Britney stood in her bedroom. The only light she had to see by was from the dim screen of her laptop. Her body tensed up as she slowly looked around and listened for any unusual noises. She had just done her nightly check of all the locks in the house. Every door and window leading to the outdoors was securely locked. As a single woman, even one living in a fairly safe part of town, she knew there was no such thing as being overly cautious. Despite Nicholas living with her now, but she still felt a sense of comfort after making sure that everything was locked.
A cold draft from the small air conditioning vent blew over her, causing her to shiver. She quickly jumped into her bed and crawled under her sheets. She refused to turn on her bedroom light because that would be admitting defeat to the nameless person that was tormenting her. She didn’t want to be afraid in her own home. No one should have that sort of power over her.
She was in her bed trying to fall asleep when the door to her bedroom slowly opened, revealing a stream of light onto her face. “What the hell?”
“Are you asleep Britney?” Nicholas asked.
“Well I’m definitely not now,” she muttered.
“Sorry. I just wanted to check on you.”
“Just turn on the light Nicholas. I can’t sleep anyway.”
He flipped the switch, causing the room to be flooded in light. “Stop trying to be braver than you are and admit that you’re scared shitless right now.”
Britney frowned, “Did you seriously come here just to tell me that?”
“I know you Britney. You try to act tough and independent…but you’re not fooling me. This is exactly like the time when mom and dad died.”
Britney didn’t respond so he continued, “You tried to act like you were okay but I saw you Britney. Crying in the kitchen…I saw you.”
“So what? Our parents just died. Of course I’m going to cry! Is there something wrong with that?”
“Chill sister. No need to be so defensive. There’s nothing wrong with it. I’m just saying that in front of me you were trying to be this brave and strong person…but you didn’t need to be.”
Britney hadn’t realized that her eyes were watering. She stifled back a sob and wiped her eyes, “You’re younger than me. I didn’t want you to be more scared than you already were. It was just you and me. We’re all we have left in this family.”
Nicholas chuckled, “Britney I was twenty-one. Stop acting like I’m a kid. If you’re scared…tell me. I can help you just like you would help me.”
“And how can you help me? Somebody was watching me Nicholas but I have no idea how. Hell, for all I know they could be watching me right now!” The thought sent a ripple of fear through her body and she hid her face in her hands.
“Well…you can talk to me. Also, there’s this…” he had been holding a red gift bag and he placed it in front of her, “Ta daaaa! Your baby brother is bearing gifts.”
Britney sniffled and wiped her eyes again. She looked at the red bag and back to Nicholas, “What is it?”
“Open it and see,” he urged.
She opened the bag and sighed, “You’re an idiot Nicholas.” She pulled out a DVD of The Karate Kid.
He started laughing, “What? Everything you need to know about fighting is in that film Britney!”
Also in the bag were a pair of brass knuckles, some pepper spray, and a Taser.
Britney was shocked. “Where did you get all this? Is it even legal to have?”
Nicholas shrugged, “I know some people.”
“Hey, they’re not bad…their behaviors are bad. Isn’t that what all you psychologists say?”
Britney rolled her eyes. “Thanks Nicholas.” Despite the fact that she wouldn’t carry around so many weapons in her purse, he had once again cheered her up.
“You’re my sister. Of course I’m going to help you out.”
Britney gave a weak smile as she put everything back into the bag.
“Britney, the police will catch this guy.”
She nodded, “As long as that Winters cop isn’t in charge of things, I’m sure they will. God, did you see the way he looked at me Nicholas? Like I was pond scum? He practically accused me of lying. Why would I make any of this up?”
“He’s an ass. Just forget about him. Besides, his partner seemed like she knew what she was doing and she was pretty cute.”
“Will you stop? I’m trying to be serious here Nicholas.”
“So am I! She was cute. Maybe I’ll ask her for her number.”
“That’s my brother folks…the perpetual horndog.”
“Don’t you mean corn dog?”
Britney laughed, “No! Are you sure you graduated college?”
Nicholas laughed, “See? You’re not scared anymore are you?”
She shook her head, “No. Thank you Nicholas. If you want, I can set you up with one of my friends.”
“What? Why wouldn’t you want to date one of my friends?”
“I can only imagine how horrible it would be. My sister, the love doctor, giving advice to her friend who happens to be my girlfriend? Hell no! That wouldn’t work.”
“Okay fine. I won’t set you up. Try and get a girlfriend all on your own.”
Nicholas laughed, “How did we start talking about my love life?”
“I’m not sure but you should go to bed. I’ll be fine. I have to see clients tomorrow morning so I need to rest.”
“More wackadoos coming to the house,” Nicholas whispered as he got up and left Britney to herself. She felt better knowing that her brother was there for her. She wasn’t sure if she could handle this alone. She hoped that Officer Diaz was able to discover who was sending her texts.
The Next Day
“Britney I’m meeting my friend Daniel. We’re gonna grab some lunch at Jalisco’s. You wanna come with us?”
v was busy looking through some files in her study, “No. I have to see a couple, remember? They’ll be here any minute so make yourself scarce. Eat an enchilada for me.”
Nicholas smiled, “I’ll eat a whole plate of them for you!”
“Just don’t come crying to me when you have bubble guts!”
Nicholas scrunched his face in mock horror, “Do your clients know how nasty you are sometimes?”
“Do your girlfriends know how nasty you are?”
He winked, “If they’re lucky.”
She laughed and threw a stress ball at him, “Get out of here!”
He quickly left before she threw something else at him. Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. Britney opened the door to see one of her more entertaining couples. Lilah and Chad Samuels. Chad was a total conspiracy theorist which drove Lilah nuts. When they had first started dating, she thought it was a small quirk but his theories began to evolve and escalate over the years. What she once thought was adorable was now annoying.
“Hi Mr. and Mrs. Samuels. Follow me,” Britney led them to her study.
Chad Samuels was looking around the office. “There aren’t any secret listening devices in here are there?”
His wife Lilah rolled her eyes.
“No, there aren’t any secret listening devices in here,” Britney smiled at him.
It was a long session for Britney. She tried to help Lilah and Chad come up with a compromise of having a set time to discuss his many theories with Lilah. In turn, Lilah suggested Chad spend time with her exercising to some workout on their Xbox Kinect.
“No! I hate the Kinect Lilah. It’s just another way for the government to spy on us,” Chad crossed his arms as he sat on the leather couch in Britney’ office.
“If you expect me to listen to you rant about how the president is really an alien…then you should do a simple workout with me on the Xbox,” Lilah also crossed her arms.
“Lilah, I’m serious. Nowadays people can easily spy on you through your Kinect, your laptop, even your cellphone. Don’t you watch Dateline?”
“Is that show still even on?” Lilah asked.
Normally, Britney would’ve stopped Chad from going on about one of his conspiracy theories but this was interesting to her. “What do you mean? How is that possible?”
Seeing that he had a willing ear, Chad leaned forward and smiled. “You believe me, don’t you? Well…it’s easy. It takes less than five minutes for anyone to hack into your system.”
“How do they do that?” Britney asked before she could stop herself.
“Dr. Chong!” Lilah couldn’t believe Britney was practically egging him on to continue.
“That’s easy. They do it through your e-mail.”
“Yes. A complex bit of code delivered to you via a simple e-mail. You open up their Trojan horse and bam! They’re spying on you. I heard of a case where a man was spying on several hundred women. He even started blackmailing some of them. You can google that. It’s true.”
“Yeah. I mean…we do all sorts of things in front of an open laptop. Shoot, I bet most people carry around their phones with them everywhere they go. I bet you’d think twice if you knew someone was looking at you from the camera of it.”
Britney didn’t realize that she was leaning forward in her chair, she was so fascinated with what Chad Samuel’s was telling her.
“How would you know if someone sent you one of these e-mails?”
“You don’t. Not unless they try to blackmail you…or you get your computer checked out.” Chad held up his smart phone.Britney noticed that the front and back camera on his phone were covered with black electrical tape. “You see that? Right now my phone is off, because I don’t want them to listen in. When I turn my phone back on, they might be able to hear me but they won’t be able to see me.”
Lilah sighed, “He did the same thing to our laptops at home. I have to remove the tape anytime I want to skype.”
“So any kind of e-mail can carry this…Trojan horse?”
“It’s usually with some sort of attachment. Have you opened any e-mails with attachments?”
Britney thought back and couldn’t remember downloading any odd attachments. She saw Lilah who was looking at her watch and remembered she needed to remain professional. This wasn’t the time to be exploring possible stalkers. She navigated the conversation away from Chad’s theory of people watching him through his phone’s camera and eventually ended the session. As soon as they were gone, she ran upstairs to her laptop.
She stared at it as it sat open. It was always open.
“This has to be it. There’s no other explanation,” Britney sat down in front of it and began combing through her personal e-mails. All of them were from people she knew and trusted. Then it hit her.
The advice column e-mails.
She had only received one e-mail. “Stupid Britney. How could you forget?”
She was talking to herself as she scrolled to the e-mail that was an e-card. She had to download the attachment to see it and for it to play the music. She placed a small post it in front of the computer’s webcam. She then dialed the police and asked to speak with Officer Diaz.
“Yes, Dr. Chong. I’ll be sure to note that in our file. You’re going to have it checked out? That’s a good idea. Be sure to let me know what they find ma’am.”
Officer Diaz looked at her partner Dean Winters who was smirking at her.
“What?” she asked him in a defensive tone.
“Why didn’t you just tell her that you know she’s full of it?”
“Will you stop being an ass for once and do your job? What if someone is really stalking her? There are a lot of ways for someone to get a phone in another person’s name. It’s not totally unheard of you know.”
Officer Diaz didn’t understand why her partner was giving Dr. Chong such a hard time. He wasn’t always such a jerk…well not to the extent that he was to Britney Chong.
“Yeah well unless you want another complaint from her, maybe you should just keep your personal feelings to yourself.”
“Did I stutter? I’ve worked with you for a few years and although you always have a bad attitude it’s not usually this bad. The only thing I can figure is that you have a personal reason for not liking her.”
Officer Winters laughed. He genuinely liked his partner Shelby Diaz. She was blunt and didn’t beat around the bush. She was also a good officer. “Will you stop treating me like a case? Fine! I promise not to get upset over the fact that Dr. Chong is probably leading us on a wild goose Brad.”
“I don’t know. She seems to have a lot of strange things happening to her.”
Winters sighed, “Let’s just focus on something else right now. We have tons of other cases to deal with besides Dr. Chong’s.”
Officer Diaz looked at her partner with an inquisitive face. There was something personal about his dislike for Dr. Chong and she was going to find out why.
Later that Day
“So we’re going to Best Buy…because why exactly?” Nicholas asked his sister Britney.
“Because I think someone sent me a virus and I want their Geek squad to look at it.”
Nicholas and Britney dropped the laptop off and Nicholas told Britney that he still wanted to look around the store. While Nicholas went to look for some headphones, she found herself in the camcorder section. She saw herself on the big television screens as she stood in front of the camcorder that the store televisions were connected to. The more she thought of someone watching her, the more disturbed she became. What else had she done in front of her camera? She changed clothes, walked around in her underwear, burped, and probably a few other million things she wouldn’t want anyone else to see her doing.
“Is there anything I can help you find?” one of the workers asked.
“No thanks. I was just looking.”
Just then her phone began to ring. It was an anonymous number. Britney didn’t usually pick up anonymous numbers but today she did.
She heard static on the other end…and heavy breathing.
“Hello, who is this?” she asked. When no one responded, she said, “If you don’t answer who you are, I’m going to hang up.”
“You covered my window…but I’ll still be watching.”
“Who the hell are you?”
“If you go to the cops again…I won’t just be watching anymore.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You heard me.”
“Hello? Hello?” Britney looked at her phone. The call had been disconnected.
“Ma’am are you okay?”
Still in shock, Britney looked up, “I’m fine. Thanks.” He gave her an odd look and walked away.
Then her phone dinged. It was a message. Britney looked at the phone number. It was from the same number that she had received the texts from the day before. It was a picture of her friend Ivy in a coffee shop. It was taken from a distance and she was sitting alone and smiling into her mug of coffee.
“What the hell?” Britney whispered.
Another ding from her phone notified her of a second message. She read it and her knees almost buckled.
“Stay away from the cops. You wouldn’t want another dead friend, would you?”
Britney gasped, fear penetrating every fiber of her being. She looked up and could see her face again in the large TVs connected to the camcorder she was standing in front of. The look of horror was shocking and Britney couldn’t help but see the irony. This is exactly what her stalker wanted…her fear on display.
“Are you sure about this? Okay…no I won’t pursue any charges against you. Right. Uh huh…okay.”
Officer Dean Winters looked at his partner Shelby Diaz who was putting her phone back on its receiver.
“What was that about?” he asked.
Shelby looked at him in disbelief, “You’re never going to guess.”
“I don’t want to guess. That’s why I asked you,” Dean smirked.
Shelby rolled her eyes, “That was Dr. Britney Chong. She said she wanted to drop her complaint about someone following her.”
Dean, who had been leaning back against his chair, suddenly sat up, “What?”
“Surprising right? She was so adamant the other day,” Shelby began tapping her desk with her fingersnails as she tried to figure out the reasoning behind it.
“We should charger her for wasting our time,” Dean muttered.
“It makes no sense.”
“What makes no sense?”
“Dr. Chong. She was so shook up the other day. Even now she sounded frightened so why would she drop her complaint?”
“C’mon Shelby. We were going to tell her about the phone number being in her name. She probably wanted to back out of this attention seeking problem before she realized we were on to her sick games.”
“And what about the ring?Misty Ward’s brother confirmed that was his sister’s ring,” Shelby reminded Dean.
“There were no prints on it. It’s possible that Misty had lent it to Dr. Chong before she died.”
“Women don’t lend out precious family heirlooms Dean. At least I wouldn’t. No, something isn’t right here.”
Dean leaned forward, “Are you thinking Dr. Chong killed Misty?”
Shelby scowled at her partner, “Would you mind being a professional and stopping your ‘I hate Britney Chong game’ for a minute? I’m serious. It had crossed my mind for a minute but she wouldn’t have the strength to do that to her friend. I spoke with the ME and based on the wounds, it had to have been someone taller and stronger than Misty. Misty was taller than Britney.”
Dean shrugged, “Anything’s possible when you’re upset enough.”
“People don’t grow a foot and then shrink. No, something isn’t adding up here.”
Dean nodded, “Just admit it Diaz. You’re thinking Dr. Chong is suspicious too.”
“No. Unlike you, I don’t hate her. I’m thinking maybe she really is being harassed.”
“Shelby, the phone was in her name!”
“Yeah but it was a pay-as-you-go account. Anyone could go to their local Wal Mart and buy a phone card that most networks sell and set it up with a used phone and a Visa gift card online. I could even set up an account in your name if I wanted to.”
“That’s a bit of a stretch. It’s easier to go with the theory that she’s doing all of this herself and only wants attention.”
“Since when did we just follow the easy route?”
“Since it’s usually the right route,” Dean retorted.
Shelby sighed, “I’m not going to drop this just yet. I could’ve sworn that she still sounded scared over the phone.”
“Well I wish I had all the time in the world to choose which cases I wanted to work on,” Dean said sarcastically. “Oh wait…I don’t and neither do you so forget about Dr. Chong and focus on this instead,” Dean tossed a case file onto Shelby’s desk.
Dean was right. The initial complaint by Dr. Chong was weak but coupled with everything else that had happened, it seemed that someone was really stalking and harassing her. She hoped that she was wrong in thinking that there was more to the story than Dr. Chong was letting on. If not, the psychologist everyone but Dean seemed to like, was in some serious danger.
At Britney’ Home
Nicholas was playing some random game on his Xbox while Britney was sitting up in her room. She stared at her phone.
“If you go to the cops again…I won’t just be watching anymore.”
It was the message from her stalker. She didn’t know what he wanted exactly, other than to torture her. She was worried that he would begin hurting her friends and brother. She had already called Officer Diaz to ask that her complaint that someone was stalking her be dropped. She explained it as a misunderstanding. She was afraid Officer Diaz would threaten to charge her with something for wasting police resources and time, but she didn’t. Officer Diaz seemed understanding and maybe even a bit concerned.
Britney was so tempted to come clean and show her the newest text message. Instead she kept message to herself.
As an educated woman, she knew what she was doing was stupid. Unfortunately, the fear that her stalker instilled in her wasn’t allowing her to make wise decisions.
The Next Day
Britney turned around to see Dr. Brad Clooney coming towards her. She gave him a thin smile and he stopped in front of her, “Hey what’s wrong? You look like you didn’t sleep last night.”
She shook her head, “I’m fine. Hey thanks again for covering for me the other night. You really helped me out.”
“No problem. A lot of them were young women that wanted my number afterward but it wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.”
Britney gave a half-hearted grin.
“Braty! I’ve been looking for you two!” Mack, their radio producer, had his arms up in the air and he was smiling.”
Britney and Brad looked at one another and laughed.
“Have you seen the ratings for the show? Listeners love you two together. I mean they really love you two.”
Brad chuckled, “Well that’s good to know Mack.”
Mack stared at them and sighed, “I can only imagine what would happen if you two started dating. The ratings would skyrocket.”
“Mack, will you stop trying to act like a matchmaker? It’s weird,” Britney laughed and was joined by the two men next to her. She was happy to be around them.
Mack winked at her and said, “I’ll see you two in twenty for prep, okay?”
As he walked off, Brad stared at Britney. “What? Do I have something on my face?” she asked as she began to make swipes at her face.
“So are you okay now?”
His question took her off guard, “What do you mean?”
“I’m good at what I do so don’t try to play it off. What was wrong the other day?” He put his hands on her shoulders, “Britney. Is everything okay?”
She shrugged his hands off of her and gave him a bleak smile, “Don’t worry. Everything is fine. Thanks again for covering for me. I’ll see you in a bit.”
She walked to the lady’s restroom to clear her mind. She turned on the faucet to splash some cold water on her face when her phone dinged.
“Ugh I should’ve put this on vibrate,” she whispered to herself. She picked up her phone and cringed when she saw it was from her stalker.
It read, “You’re a love doctor so it’s time you played the game of love.”
“What the hell?” Britney didn’t understand what her stalker meant by game of love.
Her phone dinged again.
“When you’re on air you have to do something for me.”
Britney could hear herself breathing as she texted him back, “Please leave me alone.”
“Not a chance. Will you do what I ask?”
Britney didn’t respond right away and her phone dinged again, “Or should I go find your friend Ivy?”
“What do I need to do?”
“That’s better. Pick up the phone when I call.”
When her phone began to ring, Britney quickly picked up. She could hear him laughing on the other end. Just like the first time he called her, his voice sounded muffled as if he was trying to disguise it.
“I want you to ask Dr. Clooney out on a date when you’re on air.”
Britney was angry and confused, “That’s it? You’re threatening to kill one of my friends just to make me ask some guy out?”
“Yes. That’s exactly what I’m doing. It’s sad how little control you have over your life right now, isn’t it?”
She wanted to scream. Instead she asked, “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I can.”
“Please, maybe if you explain to me why you’re doing this I can help you move past whatever is making you act this way.”
His laugh this time was sinister, “Don’t play the psychologist for me Britney. Just do as I say. Don’t forget…I’ll be listening.”
He disconnected the call before she could speak.
The show was progressing as usual. The topic for the day was convenient for Britney. It was dating your co-worker.
“Okay so we have a caller on the line,” Brad said as he smiled at Britney.
“Hello and welcome to Heartbreakers,” Britney welcomed the caller as she looked down at her phone which was on silent. No new messages had come in. She wasn’t sure how she was going to ask out Brad. He had been giving her worried glances during the show as if he knew something was wrong.
“Hi y’all. You can call me single Sally. I just wanted to say that dating a co-worker is a bad idea. It never works! I tried dating a co-worker once and it ended horribly!”
“Really what happened Sally?” Brad asked.
“We got married!”
Britney couldn’t help but laugh. “How is that a horrible thing Sally?”
“Well didn’t you hear me? We’re married! I should’ve held out for someone cuter like your Dr. Clooney.”
Britney smiled, “He’s not my Dr. Clooney.”
“But he could be,” Sally responded.
“Helloooo ladies…I’m still in the room and can hear this conversation,” Brad interjected.
They could hear Sally laughing as she said, “Dr. Chong, you need to ask this man out.”
Britney could feel her cheeks getting hot. She was starting to feel nauseous from the whirlwind of emotions her body was going through.
“I don’t think Dr. Chong will be asking me out Sally,” Brad said as he looked at Britney. “She has a lot on her plate right now and probably already has a boyfriend.”
Britney looked at Brad who was giving her another one of his ‘are you okay’ looks?
She had to ask him out. Sally had given her the perfect opening.
“That’s not true!” she blurted, surprising herself.
Brad cocked his head to one side, “What’s not true?”
“I’m not single. I mean I am single…I mean I don’t have a boyfriend.”
Brad smiled at her, “Thanks for clearing that up.”
Britney continued, “And I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing to date your co-worker if you feel you can handle the consequences of you two not working out.” If she wasn’t being threatened to ask Brad out, this was something that she would never have said because she strongly believed that you should never date a coworker.
“Is that so?” Brad asked with a look of devilment on his face.
“Yes. I think all relationships have a chance regardless of where two people met. It’s just very important to understand that your professional life and your personal life be kept separate.”
“That would be impossible though,” Brad argued. “The two would have to meld at some point…even if it wasn’t intentional.”
“Still…it’s important to have boundaries if you decide to date a coworker so that the relationship works.”
Brad smiled, “So if a coworker asked you out and agreed to your boundaries, then you would date him?”
“Yes,” Britney nodded. She wasn’t even sure what she was saying, her mind was so preoccupied with asking Brad out to protect her friend Ivy.
“In that case, Britney…will you accept my invitation to go out on a date with me?”
Britney looked up, startled. Did Brad just ask her out? The expectant look on his face was telling her that she hadn’t misheard.
Brad looked disappointed, “I’m sorry. I just thought that-”
Britney interrupted him, “No I don’t accept…because…because I wanted to ask you out first. Brad will you go out on a date with me?”
The look v gave her was priceless. If she hadn’t been feeling like she was suffering from emotional whiplash, she would’ve laughed. He looked surprised, happy, and awestruck all at once. Britney could see Mack going crazy with excitement in his booth. He was giving them the thumbs up signal and nodding his head.
“Dr. Clooney, I would love to go out on a date with you.”
After the show was over, Britney felt as though her legs were made of jelly. She looked at her phone and waited to hear from her stalker. Was he going to congratulate her or give her another ridiculous task to do?
“Britney,” Brad called out to her. He was smiling which made her feel like pond scum. She knew she shouldn’t be involving him in this sordid situation.
“Hi Brad. Listen, I think we need to talk-”
They were interrupted by Mack who came running down the hall, “Brilliant! You two were amazing out there! I couldn’t have planned it better myself. I bet the listeners are ecstatic right now!”
“Well we know you are,” Brad muttered.
“I knew you two liked each other,” Mack waved a finger between the two of them.
“Mack, I think you’re blowing this up out of,” Britney tried to interrupt.
“Stop right there! I just had a brilliant idea. I’m going to have PR make signs that say Braty!” He didn’t bother to listen to either Brad or Britney as he went down the hall shouting, “Braty lives!”
Britney and Brad watched him in dismay.
“Does he take medications for anything?” Brad asked.
“No but he probably needs to.”
Brad smiled, “Hey Britney…I just wanted to say that there’s no pressure if you don’t want to go out with me. I can tell something’s wrong. I shouldn’t have asked you in the first place. I mean…I wanted to ask you out but I shouldn’t have done it on air. It wasn’t fair to you.”
Britney looked at Brad. He was handsome, smart, probably well off, and he was sweet. Under normal circumstances, she would jump at the chance to date him. It was a shame that she was being threatened to date him and her stalker was the only one who knew the reason why.
“It’s okay Brad. I think you’re great and we should go out.”
Brad smiled, “Great. I’ll pick you up Friday at seven. Is that okay?”
Friday was at the end of the week. She nodded as he walked away, whistling.
Britney groaned. She wanted this to be over. She felt as though she were trapped and didn’t have anyone to turn to. Suddenly her phone rang. It was from another unknown number. She pressed the button and answered the call, “Hello?”
“We need to talk. Can you meet me in five minutes?”
Britney wasn’t sure who was calling her. “I’m sorry who is-”
“I’m outside your work building. Meet me in the parking lot in five minutes or I’m going to be pissed.”
The caller hung up the phone before she could answer. She went to her office and grabbed her purse. Inside was the pepper spray that Nicholas had given her. If her stalker wanted to meet, she was going to be ready.
Britney walked to the parking lot, her eyes scanning the empty spaces.
“Just my luck,” she muttered at the lack of people. She wondered if Oliver, the security guard, was around. She clutched her pepper spray, still hidden inside her purse. She slowly walked forward, her red heels tapping against the hard cement. She was nervous and on edge.
A hand on her shoulder startled her. She screamed and turned around, quickly raising the pepper spray and hitting the nozzle.
“Arrghh! Dammit what the hell are you doing?”
Britney was still screaming even after she lowered the pepper spray. She watched in horror as the man continued to groan in pain in front of her. She knew him and this wasn’t going to be a pleasant confrontation.
“I’m coming!” an old man’s voice shouted. Britney looked up to see Oliver, the security guard, scrambling towards them. “Dr. Chong are you okay? Was this man trying to attack you?”
Britney didn’t know what to say. Part of her was shocked by what she had just done and another part of her wanted to laugh at the ridiculous situation she was in.
“Hell no I wasn’t trying to attack her! I’m a cop you old geezer!” the man shouted as he continued to stay in a doubled over position.
“Who’re you calling old?” Oliver asked as he touched the small gun he had at his waist.
“Sorry Oliver, I thought he was trying to attack me…but he wasn’t. It was just a misunderstanding.”
Officer Dean Winters straightened himself and sneered at Britney. His eyes were red from the pepper spray, “Misunderstanding? Is that what you call this?” he asked pointing to his red eyes.
“Well you came up from behind and scared me!”
“I’m a police officer!”
Britney ignored that comment, “How was I supposed to know that? Why did you call me down here? To accuse me of lying again?”
“I needed to talk to you.”
“So you know this man?” Oliver interrupted.
“Yeah she does…so go back to being a rent-a-cop,” Dean didn’t want an audience to the conversation he was about to have with Britney.
“Don’t talk to him that way!”Britney couldn’t believe that Officer Winters could be so rude to everyone he came into contact with.
“Don’t worry Dr. Chong. Young punks like him don’t bother me. Are you sure you’re okay being alone with him?” Oliver asked.
Britney nodded, “I’ll be fine Oliver. Thank you.”
“Not a problem.” The old security guard turned to look at Dean, “I’ll be watching you through the cameras.” Before Dean could respond, Oliver began walking back to his security booth.
“What was that about?” Britney asked, “Why were you so rude to him?”
Dean shrugged, “Does it matter? Listen, we need to talk.”
“Actually, we don’t,” Britney began to walk away when Dean grabbed her arm. “Let me go.”
“I want to know why you dropped your complaint.”
“That’s it? You came all the way over here to ask me why I stopped reporting that I was being stalked? Didn’t you accuse me of lying?”
“Look…I’m only asking because my partner made me feel guilty. She said I was being a jerk and no woman would feel comfortable making a report to me if I treated them the way I treated you.”
Britney shook her head, “You’re unbelievable. Is this your way of apologizing?”
“Well what do you expect? You say someone is stalking you and sending you strange messages. Imagine our surprise when we find out the number is registered to you!”
“What did you say?”
“Don’t make me repeat myself, Britney. You know the phone number is registered to you.”
Britney stared at Officer Winters, “No it’s not.”
“You can stop pretending now. I know that’s why you dropped the complaint. Diaz already said she’s not going to pursue it but wasting police time isn’t exactly okay.”
Britney didn’t understand how anyone could register her name for a phone line, “How is that possible? I mean how could someone use my name to get a phone?”
He gave her a suspicious look but answered, “That’s easy. They just need your social security number and a date of birth. That information is getting easier to find.”
“My social security number and date of birth?”
“If you’re saying it’s not your phone then that would mean someone opened a phone in your name. Aren’t you going to ask me to look into it? Don’t you want me to find out who used your name?”
“No!” She answered a bit forcefully and much too quickly for Officer Winters not to be suspicious.
“What’s going on? If you didn’t open the phone someone did it in your name. That means they have your social and date of birth. You don’t care?”
“What does it matter to you? I’m just a liar that wants attention, isn’t that right?”
“Look that isn’t the only reason I came by to see you. I’ve been thinking about why I’ve been too hard on you.”
Britney didn’t bother to respond. She was still thinking about the fact that her stalker had her personal information. She was making a mental note to call the credit bureaus. She wished Officer Winters would stop talking to her. He wasn’t her favorite person in the world and she just wanted to get home. She wasn’t really paying attention to what he was saying until he began waving his hands in front of her face. She took a step back and swatted his hands away, “What are you doing? Stop that.”
“Are you even listening to what I’m saying?” he asked.
She wanted to scream, “No, I couldn’t care less about what you have to say!” Instead she counted to five in her head and asked, “What were you saying?”
Dean ran his hands through his hair and repeated himself, “I said I need your help. Please.”
Now she wished she had been paying attention. She didn’t miss the irony of the situation. He needed her help. He even said the word please. She couldn’t help but give a bitter laugh, “Why should I help you? When I asked you for help…you accused me of being a liar.”
“Look I know we didn’t start off on the right foot, but I’ve been thinking about things.”
“Even though I still don’t believe that you have a stalker…I shouldn’t have been so rude to you.”
Britney chose to ignore his veiled accusation that she was liar and cocked her head to one side, “Who are you and what have you done with the real Officer Winters? Are you actually admitting you were rude and that you made a mistake?”
Dean sighed, “I deserve that. Look…forget it. This was a stupid idea anyway.”
Britney watched him start to walk away. “Wait.” She had a resigned tone in her voice which meant she was probably going to regret helping him, “What did you need help with?”
“Last night I was up thinking about you.”
Britney took a step back.
“Not in a creepy sort of way,” Dean explained, “I was thinking about why I disliked you so much.”
“Are you going to get to the point anytime soon? Because you’re really making me regret hearing you out.”
“Listen, you’re friends with my ex-girlfriend.”
Britney didn’t believe him. None of her friends would date such a jerk. “I’m sorry but I don’t remember any of my friends dating you.”
“It wasn’t that long just a few weeks but I really thought I loved her.”
Britney was still confused, “Why are you telling me this?”
“I want you to help me get her back.”
“I’m sorry…say that again.”
“Help me get my girlfriend back.”
“Why would I do that? You’re not exactly a nice guy Officer Winters.”
“I’m only like that with you-”
“And my brother…and Oliver.”
“Okay fine! I’m not a nice guy but that doesn’t mean I don’t deserve a second chance. I thought you shrinks were supposed to believe in helping people.”
“That’s interesting. I thought the same thing about police officers.” Her sarcasm wasn’t lost on Dean. “Listen, I’m not sure which of my friends you dated and quite frankly, I don’t want to know. I try not to get involved in their love lives unless they really need my help.”
“Don’t lie. Gabby used to quote you all the time.”
“Gabby? You dated Gabby? Why am I not surprised? I don’t give her relationship advice. She tends to latch on to whatever I say during the radio show and runs with it. I’m not sure what she told you but you should talk to her if you want to get back together.”
“So you’re not going to help me?”
Britney shook her head, “No. I’m sorry but I don’t want to get involved. This is between you and her.”
Dean closed his eyes, still feeling the sting from the pepper spray. Britney was eager to get away from him and as she approached her car, she noticed another red envelope tucked beneath a windshield wiper.
She looked around before pulling it out and opening it. A small message was scrawled on a plain white card.
“Don’t forget. No cops.”
Britney texted her friend Ivy, “Let’s meet tomorrow.”
She got into her car and drove home only to see a stranger’s car in her driveway. She walked inside with apprehension which quickly turned into anger. Inside her living room was Nicholas with three of his friends watching a basketball game. They were drinking and eating McDonald’s.
“Nicholas can we talk in the kitchen, please?”
Nicholas could tell his sister was upset, “Hey guys, this is my sister Britney.” Britney was greeted with words, whistles, and catcalls.
“Idiots,” she muttered as she walked to the kitchen with Nicholas in tow.
“Before you get really pissed, I have a good reason for inviting the guys over.”
“It better be one hell of a good reason.”
“The Rockets are playing.”
Britney rolled her eyes, “You invited some friends over to watch a basketball game when you know what I’ve been dealing with? Couldn’t you have just gone to a sports bar?”
“I’m sorry Britney but Luke called and you know we’ve been friends forever. He and his girlfriend just broke up and he didn’t want to be at a bar.”
Britney couldn’t imagine any of the drunk guys in the living room as heartbroken, “I don’t know them Nicholas. What if they’re the ones stalking me?”
Nicholas began laughing, “Trust me they aren’t stalking you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she was irked at the way he said the word you.
“Nothing it’s just that you’re old.”
“Sorry…older. If you’re over twenty-five they won’t be interested. Besides you’re my sister. They wouldn’t mess with you.”
“You never know what people do behind closed doors Nicholas. It’s not good to make assumptions.”
“Fine. I’ll make sure they leave after the game. It’s almost over anyway.”
“They’ve been drinking.”
“Luke’s not drunk. He just always acts that way. He’s been drinking soda all night.”
“Fine,” Britney left Nicholas in the kitchen to go upstairs and take a shower. The day had been strange and stressful for her. She let the cool spray of the water wash over her and when she was done, she wrapped herself in a large fluffy towel. She walked into her bedroom and began looking for some pajamas.
“What do you want Nicholas?”
“What do you want? Say what you want and get out. I have to change.” Britney hadn’t bothered to turn around as she rummaged through her drawers for a pajama set.
“What?” she yelled as she turned around expecting to see her brother. She was alone. She looked around and the hair on her neck stood up. “Nicholas?” She took a few hesitant steps forward, “Hello?”
When no one responded, she ran to the bathroom and quickly put on her clothes. She slowly opened her bathroom door which was connected to the master bedroom, and peeked out. She still didn’t see anyone. She stepped outside and looked around again. She didn’t hear anything.
“Did I imagine it?”
She walked out of her room and downstairs. Nicholas and his friends were gone. The sound of the front door opening, startled her and she let out a loud yelp.
“Britney? What’s wrong with you?” Nicholas asked as he closed the door behind him.
“Where were you?”
“I followed the guys home to make sure they got to Luke’s safely. They’re all going to crash there for the night. I just got back. Is something wrong? You look weird.”
Britney wondered if she should tell Nicholas. She opted not to, thinking it was just her imagination. “I’m fine. It’s getting late. I’m going to bed.”
“Okay. G’night.” Nicholas sat back on the sofa and continued to watch the sports channel.
“G’night.” Britney went back to her bedroom and walked inside. She didn’t hear anything. She was about to pull back her covers when it called out again in a whispering voice.
Britney screamed and called out for Nicholas, who came running up the stairs, “What’s wrong Britney?”
“I think there’s someone in the room. I keep hearing someone whispering my name. Nicholas gave her a strange look but proceeded to look around her room.
“Britney, I don’t see anyone. Are you sure you heard something?”
Nicholas cleared his throat, “Is it possible you thought you heard someone? You’ve been under a lot of stress lately.”
Britney wasn’t sure anymore. She could’ve sworn she had heard someone. Maybe Nicholas was right. “Yeah you’re right Nicholas. I’m just exhausted. I probably just need some sleep.”
Nicholas stared at her for a moment, “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine. Go finish watching your show. I’m going to bed.”
“Well I’ll be right downstairs,” he said as he walked out of her room, “Just holler if you need me.”
“I will thanks.”
Britney crawled under her sheets and closed her eyes. She wanted to sleep but the whispering voice returned.
“Sweet dreams Britney.”
If she had been asleep, the piercing scream from her throat would’ve woken her.