I felt a mix of nerves and excitement as I slipped on my modest black dress, a mere half hour before James would arrive to take me to dinner. Kelsey sat on my bed, her feet dangling over the edge as she gave me clothing advice. Well, she was supposed to be, anyway. But like myself, she couldn't seem to keep her thoughts off of Harry. It seemed as if my mind wasn't the only one his hauntingly beautiful face had crept into.
"I don't get it," she complained. "He won't tell me anything, I just can't break him. He always seems like he's playing some game, like he's one step ahead of me and I can't figure him out. But I love it." She explained, sitting up and flashing me am excited smile. "It's a challenge."
I just laughed at her insane logic, wanting to change subject. Harry seemed to consume my every thought and I needed a break from it. At least for tonight.
"Anyway, what do you think?" I asked, gesturing to my outfit. It was just a dress and flats, nothing too fancy but not too underdressed either.
"It's perfect," she said confidently. "James will love it."
I smiled shyly, turning around to face the mirror. My hair hung loosely in dark waves, and I wore minimal make-up to make it look like I hadn't tried to look good, even though I really had. I hadn't been on a proper date in a long time so I was excited for this one. Sitting here with Kelsey, though, another emotion was lingering in my mind. Curiosity. But not an innocent curiosity, rather a dreaded curiosity that made me need answers even though I was afraid to discover them. I knew I had to ask, though. And with just Kelsey and I alone at the moment, there seemed to be no better time to do so.
"Can I ask you something?" I spoke. Kelsey eagerly nodded, probably thinking my question would involve fashion or dating advice.
"You know Cynthia Porter, don't you?" Harry's voice replayed in my mind, telling me to just let it go, but I ignored it.
"Rose, why are we talking about this? You should be focused on having fun tonight, not work."
"Answer me, Kelsey," I demanded. "You've been acting weird lately and I have to know what's going on."
Kelsey sighed, looking at the floor. "I don't know Cynthia, okay? Stop asking about her, you sound crazy."
"So I've been told," I mumbled. "But that still doesn't explain why you've been acting so strange."
'And if you don't know Cynthia, why hadn't you just said that a few days ago when I first asked?' I thought but didn't say.
"I haven't been acting strange," she protested.
"Yes you have, you've been changing subject when I talk about Cynthia, and you always have this look in your eye like you're hiding something."
Kelsey took a deep breath and glanced around the room as if someone were eavesdropping. I hung on to each moment of silence as she debated whether of not to divulge the truth. "Alright, fine," she caved. "Rose, whatever you do you can't tell anyone."
I nodded eagerly. Finally I was about to actually find out something.
"Okay, well . . . I think there's something weird going on at Wickendale."
"What do you mean by weird?" I asked.
"I . . . I think that there's-" Kelsey started, but was interrupted by a knock at the door. Of all times, of course James had to come at this moment.
The sound seemed to break Kelsey out of her vulnerable state of confession, her expression returning to its usual excited grin. "He's here!" She exclaimed like our previous conversation hadn't happened.
"Ugh," I groaned, not at James' arrival but more so at the timing of it. Why was he so early?
"I guess that's my cue to leave, good luck!" She told me before swinging open the apartment door. She rushed past James as she greeted him with a quick hello, then continued to scurry away down the hall. We would continue that conversation later, I told myself, whether she liked it or not.
With the acceptance that I would have to hold off on uncovering the Cynthia Porter mystery for now, I faced James and his warm grin. He wore dark dress pants and a white button-up shirt, the clothing adorning his body wonderfully.
"Hi Rose," he greeted. "You look lovely."
"Thanks, so do you," I told him, my cheeks immediately heating up at the realization that I just said that out loud. James looked down and laughed modestly, if a laugh could even be modest.
"You ready to go?" He asked. I nodded, shutting the door behind me as James and I walked side by side.
"Sorry I got here so early, I just wanted to make sure we got there on time to get a table."
"It's okay," I said. "I was ready anyway."
We continued to make small talk all the way to the restaurant, mostly just chatting about the weather and his car. Well it wasn't his, he told me, it was his brother's. He was just borrowing it for the night. We talked about work a little, too, and I thought about bringing up Cynthia to see if James could shed any light on the subject, but I decided against it. Like Kelsey said, I just needed to have fun tonight.
And that's what I planned to do when we parked; have fun. The only legal parking spot was a small ways away from the restaurant, so we had to walk there. But as I stepped out of the vehicle I noticed a man in a black coat standing on the sidewalk. The reason I took note of the figure was the mystery of it; his hood was pulled up over his head, the dark of the night concealing his face as he stood against a building, almost out of sight as if he were part of the dark shadows. I just thought it was odd, that he was so hidden like that. But I didn't think think much about it as James and I walked towards the restaurant.
He had tried to offer me his jacket once more but I declined. Last time I hadn't even remembered to give it back until the week later, and it wasn't that cold out. We mostly walked the short distance in silence with London's usual bustling roar quieting as the day faded into darkness. I subconsciously looked over my shoulder to confirm the thought, seeing if there was anyone along the streets; but I wish I hadn't.
Because he was there. Just a couple steps away, far enough that he was amongst the shadows but I could still make out his silhouette. The man that had been standing where we parked. My heart jumped in my chest as I quickened my pace, but then I told myself to calm down. I was getting so jumpy lately with everything going on. Maybe this man was just headed in the same direction.
But as our strides continued I could still make out his footsteps, not daring to look back. We turned a sharp corner, James still talking but I wasn't really focused on the conversation at the moment.
The man turned the corner too.
"James?" I asked abruptly, interrupting him.
"How close are we to the restaurant?"
"It's right up there," he told me, pointing towards a sign just a few buildings away.
I nodded, eager to get there quickly. I didn't want to worry James with our possible "stalker" because it could really be nothing; I just had a chilling feeling about it. I could almost feel him behind me, walking in sync with James and I like a lion stalking it's prey.
We couldn't get to the diner soon enough, and I was immensely grateful when we stepped through the doors of the heated building. I turned around and peered through the glass, not seeing anyone outside. Maybe he left, I thought. Or at least he hadn't chosen to follow us in. Thank God.
I relaxed a little, knowing that we were safe for now. Again, it was probably nothing. I let out a deep sigh of relief, coming back to reality as James and I took our seats at a booth towards the back.
Instead of worrying I put my energy into perusing the menu, finding something to calm my growling stomach.
"Rose?" James asked, setting down his menu to look me in the eyes.
"Yeah?" I asked, seeing his face and realizing I hadn't really been talking to him much this whole time. I felt guilty that I hadn't been paying attention to him after he was kind enough to take me to dinner. I guess my mind had been elsewhere.
"Are you okay? You seem a little quiet." He said.
"Sorry, I'm fine. I'm just nervous," I told him while smiling sheepishly. It was true, I was nervous, but probably not for the reason he had in mind.
"Why would you be nervous?" He wondered.
"I don't know, I just haven't been on a real date in a while." Or because a stalker had been following us the whole way here.
"Don't worry," James grinned, seeming relieved. "Neither have I. I actually have no idea what I'm doing, to be honest. I'm always so awkward on dates."
"It's okay," I laughed. "Same here. I don't get how people can just go out with someone and act so casual, I always get so anxious."
"Exactly!" James exclaimed. "I never know what to talk about. I swear I am the worst person to go out with, I stutter half the time and I suck at picking the venue."
I liked James, I really did. He was adorable and I like the way he used the word "venue."
"No, I really like this restaurant. Plus, you can't be worse than me," I argued. "The few dates I've been on I've completely ruined."
"Really?" James asked. "I'd think that you've had quite a bit of practice dating. Guys must be asking you out all the time."
I shook my head. "Nope, not really."
"That surprises me," James said, a cheeky smile spreading across his face. "But seriously, there was this one time where I went to open a door for my date and she was standing behind me, so when I opened it the door smacked her in the face really hard. We ended up having to go to the hospital."
I couldn't help but burst out in laughter, the whole restaurant turning to look at the cause of all the noise. I covered my mouth in attempt to suppress my giggling. "Sorry," I said. "I shouldn't be laughing."
"It's okay, it was hilarious," James said, chuckling along with me.
"I bet can top that," I told him.
"How?" He asked.
"I'm not saying, it's really embarrassing."
"Oh, come on. I told you mine," James protested, that beautiful grin still adorning his features.
I sighed, not believing I was actually about to say it. "Alright, alright, fine. There was this one time where I was seeing a movie with this guy I liked. Right in the middle of a really dramatic scene I . . . I, um . . . I farted. Everyone in the theater heard and knew it was me, and the guy hasn't talked to me since."
James burst out in hysteric laughter, and I couldn't help but join him. "I can't believe I just told you that!" I exclaimed. We were cracking up and shared a few more dating horror stories until our food arrived. The conversation then consisted of "this is so good," and "this is delicious," between mouthfuls of our tasty dinner.
But all too soon our date was coming to an end as we finished our meals, waiting for the waitress to come with our bill.
"Thanks for coming to dinner tonight, Rose," James said after swallowing his last bite of chicken.
"Of course, I had a lot of fun."
"Me too," he smiled. "But I uh . . . I wanted to talk to you about something," he told me, his tone becoming serious.
"What is it?" I wondered.
He glanced around as if someone were eavesdropping, much like Kelsey had almost two hours ago. "It's about the killer in the institution."
I sighed, really not wanting to talk about it. This was the last thing I wanted to worry about.
"Look, Rose, I just really want you to be careful. I care about you and I don't want you getting hurt."
I nodded. "Of course I'll be careful, James. Why do you seem so worried, do you think you know who it is?"
He looked down at the table, eyes not meeting mine. "I have a few ideas," he said so that his voice was almost a whisper.
"Who?" I asked, getting worried now.
"Well, I've been thinking," he said slowly, as if reluctant to divulge his thoughts. "And it might sound impossible at first, but I'm almost positive I know who murdered those women."
"Who?" I demanded, not being able to stand it any longer.
James looked at me then, his eyes finally meeting mine. "I think . . . I think it was Harry."