Who knew a trip to the mall could be so...creepy? The 'creepy' has just begun for Bree.
|Word count 3564
Next stop, Crazytown, and all the anti-psychotics you can swallow.
The joke fell flat somewhere between my brain and reality. No matter what I tried, the mannequin continued to stare at me with her unnerving cobalt eyes. All the stupid-skinny-frozen-people were. Somewhere in the deep recesses of whatever logic I still possessed, I knew the thought border-lined complete whacko. Mannequins didn’t actually stare. They were inanimate objects. Right?
Since walking into the Lloyd Center, one of Portland’s more fantabulous malls, I couldn’t shake the heebie-jeebie feeling of being watched. At home in Cascade everything had been normal. Same deal at Tess’ house. The drive to Portland had been even more normal with Tess sing-wailing along with the radio. But once I’d entered the mall, my stomach soured, goosebumps flashed across my skin like a landslide and those little hairs on the back of my neck stood on end.
“What about these pretties, Bree?” Tess elbowed me and I nearly choked on my gum.
Coughing, I glared at her. I blinked away tears, frowning at the eyesore dangly earrings she held out. The black and gold monstrosities would only look good on her, or Lady Gaga.
“Yeah, nice,” I told her with a shrug. Shopping ranked about as high on my must-do-or-die list as streaking the football field at homecoming.
Her violet-blue eyes locked on mine. She stuck out a hip, rivaling the ‘tude of the still-staring mannequin behind her. I brushed dark curls off my shoulder and tried not to look at the mannequin with the admittedly super cute skinny jeans.
“Okay, I get it.” Tess replaced the earrings on the round stack-o-crap table between Junior swimwear and Misses summer dresses. “You’re done shopping.”
I quirked a smile. “Beyond. C’mon, this place smells funny, and has freakish…” My gaze drifted to the mannequin. “…lighting.”
“Lighting?” Tess’ perfectly arched brows rose. “Whatever. At least I talked you into the peep-toes,” she said, nodding at the bag hanging from my elbow. “They looked totally cute on you.”
I glanced down at my flip-flop clad feet and grimaced at the trendy boutique bag. “I still don’t know why you insisted on them. It’s not like I own anything that will go with them.”
“Pssssh! It’s not the point. Peep-toes are essential to every girl’s wardrobe. Especially red ones.”
“Me. Now shut it.” She eyeballed the swimwear and I groaned internally. We were never going to leave. I would die here, amidst staring glass eyes and fiberglass anorexia. “I’m hungry, you?”
“YES!” Not really, but my endless toe-tapping and throat-clearing the last thirty minutes hadn’t persuaded Tess to leave the creepy store. That was after I’d whined about my lackluster shopping joy. I came for one thing: my camera filter. And that puppy nestled snugly next to the heels.
Tess babbled on about ruby-colored sex kitten essentials as we strolled toward the food court. Well, Tess strolled as if mall cruising were a competitive sport in style. I had to concentrate on my steps or I’d faceplant. My brain refused to send any sort of coordination down to my feet. I fought the urge to look over my shoulder every five-seconds. Maybe it was my imagination, but the few times I did look, I could swear I found people staring.
The closer we got to the food-court, the worse it got. By the time we ordered our pizza, my pulse screamed panic attack and my palms were all clammy. We sat near the middle of the food-court since, according to Tess, it was a prime observation locale. She wanted to scope the hot boy scene, but I felt exposed. I would have rather sat in a dark corner, or under the table.
I took a small bite of pepperoni pizza and chewed the flavorless blob until I managed to swallow around the lump in my throat. Not trusting another bite, I set my slice down and wiped my face on my napkin. Tess picked apart her calzone, fishing out pieces of chicken, and droned on about interning at her mom’s law practice next week.
Normally I didn’t ignore my best friend since babyhood, but I couldn’t shake the dread hanging over me like a wool blanket. I suffocated in it. The sick twisting in my gut and eerie being watched sensations reminded me of the dreams. The nightmares.
I’d been having the freak dreams for months. Correction: dream, as in singular. As in a never changing Sci-Fi movie marathon tailored just for me. Pain, darkness, fear, and eyes in the shadows I never see but their icy stare sunk to my bones, and the screaming. My screaming. I couldn’t get away from the eyes, or the pain. It hunted me. It chased me through the woods behind my house. I ran, but never fast enough, was never evasive enough.
So far I’d gone through three composition books documenting the dream. I filed them in a box under my bed I liked to call Bree’s Wee Psychosis. I’d thought maybe documenting it would help flesh out the issue. Nope. I wasn’t any closer to figuring things out today than six months ago. Dream dictionaries were pointless. I’d read dozens. The only thing I did know, something was coming for me and it scared the bejezzus out of me.
Today, however, marked the first time the wee psychosis visited during the daylight hours. Or during a summer break mall stop for that matter.
I stole a glance at Tess. Her mouth moved, but all I heard over the blood throbbing in my ears was a muted, garbled mess. She lazily scanned the room and didn’t notice my mini freak-out. My internal autopilot had clicked on with the occasional ‘uh-huh’ and ‘yeah,’ but nothing she said registered. Everything inside me screamed “RUN,” but I couldn’t make myself leave the chair. None of my brain synapses fired the way they should. Super stalker staring mannequins paled in comparison to the wave of anxiety ripping through me.
I placed both hands on my drink and forced a sip of my Cherry Coke. My throat had gone dry and scratchy, as if I’d been screaming. Troves of people passed by and I realized a movie must have let out. I glanced behind me at the theater doors and the mass of people chatting about whatever they’d seen. They all looked happy and satisfied with their day. Nobody appeared to be scared of unknown horrors. Nobody looked over their shoulder expecting the boogey man to pop out any time. Just me.
As if pulled, my eyes zeroed in on three people walking past the Chinese buffet. A broad-shouldered Latin guy had an arm draped over a slight girl with a bright red pixie-cut. Then my gaze found…him. As everything in my peripheral slowed to a standstill, I stared. There was something about him...
His dark hair curled a little behind the ears and sort of hung in his eyes. A shadow marked his jaw like he’d neglected to shave in that totally hot rebellious way. The tall, slender build hinted at more under the jeans and golf shirt. His bold nose and strong jaw belonged on nobility, or a Greek god. He ran a hand through his wavy hair absently and it fell back over his forehead.
Something itched at my subconscious, and then it hit me. Nobody looked at him. The vultures hanging out in front of the various restaurants, shoving their samples in everyone’s face, completely ignored him. Ignored all three of them. Nobody escaped the food-court vultures. Why them?
His walk had a graceful fluidity to it. One hand shoved into the pocket of his pants and the other rubbed at his chin as he said something to the other two. His lips pulled at the corners as if sharing a private joke with his friends.
I stopped breathing. Something stirred inside me, something deep and forgotten. Eventually, like a slow to burn candle, a thought started to form. It lingered on the tip of my tongue, waiting to be born.
Then he turned and looked right at me as if I’d called his name.
I immediately felt my face warm with humiliation. I stared down at my hands, still griping the condensation soaked cup. Whatever that thought had been, popped out of existence. My body screamed to look at him again though I knew I couldn’t.
Seconds passed and my entire being begged for a moment of weakness. What’s the worst that could happen? the evil little voice in my head asked. Like a total crackhead, I raised my eyes again, following the flow of people. Our gazes locked.
I couldn’t look away. Something snared me to him as securely as a hooked fish. A whirlwind of sensations crashed over me: tenderness, heartbreaking loss, shock, ageless longing, promises of forever, moonlight kisses, and the spiky sulfuric smell of fear. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t think. Nothing made sense. A crazy desire to run to him and fold myself into his embrace surged through me.
I had to be near him. He would be the light to guide me through the darkness of my fears. Nothing would harm me with him near. Nothing would dare.
The world around me grew fuzzy and insignificant. I saw nothing but the eyes across the room staring into mine with open astonishment and curiosity.
Something next to him broke through our gaze, and I averted my eyes. The Latin and redhead stared at me. Damn! Triple caught! I squeezed my eyes shut, again feeling the familiar burn across my cheeks.
“Uh. Where’re you going?”
I jumped at Tess’s question. Then, without thinking, I looked over at them. They were gone.
“Uh…yeah. I’m okay,” I stammered and blinked away the fuzziness. What the hell? I stood several feet away from our table. I didn’t even remember getting up. And I’d been facing him. Was I seriously going to him? Whoa, I’m totally losing it!
Frowning, I awkwardly deposited myself back into my chair. Tess eyed me carefully. She knew I was full of crap. I sighed. “I got caught staring at quite possibly the hottest guy in Portland is all. By him and his friends no less.”
Now I felt ridiculous. The goose-fleshy panic, the breath-stopping awe, and the crazy run-through-the-wildflowers-and-lose-myself-in-him feelings were gone. All of it, gone. It was strange, but I felt…empty. Weirder still, my pizza was still hot as if zero time had passed in what felt an eternity.
“Where?” Tess hunted the room with her eyes.
“They turned the corner or something. They probably thought I was some super-stalker.”
Tess laughed it off and teased about restraining orders. She then wanted a complete run-down of the hotness. I obliged and, based on my description, she agreed with my assessment.
“Let’s go then.” Tess stood from the table and began collecting her multitude of bags.
“To find the Adonis of course!”
Tess laughed as I gaped in ‘Are you completely insane?’ fashion. She grabbed my hand and yanked me to my feet.
“I’m sure they’re long gone by now, Tess. Next county probably.”
“Then you don’t have anything to worry about. We’ll just be two hot chicks prowling the mall floors. But if he’s still here…” She waggled eyebrows at me.
I groaned. “I never should’ve said anything.”
It took all I had to not drag my feet like a stubborn child. As Tess hooked her arm in mine and pulled me away, I tried to ignore the unhinged sanity episode that had just occurred. There weren’t any words to explain what had happened. Nothing that didn’t sound positively unglued that is.