We ran through the songs for about an hour and afterwards decided to head to a nearby restaurant to get a quick bite to eat before our gig. I was consumed in thought over the stranger that interrogated Candace. What did he want from me? I certainly didn’t think of myself as anyone important, nor did I have any connections to anything or anyone important; so why was there such urgency on his part to know who I was? From instinct alone, I absentmindedly toyed with the necklace around my neck, a remnant of the past.
“Seriously, Grey, what is wrong with you today?” Amanda prodded.
The others nodded in consent to the question, looking at me for a response. I didn’t know what to say to them. There were so many things that I couldn’t decipher; they all seemed to be interrelated, yet I couldn’t fit the pieces together.
“Did you notice that guy that came into the café while we were practicing?” I asked in turn.
No one seemed to have taken quite as much interest in him as I had. They all agreed that they had seen him come in, talk with Candace and sit down to read while we finished our sound check and practice session. They had nothing else to add to their unassuming observation of the stranger. Had they overheard the questions he asked Candace concerning me, they would have taken more interest, but they hadn’t. And I didn’t bother telling them. I didn’t want to raise any unnecessary suspicions. I needed to be sure that my worries were real.
“I think someone has a crush,” Neal teased. We all ignored this chide so as to avoid any elaborations he had tucked away, waiting to be spoken. I thanked my lucky stars that we all had an unspoken agreement in how we dealt with Neal.
“Maybe he’ll come to the show tonight,” Amanda encouraged.
“Yeah, hopefully. He was pretty cute,” I responded, complying with Amanda’s statement. I didn’t mention that I more than hoped to see him. There was something about him that I had to know. There was something that I had to figure out as well. And fast. I failed to mention this sense of urgency to the others.
Before we knew it, we were setting up in front of a decently sized crowd. Most of them friends or regular attendees that we had gotten to know over the year performing at the café. Playing for them was almost like breathing to me; it was the greatest release I had at my disposal. And to play for people I knew fairly well just made it that much sweeter. We played a few covers and a few songs of our own. I couldn’t have asked for a better night to play. After our last song, I was a little sad for it to end- a large part of that due to the fact that the stranger from earlier that day had not shown up.
The moment I’d waited all night for, since I first set eyes on that stranger, did not come. Slightly chagrinned, I helped my band mates clear off the stage to make way for the headliners. I couldn’t help but glance at the door every few minutes to see if he would come; he never did. We packed our instruments in our separate cars and headed back into the café to watch the main act. As we settled somewhere in the depths of the crowd waiting for the show to begin, I couldn’t help but scan the room to see if I might have missed him. With each place thoroughly scrutinized, I was once again disappointed to see that he in fact was not there…why was I so frustrated about his absence? There was something inside of me, like an electric current, that needed to see him, it expected him.
“You okay over there,” Amanda asked, again picking up on my strange behavior.
“I’m fine. Don’t worry about me so much okay?” I lied. I wasn’t ready to admit anything to her.
“Maybe he’ll show up another time,” she added, once again pinpointing exactly what was on my mind. Her ability to do that was both a blessing and a curse.
“Yeah, maybe,” I conceded, hoping she would simply end the topic at that.
Though I faked it as best as I could on the outside, swaying to the music, humming along to the words, I couldn’t fight the electric current running through me. Whoever he was and wherever he was now, I needed to meet him, to talk to him. About what, I didn’t know yet. As the band finished their set and the noise from the crowd faded with people heading home or to their next destination, I absentmindedly tinkered with the necklace that hung around my neck, picturing each symbol and color: the letters in gold, the bright blue face, the heart glowing like the sun.
“You joining us for some drinks?” Neal asked.
“I think I’m going to go home. Long day,” I answered, still toying with the charm, not quite receptive to my surroundings. I needed rest.
“I think that’s a good idea,” Amanda replied before Neal could complain, “I’ll drive you home.”
Luckily, Amanda left me to my own musings. I parted with a vague goodnight as she drove off to meet Neal and Jess back at the café or maybe at some other bar on the same street. I walked up the sidewalk to my apartment building while rummaging around in my purse for my keys. When I looked up, my eyes met something I would never have expected to see in my neck of the woods. Or even in Tampa in general…
There it was-the largest beast I’d ever seen in my life. I couldn’t quite identify his species. He was a mixture of several lethal predators that I was glad I would never have to cross paths with in my life. That is, until this moment. He was as large as a tiger, with paws that seemed to best that of a Grizzly. He had a long, hairy tail as thick as a tree trunk. One whip of that tail at the right angle and I would be flat on my back, wind knocked out of my lungs, awaiting my demise. His face was terrifying. He had eyes that shined waxy and yellow like a candle in a darkened room and a long muzzle that looked as if it could trap the length of my body within it with no effort at all. He had mangy, brown fur that was darkened by dirt and grime. He looked as if he had traveled a far distance to make it to my front steps. Though his teeth were not barred, I knew he bore ill will. I couldn’t even bring myself to fully imagine what was within that terrifying jaw of his. I suspected dagger-like teeth that could tear through my flesh like a knife through hot butter.
He looked at me like he recognized me, like he had been waiting for me for some time. I took one shaky step backwards and slipped on the curb. Almost falling backwards, I managed to keep my balance, my fearful eyes glued to this unexpected creature, watching me from the very steps that led to my apartment. He did not make a step towards me to match my own, but he continued to look at me, calculating.
I didn’t understand what was happening or what would happen. I could only stand frozen to the pavement, waiting to react to whatever this animal was about to do, survival instincts taking precedence over more logical trains of human thought. I saw his eyes divert to the chain around my neck, and wondered how an animal could observe me with that kind of intelligence; I grasped the charm on my neck, giving it some kind of protection from him, feeble though it was. He seemed to react to this as well; as if he were processing what I had just done, confirming the significance of the object. How could an animal be doing this?
And just as I thought he was about to make a step towards me, he perked his ears up and tilted his head, eyes still on me, like there was someone standing next to him whispering in his ear. His eyes slanting and his mouth sneering (was it possible for animals to sneer at you?), he turned quickly and ran off into the distance, disappearing into the darkness as swiftly and as quietly as a whisper. I shuddered at the agility, speed and subtlety with which this large beast could slip away into the night. He could come back at any moment just as covertly, leaving me with no time to escape.
My mind still could not comprehend what had just happened. Surely I had imagined it all. I stared from the place where the wolf had stood before me to the place he ran off to in the distance and could not absorb what I had seen just moments before. I stood on the road, still rooted to the spot, my mind racing. After a few minutes had passed, I managed to move towards to the door, a little shaken still, making haste lest that beast decided to come back…
Running up the stairs to my apartment, I quickly opened my door and shut it behind me once I was safely inside. Did he know I lived upstairs? Would he be waiting for me at my front door? With this thought in mind, I peered through the peephole in my door expecting to see that same mangy-looking monster. To my relief, there was nothing there but empty space. I pressed my back to the front door and slid down until I was sitting on the carpet, my head resting on my knees.
Was that the thing the lady in white warned me of? Was I wrong about the stranger from earlier?
Finally, after what seemed like hours of sitting at my front door, I flung myself on the couch and turned on the television. There was no way I could sleep in silence tonight.