The day droned on and on. At least when I was by myself in the office I could relax or curse or sleep or sigh to myself, but with Newspaper there I couldn’t concentrate. It was like he was staring at me the entire time. I turned around a few times, and he would suddenly become interested in tying his shoes, but it didn’t take a genius to figure it out.
I wanted to call him out on it, but that would require talking to him, and the last thing I desired was hearing another one of his caustic remarks.
When four o’clock finally came around, I jumped out of my seat (perhaps a bit too enthusiastically) and sprinted out of the room, leaving my backpack, coat, and lunchbox behind before Newspaper could even open his mouth.
I didn’t wait for Daphne, either. I didn’t think I could stand another one of her speeches. Staying low, I crept past her desk, hoping I could split before she got a good look at me.
Of course when I got outside it was pouring, and leaving behind my jacket started to take its toll on me. I remembered Daphne telling me she read somewhere that you actually stay drier in the rain walking than running.
Well, a few minutes in, I was ready to screw Daphne and her ridiculous theory. Unfortunately, that took a toll on me, too. By the time I reached the train station, I was wet all the way down to my underpants, and I could hear water sloshing around in my shoes with every step.
I got some odd looks on the way home, but I didn’t mind because none of them were Jack’s. Just when I thought I had run out of bad luck, though, the second I left the train station I slipped and fell right onto my face. Obviously, I screamed, “Shit!” which granted me even more glares.
When I stumbled up to the third floor (the elevator was broken, of course), I was soaked, cold, angry, tired, and scowling so hard my face could have crumbled.
And standing at the top of the stairs waiting for me with a repulsive grin on his face was none other than my favorite guy in the world, Sam Pleach.
“Essie, you look terrible,” he said cheerfully.
“Thanks,” I spat. I tried to pass him, but he blocked my steps.
“Ah, well, while you’re here, I sort of have a…uh…favor to ask you.”
“A…favor?” I said softly, my fist clenching.
Sam cleared his throat. “Yeah. Well, I’m throwing a party, you see. It’s my…uh…birthday. And it would be cool, well…amazing, if she could…uh…you know, stop by. Sylvia, I mean. So it would be…amazing…if you could just ask her—”
By the end of this lecture, I was boiling. Before I could stop myself, I snapped. “No!” I yelled. “No, Sam, I can’t ask her. You know why? Because she doesn’t like you, Sam! She doesn’t even know your name! Yesterday, when I told her you had come by, she told me to lock the door. So stop following her, just stop it!” When I had finished, I was gasping for breath.
Sam was staring at me, eyes wide, looking like he could burst into tears any second. He had backed away at least five steps since I started shouting.
I whipped around, plunged into my apartment, and slammed the door.
Sylvia was on her computer. “What was that about?” she asked calmly.
I simply groaned and flung open the fridge.
“Well, keep it down,” she grumbled. “I’m working.”
A few seconds ago, I would have been ready to tear her apart, but Sylvia had a way of defusing all of the anger from a room, like she was collecting it all for herself.
I didn’t say a word about Sam Pleach. She wouldn’t have cared, anyway.
The next morning my alarm didn’t go off.
Well, it must have, but I didn’t hear it, because when I woke up it was four forty-five A.M. and Sylvia was already prepping for her morning yoga session.
I was too tired to hurry, or even be scared of Harley. I felt like I had a terrible hangover, and I could barely open my eyes. I threw on some clothes (I wasn’t exactly sure which), stuck a sandwich in my pocket and somehow found the exit.
I got to work around 6 A.M., and was immediately met by dozens of curious stares. I glowered back at them. What were they looking at? Hadn’t they ever seen someone come late before?
I charged into the office, not even glancing towards the man who I guessed was sitting at the desk. I was not in the mood for him.
Clearly, being in the mood wasn’t an option. The second I sat down I could hear him chuckling.
I spun around and shot him a poisonous stare. “Can you try to be a bit more subtle?” I said through my teeth.
This only made him chuckle more. After a while, I got frustrated, and wanted to know what on Earth he found so hilarious. I squinted at my reflection in the computer and then gasped.
There was a giant, swollen bruise on my noise and half my cheek, which quite closely resembled some sort of impressionistic painting. I had completely forgotten about my little slip the day before! Panicked, I grabbed something to cover it up, and my hands found a black notebook, which I hastily placed in front of my face.
“Did you get in a fight or something?” Newspaper quipped, amused at my little freak-out.
I didn’t answer, repositioned the notebook and picked up the phone.
“Did you fry your face on a pan?”
I dialed the first few numbers.
“Did you fall from the Empire State Building?”
I turned around angrily. “Are you done?”
He gave me a repulsive smile, then perched his feet on the table. “Sure. But really, what happened?”
I stared at him for a moment, then gave in and put the notebook down. After all, what did it matter if I told him? “I slipped yesterday. Fell face first on the pavement.”
“Right,” he replied, the grin still pasted on his face. He didn’t seem at all surprised that I would pull a stunt like that. “You were in a hurry. Running to meet your boyfriend?”
I narrowed my eyes, studying him. “That’s none of your business,” I snapped. “God, I keep forgetting you’re a creep.”
Jack laughed. “You’re saying you forgot for a second?”
“Get lost,” I said, rolling my eyes. I glanced down and noticed the phone had gone dead. “Great, now Harley’s going to kill us.”
“Actually, the call was cancelled today. I was going to tell you, but then you reminded me of how creepy I am, and I decided against it.”
I frowned, ignoring the last section of his comment. “Are you sure? Did Harley tell you?”
He raised his eyebrows. “Positive. Looks like you could use the break, anyway.”
I sighed and leaned back in my chair. The clock ticked evenly, each click marking another wasted moment.
I picked up my sketchbook and leisurely started sketching a figure. The face was long, with a defined chin and thin nose. Not the kind of thing I would usually draw, but I went with it.
The more the pencil swooped over the paper, the more it started to have a mind of its own, interweaving black lines together neatly like a subconscious machine. A few minutes passed, and finally, my hand relaxed and fell to the desk. Frowning, I eyed my work.
Although I had never met the person before, he looked oddly familiar, like I had read about him in a book somewhere. It was a young man, tall and lanky, with spiky red hair. The strangest thing was that there was no color in my sketch, but when I looked at it I somehow knew, without a doubt, that the man’s hair was red.
He also had another feature, and this one was unmistakable. The closer I looked, the clearer it became. It was his eyes. Light blue, strong, piercing.
Jack Miller’s eyes.
“Holy shit,” whispered a voice behind me.
I jumped and whipped around. Jack was hovering next to me, his mouth wide in surprise. I hadn’t even noticed him come over.
“Did you draw that?” he asked softly, picking up my sketch and examining it.
“Yeah,” I answered breathlessly. “Why?”
He closed his eyes, put the drawing into my hands, and then squeezed his palms together.
“That’s my cousin Ray.”