It was not quite noon when I furiously raced out of Michael Walters’ office building. I was too upset to go back to the office, so I went to a small café for an early lunch and a calming glass of white wine.
I hadn’t expected my encounter with Melissa’s father to go smoothly. I didn’t think he would welcome me with open arms and tremendous joy upon hearing my announcement. I also didn’t think he would magnanimously tell me he would not interfere in our lives, and wish us well. On the contrary, I had been prepared for him to be shocked, surprised, and perhaps disbelieving. I hadn’t expected to be subjected to his incredibly rude, arrogant, and insulting behaviour. In my opinion, he wasn’t worth the air he breathed, and Melissa would suffer no great loss in not knowing him as her father.
This rationalisation improved my mood, and after lunch I was able to return to work in a much calmer frame of mind, feeling a great weight lifted from my shoulders. At least, I would never have to lay eyes on that despicable man again.
The next few days took on a whole new light. I was free of my burden, and I was able to throw myself into my work by day, and enjoy my evenings with Melissa to the fullest.
An interesting new contract had come my way for the new home of a prominent doctor. He and his wife were very socially active and my name as their designer was sure to be mentioned in their circle of acquaintances. I was determined to do the best I could, so, often, after Melissa was asleep, I would sit at my drafting table, working until late at night.
One particular night, I had just finished for the evening, and as I stood to stretch my legs I happened to glance out the window and noticed a car parked on the street in front of the house. It occurred to me that this was somewhat unusual, since all the houses on the block had relatively large driveways, large enough to accommodate an extra car. Also, it was a weeknight, so few people would be entertaining. There would be no need for someone to have to park his or her car on the street. I reached over and shut off the light, casting the room in darkness. I edged over to the window and, trying not to be observed, I looked more closely.
There was someone in the car. Why? Was someone watching the house? For an instant, I considered calling the police, but I convinced myself that I was being unreasonable. There had to be a perfectly good explanation. Nevertheless, I carefully checked all the doors to be sure they were securely locked, and I went to bed, where I finally fell into an uneasy sleep.
The next morning, I looked onto the street as soon as I got out of bed, but the car was gone. I woke up Melissa and we went through our usual morning routine of preparing for work and school, and I never gave the strange car another thought.
That weekend, on Sunday, I decided Melissa and I would go for a drive in the country and have a picnic to take advantage of the warm, late spring, weather. There was a nice area, outside of town, that we always liked to visit, with plenty of rolling hills, farmhouses, and amongst them all, a lovely church was nestled. Behind the church there was a large stretch of green grass where you had a beautiful view of the hills and a small river down below.
It was an hour’s drive to get there, and Melissa was sitting quietly in her booster seat in the back of the car, sometimes singing along to the music on the radio. It wasn’t until we left the city limits that I started to become suspicious.
The amount of traffic dwindled, which made it easier for me to notice a car that seemed to be following a short distance behind us. Whenever I turned onto a different road, it was always there. I tried to tell myself it was just my imagination, but my thoughts kept returning to the car I had seen parked outside the house a few nights before. It had been dark at the time so I couldn’t be sure if this was the same vehicle.
As we came closer to our destination, I became more and more worried. I didn’t know what I should do. Should I stop? Were we in danger? Finally, I decided to head straight to the church. There would probably be other people around, but if it was deserted I would continue on. If he followed me into the parking lot, then my suspicions would be confirmed.
By the time we arrived, I was covered in a cold sweat. But, I was relieved to see there were other cars in the parking area of the church, and even more relieved when I pulled in and the car behind me passed by. I sighed deeply and shook my head. I was going to have to get a grip on my overactive imagination.
We spread out our blanket and sat down to enjoy our lunch of cold chicken, potato salad and fresh fruit. As always, Melissa ate with enthusiasm, all the while entertaining me with her comments and questions about everything and anything. I gratefully set aside all disturbing thoughts.
My sense of peace wasn’t long-lasting.
After we finished eating I noticed a car suspiciously similar to the one which had followed us. It was parked on the street on the other side of the river, downhill from us. It was a long distance away, but I suspected it could be the same car, and we were in clear view of anyone inside that vehicle. Then I noticed something else. There was a glint of sunshine reflected off of something in the car. I immediately thought of binoculars, and realized we were being closely watched.
I felt a spurt of sheer anger. I had an urge to hop in my car and make my way down to him as quickly as possible. I wanted to give him a piece of my mind and find out what was going on, but I could never do anything so reckless with Melissa in tow.
Instead, trying to stay calm so as not to distress her, I suggested we bundle up our picnic remains and drive back to the city. Melissa, believing I had something else planned, cheerfully acquiesced. On the way to the car, she asked me what we were going to be doing and, in my distress, I simply answered that it was a surprise and she would see when we got there. I thought I would come up with something along the way.
I knew we had a good head start on him. He may have had a vantage point in which to watch us, but in order to catch up, he would have to circle around on the winding country road, cross the small bridge, and climb the hill. We were a few minutes ahead of him and I knew an alternate route back to the city, hopefully one of which he was unaware.
I reached the turnoff for the other road without seeing any sign of him in my rear-view mirror and I started to breathe easier, but I didn’t immediately slow down or relax my vigilance. I needed to put as many miles as possible between us.
While I was driving, always checking behind me to make sure we weren’t being followed, I remembered an ice cream stand a short distance ahead where we had stopped on previous visits. I hoped it was open for the season.
We were in luck. I pulled in, parked the car behind the building, and took Melissa into the shop. I kept a close eye on the road to see if the dark car passed by while I ordered two ice cream sundaes. I convinced Melissa to sit inside by the window instead of outside on the terrace. I wanted a good view of the road but didn’t want to be visible to anyone passing by.
Once we were finished, we drove back home. I nervously kept an eye out for the now-familiar black car. Thankfully, Melissa seemed satisfied with her day and didn’t seem to think I was behaving oddly.
I had time to think during the drive and I was convinced I knew who was responsible for the strange man following us. By the time we arrived home I was filled with a burning rage. It was hard for me to act normally around Melissa. When she finally questioned me about my strange behaviour, I made the excuse that I had a headache. Luckily, she was satisfied with that answer.
I decided I wouldn’t make any move until the next day but the wait did nothing to calm me or ease my rage. If anything it just fuelled the fire.