Reading Between The Lines. . .

Written in response to: Make a character’s obsession or addiction an important element of your story.... view prompt


Crime Drama Horror

This story contains sensitive content


You wrote a poem for me once. I kept it – its beautiful rhymes and delicate imagery are imprinted in my mind. Those words are mine now, mine to read back to myself in your voice. Mine to print multiple copies of and stick them around my house. That exact combination of words does not exist anywhere else on the planet – outside of my poem. Do you know how special that is? I do.

You’ve always been a writer, even when you worked in admin, even when you didn’t. When you did, I shared your office, breathed your air, caught your bus.

I tried to get you to talk about your ambitions. You needed someone to discuss them with; I was happy to be that person – when you let me. I texted you interesting questions about your work-outside-of-work.

When will you publish?

What about writing a novel?

How about a short story collection?

Why don’t you enter bigger contests?

Your replies were always brief and always in the same tone. You pretended you weren’t in it for money or fame. You said you simply wanted to learn the craft. Personal satisfaction, you said. Your modesty wouldn’t allow you to see the extent of your talent – that must have been the problem. But with a little encouragement I was sure I could make you see how good you are.

“It’s funny he’s started coming to the pub with us.” Todd whispered to you one sunny Monday morning, standing too close to your desk, as usual. I have very good hearing.

You narrowed your bright blue eyes – maybe it was the sun falling across your angelic face. “What do you mean?”

“He never used to join us on Friday nights. We asked him all the time, he always made excuses. Until you came along.”

“But he comes to the bar every week.”

“He does now. Be careful.”

“Where does he live?” You tensed your shoulders – maybe you were worried about your mountain of email. You shouldn’t have been – I’d sent you at least two nice surprises over the weekend to make your Monday more fun.

“He has a flat in the city centre somewhere.” How does Todd know where I live?

“But he catches my bus.” You glanced at me, and I looked down – I didn’t want you to think I was a creep, but I did need to know what you were saying about me. “He chats to me at the bus stop and sits with me and gets off at Stenbourne Road.”

“That’s weird. He must walk back or get the next bus home. Hang on, when did he start catching the bus?”

You thought about it. It was exactly a month after you started the job. We both knew I wasn’t on that bus to begin with. But we also knew you liked to sit next to me, you liked our chats, you liked the attention.

“Maybe I should change my travel plans," you said to Todd. “I don’t think the 209 is the best idea now.”

Todd left your desk, finally. My view of your blonde hair and flawless skin was restored but I looked back at my screen. No one likes to be stared at for too long, even by a lover. If you didn’t like getting the bus, maybe you should live in the city too. I could help with that.

You missed me at the bus stop for the next few days, even though you didn’t say it. I went straight home after work, putting away papers, clearing the mountain of washing, dusting, hoovering, wiping, scrubbing. My flat sparkled like your eyes.

“Morning!” I greeted you at reception on the Thursday. It was probably time I started walking you to your desk. If we were going to live together, I should make more of an effort.

“Morning, Antonio. How are you?” Your voice flowed like a fine wine, but you looked tense. Maybe your mind was busy. Maybe you had really missed me. Maybe you thought I had found someone else.

Maybe I needed to prove you wrong.

“I’m fine. I have a plan.” I gestured to the coffee machine, but you shook your head. I guess you were awake enough already. “You should take my spare room. It would save you having to travel so far to the office. I only live on Parklands Drive. It would make the rent cheaper for both of us and we’d always have company. My place is nice. Come round and see it after work tonight.”

We started up the stairs. I’ve always found it too bright there, but your skin is so perfect that even the strip lights don’t show a single blemish.

“Antonio, if you live on Parklands Drive, why have you been catching the bus out of town every day?”

“Well, for our lovely talks of course, and to make sure you’re safe – you never know who’s around these days. I knew you’d miss me if I wasn’t there. Did you miss me this week?”

“No,” you said. You meant yes. Women always say no when they mean yes. “I was actually quite relieved to have the time to myself.” You’re such a joker, I could see it in the smile you thought you were hiding.

“Anyway." I straightened my tie. I always try to look my best for you, so I was wearing my most expensive one. It matched your favourite boots. “I’ll find you at reception after my last meeting. It’s only a ten-minute walk.”

I held the office door open for you, but you insisted I go first. You’re so kind to me. You also insisted that you didn’t want to live with me, but I know it makes most sense. I know what’s best for us both. I’ve done the maths. And once you’d moved in, I just knew you’d want more, the same way I did. We Italians are a passionate race. I was eager to share that passion with you.

You didn't wait for me after my meeting. You'd already gone from the building by the time it finished. I checked with security. But then it had run over a bit and I didn't want to make you wait around, of course. So I forgave you.

You submitted a story to the staff newsletter the following week. I knew you’d written it for me, you were just too shy to say. Your writing speaks to me. It’s dark and weird, yes, but you use pretty words sometimes and I see your face in them. You put it there for me to find.

After that you wrote most weeks. You weren’t in the newsletter again but no matter. I searched until I found your profile online and I read every word you typed. At least twice. All these strangers made comments on your stories, as if they had some kind of insight I didn’t have. As if their opinions were as important as mine. What they didn’t know was that I could tell you directly while they only typed through a web site. I saw you in real life, in the office every day. I could have in-depth, real-time conversations with you about your topics, plot lines, characters, word choices.

And I had a flat in the city.

One morning I stopped by your desk to remind you about my kind offer.

“Antonio, I’m trying to work. I have a lot to do this morning.” You bit your biro. Maybe you were nervous about your meeting with your manager.

“But it’s been over a month you’ve kept me waiting for an answer.”

“I’ve said no a hundred times. The answer is no.”

“It doesn’t make sense. My place is so much more convenient, and we’d both save money, and we’d have more time together.”

“I don’t want more time with you.” You’re such a tease. Of course you do.

And then I found out the real reason you didn’t move in with me.

After only a few months in my office, you’d found another job. In another city. A new life for us both! It did hurt that you didn’t tell me yourself. Todd said you asked him to tell me. But that's not true, he just wanted to be mean. I never liked him. He always stood too close to your desk, it was a bit creepy.

He hung around you in the bar at your leaving party as well. Making it very difficult for me to tell you how I really felt. And I’m sure that’s why you didn’t hug me as you left for the final time. Because he wouldn’t allow it. I didn’t care. It was time for me to leave too – time for me to follow you.

You always loved my surprises.

You kept writing stories for me online, and I kept texting you about them. There’s real genius in your work, I don’t know why you don’t win every week. But then I don’t really understand the contest rules. I asked you about them and you explained in brief, saying it wasn’t hard to follow. I was glad you were still talking to me. I knew you’d be excited when I showed up at your new office and offered you a better flat to move into. 

People on the story forum can like each other’s stories. I worked out how it functioned ages ago. I still enjoy seeing your number of likes go up. You had over a hundred followers when you left your job; you have even more now. That means you should get over a hundred likes for each story, if they are doing their job properly. But they’re not. If I could write, I’d join the forum and like your stories. I’d like every one, and leave you the best comments. You’d look forward to them and I’d never let you down.

I reminded you often how many likes you had. You said you didn't care and you had more interest in the feedback you get – the comments, the interactions with other authors. Of course I read them too, the comments. I wanted to know what you said back, as much as what they said to you. I always want to know what you’re saying. And to who.

I can’t write well. So instead, I sent you the ideas I had for stories and hoped you would write them for me. You never did, but that’s because you didn’t fully understand them. If only you’d have lived with me all this time instead of wasting so many opportunities. 

“You’re more invested than I am,” you joked. “Maybe you need a hobby of your own, stop paying so much attention to mine.” But I knew it was flattering to you, to have me so interested, so supportive, so willing to discuss. No one else read your stories so soon after they were posted and no one else was tracking your likes and followers – not even your so-called 'boyfriend' – not even you.

I applied for so many jobs near you. And the fates decided, eventually, to put me in the same company, even in the same building! It was meant to be.

And that same week, the same week I got the call to tell me that you and I could be together again, that same week, you won the contest!

Of course I texted you immediately I saw. I’d been refreshing the page every few minutes since lunch time, like I do every Friday. And they didn’t announce it until gone 4pm. I wanted to be the first to congratulate you because I was the first to notice, the first to take the time to check, the first!

I combined all the good news into one message:

CONGRATULATIONS on your win! And you must congratulate me too! I got a job at your head office – how great is that? We will be working together again – so much fun! I’ll let you know when I come to look for a flat – you can help me choose a great one for us both.

You didn’t reply. I was hurt by that. I’d never ignore your messages.

Within a few days, your winning story reached the most likes you have ever had. I ordered a very special gift for you to celebrate. And texted you about it to make you happy.

Two days later, I received an email from the company HR department saying that a pre-emptive concern had been raised against me. You told them I was harassing you? You told them I didn’t listen to you when you said you weren’t interested? You told them I had followed you to this job to continue my attempts to try to get you to live with me despite having told me no?

It was ridiculous. We are soul mates.

They said I couldn't speak to you about anything but work and must not contact you outside of work. They asked me which bus stop I will use and which bus I will catch, at what time. I have to tell them if that changes so that you can be advised appropriately.

Appropriately? They were trying to tear us apart!

I won’t stay in this job too long. It’s impossible to be so close to you and yet so far away. I may move back to Italy soon. But I will always read your stories. Maybe you will write about me one day. I would be honoured.

May 25, 2024 22:55

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Tommy Goround
20:59 Jun 03, 2024

1) liked the swap. I expected a female writer. Stopped to see if it was man on man and then continued. Totally worked. 2) the stalker moving with you was a cliff hanger 3) hope you do well. Clapping


22:26 Jun 03, 2024

Thanks Tommy, I didn't enter this one but I'm glad to have written it. Might enter this week with Final Kiss - something of a change of tack.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Brandon Cox
02:41 Jun 03, 2024

I think you nailed the mentality of a stalker here! Bonus points for making it feel too real, given our platform - very meta. I also commend you for ending it on a lighter note. My mind was racing with, “oh no, he’s going to be hiding in her new apartment…” Good entry this week.


06:20 Jun 03, 2024

Thanks Brandon. I didn't enter this one in the contest for personal reasons, but I'm glad it came across in the way you described.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Trudy Jas
00:44 Jun 01, 2024

Creepy! The delusional thinking, the misinterpretations, all of it so real. Well done!


07:07 Jun 01, 2024

Creepy indeed. Thanks 👍


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Mary Bendickson
01:09 May 28, 2024

Wow, Katharine. If any part of this really happened to you or someone you know how truly terrifying! Bless you for being able to overcome.


Show 0 replies
08:25 May 26, 2024

Instantly reminded me of Strangers On a Train... but then again, it's the only stalker story I've read! Really good! It's astonishing to see how bad the stalking gets, and Antonio doesn't even realise it's not normal. He just keeps fooling himself... it's almost scary, how much people can convince themselves they're doing the normal, or even right, thing, when it's really not.


13:53 May 26, 2024

Thank you for reading, I'm glad you liked it. Yes - people can be completely delusional. It is scary.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
RBE | Illustrated Short Stories | 2024-06

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in Reedsy Studio. 100% free.