’Sarah, I’m finished,’ I shouted, over the thumping club music. I felt my face twist in disgust as another sweaty, inebriated youth brushed up against me and my feet were too sticky to move fast enough to get out of their way.
‘Annie,’ she slurred. ‘Please stay, you only just got here.’ She continued to whine as she grabbed for my wrist to stop me from disappearing in the throng of people.
‘Come on Sarah, you know I have work in the morning,’ I tried to look sad and despondent, like leaving was the most painful thing in the world but I knew my acting skills were weak. All I wanted to do since arriving was get out as quickly as possible.
‘You’re such a spoilsport. It’s only one night,’ she pouted and I shook my head at her childish behaviour. Finally, I was able to get my hands free and take several clumsy steps back from her.
‘Yes, I am a responsible, boring stick in the mud,’ I agreed. ‘I have a problem I know, maybe some day I’ll get help for my rogue behaviour, but not tonight.’ I shrugged before I disappeared into the crowd. I knew within seconds she would be dancing with another guy and would have completely forgotten about me until five tomorrow morning when she needs someone to let her into our apartment. After she’s snuck out on her latest conquest, probably out the bathroom window. I’ve noticed since moving in with her almost a year ago that she has quite the flare for the dramatic.
‘Thank goodness,’ I breathed, stepping outside Sarah’s favourite hunting ground and immediately was assaulted by the chilling wind of New York City. I couldn’t even remember what had convinced me to come out tonight but I hated whoever had control of my body at that time. Guess I was feeling particularly cooped up tonight when Sarah suggested I join her. No one was as surprised as her when I said yes.
Maybe it had something to with the guy on the subway who apparently watches me every day and asked me out only to have me turn him down flat. He accused me of being boring and uptight. Not really the words you want to hear someone describe you as, especially a complete stranger. I blame him. Him and his stupid brown hair and bland brown suit with yellow tie. What was he doing wearing a yellow tie anyway?
Sighing, I looked over at the long line waiting for the limited number of taxis, I made the decision to walk the four blocks back to mine and Sarah’s apartment. It wasn’t that far of a walk. I had been told upon arriving in New York City over a year ago that they had a very efficient police force. I was sure I would be fine.
However, half way through my first block I knew I had made a mistake. I could feel the overwhelming sense that someone was following me. When I paused to take a look over my shoulder I could sense my suspicions weren’t just my paranoia playing tricks on me. I noticed there were two not so discrete men, walking behind me trying to act as if they weren’t following me. From how they hurriedly averted their gazes when I spun back to face them there was no doubt in my mind, they were causing the cold chills to run up my spine.
Turning back around and hurtling down the street, both my heart and my feet increased their speed and rounded the corner in desperate need to get away from them. I knew it would be impossible to retrace my steps and getting a cab at this time in the morning would only slow me down.
My breathing hitched as I took another left and found not another soul on the street. I thought this was the city that never slept so where were all the people.
A quick glance over my shoulder told me the men had drastically shortened the gap between us and it wouldn’t take them much longer to reach me.
I scolded myself for being so irresponsible as to believe I could be confident in the safety of dark city streets but it was too late for self-pity now because looking in the window beside me I could see their reflections only a few steps from my own. What was I going to do?
I pushed my speed walking right to the limits, putting some much-needed strides between myself and my groupies until I turned another corner, not even sure if I was heading in the right direction for my apartment anymore. In my panic, I hadn’t allowed myself to focus on anything else other than escaping them, not even the street signs.
Glancing over my shoulder again, I was almost in a run when I slammed into something very solid, very warm and very human.
‘Whoa,’ they exclaimed, as strong arms wrapped around me tightly and I felt my heart plummet. Did they have more friends?
‘Let me go,’ I almost shouted, my voice shaky and completely not my own.
‘Hey,’ they said gently as I tried to pull free. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Are they still behind me? Are you with them?’ I rushed out trying to see behind me but he kept me facing him and finally, I allowed myself to look up into his hazel eyes and in that moment I felt the world slip. He face was cast in shadows by the streetlamp behind him but it was obvious no girl would be throwing this man out of their bed in a hurry.
‘Hey, slow down sweetheart,’ and I stilled at the term of endearment. It felt so natural and I felt a sceptical look spread across my face. ‘Why don’t you take a deep breath?’ Despite it all, I found myself following his directions feeling his mesmerising voice hypnotise me. The initial sense of security I felt with him was looking shakier by the minute.
‘There, now why don’t you tell me who has been following you?’
‘Th-there are two men, they were there and I was walking home and I didn’t even want to go out. Sarah doesn’t get it,’ I rambled as the man looked at me with his expectant hazel eyes.
‘Sir,’ another man interrupted and I started at their sudden appearance. Finally, I took the chance to take in my surroundings and noticed there were three other men, built like brick houses and all dressed in black standing around us. Who was this man? ‘The car has arrived.’
‘Who are they?’ I demanded, resuming my efforts to break free and casting a look over my shoulder only to met with the wide chest of another man dressed in black. ‘I need to go.’
‘Hey, sweetheart, just slow down.’ There is was again, that term of endearment had me freezing in his hold, confusion sweeping through my mind. ‘No one is following you anymore,’ and the man behind me stepped aside to show an empty street and I breathed a tired sigh of relief. There was no one there, I was fine.
‘There you go sweetheart,’ he said, drawing my attention back to him. ‘You’re safe.’ I eyed him sceptically as his arms still held me tightly.
‘You can let me go then,’ I answered cautiously.
‘Sir?’ The same man as before prompted and the hazel eyed man nodded before running his hand through his ruffled blond hair, showing off all of the muscles in his well-defined arm and I found myself transfixed.
‘Yes, Greg, in a minute,’ he answered tensely before his eyes fell on me again and I quickly averted my eyes from his arm. He gave me a knowing smirk and I cocked my head to the side in confusion. What was he so smug about?
‘How about I give you a lift to where you were trying to go?’ He offered, lowering his hands from my arms and taking my hand in his instead. I felt a strange warmth spread across my skin quickly burning away any of the chills from the New York evening and my eyes snapped to him accusingly. From the blank look on his face, I wondered if he had felt it too or if it was just my mind playing tricks on me again.
We were almost in a black SUV, still surrounded by the men when my senses finally returned to me. Was I just about to let this man put me in his car without even knowing his name?
‘No, actually I think I should be fine,’ I announced, pulling my hand from his and for the first time I realised my body was trembling. Could this night get any more frightening?
‘I don’t think you should be walking the streets, alone sweetheart,’ he started cautiously, reaching for me again but I quickly stepped out of his reach.
‘I don’t know you,’ I shot back and suddenly my mind was flooded with my mother as she warned me of stranger danger. God, what a time for that image to come up. This man hadn’t even offered me candy and I was willingly allowing myself to get into his shady looking car. Where had my mind gone? If my class of second graders could see me now, what a role model I would be.
‘Sweetheart, you’re shaking, I don-’
‘Stop calling me that,’ I frowned feeling my heart start to race as he continued to stalk towards me. This could not be happening. I felt my eyes dart around the street looking for an escape but by the look on his face and the men surrounding him I’d say running wasn’t an option I was ready to entertain. Why had I allowed Sarah to put me in some of her high heels? That was my second mistake, my first was allowing her to convince me going out was a good idea.
‘Sir, we really-’
‘I know Greg,’ he snapped, never taking his eyes from me.
‘I should go,’ I muttered, turning from him but immediately pulling up short when I felt a hand wrap firmly around my wrist.
‘Please let me drive you home,’ he pleaded and I allowed him to pull me around to face him.
‘I still don’t know you,’ I answered uncertainly but we both knew I was crumbling. The truth was I didn’t want to be alone right now and despite my better judgement, I didn’t mistrust him. I watched as a strange look passed across his face but he quickly hid it behind a comforting smile.
‘Come on, let’s get you home.’
‘You aren’t going to kidnap me are you?’ I demanded as he started to pull me back towards his car. ‘Because I have no money you know? I’m just an elementary school teacher.’
‘A teacher?’ He smirked, looking me up and down as one of his men opened the door for us.
‘Yes,’ I answered defensively, pulling my hand from his and crossing my arms over my chest. I was not wearing the most conservative of outfits, for me anyway. I thanked all that was holy for my strength in turning Sarah down when she had tried to squeeze me into one of her short black dresses. At least this one almost reached my knees but it definitely stood out more than a black dress, with its bright colourful striped skirt and peter pan neckline. I suppose it could have been worse. I never was able to pull off the clubbing look.
I was quickly snapped from my thoughts when a bright light went off in the corner of my vision.
‘What’s that?’ I demanded, unknowingly stepping closer to the hazel eyed man. I heard him curse under his breath as his arm quickly came around me and suddenly I was being lifted and gently placed in the back seat of the car. I could feel a dumbfounded look start to spread across my face as more flashes burst through the night and I looked back out at the still open door. I was able to catch several bodies holding black lenses in front of their faces before he followed me in, the door slamming firmly beside me as they started to shout things out. I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying and the car was moving before I had the chance to try.
‘What’s going on?’ I asked, turning to frown at the man who had basically thrown me into the back of his car.
‘How did they find me?’ He growled, fisting his hair in his hands and I couldn’t help but feel my frown deepen.
‘Who are they?’
‘The press,’ he answered in disgust before he looked up at me in confusion. ‘Did you plan this?’ He asked, accusation quickly filling his tone.
‘The press, the innocent damsel in distress act.’
‘I am no damsel,’ I shot back, feeling anger start to spread through my body.
‘No, I don’t suppose you are,’ he chuckled darkly. ‘Just a really good actress.’
‘Me, an actress,’ I scoffed. ‘I can’t even convince the kids maths is exciting some days.’
‘You don’t need to act anymore, the press is long gone. God, I can’t believe I fell for your tricks.’ Tricks, I didn’t have any tricks and what exactly was I tricking him into?
‘What’s your address?’ He demanded, pulling out his cell and starting to tap away on it furiously.
‘I’m not telling you where I live. I. Don’t. Know. You.’
‘Just give me your address, so I can drop you home. I have places to be.’ He answered dismissively and his tone infuriated me. This man was so hot and cold I was bound to catch the flu from his constant mood changes.
‘And your time is oh so important,’ I exaggerated shaking my head at him.
‘Yes, it is,’ he ground out, never looking up from his phone once.
‘If I’m such a hassle, why don’t you just drop me here then?’
‘Because my mother raised me right and I would never leave a lady out in the middle of the night, defenceless and alone.’
‘I am not defenceless,’ I muttered, slumping back against the leather seats.
‘Well, you gave a pretty good impression of it earlier,’ he scoffed.
‘There were men following me,’ I retorted.
‘I’m sure that’s what you wanted me to believe, you were very convincing.’
‘God, stop the car,’ I demanded, but it appeared no one was listening to me.
‘Address,’ he shrugged when I looked at him with daggers in my eyes.
‘You’re impossible.’ I huffed, leaning forward to talk to the men in the front seat. ‘Can you-hey!’ I shouted as I was thrown back against the leather seats.
‘What is your agenda anyway? Struggling actress in need of some publicity, socialite? What is it you need my fame for?’
‘Your fame?’ I frowned, noticing he hadn’t let my arm go yet.
‘You’re a reporter aren’t you?’ He deadpanned, releasing my arm as if I had burnt him and I felt completely confused as if I had fallen down the rabbit hole and come face to face with the most beautiful mad hatter.
‘I am a school teacher,’ I answered slowly, reaching into my clutch and pulling out my school ID. ‘See.’
‘That’s very convincing,’ he commented obviously not believing a single word I was saying.
‘You’re ridiculous,’ I answered stuffing it back in my clutch and tossing it against the seat. ‘Just stop the car and I’ll get out of your hair.’
‘Then tell me where you live,’ he answered simply, oblivious to the tantrum I was having on the seat beside him. Taking a deep breath I growled out my address to him, or at least the street before my own. I could manage to walk the street over and this way he wouldn’t know exactly where I lived.
‘On it boss,’ the man mountain answered, who was driving the mini tank through the busy streets of New York back to Alphabet City. Still made me chuckle that there was a place in this city called that. It always made me think of Alphabet spaghetti.
The short trip was silent as we finally pulled up to Avenue B and I quickly moved to get out, muttering a quick thanks before slamming the door shut behind me. I think he said something in reply but I was too busy getting as far away from him as possible. I turned back for one last look but the car was already rolling away and I felt all the tension in my body finally seep out. What a bizarre night?
Shaking my head I started the short walk to mine and Sarah’s apartment on Avenue C. I shuffled tiredly up the stairs and looked down at my watch groaning at how late it now was. School was going to be hell tomorrow.
As I reached my door I felt my heart drop. I didn’t have my keys because my keys were in my clutch which I now realised was sitting in the backseat of some strangers car. God, I was so stupid.
I let out an angry growl, letting my head fall heavily against the door.
‘Could this night get any worse?’ I muttered, thumping my head lightly against the front door of our apartment building.
After several minutes of self-pity, I slowly trudged back down the stairs and headed for the fire escape. Maybe I left our window open. Probably not, but maybe tonight I was feeling particularly reckless.
The metal of the fire escape groaned as I pulled the ladder down and started the climb to our third story apartment. I thought we were so lucky when we landed the top floor, now I hated it. I clutched the skirt of my dress tightly in one hand and precariously held onto the ladder with the other as I began my climb. Dignity was overrated anyway.
Finally, I reached the top and tried to slide the window up but, like I thought it would be, it was locked.
‘Guess I’m sleeping under the smog tonight,’ I grumbled, settling myself on the hard metal of the fire escape and leaning against the brick wall of our building. Great, I had to be up in four hours and I had no way of getting back into my apartment building. Tomorrow had a lot to answer for if it was going to be any better than today. One thing was certain, the next time I saw Sarah I was going to strangle her for ever suggesting I needed to get out more.