Hello readers and listeners! I am glad you stopped by to read the first chapter of my suspense book. This book details a teacher, Beth Barnes who is stalked by a parent of one of her students. Beth begins to feel crippled with fear and anxiety. How will she cope with her life being turned upside down?

Chapter 1

There was something about him; something about the way he watched me. 

His gaze followed me around the room to the point where I began to feel a bit uneasy. I looked down at my feet as I talked to the group of parents and students at Back-to-School Night. It was my first year as a sixth-grade teacher at a new school, which made me plenty nervous by itself. I had been a third-grade teacher for the majority of my career, and that’s where I was most comfortable. This was going to be challenging enough as it was, but the creepy parent wasn’t helping the matter.

As I talked, I passed out the course syllabus, highlighting my strong expectations for getting work turned in on time and respectful behavior in class. A sweat bead rolled down my temple, past my ear, and down my cheek. I quickly wiped it with the back of my hand, peeking to see if the parents had noticed. No one seemed to be looking. Something about this particular parent made the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I used my training to keep their eyes off me as I pointed out the different areas in the room, such as the reading area, the math center, and the calendar of assignments. I looked at the top of the calendar with the bold word, August written at the top. With creepy parents like this, I couldn’t imagine how long the year would feel.

Reminding parents of the daily reading requirements, I felt his eyes following me around the room. I nervously began moving somewhat erratically, trying to unhinge his eyes from my person. I pointed to the basket where homework would be turned in daily and where students could find the lunch menu, but I could not shake his transfixed gaze. Out of my peripheral, I saw a slight smile. It was almost pleasant, but then the staring and leering continued. I looked down at my watch, checking the time. I still had five minutes to fill. What more can I say about my classroom? I wondered as I began babbling about the reading curriculum and weekly spelling tests. My cheeks felt warm, and I knew they were starting to redden. I just needed to make it through the presentation. I looked down at my watch again, thankful our time was complete. I wished the parents a fantastic year and ushered them out of my classroom as if they had the plague.

I shut the door and locked it behind the last parent as they left. Turning off the classroom lights, I sat in a student chair and laid my head on the desk, breathing in and out. I had never experienced anything like that before. It was as if he had invaded my personal space from a distance. I sighed, realizing I would be better off on my couch at home.

 At last, the event was over. I was thrilled as I walked to my car. The day had finally concluded. It had been a long one, and my feet were aching. I had arrived at the school around 6:45 a.m., which was typical. However, leaving at 8:45 p.m. was later than usual, and all I wanted to do was get out of my dress and heels, put on my pajamas, and sit on the couch with my hubby, drinking a glass of wine. I slung my heavy teacher bag over my shoulder. It was packed with my students’ work. I laughed about bringing home the pile of papers that would never come out of my bag to be graded. Oh well, there’s always the weekend. 

Digging out my keys and holding them in my hands, I looked around at how dark it had become outside. There was only one other car in the parking lot, but it wasn’t one I recognized. It was blue and small, but I couldn’t make out the details. It wasn’t close to mine anyway, so I didn’t think much of it. I walked cautiously toward my car, keeping my eyes up as I had been taught. When I got there, I slipped my key into the lock, turned it, and tugged the handle to open the door. I threw my heavy bag into the passenger seat and began getting in the car classily since I was wearing a dress. As far as I knew, no one was watching me, so I could’ve gotten in like a lumberjack, and no one would’ve noticed, but my mom’s voice and her southern training to always look like a lady came immediately to mind.

I pulled the door closed. Instantly, the slap of a man’s hand on my window caused me to jump high off my seat. I shrieked loudly. 

“Ms. Barnes,” came the booming voice, “it’s just me, Nathan’s dad.”

“Oh, my goodness,” I managed to say in deep breaths, “you scared me to death!” I rolled down the window about three inches, suddenly realizing I was face-to-face with the parent who had stared at me all night and made me so uncomfortable, but suddenly it seemed much worse because no one else was around this time.

“I’m so sorry,” he replied. “I didn’t have time to ask you how Nathan is doing in your class. I know it’s only been a couple of weeks, but I thought I’d check in.”

“Ummm, he’s doing fine,” I stated somewhat abruptly. “If you need an additional meeting, you can schedule one with me, but it’s getting late, and I need to get home. My husband is waiting for me. I’m sure you understand!”

“Sure,” he replied, “I’ll let you know if my wife and I have any concerns.”

“Great, I’ll contact you if he has any problems, but please let me know if you have any questions throughout the year, Mr. Flynn. Goodnight.” I quickly rolled up my window; I couldn’t bear to be close to him anymore.

I could hear my heart beating in my eardrums. What a jerk. He did that on purpose. I put my car in reverse; the taillights brightened up the parking lot and illuminated the outline of his body in my rearview mirror. I assumed he had left when I said goodnight, but that wasn’t the case. A pattern was developing.

I pumped the brakes to avoid hitting him, and the car stopped with a jolt. I looked again. Why is he still watching me? That tense feeling returned with a vengeance. I slowly eased back, gave him a slight smile and wave, and then accelerated quickly to escape him. My mama used to say, trust your intuition. My inner voice screamed at me to stay far away from this one. It took me a few minutes to slow my breathing as I left the parking lot, replaying the incident again in my mind. I lived just around the corner and could get there within minutes, but I drove down a busy road if he tried to follow me.

I continued looking into the rearview mirror. My right leg began shaking abruptly. I placed my hand on my thigh to steady it. It still shook, but more mildly. I wiped the sweat from my hairline and decided to call Seth to let him know I would be a few minutes late. I wasn’t sure if I should mention the encounter with Mr. Flynn and ultimately decided to let it go for the time being. I looked back into the mirror again, confident I was not being followed. I decided I was not in danger, so I drove home but decided to use a few back roads just to be safe.

Pulling into the driveway, I could smell the distinctive aroma of Italian food. Please, God, let it be spaghetti, I pleaded. The door opened before I could put my hand on the knob, and I was greeted by my sweet husband with an apron around his waist and a glass of white wine in hand for me. 

“You’re the absolute best,” I sighed as I walked in and kicked off my shoes, but not before relieving him of the Chardonnay.

“I know,” he smiled. His twinkly, bluish-turquoise eyes turned up. Those eyes always made my day better. “Come on in and get changed; dinner is almost ready. I made spaghetti. We had sauce in the freezer, so it was easy.”

Thankful that my prayer had been answered so quickly, I shuffled slowly with my wine back to my bedroom. I was glad it was a main floor master. Going upstairs right now would be impossible. I flopped on the bed and put my head back on the pillow, recounting the moment with Nathan’s dad. By then, I had convinced myself that he was trying to intimidate me. I shuddered, thinking about how he had been looking at me. I sat up, took a sip of wine, and told myself I’d probably never see or hear from him again like most parents. Unfortunately, that was naïve. I probably would have quit the following day if I had known what the next few months of my life would be like. But, since I didn’t have a crystal ball, I tried to put the night behind me and enjoy the one I had ahead.