“…suicides…” Anna finished for me.
The final piece clicked into place.
“He frames them,” I said, slowly. “He goes after the girls and he frames the men…and they kill themselves.”
We were silent for a moment. Then I bolted to my feet and grabbed my bag.
“Wait, Amanda, where are you going?” Anna yelled after me.
I paused at the door. “I have to talk to Derek. I have to tell him what’s happening. He doesn’t realize the danger he’s in.”…
I hugged Anna. “You can’t come with me, I need you to stay here in case I need a place to crash again.” And because I don’t want you to get hurt along with me, I added silently in my head.
I think she would have tried to follow me, but I was out the door before she could say anything. I had swiped Derek’s number when he plugged mine into his phone, thank God. His phone was already ringing on the other end as I got into my car.
“Well, well, well. If it isn’t the lovely lady from the bar,” he said.
I blushed. Even under the circumstances, his voice was making me heat up. “Derek, I need to talk to you. I need to see you. Are you busy right now?”
I could almost hear the smile in his voice. “Am I so dashing that you can’t wait until tomorrow? Well, that’s fine with me. We can meet up. Why don’t you come to my apartment?”
I hesitated. That was no good, then my stalker would know where he lived.
“I was thinking somewhere more public…”
He laughed. “Don’t trust me yet? That’s not a problem. How about a restaurant, then? We can make it a real date.” He rattled off the name of a surprisingly expensive restaurant downtown and I accepted.
“I’ll be there in 20 minutes.”
“It’s a date.” I could hear the smile in his voice.
Talking to him seemed to help me access my inner strength. And for the first time since I found the phone, I got angry. Really, really angry. This guy thought he could just push me around? He thought he could intimidate me? Well, it wasn’t going to be as easy as he was hoping. If I was going down, I was taking him with me. And then no one else was going to have to suffer like I had.
There were still things I didn’t understand, however. Why was I getting calls from this girl? Did he have someone working with him? And what was their aim in doing this? Even as I arrived at the restaurant, these questions were buzzing in my mind.
I immediately felt safer when I saw Derek’s shock of black hair and his bright, sparkling smile. I felt tears rushing into my eyes as relief flooded over me. I was a little afraid of scaring him off, but I couldn’t stop myself from running into his arms.
He was shocked, but his arms wrapped around me in a tight embrace. “Hey, hey, what’s wrong, what happened?”
I couldn’t answer for a minute, so he just held me and talked in a low, soothing voice. “It’s ok, you can tell me, I won’t let anyone hurt you.”
After that, he led me to a booth towards the back of the restaurant where we could be alone. I poured out my story, the phone, the calls, the pictures… he listened silently, his face unmoving. I finished with my theory about the stalker….
“I had to tell you because I think he’s coming after both of us,” I finished, with tears springing into my eyes again. Derek reached across the table and took my hands in his. He looked straight into my eyes as he spoke.
“Listen to me. I won’t let this guy come near you, ok? Everything is going to be fine.”
I nodded, my frustrated tears replaced by grateful ones. I could finally feel safe.
It was dark by the time we left the restaurant. Derek had offered to put me up at his house, but I refused…I didn’t want to endanger him any more than I already had. Plus, I was getting worried about Anna. What if the guy had followed me to her house? I called to make sure she was okay. She answered and sounded fine, but I thought it would be better to get back as soon as I could.
Derek was walking me to my car when he suddenly stopped.
“What is it, what’s wrong?”
He looked around for a moment, then grabbed my arm. “Shit. I think he’s here,” he whispered. He was grabbing my arm so hard it hurt.