Saturday was the same as just about every other Saturday. Have breakfast, go to work. Come home. No date. I almost fell asleep during dinner. I went upstairs to lie down for a minute and the next thing I knew, it was morning.
I didn’t have to be at work until four. Stacy and I went to the mall to play crazy golf. It’s indoors and everything is glow-in-the dark. Before we went in, I took our picture and posted it on FaceSpace.
We were on the bus on the way back when my phone buzzed. It was a text from London. ‘OMG. Who’s the guy?’
‘?’ I replied.
‘W/U & S @ mall’
I looked at the picture in my phone. Nobody but me and Stace. I went to the internet and opened my FaceSpace page. There were Stacy and I. Behind us stood a guy in a black shirt. I could tell he had blond hair, but the top half of his face was cut off, And his hand was on my shoulder.
My hands started shaking. I deleted the pic.
“What’s wrong with you? You suddenly turned white,” Stacy said.
“Nothing. Here’s our stop.”
* * * *
I opened my eyes and looked around. I had left the lamp by my bed on. The clock read 12:00. I sat up. Nothing seemed wrong. Not until my phone lit up and buzzed. It was 12:01.
The message was from “Jeff.”‘LET ME IN.’ I heard someone tapping on the glass of the back door.
‘NO NO NO NO NO. GO AWAY’ I turned the phone off and took the battery out. The tapping stopped. Text me now Jeff, if that’s even your name.
Bzzzzt. Bzzzzt. It felt like someone was pouring icewater on my head. Cold fear dripped onto my shoulders and down my back.
TTYL Jeff replied.
I threw the phone and the battery into the night table drawer. I was taking it back tomorrow. I didn’t care how good a deal it was.
Taking a deep breath, I crept to the window and peeked out through the edge of the curtains. Nothing unusual outside. I picked up a book and tried to read, shivering under the blanket and staring at the same page for hours.
“Lauren. Wake up baby.” Mom was shaking me.
I opened one eye. It was 6:45.
“What?” I asked.
“Driver’s Ed, remember? I’m dropping you and Stacy off on the way to work.”
After I got dressed and ate breakfast, we got in the car.
“Didn’t you sleep well?” Mom asked me, her eyes narrowing. I wasn’t sure if she was worried about me, or if she thought I was up to something.
“I was going to talk to you about that. I need to take this phone back and see if they maybe have a different one.”
“Somebody keeps texting me in the middle of the night. Must be a wrong number or something.” I didn’t bother telling her about the text after I’d pulled the battery out. She’d never believe it.
“Texting you? What are they saying?” Mom swerved into the other lane as she jerked her head in my direction. Good thing we weren’t out in traffic yet.
“Nothing, really. Just wanting to meet up.”
“Absolutely, we’ll get your number changed. We’ll go back to the store this week, tonight if there’s no overtime from work. You can just turn it off and leave it downstairs so it doesn’t wake you up until then.”
We pulled into Stacy’s driveway and she came out to meet us. Mom was taking us to class, and Mrs. Halloran was picking us up. We’d already done all the classroom stuff and watched the gory car crash movies. Now it was time for what Coach Smith called the “practical education” part.
Mom and Stace good-morninged each other and off we went.
There were four of us in the group: me, Stacy, James and Emily. I had to drive last.
“Turn right at the next intersection,” Coach Smith said.
I put on my turn signal and started slowing down. Maybe a little bit too soon. I triple checked for cars and pedestrians. I didn’t’ see either as I started to turn.
Then I saw him. Walking into the street, right in front of the car.
It was a guy with kind of greenish skin and white blond hair. And black eyes. Not just dark colored irises. The whole eye was black with no white at all. In fact, it could have even been a zombie version of Stacy’s brother. I screamed as slammed on the brakes with both feet. The car screeched to a stop and everyone lurched against their seatbelts.
“Lauren, what in God’s name is wrong with you?” Coach Smith shouted at me.
I got out of the car, searching frantically. “Where is he?”
“Lauren, who are you talking about?” Coach Smith had gotten out of the car, too.
“Don’t tell me you didn’t see him. That guy that stepped off the curb right as I turned the car.”
“Lauren, nobody stepped off the curb. You’re imagining things. Why don’t you just get back in the car. On the passenger side. I’ll call your mom, okay sweetheart?” His voice was suddenly soft and sweet.
Great. Now he thought I had lost my mind.
I got in the car. My heart was still thumping against my ribs and I was breathing hard from the adrenalin. Nobody said a word as Coach Smith drove to the nearest parking lot and called my mom. I stared out the window. I’m not crazy. I’m NOT crazy.
Mom met us at the school. She hugged me, then she lifted my chin up and looked at my eyes and felt my forehead.
“Go sit in the car, baby. I just want to talk to Coach Smith for a minute.”
I sat in the passenger side with the door open, hoping to catch a little breeze in the stifling heat. I couldn’t hear what they were saying, but I could see Coach Smith’s mouth moving and Mom frowning and nodding her head.
When Mom got in the car, she started the engine to get the AC going, but didn’t go anywhere.
“Okay, Lauren. I’d like to hear your side of the story. Tell me what happened.”
“This guy stepped off the curb, right in front of me. I slammed on the brakes, but when I got out of the car, I couldn’t find him.”
“I see. Why do you suppose no one else saw this person?”
“I don’t know.” Tears started to well up in my eyes.
Mom closed her eyes and took a deep breath. “Have you been using drugs?”
“Well, something has changed. You aren’t sleeping at night and you’re having hallucinations. If it isn’t drugs, what is it? Are you having a mental disturbance? Or is this some misguided ploy to get attention?”
“So those are my choices? I’m a junkie, a nut job or a conniving brat? Is that really what you think of me?” I couldn’t stop the tremble in my voice or the tears from overflowing onto my cheeks.
“Lauren, I don’t want to believe any of those things about you. But if there’s another alternative, perhaps you could tell me what it is.”
“It’s this stupid phone, okay? Ever since I got it, weird stuff has been happening to me.” I told her about the texts from “Jeff,” wishing I hadn’t deleted them, and I told her about the picture I put on FaceSpace. I even found it on my phone and showed it to her. And I still had the text from London about it.
“Okay. Let’s go to the phone place.”
She didn’t speak to me on the way. I could tell by the way she was gnawing her bottom lip that she was thinking about the problem, looking for a logical explanation. The trip to the phone place was probably more to buy time to figure out what to do than because she believed me.
We parked in our usual section and went in the door closest to the yogurt shop. As we got closer, I started looking for the Allbrands sign. I didn’t see it. Could they be closed on Mondays? We were directly across from the yogurt place and there was no phone shop, only the painted screen that makes it look like there is a store there.
“Excuse me,” Mom said to the lady behind the yogurt counter, “But do you know if that mobile phone store across the mall from has moved to another space?”
“Mobile phones? There’s never been any mobile phone place over here. Can I get you some yogurt?”
Maybe now my mother would believe me.