The school was empty and in darkness by the time I finished my algebra work. I’d never had a head for maths, and being forced to resolve problems under my self-inflicted pressure didn’t exactly make working it out any easier. And with Mr. Davis busy grading god knows what, I couldn’t even ask him for help.
I looked out at the darkening sky as I readied myself to leave the school. My backpack was still drenched, and reeked of damp where it had been sitting in my locker all day. My parka was in just as foul a state, and the cold of the damp fabric seeped into my bones. It was going to be a long walk home.
The rumbling of thunder growled overhead as I reached Sunset Square, the halfway point of my journey home. The clock in the square had, by the looks of it, only recently rung seven o’clock, but the pitch black stormclouds above made it seem later. It was like the town had been shrouded in night, and cold, and fog. Everything felt hazy. Maybe it was just the cold draped over me like a blanket. I’d hoped to be able to grab a hot chocolate from Starbucks to help me warm up on the way home, but I was too late. All the shops in the square were closed up, save for a little independant wine shop which stayed open later to cater to more socially acceptable drinking hours. As likely a wine was to warm me up, I didn’t exactly fancy the idea of walking home drunk.
I sighed, the act halfway between disappointment and an attempt to warm any part of me up, and carried on walking. Street lamps flickered in the rain, clearly in desperate need of repair, but the town council either didn’t have the money or the energy to replace them. A flash of lightning served as my illumination instead, shedding a brief glimmer of light down the alleyway I would have to walk through to reach the path through the forest. It was empty. Good. No creepy guys out when the place is empty.
I shucked my backpack a little higher on my back as I set off down the alleyway, my senses going into hyperactivity as I listened for footsteps, kept watch for shadows either in front of or behind me. I was almost all the way through when I saw the shadow at the end of the alley. I couldn’t turn round, not without them noticing. What if they followed me? There was no one in the square to help me. At least if I got to the other end of the alley I could try and make a break for it.
I sucked in a breath. Kept on walking. The shadow at the end of the alley moved until a silhouette stood blocking my path. Just under six foot tall. Definitely male. Great. Just great. My keys were in my hand before I knew it. If he tried to put so much as one finger on me…
“Hey, beautiful,” he purred as I approached him.
In the half light I could only just make out his features. Smartly styled black hair, a strong jawline and sharp cheekbones to match, dark skin. I couldn’t tell fully in the low light, but his frame looked muscular. Like he could outrun me. Overpower me. I felt panic begin to rise in my chest like the tide, thick and fast, and I clutched my keys all the more tightly.
“Where are you going?” he asked, following me as I walked past him. “Baby, why don’t you smile? You look so much prettier when you smile.”
I sped up, but my freezing limbs could only move so fast, and he kept gaining on me. Walking leisurely like a predator toying with its prey. That’s what he was—a shark circling its next meal. The panic reached the top of my head. My lungs couldn’t get enough air. I felt like I was drowning, my lungs filled with night and fog and cold like they were stuffed with cotton wool, and I couldn’t get enough air in no matter how many breaths I took. So they started coming in short, sharp bursts. It was all I could get in, but it still wasn’t enough.
And then he was in front of me. An arm sprawled lazily across the path in front of me, blocking my way. If I pushed onward who knows what he’d do. But if I turned round, tried to turn back the way I came… Dad always taught me never to turn your back on danger.
“Baby, what’s your name?” the stranger purred again, his voice like honey.
I would have laughed if I hadn’t been so scared. Did he actually think I was going to tell him? Did that ever actually work? I didn’t answer, hoping he’d get the message. My silence did the opposite.
He reached out his free hand, caressing my cheek with his thumb. I flinched away from his touch, but there was nowhere to go. I was stuck. Cornered. Fuck.
“C’mon, beautiful, I just want your name.”
“My name’s…” I started weakly, still trying to catch my breath. “My name’s… fuck off and leave me alone.”
It came out as barely more than a whisper. I wasn’t even sure he heard me, but the expression on his face changed slowly but surely. The lazy, predatory smile he’d been wearing shifted into something more vicious. More threatening. His brows angled into a frown, the corners of his mouth shifting down into an almost scowl.
“Now that’s not a very nice thing to say. Didn’t your mom teach you any manners?” he asked harshly, removing his arm from where he’d rested it.
I didn’t wait. I took my chance and bolted. I was fast, but he was faster. His footsteps pounded against the sidewalk behind me, echoing in my ears as loud as the thumping of my heartbeat. I had nowhere to go. If I tried to run for home, he’d catch me up, and in the forest there’d be no one to stop him. I’d end up on the front page of the newspaper; Teen Girl Found Dead In Forest, But if I stayed here… God, there was nowhere to go. I was so helpless. I couldn’t fight. I couldn’t run. I couldn’t stay. I’d never felt so helpless in all my life.
“I think you owe me an apology, ugly bitch,” he snapped, suddenly swinging round in front of me, blocking me again. “Christ, a guy just tries to give a girl a compliment, and this is what he gets? You’re not even that good looking.”
“Please just leave me alone,” I breathed out, still hyperventilating.
I saw his hand move out of the corner of my eye and I braced myself for whatever was about to come next. I was so cold and so tired. I didn’t think I could fight back for long, even though everything screamed at me to. My eyes clamped shut of their own accord as I waited for him to either strike me or drag me off somewhere, but it never came.
“Hey, what do you think you’re doing?” another female voice yelled from further back, her Louisiana accent unmistakable.
“Fuck off, I’m just talking to my girlfriend,” the stranger yelled back, annoyance ripe in his voice.
I dared to open an eye and saw the owner of the female voice. She couldn’t have been taller than five foot, with cropped white blonde hair and a slender figure. With her tiny frame and high pitched voice, she almost looked like a faerie. And unlike me, she was well and truly in the guy’s face, even though he towered above her.
“Kid, is this your boyfriend?” she asked and I shook my head, almost too shocked to respond. “Then you need to back off, buddy.”
She didn’t give him an opportunity to answer, barging past him and grabbing hold of my elbow, tugging me along with her. For a tiny little woman, she walked ridiculously fast and I almost had to jog to keep up with her. At least the guy wasn’t following us. As far as I could tell, anyway. She walked with me to the edge of the dense forest, making sure that she put herself between me and the town when we stopped.
“Are you okay?” she asked, looking me over for god knows what. “I hope you don’t mind me cuttin’ in back there, but I didn’t want to see you get hurt.”
“I’m fine,” I said quietly. “I just… I just want to get home.”
“Where do you live?” she asked brightly. “I can walk you home if you don’t want to be alone.”
“Thanks. And about a mile or two that way.” I pointed further into the forest. “I’ll be fine, though, I don’t want to hold you up or anything.”
“It’s no trouble, sugar.”
She hooked her arm in mine again, no mean feat considering the height difference between us, and headed into the forest with me.
As we reached the house, I finally saw her in decent light. Her hair just reached her jawline, and holding her fringe behind her left ear was a silver dragonfly barrette. She had a sweet face, and her slate grey eyes radiated warmth and kindness. I wanted to thank her properly—offer her a cup of something warm, call a cab for her, even just letting her sit inside and warm up for a few minutes before she made the trek back.
But I was still scared. I just wanted to be alone. Wanted to be able to lock the doors and windows and feel safe. Like I didn’t have to look over my shoulder at the slightest noise. I just wanted to get inside, have a hot bath, and go to bed.
“Are you going to be alright now? Is anyone else home?” the blonde woman asked, her voice as sweet as her face.
“Yeah, I’ll be fine. My dad’ll look after me.”
Lie. I hated lying, but it was the only way I was going to shrug her off. Thankful as I was for her looking out for me, I didn’t trust her either, and if she knew I was by myself, she might demand to spend the night to make sure the guy hadn’t followed us. I should have been worried about her getting attacked on her own way home, but she’d told me on the long walk that she was a black belt in taekwondo. I figured she could take care of herself if he came after her.
“Let me give you my phone number just in case, okay?” she said, digging a fancy looking cell phone out of her pocket. “I’m Tawny, by the way. Tawny Libellule.”
“Uh, Hallie Brady,” I said, too tired and cold to find my own phone. “Can I just give you my number instead? I don’t have my phone on me.”
The woman, Tawny, didn’t protest as I gave her my number, and I thanked god I’d left my phone on silent when she sent me a text almost immediately. So I knew who it was, she said. Like I was going to forget everything that had just happened. She looked like she wanted to protest something, but thankfully she held her tongue and let me just go inside. I’d apologise for it in the morning, but I just needed to be alone.
I left my coat and bag in a tangled mess in the hallway, forgoing dinner in favour of a mug of hot chocolate and a candlelit bath. I left the bathroom door open as I tried to relax. The storm outside had gotten closer to the house, and each flash of lightning and rumble of thunder had strange noises echoing and creaking throughout the house. My overworked mind kept assuming it was someone trying to get in, and without a lock on the bathroom door I didn’t want to be caught unawares.
After checking all the locks in the house three times, I finally calmed down enough to try and get some sleep. Roll on Saturday, I guess.