Stress is one word for another. She can’t get enough of listening to everyone’s problematical life these days. Her clients alone are just a lot to handle. And there are already five clients on her hotline numbers, waiting to connect with her on TalkPeers site.
She could talk for hours with just one client in a day. And most of them just keeps repeating the same case over and over about being tired of living in this world. People are terrifying her with their most lunatic stories, deepest desire, and all that impossible to be talked about with friends or family.
But here, paranoia starts attacking her cerebral system. Giving emotional support is not as easy as everyone thinks it is.
“Am I being paranoid, or people are just messed up these days?” Messie mutters while looking around at her colleagues.
Libby who sits beside her, says, “Just endure it for a little while. Office hours is almost up.”
Messie glances at her, and sometimes she wonders how her best friend can be so dedicated about working as a peer therapist.
Libby doesn’t even stare away from her computer when Messie continues on muttering, “I hate that people are just miserable about life. Isn’t that the whole point of living? There’s always an upside-down.”
Some of her co-workers in the office laugh along. One of them names Anthony, he shouts, “You got it right, Messie. My clients here probably sound worse than yours—”
But everyone suddenly jumps on their chairs when Lisa already stands there in the room. She taps the wall hardly, dismissing their group talk.
“Hey! What did I say about not badmouthing the clients?” She sounds angry. “Ain’t I pay for your stupidity. Hear me?”
Libby glances slightly at Messie, tries not to laugh along with other co-workers to find Lisa rather funny than scary when she’s mad.
“Anyway, listen to me ya’ll. I have announcement to make—” Lisa holds out a piece of paper, and as she peeps at it, she speaks again, “my cousin builds a new start-up company, and it’s gonna be big, trust me—”
Some workers feel the need to chuckle altogether, and they get stopped when Lisa stares keenly to silent them.
“You all have to listen, alright,” she also has that unique and funny Haitian accent, they just can’t help it. “My cousin, Illama Baroque as the owner of BizzKiss, the newest and trendy blind date social app ever created in New York, has invited ya’ll to a grand exclusive party and beta event, which will be held in the Plaza Hotel by next week.”
Everyone seems surprised and bewildered at the same time.
“Anyone has question, just raise your hand,” Lisa adds.
Anthony, the most energic male peer therapist in the office hurriedly raises his hand, “What does it mean? Beta event?”
Lisa chuckles, “That’s the right question. Anyone who’s interested to take part will experience a blind date event, which will be conducted by BizzKiss social dating application.”
Everyone starts making noises, and gathers group talk as feeling excited about the upcoming event.
“Who knows, you’ll find your princess there, Anthony,” Lisa shouts after, and then she looks at Messie, “And you, who knows there’s a better luck at finding your lucky man there. Just stop pouting in my office already, Miss Denver.”
“What?” Messie gets surprised, but Lisa ignores her as she turns toward her office room.
“I told you so,” Libby chuckles, as saying it lyrically. “It’s so obvious that you show such a face. Everyone here thinks so.”
“No way. Is that supposed to be my problem if they don’t like my natural expression?” Messie mutters.
“Naturally cynical?” Libby wonders. “Is that what I thought?”
Messie shrugs ignorantly. She doesn’t want to take it to another level when her job alone is already stressing her out.
The hectic office situation almost ends within an hour, and yet, in the back of her mind, Messie keeps remembering about yesterday’s phone call. That ex-inmate is really serious about wanting to meet her. She even wonders how come the supervisor of the Penpal program gives out her phone numbers so easily to him, which is ultimately questionable. Now she wonders again if the government wants to misuse her personal data for something in the future, or maybe she’s just reading it too much.
Of course, she said no, and immediately hung up the phone. What could be worse than a horror show if he found her?
She thinks a lot about it; he was a murderer with a complex identity crisis, and not to mention he’s an ex-inmate that’s just released from jail. He can be anyone. He can be anything. She can’t trust anyone she meets in the street, if that makes sense.
“Messie, hello?” Libby taps her shoulder for many times.
“Oh, sorry, my mind was somewhere else—” Messie shakes her head, feeling dizzy to think about the horror show that keeps haunting her.
“Are you okay?” Libby sounds worried. “We can grab a drink in Cupcake Café now, if you want.”
“What?” Messie blinks, and just realizes that some of her co-workers are shutting down their computers, and the others already raises from their chairs and prepares to walk out from the office.
“Damn it. I think it got me so bad,” Messie mutters and stares at her. “Do you remember about the Penpal program that I told you before?”
“Oh, about that Mister Sarcastic you’ve mentioned?” Libby raises her eyebrows eagerly while shutting down her computer. “Of course, I do. Why don’t you tell me more once we’ll have a sit in Cupcake Café. My stomach feels burning already.”
Messie follow to shut down her computer, and raises up quickly from her chair before taking along her sling bag, and go out the way.
Cupcake Café is very near from the office, only a couple blocks away. The place is very cozy and smells nice, where the youngsters like to spend their late afternoon here. The café is not only selling cupcake, but delicious breads like a pastry too.
Messie and Libby order the same hot cup of Americano coffee and a few pastries. They sit next to the windowsill, which facing the street view.
“So, what happens?” Libby continues on their last conversation. “Is that guy bugging you like that psycho Repo man?”
“Oh, don’t mention it. Maybe even worse,” Messie says before she drinks the coffee.
“What the hell is with them?” Libby curses. “Maybe you’re right in that part, maybe people are miserable when they have nothing worth to do in their life.”
“It’s different, Libby. We ain’t talk about TalkPeers no more. You can’t ever compare these crazy lunatic guys with our clients,” Messie talks differently now.
Messie seems careful. Her eyes are looking around back and forth, as if anyone may peep at their conversation.
Libby narrows her eyes. “Okay, how’s different?”
Messie bends her body closer to the table, and then whispers, “That guy’s been released from jail. Now he’s roaming around, which he can be anywhere right now. He’s practically an ex-inmate. And the worse of all, he calls my phone and wants to meet me.”
“Uh, what did you say, Messie?” The surprise fills her eyes again, and the idea makes her skin crawl.
Messie rolls her eyes in annoyance.
“Bu-but you say he’s in Michigan, right?” Libby wants to make sure. “So that’s very far away from here. No worries, I guess?”
Messie bites her own lips while imagining the worse scenario that may happen, but she tries to be optimist for once.
She sighs and murmurs, “I hope so.”
“Anyway, you can always call the cops if anything goes wrong, okay?” Libby reminds her. “Just ignore his phone call, and anything about him—”
“Libby, I get it,” she bewilders why her best friend feels more terrified than herself in this situation.
“What’s his name again?” Libby asks after she drinks her coffee.
“J. Mark. But I prefer to call him Mister Sarcastic,” she says.
“Hmm, sounds familiar somehow, but—” Libby tries hard to remember, but then she ignores it, “anyway, just remember about the blind date event. That’s also important. You say you want to meet a rich man, right?”
Messie chuckles as it reminds her with a wish-and-throw-a-coin moment in her 24th birthday not long ago.
“Yeah, but I think the blind date idea sounds stupid. I heard about that social dating app before. The system will choose a couple randomly based on their individual profile data,” Messie says. “You don’t get to choose who you like in that blind date, Libby. Think about it.”
“BizzKiss. The name itself sounds romantic, I think,” she says. “Even we can’t choose the individual, we still have to try our luck.”
Messie rolls her eyes again.
“It’s beta version. We will be the first participant, Messie,” she persuades. “Don’t you think your cousin want to join the nice party too?” Libby tries to remember her name “—oh, yeah, how’s Olivia Jenkins doing in that skyscraper building these days?”
Messie smirks, feeling disgusted every time Libby has to mention about her cousin.
“I don’t know, honestly. She seems pretty busy,” she says indifferently.
“Well, too bad. Does working in a fashion magazine really push your boundary that much?” Libby wonders.
“Oh, good, in what way?” Now Messie seems interested to continue on the topic. “Because what I know; Olivia is all about being in the glamourous industry, and then she has to meet people who are mostly jerks, divas, and—”
Libby often gets bewildered about why Messie gets so overreacted every time about it, and thus she cuts her off by always saying the same thing too, “I know why you hate Olivia. But you’re being jealous doesn’t make so much sense. You already have a job at TalkPeers. What else could you ask for?”
Messie agapes, shuts her eyes, and then she closes her mouth for a second, before trying to find other words to express her annoyance.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to badmouth her, is just—” Messie sighs, as resting her head with her hands on the table, then she speaks again, “life’s harder sometimes. That’s what I meant. My dream job, is where she is now. Fashion magazine, luxurious life, and etcetera, you name it.”
“I get it, Messie. Not everyone gets what they want in life. Maybe for a reason we don’t understand,” for once again, Libby says something beyond her character, or maybe, Messie just doesn’t know a lot about her best friend.
Messie gets surprised with her wise words, and then she smiles.
“Well, but I can’t agree more with you about Olivia being a sentimental diva sometimes. She’s a bitch for it—” Libby tries to lift up the mood again.
And then they spend the rest of their free time by talking about unimportant things like cheap celebrities’ gossip, food, movies, and just anything they can ever come across with in the conversation. Just to waste time, and to release stress.
Messie checks on her phone sometimes, and notices a lot of missed calls from that ex-inmate guy. He never stops trying, which annoys her so much.
Before she drinks the last gulp of her coffee, her eyes are scanning the crowded room again. As far as she knows, nothing looks suspicious, and that’s a relief.
On the way home, she feels insecure while walking down on the pavement, as if there’s a shadow that keeps following her around. She feels as if someone keeps an eye on her, or is she just being paranoid since that ex-inmate guy gives off the creepy vibe by saying he wants to meet her?
Paranoia is one word for Messie right now. She can’t even keep her pace balance, just like a drunkard person walks home alone. But she’s definitely one-hundred percent sober, but her mind is not.
Either her mind’s only playing a trick, or maybe there’s really something lurking in this dark afternoon. It’s almost six p.m. when she reaches her apartment porch. Her eyes scan back and forth around the neighborhood to see if there’s stranger’s eyes watching her every movement.
Once she opens the door and gets in safely, she sees a piece of paper lies on the floor, right in front of the entrance door. She bends down bewilderingly to take it, and before she checks it out, she takes a deep breath.
Her eyes bulge out widely as she reads what’s written on the paper;
I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE. I KNOW ALL ABOUT YOU.
Somehow, the bold words alone give her the creep. Every suspicion she has in mind leads to the only Penpal mate she once connected with, which is the individual ex-inmate names Joey Dayson Mark.
The alibi is just strong. He already leaves a lot of miscalls on her phone. He keeps bugging her personal space in that part.
Even though she doesn’t know what he looks like, it still surely feels like the worse horror that could ever happen if by any accident they both met. She thinks a lot, and sometimes she imagines it like in the movie Scream, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or maybe like the classic thriller I Know What You Did Last Summer, and just anything she’d like to name it.
The paper doesn’t give much clue, except the ridiculous warning its written. She can’t know who the sender is.
Or maybe, it could be Dan Jacob, that psycho repo man. But the alibi doesn’t make much sense since he already knows where she lives, and what she’s doing to make money. So, at least, it has to be someone that seems likely doesn’t know much about her in the beginning, and thus, this person is interested to spy on her for a purpose. If it’s not the person she thinks of, then who else?