SHADOW

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CHAPTER 39

ON HER WAY home, walking briskly with a tight expression on her face, Julie felt like screaming herself hoarse.

She looked really upset by the positions her friends had taken up against her. Damn, she thought, feeling more downcast and angrier by the minute. Damn! Everyone was talking about her in uncharitable ways, saying things they had no clue about, she thought quietly.

As she walked on, she was staring absentmindedly at the faces of the scores of people she came across on the busy streets that afternoon. Tentatively and to calm herself down, Julie stopped at a female-only boutique to window-shop, admiring the nice clothes and lingerie on display. But because she was in a sour mood, she quickly got bored, turned around to go.

Suddenly, she started and turned around sharply because, although there was no one standing close to her then, she’d actually fancied someone had said her name at that very moment, whispered it right in her ears from behind!

Julie was certain she’d heard her name.

Or hadn’t she?

It appeared to be a puzzle.

And as she wondered about it, she saw that there was a person staring at her from beneath a tree at the opposite end of the broad street, almost a hundred meters from where the clothing store.

Julie’s eyes narrowed curiously, trying to make out who this person watching her was. Then she began to consider the possibility that she might not actually be the object of the person’s interest, after all, there were other folks around the place. It was a busy street, people going back and forth; perhaps this person just happened to be staring in the general direction where she was but was not necessarily staring at her.

This line of thought might have seemed plausible and sufficed to put her mind at ease, except that something remotely weird about the character quite unsettled Julie.

And when she took two steps sideways deliberately, watching to see what would happen, she noticed that the person’s head moved slightly to keep her within his field of view. Her skin began to crawl subtly.

There were tall trees lining that section of the street where the person stood, and the shade of the heavy branches seemed to greatly obscure his features considerably, coupled with the fact that he had a hooded shirt on.

Then again, just to make certain she wasn’t imagining it, Julie turned around nervously and took a couple of steps in the opposite direction, noticing in trepidation that with every step she took, the strange person kept his focus on her intently.

He remained still, like a statue, staring fixedly at her, and this can spook just about anybody out. Now there was no doubt that he was staring at her. But who was this person beneath the shade? And why was he taking an interest in her then?

Then suddenly, something about this person struck Julie and she stared at him back, deliberately and critically. It was his height and posture, the way he stood. It occurred to her then, though vaguely, that he seemed somewhat familiar.

Julie was queasy, her pulse and heartbeat quickening just as a powerful bout of migraine hit her. She winced, gasping softly, and shifted her gaze only for a moment when a random movement by the side of the road distracted her. In that instant, she must have blinked as well, but when she brought her gaze back again, the person was gone.

Julie stopped, perplexed, and ran her gaze back and forth quickly across the sidewalk, wondering where in which direction he went. It was only a moment ago, and he couldn’t have gone very far. But there was no sign of him anywhere, which was a puzzle. She guessed perhaps that he must have slinked out of sight in the split moment she’d taken her attention from him, disappearing into one of the nearby shops.

She stared for a tensed moment, unaware she was holding her breath, until someone touched her from behind, slightly startling her.

“Hey, J,” said Parker, grinning. “What’s up with you?”

She looked at him and smiled uncertainly. “Hey, what’re you doing here?” she asked.

“Checking on a couple of my buddies,” he answered. “What about you?”

She said, “I’m actually heading back home.”

“Cool,” he remarked bubbly. “Come on, then. Let’s go.”

She began to follow him, but stopped and turned to face him with a curious look in her eyes. “Where are we going, exactly?”

“Home.”

She narrowed her gaze, pinned him with a suspicious and knowing stare. “Which home exactly?”

He beamed at her. “C’mon, Julie; you haven’t been over in a while, you know.”

Julie smiled thinly, but still looked tensed. She turned and stared back across the street again. “Alright, let’s go. I think I could do with the company.”

Parker took her hand to lead the way, but she couldn’t immediately shake the image of the shadowy person staring at her from beyond the street off her mind. It bugged her significantly and thoroughly unnerved her. There was something not right about him, something that completely rattled her.

Was it a random stalker? That was possible. But there were many ugly stories about young girls being murdered by people who’d first stalked them. As Julie thought about it, she was relieved that it was still daylight, at least, and that kamil Parker had shown up when he did.

Just before they went around the next building, Julie turned one last time and glanced in the direction where the unknown person had been.

“Is anything wrong, J?” he asked carefully, observing that she looked rather nervous.

She shook her head. “No, I’m fine,” she told him.

“Sure?”

Julie smiled hesitantly. “Yeah,” she said.

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