“Why do you always insist I wear clothes that are a little too revealing?” I hold the dress up to the front of my body. It’s short, too short for my liking. With how it hardly hides my body from the mirror, I’m sure it’s extremely tight as well. The sequence is pretty, with the billions of tiny red beads, but it’s just not me; the red color reminds me of Ashley’s car and the lipstick she wears...
“Because,” Rachel answers. “You look hot. You’ve got a rockin’ body; you should show it off.”
I roll my eyes and put the dress back on the rack while she picks up a pink halter top cocktail dress that’s much more my style. Though it seems by the way she wraps it over her arm, she’s claimed it already.
With a silent sigh and on the verge of giving up, I pad over to yet another clothing rack. The song “Halo” by Beyoncé plays for the third time since we’ve been in this store. I swipe each hanger to the left as I inspect each item.
Pantsuit, dress, dress, shorts, dress, jumpsuit – ugly jumpsuit. Who would want to wear puke green?
Dress, dress, pantsuit...
There’s an uneasy feeling. A sudden sense of being watched prickles the tiny hairs on the back of my neck. The same uneasy feeling that told me the van was following me that one day.
I peek over my shoulder and see a man in black dive behind a pillar outside the store.
Maybe I imagined it... I turn back to the clothes in search of finding something for our New Year’s Eve outing.
Dress, dress...the feeling hasn’t gone away. I turn over my shoulder again. The same man darts back behind the pillar.
I am being watched.
The memory of being followed and chased not that long ago has my heart pumping in my ears. Could it be one of those guys? One of Isaac’s men? Could it be Isaac?
A hand gently touches my shoulder, causing me to jump out of my skin and blurt out a horrid shriek.
“Sorry!” Rachel quickly removes her hand from my shoulder like she touched something sizzling hot. “Are you okay? You are very pale.” With my hyperventilating chest, she outstretches her arm and feels my forehead with the back of her hand.
“You’re burning up.” She holds both my shoulders to square me off, forcing my eyes to look into her deep gray ones. “Elena? Are you alright?”
Shock. Is it shock?
I should tell her. I don’t want to keep this inside anymore. I don’t like hiding things; maybe she can help. She’ll be worried about me once she goes back home. She’d also hate me if she ever found out that I’ve kept something like this from her.
I can’t have her hate me.
With my voice soft, quiet, and hardly heard - I tell her, “I need to tell you something.”
She lets me lead her to the changing rooms. I force her to sit on the blue bench as I close the tall white door and lock it, not once, but twice. Just to be sure.
“What is it? What’s going on? You’re scaring me.” Rachel’s voice shakes.
Taking a seat next to her, I tell her everything. All the details. All the secrets. All my fears.
“Holy shit,” is all she whispers. She says it repeatedly like she can’t believe anything that I’ve said, yet also knows that I wouldn’t lie about any of it.
A knock on the door has us both to jump. “How are you doing? Do you need me to get anything in a different size for you?”
Simultaneously, Rachel and I exhale the breaths we were holding in. “I’m good, thanks,” I tell the sales associate. We wait until we know she isn’t there anymore.
There’s a hard slap on my arm. Ow. I rub the stinging surface with my hand.
“Why am I hearing about all this now? Why did you keep it from me?” Rachel looks angry and hurt. Everything I was afraid she’d be.
“I’m sorry, Rach,” I apologize. “I wanted to tell you so many times. I just... I didn’t want you to worry about me.”
“Girl, I always worry about you.” She reaches for my hand. “You’re like my sister El; you’re family to me. I always worry. Don’t ever hide things from me again – especially things like this,” she pauses. “We should call the cops.”
I shake my head vehemently. “No.”
“Why not? They can walk us back to your car. They’ll probably send your dad.” She tries to reason with me. As though it would be a good thing for my dad to come pick us up, then ask us why we felt threatened. I wouldn’t be able to tell him the truth, to tell him that this isn’t the first time I’ve been followed. It would just tangle the web of lies I’ve already spun.
Technically, I haven’t lied to my dad. I’ve just been withholding information. There’s a difference, right?
Dad has enough on his plate as it is with that bad guy running loose out there.
What if that guy out there is the bad guy?
“No, please. Don’t call the cops,” I warn her, I beg her.
“Wait... you haven’t told your dad, have you?” Her eyes narrow with suspicion.
My head shakes right to left.
Rachel pinches the bridge of her nose while her eyes squeeze shut. When they open, she gives me a perplexed stare. “You really think someone is after you? This Isaac guy and his buddies?”
I force my head into a single nod.
“I can’t believe you were nearly raped.” Her head drops down with a tear that follows.
Squeezing her hand, I try to offer comfort. “But I wasn’t. Mike stopped it. I’m okay.”
In a flash, Rachel wraps her arms around my neck like a vise. “I love you so much. Please don’t keep things like this from me. Okay?”
Now I’m crying. “I promise.”
She releases the hold on me. “I’m calling Paul.”
Paul. Probably better than Mike. Mike would freak out on me. He’s very protective like that.
I watch as she takes out her phone from the purse and dials Paul’s number. The phone on the other line rings, filling the cubicle’s space.
The sharp shrills of a phone ringing sounded as if it was near the door. Her phone rings again, then the louder ring follows. We look at each other. Our eyes are wide with possible relief that perhaps there was no threatening lurker. Perhaps it was Paul the whole time...
Rachel stands up and reaches for the latch on the door, then slides it to the right -unlocking it. She swings the door open, and there stands Paul.
He stands there like he’s been caught. His deep dark chocolate eyes are wide. His chin has dropped; with his phone in hand, he looks dodgy.
“Have you been following us?” Rachel hisses; I scan around the shop for the man in all black. The only man in black I see that resembles closely to what I’ve seen is Paul.
He puts his hands out in front of him. “Babe, don’t freak out. I was in the area and saw Elena checking out the clothes, then thought it would be fun to surprise you.” He wiggles his fingers, and playfully says, “Surprise.”
Rachel and I both visibly sigh in relief. “Wait,” I say. “What are you here for?”
He reaches down to his feet and lifts a plastic bag. “I got a new shirt for tonight. I figured my regular wardrobe of cut off shirts probably isn’t appropriate for the club outing,” he says as he winks at Rachel. She holds a brave face, but I know when my best friend swoons.
Winks do that to me too. What is it about a wink? Seriously. It’s just a wink, and yet it’s so much more.