Kate sat up in bed, jolted awake by a sudden fear that an intruder had entered her home. Listening intently, Kate glanced sideways at the alarm clock on her oak nightstand, reading one o’clock in the glaring red of the digital numbers. No sounds came from downstairs or anywhere else in the empty house, yet a sense of foreboding flooded Kate’s senses. It seemed as though a cloud of heaviness had filled the small bedroom, but Kate saw nothing out of place, and nothing appeared unusual about her room. Everything was quiet and still, but Kate felt uneasy and frightened. Had she heard something in her sleep, or was she just paranoid spending the week home alone while her mom was on a business trip?
Why am I so scared? Kate thought to herself. Kate had spent the last two days alone without the slightest fear or agitation. Why was she frightened out of her wits now? One minute passed… then two…then five. The fear inside Kate’s chest slowly subsided. She cautiously laid her head down on her pillow, saying a silent prayer as she closed her eyes. Sleep came easily and lasted until the alarm clock sounded at seven o’clock.
Work passed slowly for Kate as she watched the trickles of rain run down the bookshop window. There were only two customers in the shop at the moment, and Kate had already offered them her assistance. She gazed out the window into the rain until her eyes lost focus and she stared into nothingness. A bell chimed as the door to the bookshop opened. The high-pitched sound brought Kate out of her reverie. A teenage couple entered hand in hand, shaking the rain from their hooded coats. Kate didn’t bother asking if they needed assistance. They were probably just ducking in to get out of the rain. As predicted, the couple made their way over to the chairs close to the magazines, sat down beside one another and resumed handholding.
Get a room, Kate thought to herself almost laughing out loud. She had only graduated from high school six months earlier, but already felt like she was in her late twenties. With a full-time job and night classes at the local community college, she paid for tuition, her share of the groceries, and for her own fuel. Her little car had been a hand-me-down from her mom, so she didn’t have to worry about a car payment, at least. Kate tried her best to help her mom out with as many bills as she could. She had offered to pay rent now that she was eighteen, but her mom wouldn’t hear of it.
“You stay as long as you want, sweetie,” her mother had told her.
Now that her dad was gone for good, it was just the two of them. Kate wanted to live at home with her mom for a while longer, but she didn’t want to be a burden while she was there. Her mom was gone so much these days that she felt she was already on her own. There were the evening phone calls from her mother from whichever hotel she was staying in while on business, but other than that, she didn’t actually see her mother much at all.
Kate glanced at the wall clock above the doorway and saw that it was almost time to close up shop. The teenage couple had noticed as well and had made their way back out into the rain that had slowed to a drizzle. Kate decided to check with the two remaining customers to see if she could help them before closing time. Both had an armful of books that they were ready to purchase. Kate rang them up, wished them both a good evening, and hurriedly balanced the register.Why am I in such a hurry? Kate wondered. She had no classes tonight, and was in no hurry to get home, yet she always fled her job like a bird freed from the confines of a cage. Kate loved her job at Grammer’s Bookshop, but it was her first job and still intimidated her. Her boss, who was also the owner of the store, was a kind woman, but Kate was a perfectionist in many ways, and was terrified of making a mistake.
Ten minutes after eight o’clock, Kate locked the back door of the bookshop and made her way to her car that was parked in the alley behind. The evenings were beginning to cool down, especially with all the rain and Kate shivered as she climbed into her cold little car. It didn’t help that the car had leather upholstery. After switching the heater to high, Kate made her way out of the alley and headed for home.
Pulling into the driveway of her two-story colonial home, Kate noticed that Elise had stopped by. Her best friend knew where the spare key was hidden and had already made her way into the living room. She was watching a reality show when Kate walked into the room, her eyes glued to the screen. Elise jumped when Kate sat down on the couch beside her, not noticing her before.
“God, Kate, you scared the crap out of me,” Elise ranted as she ran her hands through her corn silk blond hair.
“Sorry, I thought you heard me come in. What are you doing here? I thought you were going to Paul’s house tonight,” Kate replied, ignoring Elise’s outburst.
Elise made a disgusted face as she answered, “He said he had homework, but I think he’s cheating on me. I thought about going over there, just to see if he was telling me the truth.”
“So why didn’t you?” Kate asked as she pulled her tennis shoes off and propped her feet up on the coffee table.
“Cause I might see something I don’t want to see,” Elise grunted, running her hands through her hair again, this time twisting it up into a loose bun with the ponytail holder she always wore on her wrist.
“If he’s cheating on you, you should find out. You’ve already wasted the last three months with that loser.”
“But what if he really is just doing homework? He would know that I don’t trust him, and I don’t want him to think that I don’t trust him, even if I don’t,” Elise retorted.
“Whatever. It’s your wasted time, not mine. I wouldn’t put up with that crap though. Since when does Paul do homework, anyway?”
“Well, I thought that being an older woman would give me the upper hand with him, but now I just feel like I don’t know anything about his life before three o’clock.”
“Don’t worry, Elise, there are plenty of guys out there if it doesn’t work out between you and Paul. I wouldn’t waste my time on someone younger than me if I were you. High school guys are just way too immature.”
“Speaking of mature guys,” Elise said grinning, “have you scoped out any hotties at the community college?”
Kate groaned, “Well, you see, that’s the problem with night classes. All the hot guys go to class during the day, and I’m stuck with the family men or balding fatties in their forties. So, to answer your question, no.”
Elise smirked. “Well, Kate, like you said, there are plenty of guys out there.”
Kate grabbed a cushion beside her and swung it hard, hitting Elise square in the chest.
“Hey!” Elise shouted. “What? I’m just quoting you.”
“Just mocking me, more like,” Kate laughed.
The girls flipped through TV shows for another couple of hours, getting up only to pop a few TV dinners into the microwave.
“So tell me, what’s your idea of the ‘perfect’ guy?” Elise asked Kate while a commercial interrupted their show.
“Perfect, or ideal guy?” Kate replied.
“Either one. What I’m asking is: what kind of guy would you want to get serious with?”
“Well,” Kate started, “he would have to be smart, older than me—but not too much older. He would love to travel. He would be well read, and speak at least two languages. He would have to be at least six feet tall, have dark hair and dark eyes—something like that.”
Elise laughed, “No wonder you don’t have a boyfriend.”
“Go home, Elise,” Kate retorted, “or better yet, go check on your dream boat, Paul.”
“Ok, ok, fair enough. I get your point. Let me at least finish this show. Jeez, Kate. Why so touchy,” Elise joked.
The girls laughed and made fun of the reality show actors for another hour before Kate yawned, cueing Elise to head for home. Kate had to work the next day and had to cover both shifts since the boss was out of town. Elise left at ten forty-five to make sure she made it home by her eleven o’clock curfew.
Waving goodbye to her friend, Kate headed upstairs to carry out her nightly routine of brushing her teeth and hair before climbing into bed. Grabbing the worn journal from her nightstand, she began to write.
Not much to write about today. Worked my shift tonight, but have to work both shifts tomorrow. Elise kept me company tonight. She thinks Paul is cheating on her. He probably is. Mom called and said she’s coming home on Friday, but has to leave again on Saturday night. Looks like I’ll be spending Halloween alone this year. Not that I care. Maybe Elise will come over and watch a scary movie with me, unless she and Paul are still together. Hope something interesting happens tomorrow. My life is such a bore. No class this week or next, so I have nothing to do but work, and write about nothing.
Kate dreamed of mist. She was standing in the square close to the bookshop, the cobblestones hard under her bare feet. She stretched out her hand to touch the mist, but her hand disappearing, as if the mist had totally consumed it. Pulling back her hand, she hugged it close to her body. Footsteps on the cobblestone sounded behind her. Someone was coming. Then she was running. The frigid air stung her lungs as she ran, her bare feet numb from cold and stone. The longer she ran, the colder the air became. The mist was so thick. Kate ran from the sound of the footsteps behind her, not knowing where she was running. Then there was light.