Someone was watching.
The fine hairs on the back of her neck stood up. She clenched her jaw, ignoring the eerie sensation. Her tennis shoes pounded the asphalt beneath her. Annette felt sweat bead along her hairline, dripping down her face. She heard something rustle behind her. Her steps faltered for a mere second as her heart began to race so quickly, she was sure it would burst. Goosebumps shimmered across her bare arms. Annette couldn't hear anything but the sound of her own breathing. She faced the darkness surrounding her, warded off by the dim, yellow street lights overhead.
"Hello? Is anyone there?"
The darkness didn't respond. Annette swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. The loud sound of glass shattering knifed through the still night air. Her blood ran cold and she froze, rooted to the spot. Her body trembled faintly with each heartbeat. She could feel them getting closer. This startled her back into reality. She turned on her heel and sprinted, her heart pounding erratically. The loose gravel from the worn road rolled slightly underneath her as she flew across the pavement. She dragged in lungful after lungful of crisp, dry air. Her hands, clenched tightly into fists, became moist and clammy. She swore she heard another noise behind her. Not more than five feet away. She felt a prickling sensation as her hair stood on end. She stumbled slightly as she swerved sharply to the left, the gravel sliding underneath her. Her ears strained for noise, but she couldn't hear anything beyond her own heartbeat. Uncontrollable panic writhed within her. Her legs seemed to move by themselves. She stopped abruptly at the brick stair steps to the house and the sudden change in speed caused her to fall onto the unyielding concrete. She skidded slightly and felt a muted sting. Annette stumbled to her feet and hammered her fist against the door. Her heart lurched within her chest as the door swung open. Annette ran into the house, slamming the door shut behind her. She twisted the lock and leaned against the door, her lungs drinking in the precious air.
"Anne?" Annette turned towards her father. He took a tentative step closer and patted her shoulder, his blue eyes shining with concern. "You alright, girl?"
Annette inhaled sharply. "Water," she rasped as she sank against a nearby wall, her limbs becoming heavy and her movement slow.
He disappeared only to return a moment later with a tall glass of water. Annette tilted it backwards and guzzled it without stopping. She sighed and leaned against the wall, too weary to do anything else. She'd never sprinted so fast in her entire life.
"Hey, what's wrong, kiddo?"
A loud snort came from the kitchen. Annette glanced that way, finding Kimberly leaning against the kitchen doorway. "This isn't about someone stalking you again, is it?"
Annette pursed her lips, tasting salt from the drying sweat.
"Annette?" Her father glanced at her questioningly.
"But it was real!" she blurted.
Her father straightened and fixed her with a look. Kimberly rolled her eyes in disgust.
"No, really," Annette insisted. "I was jogging and I could just… feel someone was watching me. They were following me, I promise! I wouldn't lie."
Her father patted her head, as if she were a lost, little puppy. "I don't doubt your honesty—"
"But your delusional," Kimberly finished with a smirk, twirling a strand of strawberry blond hair around her finger. Annette smothered the sudden anger that swelled within her.
"Kimberly!" her father scolded. "Go back to the kitchen and do your homework with Josh." He turned towards Annette and let out a hefty sigh. "Honey—now, don't look at me like that. I just want you to think about this for a second."
Annette pursed her lips, but nodded.
"Good. Now, why would someone be stalking you, honey? Think about it logically."
"I don't know why, I just know—"
"Is this because of school?"
"What?!" she asked, bewildered.
"Is school not going well? Are you trying to get out of it?"
"No, I just—"
"Oh, honey. You scraped your knees." Her mother appeared, kneeling beside her. She turned towards her father. "James, what happened?"
Annette stifled a sigh.
"Anne thought someone was chasing her."
Her mother glanced at her with warm, sympathetic brown eyes. "Oh, honey." She wrapped her in a hug and rubbed her back. Her mother's head shifted slightly as she turned towards James. "Do you think we haven't been spending enough time with her?"
Annette stiffened. "No, mom—"
"I don't know, Marie."
Annette's mother kissed her forehead. "I'm sorry, honey bun. We've just been so busy lately—"
"This is perfectly normal. All kids go through this at one time or another."
Annette abruptly stood. "Mom, I'm fine."
Her parents exchanged concerned glances.
"You know what? Forget I said anything." Annette let out a huff.
"Now, Anne—" her father started.
"No, really. It's probably just a lack of sleep or something. I really don't need to talk about this."
"Are you sure? I've heard talking—"
Annette cut her mother off, "I'm fine, Mom," she insisted.
Her mother took a step back. "Well, okay. But if you need anything or if you ever feel like talking with us, we're right here."
Annette offered them a tight smile, knowing they could never live up to that promise. "Thanks." She brushed past them to walk into the kitchen, hoping she'd abated her parent's concerns. She rummaged through the pantry until she found a chocolate protein bar. She nibbled at it, musing recent events. She knew someone was watching her. She just didn't know why. The feeling had been off and on for the past month or so. Who would watch her? The NSA? Annette snorted. She definitely wasn't involved in any illegal activities. So, who would care to follow an average high school girl? Annette took another bite of the bar, regretting she'd ever told her parents about it. It still stung that they didn't believe her. Annette wadded up the wrapper and threw it into the trash with more force than necessary. She stopped at the kitchen table, where her sister and Josh were seated. She was momentarily dumb-founded. Kimberly never had people over. She was an introvert to the extreme. Kimberly pierced Annette with a glare as Annette seated herself. Josh glanced up. He was pretty cute with dimples on either side of his smile and warm hazel eyes that could melt most girls into a puddle.
"Hey. Amber, right?" he asked, flashing his trademark smile.
Annette offered a wry smile in return. "Anne, actually."
"Annette," Kimberly corrected.
Annette rolled her eyes. "No one calls me that. Except when I'm in trouble."
Kimberly snorted. "Which is always."
Josh nervously ran his fingers through his blond-brown hair. Annette smiled apologetically. Kimberly took note of the exchange and her glare became ten degrees icier.
Kimberly cleared her throat. "Don't you have homework, Annette?"
"Actually, I finished."
Kimberly rolled her eyes.
Josh smiled. "It's okay. I don't mind her."
Kimberly sighed, looking conflicted for a few seconds before waving a hand dismissively in Annette's direction. "Fine. Whatever."
Silence enveloped the group. Annette fidgeted. "So, are you in any sports?"
Josh gave her an incredulous look. "Uh, football."
"Oh, right. Yeah, I remembered hearing something about that." Annette swallowed, tugging at the collar of her t-shirt.
Josh smiled languidly. "What about you?"
"Oh, not much. I like to jog. And I really like art and music. I'm pretty good at them."
Kimberly snorted. "But not good at anything that will actually get you a career. Figures."
Annette ducked her head, slightly embarrassed.
"I, uh, that's cool. What instruments do you play?" Josh asked.
"Violin and piano. But I prefer piano."
"Didn't have to think long about that one, huh?" He quirked a dark eyebrow.
Annette smiled and was about to answer when Kimberly interrupted, "She wants to be a 'world class' pianist." Kimberly smiled patronizingly, with a glint of pity.
Annette shyly rubbed her arm. "Well, not exactly. I just don't know yet. It'd be nice to be paid to play piano, but—"
"Unrealistic," Kimberly finished.
Annette swallowed and nodded. "Yes." She glanced down at her lap. The only sound that could be heard was the scrawling of pencils. She looked up again. "So, Josh, do you like—"
"Annette," Kimberly ground out. "Don't make me lock you in the bathroom again."
Josh's eyes widened. "Lock her in the bathroom?!"
Kimberly smiled and laughed nonchalantly. "It's just a joke. A really long time ago I put her in the bathroom for a timeout because she kept on screaming and—"
Josh chuckled. "Oh, yeah. I give my little brothers time outs all the time."
Kimberly launched into an animated conversation with him about the woes of being an oldest child. Sensing she wasn't wanted, Annette stood and returned to the kitchen. She snatched the bag of coffee grounds and was turning on the coffee maker when her mother walked in. She snatched the bag of coffee.
"I don't think so, young lady. Not at this hour."
Annette pursed her lips in a pout. "But mom—"
"I said no, Annette. You need your sleep. If you don't get enough sleep it weakens your immune system."
Annette groaned. "Fine," she muttered unhappily before walking down the hallway and into her bedroom. The door softly shut behind her with a 'click.' She sank against the door, feeling exhausted. The hair on her neck stood on end and her head snapped up. The window by her bed was completely black. The empty darkness seemed to beckon her. Her toes curled as she hugged her knees to her chest. In a sudden bout of courage, she sprinted to the window and yanked the curtains together, blocking that dark streets outside from view. Annette let out a sigh. There. She felt better already. Annette inhaled deeply. Her room faintly smelled of something bittersweet. Maybe her mom had cleaned it for her. Her mom rarely had extra time these days, with working part-time at a florist's shop all day. Both of her parents worked from dawn until dusk. Annette walked into the bathroom and showered quickly, letting the warm rivulets of water sluice down her back. Feeling refreshed, she returned to her room and collapsed into her bed. The fall air was cool and crisp. Annette burrowed deeper into the covers until she felt delightfully cozy and warm. After Annette said a quick prayer, her head sank into the pillow and she drifted off to sleep, the bittersweet smell accompanying her. That was her life. Bittersweet.
Author's Note: PLEASE READ. Thank you SO much for reading this. Please, please consider leaving a review. Those reviews are how I write ;) But before you do, please do not use any vulgar language. Please don't have any swear words or cussing in your reviews. And please don't use God's name in a swearword. I know it's pretty typical to see that today, but please don't leave it in your reviews. Thank you so much! I seriously appreciate it! :)
And I want to credit Sandeep-m and flowerpowerstock on deviantart for the cover photo above.
Thanks again and I sincerely hope you guys enjoy the story ;)