This is the third part of a continuing story. Here is the link to the second part if you have yet to read it: https://titantime.org/6815/lifestyle/creative-contributions/the-wanderer-part-two/
It was a miracle Jenna got any sleep that night. She had been awake for a few hours considering the warning contained in the note Piper left her. She couldn’t be sure what it meant, but she had a sneaking suspicion that the One-Eyed Man was the same person who was loitering on school property the other day. Eventually, exhaustion overthrew Jenna’s panicked thoughts and she fell into a strangely deep sleep.
When Jenna woke up, she was surprised to find how well-rested she felt, especially since she only got a few hours of sleep. It was Saturday, so she didn’t have to worry about going to school or anything. She wasn’t sure she would have been able to bring herself to go into the building even if she did have school. Honestly, she just wanted to spend the next few days in her room. She felt vulnerable now that she read the note, and, although she didn’t think her room would keep someone out if they really wanted to get in, the suspicious man had been at the school, not her house.
Once she was hungry enough, she rolled herself out of bed to find something to eat. There was a note from her mom that she had gone to run errands and that she should be back in a couple hours. This meant nothing to Jenna since she didn’t know when her mother wrote the note in the first place. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was 9:30. Suddenly, Jenna remembered she said she would meet Lindsey downtown at 10. Her mother wasn’t there to drive her anywhere, so she would have to walk, and it would take most of the half-hour to get there. She elected to not eat anything now in favor of getting dressed since she and Lindsey would probably get something to eat at some point in their wanderings.
She practically ran out the door, barely stopping to lock it behind her. She continued on at a quick jog, not taking notice of any part of the neighborhood on her way through. Her mind was working so quickly with the fear of being late she didn’t take any notice of any foreboding emotions that might cause her to pause. By the time she got to fountain she was supposed to meet Lindsey by, it was 10:10 and she seemed to be unable to get enough air.
“Hey!” Lindsey exclaimed upon seeing Jenna, seeming surprised at the state she was in. “I was beginning to think you weren’t going to show up.”
“Sorry,” Jenna apologized between breaths. “My mom wasn’t home and I woke up later than I should have.”
“It’s alright. Where do you want to go first?”
“Well, I didn’t eat breakfast, so somewhere with food would be great.”
“How about The Portal? It’s new so I haven’t been there, but I’ve heard good things about it.”
“Really? What kind of food do they have?”
“I have no idea, but all the reviews I’ve read said that it will ‘change your life’.”
“All of them?”
“Yeah. It was a little weird, but it must be their slogan or something.”
“That would make sense.” They started walking down the street in what Jenna assumed was the direction of The Portal. She was following Lindsey since she had no idea where they were going. She didn’t mind taking the backseat of this adventure. The entire universe had seemed to be uncomfortably focused on her the previous few days.
As the sign of the restaurant came into view, a thought occurred to Jenna. “Are you sure they’re open this early?”
Lindsey shrugged. “It won’t hurt to go look. Most places are open by 10:00 anyways.”
Jenna was about to argue that The Portal didn’t sound like most places, but she knew it was a useless thought that was completely unfounded. It was probably just left over jitters from the previous day. She was out with a friend and was going to enjoy the day. The weather was finally starting to get warm and the sun was shining. Really, it was the perfect Saturday to do this sort of thing. People were strolling down the sidewalk looking in the shops and a peaceful feeling was settled over the town. As Jenna continued to observe he surroundings, she was lulled into a sense of security, a feeling she hoped she could trust.
The Portal was open when they reached it after all, so they went in and got in the decent-sized line at the counter. As it turned out, the restaurant was more like a cafe, which was perfect for Jenna’s current appetite. Not feeling particularly adventurous, Jenna ordered a regular coffee and a croissant when they finally reached the front of the line.
“Enjoy your coffee,” the girl at the register said after she paid. “It’ll change your life.”
I guess it is a slogan, Jenna thought. Even so, every time she heard the phrase, a part of her shivered. There was something very unnerving about how everyone, the review writers, the girl at the register, was saying that line. She didn’t feel any better when the register girl didn’t say the slogan to Lindsey. When Jenna brought this up, Lindsey just shrugged and said, “Maybe she forgot.”
Jenna shook her head. “If the people who wrote the reviews could remember to use it, you would think someone who actually worked here would be able to.” Lindsey said nothing in reply as they walked over to a table by the front window of the cafe. Once they sat down, Lindsey looked at Jenna searchingly. After what seemed like forever, she finally asked, “Are you okay, Jenna?”
Jenna was so surprised at this question that she couldn’t find an answer. Lindsey continued: “ I mean, you missed school on Thursday and then you seemed so out of sorts when I told you about the lockdown yesterday. I thought you seemed okay this morning, besides you running late, but now you’re suspicious about a cafe’s slogan. It’s not like the world’s out to get you.”
Jenna looked down at her coffee. “I guess I’m still getting over whatever I had on Thursday.”
Lindsey sighed. “That’s alright. You don’t have to tell me.” She looked out the window and her eyes narrowed. “I wonder what’s up with that guy.” Jenna looked out in the same direction. Approaching the cafe was a tall man in a black duster and a fedora pulled down, obscuring most of his features. “That’s funny. He looks like the guy Ashley was describing…”
“I have to go to the bathroom,” Jenna said, standing up and walking tin the direction of the restrooms before Lindsey could finish her thought. She supposed this would make Lindsey even more suspicious of her, but all she knew for certain that she didn’t want to be by the window when the man walked past it.
The two restrooms were on either side of a short hallway at the very back of the building, out of view from the rest of the cafe. Straight ahead was a door labelled STREET ACCESS. Without thinking, Jenna walked past the ladies’ room and went through the door into the late morning sunlight.
The door opened out into an alley. To her left the alley led to the sidewalk in front of The Portal. Jenna didn’t want to go that way because she might run into the man. She turned to her left and saw a solid brick wall where the cafe connected to the building behind it. Obviously, she couldn’t go that way either. She turned back to the door, but as she did, she noticed a figure that was more like a shadow standing a few feet from her in the alley. All of its facial features were hidden under the brim of the hat.
“Hey, sweetheart,” the figure said. “I’ve been expecting you.”
Jenna froze. She couldn’t think or move. And as a chill ran up her spine the figure lifted his head, allowing light to reach his face from under his hat. One gray eye glinted back at her. Where the other eye should have been was void.