The library doors come to a near-close behind me and, in a snap, I hear a muffled voice from inside. Somebody calls out my name, which is odd. No one is supposed to know me here. Astounded, I double up on my speed.
Again, he calls me, louder this time, which turns his voice into a sharp, rather unpleasant squeak. Startled, I turn around. This guy—no, not a guy exactly, rather a boy no older than seventeen—is running up to me, his t-shirt stained with perspiration, especially under those scrunchy arms.
His upper lip glistens with sweat. “You left your library card on the counter,” he says, handing it to me with a misshapen smile that hangs, quivering, over his chin.
He’s slightly shorter than me, which forces me to look down at him. “Thank you,” I say.
As I turn to go, he grabs my elbow, clamping it with a clammy hand. “Hey, can I carry your books for you?”
“No need,” I say, somewhat worried about hurting his feelings, but refusing him firmly all the same, so as not to impart the wrong impression. “I’d rather carry them myself.”
Shall I stop for him? That would invite more unwanted advances, so I don’t. Instead, I walk toward the near-by public swimming pool, where warning shouts of parents are drowned by shrieks of their children as they slip, one by one, out of the mouth of the water slide. One child after another hits the water with a spattering splash.
Once these cries fade behind me, I notice another sound, the sound of footfalls. It’s much too subtle, too soft.
I cast a look over my shoulder, surprised to find him at arm’s length. His milky face riddled with pimples, he appears jolted by my sudden attention.
Slowing down to a shaky step, he starts asking questions—where I live, how old I am, am I new to this place—all of which I deflect with purposely vague answers.
I talk little, but can’t stop him from telling me more than I want to know about himself. His name is Paul. He works at the library after school. Not that he likes the job, but it’s better than going home to his mother, who doesn’t understand him at all and cares only about herself. Women are just like that, if you ask him, which I don’t. Seeing me, he says, is the best part of his day.
In spite of myself, I feel pity for the poor guy. But I ask nothing, nothing at all—until he asks me out, which sets me back on my heels. “What?” I cry, not sure I’ve heard right. “You mean, on a date?”
“Yes,” says Paul. “Is that so hard to imagine?”
“I’m at least five years older than you—”
“Oh, that. I don’t mind. Do you?”
Say something, I tell myself. Anything. “Sorry. I’m already dating someone.” Which is not exactly a lie, mind you. The boyfriend I left behind does love me. I love him too, and now that I’m here I long for his presence. I do. But as I told Michael before leaving Irvine, I need some time alone, away from everyone, away from him, too, at least until I figure out who I am.
In my absence, Michael has thrown himself into his work. I can just picture him, in his garage, fine-tuning the virtual reality world he’s created for this or that gaming client. Being alone, he can delve into his work with a greater focus. Even so, he keeps telling me that he needs me by his side, because he finds our closeness inspiring.
“You’re dating someone, really?” asks Paul, with a bitter note of disbelief. “Funny, I don’t see him around you. Where, then, is he?”
Overcoming an urge to say, “None of your business,” I resort to excusing myself, somehow. I say, “I have stuff to do. I must hurry. Goodbye.”
I rush back to the pool, enter the women’s locker room, and hide there for a while, occasionally peeking out the door to make sure that Paul isn’t waiting for me.
At first, I figure I’ve managed to shake him off—until I catch sight of his shadow. There it is on the pavement, the outline of a messy shock of hair, creeping in and out of view from around the corner.
(Volume II of Ash Suspense Thrillers with a Dash of Romance)
The last thing Ash expects when she lands in Clearwater, Florida is to be stalked by a troubled teenager. If that's not bad enough, she is caught in a shooting spree next to the nearby elementary school. The cops think it’s an attempt at mass killing, but Ash wonders if the only victim was specifically targeted by the killer. Will she manage to identify him and have him arrested before he comes after her?
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