Saturday, June 8, 2013

Grand Romantic Delusions Chapter 23: The Stalker

     "I think that guy over there is watching us ... I think." Lewis nodded towards a table in the back corner of the deli where they'd met for lunch.
     "No, don't look." Nita grabbed Mary's arm before she turned. She and Lewis sat next to one another across from Mary. "If he is watching us, don't let him know we know."
     "So, it's not just me being delusional?"
     "No, Honey, I don't think it is."
     "Great," replied Mary. "Now you're both making me paranoid. Can you at least describe him, for me?"
     "I'll do you one better," said Nita. "Here, let me take a picture of you with your salad. I'll be sure and get him in the background." Mary snapped the photo with her phone, then handed it to Mary. "Though, I'm not sure it'll do much good."
     The man in the photo was wearing a black wool cap and over-sized sunglasses. He was also holding a magazine, which obscured most of his features. A few stray tufts of blond hair poked out from beneath the cap, but there was little else to identify him. His clothes were baggy—a plain, dark grey sweatshirt and blue jeans. He had a cup of coffee on the table in front of him, and some kind of sandwich, which it looked like he'd barely touched.

     "Are you sure he isn't taking a nap and happens to be facing our direction?" Mary asked.
     "See," said Lewis, "now, that's the response I expected." He furrowed his brow and turned to Nita. "The fact that you're taking me seriously has me a little freaked out, honestly."
     "I wouldn't worry just yet," Nita replied. "He's probably just here people-watching."
     "I don't know," said Mary. "There's something weird about that guy."
     "Now that is probably just paranoia." Nita laughed.
     They finished their meal and left. Nita went to her evening class. Lewis left for his night-shift job at Kopypro, a local quick-print shop where he and Mary both worked. Mary had the day off, so she headed home.

     Later that evening, as Nita came home, she noticed a rust-brown hatch-back she'd never seen before parked across the street from their house. She pulled into the driveway and parked by the side of the detached garage at the rear of the house, entering by the back kitchen door.
     The house was dark and quiet. Nita walked into the living room and up the stairs. She dropped he bag on the desk in her room and kicked off her shoes, before going back into the hall and tapping on Mary's door.
     There was no response. She tapped again.
     "Yeah?" Mary sounded groggy. "What's up? You can come in."
     "Just checkin' on you," Nita said as she opened the door to find Mary lying on top of her still-made bed, a book by her side and earbuds in her ears. Whatever Mary had been listening to on her iPod had finished some time ago, and she'd fallen asleep, still dressed, while reading. "You hungry? I was thinking about heating up a burrito or something."
     "No thanks," replied Mary, before re-considering. "Actually, on second thought, sure, why not?"
     They ate in front of the TV, though they barely watched it—mostly skipping through channels—until they stumbled on a re-run marathon of one of their favorite cancelled shows. Lewis came through the kitchen door just as it was revealed that the loose seal that had bitten off Buster's hand was wearing a yellow bow-tie.
     "Who's car is that parked across the street?" He sat on the couch between them and propped his feet up on the coffee table next to a stack of dirty plates.
     "What car?" Mary asked.
     "Looks like an old Toyota," he replied. "Brown. Don't think I've ever seen it around here before."
     "It's a Tercel hatchback," said Nita. "It's been there all afternoon. I'm sure it belongs to one of the neighbors. Your paranoia is showing again, my dear." She leaned over and gave Lewis a kiss before asking, "How was work?"
     "Oh, just the usual crap." He sighed. "You working tomorrow, Mary?"
     "Yeah, why?"
     "You're in for a busy day. We just had a big rush job dropped in our laps—collating and inserting a bunch of stuff into pocket folders. The printing's done and the folders are set to deliver first thing in the morning, so it's all manual labor from here. I called the temp agency, so you should have a little help by around ten or so."
     "Lovely," said Mary, as she stood up. "That means bed for me now, then. I'll need to get an early start."

     Nita awoke the next morning to the sound of the shower running in the bathroom between hers and Mary's room. She sat up and wiped the sleep out of her eyes. Today would be a nice, leisurely one. She had no classes and no papers due. Lewis had the day off, as well, so maybe they could go see a movie or to the zoo or something—they hadn't had any "date" time in quite some little while.
     As she checked her e-mail, she noticed through the blinds that the brown Tercel was still parked across the street. There was someone sitting in it, now—well, leaned back and half-sitting, really. In fact, it looked like he was sleeping. Holy fuck! She thought to herself. Was that the guy who'd been watching them in the Deli the day before?
     She jumped out of her chair, trying not to wake Lewis, and grabbed a jacket to put over the Rush T-shirt and green track shorts she'd worn to bed. She pulled on the jeans she'd left lying on the floor and opened the door.
     "Something wrong, Sweet-heart?" Lewis was sitting up, looking at her quizzically. He yawned.
    "No," she replied. "Go back to sleep." Fortunately he hadn't noticed when she snatched the buck-knife out of her top dresser drawer. That would likely have put him into a panic. As she walked towards the stairs, she tucked the knife—in its case—into the back of her waistband where it would be concealed by the jacket. Mary was already downstairs, packing herself a lunch.
     "What are you doing up this early?" She asked Nita.
     "I don't know. I guess I just got enough sleep," she replied. "Off to work pretty early?"
     "Yeah, after the warning from Lewis last night, I figured I'd better be prepared for anything. I just hope they don't make me call him in. I know you were looking forward to a day off together."
     "Don't worry about it. It would be nice to have some time with him but if you get swamped, just call. Besides, I think it's good for him to feel needed."
     Mary laughed at this. "Well, try to have a nice day, either way." She threw all of her lunch items into a grocery bag and exited through the back door.
     "Mary," Nita called after her. "Be careful today, OK?"
     Mary tilted her head at her in confusion. "Are you sure everything is OK?"
     "I am. Everything's fine. Get to work. Bye." She locked the door behind Mary and immediately went to the front door to watch the guy in the brown car.
     Sure enough, as soon as Mary's car pulled into the street, the figure in the Tercel sat up. He bundled up a blanket and tossed it into the back of the car. Nita charged out the front door in her bare feet and caught him just as he adjusting his seat. She smacked his window with the palm of her hand, startling him so that he beeped his horn unintentionally. Happily, Mary was already halfway down the block, so she probably hadn't heard it.
     He looked at her with big round eyes and gave her a surprised look that seemed to say What the Fuck, Lady? She mimed the rolling down of a window, until he relented, and rolled his window down. The car was old enough that he actually had to crank it open.
     "What?" He gave her look of bewilderment. "You need something? I'm parked here legally, you know."
     "What the hell are you doing? Why are you watching my friend?"
     "What? I'm not watching …"
      "Shut up," she yelled at him, in as forceful a voice as she could muster. She suddenly recognized him. Not only had this man been watching them at the deli—he wore the same clothes, anyway, and the wool cap and sunglasses were lying in the passenger seat—but this was the same man who had been speaking with the Russian woman at the book store the other night!
     "You!" She exclaimed. "Who the fuck are you? Why are you stalking me? Or is it my friend you're after?"
     "I—I don't," he stammered. "I don't know what you're—"
     "Don't you fucking play coy with me, you creeper!" She quickly reached through the car window and opened the door. She grabbed the man by his collar and physically dragged him out onto the street.
     "You're crazy!" He protested. "Who do you think—"
     "Shut up and come with me," she responded, "or I will call the police." When she saw the hesitation on his face, she added a "NOW!" for good measure, and he complied.
     She gave the man a shove towards the house and he walked forward. Then she grabbed the keys from his ignition and closed the car door.
     Lewis must have heard the commotion, because he was coming down the stairs as they entered the front door.
     "What the hell is going on here," he asked when he saw them. "Who the hell is this guy?"

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