By Nicola Koh

The Watcher emerges from the cul-de-sac, pausing at the border of the amber streetlight, then edges out slowly, like he’s testing water. He scans the neighborhood, head swinging like a wind-up toy, but his eyes sweep over my window. Then he sprints into the light, for a moment utterly conspicuous in a navy-blue hoodie and black jeans, before diving into the shadow of the De Haan’s oak tree.

I take out my binoculars. They only cost thirty dollars at Meïjer, and the night-vision pixelates the world. It takes almost a minute to separate shadows into branches, leaves, and, finally, the Watcher’s face, shimmering green in the light from Abigail’s bedroom.

Her windows face mine, one story up. The right curtain is always drawn at night, cerulean with red, pink, and violet hearts on green flower stems. Abigail leaves the left window uncovered, the one blocked by the oak, so all I can make out is a lavender ceiling. I presume the rest of the room is standard-issue high school girl drivel: a poster board collage of her current friends captioned with proclamations of undying love, too many stuffed animals, a bookcase full of kitsch and the occasional book.

Then again, maybe I can’t really speak much to anything standard.  I’ve never been to a birthday party, let alone a sleepover. My room has beige wallpaper, three bulging bookcases, a print of Footprints in the Sand (requisite for a good Christian household), and a framed “diploma” for “graduating” from homeschooling, pre-K through Grade 8.

The Watcher has been sitting still for so long the oak trunk could have absorbed him, but now he’s assaulting his notebook with a violent frenzy of pen-strokes, as he does every night. How many pages has he torn? How many odes has he shredded? 

Slippers slap down the hallway, the first of my mother’s two trips to the bathroom, but even though there’s no lock on my door, I don’t budge. No one worries about the state of my salvation.

The Watcher freezes, pen in hand, which means Abigail’s going to bed. His eyes are so wide they glow green, and I wonder for the umpteenth time if Abigail will catch a spark of reflected light. Does he consider that possibility? Does it scare him? But like every night before, the light extinguishes, and the Watcher slumps back. After a few minutes, he slinks down and scurries back to the cul-de-sac. 

I take out my hollowed-out Teen’s NIV Bible and retrieve out a sheet of paper with rows and rows of slashes, and I score this night’s work. Then I replace the sheet in the Bible and stash the binoculars there. I look out my window one last time.

Take your bows, everyone; same thing tomorrow.

Abigail sits three rows ahead of me in English. Occasionally she pulls back a strand of her halo of Dutch-blonde hair, a gesture a little too delicate, a little too slow, to be fully unconscious. 

Abigail breathes attention. She signs up for every position that lets her stand in front of a group, leads every club that matters, saunters through the halls of Grand Rapids Christian whilst flanked by her flock of devotees. She dares you not to look; how would she ever notice those who might look too long?

The Watcher had to be one of them; his awkward gait and undersized clothes screamed teenager. I began compiling a list. Five-foot-three on a good day. White. Bad posture. Not much of a social life if he’s climbing that oak every night, even weeknights, even throughout summer. Couldn’t be a nerd either because what nerd would skip that much studying? So, by elimination, one of the other nobodies.

The answer hits me the day Mrs. Harrison’s asking what Jay Gatsby’s supposed to represent, and Abigail’s hand springs up. 

“I think it’s what happens when you build on an illusion,” she says. “No matter how beautiful you make your life, if the foundation is sand, it’ll crash down eventually.”

The class listens in rapt silence to the Dalai Lama of SparkNotes. When she finally surrenders the floor, I roll my eyes again for good measure and catch a movement from the desk one row behind and two to the left: a flurry of writing, furious pen-strokes I’ve come to know by heart. 

Jackson DeVries. How could I have missed it? 

To be fair, he’s good. He never follows her or loiters anywhere near her in social spaces. He doesn’t pay one second more attention to her than anyone else. If you didn’t suspect, you’d never even catch how every time we switch classes, he walks in the opposite direction of her, head down and hands in pockets, and his arm brushes against hers so gently she never notices. Now that I know what to look for, I lose my breath every time.

Does some part of him sense me? Twenty steps behind, just barely able to see through the top of my glasses over the perpetual pile of books? Would a watcher know when they’re being watched?

One day he’s in the hallway, body twisted, rummaging through his bag as a crowd mills. It’s too tempting; I barge into him, scattering everything. He dives to the floor, crimson faced, snatching notebooks from someone who stops to help. He doesn’t notice me slide one into my own pile.

I don’t take it out of my bag until I’m back home. I make myself finish advance Calc, take a bath, and make tea. Only then do I curl up in bed with the notebook.

August 23rd

wearing new green tights

on phone with jenna stam

party this weekend

cousin will get them beer

August 25th

butterfingers again. new favorite?

rewatching adventure time

August 26th

facebook stalking simon kuyper

pube-shaving buttfucker

I can only take a few more pages. I lie on my bed for hours, staring at nothing. Then I take the notebook, tear out the pages, and carefully shred each one until there are hundreds of pieces. I put them in three bags, and the next day dump them in three different trash bins at school.

Doesn’t he realize he’s so much more than this cliché? That he’s a Romeo in the age of cliques, and this time the girl won’t come to the window? And does he ever think of turning his gaze to the one across the street?

Abigail likes to lean out her window in the daytime, gazing over the Michigan hills. She never glances in the direction of my room, even when she’s only in a tank top. 

One day she’s not even wearing that. When she finally disappears back into her room, I stagger to the bathroom. My hands are shaking so hard I can barely take off my t-shirt and bra. Her perfect body looms next to my own, pasty and thin, like a wraith’s.

It’s the night after I stole the notebook.  For the first time in one-hundred and eight-three days, I’m not at the window. I’m afraid he won’t come tonight, that, somehow, he’s going to sense what I’ve stolen. 

I lie awake all night. I decide to leave a note in his locker. I know.

He can come over during the day. I’ll give him the binoculars. I can watch him watch her. 

For two nights he doesn’t come. But then the third evening, my mother calls me to the living room, and there he is on the Ikea loveseat: Jackson DeVries, polo shirt buttoned all the way, hair combed to the side.

He grins. “Hey, could I get my notes back?” He turns to my mother. “I loaned them for that time she was sick.”

My mother frowns. “When were you sick, Mimi?”

“It was just an upset stomach.” It feels like someone else talking. “The nurse gave me Pepcid.”

“I should be packing your lunches.” She turns to Jackson. “I always tell Miriam they serve nothing but junk.”

“I think it was too many burpees in P.E.” I’m going to fall down. “Is it okay if Jackson helps me look for it in my room?” It’s the first time I’ve said his name out loud.

Upstairs, he closes the door and corners me at my desk.

“Where is it?” he hisses.

“I destroyed it.”

His eyes flare. “What the fuck?”

“I didn’t want you to get caught.”

He blinks rapidly. He goes to my window and flings it open. “Have you told anyone?” 


I almost say, I’m just a fan.

He leans in. “Stay away from me, freak.”  His breath reeks of Cool Ranch Doritos. He grabs a pencil and his face contorts as he snaps it. “Or I. Will. End. You.”

I have to look away because if I don’t, I’ll say how juvenile it all is.

He grabs a random notebook off my shelf. “I think this it,” he says loudly.

After he leaves, I cry in bed for an hour. Then I close the window and get out the Bible and stuff it in the trash, binoculars and all. After a moment, I toss in the broken pencil. I put the bag with the kitchen trash, then bury it all in the bin outside.

“Hello?” Abigail says.

Who answers a number they don’t know?

“Look in the oak tree.” My voice is shaking.

“What? Who is this?”

“Look in the oak tree.” 

“This is beyond weird.” Her shadow appears at the window. “Okay, what am I supposed to be seeing?”

I’ve pictured this moment for so long, when their eyes at last meet, two stars in separate galaxies finally colliding. The banshee scream was not part of the script.

Jackson tumbles out the tree and lands with a yelp. Mr. De Haan explodes out of the house and catches Jackson as he tries to limp away. Jackson is hauled up and he clutches his head, as Mr. De Haan bellows at him so ferociously I can’t make out any words. In the streetlight, the spit from his mouth sparkles. 

Abigail edges into the yard, rubbing her arms, and looks up and down the street, as if watching for more lurkers in the shadows. She’s wearing black pajama pants and a navy-blue Gap sweatshirt, and I wonder if some part of her recognizes the same colors on the boy sobbing and cowering before the six-foot four of pure rage in her father.

When Mr. De Haan spots her, he yells at her to go back inside. She starts back, but then pauses at the doorway. I suddenly realize I’m leaning half out the window and start to pull myself back. And then Abigail turns around, her eyes wandering across the street. Her face is pale, like something has been leeched out of her, and even all the way from here I can see the tremor in her eyes as they take in a world that’s suddenly full of darkness and uncertainty, as they rise up slowly until they meet mine.