In Bakersfield, Idaho, summer flew by. Especially for me. After miraculously finishing out the rest of Spring Term, I took the summer off from college and worked full time. My paranoia and fear always had me home before dark, and I never went anywhere besides the coffee shop where I worked or the grocery store. I didn’t want to be paranoid. I didn’t want to be scared. But no matter how hard my rational mind tried to convince itself that that fateful night in May was just a nightmare… The memory of my shredded clothes quickly dashed any of those hopes.
Now it was September. Classes were starting again, and my anxiety at leaving the house was at an all-time high. For three months, I had been running to my truck, getting home as quickly as possible, and locking all the windows and doors. I constantly felt like I was being watched or followed, but I could never locate anyone who was staring. Would whatever attacked me ever come back? Or would I forever be doomed to live life as a scared hermit? I didn’t want either of those things to happen. My twenty-first birthday was approaching, and I had yet to make a single friend since I had moved to Bakersfield a year ago. Something had to change, and I knew it had to start with me.
I tore my eyes away from the window and stared at my professor. It took a moment for me to realize he had been doing role call for a while now.
“Oh. Here.” My voice was so soft and meek that I was not sure anyone had heard me speak. But the bespectacled man at the front of the classroom nodded his head and marked something on a clipboard.
As names continued to be called out, my eyes wandered back to the window. Bakersfield State University had a small campus that was surrounded on three sides by thick forest. Most of the town was set in the woods, and it was a bit of a drive to get to any of the bigger cities. Just seeing all those trees and knowing how deep they went nearly made me break out in a sweat. The wolf-man could have been anywhere in there.
It proved difficult to concentrate in my classes for the rest of the day, but somehow I managed until it was time to go home. As I followed the throng of other students outside, a chilly breeze picked up and made me duck into the collar of my fleece sweater. This September was shaping up to be a cold one, and it was pretty obvious that fall and winter were going to be harsh. My feet picked up their pace and I made it to my truck at a decent clip. My hand was reaching for the door when I was nearly startled into a heart attack.
“Hey! Girl, you forgot your notebook!”
I spun around to see the owner of the loud voice jogging up to me, holding my blue notebook in his outstretched hand. He was a guy who sat next to me in my last class, and I felt my cheeks flush pink with embarrassment and bashfulness.
“Hey.” He panted out, between breaths. “You forgot this on your desk. Seemed like you wanted to get out of there pretty quick.”
His wide smile lit up his face and accentuated his full cheeks. I had to make myself grab my notebook because I was staring at him so hard.
“Thanks.” I murmured. “I just wanted to get home.”
He nodded, and his straight, black hair fell into his dark eyes. He was a tan guy, but the flush in his face from running after me was still visible. He stood maybe a head taller than me, so not a lot of height, but he was obviously lean and fit, and I couldn’t help but notice how well he wore his jeans.
“I can understand that. My name is Joey, by the way. And you’re Amber, right?”
I nodded curtly.
“Nice to meet you. I just started here this year. Say, my friend is having a sort of ‘welcome back’ get together at his house tomorrow night. If you don’t have class and aren’t busy, you should come by. It would be great to get to know some people in this town.”
His smile and the invitation seemed genuine enough, and he had exuded nothing but friendliness so far. A huge part of me did not want to leave the house once the sun went down, but another part of me desperately craved human interaction. I had left my good friend behind when I moved here from another part of the state, and had no family around either. My existence was starting to become an unhappy and lonely one.
“S-Sure. I’ll think about it. Where is the house?”
Joey smiled even wider and said something about his friend while scribbling information on a scrap piece of paper. He then handed it to me before shoving his hands in his hoodie pockets.
“Man, it sure gets cold around here early, doesn’t it?”
I turned to open my back door and toss my backpack in.
“Yeah, I guess so. Have a good night, Joey.”
He seemed hesitant to walk away, but dipped his head and backed up a few steps.
“You, too. See you tomorrow!”
My driver’s side door slamming was my only response.