Leaves rustled in the wind as the full silver moon peeked through overcast clouds. Despite the fact that it was April in California, she hugged her books closer to herself.
Her stride was quick, because she had promised her mother that she would not be late for dinner. Sighing, she regretting that she had left her cell phone on the counter at home. Again. Her mother would surely be worrying, by now. Usually she got a ride home after gymnastic practice from Emily but tonight she had forfeited her seat in the over-stuffed van for Nicky, who's parents had forgotten to pick her up yet again. Her house was only a few blocks away, as opposed to Nicky who lived on the other side of town.
A particularly chilly gust of wind blew, and she pulled her jean jacket closer. She stood at crest of grassy hill, called Cherry Park which had a playground in the center and overlooked LA. Hills fanned out, donned by palm trees, to garnish the sparkling ocean in the distance. Hills rose up behind her, straggly and dotted with purple flowers. Her house was just a block away from the bottom of the park, but she stood for a second to appreciate the view. The lights twinkled with a life of their own, shining brighter as the clouds moved to cover the moon.
She shivered. She felt overcome with the vastness of the world, and how very small and alone she was. But she was broken out of her reverie by the thought that her mother would be waiting, and that she really should be getting home.
She started down straight through the park as opposed to taking the sidewalk as was her usual route. As she was walking toward the play set, she felt the hairs on the back of her neck start to rise.
Maybe I'll walk along the street, she thought to herself.
Heading towards the sidewalk, a movement caught her eye. There was a man walking towards her. She noticed then a swing swaying eerily by itself. He had surely just been sitting there. For no reason at all, her heart picked up speed. She put her head down, watching her feet as she walked, but keeping the man in her peripheral.
When the man caught sight of her, he changed direction, and started walking towards her. Her heart kicked up another notch. The thought; put your head up came to her, and she raised her chin, right has he was nearing proximity.
"Excuse me, Miss, but do you have the time?"
He was haggard and dirty and looked about mid-forties. He was wearing a long coat, and kept one hand in his pocket. Her stomach felt uneasy.
"Uh-um…" She searched through her purse for a moment, almost dropping her books, before she remembered that she had left her cell phone at home. "Oh. Uh, I don't have my cell phone on me. Sorry."
"Oh. Did ya' leave it at home?"
Oops. Maybe I shouldn't have told him I didn't have it.
"Uh… no. I think it's in here, somewhere, but I think it's about eight twelve. I left the school about ten minutes ago."
"Oh, what school do you go to?"
"Er… Madison High."
"So you're in high school, then, ha. Could have sworn you were a college student."
"Uh…" She had a strong feeling like she should stop talking to the man, and head home.
"Well, I'm sorry- my parents are waiting for me, so I really should-"
"What's your rush? You always do what your parents tell you?"
"Um…yes." Sarah truly wanted to leave the man, but she didn't want to come off as rude. Make an excuse. Make and excuse. Make an excuse. But her mouth was dry, and she couldn't come up with one.
The man smiled, and took a step towards her. She froze in fear, but as she did so she was blinded by head lights.
"Sarah! What are you doing?!" Came the unexpected but welcome voice of her livid mother.
The car screeched to a halt, and she heard the driver's door slam as her mother got out and half-jogged to her.
"Get in the car." Her mother commanded, grabbing her arm and jerking her away from the man. Sarah gladly obeyed.
"And you, sir," She said, pointing a finger at his face, "have no business talking to a young girl in the middle of the night. You're lucky I don't call the cops on you." Giving him her mother bear, "don't fuck with me" glare, she turned her back, and got back into the car, slamming the door once again.
Sarah prepared herself.
"Who was that man, and why on Earth were you walking home alone?!"
"It was because of Nicky- she didn't have a ride, so I-"
"So why didn't you call your father or I?"
Sarah licked her lips. "I didn't have my cell ph-"
"Well, you know, we don't pay $300.00 a month so you can not have it on you."
"I'm sorry, I just-"
"And who was that man you were talking to? He looked like a bum off the street, Sarah. I could smell the liquor from where I was standing!"
"Sarah, what could have happened if Emily's mom hadn't of called me to tell me you were walking, and if I hadn't come to look for you?"
For the first time, Sarah didn't have a response.
"How do you know that man wasn't planning on mugging you, or worse? Sarah, you just can't do things like this! I swear, I've been telling you since you were three not to talk to strangers!"
"I…" Her voice trailed off, and her eyes started to fill with moisture. "I'm sorry, Mom."
Her mom looked at her, and visibly relaxed a little. "You just had me worried. You can't do stuff like this… When I saw that man talking to you, I just about lost it."
Sarah was silent. She picked at her fingernails and avoided her mother's looks for the rest of the way home.
As they turned into the driveway, her mother paused, before getting out. "You're grounded, by the way."