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Have you ever had the feeling someone was watching you? And I don't mean that creepy kid who sits across the aisle in your math class. More like someone unseen, undetectable, but definitely and undeniably there. I have not idea how I knew, but I was sure of it. Every time I walked down the hall, every time I spun the dial on my locker, turned around in class, even came out of the bathroom, the weirdest feeling washed over me, like an egg was being cracked on my head and trickling down my spine. I felt open and exposed. Naked, even. I didn't find out why until later, but at first, the story would have been too crazy to tell anyone except my best friend, Kristen.
My grade eight year was normal, as far as school goes. I got 3 C's in one report card, officially became Lindsay Millan's idea of entertainment, and like liked a boy for the first time. I was just boring old Lia Gordon.
In grade 9, my life changed forever. And it was all because of one person.
My hands automatically gripped my books to my chest, while I concentrated on slowing my breathing. It was in between classes, usually when the sensation of being watched was the strongest. This wasn't a nice feeling, just one step down from acid trickling down my spine. Maybe I was going insane. Normal people didn't live in constant fear of the unseen. Normal people didn't always have that little voice nagging in the back of their consciousness that maybe they were in danger. I didn't feel like I was going insane, but there was no way to know for sure. The feeling felt legitimate, in the sense that it really did have a pattern to it, was at least partly explainable, and maybe even rational.
“Lia!” Kris groaned, bouncing up to me beside my closed locker. “Laddell just gave me detention!”
Kris's strawberry blond curls hung halfway down her back. She was one of those people that had a perfect tan, naturally. She had beautiful feminine features, model-worthy cheekbones, and striking blue eyes that contrasted incredibly with the rest of her face.
I was jealous of her, though I would never admit it to anybody. She was so beautiful, I was invisible beside her.
“Really?” My laughter forced its way between my lips, completely fake. “What for?” At this point, I didn't really care. The feeling twisted me beyond recognition, behind the face, at least.
“I got gum in Lindsay's hair!”
This time, my laughter was for real. Lindsay was the “Queen Bee” here at _____ middle school. Her hair was bleached blonde, her clothes all baring designer tags, and her face completely concealed in makeup so thick it might as well have been a mask. I might not have minded Lindsay so much, possibly even respected her, if she didn't make a game out of causing me pain and depression. Kris told me over and over again not to worry about it, but I could tell she was even angrier with Lindsay for it than I was.
“Okay, that's funny. And definitely worth detention.”
I conjured up an image of Lindsay's face when the gum wouldn't come out. I wished so badly that I could be in Kris's class...
Kris walked away, giggling to herself, as I racked my brain in an attempt to recall my locker combination. It was still September, and my memory had never been great anyway. As soon as I got used to this combo, the year would end, and it would start again.
The metal door swung open, revealing the empty wall, save for a yellowing black-and-white photo of Kris and I as young children, missing all our front teeth. I was glad I had Kris, but I wished she wasn't my only friend. Lindsay had made it clear to everyone that I was not somebody to be publicly interacted with, and at school, Lindsay's word was the law.
Paper brushed my big toe through my flip-flops, so I bent to down to pick up the note lying at my feet.
I've been watching you. I'm sorry. That sounds weird. But there's no other way to put it, and I figured you deserved an explanation for the feeling you get frequently while you're at school. I'm probably watching you right now.
This was a joke, right? Just Lindsay trying to make a fool out of me? I had to think so, for the sake of my emotional health. But how the hell did Lindsay know about the feeling?
There was only one explanation for it: she didn't. I shrugged off the thought and continued to my next class.
I was feeling normal, for now, except maybe for the butterflies in my stomach, but that was nothing to do with my stalker. It was because Jordan Morning was sitting right behind me, and I was pretty convinced I loved him.
Typical to fall for a guy I knew I could never have. Jordan wasn't exactly popular, but he hung around with the “in” crowd occasionally. His hair was chestnut brown, and straight. He had freckles sprinkled heavily on his nose, and honey brown eyes that lit up when he smiled.
I was his friend, but no more than that.
Jordan walked in, sharing a joke with his friend Mitch. His eyes were glowing subtly, but I doubted anyone else noticed. I lowered my head and glued my eyes to his face through the chestnut curtain of hair.
“Heeeeeey, Li-la, whats up?” He talked to me every day, but I still felt a jolt of adrenaline surge through my body everytime he said my name.
“I dunno. The sky. The ceiling.”
“Cool, cool.” He flashed me a grin, exposing a mouthful of metal and wires. I thought braces looked cute on him, though.
“Soooo,” He flipped his brown mop out of his faces, eyes darting to the corner.
“I only study for teachers I like. Miss Brandon didn't make the cut.” I sighed and ran my fingers through my hair, something I did when I was nervous or excited. Or both.
He just nodded for a minute, then turned back to Mitch and said something that made him laugh.
Then the lesson started. The whole time, the butterflies in my stomach were threatening to wake up, to flutter up and out through my mouth and whisper in Jordan's ear. Whisper that the reason they existed was because of him.
Telling Jordan couldn't do any good, but I craved a confession. Or maybe I just wanted a good heart-to-heart talk with a guy.
Then something stronger than butterflies seeped into my insides, and I felt sick to my stomach. My body convulsed and my spine arched against the back of the chair. I resisted the strange urge to look around wildly and hold my hands in front of my face, because nothing had ever come of this before. But all class, I couldn't shake that peculiar feeling.
“Now class,” Ancient Miss Brandon proposed. “I am going to hand back the results for the ancient civilizations test you all completed last week.”
I wasn't particularly good at schoolwork, though I might be if I tried. I was top of the class in PE and pretty good in English, when I put effort into my writing. My parents didn't care about my grades, and neither did I. What that meant was that I had a whole dresser drawer full of unfinished homework in my bedroom.
Miss Brandon proceeded to distribute the marked tests, muttering to herself. When she handed mine to me, I only glanced at the elegant “B+” scrawled at the top in her old-fashioned handwriting. Something else had caught my eye.
Hey. Sorry about the anonymous note. I'm just bored...hard to explain. No, you don't know who I am. And no, I promise I won't hurt you. Sorry about this, but at least I'm having fun.
The note was written in the margin towards the bottom of the page, in the same messy printing as the one in my locker earlier in the day. Any suspicions of Lindsay had evaporated, she was in Kris's class. There was no way she would've been able to get into Miss Brandon's private teaching things.
Apparently my brain had been turned off earlier, because right then, I could practically see the lightbulb appearing out of thin air above my head.
The note, that was who was watching me.
I was on my toes for the rest of the day, worried I was becoming paranoid. I checked my lunch bag for notes, my locker, my science textbook, but it seemed they only appeared when I least expected it. I wasn't sure if I should be scared or not, the only thing I was positive about was that I should keep this to myself until I had more information.
The dismissal sounded, and I hopped up from my seat. Waiting for Kris by her locker seemed like an idea, I had missed her at lunch, because of her detention.
We rode the bus home together (we lived on the same street) and leaned in the front room window of my house to ask my Mom if I could hang out at Kris's.
Mrs. Late brandished a plate of freshly baked cinnamon buns, hot enough that steam was still spilling from the cracks.
“Oh you're welcome, girls. These were for your Dad, Kris, after his doctor's appointment. I decided he needed some – ah - moral support.”
I gazed at Kris questioningly. I hadn't heard anything about her Dad being sick. She shrugged.
Hannah Late wasn't a big woman, she was in her late 30s with honey blonde hair and straight white teeth. I knew her better than I knew my own mother.
Kris and I raced up her stairs and made flying leaps for her pink bedspread.
“Soooo, Krissie, how's it goin' with Mitch?”
She frowned. “The usual. If he wasn't so quiet I would at least be able to tell if he was interested at all...” Her expensive black chandelier swung back and forth on the ceiling, propelled by a rogue wind from the open window.
Kris had liked Mitch since the 6th grade, and I knew it better than anyone else. All she had ever wanted was just a minute of knowing her liked her back. But Mitch wasn't into girls the way most guys our age were.
“I can't pretend I understand, because Jordan – he would tell me if he was interested. At least we're friends.” In truth, being friends wasn't much of a bonus. It made it that much harder to tear my mind off of him when there were conversations to remember.
Thoughts ran across my mind, considering telling Kris about my notes, asking her if she felt watched too... but I knew that it was one of those things that would sound stupid once it wasn't in your head anymore.
Kris and I went for a walk and gossiped about Lindsay, about her boyfriend Kaydon, and who we thought would end up with who. I enjoyed poking fun at other people for a change, as I hated being an “easy target.” Not many friends, not much confidence, and refusal to stand up for myself.
The reason I didn't have confidence was because there was never anybody there to compliment me. Kris didn't count, if I was the ugliest person alive, she would still tell me I was beautiful. I cried sometimes, at night, and woke up from fuzzy dreams with wet cheeks. My hair was chestnut brown and wavy, too thick to either curl or straighten, and my eyes were a plain old brown, lighter than my hair, and framed by barely-there eyelashes, not to mention permanent purple bags. I wasn't skinny; though I wasn't fat, my lips stuck out too much, and I didn't look good in a bikini. I was painfully normal. I blended into the background.
Kris continued to blabber on, but I wasn't listening anymore. She sensed a change in my attitude, and took my hand.
“It's okay, Lili. You can tell me.”
I shook my head no. No, I couldn't tell her. Not unless I wanted to end up over my head. Telling Kris things always made me sadder.
She didn't push it.
I didn't sleep well. Every car that whistled past, every neighbour letting their dog out, every time the toilet flushed from downstairs, I shook in my bed, assuming my secret stalker was coming to murder me. I promise I won't hurt you, it had said. Like that was going to make me feel better. At least the uncomfortable feeling was only at school, I was safe here in my room. That comforted me somewhat, but I fell asleep disturbed, images of my bloodied body broken and spread-eagled in the school hallway haunting my dreams.