The double date was a favor for Carly’s roommate, Sara. Josh, Carly’s date, who had recently moved to the city, was a college buddy of Sara’s boyfriend, Ken. The evening went well. They strolled through Central Park to view the autumn leaves—Sara’s idea. Then they rode the subway to a Thai bistro near the girls’ apartment—Carly’s choice. The girls shared a bottle of Riesling wine. The guys drank beer and sang karaoke.
“So what do you think of Josh?” Sara asked Carly in the ladies’ room. “He’s really cute.”
“He’s okay,” Carly replied, coming out of a stall.
“What do you mean, ‘okay’?” Sara said. “If I weren’t with Ken, dot, dot, dot.” She punctuated that thought with a wink and a smile.
“You know what my job is like,” Carly replied. “I don’t have time for a relationship right now.” She checked her lipstick in the mirror, looked to see if any was on her teeth, and fluffed her short, brown hair.
“Well, you know what they say,” Sara said with a shrug, “all work and no play, dot, dot, dot.”
The night ended a little after ten when Carly said she had an early meeting.
She thanked Josh for an enjoyable night, let herself into the apartment building, rode the elevator to the third floor, stripped to her panties, and climbed in bed just as Sara stuck her head in the door. “The guys had a good time,” she said, “and want to do it again sometime.”
“We’ll see,” Carly replied.
Working on two new ad campaigns plus preparing a presentation for a potential client took all of Carly’s energy for the next few days, including an all-day strategy meeting on Saturday and working most of Sunday putting the final touches on materials for her Monday meetings. She ignored the phone, at first, when it rang Sunday evening, but decided to pick it up. It might be her Pops wondering why she hadn’t called earlier in the day like she always did on Sunday. She didn’t bother checking the caller ID.
“Hello?” She said.
“Hey, Carly, it’s me. How’s it going?” She frowned when she heard the voice and realized it wasn’t her dad.
“I’m okay, Josh, just very busy with work. How did you get my number?”
“Even on the weekends?” he asked, ignoring Carly’s question.
“I’m afraid so.” Carly rubbed her temples and took a deep breath. He must have gotten the number from Ken. “In fact, I’m kinda busy at the moment.”
“Oh. Well, sorry to disturb you,” Josh said. “Maybe you’ll be less busy by Friday, and we can go out again.”
“I don’t think that’s a good idea right now. I’d be a terrible date, always thinking about work.”
“That’s okay. I’m a good listener.”
Sure you are, thought Carly.
“I’ve got to get back to work, Josh.” She wasn’t going to say more and give him any hope of there being another date.
“Okay. Another time.”
“Bye, Josh.” She hung up, grabbed a Diet Pepsi out of the fridge, and went back to work.
By Thursday, Carly felt like she was sleep walking through her day. She entered the apartment around seven and was met by Sara and Ken.
“Wow, you look beat,” Sara said.
“I feel beat,” Carly replied.
“Well, we’ve got some news for you.” Sara looked at a smiling Ken and back at Carly. “We’re engaged!” Sara jump out of her chair and flapped her hand in the air.
“Congratulations,” Carly said with as much enthusiasm as she could muster.
“We haven’t set a date yet, but we plan on living together.” Sara looked at Ken again. “I’ll be moving out on Saturday.”
“Gee, that’s short notice, Sara.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I know this is quick, but I plan to pay my part of the rent for six months, or until you find another roommate. Is that fair?”
“More than fair. I appreciate it,” Carly said, falling into the living room chair.
“Who knows. Maybe by then you and Josh will be an item, and he will take my place.”
Carly slumped further into the chair.
The Sunday after Sara moved out, Carly sat in front of the TV watching the Packers play the Giants. Having come to New York from Wisconsin, she took every opportunity to watch her favorite team. Today’s game was close, but she had confidence in her Packers’ ability to pull off a win. Just as half time started, the phone rang.
“Hey, Pops. Watching the game?” She knew he was. It was something they did together every Sunday after mom left.
“Hey, Babe. Who’s Pops?”
“Hi, Josh,” Carly said, feeling the onset of another headache. Since Josh hadn’t called for a week, she thought he might have given up on her. “Pops is my dad. We usually talk every Sunday. Although I’ve missed a few weeks. He understands how busy I am at work and usually waits for me to call.” She hoped Josh could take a hint.
“Oh. Okay. Thought I might have some competition,” Josh said with what sounded to Carly like an irritated chuckle.
“Nope. No competition at the moment.”
“There better not be. I’d hate to think you were leading me on and seeing another guy on the side.”
Carly couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “No, there’s no other guy, Josh. There isn’t any guy.”
“Like I said, there better not be.” Carly heard a hardness in his voice that made her cringe. “Anyway, you up for some dinner? We could go back to that Thai place you like.”
“No, thanks. I already ate,” Carly lied.
“I’ve gotta go, Josh,” Carly said and hung up before he could reply.
The next night the light on her phone was blinking when she got home. She pushed a button, and a voice told her she had three messages.
“Hey, Babe. How about getting a pizza tonight?”
She deleted the message and went to the next.
“Hey, Babe, I forget to say it was me, Josh. Here’s my number. Give me a call when you get home.”
She deleted that one and went to the next.
“It’s Josh again. Why haven’t you called? You sure there isn’t another guy?”
Carly’s legs wobbled and she slumped into the chair by her desk. Was this guy for real?
There were multiple messages on her phone the next two nights. All from Josh. Each one more threatening. Sunday morning, after a restless night’s sleep, she went to the hall closet and grabbed the box on the back of the shelf. In it was the revolver Pops had given her before she moved to New York. “You never know what kind of loonies you’ll meet there,” he’d said. She sat at the kitchen table, took the gun out of the box, held it in her hands and stared at it for a few minutes. She knew how to shoot. Pops had taken her to a gun range three times to teach her what to do. After a cleansing breath, she loaded the chambers and put the gun in her night stand. Just as she closed the drawer, the phone rang. She put the receiver to her ear but said nothing.
“Hey, bitch, it’s me, Josh. I know you’re in there. Who’s the guy?”
“I keep telling you, Josh. There is no guy.”
“I don’t believe you. Let me in so I can see for myself.”
Carly walked to the window and saw him standing on the sidewalk. “There is no one here, and I’m not letting you in. In fact, if you don’t leave, I’m calling the cops.” Carly slammed the receiver down, closed her eyes, and took a few deep breathes. She looked out the window again and thought she saw Josh across the street sitting on a stoop. She grabbed a beer from the fridge and tried watching the rest of the football game, but Josh kept popping into her mind.
For the next few nights, every time the phone rang she let it go to voice mail. Most of the calls were from Josh. There were a couple from Pops. She was afraid of what her Pops might do if she told him what was going on, so she decided not to call him back until her problem with Josh was solved.
On Thursday, Josh rang her bell and threatened her over the intercom. She had feared this happening and wondered why it had taken him so long. Instead of letting Josh in, she called the police and explained what was going on. She watched from the window as the patrol car pulled up. Unfortunately, Josh was gone.
The two officers took her statement and canvassed her neighbors. The policemen reported back to Carly that no one had seen a stranger out front, or, the officers surmised, no one wanted to get involved. “It would help if there was a security camera pointed at the door,” the older officer said. Carly nodded in agreement. They told her to call if she felt threatened again. She said she would but doubted if anything would be done unless Josh physically harmed her in some way.
Later that evening, alone in her room, Carly held the gun in her hands, flipped the safety off and on, and stared out the window. A neon light from down the street flickered in a syncopated rhythm. Street smells that she’d ignored before permeated the room. The gun felt slippery in her damp palms. The intercom buzzer rang. She ignored it. It rang again. She ignored it again.
She heard a man’s voice in the hall having a conversation with a woman, maybe Mrs. Murray. She couldn’t hear what was being said over the voices in her head. She moved into the hallway and pointed the gun toward the front door. Josh was not going to hurt her.
She saw a shadow under the door and flipped the safety off. There a knock on her door, then a louder one. A voice called her name. The voices in her head warned her to be ready. There was a third knock on the door, the knob turned. “Leave me alone, Josh.” He was trying to get into her room. He was going to rape her. She knew it. Carly aimed the gun, steadied her hands and squeezed the trigger, just like Pops had taught her.
Hearing a thud, she opened the door. A body lay face down on the carpet. A pool of blood formed on the hall rug. She stared at the back of the man’s head. Something didn’t seem right. She turned the body over and screamed.