Friday, November 2, 2018
By Daniel Skye
Julie Winters was your average teenage girl: Indecisive, insecure, confused, self-conscious, often depressed, and a little hostile at times.
Though, in many other ways, Julie wasn’t like most girls. While other girls shopped at Forever 21 and begged their parents for Louis Vuitton purses, Julie bought most of her clothes at Hot Topic. And she was content with her black leather handbag that was the furthest thing from a name brand.
Nobody ever took her for the sentimental type, but Julie was a paradox. Her wardrobe included a sapphire ring that had once belonged to her grandmother. That ring hardly left her finger. It didn’t have much real value, only the sentimental kind. It meant more to her than her phone, her laptop, the TV in her room or the posters that covered every square foot of her walls. It meant even more than the likelihood of getting a car for her seventeenth birthday.
“There are more airplanes in the sea than submarines in the sky,” Nick said, breaking Julie’s concentration.
“I’d love to argue with you, but technically you’re right,” she said, not even looking up to acknowledge him. She didn’t have time for his strange humor or random factoids. She was too busy craving a pumpkin spice latte and fretting about an overdue library book that she had misplaced.
She paced back and forth, her eyes darting around the bedroom. But she never bothered to glance over at Nick, sitting at her computer desk and skimming through the same book she’d been frantically looking for.
Nick Schaffer thumbed through pages that were marked with dog ears and stained brown with coffee. At least he hoped it was coffee and nothing else.
She went from the bedroom to the living room, to the kitchen, back to the living room, and finally back to the bedroom.
“Fuck,” she groaned. As a teenager, Julie had little control over her swearing unless she was in the vicinity of her parents. “I can’t find that fucking book anywhere.”
“Chillax,” he said. “What are they going to do, charge you a nickel?”
“It’s not the money or the book, it’s about punctuality. I don’t like tardiness, whether it’s being late for class or an overdue library book. I believe in being punctual and reliable.”
“But you always take two hours to get dressed every time we go out. And oh, is this the book you’re looking for?” He waved the novel that was in his hand.
“You dick,” she muttered, snatching the book from his hand.
“Hey, when you borrow a book from the library, do you ever wonder how many people have taken that book into the bathroom with them?”
“I’ve never wondered that…until now. Thanks a lot.”
“Don’t mention it.”
“Why do I go out with you?”
“Because I’m charming and my butt looks good in jeans.”
She rolled her eyes. “Are you coming with me to the library?”
“It’s Saturday. Who goes to the library on Saturday? And your parents are gone all weekend. Don’t you want to stay in and snuggle?”
“Oh, so you’re looking for a little Netflix and chill, huh?”
“I prefer Amazon Prime and commitment,” he quipped.
Julie tucked the book under one arm, grabbed her no-name purse, and told him to move it.
They walked to the front door, where something was waiting outside for Julie. A small box on the front porch, wrapped in white.
“Very cute,” she said.
“You didn’t leave this here for me to find?”
“It wasn’t me. Scouts honor.”
Skeptical at first, she wondered if opening it was such a good idea. But curiosity got the better of her. She had to know what it was.
Inside, a sapphire necklace that felt right at home with her ring. There was also a note. From your secret admirer.
“This really wasn’t you?”
“I had nothing to do with it. You think I wouldn’t take credit for that if I could?”
It had to be someone from school. Julie wondered. Right? Who else would know about my grandmother’s ring?
Nick walked with Julie to the library and offered to walk her home. But it was getting late and his house was on the other side of town. He didn’t have a car. He didn’t even have a license yet. She didn’t want him to get stuck walking home after dark.
“I could spend the night,” Nick suggested. “I’ll tell my parents I’m crashing at Luke’s house.”
“My parents would freak if they ever found out. And I really do appreciate you offering to walk me home, but I’ll be fine. See you tomorrow?”
“Just try and keep me away,” he winked and gave her a kiss goodbye.
As she walked back home, her mind couldn’t escape the sapphire necklace.
This was not a friendly gesture. This was personal on some level. Someone out there knew the intimate, private details of her life. Someone knew just how much that sapphire ring meant to Julie.
As the wind whispered through the dying leaves of autumn, she could’ve sworn she heard footsteps trailing behind her. But when she turned to look, she saw nothing.
She observed the yellowed leaves that were starting to go brown. Julie had always adored the fall foliage. But now, the leaves reminded her of something different, something darker. Rot, decay, mortality.
Her phone pinged. One new text message.
Did you like the necklace?
She typed back, “Who is this?” and then, after a moment of hesitation, hit send.
Her phone buzzed again. Your secret admirer.
She shuddered at the thought this wasn’t a prank.
“How did you know about my grandma’s sapphire ring?”
I know everything about you, Julie. I know your favorite food, your favorite color. I know your family and your friends. I know how much you hate potato salad and how you think sushi is gross. I know you won’t use any hair or makeup products that were tested on animals. I know you tried to be a vegetarian but you gave it up after a few months.
This person had done their homework. But she still believed on some level that Nick was behind all this.
Julie spent the rest of the walk home glancing over her shoulder. No matter how hard she tried, she couldn’t shake the feeling she was being watched.
Nick called her later that night. She didn’t mention the text messages. He’d want to come over and play hero, watch over her all night. But her parents were out of town and they’d murder her if they found out Nick spent the night.
He could tell she was unsettled, but he honored her wishes and agreed to let her be alone for the evening.
With the house all to herself, a little rest and relaxation was in order. Her plans included a pint of chocolate ice cream and binge-watching the latest season of Orange is the New Black.
It took a few episodes for her to fall asleep with the pint of ice cream melting on her nightstand. Her phone was just a reach away in case she needed to call Nick or her parents. And she’d locked her bedroom door from the inside as a safety measure. As for the sapphire necklace, she buried it under a pile of clothes in one of her drawers, so she wouldn’t even have to think about it.
Julie woke to find that her ice cream had turned to soup. She also woke to find a new text message from her Secret Admirer.
Check your photos.
Against her better judgment, she went to her photo album. She started with the first picture and swiped through. They were all identical. Picture after picture of Julie sleeping comfortably in her bed, the pint of ice cream on her nightstand, the glow of the TV in the background.
There must have been two or three dozen photos. In every photo, a tall shadow loomed over a sleeping Julie.
The shock and terror send the phone flying from her trembling hands. She hadn’t intended to throw it. It was a knee-jerk reaction, one rooted in fear and irrationality. The phone lie cracked on her bedroom floor.
Her throat felt like sandpaper. It was impossible to talk. Her instincts kicked in. She sprung from her bed, checked the bedroom door which was still locked, and went straight to her computer.
She had an alert as soon as she signed in: One new email.
Her closet door creaked open, but Julie didn’t hear a sound.
She opened her email and read it just as she spotted the reflection in her computer screen. The email was two words. Two terrifying words: Behind You.