“Britney are you okay? What’s going on?”
The light was switched on to reveal Britney holding on to her comforter in the middle of the bed. Nicholas saw the wild look of fear in his sister’s eyes.
“Britney,” he said cautiously.
“He’s here Nicholas. I heard him,” Britney whispered.
“My stalker,” Britney looked as if she was going to scream again.
“Did you see him?” Nicholas began whispering as well.
Britney shook her head, “I heard him.”
“Okay…I’m going to look around.” Nicholas proceeded to check under her bed and through the closet and adjoining bathroom. He didn’t see anyone. He even checked the window to make sure it was locked. “Britney. No one is here. Are you sure you heard someone?”
“Yes, I’m sure!”
Britney watched the look of confusion on her brother’s face turn into concern.
“I’m not crazy Nicholas! I swear I heard someone.”
Nicholas nodded, “Well I didn’t find anyone here so what do you want to do? Should we call the cops?”
Nicholas glanced at Britney’ cell phone which was charging on her nightstand.
“And tell them what? That I’m hearing someone whisper to me in the dark? I’ll sound like a lunatic.”
“Then what do you want to do? Tell me so that I can help you.”
“I don’t know,” Britney began biting her thumbnail…a nervous habit she hadn’t engaged in since she was a teenager.
Nicholas walked over to Britney and grabbed her pillow and comforter, “Follow me.”
“What are you doing?”
“Just follow me,” Nicholas walked downstairs and tossed her blanket and pillow on the floor.
He then went to his room and grabbed his blanket and pillow, “We’re going to do something we haven’t done in years Britney.”
“A living room camp out!”
“Nicholas, we’re too old to be sleeping on the floor.”
“Speak for yourself woman!” Nicholas tossed their blankets on the floor along with their pillows. The house was dark except for the glow from the television in the living room.
“Listen Britney…I know you’ve been stressed out lately. I didn’t see anyone upstairs so let’s just sleep downstairs for tonight until we can figure out what you heard in your bedroom. Maybe it was just some random noise that you think sounded like someone whispering to you like the AC vents turning on.”
“It wasn’t an AC vent but fine…just for tonight Nicholas.”
Nicholas laughed, “Hey Britney…do you want to tell ghost stories?”
Britney didn’t respond. Instead she tossed a pillow from the sofa at him.
“I’ll take that as a no,” Nicholas muttered.
The two of them settled in on the floor and slept.Britney was grateful that Nicholas wasn’t directly calling her crazy or a coward. She felt like both.
A few hours later, Britney woke up and sighed. She wasn’t getting much sleep because the floor was too uncomfortable. She thought about sleeping on the sofa but it would also be uncomfortable. She thought about what Nicholas had said earlier and wondered if her mind was playing tricks on her. As a psychologist, she understood more than most how stress could affect a person’s mind. It was totally plausible that it was all in her head. She hated being afraid in her own home and she resented the man that had sent her the notes and texts in order to scare her.
Britney sat up and looked over at her brother Nicholas. He was fast asleep with his arms spread out. Britney smiled. Nicholas was a good brother. He even sacrificed his bed so she wouldn’t be afraid tonight. She got up and tiptoed to the staircase. Britney didn’t want to be afraid to sleep in her own bedroom. She walked up slowly in the dark. When she got to her room, she ran to her bathroom and turned on the light switch. She then walked to her bed and laid down.
For her, this was a test in bravery. Eventually she drifted into a fitful sleep. An hour later, she awoke. Her eyes adjusted to the darkness and she could see a figure standing in her bedroom doorway.
“Nicholas?” she whispered.
The figure didn’t speak. She couldn’t see any distinguishable features, just the outline of his body as he stood in the doorway.
“Nicholas what are you doing?” she asked. The bathroom light wasn’t enough for her to see by, but it did allow her to catch a glimpse of the knife he held in his arm. “Nicholas?”
The man still didn’t answer. Britney was frozen with fear. “Nicholas!” Britney screamed, hoping to wake her brother up. The dreadful thought that Nicholas could be dead downstairs filled her mind. She screamed again and the figure at her doorway ran away.
“Crap! Britney stay in your room! Call 911! Now!”
Britney gave a quick prayer of thanks as she heard her brother yelling from downstairs. She quickly grabbed her cellphone and dialed the police. She heard her brother groaning, glass breaking, and then a loud thud.
“Nicholas?” Britney had quickly given her house information to the 911 dispatcher and had ignored her instructions to stay on the line. She disconnected the call and walked to the edge of the staircase. She could see the front door open and Nicholas on the floor.
“Nicholas!” Britney ran towards her brother who wasn’t moving. She got on the floor and began calling his name. She noticed the bruise on his face and a deep scratch on his left upper arm. “Oh my God. Nicholas wake up!” She lightly patted his cheeks until he emitted a soft groan.
“Nicholas wake up,”
“Enough already,” he moaned. “What the hell happened?”
“Are you okay?” Britney asked.
“Where is he?” Nicholas asked.
“I don’t know. I think he ran out,” Britney said as she looked at the open front door.
A few minutes later the police and an ambulance arrived to find Britney and Nicholas sitting on the sofa. Nicholas had a bag of mixed veggies over his eye. The paramedics bandaged up the cut on his arm.
“This is a fairly nice neighborhood,” the officer remarked, “And you said you didn’t notice anything missing?”
Britney shook her head, “I don’t know. We haven’t really checked but all of the valuables are in a safe. He was just watching me while I slept I guess…”
“And you didn’t see his face?” the officer asked looking at Nicholas who cursed under his breath.
“No, he had some kind of ski mask on. He was dressed in black. That’s all I remember before he hit me over the head with a vase.”
The officer nodded and finished taking their statements.
After they left Nicholas looked at Britney, “I don’t know what’s going on but we need to get a security system installed.”
Britney nodded. Tonight was scary. Britney wondered if the intruder had been hiding in the house or had he picked the lock and broke in like the police officer suggested? She shivered at the thought of him being in the house and hiding.
“What is it?” His rough tone told Britney he wasn’t in a good mood.
“I’m sorry,” Britney began crying, “I’m so sorry. This is all my fault.”
“How is this your fault? Hey stop crying Britney. This is not your fault. Some guy broke in…how’s that your fault?”
“He broke in because of me.”
Nicholas shook his head and frowned as he hugged his sister. “Don’t worry Britney. It’s gonna be okay. I promise.”
Britney nodded but she didn’t believe him. She had a feeling that from now on, things were just going to get worse.
The Next Morning at the Home of Larry & Sylvia French
“Larry! We have to see Dr. Chong this Saturday. Did you finish your journal?” Sylvia called out to her husband who was downstairs working on some random art project in his study. She was in their bedroom putting laundry away. As she was about to leave the room, she noticed a small key on the nightstand by Larry’s side of the bed. She picked it up and looked at the dresser drawer he always kept locked.
Sylvia looked around and quickly unlocked the drawer. Inside was a small journal. “Why would he hide this?”
She placed his journal with hers to take to their appointment on Saturday. “If I don’t do this he’ll forget it like always.”
Lunch at Red Robin…Yummm
Ivy, Gabby, and Britney sat at their local Red Robin gorging on the bottomless fries.
“So Britney…are you going to tell us what’s going on with the dark circles under your eyes?” Ivy asked. “It looks like you were up all night. It wouldn’t have anything to do with that handsome co-worker of yours would it?”
“Someone broke into my house last night.”
Gabby and Ivy stared at Britney in disbelief. Gabby put down her burger and looked at Britney, “So why are you just telling us this now? That’s not news you wait to tell your friends.”
“Sorry,” Britney murmured, “It was a rough night and Nicholas got hurt.”
“Your brother was hurt? Is he okay? Are you okay? Did they take anything?”
Britney shook her head, “He’s got a black eye. They didn’t take anything. It was just a crazy night.”
Ivy nodded, “I’m sorry Britney but I’m glad you’re okay.”
Britney gave a weak smile, “It’s fine. My brother wants to install a security system.”
“That’s a great idea,” Ivy looked at Gabby, “Don’t you think so?”
“Yeah…of course it is. Alarms that automatically call the police are great in case you can’t call them yourself.”
“Gabby…I’ve been meaning to ask you…did you date a police officer before and not tell us?” Britney asked.
Gabby looked surprised, “What?”
“What? Gabby hid a boyfriend from us?” Ivy laughed.
Gabby blushed and shook her head, “Of course not.”
“So you never dated an Officer Winters before?” Britney asked.
Gabby looked uncomfortable, “Why are you asking me this Britney?”
“I’m just curious. I met him.”
Gabby coughed, “No. I don’t know him.”
“Are you sure? Because he seemed to know you Gabby.”
Ivy looked puzzled, “That’s weird. Why would he say he went out with Gabby if they didn’t date?”
“I don’t know,” Gabby shrugged, “Maybe he has me confused with someone else.”
Ivy didn’t let it go, “You don’t get confused about the people you date. Are you keeping secrets Ms. Gabriella?”
Gabby tossed her napkin over her food, “Why do you keep asking? I told you I didn’t date him. He must be confused. I’m going to the bathroom. Excuse me.”
“You want me to come with you?” Ivy asked.
“No,” Gabby noticed she was a bit too vehement in her answer so she answered again, “No…it’s okay. Thanks. I’ll be right back.”
Britney couldn’t help but notice how upset Gabby looked.
“What was that about?” Ivy asked Britney once Gabby left them.
“I don’t know but it seemed strange. Officer Winters asked me to help him get back together with her…but she’s telling us she never dated him.”
“It’s weird…but maybe he did get her confused with someone else.”
Britney looked at Ivy and asked, “Hey are things okay with you? I mean you’re not having any problems are you?”
Ivy laughed, “No. Why?”
Britney shrugged, “No reason…but if you ever have any problems…it doesn’t matter what…you know you can come to me, right?”
Ivy smiled, “Of course I do and the same goes for you. You, me, and Gabby…we’ve been best friends since college. Misty’s gone but we’re all important to each other.”
Britney smiled. Ivy was right. They were all important to one another. She thought of Gabby who was still in the bathroom. Britney wondered, “Why did she deny dating Officer Dean Winters? Did he lie or was she lying?”
Gabby looked visibly upset when Britney mentioned Officer Winters. There was more to this story than Gabby was letting on and one thing was definitely clear. Ivy, Gabby, and Britney may be best friends…but they all had secrets.
At Gem’s Diner: Breakfast
Gabby sat across from her ex-boyfriend, Officer Dean Winters. She adjusted her posture against the red pleather seat at their local Gems.
Dean was smiling at her, “Did you want me to order you your favorite? Blueberry pancakes?”
Gabby frowned, “I don’t eat those anymore. Listen Dean, I called you here so we could talk.”
“What did you want to talk about? Us getting back together?”
Not one to mince words, she got straight to her point, “Are you going around looking up my friends?”
“What? What are you talking about?”
Gabby sneered, “Please Dean. I know how you are. Did you tell Britney that I was your girlfriend?”
“Britney? You asked me to meet you here because of her?”
Gabby nodded, “Why else would I ask you to meet with me?”
“Oh I don’t know…maybe to talk about our relationship?”
Gabby sighed, “What relationship? We used to go out. Emphasis on the words used to.”
“You seriously don’t want to give us a second chance?”
“Why would I Dean? I told you I don’t want to date an officer.”
“Why? Because your friend told you that dating a cop was stressful?”
“That’s not what she said Dean. I asked her how to deal with the stress of dating an officer. She told me it was something I would have to get used to and accept. I didn’t want to accept it so we broke up. End of story.”
“No, we didn’t break up. You dumped me.”
“Stop splitting hairs Dean. Britney just helped me work things out about what I did and didn’t want in a relationship.”
Dean gave a bitter laugh, “It always comes back to Britney. Why are you so obsessed with her?”
Gabby laughed, “I’m not obsessed with her. She’s my friend. Of course I care about her and what she thinks.”
Dean snorted, “Yeah? Well I was your boyfriend and you didn’t seem to care about what I thought. I should’ve known better than to think you wanted to get back together.”
“Yeah you should have.”
“When did you become such a bi-?”
Gabby stopped him from calling her a curse word, “Don’t even go there Dean. We broke up and I only wanted to meet you to tell you to stop bugging Britney.”
“Is that what she told you? That I’m bugging her?”
“Does it matter? We aren’t getting back together. Leave my friends alone.”
“God, why did you even date me if you hate me so much?”
“I don’t hate you Dean.”
Dean reached his hand across the table to try and grasp hers, “You don’t?”
Gabby quickly moved her hand out of his reach, “No, I don’t. What I feel for you is something like…”
Dean smiled, “Love?”
Across Town: Afternoon
Britney drove to the computer store to pick up her laptop. She had been a bit jumpy lately and even started paying attention to the cars that appeared in her rear-view mirror’s reflection. She was becoming paranoid that someone might start following her. As she pulled into the parking lot, she looked for a spot that wasn’t surrounded by other cars. She ended up parking at the far end of the parking lot.
As she made her way to the computer repair counter, she scanned the faces of the customers to see if any of them were familiar. For all she knew her stalker was here at the store with her.
“May I help you?” a young man with a name tag that read “Jesus” asked her. He had long hair pulled back in a ponytail and a faint mustache that looked like a smudge of dirt.
“Hi Jesus, I’m here because I’m supposed to pick up my laptop.”
His eyes squinted as if the name sounded familiar to him. Britney wondered if he listened to her radio show.
“I’ll be right back,” Jesus said as he left her waiting at the counter for a few minutes.
“Okay ma’am, we cleaned it up for you. It had a pretty nasty virus on it so we installed new antivirus software on it. You know you’re supposed to update your virus protection software every year, don’t you?”
Britney didn’t know that, “Oh…I thought it stayed current on its own.”
Jesus shook his head in dismay, “I have customers come in here all the time and they don’t realize that new viruses are created every day. Old software isn’t advanced enough to protect your electronics. You need to update your software all the time.”
“So which virus did I have on my computer?”
“A pretty scary one. It has a lot of different names. It’s a spying program that allows hackers to watch their victims.”
Britney nodded. This was something she was aware of. “Is it gone?”
Jesus nodded, “Yes, but you should still be careful about what videos you’re clicking on. Sometimes a link on Facebook or in an e-mail can install it again.”
“Okay, thank you.” Britney paid Jesus who scratched his head as though he were thinking. “You seem really familiar,” Jesus said. “Have you come in here before?”
“No, this was my first computer repair.”
Jesus looked at the receipt’s signature and smiled, “You’re Dr. Chong? Dr. Chong the advice columnist, right?”
Britney smiled, “I give relationship advice for the newspaper and am on the radio show Heart breakers.”
“Wow that’s so cool! My girlfriend loves your show. She only went out with me after you told her that she should try dating someone different. She used to only date athletic men and I’m not exactly athletic.”
“That’s wonderful,” Britney replied, “I’m happy to hear that. Normally people tell me that I’m the cause of their girlfriend breaking up with them but I’m glad I was able to help you in your relationship.”
After Britney walked out of the store, she couldn’t help feeling good about herself. She scanned the parking lot and spotted her car. Parked next to it was a large white van. It was old and dirty. It had a door on the side that probably slid open.
“Great,” Britney mumbled facetiously under her breath as images of being shoved into the van ran through her head. Her pace slowed as she looked around the parking lot. She doubted anyone would even notice her being abducted into what she imagined as a dream vehicle for kidnappers everywhere.
She took a deep breath, “Chill out Britney. It’s just a van. Just a creepy-ass van that parked next to your car even though there are about a million empty spots closer to the store.”
She walked to her car and cautiously placed her hand on the door handle.
The sound of the van’s side door sliding open startled her, and she gave a frightened yelp.
A few kids began laughing as they scrambled out of the van. Britney had her back to her car with her hand over her chest.
She was becoming paranoid.
When she finally got home, a car she didn’t recognize was parked in her driveway. As she walked inside, she saw her brother Nicholas talking with his friend Luke.
“Hey Britney, Luke’s here.”
Britney smiled, “Thank you Captain Obvious and hello Luke.”
Luke laughed, “You two act like kids sometimes.”
Nicholas shrugged then looked at Britney, “Luke works at a security company. He’s going to help us install an alarm system.”
“Really? I didn’t know that Luke.”
Luke grinned, “Yeah. I’ve worked there for a few years. I was telling Nicholas he wouldn’t get so many shiners if he had an alarm system installed.”
Nicholas touched his black eye and grimaced, “Yeah…this black eye is stopping me from getting dates.”
Britney laughed, “Sure. Blame it on the black eye.”
Luke laughed and Nicholas frowned. “I swear if that guy tries to break in again…it’s on like King Kong.”
“Donkey,” Britney corrected.
“What? Are you calling me an ass? Why? Because that burglar landed a punch on me?”
“No. It’s not King Kong it’s Donkey-” Britney was about to continue but shook her head instead, “Never mind. Yes, I’m calling you an ass.” Britney was about to leave the room when she saw her brother smirking. She laughed when she realized he had purposely aggravated her.
“So are you paying for the security system Nicholas?” Luke asked his friend which gained Britney’ attention.
“Yes, Nicholas, are you paying for this security system?” Britney repeated.
Nicholas pretended to huff and answered, “I’m not some homeless drifter. I work. I can afford it.” He looked at his friend Luke and whispered, “How much is it?”
“If you install the upgraded package, the installation and two cameras are free but the price per month is a little less than sixty dollars.”
“We get cameras?” Nicholas asked.
“Yeah, you can watch the house from your smart phone or laptop…whichever you like.”
Nicholas whistled, “That sounds pretty high tech.”
Britney thought of the virus in her computer and how technology was helping to scare her, “I’m not sure if we need something that fancy Luke. An alarm system with just a code key should be enough.”
“Are you sure?” Luke asked looking from her to Nicholas.
“I’m sure. Nicholas, you don’t have to pay for it. I will.”
“Britney, I can pay for the alarm system. Besides I live here too.”
Luke stopped them before they got into an argument, “You can always upgrade later if you want to. Britney, how about you and I discuss the installation?”
Britney nodded, and placed her laptop down.
“You picked up your laptop. Did they fix it?” her brother asked.
“Yeah. They also installed new virus protection so I think I’ll be okay.”
Nicholas and Britney continued talking about the laptop while Luke stared at it.
“Hey man are you okay?” Nicholas asked his friend.
“Huh? Oh…sorry, my mind drifted off for a minute. Yeah I’m fine.”
“Still thinking about your ex?”
“What?” Luke asked, embarrassed.
“Hey there’s no shame in getting dumped. If you need help, ask Britney. She’s a love doctor remember?”
Britney smiled at Luke, “I’d be happy to listen if you ever want to talk Luke.”
Nicholas interjected, “Just don’t forget to return the favor by way of a discount on the security alarm.”
Luke laughed while Britney punched her brother in the arm and chastised him, “Stop being an ass.”
After the three of them had decided on a date to install the alarm system, Britney walked upstairs.
It had been a few days since the break-in and she was still paranoid. She looked around her room, taking in the familiar dresser, nightstands, and lamps. She was amazed that just a few days ago, everything in the room had felt foreign to her.
“I can still see you.”
Britney turned around to look at the doorway. No one was there. She wasn’t sure if she had heard anything. Did someone just whisper to her? A few minutes had passed but she didn’t hear the voice a second time.
She jumped and turned around to see her brother and Luke standing in the doorway.
“We’re going to pick up some burgers. You want one?”
“Uh…yeah. Get me a cheeseburger.”
“You got it.”
After Nicholas and Luke left, Britney sat on her bed and couldn’t help but wonder if she was going crazy.
“Braty? Bad? Brit? Which do you like the best? I’m not going to lie. I’m still partial to Braty. It just rolls off the tongue better. Braty…say it with me. Braty,” Mack said, grinning.
Britney and Brad were sitting across from Mack, gawking at him.
“Well…I’m not sure any of them are a good idea,” Brad answered.
Britney was still trying to wrap her head around the fact that it was already Friday which meant it was her date night with Brad. She looked over at him. He turned his head to face her and winked, causing her to quickly look away.
“Ahhh…the chemistry between you two is too cute,” Mack said. “I could take some pictures and put them on the show’s website. I think the female listeners would eat it up. Dr. Chong, the love guru, snatches herself a sexy psychologist.”
“I’m not sure how I feel about you calling me a sexy psychologist,” Brad mumbled.
Mack waved a hand at him in dismissal, “It’s not the forties, Brad. I can call you sexy and it’s not weird at all.”
“Really? Because it feels a little weird to me since you’re my boss,” Brad laughed. “Besides, we’re just going out on one date. It’s a bit too premature to try and advertise us as a couple.”
“Couple?” Britney asked in surprise. She wasn’t sure what was going on with Mack but she didn’t like it. She stood up, “Okay…well this has been fun but playtime is over. Mack, you need to cut the Braty crap out or I swear I’ll cancel this date.”
“What?” Brad asked, clearly not expecting her to say that.
Mack also stood up, “Hey now…no need to get over excited. I’m just kidding. You know I would never do anything to jeopardize this show or the synergy you two share.”
“I don’t care, Mack. I agreed to go on a date with Dr. Clooney but I can just as easily change my mind.”
An uncomfortable silence filled the room after Britney spoke.
“Well…this is awkward. I’ll just leave you two alone for a few minutes,” Mack said as he gathered his notepad and some pens. He sneaked a glance at Brad and mouthed, “Good luck.”
Brad chose to ignore Mack and as soon as he was alone with Britney, asked, “Is something wrong, Britney? I’m sorry if you felt pressured into going out with me. I know the segment had to deal with co-workers dating. If you think it isn’t a good idea…we can always cancel it.”
Britney listened to Brad give her an out and she frowned. She wished she didn’t suffer from verbal diarrhea and hadn’t just threatened to cancel her date with Brad. She really couldn’t, even if she wanted to. Her stalker had made sure of that. He wanted her to ask Brad out over the airwaves or he would hurt her friend Ivy.
Britney hadn’t heard from her harasser in a couple of days. It was oddly quiet and for some reason it had made her more apprehensive than usual. She looked at Brad and faked a smile, “No. I’m sorry. I don’t want to break our date. It’s just Mack is so eager about this couple thing that it just surprised me. I don’t like people trying to tell me what to do.”
“Don’t worry. I’m not trying to rush to be in a relationship with you…or anyone for that matter. I’d love to spend some time with you. Maybe get to know you a little better. I think you’re an incredible woman and I’m surprised you’re still single.”
Britney couldn’t help but give a genuine smile, “I could say the same for you.”
“That I’m an incredible woman?” Brad laughed. “Since we’re done for the day…I guess I’ll see you later?”
She nodded. Their show had already ended, giving her thirty minutes to get ready. Earlier, Brad had warned her not to worry about dressing up.
“Are we going to McDonalds? Because that wouldn’t be my worst first date.”
Brad just shrugged and answered, “Don’t wear anything you wouldn’t mind tossing.”
She wasn’t sure how to take that. Was he trying to be sexual? If he was, he was failing. She decided to go with peach skinny jeans, a loose sleeveless off-white top, and some cute wedges. She decorated her outfit with a gold bangle necklace and a bohemian teal bracelet.
She was at home waiting for her date when she heard someone give a wolf whistle. She turned around to see her brother Nicholas.
“Does someone have a date or are you playing dress up?” Nicholas asked.
Britney sneered and turned her nose up, “For your information, I have a date tonight.”
“With Dr. Clooney?”
“Yes. Why do you ask?”
Nicholas shrugged, “No reason. I like him. I think you two would make a good fit and not just because you’re both quacks.”
“Nicholas, I told you we’re not quacks.”
“Yeah…yeah. Anyway, I hope you have fun tonight. You deserve it after everything that’s been going on.”
Britney smiled at Nicholas. She knew he was worried about her. She noticed that he would check on her several times a day. He probably had no idea that his simple, “Everything okay sis?” meant the world to her.
“Thanks. Nicholas. I’m not sure where we’re going but he said not to dress too fancy.” Nicholas was going to respond when the doorbell rang.
“I bet that’s him!”
“I’ll leave you to it. Have fun tonight.” Nicholas quickly ran upstairs and Britney took a deep breath and opened the door.
Brad was standing on the other side wearing black pants and a dress shirt. In his hands he carried a dozen long-stemmed red roses.
“Oh Brad! Are those for me?”
“No, they’re for your brother. Where is he?”
Britney chuckled and reached out to take the roses, “Oww!”
“What’s wrong?” Brad asked.
“The stems have thorns. One of them poked me.”
Brad grabbed her finger and inspected it, “It’s just bleeding a little. You might want to put a Band-Aid on it.”
Britney nodded as she took the flowers. She thanked Brad as she put the flowers in a vase. Twenty minutes later, they were seated in a fancy restaurant across town.
“You said not to dress up,” Britney admonished him.
“You look perfect so don’t worry about it.”
As they waited for their food, Britney looked around at the other patrons. She wondered if her stalker had followed her and Brad. As dinner progressed she started to feel comfortable with Brad. He told her stories about his childhood and his family. She shared stories about her friends and working with Mack. Before Britney realized it, she felt relaxed.
“Is there anything else I can get you two?” the waitress asked.
They both answered in the negative and as she walked away, Britney noticed someone out of the corner of her eye. A man sitting at a nearby table with a menu covering most of his face. What she thought was strange was that he was wearing sunglasses indoors. Britney picked up her phone and turned the camera on. She switched it to selfie mode and faced the camera towards the man. She had the phone angled to make it seem as though she was looking at herself. In reality she was watching him. She could’ve sworn she saw a camera from above his menu.
“Is something wrong Britney?”
She looked at Brad and whispered, “Don’t look, but do you see that man in the sunglasses?”
Brad laughed, “How can I see if you told me not to look?”
“Just be stealthy,” Britney whispered in frustration.
Brad grinned and pretended to drop a spoon. He bent down to pick it up and looked at the man wearing sunglasses. “What the hell? You’re right.”
“What did you see?”
“I think he’s watching us.”
Britney nodded. Brad called the waitress over to pay the check and as they both got up, Britney noticed the man in sunglasses was gone.
She turned over to Brad, “He’s gone. Did you see him leave?”
He shook his head, “Let’s just go.”
As they walked to Brad’s car, Britney felt uncomfortable. She looked around her and was surprised to see a man standing behind a van close to where Brad was parked.
“Brad,” Britney whispered.
He looked in the direction of her gaze and saw the man from the restaurant. The man quickly raised his phone, and snapped a picture. Britney gasped and the man knew he had been caught. He started to run but Brad began racing after him.
“Stop right there!” Brad yelled. Britney slipped out of her shoes and began running after them. She tossed her wedge shoe at the man’s head, hitting him, and causing him to stop for a second. Brad was able to eventually tackle the guy to the ground. The two wrestled for a moment. Britney came running as best she could, picking up her shoe and placing both of them back on.
Brad had the man pinned down to the cold cement.
“Who are you?” Britney asked. “Why are you stalking us?”
The man choked out an answer, “Some guy paid me to do it.”
“Paid you?” Brad asked.
The man attempted to nod, “Yeah. He gave me fifty bucks and said to take as many Braty photos as I could.”
“Braty?” they both asked in unison.
“Yeah…the guy was weird.”
“What was his name?” Brad asked.
“I don’t remember. He just said to e-mail him the pictures and he’d wire me the money.”
“What was his e-mail address?” Britney asked.
“[email protected],” the man groaned.
Britney fumed when she heard the name, “I’m going to kill Mack when I see him!”
Brad laughed and let the guy he had tackled get up. “Listen, I don’t know why he hired you, but I wouldn’t share those pictures you took tonight.”
The man rubbed his shoulder where it had been slammed into the ground, “Fine. I won’t send them to Daddy Mack. Instead I’ll just save them.”
Brad was about to respond when Britney shook her head, “Don’t even think about it. Give me your camera or I’ll have my friend here throw you back onto the ground.” He looked from Britney to Brad and surrendered his camera. They allowed the man with the camera to leave after deleting his photos.
“Well that was a definite killjoy,” Britney muttered.
Brad was driving his car and she noticed he wasn’t driving in the direction of her home, “Brad, where are we going?”
He turned over to her and smiled, “I have a surprise.”
“A surprise? What kind of surprise?”
Brad pulled off onto an old country road, “Do you trust me Britney?”
“Brad, I hate it when people ask me that. If you have to ask you know I don’t.”
He laughed and agreed, “You’re right. Trust is communicating without speech.”
“So where exactly are we going?”
Brad laughed wildly, startling Britney. His speed increased as he drove forward.
“Brad slow down!”
He didn’t listen, but turned his floodlights on to illuminate the road ahead of him.
“Brad. I’m serious slow down!”
Still Britney was ignored. Brad continued to look forward when he asked, “Britney I really think you’re going to enjoy this. I wasn’t sure if you would but after seeing you with that man earlier…you’re tough enough.”
“Tough enough? Tough enough for what?”
Brad smirked, “Mayhem.”
“What the hell are you talking about Brad? You don’t sound like yourself. What is it that you want to do exactly?”
“What do I want to do? It’s not that Britney. This is something I want both of us to do. Did you know that most first dates are only successful if the couple has a date where they do some kind of activity together as opposed to just having dinner and seeing a movie?”
“You want us to do something together?” Britney asked, trying to make sense of what he was saying.
“Okay what exactly do you want us to do tonight?” Britney asked.
Brad turned his eyes away from the road and looked at Britney. She was frightened and was gripping her purse. She needed to inconspicuously get her cellphone and call for help.
“Don’t be scared Britney. I’m not going to ask you to do something that I don’t think you can’t handle.”
Britney looked out at the road and back to Brad. She placed her hand in her bag and felt for her phone while continuing to speak to Brad, “What is it that you think I can handle?”
Brad turned back to the road before answering in a clear and distinct voice.