I'm Watching You by K. E. Ward - HTML preview

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She woke up in the morning to a room that was bathed in pale light.  The window, partially open, allowed a slight breeze to billow the white linen drapes and to quietly knock the plastic end of the pull-cord against the wooden frame.

Leah stayed in her bed.  She examined her room, so still and undisturbed that it was unlikely that anyone had been in here last night.  The door to her closet was half-open, revealing a display of neatly arranged tops and skirts, and her bedroom door was closed, locked from the inside.

Her room was completely neat.  All the bureau drawers were closed and all the clothes had been picked up off the floor.  The wall-to-wall carpet had been recently vacuumed, and the area rug had been recently beaten out.  The air smelled faintly like lilacs.

In one corner, there lay a wicker basket full of quilts, blankets, and stuffed animals.  In another sat a cherry-wood rocking chair with roses painted on the back of the seat.  The color scheme was all blues, pinks and creams; and the furniture was all cherry-wood, even her bed: a feminine design that her mother had picked out.  An oval mirror and a rectangular mirror were mounted on the walls, and the ceilings were slanted, the room being as it was on the top floor.  The walls and the counter-tops were decorated with pictures and figurines of unicorns and fantasy princesses, and a pair of ballet slippers hung over the doorknob.

She was wearing a lavender nightshirt and bare legs.  The humungous bed seemed to swallow her up in its soft folds, even as the bed did not overpower the large room.

Leah folded back the comforter and sheets and blinked her eyes against the ceiling.  Not a sound, save the whisper of the breeze and the distant chirping of a few birds, could be heard.

Memories flooded back to her.  She had been sleeping, almost constantly, for days now.  The party had been on a Friday, and, looking at her clock, she saw that it was now Monday morning.  Though time had passed and much of that night had been clouded by the stupefying effects of alcohol, she remembered everything that happened in that small, stuffy bedroom with perfect clarity.

And how could she forget?  She would remember forever the tacky design of the bedspread, the ugly milk lamps on the two nightstands, and even the Gideon’s Bible, half-open, on the oak desk.

And what happened in the space of only a few minutes, as it turned out, ended up being the last thing on Leah’s mind right now.

She got up shakily from the bed and walked carefully over to her closet.  It was filled with an elaborate assortment of complementing colors and designs, all neatly arranged, pressed, hung, and recently cleaned.  The shirts were all plain-cut and starched, and the colors were basic and subdued.  Nothing flashy; nothing outrageous—just simple and elegant.

She collapsed onto her knees, grasping handfuls of the beautiful clothes—so many of them, so much care taken to preserve them.

She cried softly, weeping into the fabric.  And how long had all this been important to her? She wondered.  And how long would it be?

She had a queen’s room in a nobleman’s house.  For so long she had been so comfortable, sitting on her bed dreaming up elaborate fantasies in her fairy-tale world.  Her parents treated her like royalty, and even though her life had not been perfect by any means, she had always had her fantasy life to return to, that safe place in her dreams where no one could touch her or make fun of her or call her names.  There, life was safe.  There, life was perfect.

A dress fell from its hanger into Leah’s hands.  She looked at it, looked at the tearstains on it, and choked on a sob.

She knew the tears—the real tears, for these were just a product of shock—would come later.  For now, she just stared at the cream dress she now held in her hands and rocked on her bare feet.

It was prissy.  All lace and frills and tiny flowers sewed into the hem.  It was something that should have been worn with lace gloves and a straw Easter bonnet.  She looked up, exhausted, at the rest of her closet.  It all was.

No wonder Brendan didn’t really like her.

Dropping the dress from her fingers, she rose to her feet.

One by one, she tore the garments from their hangers.  When the closet was almost empty, she stopped at the black dress she had refused to wear last night—the one her stepmother had liked.

It was simple, sleeveless, black.  No frills.  It exuded sexiness and it accentuated her figure.

She pulled it over her head and squirmed into the fabric.  Once she had it on, she spun around in front of the mirror.  It needed something more.

She dug around in her vanity bag, tears still escaping from her eyes, and retrieved a handful of make-up.  Applying the foundation, powder that was next to white, dark mauve lipstick, and black eye make-up, Leah squinted at herself.

She was not allowed to wear make-up yet and had bought the cosmetics with Mona one day after school in secret.  She had been hiding them in her room for about a year now, but hadn’t really ever worn them.

Though smiling weakly, she was pleased with what she saw.

She then searched her closet for the perfect pair of shoes, and found them: skin-tight, tall, black leather boots.

What people would say, she didn’t care.  What people would think, she could only imagine.  She knew she looked different now, but that was what she wanted.  This was what she wanted.

She arrived downstairs to find her father reading the newspaper and her stepmother stirring a skillet of scrambled eggs.

Without being noticed, she walked across the kitchen and straight out the door.

Walking to school, the sky was completely overcast, and the temperature was cool.  She walked purposefully, hitching up her stockings every few steps.  Not used to wearing make-up on her face, though, she felt like she was wearing a mask.

She saw other children on the other side of the road who were also on their way to school.  She knew who they were; they were some sixth-grade boys who sometimes hung out with Brendan.  As she walked swiftly by, holding her head up, they pointed at her.

She ignored them and raced forward.

Her lungs were sore by the time she got to school.  When she entered the front doors, suddenly everyone turned and stared at her.

She knew her dress was short; she knew her make-up was heavy; she knew her boots made her look slutty.  She didn’t care.  She plowed through the crowd, ignoring each and every one of their agape faces.

She felt someone run a hand along her hair.  “Leah, it’s me.”

“Mona?”  Her voice was low and breathy.

“Leah, you look different.  That’s why everyone’s staring at you.  Why did you run out on the party?  You never told me why you couldn’t stay over at my house on Friday night.  You just said you had to get back and that was it.  You just disappeared without a trace.”

Leah lowered her lashes, which were now thickly covered with black mascara.  “Something happened, Mona—something I don’t want to talk about…”

She placed the tuft of black hair she had been playing with gently on her shoulder.  “You don’t look well—“ she caught her tongue, “—I mean, beautiful, of course, but—“

“But what?”

She shook her head slowly.  “I’ve never seen you with make-up on before.”

“I have to go, Mona,” she said.

As she turned, she saw him.  He loomed above the other middle-schoolers both in height and looks.  He exuded a presence that was unmatched by anyone else.  It was like he knew a secret that no one else on earth knew—and he would be willing to share it—but only for a price.

Leah could have cowered.  She could have turned on her heels and walked in a different direction, but she chose not to; she chose to gather all the courage she had left in her little body and face him.  She set her feet in place and intended to walk straight for him.

“There he is,” Christie said, who had now joined them.

Leah did not feel anger at this point; not even the dull ache of pain.  Instead, she watched him with a strange sense of fascination.

“Aren’t you going to say hi?” Christie asked.  “I mean, after what happened at the party, maybe things will be better between you two now.”

His eyes lifted and met hers.  For a fleeting moment she thought he was going to disregard her completely; but then just as quickly as he had looked away, he looked back.

Leah couldn’t pull her eyes from him.

She realized that neither of them were moving, and so she started walking towards him.  But just as she did so, the group of boys he was with starting breaking out in laughter.

“My God!  What the Hell happened to the vampire girl?  Did she go to a vampire beauty salon?”

Leah stared at Brendan.

“Maybe she went to clown college.  She looks more like a joke now than a vampire.”

“Or a whore.”

A friend shoved Brendan in the shoulder.  “Would you do her?”

Brendan eyed her up and down.  Without much hesitation, he said, “No… of course not.  Would I touch that?”

Leah shivered.  Her friends tugged on her arm.  “Let’s go, Leah.  He’s just a jerk.  Forget him, let’s just go.”

She wanted to confront him.  She wanted to run to him, smack him hard on the jaw, and show everyone just what she thought of him.  But she stopped herself.

He hadn’t told anyone that he’d slept with her—that was obvious.

She caught his gaze one last time.  She was surprised by what she saw: no fear, no guilt, no embarrassment.

She was being made fun of like nothing had happened, and Brendan was taunting her like everything was the same.

She looked at the faces of the kids, and they were jeering; obviously agreeing with the nasty words the boys had been saying.

She hated this school; she always had.  She had never fit in the way she had wanted, and even though she had her small group of friends, she felt like an outsider.

But for the first time ever, she didn’t care.

Two years passed.  She watched the world through narrowed eyes and experienced life through blunted sensations.  Not once after that day did Brendan ever again acknowledge her.

She grew older, she grew taller, and she grew more curvaceous.

As time went on, she grew silent.

A thick fog of desolation and quiet anxiety seemed to surround her wherever she went, and this baffled her friends.  None of them could figure her out, and no matter what would happen, she wouldn’t tell anyone what happened to her at the party that night.

She spoke less, and she chose her words more carefully.  She observed life as closely as she could, but always with the sense that everything was muted, dulled.  It was as though she were a bipolar depressed patient suddenly on Lithium.

And every time she chose not to speak, but rather to hold it in and ponder it in her heart, the dark feelings would fester and breed within her.

Every time she passed up the chance to defend herself, she guaranteed with more certainty that the next time, she would do the same.

At the start of her freshman year of high school, she sat on the edge of her bed, staring blankly at the wall.  She was dressed in a simple sleeveless, white sundress too chilly for the fall temperatures, a pair of brown, leather t-strap sandals, and the assortment of jewelry that her grandmother had left her before she had passed away.  She wore her hair down, where it fell lifelessly past her pale shoulders, and her lips were painted blood red, matted thickly with cheap lipstick bought from the drugstore.  She wore too much make-up for a fourteen-year-old, her deep, green eyes dark with liner and mascara, her bony cheeks white with foundation and powder.

She was still except for the uncontrollably nervous bouncing of her right knee, which seemed to move completely independently of her mind.

She transferred her gaze to the window, whose drapes were fully open, and saw that it was still dark.  The stars shined serenely in a black, tumultuous sky.  Like the anxiety within her, the sky was ready to come alive, emptying itself of its built-up tension.  The morning was new, and the sun had not yet appeared on the rocky horizon of Early Winter.  The air was cool and the boughs of the sycamore trees outside were gently scratching against the glass of the window.

In her hands was the gun.

Leah rose to her feet and strode across the room.  The house was completely silent.  There was not even a creak or a groan from one of her parents stirring.

She looked at the object in her arms and exhaled slowly.

It was heavy as she weighed it in her hands.

It had been expensive: all her allowance savings had gone into its purchase.  She had been skipping lunch at school for months in order to save up for the one-hundred dollars it had cost.  Devon wasn’t going to accept any money, but Leah had insisted.  He was an eighteen-year-old senior in high school, and he would do anything for her, anything at all: even buy her a gun.

She caressed her bony fingers along its sleek body and sighed.  While staring off into space, her jaw set in fierce determination, she held it as though it were a kitten, stroking its sleek body and cradling it tenderly in her arms.

It was small.  All that money for a little bit of metal, she thought.  With her eyes pressed shut, she grasped the object even tighter and held it possessively in her hands.

Her parents were home.  If only they knew what their daughter was doing right now, she thought.  If only they knew what she was planning…

What, only days earlier, was only one of her many fantasies.

But now it was a real possibility.  All she had to do was slip it into her backpack, bring it to his house, and put the gun to the bastard’s head.  Soon, all her troubles would be over.  Forever.

She could barely contain her excitement as thoughts tumbled through her mind.  With trembling fingers, she re-wrapped the silver gun in a silk cloth and carefully re-stowed it in its hiding place: a back corner of her closet that was hidden nicely behind a stack of clean sweaters.  Climbing back to her bed, she pulled her covers over her, settling into the warmth.

Time passed.  From downstairs, she began to hear the clamor of her parents making themselves breakfast and getting ready for the day.  She smelled the pungent odor of coffee and the sweetness of cinnamon buns baking in the oven.

She pulled on some cold jeans and a shirt.  Her dirty hair hung limply past her shoulders.

She looked into the mirror and her green eyes were icy and transparent.

Her cheeks were rosy, but hollow.

She looked out her partially open window at the town.  The maple-lined street was peaceful and still except for the gentle movements of the leaves swaying in the breeze.  The sun was starting to rise, now, and gentle, amber light appeared in swipes across the mostly darkened sky.  A woman wearing headphones and a sweat suit jogged past.

Cool wind brushed open her lace curtains and ruffled a stack of papers from her desk.  She rushed to close the window as she clamped her hand down on top of the precious pile.  It was her collection of poems.  She had been writing one every day ever since that night when Brendan violated her in the worst way a boy can violate a girl.  She had been twelve then.  Now, she had a whole collection.

Some were sorrowful and deeply private.  Most of them were angry and homicidal.  She never showed the poems to anyone, and instead clung to them jealously and fervently.  On the occasional times when a guest would come into the house, she would hide them as carefully as she now hid the gun.

She heard heavy footsteps coming from downstairs.  She felt the sickening knot form in her stomach: the same one that had been haunting her for months.  She didn’t want to go to school and face the kids who all hated her.  She would rather die than do that.

They thought she was strange.  Though she still had her circle of friends (Mona, Christie, and Hope) she suspected that even her friends didn’t like her very much.  It wasn’t as though they beat her up every day; but in Leah’s mind, they came very close.

They made fun of her.  They teased her about her clothes.  They threatened her.  She’d come close to being jumped by a group of girls on several occasions.  They hated her.  And she hated them.

But worse was how they’d treated her two years ago: one person in particular.

That was the person she hated most; that was the person she wanted to die.

Leah had grown a lot in the space of two years.  Her hips had widened, her breasts had swelled, but in any case, she had lost a lot of weight.  Food was no longer the joy that it once had been, and sometimes she would go days without taking a bite to eat.

But there was a prettiness, a delicateness about her face that seemed somehow impossible for the features that she possessed: taken individually, she would have been plain.  But put together, the effect was stunning.

Most of the time she painted her lips blood-red and powdered her skin until it was next to white.  She used perfumes, nail polishes, glitter roll-ons, and scented lip gloss generously.

She was thin bordering on anorexic, and the black hair next to pale skin made her look even more like a vampire.

The rowdy boys at school still called her a whore, but in reality, she was a virgin.

At one point she started telling everyone, including her friends, that she had slept with two older men.  Brendan, probably having heard the rumor, most likely wouldn’t know what to think.

But Leah didn’t care anymore what Brendan thought.  He had claimed her body once, but he would never do it again.  He had degraded her, humiliated her, mortally wounded her spirit, and left her for dead.

Oh, sure.  They said it was a suicide.  But Leah knew who was responsible.  She bet that cold-hearted monster even smiled when he learned that her best friend had jumped off a 200-foot cliff.

He’d been the reason, the only reason, that Jeremy had decided to leave the party that night, wander into the thick darkness, and hurl himself off the rocky edge.

Jeremy was gay.  Not very many people knew that.  Leah was the second person he had ever told.  The first person was Brendan.

Now, he knew very well that Brendan was not gay.  But apparently, he was in love with him.  He couldn’t take another step until he let him know just how he felt about him.

Leah didn’t blame Jeremy.  Brendan had strikingly dark hair and prominent features that were unforgettable.  He was only twelve years old at the time, but he looked seventeen.  He was taller than the rest of the boys, with a strong build and a classic, athletic face.  The two had been friends since the third grade, and since then, they’d done everything together.

But when Jeremy came out of the closet, Brendan didn’t react well.  He turned on Jeremy.  He said he never wanted to be his friend again.  He started making fun of him at school.  He told everyone he was only friends with him because of his money.

Leah rung her hands as she thought of the past.

Jeremy started to look pale and distraught whenever Leah saw him.  She demanded to know what was wrong, but he wouldn’t tell her.

Finally, one day, he did.  Leah was a little bit offended that she was not the first person he told, but she also felt sick to her stomach that Brendan would treat him this way.

Inside, she was hiding her own feelings for Brendan Caldwell.

But she wouldn’t let them show.  Truth be told, she was ashamed of them.

The night of the party, Brendan apparently didn’t know that Jeremy was going to be there.  When he and his friends saw him, they broke into their usual teasing and carousing.  To show people that it wasn’t bothering him, Jeremy drank and smoked pot with everybody else.

At one point, the two boys found themselves alone.  Jeremy broke into a tearful monologue, explaining why he shouldn’t have put Brendan into such a terrible position, begging him for forgiveness, telling him he loved him, he loved him.

But when they rejoined the crowd, Brendan relayed the entire conversation to the group.  He announced to everyone that Jeremy was gay.

Torn by humiliation, dizzy from drugs and alcohol, he separated himself from the party.  Just before he jumped off the high cliff, several people noticed that he was missing.  But no one went after him.

Leah hated herself for having feelings for Brendan.  She told no one about it.  It was, essentially, her deepest, darkest secret.  She would rather people think she hated him than loved him any day.  The latter would humiliate her as much as Jeremy had been humiliated that January night.

So one day, she confronted him.

It was a blister winter day, and Leah was just twelve.  It was right around the time that the police had stopped interrogating all of the kids who had been at the party, and the town of Early Winter was recovering from the shock of Jeremy’s death.

Everyone was satisfied with Brendan’s account of what had happened that night, and even Jeremy’s parents were willing to move on.

But Leah wasn’t satisfied.

One day, she paid him a visit.

“Brendan, I know you’re responsible for his death.”

He was so charming and so suave, especially for a twelve-year-old.  Even when he said, “Is that so?” he sounded like a good guy.

But Leah saw right through him.  From the very beginning, something deep within her recognized the evil that lay beneath the surface.

It could have been the evil within herself that allowed her to see it; but at that moment, her skin crawled and the hair on the back of her neck stood up and a bracing shiver shook her body so hard that there was no mistaking it in Leah’s mind.

It was subtle, but it was there.

She re-opened the door to her bedroom after a full day at school.  Her backpack was still on her shoulders.  It was dark outside again, and the trees were shivering restlessly.

The impending storm had still not come.

She had an odd feeling—as though everything in her room had been disturbed but then put back into place.

She rushed to her closet, her stomach sinking the way it does when the elevator goes too fast.

Her hands were shaking out of fear this time.  Please, God.  Let it be there.  Let it be there.

She pulled it out from behind the sweaters; exactly where she had left it.  She let out a huge breath, lightheaded from the sudden panic.  It was in her hands, and everything was alright.


She spun around, her heart thudding in her chest.  She lowered the gun, which was still wrapped in the silk.  What was that?

It had come from downstairs.  Her mother was calling to her.

“Leah, are you starting your homework?”

She couldn’t find her voice.  After breathing deeply, she said hoarsely, “Yes, Mom.”

She closed her eyes.  Some birds were chirping happily just outside her window.  She was overreacting.  She had never owned or done anything illegal in her life; that was why she was having such a hard time right now—right now and ever since she had first laid hands on the gun.

As she continued breathing deeply, calming herself down, she sank into her bed.  Her head throbbed and she was dizzy.

It wasn’t the legal consequences of owning a gun that she was worried about, she thought; it was the mere thought of being stopped from what she knew she had to do.  And that was to take back all the hurt that had been inflicted upon her and kill Brendan Caldwell.  With fiery passion, she knew that she would not be satisfied until and when he was lying on the ground, his head split open and bleeding.

She had come so far and had done so much.  She had figured out the right person to go to in order to buy a gun.  Cameron: sweet, gentle Cameron, would never betray her.  She’d left no trace of her intentions besides her silly poetry; but that could easily be destroyed.

Her record was so clean you could wipe your face with it.  All her family, friends, and teachers thought of her as something of a goodie-two-shoes.  It was only the low-class, rowdy boys who thought of her as a whore.

Boy, would they be surprised when the police interrupted class to put handcuffs on her.  “Going down in a blaze of glory,” or so the song went, she would finally show the kids how their cruelty really made her feel; and what it could really make her do.

She let out another breath, finally feeling more at ease.  It was only her imagination that someone had been in her room, she thought.  She looked at the gun, stroked it, then decided to lay it on the desk.

She was obsessed, and she knew it.  Thoughts of Brendan consumed her mind day and night, dominating her life, thoughts, and actions.  She woke up and breathed his name.  She went to school and hunted for him in the halls.  She rode home on the bus, looking forlornly out the window, dreaming about the day when she could finally put an end to all her sorrows and kill him.  What an exquisite and glorious release from torture it would be to finally be rid of the person who was responsible not only for the tragic end of someone she had loved so fully and completely that she couldn’t imagine a day when they would be apart, but also for the inconceivable torture that she had had to endure privately for more than two years now.

Stewing silently in her anger all this time, she saw no other way out.

She wanted revenge.

She opened the bottom drawer and pulled out her yearbook from the previous year.  Blindly, she opened it to Brendan’s picture.  She hated him for being so photogenic.  There he was, a broad smirk on his face, his dark brown hair curling under his ears.  She sneered at him.  He had taken Jeremy’s life but he wouldn’t claim hers—of that she would make sure.  Turning on her music and placing the earphones on her ears, she pulled out a pair of scissors and began cutting.

She didn’t want to just kill him; she wanted to make him suffer first.  She wanted him to shake with fear the way she trembled with love for him.

Two weeks went by and nothing happened.  Leah found herself looking for him every opportunity that she could; during history class, at lunch, walking through the halls.  As desperately as she wanted to, she couldn’t take action.

It was Fall, and the temperatures were plummeting fast as the deciduous trees displayed growing variations of colors.

Leah’s clothes were too tight and not warm enough for the stiff chill that was settling over the town.  As puddles froze and frost emerged on the morning grass, her mother pulled out the trunks of winter clothing from the attic.

Leah went to school in hushed anxiety, waiting for the time that she could catch a glimpse of Brendan, wondering if this was going to be the day that something would happen, something that might change everything.  She was waiting for the right time, the right setting, and she had been watching and listening with anticipation as the days and weeks went by. 

One day, she stopped abruptly when she saw him at his locker.  Her heart was thudding in her chest.  Swarms of kids pushed past her, nearly knocking her over, as she moved to hide behind a corner.  For the first time in a long time, she began to have second thoughts.  He was only a boy, she thought.  Perhaps he really did not mean to cause the harm that he did, after all.  Feelings of compassion welled up inside her for him, the feelings that she had been trying so hard to deny.  She pressed her eyes shut.  This is nonsense, she thought.  He killed the boy she loved, a boy who never deserved the humiliation and cruelty that Brendan had given him.  He had been an innocent victim, and the criminal had just walked away, unpunished.  His locker now in full view, she made up her mind and scribbled the down the number and stuffed it into her bookbag for later.  Brendan would get his just deserts, that was for sure.  Looking around to make sure no one had seen her, she hurried away and bounded down the hall.

The rest of the day, she felt dazed.  She sat through class not really hearing what her teachers were saying, thinking mostly of what she was about to do, her excitement, and yet also fear, growing in intensity as the day wore on.

She rehearsed her intentions over and over, making sure that she had thought of every possible consideration.  If she made a false move now, then she might never be able to pay Brendan back for the evil that he committed.

She ran into her friends after school and pretended to be interested in their chatter, but really she was preoccupied with her plans.  On the bus, she stared out the window and listened to the wheels turning on the road, lost in her dreams.

Her mother noticed a change in her.  “Earth to Leah,” Connie said.

Leah dropped her fork.  “I’m just not hungry,” she said quietly.

“Then you may go to your room.”  She excused herself and climbed up the stairs.

The next day, she followed him through the crowded halls of the school.  Surreptitiously, she found out his exact class schedule, room numbers, and names of his teachers.

She didn’t consider herself a stalker; that would have to mean that she was obsessed.  In her mind, Brendan wasn’t worth being obsessed about.  She considered compiling information about him a necessity if she was going to go about this the right way.

That afternoon, sitting in her kitchen, she found out his address and zip code.  Looking further, she found out the name of his parents and brother and sisters.  She found out his birthd