As I make the five-block journey from the subway station to my apartment building, I get that prickly feeling in the back of my neck once again.
When I feel it in Manhattan, in the swanky area where I am employed and where my boyfriend lives, it feels like I’m being paranoid. But now, in the South Bronx, when the sun has already dropped in the sky, paranoia is good common sense. I don’t dress for attention. I’m wearing a pair of blue jeans that are at least a size too big, a pair of gray Nikes that once used to be white, and a coat that is more bulky than stylish—a dark color meant to blend into the night—but at the same time, I am clearly a woman. Even with the beanie stuffed on my blond hair and my ugly puffy coat, most people would peg me as a woman from all the way down the block.
So I pick up my pace. Also, I’ve got a can of mace in my pocket. My fingers are wrapped around it. But the feeling doesn’t go away until I have entered the building and closed the door behind me.
That’s the thing. I never get that prickly feeling when I am in my apartment. I don’t get it when I am cleaning at the penthouse. I only get it when I’m outdoors, at a time when someone really could be watching me. It makes me think that the sensation is real.
Or I’m going crazy. That’s a possibility too.
Brock texted me to ask if I wanted to come over to his house tonight, and I told him no. I’m too tired.
I push thoughts of Brock out of my mind as I pull a few letters out of my mailbox—all bills. How is it possible that I have so many bills? It feels like I subsist on practically nothing. In any case, I’m stuffing the letters into my purse when the lock turns on the door to the building. A second later,
there’s a burst of cold air and that man with the scar over his left eyebrow pushes his way inside.
Xavier. That’s what he said his name is.
“Hi, Millie,” he says, too cheerfully. “How are you doing?” “Fine,” I say stiffly.
I turn on my heel and head for the stairwell, hoping he’ll lag behind and check his own mail. No such luck. Xavier hurries after me, trying to stay and step next to me.
“Any plans for tonight?” he asks me.
“Nope,” I say, as I sprint up the steps to the second floor. That’s when I’ll be able to say goodbye to Xavier.
“You could come over,” he says. “Watch a movie.” “I’m busy.”
“No, you’re not. You just said you had no plans for tonight.”
I grit my teeth. “I’m tired. I’m just going to take a shower and go to bed.”
Xavier grins at me so that his one gold tooth shines in the dim overhead lights of the stairwell. “Want some company with that?”
I turn away from him. “No, thank you.”
We reached the landing for the second floor, and I expect Xavier to go on his way. But instead, he continues climbing the stairs next to me. My stomach turns and I reach into my pocket to feel for my can of mace.
“Why not?” he presses me. “Come on. You can’t really like that preppy rich kid who always visits you here. You need a real man.”
This time, I ignore him. In one minute, I will be at my apartment. I just have to make it that far.
Five more steps. Five more steps to climb, and I’ll be rid of this asshole.
Four, three, two…
But then a hand grabs my arm, fingers biting into me. I’m not going to make it.