I Am Chapter EIGHT

Sundays are great; today will be great. After having a fairly stressful Saturday yesterday, I could use a good day. Emily and I are planning on going into town and hanging out for a while; it’s been a while since we’ve had some real girl-time. I need to pick up some things at the store and then we’ll probably catch a movie. Of course, Gloria is coming with us too which, honestly, I don’t mind.

I’m feeling like a denim kind-of-mood, so I throw on my dark blue jeans which are pretty snug, a white turtleneck sweater that just about swallows me up, and my favorite denim jacket that I got inColorado. I slip on the light brown UGG boots I desperately had to fish out from the back of my closet. I put on my white winter hat and casually stroll downstairs to the kitchen.

“Good morning, Sarah,” Gloria says, with a cup of coffee in one hand, a pencil in the other, and a Sudoku book in front of her. She loves puzzles and is always doing one in her downtime. “How was your night? Did you manage to sleep at all?” Her concern is genuine.

“About the same as any other night, I suppose. Just the usual night—“ I was going to say nightmares, but she might ask what they’re about, and I certainly can’t tell her about the Mogs and the battle at the school “—night … night-time cravings,” I say, trying to recover and sound nonchalant about it. “You know those late-night cravings we get.”

Gloria gives a warm smile like she believes me, but her eyes suggest I might be hiding something.

“So Gloria,” I say in hopes of quickly changing the subject, “are you up for following us girls around today?” I pour myself a cup of coffee, a little sugar and lots of creamer.

“Absolutely,” she says. “I’m always ready for a girl’s day out,” she jokingly adds. “But just pretend I’m not even around. Think of me as your chauffeur today.”

“Like every other day, right?” I joke back.

“Hey, be nice.” She laughs, knowing that I’m joking.

It still amazes me how easy I can get along with Gloria. Sometimes I forget she’s even an FBI agent. I treat her like a friend. Matter of fact, she is my friend … one of the few friends I have left.

My phone buzzes on the counter beside the coffeemaker.

“That’s probably Emily,” I say, nodding towards it. I pick up the phone and read the message: b here in 15 k?

I text Emily: kk.

I tell Gloria that Emily will be ready in about fifteen minutes. “That okay?” I ask.

“Sounds good to me.” She takes a sip of her coffee. The steam forms a white cloud, floating in the air above her cup and then vanishing into nothing.

This image quickly triggers a recent memory: when I ran into the man-in-black on the street. I don’t know why I’m remembering this now; I don’t know why I’m noticing this about that encounter, but I suddenly remember the man breathing heavily, not like he was out of breath from running, but just normal breathing. It was decently cold outside that day … cold enough to see my own breath. But, I didn’t see his. It was only a matter of seconds but breathing that deeply, I’m sure I would be able to see any normal person’s breath.

That’s strange. Why would I notice a thing like that now? It’s weird how some thoughts just take you by surprise sometimes.

“Sarah!” Gloria says, almost yelling.

“Huh? What?” I answer back instinctively, my thoughts still somewhere else at the moment.

She slowly repeats, “Are you ready?” She closes her puzzle book, as she stands up, and takes her cup to the sink. “It’s time to get Emily.”

My eyes follow the coffee cup as my mind still clenches to those thoughts. Maybe I was just imagining things. Maybe I just didn’t notice it. Maybe I’m going crazy from all the stress. Maybe—

“Hello?” Gloria says, interrupting my thoughts again. “Earth to Sarah … time to go….” She taps the top of her wrist, pointing to the watch that isn’t there, indicating that it’s time to leave. “Wow, you really need to get out today,” she says. “You have way too much on your mind. Just relax and enjoy the day.”

She’s right. I need to relax and not think about things too much. I need to just hang out with my best friend and have a little fun. We grab our things and head out the door to pick up Emily.

•••

After waiting another twenty minutes outside of Emily’s house, she finally comes out and joins me in the back seat of the truck.

Like most days inOhioin January, it’s cold and overcast. Gray clouds hover in the sky blocking the sun’s light from passing through. As we ride, in the distance, I can see Paradise High being rebuilt. It’s been almost three weeks since the battle … and since John left. Everything right now reminds me of that day.

I wonder what he’s doing right now. I wonder where he’s at. I wonder if….

Emily interrupts my thoughts by asking me what’s on the agenda for today. After changing my train of thought, I tell her “possibly a movie, lunch, and some shopping.” She gets excited at the thought of shopping. The theater doesn’t open for another hour, so Emily suggests we get some coffee and pastries while we wait. I get excited at the thought of pastries. Since the café is across the street from the theater, I tell our “chauffeur” to head that way. Gloria gracefully complies.

During the ride, Emily fills me in on what’s been happening in her life. Nothing out of the ordinary or exciting, just “boringly normal” she says. She tells me about school: she leaves out the bad things people say about John (or me) and just mentions her classes and people she’s met. She tries to defend John when other students mention him. She continues to believe that he is not a terrorist. She may not be able to explain the video or some of the other “evidence” the FBI have collected, but she’s steadfast in her belief that John is a good guy—and she doesn’t say that for my benefit either. Emily is a very good judge of character, and she knew—like me—that John was special … and different. If she only knew how different!

There are so many times I’m tempted to tell her about John … the real John. Despite how very close we are, I still keep John’s secret to myself. I know she wouldn’t tell anyone, but I don’t want to drag her into anything if it’s not necessary. The way I look at it, it keeps her safe. The less she knows the better chance that anyone—FBI and Mogs—could use it against her. I hate keeping secrets from Emily, but I’d rather her hate me and be safe than to know the truth and be at risk.

Gloria pulls into a parking spot right in front of the café, and all three of us quickly trail inside. The place is filled with the most delicious smells you can imagine. From the various coffees to the freshly baked bagels and pastries, the sweet aromas are just too inviting to pass up. We sit at a table in the corner by the window. The atmosphere is peaceful and the air is warm and relaxing. Yes, this is exactly what I need.

We sit and talk about different things. Gloria tells us about the different places she’s been:Malaysia,Australia,China,Europe, and a few other countries. I talk about my last trip toColoradowhen I stayed with my aunt; it was so nice to get out and experience new things and new environments. When Emily mentions her dyslexia, Gloria seems fascinated—and surprised like she’s never known anyone with it before. Emily says it can be frustrating at times but she manages.

“So,” Gloria says, “puzzles like this”—she lifts her Sudoku book—“and Scrabble are probably not that easy for you, are they?”

“Are you kidding?” I jump in before Emily can answer. “She’s a whiz at that stuff!” Smiling, I shake my head, remembering the numerous times I’ve lost to her at Scrabble.

“Yeah,” Emily says, laughing. “For some reason when the numbers or letters are already jumbled up like that, it makes it easier for me to see them. I don’t know why, but it does. Go figure.”

“Anagrams? You like those?” Gloria asks.

“I love anagrams,” Emily replies, her eyes lighting up. “They are so cool!”

“I like them too,” Gloria says to Emily. Then she asks me, “What about you?”

“Yeah, they’re cool,” I say. “I wish I was better at them though.” I cut my eyes at Emily in a joking way. “I have yet to win a Scrabble game against her. She wins every time.”

“Is that so?” Gloria asks. “We’ll have to play sometime, Emily. I love anything with puzzles.”

“Well then,” Emily says in a small, boasting way. “Challenge accepted.”

The next hour rolls by faster than we expected as we continue to talk and laugh. When we notice the time, Emily and I walk across the street to see what movies are playing. Gloria says she’s going to run some errands while we watch the movie and that she’ll be back in a couple hours.

“So,” Emily begins, “whatcha wanna see?” She glances at the list on the marquee. She points to the first one, “How about that?”

“Nah, seen it,” I say. I point to the third one, “How about that? It’s supposed to be a comedy.”

“It’s supposed to be, but it wasn’t funny at all,” she says.

Then, both of us see the last title on the list; we both point at the same time and say at the same time, “Vampires! Win!” We laugh at each other as we amble inside to get our tickets.

•••

After the movie ends, we loiter around the lobby of the theater for a while. I always loved the smell of movie theater popcorn in the air. I could spend hours in here enjoying the atmosphere.

“See, I knew it was gonna end like that,” Emily says. “I guess now we just have to wait ‘til the next one comes out to find out what happens.”

I say nothing and just grin.

“And of course,” Emily continues, “you already know how it ends cuz you read the books.” She folds her arms across her chest. “Cheater,” she says sarcastically.

“I’m not a cheater,” I say, laughing. “Besides, you know the books are usually different than the movies anyways.”

“Yeah, what-ev!” she plays along.

“I take it the movie’s already over?” Gloria says as she walks into the lobby. “How was it?”

“I’d say it was your typical, teenage—“ I begin to say, but then someone’s phone goes off.

Emily digs out her phone from her pocket and looks at it; her smile quickly fades into a slight frown. “Ugh, my mom needs me for something.” She looks up from her phone and at me. “Sorry, Sarah … I gotta bail.”

I tell her it’s okay and that I still had fun today. It was nice hanging out with her. She gives me a sisterly hug and starts to head to the door.

“Emily,” Gloria says, “do you need me to give you a ride home?”

“Nah,” Emily replies, “my mom’s at the bookstore down the street. I’ll just meet her there. But thanks.” She buttons up her coat, waves to us, and exits through the double doors.

Gloria turns around to me. “I guess it’s just you and me again,” she says with a warm smile. “What next?”

“We can head to the store,” I say. “I know it’s not very exciting, but who knows….” I let my words linger in a joking manner.

When I close the door to the truck, I catch a quick glimpse of a large dark, shadow-like image of a man in my side-view mirror. I quickly pivot my head around like it was on swivel to get a better look at what I saw.

Or instead at what I thought I saw. When I’m turned around looking behind the truck, I don’t see anything.

Nothing.

No one.

“What’s wrong?” Gloria asks, looking behind us too. “What is it?”

I turn back around in my seat, knowing I saw something, but now feeling foolish because there’s nothing there.

I glance again in the mirror and see….

Nothing.

No one.

“It’s nothing,” I say. “I just thought I saw someone I recognized.”

Gloria slowly nods and then backs the truck out of the parking spot. She puts it in DRIVE, and we make our way to the store.

Although it appears to be more imagination than reality, I can still see the image. And the entire ride to the store, I can’t seem to shrug off the strange feeling that someone is following me.

Go to CHAPTER NINE


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