by Amy Holloway
What happens when you stick you nose where it doesn't belong?
THIN WALLS AND BEING NOSEY|
By Amy Holloway
Vanna Elliott has two bad habits. One bad habit was that she would loudly drum her fingers whenever she was in deep thought, or whenever she had a case of boredom. She suddenly realized she was doing this, and ceased immediately. She had been reminded several times by the manager that the person on the other end of the phone might hear her, and take it the wrong way. When working the phones at a crisis center, details mattered. Watch your breathing, because the person on the phone might take it as impatience or discomfort in the conversation.
She exchanged hands that held the phone receiver so she wouldn’t be tempted again, and ran her fingers though her hair. The person on the other end of the phone couldn’t tell she did that, that’s for sure. She had gotten a new haircut. To some people, she now appeared “cute”. Running her hand through her hair, could possibly be another habit she would later develop.
The other bad habit that Vanna developed, is that she is very nosey. This is a bad habit she is unaware that she has, but certainly others know all too well that she suffers from it. Whenever she walked into a room, the conversations people would be having would suddenly lower in volume or stop immediately. Of course, this made her feel that they were talking about her, and she tried not to take it personally. She had to remind herself that she was doing the Lord’s work, and what other people thought of her didn’t matter.
At thirty-eight years of age, she knew the Lord had blessed her. Her father died when she was a young girl, and she had to take care of her mother until she later died of cancer. She was left with the small home they lived in and had gotten a chunk of change from her parent’s life insurance policy. To her, this was her reward for her hard work and sacrifice. The Lord left her with no worries, so she had more time to give back. It was her Christian duty. She spent three days a week volunteering at the local crisis center, and two days a week feeding the needy at her church. The weekends, she spent at home and sometimes participated in yard sales and book clubs. She kept herself busy. She was against idle hands.
She knew what they would be saying if they did talk about her. Their former pastor had been cheating on his wife with a church member. She overheard the conversation the two of them were having, through the door of his office. She had been coming back from the restroom and heard a raised voice. Out of concern, she put her head to the door. This woman wanted him to leave his wife for her, but he was having second thoughts about all the infidelity that they were committing. To Vanna, it was too late. They had already committed this terrible sin, and she felt it was her duty to inform his wife of his wrongdoing. It made a big fuss, and he was voted out of the church. The new pastor was better anyways, in Vanna’s opinion.
People misjudged her. Only God could judge, though. There were rumors about her of course. A church member’s son was selling marijuana at the high school. In church one Sunday, she’d noticed a few young men in the pew in front of her wasn't paying attention to the sermon. She’s overheard the young man whisper to his friend that he accidentally left it in his locker at school. When Vanna told the boy’s father about it later, he didn’t want to believe her, so she told the school principle. The boy had to miss a semester of school and could no longer play basketball. Vanna knew she wasn’t in the wrong. The father should have believed her, and she prevented any potential drug sales in the future. She knew in her heart she had done the right thing, and she didn’t care what anyone thought. The young man will thank her later and will make better choices in life. For that, she was certain.
She finally was able to get off the phone with the disgruntled teenager, who was angry at her mother for getting remarried. Vanna wasn’t getting anywhere anyways. Perhaps she’s call again tomorrow. Young people always think they know everything. She ran her fingers through her hair again and began massaging her neck. In the cubicle over, she could hear the other volunteer on the phone with another caller. He sounded agitated. Craig Hammond had only been volunteering there for two weeks, and in Vanna’s opinion, was too young to be dishing advice to people about life. He was only twenty-five years old, and he and his wife had moved into town only a few months ago. All Vanna knew is that he was a school teacher, and the wife was a lawyer.
A lawyer and they were claiming to be Christian. It was a darn shame in Vanna’s opinion, but it’s wasn’t her place to judge. She looked at the clock, and her shift would be over in about forty-five minutes. She had decided it was time for another cup of coffee when she heard Craig’s voice raise. It was brief but enough to make Vanna raise her eyebrows slightly.
“I’m paying you, aren’t I?” She heard clearly.
He must have suddenly realized his volume because after that. All Vanna could hear now was mumbling. She leaned over and put her ear to the cubicle wall.
“.......what’s the problem then?”
“......and she’ll.... tonight.”
“...relax... get caught.”
There was a pause.
There was mumble, and then more mumble.
“.... handled that part already.”
There was another pause.
“.......just do it.......safe to come out.”
Vanna leaned further over to the hinges where the cubicles came together to hear better. Trying to get closer, but careful not to be seen through the crack the hinges made, she knocked over her coffee cup, spilling the remains. It made a loud CLACK against the hard surface of the desk.
Quickly as she could, she grabbed a handful of tissues, taking almost half the box in the process, and began sopping up the mess, before it ran all over her notes. Next to her, she heard his chair squeak as he shifted his weight.
She froze, and her heart stopped in her chest. She heard him move suddenly, and the mumbling became silence. She could see the light in the crack where he was sitting change suddenly.
“Hold on a sec.” She heard him say.
Quickly as she could, she sat back down again and rolled her chair to look in the opposite direction.
“Hey there,” she heard him say behind her, “everything alright?
There was only silence from her.
He gave a small awkward laugh. She could see him holding his cell phone, his hand was covering the bottom portion.
His eyebrows raised.
“Oh, I’m fine,” she managed to get out finally, “Just spilled my darn coffee.”
“I’ll call you back,” he suddenly said into the phone. There was a loud angry voice, that began to protest before he ended the call in a sudden beep.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to interrupt your phone call.” She told him quickly.
“Oh, it’s fine,” he assured her, “It was my wife, and I’ll call her back.”
There was another silence, as they stared at each other for a moment.
She thought, that was not the voice of a woman.
She stood quickly and walked passed him. To her surprise, He began following her to the break room. He stood behind her and waited, as she poured herself more coffee. She felt eyes on the back of her head, and her heart pounded. She turned quickly, and made herself busy with the sugar substitute, glancing at him from the side. He began pouring his cup, and turned his head slightly towards her, and smiled. She smiled back and looked down to her cup quickly. She blushed, embarrassed. Everything about him seemed wrong now. His brown bushy hair seemed unkempt instead of stylish. His dark blue eyes seemed piercing instead of beautiful. His cologne smelled too sweet, and it turned her stomach. He suddenly seemed darker and more brutal than he did before. He cleared his throat loudly and she jumped, startled. He glanced at her again. The expression on her face must have surprised him, because he raised his eyebrows.
“Are you sure you’re alright?”
“Oh yes, I’m fine,” she answered quickly. “I just have a lot going on today.”
He nodded his head as if he understood.
She stood holding her cup tightly with both hands and hoped that her smile looked genuine enough.
There was another awkward silence.
“I hope I didn’t interrupt you.” He said, breaking the silence.
“Oh no,” she forced out a giggle. At lease, she hoped it sounded like a giggle. “I was just finishing up.”
He sipped his coffee slowly and kept his eyes on hers. Her grip on her coffee cup tightened, and she was afraid that if she didn’t walk away fast, she was going to cause another spill.
She turned away quickly and heard him speak behind her before she reached the door.
“I’m sorry?” He had said something, and she missed it.
“I said, I’m sorry if you heard anything while I was on the phone.”
“Why?” Her voice sounded cracked.
“Well,” he sipped his coffee again still looking at her face, “I’m sure you didn’t want to hear my fussing with my wife.” He laughed, lightly.
“Oh no, I didn’t hear anything.” She had said this too quickly, so she followed up with what she hoped, was a small laugh.
She turned quickly and walked away, and she heard his laugh behind her.
Craig left early, and Vanna had asked her manager to meet with her at the last minute. Kathy Morris sat behind her small desk in her small office, surrounded by stacks of files that went to the floor. To Vanna, it looked more like a storage closet than an office. Kathy wore the face of professionalism during Vanna’s entire story and had remained silent. There were raised eyebrows and nodding in the right moments. Her big brown eyes, and small pretty face, shown a look of genuine concern.
“This is quite the story.” She told Vanna during a long pause.
“I know.” She admitted, “I needed to tell you though.”
There was silence for a while. Vanna stood looking down at Kathy’s hands and waited. She had them neatly crossed, and Vanna saw a very large engagement ring.
How nice, Vanna thought.
She could feel Kathy’s eyes burning into her. When Kathy continued to stay silent, Vanna broke it.
“Well?” Vanna asked her finally, losing patience.
“What should I do?” Vanna asked, throwing her hands up in the air. “Should I inform the police?”
“No!” Kathy answered her sharply, startling her.
She dropped her hands loudly to her side and stared at Kathy.
“You have no proof whatsoever.” Kathy informed her, more softly this time. “You want to look crazy?”
“You didn’t hear it Kathy. It sounded very suspicious.”
“It sounds far-fetched, and you’ll have a hard time convincing anyone. You didn’t hear the entire conversation either.” Kathy said, leaning back in her chair.
“You....you didn’t hear him,” Vanna tried again. “You didn’t hear the tone or saw the way he acted.”
“You’re right V”, she stood up and walked around to the front of her desk. “I didn’t hear it, but I will look into it, okay?”
“But he told me he was talking to his wife,” Vanna quickly put in, “But unless his wife has a gruffly deep manly voice, it was a man he was talking to. It sounded like they were making plans to do something.”
“Maybe you should take some time off V.” Kathy put in suddenly, before she could say anything else.
“What?” Vanna gasped, surprised.
“We have five other volunteers. Take a couple of days. I’ll take care of all this. Don’t let it worry you.”
Kathy put her arm around Vanna’s shoulder and let her out of the office. She walked as if in a daze, shocked at the conversation that just took place. This entire situation was unbelievable, but it was her that sounded unbelievable. She was trying to help. This is the kind of thanks she gets?
The Lord knows I did the right thing, she thought. That’s what matters.
“Take it easy V.” Kathy’s voice said behind her.
Dazed, she walked to her cubicle and gathered up her belongings. The crisis center was only a couple of miles from her home, when she walked the shortcut through the park. Not today, though. She took the sidewalk to the bus stop, watching her feet as she walked. She must look and sound crazy to Kathy. She needed a better plan to handle this. Kathy said take time off, but she was going to go in anyway. She would try again, and if Kathy didn’t want to believe her, she would then go to the police.
She sat at the bus stop for about twenty minutes, thinking her next move. The sun had begun to set behind the clouds, making everything appear orange. A few volunteers drove past her and honked. Suddenly, she thought about Craig’s cologne. Her stomach turned again.
Well maybe you are going crazy, she thought to herself. Do you really have all the facts? You’re just going by your gut.
Out the corner of her eye, she saw an oncoming vehicle, and what followed was the bus. She immediately knew whose vehicle it was. Her heart sank. It was Craig’s. She knew his SUV was an odd royal blue color. The speed limit was 45 down this street, but he had to be going at least ten miles over. It sped quickly past her and she only got a glimpse of the side of Craig’s head. She couldn’t swallow, but she tried anyway. Her eyes followed the SUV all the way up the street, and watched it pulled up to the door of the business building, that held the crisis center.
“You getting on lady?” The bus driver’s rough voice suddenly broke her concentration.
She quickly got on and started towards the back to get a closer look. She crouched down and carefully peaked over the window.
Vanna saw that he had carelessly parked his SUV right up to the door. As the bus got closer, she could see Craig inside.
As they went by, she sat up straight to see better. Kathy came outside, walked up to Craig’s window, and began kissing him. Vanna gasped, and fought back the urge to vomit. Vanna watched as Kathy’s long brown hair blew around them both, as they grew smaller and out of her sight.
Vanna was in disbelief in witnessing this terrible sin. She felt betrayed by Kathy. Craig was married, and Kathy appeared to be engaged. Her stomach turned, but she wasn’t thinking about Craig’s cologne anymore. Each step she took up the porch to her house wasn’t fast enough. She quickly began digging in her purse to retrieve her keys and dropped them twice. Picking them up the second time, she stepped onto the warped indention of the wooden porch, and it gave its usual creaky groan. She hated the sound it made and avoided stepping there. The sound made it aware to her orange tabby cat, Tom-Tom, that mommy was home to give food. Jumping onto the window sill, he protested for her to hurry.
He didn’t have to ask twice. Vanna went in and slammed the door behind her. She quickly locked the deadbolt. Tom-Tom stood impatient and watched. Quickly, she closed the shades and curtains, leaving only the cat door. She left this unlocked for the cat. She would shut this day out. She was done with people for the day.
Her plan was to feed the cat, take a bath, make dinner, and spend the rest of the night watching classic movies before bed. Lord willing, she would accomplish this. All the lights were off except her table lamp and the TV. She felt very strange. Something was giving her the creeps.
She had decided while soaking in the bath, that the crisis center would no longer be a place for her to do the Lord’s work. She would have to find another way to give back. She had to come up with a plan.
She knew she could accomplish this. She was good at planning things.
While she microwaved a TV dinner, she could hear the wind pick up outside. She peaked through her shades and saw the silhouette of the trees blowing hard enough so that the limbs hit the street lamps.
“It looks like a storm’s coming Tom-Tom.” She looked down at her cat who was washing his foot. He didn’t seem to mind. They were inside after all, and now all she had to do was to hurry with the dinner.
Later, and much to Tom-Tom’s delight, his mommy didn’t want much dinner. He chewed on a chicken tender under her feet, while she played around with her mashed potatoes. The TV was on, but she really wasn’t watching the movie. The volume was low, and she could hear the storm picking up outside.
The moon cast light through the sides of the window shades, and she could see the silhouettes of tree branches moving on the wall. Once and a while, she could hear them scrape the roof. Soon would come the thunder and lightning.
She decided to prepare for a power outage. The day she was having, she wasn’t taking any more chances. She couldn’t shake her discomfort. Her stomach was in knots. She decided that the antacids on the table beside her chair, was all the dinner she could handle.
She sat the rest of her dinner on the floor for Tom-tom, who wasted no time attacking it. She went into the kitchen and took from the drawer, candles, matches, and she took the utility knife.
Why the utility knife, her mind suddenly asked?
“To …cut …things.” She answered herself out loud.
Quickly she brought these to her room. Everything went inside the drawer of her bedside table. She got her flashlight and placed it on top beside her cell phone. So far, so good. It was always good to be prepared.
Now she needed bottles of water, some snacks, and the cat. They would shut themselves up in the room until morning. Things would feel less scary then with the sun out.
She went to get Tom-Tom. He had finished most of the food and had vanished.
“Tom-Tom?” She called for him. “Here, kitty-kitty.”
She walked back into the kitchen, in time to see his tail run out the cat door. Quickly, she ran to the door and swung it open.
“Come back here crazy!” She yelled, flipping on the porch light.
He had run straight into the bushes without pause, not looking back. Wind blew leaves and sand across the porch. On the sidewalk, she could see tiny dots of water began to fall. She shivered and tightened her robe around her and called for the cat again.
“You’re going to regret it pretty soon!” She yelled at the bushes.
She would have to come and check on him after a few minutes. The rain would increase, and she was certain the minute she opened the door again, he would bolt inside.
Something rattled in the bushes to her right.
She stared at the bush, hugging her housecoat tightly. There was sudden silence of the wind. Thunder began to rumble.
There was a sudden sound of a twig snapping, like a step taken. She dashed inside, slamming the door behind her. She turned off the light and waited. She would not open the door until she knew Tom-tom was there.
Where is that stupid cat?
There was a sound of a scrape, and the wind began to pick up again.
She looked out the peep-hole of the door. Maybe now, he finally came to his senses. She flipped on the porch light.
There was nothing but black.
She flipped it again. Her desk lamp was on, which meant there was power.
Don’t tell me the light-bulb decided to blow out now!
She flipped it up and down a few more times anyway. Looking out the peep-hole, all she could see were silhouettes of trees in the moonlight.
There was a sudden familiar sound of a deep creaky groan. She knew all too well what that sound was.
She turned without hesitation, and dashed into her bedroom, slamming the door behind her.
Sorry Tom-tom, she thought.
She took several long deep breaths. From the outside, came the slight roar of thunder from a distance.
Get it together Vanna, she told herself. You’re acting like a nut job, and you’ll end up in the nut house. Old houses can make sounds, especially during storms.
She stood there for about five minutes in a daze, listening to the rain spatter against everything it touched. The thunder began to get louder.
There was a slight wisp sound on plush carpet, and she figured Tom-tom had made it back in after all.
But would a cat make such a sound?
She slowly opened the door, and quickly looked down both sides of the hall. Quickly, she turned on the hall light.
There was sudden movement of shadow to her left. She spun quickly, but whatever it was seemed to have dashed into the kitchen. She rushed back inside her room and held the door open just enough for a cat to get in. She braced her foot firmly in front of it.
“Tom-Tom?” She called.
She shut the door back and locked it. He would just have to come to the door to be let in. She was spending way too much time on the cat. She sat on the side of her bed and reached for the aspirin. She took out four and swallowed them with a large gulp of water from the bottle.
She sat Indian-style on the bed and rocked herself.
She thought, do I need to call anyone?
Tom-Tom usually comes when I call.
Did I lock the front door back?
She froze with that question.
She jumped up quickly and grabbed the utility knife.
The light from the hallway shown bright under the door, and in that light were movements of shadow.
She watched the movement for a moment, unable to move. There was no cry from the cat.
All she could hear was her heart beating. She had cold chills but forced herself not to shiver. Her adrenaline was pumping now. She gripped the utility knife and approached the door slowly. This time, she would not call out for the cat.
The shadow came again, in dark lines beneath the door. It moved fast, then slow.
The wisp again, and the sudden fast movements in shadow. There was a breath, and a long exhale.
She thought, was that me? Did I do that?
This is ridiculous, she scolded herself. It was the events earlier that got her in this state.
If her the church congregation saw her right now, they would get a kick out of watching her.
Okay, she told herself, you’re going to open the door on the count of three.
Click, click, went the utility knife, as she pushed the blade up with her thumb.
She put her head against the door and listened.
She tightly gripped the doorknob.
In her head, she began to count.
Two … deep breath.