He’s Watching Me Right Now

They’ve been fucking with me for a year.

I’m pretty humorless for a sixteen-year-old. I was the only one of my friend group who’d never smoked a cigarette or drank a beer. I suppose that was part of their motivation. So when one of my friends started everything during this lunch break last fall, I gave the minimal possible reaction.

He's Watching Me Right Now

“Edith, who’s the man sitting on the bench behind you? And why is he staring?”

I gave a “Hmmmpf,” and continued eating my cheese sandwich.

When the next person sat down and asked the same question, I felt the hair on the back of my neck stand on edge. But I still ignored her.

Ali, the third girl to join our lunch group, was very studious and even more humorless than me. So when she asked who that same man was, I reluctantly turned around.

The bench was empty. I snapped my head back, ready for a chorus of triumphant giggling.

But they were silent.

“Go ahead and laugh,” I mumbled over my now flavorless cheese sandwich. “It would be less creepy than the way you’re all staring at me.”

I didn’t laugh when Mom played the same joke on me. “Is there a reason that man is looking at you?” she whispered nervously as we waited in the dentist’s office. “It seems as though he’s trying to catch your eye.”

She was staring at an empty corner of the room.

I turned away and fought off tears.

This time, at least, I managed to hold them back.

I had always looked forward to seeing my grandma at family get-togethers. At seventy-five years old, I was growing to understand that she wouldn’t be around forever. She would make the long trek down Texas Route 191 three times a year at most, so we would have a barbecue or big dinner every time she made an appearance.

“Hey, Abuelita,” I said as I bent down for a kiss.

As I dropped the embrace, she turned and looked out the door into the backyard. “Edith, who’s the man outside?”

I instinctively turned around to see the empty yard. My face flushed as I realized that she was in on it, too.

Mom had always said I had gotten my serious side from her, and it was extremely painful to see that even she was willing to step outside of her comfort zone just to perpetuate the joke.

I didn’t look forward to seeing my grandma after that.

Yet everything was bearable until today.

I was facetiming with Candice. I liked Candice, because she was outside the circle of former friends who had alienated me with the constant “man behind you” joke that just wouldn’t die. She hadn’t contributed to the prank, I hadn’t mentioned anything about it, and I liked it that way. I addressed my fear of discussing the topic by using that most ancient and stalwart of adolescent talismans:

Denial.

My unyielding stoicism had caused most people to stop asking about the “man.” When I was with my family, the issue hung like a rancid fart in a broken elevator, but I was grateful not to be constantly talking about it.

I pretended that Candice was actually choosing to be nice to me.

Which is why I nearly cried when she finally asked about him during our facetime.

“Edith,” she shot, suddenly panicked, “who’s the man in your room?”

My face must have fallen, because she became adamant. “The man right behind you, with the cigarette. Oh God, who is he?”

I hid my tear. “Candice, I’ve got to get this trig homework done, so-”

“Fuck, Edith he looks so pissed, oh shit he’s pulling out a knife and-”

I turned the phone off.

Then I turned around and saw that someone had dropped a lit cigarette on my pillow.