3 Beginning of Dusk 2
"Roxanne. Roxanne Heath!"
I wake up with a startle, only to realize that the sun is setting and school is over.
The figure yelling over my head is the substitute teacher, Mr. Peters. While he is much better of a person than Mrs. Helens, I have to admit that his lectures can send me to sleep in light speed.
"Hello, Mr. Peters," I nod off.
"Don't 'Hello, Mr. Peters' me! Class has long ended and you need to head home young missy," Mr. Peters spoke with a tone devoid of happiness.
"Yes, Mr. Peters," I quickly stand and bow in apology to my teacher. Hopefully, the man does not report my bad habits to the next teacher. Supposing that any more points are docked from my grade, then I may need to repeat a year. Oh, joy.
Scrambling away, I head toward the burger shop, MeowBurgers, Leon and I frequent every Friday. However, I'm not going to enter the shop, but instead, the fancy cafe close.
Even the foolish Leon knows that a fast food restaurant is not a valid spot for a first date.
While passing by the burger shop, I notice that investigations were still on-going. Yellow tape and policemen surrounded the crime scene in the alleyway. Tiny rats scamper cautiously within the shadows cast from the city's tall structures. Garbage bags and decomposed material are strewn around the sides of the buildings.
Due to the negative publicity that the crime has caused, MeowBurgers have, unfortunately, closed for the week.
Strolling through the city is dangerous if one isn't well-accustomed to life in NeverDusk City, especially in the dark.
It was a simple fact that everybody understood. Yet, why did Mrs. Helens, a normally sensible and wise old woman, go outside at night on the day she was killed?
"What are you doing here, madam?" A police officer spots me passing by. He cocks his head as he scrutinizes my appearance.
The misfortunate thing about my nearly five foot ten inches height is that I'm often mistaken as an adult woman. In fact, sometimes people think of me as Leon's graduate school girlfriend when we're walking next to each other. But, I'm still a bonafide teenager who will turn sixteen in a month.
"Madam?" The officer calls out once more.
Returning from my recollections, I reply, "I'm just meeting up with my friends in the cafe across the street."
"Really now? I knew of some cases where young women who wander out here late at night get raped or die. Some incidents are due to drugs or when women sell themselves. While others are due to unknown causes like the woman who died here. I advise you to get home before the sun completely sets," the police officer rambles on in attempts to discourage me from going.
"Sir, I will be heading home right after meeting my friend." My eyebrow twitches at the police officer's meddling.
"Ah, wait," the police officer takes out his notepad as he jots down a few numbers and a name. Handing the slip to me, he makes eye contact without blinking. In return, I don't even flinch from his oppressive glare.
"Listen. If you are ever in trouble, call this number. Now, off you go. If I don't see you out that cafe before it closes at seven, then I will be searching for your remains," the police officer articulates with a stern tone as if he is intimidating a criminal.
However, I am already used to such treatment from my grandfather. When that wizened old man tries to lecture me, he is as terrifying as a lion opening its maw right in front of my face.
As I walk to the cafe, I read the name on the note. David Smith.
Gentle chimes ring within the quiet cafe.
As if isolated from the foul city, an orderly cafe with a homely atmosphere is before me. Pastries of all colors, ranging from sponge roll cakes to fruit tarts, are lined up in the counter. From behind the cash register, the cafe's employee warmly welcomes me as I pass by.
However, little do they know that I will not buy a single thing from their store, but instead, splurge on their free water!
From the corner of my eye, I identify a couple seated at a table of four. One of them takes notice of me and beams a refreshing grin at me.
"Roxanne! You're late!" Leon lightly chides.
"Dude, you never specified the time," I take a seat on one of the open sides of the square table. Unsurprisingly, the chairs are clean, which is already a step ahead from MeowBurger's ketchup and fries littered seats. Seriously, they should start cleaning whether inside or outside their shop.
"Even so, to come two and a half hours after class ended without thinking of how long we had to wait for you.." He acts as if I committed a grave sin as a crocodile tear squeezes out of those puppy-like eyes.
"Hi," a nearly inaudible peep sounds from a petite girl. Her head is lowered as she simply gazes downcast at the glass of water in settled tightly within her palms.
Curly blonde hair and milky white skin. A pair light doe eyes and a pastel blue one piece. She is the picture perfect living Mary Sue if I have ever seen one. Furthermore, she completely adheres to Leon's tastes.
Not to mention that she is slightly shorter than the already tiny Leon.
Of course, a girl like me can not compare in feminine charms to this girl.
"Oh, hey." The only thing I can do is awkwardly wave at the shy girl. Leon is a fool for asking a third-wheel like me to interfere with their date.
Then again, considering how the girl seems to be the type that is uncomfortable with men, it was no wonder why Leon had invited me here. And, as usual, I have to be his wingman. Sigh.
"Haha. Enough with the jokes, let me introduce you two," Leon replies as the girl tilts her head toward me.
"Charlotte, meet my best friend, Roxanne Heath. And, Roxanne, meet my new girlfriend, Charlotte Hopkins," he includes, "We haven't been together for more than a week, but I'm sure that this time is true love."
Internally, I roll my eyes at Leon's blatant lies. Since when did he ever stick with his so-called "true love"?
However, because I'm here to support him, I merely nod and smile.
"So, Charlotte. Did I pronounce your name correctly?" I strike up some small talk. Observing her closely, she seems uncannily familiar. But, am I imagining things?
"Uh, could you repeat that?" My lips twitch at her mouse-like squeaks.
She nods as if to answer the question instead of replying with words as for thirty seconds, silence prevails the cafe.
Okay. This is going to be tough.
"My name is Roxanne," I extend my hand out as a soft palm shakes my own rough one.
"It's a good thing that Charlotte was late too. Otherwise, I wouldn't have waited for you," Leon smirks, "Do you want anything to eat?"
"Nah, you know I don't like to eat random junk before dinner," I prop my chin onto my hands, "So, how did you guys meet?"
"It's like this. I bumped into her at the convenience store near my place around midnight and...it was love at first sight," Leon responds. He blankly stares into the distance as I wave my hand in front of his face.
"Okay, loverboy. Time to snap back to reality." I pinch his nose and immediately release it.
"Ow. Alright, then. While I did want a nice hangout before we get to the heart of the issue, it's getting late and nighttime is not a good time to be outside," he glances at the window before focusing his gaze at his new girlfriend, "Charlotte, you should tell us about what happened."
I raise an eyebrow at those words. Don't tell me that she just accepted Leon's confession to ask for help. Even though he is an idiot, he is my friend and I will not tolerate anyone trampling on his goodwill.
"...okay," she fidgets within her seat. At this rate, we will be staying here till tomorrow. Nevertheless, I hope she will actually explain everything before the sunsets so my family doesn't interrogate me about where the hell I have been.
After a while, the fidgeting girl finally speaks, "There is someone that is bothering me at school. His name is Dennis. Ever since the semester began, he has been pestering me to go out with him. I thought it would stop if I had a boyfriend, but it has only grown worse."
Welp, I guess she did date Leon just to get away from the guy. My condolences to him for yet another bad choice of a girlfriend.
"Like, how bad?"
"Sometimes I find my stuff messed with or missing. Other times, he would try to touch me or harass me by searching for my social media pages and texting me through there. But, more importantly, I believe that he has been stalking me home ever since a month ago," she sorrowfully places her palm on her mouth.
"How do you know that?"
"After noticing that someone was following me after school, I have been walking with my friends and my friends have caught him in action several times. There are times that I could see him outside my window at night."
Leon's cheerful expression becomes solemn as he listens to Charlotte's worries. He stretches out his hands and grabs onto hers.
Clenching onto her hands, he reassures, "Don't worry, I'll help you no matter what. Just tell me what to do to help you."
She nods. "Okay."
"Have you spoken to a teacher or adult?" I ask. Ah, poor Leon. Getting taken advantage of by victims once again, yet not minding at all like the saint you are. He's such a gentleman.
"Yes, but even though they did give Dennis several warnings, it never hindered him from continuing his harassment. After a while, they stopped paying attention to him since there was nothing that they could do. There was no evidence of his actions and they could not simply act based on my testimony," Charlotte explains with slow intonations, causing me to discern that a minute passes per sentence every time I glance at the wall.
"So, what do you want us to do about it?" I tap the table in annoyance. Under those fake smiles, the waitresses clearly want us kicked out before the cafe closes. I mean, that waitress in the corner has her broom ready to sweep us out.
"Could you help me confront Dennis? I am not saying that you could do so right away since he has not come to school for the past two days. But, when he appears again," she pleads.
"Of course, we will," Leon responds.
"Wait, why did you ask Leon of all people to help you?"
"I am not that familiar with any men and all my friends are girls. Leon was the first to get this close to me, so I could not help but ask him for help." Liquid squeezes out of the corners of her eyes as she blushes.
While it is not the first time that Leon helped with a similar incident, I still feel this whole situation to be suspicious.
Wait, creamy blonde hair?
"Aren't you a student at our school?" I finally remember seeing her on one the third floor of my school, or where the junior years were located. Which means that she is a school year older than both me and Leon. Despite that, she's at least a foot shorter than me.
"Roxanne, you didn't notice?" Leon widens his eyes.
"It's not like I know every student in the school," I retort.
Leon whispers to my ear, "She's ranked quite high on the most beautiful girls in her year. I didn't recognize who she was right away, but I remembered when I bumped into her at school."
"Well, enough of all this, it's about time we leave," I conclude the meeting, which is more like a consultation than a date.
The duo agrees as I exchange phone numbers with them in case something happens.
"Be careful on your way home," Leon tells me. Since Charlotte has a stalker on the loose after her, I suppose it's natural that he will escort her home.
By the time we part, I realize that I forgot to ask him about the gun.