I can feel him watching me.
Even with my back turned, eyes firmly placed on the donut case and listening intently to my current customer as she painstakingly picks her donuts, I can feel his gaze. The back of my neck prickles uncomfortably and I shiver, the motion having nothing to do with the cold January air blowing in through the open drive-thru window.
"…and do you have buttermilk?" the customer asked, peering behind her glasses at all the labels. "That's my favorite."
"I'm sorry, buttermilk was discontinued," I apologized. "We have glazed cake; it's very similar if you want to give it a try."I keep my voice light-hearted, telling myself not to be bothered by the man nursing his cup of coffee at the table across from me.
"That sounds good," the woman agreed. "Two of those… how many do I have left?"
"Ten," I said, resisting the urge to sigh. I just wanted to get out of his sight… escape to the back, maybe help Jason with the sandwiches or take the drive-thru orders.
Six minutes later the woman went on her way and I hurried to the back where a cup of nerve-soothing coffee awaited me. Jason grinned as I slipped past him and picked up my lifeline sitting a non-used flavor shot machine. "Long day, huh?"
"You have no idea," I said, slumping against the counter and watching the video feed of the front counter. Good, no one was there to order.
Jason gave me a concerned glance. He was a few years older than me and was working here part-time while he worked on his graduate degree. We didn't really see each other outside of work, but while here he was a good friend and looked out for me and all the other college and high school aged workers. "Everything okay?"
I paused, opened my mouth, and then quickly shut it. "Yeah, everything's cool," I said, wincing as the front door dinged and a new customer (this time with bratty kids) came up to the donut case. "Only an hour left, right?" I laughed, the noise sounding fake even to me. I didn't give Jason a chance to respond and moved to go back to the front.
Every step felt like torture.
I sagged in relief against the locked door. Only me in my empty dorm room, fortunately devoid of my roommate for the moment, and no watching eyes.
Dragging myself forward I yanked the mustard yellow polo shirt off and lobbed it at the small pile of clothes around my full laundry basket. I'd need to go buy more detergent soon or Eric would really start to complain about the smell. Speaking of smell… I took a whiff of myself and gagged. Coffee may smell delicious when it's brewing, but soaked into clothing and the body it was equivalent to a skunk.
I rerouted myself to grab a shower caddy and towel and headed for the bathroom. Once I was standing beneath a warm spray I finally allowed myself to relax, scrubbing dutifully to rid myself of the smell. But the thing is, once relaxed the mind starts to wander and mine just always seems to end up back on that man.
I'd first seen him about two months ago. He'd come into the Dunkin and strolled up to the counter and ordered a cup of coffee; medium black with two Equal. There was nothing remarkable about him: he was middle aged, dark hair balding slightly on the top and dressed in a nice polo and a pair of blue jeans.
He'd thanked me when I handed him his coffee and then inquired as to what college I attended. I looked at him, startled, and he'd chuckled. I looked a lot like his son, he explained, and he was just curious; I didn't look like a drop-out so I must go somewhere.
I said how I was a business major at ISU and in my Jason year. He laughed and said his son was a business major too. He left after that and I chocked it up to just another nice, curious person. We had a lot of those actually, being that the store was stationed in Bloomington and had a large college student work force. During quieter hours, when the people were generally friendlier and more patient, we'd get questions like that a lot. Not a big deal.
But then he started coming every day, always ordering the exact same thing. He'd ask me a question or two while I filled his order, slowly getting more and more personal. After one particularly intrusive question (this time asking me what dorm I lived in) I informed him I wasn't comfortable giving out that kind of information. His eyes had flickered with…something I couldn't name, before he laughed and went on his way.
He still came to work every day…he seemed to have my schedule down pat. He'd order his coffee quietly now, but as I was turned away I could feel his eyes on me, boring holes into my back. And then he'd just take it and sit there, staring. Sometimes, I swear I could even feel him following me after I left work. On those days I'd retreat to the library and stay there until my heart stopped pounding and I could venture back out.
Reaching up, I shut off the water and sighed, resting my forehead on chilled porcelain. That was the least relaxing shower I think I've ever had. "Get a grip Evans," I scolded myself, "you're being paranoid."
My pep talk does nothing to cheer me up. And as much as I would prefer to remain standing in the shower where it's safe, I have a pile of statistics calling my name. And Professor Burke's wrath is nothing to laugh at.
He's there again. Why would I think he wouldn't be? He's always there. Always watching.
"I'm losing my mind," I muttered, shoving a croissant into the oven and pulling down an egg from the warmer. But at least I was losing my mind back in the kitchen if that was any consolation.
Jason had decided that he wanted to man the front counter today… I think he knows something is wrong, but he won't pry. Besides, I feel like I've been doing a good job of not flipping out. The question though, is flipping out over what? So the man asked a lot of questions and stared… he said I reminded him of his son, so maybe he was just looking for companionship. Although to be honest, his actions were starting to remind me almost of a stalker.
But that's stupid. Why would anyone stalk me? I'm just a scrawny, boring kid with a ton of homework and no social life. There must be more interesting people to follow around.
I gave my head a shake, chasing away those thoughts. Why was I even thinking those kinds of things? With sudden determination and focus, I yanked the croissant from the oven, slapped an egg and cheese on it, and shoved it towards the drive-thru window.
"Danny, can you go clean the front tables?" called Marissa, my manager. "They're getting dirty again." I risked a quick glance at the video screen, nearly sighing in relief when I noticed the man had left.
"Sure," I said, yanking off my gloves. Sandwich station normally got to do a lot of cleaning duties, since once there were no orders there wasn't much to do. I filled a bucket with soapy water and grabbed a clean washrag.
As I neared his table, I noticed that there was a napkin on it. Strange… he never ate anything that required one. I meant to just throw it out, but the writing on it, letters drawn boldly in black marker, caught my attention.
I missed you.
My stomach clench and could literally feel my face draining of all color. I reached out, hand noticeably shaking, and picked up the innocent looking brown napkin. Seconds later it was in the garbage and I was leaning over the toilet and emptying the contents of my stomach, shivering and feeling tears gathering in my eyes.
"I'm fine," I whispered, clutching the toilet rim. "I'm fine."
"Danny, is everything okay?"
I glanced up at Jason, my head resting on my arms and my daily cup of coffee sitting in front of me. It was a Thursday afternoon and those days were always quiet, so I'd taken a quick break to sit down and rest. I hadn't planned on almost falling asleep.
I rubbed my eyes, stalling.
"You look like shit," Jason said, slipping into the seat across from me.
"It's been a busy week at school," I said, taking a gulp of now lukewarm coffee. "I had three tests and a paper."
He didn't look convinced. "Do you want to go home early and get some rest? I think Marissa and I can manage the afternoon rush."
Rest did sound nice. I couldn't recall the last time I'd actually slept… I think it might have been last Friday. But could I even sleep? Did I want to, knowing that as soon as I closed my eyes I'd be able to feel his? "No, I'm fine," I said, trying to convince Jason as much as myself. "Just need some more coffee and I'll be good to go." I attempted to smile, but only a pained grimace emerged.
"If you're sure," Jason said, standing back up. "I'm here if you need anything, okay?" A hand rested briefly on my shoulder and I managed a real smile for the first time in days.
"Thanks," I whispered, swallowing thickly to rid myself of the tears I could feel gathering.
Once Jason left I placed my head back in my hands and took a deep breath. I needed to get past this. What was bothering me so much about this? So the guy came in and stared at me… there was nothing illegal about that. That happened to celebrities all the time. But, my mind whispered traitorously, you're not a celebrity. You're not famous. So why is he watching you?
"I don't know," I moaned. "I just wish he'd stop."
I'd considered switching jobs, but that was foolish. I liked it here. My manager was nice, my co-workers were bearable, the pay wasn't bad, and best yet it was a five minute walk from my dorm. I wasn't going to let one, albeit creepy, man chase me out of here. I was here first.
Now if only I could feel that confident when he was here.
"Hey, you finally get yourself a girl?" were the words that assaulted me as soon as I walked into my room.
"No, why?" I asked, looking tiredly at Eric, my roommate, lounging on his bed and flipping through a sports magazine.
"Then you've got an admirer," he sing-songed, throwing something at my head. Only quick reflexes from constantly saving coffee pots from their plummet to the unforgiving floor allowed me to catch it. It was a soft pink envelope, my name written elegantly in black marker on the front. I dropped it like a piece of hot coal.
"Hey, what gives man?" Eric bent down and retrieved the envelope, tossing it onto my nightstand.
"W-where did you get that?" I stuttered out, forcing myself to sit on my bed before I collapsed.
"The lady at the front desk asked me to give it to you," he said. "She said she hasn't seen you in forever and didn't know when you'd be down to get it. You've got some other mail too," he said, making a sweeping gesture towards a small pile on my nightstand.
"Thanks," I managed to get out, still staring at the pink envelope like it was going to attack me. Which it very may well do.
"Well, I'm heading out," said Eric, slinging on his leather jacket. "See ya later."
"Bye," I waved half-heartedly. Once I was certain he was gone I gingerly picked up the offending object. I could just rip it in two and throw it away… pretend I'd never seen it. But maybe… an irrational hope rose in me. Maybe it was from some girl who just liked black sharpie. I mean, how would he have even found out where I lived?
I slit the envelope and yanked out the letter, written on cream colored paper.
I miss you. Why won't you talk to me? I miss you.
The letter fluttered out of my limp fingers and down to the floor. I didn't spare it a second glance. Heart racing and sweat beading on my brow, I dove beneath my covers and huddled there, a quaking lump.
I may have conquered the monsters under my bed, but the monsters outside of my room were all too real. And I'd never been so scared.
Going to work on Saturday was physically painful. I'd called in sick on Friday, too scared to leave the safety of my bed. But I needed the money and I wanted to talk to Jason. He said he'd be there… right now he was the only stable thing in my life and I needed that.
My grades were plummeting. If this kept up I'd lose my scholarship and then I wouldn't be able to attend anymore. I was losing weight and the slightest sound made me jump. It was ridiculous, to be acting like this. I was twenty years old, damn it! I should be able to tell the guy to just leave. I should be able to go to the police and tell them I was being… stalked.
As I dragged my feet to work I realized now why hardly any guys reported rape or abuse… it was laughable. Stalking wasn't quite up in that category, but it was embarrassing to admit. I should be able to handle this on my own. But I can't. I'm scared and confused and ashamed.
Because if this had happened to Jason he wouldn't take it. He'd probably punch the guy out, threaten him, and he'd probably even be man enough to go to the police. But I wasn't Jason and I never will be.
Jason wasn't at the store when I arrived. But neither was he. So I worked with bated breath, tensing every time someone entered the building. Nearly two hours went by in this manner, before I spotted Jason, bundled head to toe against the cold, heading in.
"Hey," he greeted, entering into the serving area via the swinging door. "You feeling better? You still look a little pale."
"A bit," I said, fiddling around with a dishrag I was using to mop up some coffee.
Jason gave an uncertain nod, and then headed towards the back to hang up his coat and then join the sandwich station. A few more hours passed, and I was just beginning to relax, actually chatting lightheartedly with the customers, when he arrived.
Jason was in the front of the store, restocking the one pound bags of coffee we sold, and I could feel his gaze on me when the man sidled up the counter.
"The usual," he said, small smile playing on his lips.
I gave a curt nod, willing myself not to do anything stupid, and retrieved his order, the time it took to open the packets of Equal never seeming so long.
"I've missed you," he said, right hand stuck deep in his pocket and moving something around. Probably a glove. "You weren't here yesterday."
"I wasn't feeling well." The equal soaked into the brown liquid and I pushed the lid on the cup, carefully smoothing it down so it wouldn't accidentally pop off.
"You know, you remind me more and more of my son every day," he said, not touching his cup of coffee as I pushed it across the counter.
Ignore him,, ignore him my brain screamed at me as I hit the button on the register. "One seventy-two," I said, keeping my eyes firmly on the menu screen.
He clucked his tongue. "Danny, you're hurting my feelings," he said. "What, do you not like me anymore?"
Stay strong, I willed myself, all the while wanting to sprint to the back and not come out. Ever. "Your total is one seventy-two. I…I have nothing else to say to you."
I risked a quick glance up. My mistake. A frown marred his features and his eyes were like chips of ice, all anger direct at me. I cringed at the sight.
"You know," he said, hand ceasing the movement in his pocket. "You really do remind me of my son. And," he said, voice lowering to a conspiring whisper, "I never liked my son. So I killed him. And now I'll kill you."
I didn't even see the gun. All I heard was a sharp bang and felt something dangerously hot slide inches next to my face as a scream tore itself from my throat. As I stumbled backwards, I saw Jason leap to feet and plow into the man, knocking them both to the floor as the gun rang a second time.
Everyone was screaming and crying as another gunshot sounded. And I just sat there, leaning up against the donut case with my limbs refusing to move me away from the danger.
"DANNY!" Marissa screamed, ducking down by the drive-thru counter, as a bullet flew through the wood beneath the counter and embedded itself in the strawberry frosted next to me. "GET OUT OF THERE!"
"I can't move," I whispered, a tear making its way down my face. "I can't… I can't…"
The blessed sound of police sirens wailing was a welcome addition to the cacophony of noise, so loud that I couldn't even hear my own thoughts. Good. My head was not a good place to be right now.
Four officers entered, guns drawn and within seconds, he was being dragged up from the floor and handcuffs snapped on. Jason rose too, with only a few red sprinkles on his shirt, and leapt over the counter, kneeling next to me and putting a comforting arm around my shoulders.
"It's okay," he whispered as the police began to lead the man out of the store. And even once he was gone, loaded up in a police cruiser to go to jail; I sat huddled, tears streaming down my face and my heart racing with fear.
He couldn't see me. He wouldn't ever see me again.
But I could still feel him watching.
Mkay, so I'm taking an advanced fiction writing class once spring term starts, and we're all required to enter with a modern story. I didn't do very well in my regular creative writing class, and I think a large part of it dealt with me and my happy ending fetish. So I decided to go in an opposite direction.
I tried several new things here: first person pov, writing from a guy's perspective, and of course the "non-happy" resolution.
I would absolutely love feedback—do you think it's missing something? Should I take something out? Tweak something here or there? Please let me know. Also, I think I messed up some of my tenses; I'm not very good about that with first person. If you could point out where these might be I'd be much obliged.
Thanks! Hope to hear from some of you!