Staring through the viewfinder my eyes are greeted with swirls of pink and purple. I booked this sunset cruise just three days before with the hopes of being able to dabble in my newfound hobby, photography. Having no experience in editing or taking pictures with anything other than my iPhone, I figured the cotton candy skies settling in over the Boston skyline would serve as the perfect subject. Surely, the natural beauty would be easy for any rookie to capture. Even with my camera pointed to the sky, I could not focus. The hypnotic sound of the waves hitting the side of the yacht caused my mind to drift off to sea at a faster speed. I was enjoying recreating the famous Titanic scene with Jack when my thoughts were interrupted.
“Julia? Is there a Julia on this deck?” The sound of my name acted as a life preserver and reeled in my imagination. Goodbye, Jack.
I lower my camera and turn to see a taller man standing near the stairway. The dark circle frames of his glasses compliment his babyface in a way that makes me blush a little. I shyly raise my hand and say, “I’m Julia.”
“Good evening Miss. I believe this is for you.”
He hands me a white envelope that is almost as crisp as his suit and then leaves me to open it privately. I opened the envelope to find a small scrabble tile. The front of the tile had the letter E on it. Written on the back of the tile was “9/9”. This was the last tile and quite possibly the most important letter as it completed the word. For the past week, I have been finding and receiving these letters in a variety of different ways. I found the first tile on my doorstep. It was the letter L and had 1/9 on the back. At the time I didn’t put much thought into it. In fact, I even left it lying outside, rendering it a victim to the elements.
When I went to work the next day, I saw another tile on my keyboard. This time it was the letter “i”, with 2/9 written on the back. I looked around to see if there was anyone awaiting my reaction, but I didn’t notice any eyes peering back at me. Sure, the first tile could have landed on my step by mistake. Compliments of a random passerby. However, standing over my keyboard engaged in an intense staring competition with this “i”, I knew this was no coincidence.
The first tile was still sitting on my doorstep, like a loyal puppy, when I returned home for lunch. As more tiles appeared, I added them to my collection. While each tile revealed a new letter, they never revealed the sender.
I pulled out the Ziploc bag that held the other tiles and arranged them on a nearby cocktail table.
I grab my phone and googled the word. “Limerence. Noun. The state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person.” The word obsessed caused my skin to burn. My heart began to beat rapidly.
Why did I not take this more seriously from the beginning?
My stomach turned at the memory of me thinking I could have a secret admirer when I found tile number six. When the barista brought me my usual order of a grande hazelnut latte, the tile with a letter “e” sat on top of my to-go cup. Between sips, I let the memory goes as far possibly telling the story of the scrabble tiles at our wedding. How naive.
I look around to see if anyone is watching me, just as I did when I found the second tile. Even though my gaze is left unmet, I still feel as though I’m being watched. The time on my phone screen shows there is another hour left on this cruise. Getting off the boat any earlier isn’t an option. I’m trapped.
Is there a chance that my stalker isn’t on this boat with me? Could he have passed it along to the staff? I grab my camera and begin to search for the man who gave me the envelope. Deck three is full of people but he isn’t one of them. Time to head down to the second deck. One of my hands grabs the bottom of my dress and the other grasps the stair rail as I make the trek down. My camera is hanging around my neck and gently hits my chest with every step. Deck two is less full so I’m able to scan it in a matter of seconds. No luck. However, I notice a woman with a tray of complimentary champagne standing within feet of me. While the tray is being held in front of her chest, I can still make out her name tag through the bubbles.
“Excuse me, Michelle?” I ask somewhat timidly.
“Yes, hello! Would you like a glass of champagne?”, The smile in her voice makes me feel as if we had known each other forever. Any other time I would compliment her bright red lipstick and ask for tips on how she managed to get every strand of her brunette hair into her bun.
“I’m looking for one of your staff members. He’s really tall. Dark brown hair. Glasses.” I ask.
I watch as her bright red lips cover her teeth like a curtain closing at the end of an act during a play. The smile that lit up her face just moments before transformed into a look of uncertainty.
“Really tall, huh? Glasses? Are you sure he was a member of our staff?” She asks.
Am I sure? He has to be. I remember him dressed in a suit similar to the one Michelle is wearing.
“Yes, I believe so. Does that not sound like anyone on your team?” I ask nervously.
“Well, the majority of the wait staff is female. The only male that comes to mind is rather short and stocky,” she replies.
“Oh. Maybe I am mistaking. Thank you for your help anyway.” Somewhat embarrassed, I decide to continue the search.
I head on down to the lower deck just to be sure. I can feel the vibrations from the music the DJ is blaring each time I place my feet on a lower stair. I scan the entire room as soon as I reach the bottom. Once again nothing.
Frustrated and out of ideas, I head to the bathroom. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe I focused too much on the word “Obsessed” when reading the definition. Maybe I will tell this story at our wedding.
As I’m sitting in the stall. I hear the door open. Music from the deck sneaks in but is quickly pushed back out as the door closes. I can hear one set of footsteps over the muffled music. I don’t hear a stall door open next to me. I don’t hear any water running near the sink. There isn’t a female voice talking on her phone. What is this person doing? Just as I try to lower my head to see the stranger’s feet. A scrabble tile is pushed under the stall door.
M? A mixture of terror and confusion shoots through my veins. My eyes stare at it until I’m greeted with the next letter
MI? I slowly begin to try to reach for my phone. It’s hidden inside my purse, which is hanging on the hook in front of me. There is no way I will reach it while sitting down.
N. The next tile is slid under the door.
MIN? I can feel beads of sweat beginning to form on my forehead. I slowly but fully stand up. Instead of moving closer to the door, I keep my feet planted and decide to reach for my phone. Just as I feel its cold screen underneath my fingertips, I hear another tile hitting the floor. I look down.
My eyes begin to water, and I’m overcome with fear. There is no way out. The stall door is kicked open.
“Hi, Julia!” The man in the dark-framed glasses says as he stands in front of me.
Before I could let out a scream. I feel his hands wrap tightly around my neck. I try to fight but my strength seems to be no match to his. Amidst the loud ringing in my ears, I hear my camera drop. It doesn’t matter. As the darkness rolls over my eyes, I think to myself “There will be no wedding”. My entire body relaxes.
She did try to fight. It was almost as exciting as the months I spent watching her. Studying her every move. I gathered the tiles off of the floor and the rest out of her purse. I slide the L tile out of Julia’s Ziploc bag and into the crisp white envelope. I almost decided to keep her, but tonight has introduced me to someone else. There wouldn’t have been enough room for the three of us. I can feel the boat docking. Making my way out to the deck I notice a woman with a tray of cookies. Her smile shines brighter than the streetlamps. Despite the tray being held in front of her, I can still see her name tag through the cellophane goodie bags.
“Hello, Michelle. I believe this letter is for you!”