The bell rings, signalling the end of the word day and I gratefully lay down my paint brush. Painting furniture is definitely not my forte.
I line up to wash my hands before heading to the lockers, just like the ones in school, to get my bag. Waving at my fellow workman, I head outside into the wind.
With hair whipping around my face, I know exactly where I’m going. While one part of my brain tells me it’s okay I keep doing this, another part, the Eliza part, tells me I’m being a total stalker. I shake that thought out of my head and focus on the other. I just want to know what motivates him to stand there for so long.
Turning around the corner where the coffee bar is, I keep walking straight where I see his outline in the middle of the pathway. I always double check it’s the right person I’m watching otherwise I’d feel extremely stupid.
Trying to look casual, I walk right past him, taking slow deliberate steps. His eyes follow him and I swallow when he meets mine. I’ve always hated the light blue colour of our eyes. It’s creepy.
My gaze shifts from his eyes and land on his cheek where the bar code lies. Good. Right guy.
Turning my head away, I step up the pace and continue on my way right around the block until I’m back outside the coffee bar. Ordering a drink, I pull out a book so I can pretend to read and get myself comfortable in the chair. If he stands there as long as he always seems to, I’m in for a long wait.
I finish off my first hot chocolate and he still hasn’t moved. Trying to imagine what’s going through his head, I can’t figure out a good enough reason to stand on the sidewalk for close to three hours a day.
The sky begins to darken and the wind picks up even stronger. My hair whips me across the face and I wish I could pull it back into a ponytail, but of course not. I can’t look different from anyone else.
Double checking he’s still standing there, I quickly head back into the bar and order my second drink. I have to be careful I don’t use up my weekly coffee allowance and it’s only Monday. I briefly worry I’m developing an addiction.
I head back outside and back to my seat. The book awaits me and I quickly prop it up to cover my face and peek over the top.
The boy’s gone.
Shoving my chair back, I glance around for where he could have gone, only to find the street completely deserted. Abandoning my coffee, I grab my bag and sprint for the alley way.
In the old days, going down an alley could have lead to horrible things like rape and murder. None of that goes on here though and for once, I actually feel grateful that we really do live in total peace.
Of course though, when I reach the end of it, there’s still no one to see. I consider climbing the brick wall blocking my way, but it’s so high up I doubt even that guy could have jumped it. I stamp my foot in frustration and let out a huff of air. Why do I even bother?
Turning around, I walk straight into someone and stumble backwards.
He’s a boy, probably around my own age of eighteen. He holds onto my arm, stopping me from falling over.
When I get my balance, he lets me go and I step away.
“I’m sorry,” I push my hair back. “Mum always says I’m in to much of a hurry.”
“It’s okay,” he says but his brows are knitted into a frown as he looks me over. “What were you doing around here?”
“Looking for someone,” I shrug. “I think he’s gone now.”
“A friend,” I lie and step around him. “I should go.”
“Okay,” he steps aside and it’s as he turns his face away that my eyes land on the bar code.
The boy I’ve been “stalking”.
My stomach drops and I quickly duck my head and hurry out of the alley way.
Eliza was right. What would I do if he caught me following him? For once, I’m grateful we all look the same here. There’s no way he could have recognized me.
“You should have been there,” I babble away to Eliza the next day on the bus. “It was scary.”
“I told you not to do it,” she sighs and rubs her head with the back of her hand. “It isn’t right.”
“No, standing in the middle of a walkway for three hours isn’t right. I’m telling you, there’s something going on and I want you to help me figure it out.”
She jerks upright at the last part.
“What, help you stalk someone? You’re out of you mind, Alice. You’ve lost it.”
“I’m not crazy,” I snap back, trying to keep my voice down low. We’re not supposed to fight with anyone. It disrupts the peace. “Please Eliza, please. Just once, come with me and see what I’m talking about. It’s really weird.”
“I don’t know,” she rubs her head and bites her lip.
Realising I’m breaking through her strong hold, I grab onto her arm and starting jumping up and down in my seat.
“Please, please, please, please, please? One time? Only one little bitty time?”
“Ugh,” she shoves me away and I giggle. “Find, but if he catches us, I’m out of there. You can take responsibility for your own actions.”
“Yay!” I clap my hands. “Look, even if it doesn’t work out, what’s there to lose? Besides, it could be a good way to catch up together. When was the last time we hung out?”
“Yeah, but stalking boys isn’t really my idea of catching up.”
I stick my lounge out at her before leaning my head on the bus window and closing my eyes.
I can barely handle standing still the next day which sucks because I’m stuck on retail, a job that requires you to stand in one spot, welcome customers and give them their food allowance. By the time I’m finished my twelve hours, I’m practically jumping in excitement. It’s very rare for Eliza to listen to me.
Sprinting to the locker room, I grab my bag and run out the door after a quick wave of goodbyes. I’ve finished earlier this time so there seems to be more people out and about. Dodging them as quickly as possible, my destination is a small park we used to play together in. It’s always been our sort of meeting place.
There are more kids there than I expected and my gaze flickers over them all, looking for Eliza. There’s too many look alikes so I stick my fingers in my mouth and let out a loud whistle.
Most people ignore me, but some turn to stare. I feel a heat rising in my face. Eliza’s right. We do need a better way.
I glance around for the raised hand that should be there, but it’s not and I feel slightly worried. Stuck on gardening duty, Eliza only worked the morning shift today. She should be here considering I’m late.
Hands clamp over my mouth from behind and I feel my eyes pop open in surprise. I jerk away and whirl on the person, arms raised to defend myself.
“Hey,” Eliza chuckles. “It’s just me, silly.”
“How did you know it was me you snuck up on?”
“You ran past me a few streets back. I only just managed to see your bar code and followed you here.”
“Oh,” I relax with a smile. “Sorry.”
“No worries,” she stuffs her hands into the blue jeans we were all assigned t wear today. “Come on. Let’s get this over and done with.”
I hook my arms through hers and drag her to the coffee bar.
“Now, you stay here so I can go and check,” I instruct her and she frowns.
“You actually check him out everyday?”
“Duh. I have to check it’s him otherwise I’d have been wasting away hours for no good reason.”
As I walk away, I hear her grumble,
“This is no good reason.”
Biting back a remark, I pull my shoulders back, trying to look confident so Eliza can see I’m actually serious about this stuff. A whole heap of people stream out of the store in front of me so as I walk past the boy, I have no trouble trying to stay hidden. It’s him of course.
I jog around the block, back to Eliza.
“What the hell dude?” she blinks at me. “You literally walk the block?”
“He won’t recognize me if I do it.”
“Have you ever considered he might just memorise your number just like he did yours?”
“Yes and I honestly doubt it because there’s nothing significant about a walker by.”
“Sure sure,” she sighs. “So how long do we wait?”
“Two to three hours. It varies, but never shorter than two hours.”
“I should be able to handle that,” she claps her hands together and looks around. “Tell me, do these people make a good coffee.”
I think I’m starting to fall asleep at the table when Eliza bolts upright. She’s sitting across from me, facing the boy so she can observe him for herself. I turn slowly to see he’s walking away. I quickly stand up and grab my bag, shaking the fogginess out of my brain.
Eliza actually looks excited as she follows behind me.
“Not to fast,” I instruct and she slows her pace a little. “We don’t want to draw any attention to ourselves.”
He turns down the usual alley and before thinking about it, I sprint after him, sneakers hitting the concrete.
“What happened to “not to fast”?” Eliza snickers as she runs alongside me.
Ignoring her, I turn into the alley just as his figure disappears into the darkness.
Being slower now, Eliza and I press ourselves against the wall and creep along after him.
“I feel stupid,” Eliza whispers in my ear.
“Just pretend it’s one of those spy missions we used to do,” I suggest and actually feel excited.
We round the final corner just as he disappears into.. The ground?
We creep over to the grate in the ground and peek down. I hear water dripping and the sound of scuffling. I feel queasy, looking down, but excited too. Grabbing onto the latch, I pull it open.
“Wait, you can’t be serious,” Eliza grabs my arm and shakes her head. “We can’t go down there.”
“Why not?” I pull away. “This is an amazing discovery! How I didn’t see it, I have no idea. Anything could be down there.”
“Exactly,” Eliza takes a few steps backwards. “I’m not going down there.”
I look her in the eyes, seeing the fright. I could beg her like I did before, but I let her go on this one.
“Fine,” I lower my legs into the hole. “See you tomorrow.”
Grabbing onto the top of the later, I take a deep breath and start to climb down.