her in for the night.
Across Citrus, I took the shortcut through the alley behind Comics & Collectibles, and as I moved deeper into the shadows, my radar went off again. I stopped and called out, “I know you’re there.” I heard some rustling behind me and looked back down the way I had come. An orange tom cat jumped out of an open dumpster, hissed at me and took off for the street.
This time I was expecting him when I turned around.
“What do you want from me?” I demanded.
"What do you want for yourself?" He was not giving anything away.
"To reach my destination," as I said it, I knew that it was a lie. I would much rather be at home.
"You know as well as I do there is nothing for you there."
There was nothing malevolent about him, I decided. “How do you know so much about me when I know nothing about you?”
He shrugged, and started walking past me toward the street. “It’s my job to know everything about you.”
I started after him, “Wait, who are you?” I reached the corner two Mississippi’s after he did, but when I looked he had vanished.
Stunned, I stood blinking for a moment before I continued on my way to Bailey’s.