Don’t Rush Me – Jackie May

It always starts with a tingling sensation on the back of my neck that runs down my arms, leaving a trail of goose bumps in its wake. It settles heavily in my stomach—a thick feeling of dread—and I just know: Someone bad is coming. The premonitions are vague, simple warnings of approaching evil or danger. They’re feelings I’ve learned to listen to. I glance around the city bus and see who I think is the problem. Aside from the few people on their way home from a long day at work, there’s a group of gang members being rowdy near the back. That’s typical for public transit in Detroit, so I didn’t think much of it when I got on the bus, but I’ve caught the attention of one of them. He’s staring at me rather hard, and when he catches me looking his way, he gives me a nod. “Hey, baby, why don’t you come back here, and we can get to know each other a little?” To respond, or not to respond? Which would piss him off less? “I have a boyfriend, sorry.” It’s a lie; I don’t date. But it’s the easiest way to reject the man in front of all his gang buddies. I quickly look away, praying he isn’t one of those determined guys, or one who will feel the need to get his friends involved in harassing me. “Aw, come on, baby, don’t be like that. I don’t see your boyfriend here. You ever had a taste of dark chocolate?” Great.

He’s not going to leave it alone. Oh well, I’m almost home. If I can just get off the bus without trouble, I can hurry the one block to my apartment and lock myself in until whatever the danger is passes. My phone dings as the closest person I have to a friend texts me. SorcererX: P? You there? Where’d you go? You okay? P is short for PsychoPsychic. It’s my online handle on a few of the paranormal message boards X and I both frequent. We don’t know each other in person, so we just call each other our screen names. I’m P, and he’s X. PsychoPsychic: Fine. Just getting harassed by some guy on the way home.

No worries, though. He’s being mellow, and mine’s the next stop. SorcererX: Be careful. If he follows you when you get off, call the police. And message me when you get home safe. I smile at that. PsychoPsychic: Will do. As the bus nears my stop, the guy in the back quits trying to get my attention, but the feeling in my stomach intensifies. I’m still in danger. I take a deep breath and fight to keep my heart at a calm pace.

Panicking won’t do me any good. If he follows me off the bus, I’ll need to have my wits in place. “Hey, are you okay?” I glance up from my phone at the new voice. The guy who’s been sitting across the aisle from me since we both left the library at closing time is watching me with a concerned expression. I’ve noticed him before. He’s cute, in a nerd-chic way. He’s tall and lean, a year or two older than me— twenty-five at the most—with a head of wavy light-brown hair and beautiful amber-colored eyes. I’ve seen him three or four times a week, since I realized I needed to avoid my current living situation as much as possible, and started spending all my free time after work at the public library. Still, we’ve never spoken before. “I’m fine,” I say.

He smiles at my reply and brushes his bangs out of his eyes. “I’m Oliver.” I nod but don’t give up any further conversation. He tries again. “I’ve seen you around the library.” I narrow my eyes. Why has he chosen this moment—right as my premonition hit—to be so chatty, when he’s spent the last few months only sneaking glances at me and trying to work up the nerve to say hi? Could he be the person my gift is warning me about? I don’t want to believe it, but I can’t rule it out. I force a brittle smile and nod again. “Sure. Computer near the water fountain.

I’ve been debating for weeks if it’s online college classes or a World of Warcraft addiction.” My response shocks him. It doesn’t match the stay-away-I-bite vibe I generally give off. I’m a loner who avoids people like the plague, yes, but I’m not inherently bitchy. It’s just hard to hide my gift from people when I’m thrown into their heads every time I’m touched. I don’t know why I have the gifts I have, or how I got them, but they’ve been saving me most of my life, so I don’t complain. Lonely is better than dead. My friendliness gives Oliver a boost of confidence. His smile widens just a bit, and his eyes light up. “Criminal justice courses.

” Smirking, he adds, “And Dragon Quest X. Not World of Warcraft.” I laugh once. I can’t help myself. Despite my wariness of his sudden desire to strike up conversation at the same time my premonition hit, his answer makes me chuckle. “Nice. I’m Nora.” “It’s nice to meet you, Nora.” The bus turns a corner onto my street, and the feeling in my stomach explodes with intensity. I pull in a long breath through my nose and let it out slowly.

“Are you sure you’re okay?” Oliver asks. “You look like you’re going to pass out. Do you want me to walk you home?” The question raises my suspicions again. Oliver seems innocent enough, but I know exactly how deceiving appearances can be, and the premonition is only getting stronger. My body is screaming at me to protect myself. My hands are trembling now, and a light sheen of sweat breaks out along my hairline. “This isn’t your stop,” I say with a shake of my head. He shrugs. “Mine is the next one. It’s not that far.

I’d feel better knowing you made it home all right.” Now he’s making me nervous. I need to get off this bus alone. “It’s only half a block. I can make it. Thanks, though.” The hope in his eyes dims a little. “Okay. If you’re sure.” He looks genuine, but without touching him, I can’t be certain.

“I’m sure. Thanks.” The bus rumbles to a slow stop, and the feeling of dread seizes my chest so hard that I can barely breathe. Gang Dude is still watching me—frowning at me—and now Oliver is watching me closely, too. I can’t tell which one of them means me harm. I need to get out of here. I’m so anxious that I stumble a little as I get to my feet. Oliver jumps up as well. “Please, let me help. You’re really pale.

” When he reaches for my hand, I catch a quick glimpse of his thoughts. He’s imagining us walking down my street together. He wants to get me home safely. He’s worried about me. He thinks a woman like me shouldn’t be alone on the streets of Detroit ever, much less after dark. The image of me in his mind is practically glowing. I’m tall and slender. I don’t really have many womanly curves to brag about, but he thinks I’m beautiful anyway. He likes my sea green eyes even though they look haunted, and he thinks my long, shiny brunette hair is commercial worthy. He’s never seen me smile, but he’s sure it would be radiant if I did, and he wishes I would do it.

He’s kinder to me than I am. I don’t think I’m as pretty as he sees me. He’s a nice guy. I feel terrible for thinking he could have been the monster my gift is warning me about. This is why I can’t have friends. I would suck at being one. I pull away from him, needing to escape his mind. He takes my rejection the wrong way and sits back down, muttering, “Sorry.” Part of me wants to let him walk me home, but there’s no point. No friendship I’ve ever had has lasted long.

It’s better to keep to myself. “I’ll be fine,” I assure him again. I lean closer and lower my voice. “But if any of those guys follow me off the bus, call 911 for me, okay?” Oliver’s frown deepens, but he nods reluctantly. “Be safe,” he says. I give him a small smile. “You too. It was nice meeting you.” Shouldering my backpack full of my grease-stained work clothes, I make my way off the bus. Each step takes so much effort it feels as if I’m wading through waist-deep snow.

The second the bus pulls away from the curb, the reason for my premonition becomes clear. I let out a soft curse. I should have let Oliver walk me home. Should have stayed on the bus. I was an idiot for only thinking the trouble was with me instead of possibly lying in wait for me. I should have known better. An unfamiliar car is parked on the other side of the street beneath a lamp. My creepy neighbor, Xavier, and one of his friends are hanging out in front of it. Xavier is leaning against the hood and peels away from it as if he’s been waiting for me. My stomach churns.

I grew up in the foster system since I was six years old. Some of the families I was placed with were nice and genuinely wanted to help. The last family I was with when I turned eighteen wasn’t. The wife worked all the time, leaving me with her drunk of a husband who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I got the hell out the day I turned eighteen, but unfortunately that led to me taking an apartment in a slumerific building in the worst part of Detroit. I’ve grown up here, so I’m used to it, but lately I’ve had a problem with my neighbor Xavier. Technically, Xavier’s dad is my neighbor. He happens to be my landlord, but I don’t see him much. Xavier, on the other hand, is around all the time now. He just started his third year at Wayne State University.

He lives in the dorms, but he was home all summer and doesn’t seem to want to go back now that classes have started. He’s got more interest in me than school. Pretending not to see him, I turn toward the apartments and take off at a brisk walk. If I can just make it inside my place, I’ll be safe. “Hey, Nora!” His voice, though innocent and cheerful, makes my skin crawl. Every time he touches me, I’m momentarily pulled into his head. I hear his thoughts, feel his intentions toward me. His disgusting mind terrifies me. I pick up my pace and don’t stop until his hand grabs my arm. “Where do you think you’re going?” Instantly, I’m flooded with his feelings and intentions.

The images that flash in my mind make me shudder. He’s not just perverted; he’s twisted. The things he plans to do to me are degrading, painful, and sick. He prefers his women to feel like victims. He gets off on their fear. A small squeak escapes me. “Xavier!” I gasp, clutching my chest as I feign surprise. “Hey. What are you doing here?” My heart races as I glance down the street. I’m not close enough.

Even if I could break away from him and make a run for it, I wouldn’t make it to my apartment. He’d catch me. Xavier’s eyes narrow, and the side of his mouth twitches as if he’s suppressing a smirk. He’s surprised me. He knows I’m panicking on the inside, and he’s enjoying it. “I was waiting for you. Pops said it’s your birthday. I thought I’d take you out to celebrate.” I feel his pleasure as he says the words. I sense his arousal and excitement.

He’s waited for this since the first time he saw me. He thinks I’m a virgin because I don’t date and don’t even talk to guys, if I can help it. He’s both wrong and right. Technically, I’m not a virgin. But at the same time, I have never experienced the act of making love. What my first foster father used to do to me doesn’t count. Anyway, Xavier knows there’s a lot I haven’t experienced, and he can’t wait to be the first one to please me that way—not that he actually could. He especially likes the fact that it’s my birthday. He feels as if he’s giving me some kind of amazing gift. He flashes me a smile that anyone else in the world would find charming.

He’s a handsome guy. He’s a tall, lean black guy with a gorgeous smile, golden-caramel eyes, and an athletic build from the vast amounts of sports he plays. Despite his good looks, I find him repulsive, and he knows it. It drives him crazy. “Sorry, Xavier. I’m not feeling so well tonight. Maybe another time.” His jaw clenches so tight I’m amazed I don’t hear his teeth grinding. He knows what I’m doing. I’ve been successfully dodging him for weeks.

In fact, that’s probably why he was waiting at the bus stop instead of closer to home. He wouldn’t be able to force me out of my apartment once I was safely locked inside, and he knows I’d never go with him willingly. People leave behind psychic imprints on the things they touch. Thanks to my gift, I’m able to pick up those imprints. The stronger a person’s emotion at the time they touch an object, the longer the imprint stays, and the more vivid the vision I receive. Xavier swiped my key from his father’s collection and started breaking into my apartment a few weeks ago. He left behind enough imprints to give me nightmares for the rest of my life. I found the cameras he tried to hide in my ceiling fan, on my bookshelf, and in the vent above the bathroom shower. Last week I went to get a drink from the two-liter of soda in the fridge, and I caught a glimpse of the roofie he’d slipped in it. I saw the suspicion in his eyes when I came out of my apartment later that evening with the empty bottle and wasn’t the least bit drugged.

He doesn’t know how I’ve been avoiding his traps, but he knows I’ve been doing it intentionally, and it makes him angry. As angry as the fact that I haven’t fallen for his charm. Tonight it seems he’s reached his breaking point. “But it’s your birthday,” he insists. I shrug. “I’ve never really celebrated my birthday.” His smile returns, wider than before. The victorious gleam in his eyes churns my stomach. “All the more reason to make sure this one is special. You’re twenty-two, right? That’s as good an age as any to celebrate.

” “Sorry. I had a long day at work today, and I’m exhausted. I’m going to have to pass. Thanks, though.” I try to maneuver around him, but he grabs me by the waist and steers me toward his waiting friend. “I don’t think so.” My heart starts racing. I dig my feet into the ground. When I try to escape him, his grip becomes painfully tight. “You’re not ditching me again,” he snaps.

I startle at the venom in his voice, and he immediately calms himself. “There’s no way out of this, Nora. You’re all mine tonight.” I don’t need my gift to recognize the double meaning in his words. When I glare at him, his cheeks flush with anger, and I suddenly feel a knife poking in my side. “Don’t embarrass me. You’ll regret it if you do.” Thanks to the knife, I have no choice but to go with him. I know he won’t hesitate to use it. His thoughts prove that.

Xavier smiles at his friend. The guy nods back and slips into the front of the car while Xavier yanks me over by the arm and forces me into the backseat. “Hey, Parker, you don’t mind playing chauffeur, right? My girl wants me to sit with her.” His knife hidden again, Xavier slides in after me. He looks at the guy in the driver’s seat. “Parker, this is Nora.” He points to Parker and says, “Nora, this is my new friend, Parker.” Xavier looks a lot like all the guys I saw on the bus. His hair is hidden under a do-rag, and he’s wearing clothes ten sizes too big for him. It’s a typical look for guys in Detroit.

Parker, though…he’s different. He’s a little older, maybe late twenties, and he looks like a GQ model. On top of the nice outfit that fits him like clothes are supposed to fit a man, he’s got dark, short stylish hair; beautiful alabaster skin; and striking blue eyes. He’s gorgeous. Too bad he’s hanging out with Xavier. Parker nods at me and then starts the car. “It’s nice to meet you, Nora. You’re even lovelier than Xavier said you were.” I’m more thrown off by the manners than the compliment, but I don’t have time to dwell on it, because Xavier snakes his fingers up my thigh and says, “And tonight she’s all mine.” I shove his hand away.

“That’s not happening.” Parker glances at me in the rearview mirror with shrewd eyes while Xavier chuckles and slips his arm over my shoulder, dragging me into his side. “Nora loves to play hard to get,” he says to Parker, “but I’m feeling lucky tonight.” He pulls me even closer and pushes his free hand beneath my shirt. I try to squirm away, but he’s holding me too tightly. He brushes his lips along the length of my neck and says, “You know you want it, baby. I’ll have you begging me for it before the night is over.” He laughs as if he’s just said the world’s funniest joke. “Get of me.” I try to break free again, and this time, thankfully, he lets me go with a sigh.

“All right, all right, relax.” He rolls his eyes at Parker in the rearview mirror. “Apparently we need to get the virgin a little looser before she’s ready for me. What do you think, should we hit up Club Noir?” Parker frowns. “That’s a bit rough for her. Let’s go someplace better. Perhaps Vortex?” “Too many rich white people,” Xavier says. He smirks at Parker. “No offense.” Parker ignores the jab.

Apparently he’s a rich white guy, not that I couldn’t have guessed by the car and the clothes. “What about Motown?” he asks. Xavier thinks about it and nods. “Yeah, that could work.” My head starts spinning with ideas. If he plans to take me to a club before dragging me back to his dorm room or some cheap motel, I might have a chance to escape. Especially if I can get him drunk. But I have to get him to let his guard down first, which means playing along a little. Hopefully I can do that without getting sick. “Are we really going dancing?” I ask.

“I’ve never been to a club before.” Xavier grins at me. “It’s your night, birthday girl. You like dancing?” “I love dancing.” Batting my eyelashes at him might be a bit much, but he falls for it enough that he slides a possessive arm around me again. He looks down at me through hooded eyes and speaks in a low, husky voice. “You never told me you like to dance.” The lustful thoughts I’m picking up from him are enough to drown me. Swallowing back my revulsion, I force another smile and shrug. “You’ve never asked.

I’m not very good at it, though.” “I doubt that.” Xavier shivers and graces me with a vision of the two of us grinding on a crowded dance floor. His hands are holding me in places that shouldn’t be touched in public. “Motown, it is,” he rasps, “and step on it.” “Actually…” An idea pops into my head that I can’t ignore. I wait until I have his full attention before finishing my sentence. “If you’re going to take me to my first club, I want to go to Underworld.” Xavier’s jaw falls slack, and Parker glances sharply at me in the rearview mirror. “Underworld?” Xavier hoots in amusement.

“Girl, you’ve got a lot more spunk than I gave you credit for.” He smiles at me again, but this time it’s patronizing. “Baby, you are way too sweet for a place like Underworld. Hell, I’m way too sweet for that club.” “It’s not so bad,” I insist. “A guy who comes into the garage I work at goes there all the time. He says it’s intense.” “Nora, Underworld is dangerous. Crazy shit happens there. Unexplainable shit.

They say it’s cursed.”

.

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