Raleigh, NC: 2015
Anna froze. Someone was following her. She turned quickly. There were a few familiar walkers, but there were no strangers, no gawkers. Even so, the warm, sunny day in May suddenly seemed dark and foreboding. A shiver ran down her spine. She had let herself become complacent, less observant. So much time had passed, and time had eased the pain, banished her fears. Were her heightened senses a prelude to a return of the nightmares?
She whispered a prayer. Please Lord, take away my anxiety and protect me from all evil, real and imagined. She hadn’t seen her therapist in years, hadn't needed one.
That morning, her usual Saturday morning routine changed dramatically because she forgot to set her alarm. She woke to find that she'd overslept. Normally, she was awake early and raring to go. She dressed in record time, rushed to join her friends at Millie’s café, and apologized profusely to Lindsey and Kelli. Ordinarily her tardiness would have gone unnoticed, but due to circumstances, the trio’s get together, would need to be brief. Lindsey had an appointment at eleven, and Kelli’s out-of-town boyfriend was in town for the weekend.
Anna treasured the Saturday morning gatherings with her friends. Schedules permitting, they had been meeting at Millie’s Café, for almost five years.
After her friends left the café, Anna mentally debated between heading home to do chores, or relaxing and enjoying a second cup of coffee. She decided on the latter. She wasn’t in a cleaning mood.
Except for a few unfamiliar faces, the café was filled with regulars. She pulled the morning newspaper out of her tote bag and perused the headlines. The current news was depressing. She tired of reading about the constant wrangling of politicians, the local crime rate and the US’s outlandish debt. She forced herself to skim the articles that were currently hot topics. She knew that if she didn’t take time to read the paper now, the paper would go into the trash unread.
Three years ago, she’d purchased a subscription to the News and Observer from Kenny Snipes, a fiercely independent kid in the neighborhood. Before he badgered her to buy a subscription, she regularly read online news. Sometimes she went weeks without reading a hard copy. After three years of recycling unread newspapers, she grudgingly admitted that she continued to renew her subscription because she was a soft touch, not because of a need.
Anna caught the server’s eye and pointed to her mug, then turned her attention back to the paper. Within minutes, her heart began to pound. Damn. Someone was watching her. This time, she trusted her senses. She was often in the public eye, so stares weren’t all that unusual. In fact, the most difficult part of her job, as fund raiser and publicist for a non-profit foundation, was dealing with demanding donors. She had learned to ignore the disgruntled glares of clients, but there had also been times when she had to ignore admiring glances of males. The attention, good and bad, was part of her job description.
When off the job, she preferred anonymity. Now, her small universe was being threatened by an unknown . . . She didn’t know what to call the mystery person. Was he/she a stalker? A voyeur? Did he/she want to ask questions that she couldn’t answer? Did he/she wish her harm?
Trying not to be obvious, she waved to one of the café’s regulars, and then slowly scanned the dining area. Every customer seemed engrossed in their reading material, or was engaged in conversation with another person. She shrugged, and tried to concentrate on the article she was reading. The uneasy feeling persisted until she left the café.
A third incident occurred a week later. Again, at Millie’s Café. The friends had agreed to one final get-together. They had been chatting for less than ten minutes, when Anna, once again, sensed that she was being watched. She tried to ignore the prickly feeling creeping up her spine, but she couldn’t. She whispered, “Don’t be obvious about looking, but check to see if anyone is staring at me.”
Lindsey laughed. “Since when did the queen of event planning start paying attention to come hither stares?”
“I’m serious Lindsey. I’m either paranoid, or I’m being watched, and today isn’t the first time it’s happened.”
Lindsey snickered. “So, what have you been up to, Anna? Do you have a guilty conscience?”
Kelli said in exasperation. “Be nice, Lindsey. Anna is serious. As far as I can tell, Anna, everyone is minding their own business.”
Lindsey started to speak, and then paused. “Now that you mention it, a man sitting at the table behind you, keeps glancing this way. I don’t think he’s interested. He’s middle-aged, and he’s cozying up to beautiful young woman at least fifteen years his junior.”
Anna rolled her eyes. “Forget I asked. It must have been my imagination.”