By: Kaitlin Arocho


     It’s been months now and this is still eating away at me. I would usually have dropped this by now, but there’s something about him. Staring doesn’t help and trying to follow him is even worse. Every time I try he always just disappears. It’s not like I can ask anyone else either. He’s a lone wolf. Never talks to anyone, just sits off to the side and does what he needs to do. It’s a bit annoying really.

     “Hey, Ms. Fidgety. You alright, girl?”

     “What?” I turn to Dinah, who’s sitting next to me, now cutting her porkchop.

     “I said, you alright?”

     “Yeah, I’m fine.”

     “Can’t you see she’s thinking real hard D?” Samuel says.

     “Well what’s she thinking about?”

     “Well, based on her line of sight,” he takes two fingers, points them at me, then as if following an imaginary line, points in the direction of Neo. He looks as Dinah with a smirk on his face and then flashes it at me. “Him.”

     As I open my mouth to say something George sits down. “Could you be any more annoying?”

     “Where’ve you been?” I ask.

     He shrinks some, “Don’t worry about. Personal stuff.”

     “Anyway, I agree with George. You’re being annoying.”

     “Am I, though? What’s annoying is that you have yet to be caught staring. Obviously you like him. Go talk to him. That was the only thing I got from you, other than the fact that you were a transfer on the first day.”

     “He’s right Mal,” Dinah finally chimed in.

     “I don’t like him.” They all stare. “I don’t. It’s just that, he, he,” I find myself at a loss for words. Instead of continuing to babble on in incomplete sentences I cross my arms and slump in my seat. “Oh, forget it.”

     George continues to eat while I sit silently as Samuel and Dinah laugh. Eventually they start a different conversation, but I only manage to listen to about thirty seconds of it. I tune them out and find myself, once again, staring at Neo. With a name like that you would think I would have figured it out by now. Too caught up on his name I failed to register when exactly he made eye contact with me. His eyes burn into me, like he’s seeing everything he needs. He’s emotionless, but his eyes are heavy. I want to pull away but I can’t, it’s like he won’t let me. But then he does. He looks to my left and then gets up. I turn to my left to see George gone and when I turn back, so is Neo.

     “Hey, did either of you see where George went?”

     “No,” they say together.

     Before they can ask why I get up and walk out of the dinning hall, ignoring their objections knowing they won’t follow and will just ask again later. I barely catch a glimpse of  Neo as he turns the corner of the building. I take extra long strides in hopes of not losing him. He walks along the dinning hall and beyond it until he turns between two of the dorm buildings. I don’t follow immediately, I don’t even know that I was keeping enough distance. After what feels like too long I peek around the corner and see him just standing there, no more than fifteen feet away.

     “Did you do as I asked?”

     “Well not exactly.” George?

     “What do you mean, ‘not exactly’?”

     “I wasn’t able to finish because it was getting late and-”

     Neo slams George against the wall, holding him by the collar. He leans close and makes his voice so low I can barely tell he’s talking. “You have until tonight, otherwise I’ll keep well on my promise. Do you understand?” George just nods. “Good.” Neo lets go and tries to straighten out any wrinkles he could have left. As he turns to walk away I pull out my phone and basically jump at the steps attached to the building I’m next to. I sit down and stare at my phone, waiting for him to pass. Luckily he turns in the opposite direction and I breathe a sigh of relief. Against my better judgment I walk down the alley and bump into George. I wasn’t expecting him to move so fast, I know I wouldn’t have.

     “Mal. What’re you doing here?”

     “Wondering what that was all about. Are you alright?”

     “I- I’m fine. You shouldn’t’ve seen that.”

     “But I did. So what’s going on?”

     “I can’t talk about it.” He pushes past me but stops. “Just drop it, alright? And stay away from Neo.” With that he’s on his way.

     Stay away from him? How does he expect me to do that? I wasn’t able to do that when I didn’t know anything about him and now he wants me to “drop it” after hearing something like this? I don’t think so. But, like everything, I need a clear mind to confront him. I need the guts to do that. Can I actually do that? I can. I have to. I head to the gym about half way across campus, the one spot in this place I’ve ever been able to find peace. I walk in and head to my usual area. It’s a Saturday afternoon, so there are more people than usual. I set my stuff down and start my music and get to work.

     People come and go, small bits of mist come into the main area from the back where the locker rooms are, it’s just another normal day. That is, until I notice him. Just as I’m beginning to relax, he shows up.  He never shows up consistently, so it’s not like I could have avoided it. He looks like he’s built up quite a sweat so he’s had to have been here for a little while. Figures today would be the day.

     I’m at the squatting station when he walks over to the pull up area. I try to focus on what I’m doing, but then he does something he’s never done before. Instead of keeping the sleeveless hoodie on, he takes it off and tosses it off to the side and without a second in between he jumps up to the bar and starts doing pull ups. I’m in the middle of going down into a squat as I look at his back and notice it. I falter, lose concentration. I quickly force my left leg out from under me and behind me to get some balance, luckily two girls nearby see and are able to help stabilize me some. I thank them, a bit shaky as that could have ended very badly.

     Gathering my stuff quickly I start to leave, thankful he’s not too far ahead but he bumps into someone making them drop their stuff. I stop as he helps the guy pick up his things and apologizes, then I fall in exactly one step behind him as we exit. How do I start this conversation? “Hey, I know how you are. Let’s talk”?

     “It’s rude to follow people without their permission, you know.” He stops and I run into his back. I rub my nose as he turns around to face me. “So why are you following me?”


     “I asked you a question. Mallory.”

     “You know my name?”

     “Of course I do. We have Saurez’s morning lectures together. You ask quite a few questions in there. Enough to pick up your name after a few months.”

     “But you knew my name before, didn’t you?” My voice carries a new weight to it. Something that can only be described as a new found confidence. From where? I don’t know.

     “How do you mean?”

     “I mean we’ve met before. Four years ago. And then your name wasn’t Neo.”

     “I think you have me confused. But now that we’ve cleared that up I’ll be leaving. Don’t follow this time.” He turns on his heels, and for a second I think I’m going to just let him go.

     “Your name was Paul.”

     He stops. Walking back to me faster than I was ready for. Before I know it he’s towering over me, an inch away from my face, his breath hot. “Don’t you ever call me that. That’s not my name.

     “But it is. I know because I saw the scar on your back. The one from your neck to your left shoulder.”

     “It’s not my neck, it’s just to the left of my spine. And anyone could have a scar there, that doesn’t mean anything.”

     “I know because I remember being told that had you been initially hit any further to the right you would have been paralized from the neck down for the rest of your life. I know because I was shown a picture of it and I had nightmares for days. I know because ever since that day I’ve wanted nothing more than to apologize to you.”

     “How could you have wanted to apologize to me? You’ve never even met me.”

     “But I have met you. When I knew you you were a sweet, quiet kid that I regret not getting to know better. You’re someone I’ve thought about every single day since you left. Someone I think could have been good for me.”

     He backs away from me, and reaches into his pocket, smiling. “Now that doesn’t sound anything like me. Especially when I’ve just taken something that wasn’t mine.” He holds up a black wallet.

     “You stole that from that guy. Why?”

     “I needed the cash. Besides, he won’t miss it. He’s got pockets as deep as hell. That and he owed me.”

     “Then why not just talk to him about it?”

     “This was easier.”

     “You bumped into him on purpose.” His smile only grows. “This isn’t right, Paul. I’m going to tell him.” I start to go back towards the gym but he grabs my wrist. I try to shake him off but it’s no use. I turn, hoping to look him in the eyes when I tell him to let go but as I do his cheek brushes mine. My breath catches as I feel his breath graze my ear. He lowers his voice like he did in the alley with George and I feel myself trembling.

     “I told you… that’s not my name. And that would not be a wise decision.” He moves back so I can actually see his face now. “Besides, why are you willing to help this random guy when you didn’t even think about running to tell about my arrangement with your good buddy George.”

     “I have no proof of anything. I don’t even know what the factors that are in play are.”

     “Ah, so the law student was going to take the legal approach.”

     “What other way is there?”

     “Not telling at all of course. Just stay out of my way and you’ll have nothing to worry about.”

     He pats my head and walks off and I just watch him. He’s right though, I don’t know him. He’s far from the person I knew back in high school. But that doesn’t change the fact that he used to be like I said. He changed. And I don’t know when or why, but I will figure it out. I have to. And if not for me then for my friend and everyone else who could be getting tormented right now.