A mist had rolled in from the bay and the white tufts of cloud settled lazily on top of roofs, in the side-alleys, and wove in and out between the light poles. When Leana opened her car door in front of Starbucks and filled her lungs with the crisp, cold air, she looked out in the direction she knew must be toward the ocean. She couldn't even see past the line of trees at the edge of the parking lot, the fog was so thick. She could hear the cars rushing by on their way to work, but couldn't even catch a glimpse of the vehicle-ridden highway.
And most of the time, that was the way that she liked it. California was her home, even at six-thirty in the morning when the sun had just barely poked its way over the mountains and the air was cool enough to see your breath.
She met Nina and Katrina at the glass door that had the name, "STARBUCKS COFFEE" printed in bold lettering on the front. "Good morning," she said brightly, but the girls simply walked past her into the coffee shop, sullen looks on their faces. Leana examined the dark circles under both girls' eyes as they plodded on past. "God. What were you guys up doing last night?" She grinned, "Or should I not ask?"
They didn't answer, but went up to the counter and ordered. Leana joined them, thinking she would go for a warm double latte at the moment. The guy standing behind the big dark-green counter smiled at each of them encouragingly, and when she returned his smile he let his eyes linger for a bit longer. "You'll have your regular frap, then, Leana?"
The three girls often met up at Starbucks before going their separate directions for work, mostly on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. The people that worked at this particular Starbucks knew them each by name, plus what they normally ordered.
Leana shook her head. "I think I'm going to go for something warm this morning," she said, gesturing toward the windows, which held back the gray skies from bursting into the warm shop. "How about a double latte… with extra whipped cream on top?"
"Yeah, if anybody can have the extra cream, it's Leana," Nina said sullenly. She drug her feet all the way to their circle of chairs and plopped dramatically down into the middle of one, letting herself sink in all the way. "Honestly, it's not fair. Here I am getting a light mocha."
When Leana sent her friend a confused and slightly disgruntled look as she, too, settled into a chair, Katrina explained with a slow roll of her eyes, "She met a guy last night. It went well for about an hour, they made out, and then he went on to another chick. Now Katrina is convinced it's because she wasn't good enough for him."
"Do we have to go over this again?" Leana stressed, leaning her head back onto the chair for a few brief moments. She wrapped her fingers around the Styrofoam cup's warm sleeve. "Guys like those are the ones that aren't good enough for you."
Nina looked down at her stomach. "I could use to lose some weight, though."
"If you feel that badly about yourself, come jogging with me every morning. We'll start out slow. I only did a mile this morning; that's not bad. Rumor has it that my mother used to do after she had me, to lose all the weight," Leana said encouragingly. "We could slowly build up to three or four."
"Three or four miles," Nina moaned. "I won't even be able to make a half."
All went silent for a few minutes, and then Katrina, always the tension breaker, started in with a new conversation as they all sat sipping their separate coffees. "So, Leana, any news about that guy yet?"
Leana's insides clenched just thinking about him, but she smiled and said almost sardonically, "I think I have a stalker." She screwed up her face and pretended to be looking around the room nervously. "Well, you never know. It might just be coincidence. Either that or someone really likes me."
"So, what does this one look like?" Nina asked interestedly, obviously recovered from her recent but short depression relapse. "Is he good-looking, blonde, muscular… big hands?"
"No, he's not Malibu Ken, Nina," Leana rolled her eyes. "In fact, he's more of a villainous-looking guy. Tall and dark. Kind of creepy if you ask me, but good-looking in a disarming sort of way. I mean, it doesn't even matter to me that much. I just think it's kind of weird that I see him all the time, even if it's just passing each other on the highway or catching a glimpse of him out the window at work."
Nina called out in a singsong voice, "Somebody's got a crush on Leana." She giggled girlishly and added, "Tall, dark, and handsome, huh?"
Just then, the Pink Panther theme rang out in the middle of Starbucks' soft background music. Leana reached in her purse to flip open her phone. "Hello?" She waited for a few seconds, and then when there was no answer she repeated, "Hello?" She frowned and counted fifteen in her mind before flipping her phone shut and stuffing it irritably back in her purse.
"Who was it?" Katrina asked.
"Probably just a hang-up, or someone with the wrong number," Leana said, wanting to just shrug it off and continue with her day. But she waited for a few moments, debating whether or not to tell her friends what she thought. "Well, I've been getting those a lot lately. I think it's him." She chewed on her lower lip pensively. "He'll call and listen, and then hang up. It happens nearly five or six times a day."
Katrina looked concerned. "So, not only do you think he's following you, he's also got your phone number and is calling you?"
"I don't know for sure," Leana said cautiously, and then continued, "But that's not all. I've been getting these anonymous text messages." She stopped, not sure whether she wanted to tell her friends what they were like just yet. But they both looked at her curiously, so she stopped biting her lip and rushed on to say, "Dirty text messages."
"What do they say?" Nina's eyes widened, and she leaned forward.
Leana nearly shuddered. "Things I don't want to repeat. In fact, they got so bad lately that I just stopped reading them. I normally delete them completely when I first get them. They're always from a different number every time, so I read the first sentence. Normally that's enough to tell me who it's from."
"Wow. Dirty text messages."
Just then the door opened, and the bell at the ceiling rang out to announce to the employees in back that there was a new customer.
The next few moments seemed to happen in slow motion. Footfalls rang out on the tile floor, seeming to echo against every shelf and every crook in the ceiling. Katrina and Nina turned in their chairs to see what Leana was staring at so intensely.
Unwillingly, her eyes made a slow journey from his feet, up his legs, over his chest, and tentatively met his eyes. They locked. It reminded her of a key being turned; when the bolt was pushed over, it thumped with disturbing finality. She was unable to tear her eyes from his. Their dark depths bored into her, through her eyes and into her soul, looking at every thought and every feeling she'd ever had in her life, picking apart everything about her. Just with one look, and it seemed she'd known him for years.
Her gaze followed him, glued to him, all the way to the counter, and then he broke the connection, turning toward the counter. Leana slumped back into her chair, breathless. Her lungs felt devoid of air, and she realized she hadn't even taken a breath.
Leana collapsed into the soft leather couch in the living room, her sigh bouncing off the walls of the monstrous room and the high ceiling. Her mother looked over at her pensively. "Hard day?"
"It was a Friday," was all she said, waving off her mother's comment. She leaned forward to accept the cup of tea the servant had made for her, dashing a bit of sugar into the dark substance. Sipping on it slowly, she looked over at her mother, Mrs. Bell. "Nina, Katrina, and I are going to go to San Francisco tomorrow to do a bit of shopping."
"Well, that's good," Mrs. Bell replied positively. Her eyes brightened immediately at the word shopping. "How about you stop by and buy yourself something nice for the party next Tuesday. Something silk. Something Armani. You're meeting Alaina's son at that party. Make sure it dips a little at the chest."
Her cheeks reddened at her mother's comment. "Mom—"
"I'll give you money. I was already planning on it. And you never know what you'll find in the mall there. I'll give you a bit extra to do some other shopping. How about that?"
She knew not to argue—not that she had to, of course.
Footsteps sounded in the hallway, and she looked up through the open French doors to see her father stepping into the room. He lowered himself onto the love seat next to her, patting her thigh affectionately. "Hi, honey. How was your day?"
"Oh, it was fine, but that hardly matters," again she waved her father's question away. "How did yours go? I heard you had that employee problem at the restaurant in Sacramento. What happened with that?"
"Eh, I'm home now. I'd rather not talk about it," Mr. Bell said, smiling down at his daughter. "But thank you for asking. It was resolved, that's all."
Leana's father, along with the fathers of Katrina and Nina, was the owner and establisher of the biggest line of restaurants in California. She didn't mind having a famous father, but she had to admit it wasn't fun always being thought of as 'the rich girl'. She didn't mind the money, either. She was glad for what she had. She was just sick of people not thinking she could ever relate to them, when she really could. It wasn't like she had the ideal life or anything. So her parents had a little bit more money and her mom didn't have to work. Leana still worked. So what?
"Well, I think I'm going to head upstairs a little early tonight. We've got to get up bright and early tomorrow to get a good start toward San Francisco, if we want to catch a Bart train that isn't disgustingly crowded." Leana picked herself up from the love seat, bent down to kiss her father's cheek, blew one to her mother, and went upstairs.
She was just settling down in her bed, clad in pajamas and magazine in hand, when her phone chirped in her hand. She flipped it open without a thought, thinking it was from Katrina, whom she had been text messaging earlier. She hit the 'read' button, and got halfway through it before realizing it wasn't from her friend.
No, not at all. This text message said something very crude about her breasts. Her stomach did a flip-flop, and she immediately pressed the 'delete' button, settling back into her pillows, her heart beating hard in her chest.