The weekend after the first game was Labor Day weekend, which meant we would get Monday off of school. I spent the weekend in the same fashion I always do—sleeping in till nine, watching cartoons or whatever is playing on Comedy Central, and eating every two hours until I fall asleep around midnight.
But Monday, we were invited to go to my aunt’s house for a barbeque. I had hoped to go up to Madera Canyon instead, but Aunt Jeanette insisted it would be much too crowded, and that her house would be more fun. Right.
But luckily, after about an hour at the barbeque, I was saved by a text from Amber:
SLEEPOVER @ MY HOUSE TONIGHT. & WE’RE GONNA DITCH SCHOOL TOMORROW. YOU HAVE TO COME, IT WON’T BE ANY FUN WITHOUT YOU.
Wow, we hadn’t all ditched school together in a really long time. She was right, I had to go.
I went outside to where Mom and Jeanette were loitering around the grill.
“Hey Mom, Amber invited me to sleep over tonight,” I said. “So maybe you could just drop me off over there after we’re done here.”
“I don’t know,” Mom deliberated. “No boys, right.”
“Right, no boys,” I said. Well, except for Robert, but we really just accepted him as another girl.
“Sure, I guess,” she decided. “Just as long as you’re not late to school in the morning, I’m okay with it.”
I smiled. “Don’t worry, we won’t be late.” Because we weren’t going.
After we ate, Mom took me by the house to grab a change of clothes before she dropped me off at Amber’s.
“See you tomorrow,” I waved as I ran up Amber’s drive.
Amber opened the door and welcomed me inside. Reina and Robert were already lounging on the couch
“Now that Crim is here, we can really start having fun,” Amber said. “I’ll go get the nail polish!”
She skipped off to her room and we all gathered on the floor. When she came back, she put a big basket of nail supplies in the center of our ill-formed circle. We each chose the color we wanted and paired up to do each other’s nails. Since Robert was the best at such things, I pulled him away before anyone else could beat me to it.
I picked a metallic fiery red, and Robert picked a strange bright yellow green.
“You know, I haven’t painted my nails in a while,” Robert said as I started on his. “It’s been, like, three months.”
I smiled at how wonderfully self-assured Robert was, to be so happy with himself and unafraid of what others might think. Often times, it was quite empowering to be his friend.
After I was done with Robert’s nails, he started on mine.
“Dang, Robert, you are way too good at this,” I said, admiring my shimmering nails after he had finished.
“I know,” he said haughtily.
Our nails drying, we all picked our places around the living room and lounged there, watching TV. A few hours, a bag of popcorn and one twelve pack of soda later, everyone fell asleep. But I couldn’t fall asleep so easily. For some reason, every time I closed my eyes, my mind would flip back to Friday at the football game. I kept seeing that Asian guy, how he had glared at me, how impossibly his eyes had shined, how he had been there one minute and gone the next, and how the mere sight of him a few feet away from me had given me chills.
So I quietly flipped through the channels until I was distracted enough to sleep.
I woke to the smell of frying bacon and chocolate-chip pancakes. I could hear the voices of the others in the kitchen, along with the sizzling sound of bacon being fried.
I thrust myself off of the beanbag and stretched, arching my back therapeutically. Then I went into the kitchen to see what the others were up to. Amber and Reina were gathered around the stove with pancake flower all over their hands and shirts and even some on their cheeks, struggling to flip the pancakes in the pan without making a mess.
“Where are your folks, Amber?” I asked.
“They left a long time ago,” she said. “I told my mom that we’d all walk to school together, and Robert and I called the school earlier and excused us all. Thanks to my fabulous acting skills, no one will suspect a thing.”
“Speaking of Robert, where is he?” I asked, having not seen him in the kitchen or living room.
“Right here,” he said as he emerged from the hallway. “Just had to make myself pretty in the bathroom.”
When the food was done, we all began to chow down.
“So,” I said through swallows. “What’s the plan for today?”
“Well, we were thinking we could take the bus up to the north side and go to Funtastics,” Reina said.
“Yeah, and it’s right across the street from the Tucson Mall,” Amber said. “So after we have our fun playing lasertag and bumper cars and stuff, we can go eat at the food court and then do some major shopping.”
“Awesome,” I said before stuffing the last piece of pancake into my mouth. Then I went to the bathroom to get ready for the day.
“Alright, let’s hit the road,” Amber said. “If we don’t catch the nine o’clock bus, we’ll have to wait another half hour.”
We gathered our things and went out the door and down the road to wait at the bus stop on Park Avenue in front of the Circle K. Shortly, Bus 6 turned at the intersection and stopped in front of us. We filed into the bus and tried to find seats wherever we could.
When the bus stopped at the Tohono Center on the other side of town, we got off. Funtastics was right next to it, so we ran across the parking lot and into the arcade. There was so much to do and I felt like I had to do it all at once. There was the lasertag cave, the arcade games, the bumper cars and the drag strip...
Robert and I went to the bumper cars as Reina and Amber went their own way. We raced three times, then went to the arcade to play games for an hour until the others came to find us.
Then we left Funtastics and crossed the street to the Tucson Mall. We went to the food court first and ate quickly, all of us eager to roam the mall.
The first place Amber wanted to go was Hot Topic, the veritable church of punks and goths. It had the coolest and creepiest shirts and accessories, but it was super expensive. She ended up buying a knee-high pair of leather boots, which we all knew Robert would end up stealing from her.
We went into several other trivial department stores, like J. C. Penny’s and Sears, which were all pretty much the same thing with different names. By the time we got out of the sixth clothes store, the sun had already set and darkness had started to settle outside. But none of us felt like leaving just yet and tried to find excuses for staying. Reina wanted to go to the bookstore to look for some new manga, and, of course, Amber jumped at the thought.
We went to the far eastern side of the mall and into the bookstore. Robert went to the counter to flirt with the cashier, and Amber and Reina were crouched down at the end of the manga bookshelf, fawning over volumes.
I paced by myself along the other side of the manga section, idly looking over the different series. I noticed a boy standing in front of the revolving bookshelf staring at me; I could feel his gaze on the back of my neck.
I chanced to look at him. He was about my height, dressed in well-fitting black pants and a black Abercrombie & Finch shirt with sleeves rolled up to his elbows. His hair was black and spiked, standing up an inch and a half, with the tips bleached blond. His skin was pale white, whiter even than mine, making me certain he wasn’t a native of Tucson. And his eyes were pitch black, a sharp contrast to his pale skin. There was something very strange about him, but I wasn’t sure quite what it was.
When he saw me look at him, he smiled. I smiled back, but when he didn’t uncomfortably look away as most people habitually do, I got uncomfortable and turned away, pretending that something on the shelf had caught my eye.
I saw him approach me out of the corner of my. When he was too close to ignore, I looked at him again. His eyes were fixed unblinkingly on mine.
“Sorry for staring,” he said. “But you have the most remarkable eyes.” The whole time he said this, he didn’t break his stare.
“Oh, yeah, I know, I’m weird,” I said. My eyes had always been a cause for approbation. They were bright serpentine green, but circling the pupils were thin spears of red, opening like a flower around the black hole.
“Interesting,” he said thoughtfully, the stare becoming even more intense, paralyzing me.
“Oh, Crimson, come over here, you gotta see this!” Reina called.
Her voice broke my paralysis and I let my eyes fall away from his. I went around the bookshelf to where Reina and Amber were still kneeling, and, half-listening to Reina, I watched as the boy I’d been talking to strolled idly down another aisle, still unable to take my attention off him.
Amber and Reina soon checked out and we dragged Robert away from the flirtatious cashier and out of the store.
“Oh my God, I totally got that guy’s number!” Robert said.
With nothing left to do, we left the mall, walked across the street and waited at the Tohono Center for the bus. We weren’t the only ones to exit the mall and go to the bus station; we were joined by a rowdy couple and another guy.
The couple got on Bus 16, but the guy waited and got on Bus 6 with us.
The girls, Robert and I sat at the front of the bus, and the guy went all the way to the seats at the back. He was fairly attractive, with short black hair and blue eyes, a somewhat Asian look to his face. And his skin was really pale, too, just like that other weird guy who’d talked to me at the bookstore.
I tried not to stare at him, but I couldn’t help myself. He looked so familiar. His eyes found my face every now and then, but he would look away as soon as he saw that I was looking at him.
After the bus left the Ronstadt Center without any new passengers and turned southbound on First Avenue, I realized what was so familiar about him.
That can’t be right… And yet it was! That was the same guy I had seen at the football game, I was sure of it!
What were the odds of that? He didn’t go to our school; I would have seen him at least once around campus. So what had he been doing at our football game, on the home side of the bleachers?
Maybe I was just being paranoid. And surely it was a coincidence that he was on our bus right now.
We got off at the Park and Irvington intersection. I strode anxiously away from the bus, but slowed to take a look back. To my heightened paranoia, the Asian guy stepped off the bus after us.
My heart was hammering in my ears as we crossed the street. I was dreading the corner where the others would continue straight and I would turn to walk by myself. It wasn’t like me to be afraid to walk the streets alone at night, but this guy did frighten me.
The moment came, and the others all hugged me goodnight and continued on their way. I could see in Reina’s eyes that she noticed the angst on my face. I smiled a fake smile and turned down the dim and silent side street that would lead me toward my house.
I walked a few yards, then tentatively looked behind me, and I saw that the guy had turned with me and was walking a few paces behind me. Crap! I kept walking straight, getting more and more anxious with every step and trying so hard not to look behind me again. I turned left on the next road, walked a few more yards, then stopped and pretended to tie my shoes as I stared at the road I’d just come from. Silently and slowly, he emerged from the road and started coming my way once again.
Holy crap, he really was following me! Why? He hadn’t seemed too threatening on the bus, and it was obvious by the looks of me that I didn’t have anything he’d want to steal. But he most definitely was following me.
I had to act cool. I just had to make it to my street. I would be safe if I could just make it that far…
As soon as I turned the last corner, I broke into a sprint and didn’t stop until I was up my driveway and under the protective darkness of my porch. Then, as quickly yet quietly as I could, I slipped my key into the doorknob, unlocked it and went inside.
“You’re home late,” Mom said from the couch.
She noted the frayed expression on my face and I tried, too late, to compose it.
“Are you okay?” she asked, concerned.
“Yeah, yeah, sure,” I lied. “It’s just been a long day, and I think I’m a little paranoid because of it.”
“Well, just make sure you get enough sleep tonight, sweetie,” she said.
“Good thinking,” I said. “I think I’ll go to bed right now.” Before I left, I locked the front the door, both the knob and the dead bolt.
I went into my room and locked that door, too. I crept into bed and tried to get comfortable, but I knew that it was all in vain because there was no way I’d be able to sleep tonight.