“He’s down there again.” Jeannie’s neighbor stood by their dorm window and looked down at the quad below. He was sitting at a picnic table, right under the street light. He had his back to the dorm, but it still felt like he was watching.
Jeannie did not even bother to get up. “I’m getting used to it.” She shrugged. Jeannie had broken up with him several weeks before. He refused to accept it. He kept coming around. He kept calling. He had taken to this nightly post where he would sit at the picnic table under her window watching, but not watching. “He’s harmless.” She added.
Her neighbor laughed, but it mocked Jeannie. “You realize that this is the moment in the movies where you are yelling at the girl that he is not harmless and she’s stupid for not realizing it.”
Jeannie looked at her and a question began to spread across her face – forcing her eyebrows to crouch in together almost as if to protect her. Jeannie shook her head. “This is not like that.”
It was not like that. She had assured herself on more than this occasion. Her neighbor left her alone, in the quiet and in the questions. Jeannie slipped over to the window and looked down. She had mastered the art of looking out the window without being in site of anyone looking up. It was important that he not think she was watching him.
“It is different.” She tried to comfort the concerns. Maybe he did manage to find her car no matter where she parked on campus. And maybe he did leave a single rose and a note written in Latin. And maybe he did take up a post below her window each night. But, it still had to be different.
She lived in the traditional dorms on campus, which meant no men could come up without permission. Nobody in her dorm would give him permission to get up, and she was grateful, but also embarrassed. Some of the other dorm mates had encouraged her to report him.
“Report what?” Jeannie would ask? “That he sits at the picnic table looking away from me?”
Jeannie turned off her lights and eased under her covers. She tried to forget he was down there, but it was hard to forget because he seemed to be everywhere.
The phone woke her up. It was another part of his routine. He would wait for the light to go out and then he would make his way to a phone and call her room. It was usually just enough time for her to almost all asleep. The jolt of the call would be that much greater in that near sleep state.
“What?” She had long stop bothering with pleasantries. She knew who it was and he knew she knew.
“I miss you.” His words slurred and she knew that he had been drinking.
“Stop calling me.” She had said it before but she said it again anyway.
“I can’t live without you.”
She tried once more to reason with him. “I’m sorry that you miss me but it is over and you have to move on. It’s time.”
“I won’t live without you.”
She was done. It was finals week and she was so stressed already that this added issue had pushed her close to the edge. She was not pretty when she was close to the edge. “You have to.” She hung up with force and then unplugged the phone for her own convenience.
The banging on her door stirred her from the sleep she had so justly deserved. “Hang on.” She told the instant noise. In the blur of her sleep, she never stopped to think who might be making such a noise on the other side of her door. She opened it without hesitation.
“Thank goodness.” Her neighbor stepped past her without waiting for an invitation. “You need to sit down.”
“Well, I was lying down before someone changed that.”
“I’m serious.” She looked at Jeannie in a way that made all of her hair stand on end.
“What?” She sat down and her lungs seemed to deflate with the escaping word.
Her neighbor shook her head and then walked over to the window. She walked back to Jeannie and put her hand on her shoulder.
“What?” Now Jeannie’s heart was beating faster. “You’re freaking me out – you have to say something.”
The words hung there for a moment trying to penetrate her thoughts. “What.” The word was not a question but an attempt to grasp the information.
“The police are down there now.”
Jeannie jumped up. “Down there?” Did she mean down there, below her window.
“Don’t go over there.”
“He’s down there?” She took a step towards the window, but her neighbor stepped in front of her.
“You don’t need to go over there.”
She did need to go over there. She needed to see that it was real and not just a final exam prank. She had heard about some elaborate pranks over the years, but this would take the cake. “It has to be a prank.” She said the words she had been thinking.
“It’s real.” Her neighbor stayed in front of her and Jeannie gave in.
She sat back down and just stared across the room at the window. He was dead. Her stomach turned at the thought. “How?”
“”They aren’t sure yet.” The look in her neighbor’s eyes told a different story.
Jeannie squenched her eyes and tilted her head. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Her neighbor sighed and sat down next to Jeannie. “They think he was trying to climb up the building.
Her stomach did a flip and tears welled up in her eyes. “I think I might be sick.” She put her head in her hands and tried to take deep breaths.
“That’s it.” Her neighbor put a hand on her shoulder and rubbed. “Just try to breath.”
The thoughts rushed around her. She had told people he was harmless. She had assured them that she had it under control. Even last night, she had slept sound with the feeling of accomplishment for telling him – yet again – that it was over.
But he had meant it. “He said he wouldn’t live without me.” She sat up and looked at her neighbor. The realization setting in. “He said first that he couldn’t live without me and then he said he wouldn’t live without me.” Her eyes widened. “I didn’t even realize the change until just now.”
“None of this is your fault.”
Jeannie shook her head and then it back in her hands, still shaking it. Her tears fell on the floor. “It’s all my fault.”
Another knock on the door, this one with less insistence, started the parade of visitors and the avalanche of questions. She answered them all. She told the story so many times that it became just a story to her.
By the end of the day it came to her – it was just a story, now. He was gone. He was dead. And the reason or the why would never change that fact. And because he was gone and because he was dead . . . she was free.
Copyright © 2014 Kathryn C. Lang
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