The ward of castoria, p.17
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       The Ward of Castoria, p.17

           Robin Silverglate
 

  Chapter 7

  Followed

  “It’s so slow tonight,” complained Nicole as she languidly rested her head on the counter. “I swear the clock actually moved backwards.”

  “It does seem kind of dead today,” Bryn said as she leaned against the condiment station. Not one customer had entered the Coffee Grinder in the past half hour.

  “Do you have to work this weekend?”

  “Nope,” said Bryn happily. “I have the whole weekend off.”

  “Me too,” exclaimed Nicole.

  “Do you want to spend the night on Saturday?” Bryn asked hopefully. “I’m sure that it’ll be fine with my dad.”

  Nicole seemed excited at first, but then caution won over. “I’m in, as long as Mom doesn’t need me to help out with Ryan.”

  “Maybe we could see a movie before you come over.” Bryn hoped that seeing a movie might help distract Nicole from worrying about her brother’s test results. They were due any day.

  “What about Romeo and Juliet?” suggested Nicole. “I heard the new version is really good.”

  Bryn got out her cell phone and checked the times for the movie. “There’s one at eight o’clock on Saturday. How about we meet at the theater around seven-thirty?”

  “Sounds perfect,” said Nicole, then she suddenly began wiping the counter.

  Bryn turned and saw Joan emerging from the back office. Her boss gazed around the room and said, “It’s pretty slow tonight. Do either of you want to go home early?”

  Bryn perked up in excitement, but she decided to give Nicole a chance to claim it first. “Do you want to go home?”

  “I’d rather not,” admitted Nicole. “I’m still trying to save up money for college.”

  Bryn looked out the window and saw that it was still light outside. She didn’t think that her father would mind if she walked home by herself now. “I’ll go then.”

  She went to the back office in order to clock out and return her apron. Then she called her father to explain she was coming home early.

  “That’s fine,” he said placidly. “I’ll come pick you up right now.”

  “Don’t worry about it. It’s still daytime.”

  “Okay. It’s probably better anyway because Beck is over at the house working with me on the textbook adoptions.”

  “You work Beck too hard,” chastised Bryn.

  “Beck seems to be a work-o-holic. I assure you he is the one who proposes all the extra work. Every time I suggest he goes home, he simply says he would like to keep working.”

  Bryn was glad her father had easy-going Beck to work with. “All right. If you say so. I’ll be home well before it gets dark. I promise.” She hung up and left the store.

  After she walked outside, she decided to turn around in order to remind Nicole about Saturday night. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a rather scary-looking man leaning against a building about one block down the road. She could easily see his scowling expression and she wasn’t sure, but she thought she saw a jagged scar on his face. Bryn was glad her home was in the opposite direction, because she would have been a little wary of walking near him.

  Bryn popped her head back in the store and said, “Don’t forget about tomorrow night!”

  Nicole smiled and said, “I won’t. It’ll be nice to have some girl time.”

  Bryn waved goodbye and then left the store a second time. As she walked home, she reviewed some of today’s events in her head. The fact that she had gone an entire school day without some snide comment from Kayla was mind boggling. Kayla rarely missed an opportunity to pick on her. She had no idea why the Evil Stepsisters ran away from her in the hallway. Bryn did not know what was going on, but she wasn’t going to question her good fortune.

  When she passed Fletcher Park, she turned to look at the tree that had the bats in it last night. She laughed a little as she thought of Dane and how adamantly he defended the beauty of the creatures. She thought about what a puzzle he was. He was taciturn, but there were also times when he was excited and full of energy. Dane was also just a strange person in general. She smiled to herself as she remembered him trying to dunk the sugar packets in his coffee the first time she met him. But there was more to him than his quirky behavior. The most unusual thing about Dane was that he seemed to find ways to get under her skin and annoy her in some way. It wasn’t like he was one of the Evil Stepsisters and rude to her on purpose, but she seemed to always find herself at odds with him. Bryn wondered why that was.

  As she turned away from the tree, she saw the same scary-looking man standing near the edge of the park. Her heart leapt into her throat as she wondered if he was following her. She decided it best to get home as soon as possible. It was starting to get darker and she knew there was not much daylight left. She quickened her pace and concentrated more fully on her surroundings. Periodically, she would turn her head in order to see if the man was still following. She could not see him, but she had the feeling he was still there. Once, she heard a soft noise come from the area she thought he would be if he was still following her. Her heart pumped fast and she felt a surge of excess energy. Bryn tried to remember what she was supposed to do if she actually was attacked. Poking his eyes and kicking his groin were all she could think of. How heartily she wished she had waited for her father to come pick her up.

  She formulated a plan to put some distance between herself and her possible stalker. It would make her look a little foolish, but she thought it was better to be safe than sorry. There was a section of the sidewalk where she would turn around a tall apartment building. When she got to the corner, she planned on looking back one last time in order to see if he was there. If he was, she would run. He would not be able to see her for a while since the building would block her actions.

  As she approached the corner, she slightly turned her head. Unfortunately, she saw him. Her footsteps faltered and there was a tightening in her chest.

  Calm down, Bryn told herself forcefully.

  She needed to stay focused. Bryn calmed her breath and wiped a bead of sweat off her forehead. As soon as she rounded the corner, she sprinted to the next one. She contemplated dropping her backpack since it was filled with heavy books, but she decided against it because if she took it off, it might slow her down. Her goal was to get to the next corner and keep running. Hopefully, the scary man would be confused and not know where she went.

  When she made the second turn, a surprised scream escaped her lips as she blindly bumped into someone’s chest. Two strong hands grabbed her shoulders and stopped her from toppling over. Her frightened eyes looked up in order to see who held her. Dane’s brows were furrowed with worry, but Bryn felt immediate relief.
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