A Beautiful Thing Part 799

Soccer practice was over and he was walking home from the park. There was a man following him. He had been for three blocks, and slowly getting closer. Occasionally he’d steal a quick glance over his shoulder to track his stalker’s progress.

Usually this was a busy street but today hardly any cars were driving by. Where was everybody? Distress began to fill him up like a turbulent bathtub.

He thought about all those stories they tell in class. Kids getting snatched up off the streets, thrown in white vans, bad things happening. He began to consider breaking into a run, but he was small, this man was bigger, he’d surely catch him. What about going up to a house? Knocking on a door? Telling them, ‘help, I’m being followed by a strange man’?

But what if he were wrong? What if this man was just walking the same direction? How terribly embarrassing that would be. He would look like a paranoid freak. Yes, it would probably be easier to just be kidnapped then make a fool of myself like that, he thought, resigning himself to a nightmarish fate.

“Hey, wait up,” the man finally called out, using his name — which scared him even more. He froze. He didn’t recognize the man at all, how did he know his name? This is part of it they teach you: strangers who pretend to know you, say things like, ‘Your mom is delayed at the bank and asked me to pick you up.’ Etc.

This was it. This is how his young life was going to end. At the hands of a stranger coming up from behind and him not being able to shout out, ‘help me,’ or anything. Just a dumb, silent obedience to an unnecessary, grim fate.

The man yelled again. “Hey, you dropped your ball at the park!” He said.

He turned around and saw that the man was carrying his soccer ball. His name written in black marker on the side. He stopped walking. The man reached him and handed it over. “I’ve been following you for three blocks.”

“Oh.”

“Well, don’t leave your ball behind again. Your parents will be upset.”

“Yeah.”

The stranger kept walking. He stood there, confused and relieved, reevaluating and recalculating his own suspicions, and then a big, shaggy dog came and barked at him, but not in a threatening way, just, like, saying hi.

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