Days passed and still Grandma showed no signs of leaving. I heard Mom grumbling to Dad: “Has she moved in permanently?”
It seemed to me that Grandma had suddenly changed her plans after the night of the shadow in the garden. Previously she had told us she was intending to stay only for three days. Now she told me that she was enjoying her little holiday so much she would be with us for longer. Somehow I was convinced it was because of the garden episode, even though she never mentioned it again. To be honest, she seemed to be purposely avoiding the subject.
“And you, Dana… is there something wrong with your hands?” Mom asked me one morning after having a complaint session with Dad.
“You keep looking at them all the time as if you had a rash or something.”
“Oh, maybe my skin is a bit dry.” I came up with an explanation quickly. “I should buy some hand cream, I think. Too much digging in the garden…”
That much was true – I had been working in the garden. I had very carefully checked the rosebush under my window the morning after the shadow. I’d found some black and grey hairs there, but when I came to pick them up to put them into a little plastic bag, they deteriorated straight away. They broke at my touch into tiny bits and dust that basically just vanished into thin air. I had never seen anything like it before.
I wanted to see if the shadow had been to any other parts of the garden, and so I tended to the flowers and bushes as the pretext whilst I was really searching for clumps of hair similar to the one under the rose bush. I found nothing. On the dusty road there were some slight imprints, but it was impossible to say what or who had caused them.
“Good. I need to go to town, you can come with me to buy your hand cream,” mother decided, clearly pleased that I was finally showing an interest in skin creams and all that stuff.
“Should we ask if Grandma…”
“No, let’s just go, right away,” she insisted. Her voice told me in no uncertain terms that Grandma’s presence was not wanted.
So we did not wait for Grandma, who was out on some errand, and had promised to be back in time for dinner.
Mom drove our old hatchback slowly to town – she had always been a nervous driver and chose to drive slowly. Sometimes too slowly. But if someone passed us by and swerved back right in front of us in protest for us blocking the road, she never said a word. Instead she just squeezed the wheel, her knuckles white, and looked straight ahead. For some reason I held my breath when Mom drove at her regular snail-pace, but I never did when Grandma’s little red sports car flew along these small back roads.
The little bell of the beauty parlor’s door rang cheerfully when Mom opened it. Mom loved to have any opportunity to visit here, and spent some time choosing a face cream for her and a hand cream for me.
“Hand cream for the young lady?” the lady behind the counter grabbed my hands and pulled me towards her before I could say cat. “Tut tut! You have been digging in the garden without gloves on, haven’t you?”
“I do try to tell her… but she has always been a bit of a tomboy,” my mother sighed and the two women shook their heads in agreement, making me feel like I had broken some unwritten female rule.
We left, with our shopping swinging in a stylish small paper bag Mom held. Mom looked happy, as she always did after the opportunity to buy some of life’s little luxuries.
“I could go to the hairdresser’s…” Mom pondered and looked at me, “if they have time for me, that is. Could you find something to do in the meantime?”
“Sure, of course!” I was more than happy to head to the bookstore again.
It was a bright, sunny day, and I felt as though I had nothing to fear. A week had already passed since the night I saw the shadow, and I had almost convinced myself that it had just been a homeless dog. That would have explained Nugget’s reaction to it. He was not the kind of cat you see on YouTube snuggling up to a dog. He did not like dogs. Period. A video of Nugget and a dog would not be something that would get any “awwww” or “squee” comments on social media.
Sunshine made everything beautiful and my spirits lifted after the beauty parlor episode. I cheerfully greeted Mrs. Brown who was reading a ladies’ magazine behind her counter, and made my way slowly down the aisles, checking out what was new. Mrs. Brown was something of a marvel in her small-town bookstore – she always had the latest bestsellers, but also books from special fields as well – like Egyptology.
I found an interesting book about Amenhotep III and was leafing through its pages when a slight movement caught my eye. I turned my head to see better, and there was nothing where the movement had been. I was certain I had seen something to my right, and yet in that direction this particular isle of shelves ended at the wall – and the movement had been between me and the wall. There was no place for anyone to hide.
My heart thumped in my throat and I could feel that my palms began to sweat. The shadows… They could be anywhere they wanted or so the book had said. I glanced at my hand. One, two, three, four fingers and a thumb. All perfectly in order. Definitely not a dream.
Everything was dead still. I tried to look normal and turned back to my book, my scalp tingling with fear. There was a mirror on the wall in front of me, a few shelves away, and I glanced at it.
There. Something moved again – it was as if there was an invisible form that somehow warped everything around it into its shape, a bit like Kitty in the dream. You could barely see its outline, but it was there. And it seemed to be human. If you imagine how an invisible man would have been shown in a movie, you’ll get the general idea.
I snapped the book shut and almost ran to the counter. Even though I was starting to panic something in me noted that I could still read the title and the author clearly. Not a dream!
“Aha, you found your book, then,” Mrs. Brown smiled and I realized I was still squeezing the book. “It came into the shop only two days ago. I thought you would like it! If someone had asked for it, I would have told them it was reserved for you.”
“Oh, well, yes…” I dug out my wallet from my handbag and realized I did not have enough money to buy it. “Oh dear, it seems I didn’t bring enough…”
I swirled around. It was him – though this time he looked even more handsome because his skin had tanned a bit. He smiled. The kind of smile you would expect to see in a movie magazine. Or a fashion magazine.
“How fortunate that we bumped into one another again – well, not literally this time! Here’s what I owe you. Thanks for lending it to me!” He put the money into my hand so fast I had no time to react.
There was just enough for me to buy the book. Mrs. Brown smiled and her pudgy hand took the money from my still open palm in one elegant swoop. She put the book in a bag and handed it to me. I thanked her like a robot, and walked out, not quite certain of what had just happened.
He followed me out into the street, very closely; I could feel the heat of his body when his tall frame almost touched me. I did not like anyone standing so near to me. I turned around, with the intention of telling him that, and in the process managed to get the toe of my shoe stuck in some crack in the pavement. The resulting pirouette made me fall right against him.
His arms were around me immediately. I could feel his heat – he was so hot he felt feverish. For a second I was glad I had put on one of the shirts Grandma had bought me, instead of the worn and washed-out old T-shirts that I preferred to wear, which were way past their colorful days. Then I realized what I was thinking and that I was there, not moving, leaning against his chest. Suddenly I became very aware of his arms around me. My brain went into overdrive, telling me that his mysterious appearance had had once again coincided with something weird happening. First the book, now the…something in the bookstore.
“Let me go!” I breathed. My voice sounded feeble, even to me.
He did, immediately, and for a short while I looked him straight in the eyes. I had never seen eyes that blue. And of course I blushed. Damn! I hated that I blushed so easily. I could feel the red patches rising on my neck and cheeks. Oh great. I bet I was covered in blotches. His gaze slid to my necklace – the one Grandma had given me. Then his eyes were back on my eyes, with a slightly amused twinkle. The draw of his gaze was strong and insistent. I had never felt such… presence in anyone’s eyes.
I shook myself awake, and counted one plus one. I felt half paralyzed, and forced myself to move and step back from him.
“Who are you? Are you one of the shadows? Why did you give me that book? How do you know my name?” My questions blurted out one after another, not giving him the chance to answer them.
Suddenly I was furious, maybe because I was embarrassed at being drawn into those blue, insistent eyes. I was certain now that this young man was not ordinary. He had been there when I got the book. He had appeared right after I saw the invisible… something… in the bookstore. He knew my name. How could he know my name? I had never met him… Or had I? I wasn’t sure. He certainly had a feeling of familiarity about him. And damn he was hot. And I don’t mean just his body temperature.
“Shadow?” his smile widened even more. Good grief, he actually had a dimple. “No, I don’t consider myself a shadow. Indeed not,” he chuckled to himself. A low purring chuckle that made me swallow.
“But in there…” I pointed at the bookstore, “there was something – or someone – who is not… human. I saw it. Or didn’t. It was like movement… Invisible…”
I shut up and realized that his eyes had grown serious as they stared into mine, as though he was searching for something. Of course. My sanity. That was the thing he was missing. If he was not one of those shadows Kitty had warned me against, then he probably thought I was nuts. Not only did I stumble against people for no reason, but I also mumbled about shadows and invisibility.
“Dana!” Mom’s voice saved me.
I turned hastily and walked away from him, still feeling the warmth of his body through my thin shirt, sure that I had made a total fool of myself.