Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
I won’t fall for it. I won’t give it another thought.
I went back home, and Gabriel was in bed, asleep. He had a five a.m. call for a shoot. But I woke him up, and we had sex. I couldn’t get close enough to him or feel him deeply enough in me. I wanted to be fused with him. I wanted to climb inside him and disappear.
I saw that man again. He was a bit farther away this time—he was sitting on a bench farther into the park. But it was him, I could tell—most people are wearing shorts and T-shirts and light colors in this weather, and he was wearing a dark shirt and trousers, black sunglasses, and cap. His head was angled toward the house, looking at it.
I had a funny thought—maybe he’s not a burglar, perhaps he’s a painter. Perhaps he’s a painter like me and he’s thinking about painting the street—or the house. But as soon as I thought this, I knew it wasn’t true. If he were really going to paint the house, he wouldn’t just be sitting there—he’d be making sketches.
I got myself into a state about it and I phoned Gabriel. That was a mistake. I could tell he was busy—the last he needed was me calling, freaking out because I think someone is watching the house.
Of course, I’m only assuming the man is watching the house.
He could be watching me.
He was there again.
It was soon after Gabriel left this morning. I had a shower and saw him out the bathroom window. He was closer this time. He was standing outside the bus stop. Like he was casually waiting for the bus.
I don’t know who he thinks he’s fooling.
I got dressed quickly and went into the kitchen to have a better look. But he was gone.
I decided to tell Gabriel about it when he got home. I thought he’d brush it off, but he took it seriously. He seemed quite worried.
“Is it Jean-Felix?” he said straightaway.
“No, of course not. How can you even think that?”
I tried to sound surprised and indignant. But in truth I had wondered that too. The man and Jean-Felix are the same build. It could be Jean-Felix, but even so—I just don’t want to believe it. He wouldn’t try and frighten me like that. Would he?
“What’s Jean-Felix’s number?” Gabriel said. “I’m calling him right now.”
“Darling, don’t, please. I’m sure it’s not him.”
“Absolutely. Nothing happened. I don’t know why I’m making such a big deal out of it. It’s nothing.”
“How long was he there for?”
“Not long—an hour or so—and then he vanished.”
“What do you mean, vanished?”
“He just disappeared.”
“Uh-huh. Is there any chance you could be imagining this?”
Something about the way he said that annoyed me. “I’m not imagining it. I need you to believe me.”
“I do believe you.”
But I could tell he didn’t totally believe me. He only partly believed me. Part of him was just humoring me. Which makes me angry, if I’m honest. So angry I have to stop here—or I might write something I’ll regret.
I jumped out of bed as soon as I woke up. I checked the window, hoping the man would be there again—so Gabriel could see him too—but there was no sign of him. So I felt even more stupid.
This afternoon I decided to go for a walk, despite the heat. I wanted to be in the park, away from the buildings and roads and other people—and be alone with my thoughts. I walked up to Parliament Hill, passing the bodies of sunbathers strewn around on either side of the path. I found a bench that was unoccupied, and I sat down. I stared out at London glinting in the distance.
While I was there, I was conscious the whole time of something. I kept looking over my shoulder—but couldn’t see anyone. But someone was there, the whole time. I could feel it. I was being watched.
On my way back, I walked past the pond. I happened to look up—and there he was, the man. He was standing across the water on the other side, too far away to see clearly, but it was him. I knew it was him. He was standing perfectly still, motionless, staring right at me.
I felt an icy shiver of fear. I acted out of instinct:
“Jean-Felix?” I shouted. “Is that you? Stop it. Stop following me!”
He didn’t move. I acted as fast as I could. I reached into my pocket, pulled out my phone, and took a photo of him. What good it will do, I have no idea. Then I turned and started walking quickly to the end of the pond, not letting myself look back until I reached the main path. I was scared he was going to be right behind me.
I turned around—and he was gone.
I hope it’s not Jean-Felix. I really do.
When I got home, I was feeling on edge. I drew the blinds and turned off the lights. I peered out the window—and there he was:
The man was standing on the street, staring up at me. I froze—I didn’t know what to do.
I nearly jumped out of my skin when someone called my name:
“Alicia? Alicia, are you there?”
It was that awful woman from next door. Barbie Hellmann. I left the window and went to the back door and opened it. Barbie had let herself in the side gate and was in the garden, clutching a bottle of wine.
“Hi, honey. I saw you weren’t in your studio. I wondered where you were.”
“I was out, I just got back.”
“Time for a drink?” She said this in a baby voice she sometimes uses and that I find irritating.
“Actually, I should get back to work.”
“Just a quick one. And then I have to go. I’ve got my Italian class tonight. Okay?”
Without waiting for a reply, she came in. She said something about how dark it was in the kitchen and started opening the blinds without asking me. I was about to stop her, but when I looked outside, no one was on the street. The man had gone.
I don’t know why I told Barbie about it. I don’t like her or trust her—but I was scared, I suppose, and I needed someone to talk to, and she happened to be there. We had a drink, which was unlike me, and I burst into tears. Barbie stared at me wide-eyed, silent for once. After I finished, she put down her bottle of wine and said, “This calls for something stronger.” She poured us a couple of whiskeys.
“Here.” She gave it to me. “You need this.”
She was right—I needed it. I knocked it back and felt a kick from it. Now it was my turn to listen, while Barbie talked. She didn’t want to scare me, she said, but it didn’t sound good. “I’ve seen this on like a million TV shows. He’s studying your house, okay? Before he makes his move.”
“You think he’s a burglar?”
Barbie shrugged. “Or a rapist. Does that matter? It’s bad news, whatever it is.”
I laughed. I felt relieved and grateful that someone was taking me seriously—even if it was just Barbie. I showed her the photo on my phone, but she wasn’t impressed.
“Text it to me so I can look at it with my glasses on. It looks like a blurry smudge to me. Tell me. Have you mentioned this to your husband yet?”
I decided to lie. “No. Not yet.”
Barbie gave me a funny look. “Why not?”
“I don’t know, I suppose I worry Gabriel might think I’m exaggerating—or imagining it.”
“Are you imagining it?”
Barbie looked pleased. “If Gabriel doesn’t take you seriously, we’ll go to the police together. You and me. I can be very persuasive, believe me.”
“Thanks, but I’m sure that won’t be necessary.”
“It’s already necessary. Take this seriously, honey. Promise me you’ll tell Gabriel when he gets home?”
I nodded. But I had already decided not to say anything further to Gabriel. There was nothing to tell. I have no proof the man was following me or watching me. Barbie was right, the photo proves nothing.
It was all in my imagination—that’s what Gabriel will say. Best not to say anything to him at all and risk upsetting him again. I don’t want to bother him.
I’m going to forget all about it.
It’s been a bad night.
Gabriel came home, exhausted, at about ten. He’d had a long day and wanted to go to bed early. I tried to sleep too, but I couldn’t.
Then a couple of hours ago, I heard a noise. It was coming from the garden. I got up and went to the back window. I looked out—I couldn’t see anyone, but I felt someone’s eyes on me. Someone was watching me from the shadows.
I managed to pull myself away from the window and ran to the bedroom. I shook Gabriel awake.
“The man is outside,” I said, “he’s outside the house.”
Gabriel didn’t know what I was talking about. When he understood, he started to get angry. “For Christ’s sake. Give it a rest. I’ve got to be at work in three hours. I don’t want to play this fucking game.”
“It’s not a game. Come and look. Please.”
So we went to the window—
And of course, the man wasn’t there. There was no one there.
I wanted Gabriel to go outside, to check, but he wouldn’t. He went back upstairs, annoyed. I tried reasoning with him, but he said he wasn’t talking to me and went to sleep in the spare room.
I didn’t go back to bed. I’ve been sitting here since then, waiting, listening, alert to any sound, checking the windows. No sign of him so far.
Only a couple more hours to go. It will be light soon.
Gabriel came downstairs ready to go to the shoot. When he saw me by the window and realized I’d been up all night, he went quiet and started acting strange.
“Alicia, sit down. We need to talk.”
“Yes. We do need to talk. About the fact that you don’t believe me.”
“I believe that you believe it.”
“That’s not the same thing. I’m not a fucking idiot.”
“I never said you were an idiot.”
“Then what are you saying?”
I thought we were about to get into a fight, so I was taken aback by what Gabriel said. He spoke in a whisper. I could barely hear him. He said:
“I want you to talk to someone. Please.”
“What do you mean? A policeman?”
“No,” Gabriel said, looking angry again. “Not a policeman.”
I understood what he meant, what he was saying. But I needed to hear him say it. I wanted him to spell it out. “Then who?”
“I’m not seeing a doctor, Gabriel—”
“I need you to do this for me. You need to meet me halfway.” He said it again: “I need you to meet me halfway.”
“I don’t understand what you mean. Halfway where? I’m right here.”
“No, you’re not. You’re not here!”
He looked so tired, so upset. I wanted to protect him. I wanted to comfort him. “It’s okay, darling,” I said. “It’s going to be okay, you’ll see.”
Gabriel shook his head, like he didn’t believe me. “I’m going to make an appointment with Dr. West. As soon as he can see you. Today if possible.” He hesitated and looked at me. “Okay?”
Gabriel held out his hand for mine—I wanted to slap it away or scratch it. I wanted to bite him or hit him, or throw over the table and scream, “You think I’m fucking crazy but I’m not crazy! I’m not, I’m not, I’m not!”
But I didn’t do any of those things. Instead I nodded and took Gabriel’s hand, and held it.
“Okay, darling,” I said. “Whatever you want.”
I went to see Dr. West today. Unwillingly, but I went.
I hate him, I’ve decided. I hate him and his narrow house, and sitting in that weird, small room upstairs, hearing his dog barking in the living room. It never stopped barking, the whole time I was there. I wanted to shout at it to shut up, and I kept thinking Dr. West would say something about it, but he acted like he couldn’t hear it. Maybe he couldn’t. He didn’t seem to hear anything I was saying either. I told him what happened. I told him about the man watching the house, and how I had seen him following me into the park. I said all of this, but he didn’t respond. He just sat there with that thin smile of his. He looked at me like I was an insect or something. I know he’s supposedly a friend of Gabriel’s, but I don’t see how they ever could have been friends. Gabriel is so warm, and Dr. West is the opposite of warm. It’s a strange thing to say about a doctor, but he has no kindness.
After I finished telling him about the man, he didn’t speak for ages. The silence seemed to last forever. The only sound was that dog downstairs. I started to mentally tune in to the barking and go into a kind of trance. It took me by surprise when Dr. West actually spoke.
“We’ve been here before, Alicia, haven’t we?”
I looked at him blankly. I wasn’t sure what he meant. “Have we?”
He nodded. “Yes. We have.”
“I know you think I’m imagining this. I’m not imagining it. It’s real.”
“That’s what you said last time. Remember last time? Do you remember what happened?”
I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to give him the satisfaction. I just sat there, glaring at him, like a disobedient child.