Janet paced in front of the window. Her auburn hair looked akin to a rat’s nest. Her eyes darted from me to the window where the sun was rising slowly over the neighbor’s house and back again as she mumbled to herself. Her nightgown hung loosely on her thin shoulders, revealing the sickly collarbone beneath.
“What’s going on, Janet?” I asked.
“Don’t you see? It’s all a lie!” she erupted as though she had been talking to me the whole time. “They are telling everyone!”
“It’ll be okay,” I replied, holding my hands up, slowly walking forward. “Should we sit down? You can talk to me about it.”
“I can’t sit,” she replied, shaking her head and running her hands over her hair once again. “I can’t hold still. If I hold still, they’ll know. They’ll find me. I can’t stay here. You can’t stay here!”
She looked directly at me, waving her hands toward the door. Her eyes were a firestorm of fear and fury as she stopped pacing and turned her body toward me.
“What can I do to help?” I asked, trying my best to stop my voice from shaking.
“We have to go. They’ll be coming to take us soon. They know where I am now. I can feel it. They are already on their way. That’s why I called you,” she said, “I’ll grab my coat, and we can go.”
“Hold up,” I said. Janet stopped, and her eyes became slits of suspicion. “I’m not trying to stop you. I just think you should get dressed before we go anywhere.”
Janet looked down as though she had forgotten that her body existed. She seemed almost surprised by what she saw. She nodded as she raised her gaze again, but this time tears were brimming in her eyes.
“Is something wrong with me?” she asked, bursting into a sob.
“No, honey. You’re fine,” I lied as she ran into my arms and nearly collapsed. “I think there’s a lot going on right now, but I’m here with you.”
“I’m so sorry, Greg. I shouldn’t be like this,” she cried into my shoulder.
As though a switch had flipped, she suddenly stood up and looked at me with a curious expression.
“Greg! What are you doing here?” she asked, her face still wet.
“You called me and asked me to come over,” I said.
“Oh, no! Look at me. I’m not even dressed for company,” she said as she walked past me, “I’ll go get dressed, and then I’ll make you some breakfast.”
“O-okay,” I said, watching her disappear into her room down the hall.
I stood in the living room for a moment before I pulled my phone from my pocket. I brought up the browser on my phone and typed in the search bar, ‘what do I do if my friend is having a mental breakdown?’ The results said to keep them safe and calm. My heart was racing, and I doubted for a moment if I could do it as I tucked the phone back in my pocket.
“Greg!” Janet screamed from her room.
I raced down the hall and turned the corner to find Janet standing in the middle of the room, completely naked with dried blood down her legs.
“What’s happening to me?” she bawled. “There’s so much blood!”
I rushed forward and doublechecked that she hadn’t hurt herself as I apologized over and over.
“Is it your period?” I asked, unsure what was happening, “We can get you in the shower-”
“There isn’t this much blood for my period,” she said, dabbing at her thigh with her nightgown.
“Alright, I’ll call an ambulance,” I said, pulling out my phone.
“No!” she screamed as she hit the phone out of my hand. “They’ll come and take us away.”
“Okay,” I said, knowing that I couldn’t handle what was happening alone. “Let’s get you in the shower then.”
“Yes,” she nodded, touching my face with her empty hand. “I’ll get cleaned up, and we can get out of here. We can stop them from finding us.”
She hobbled through the door that led to her bathroom.
“I’ll be right here if you need me,” I called out as I picked up my phone and dialed 911 and stuck the phone in my pocket.
“You’re so amazing, Greg,” she replied as the water turned on. “I can’t believe I’m lucky enough to have you in my life. You’re such a great friend. Do you think it’s too forward if I tell you that I’ve had a crush on you for years?”
“Let’s just get you cleaned up, and we can go for a drive,” I replied, leaning against the wall next to the door. My mind was moving at a thousand miles an hour. I knew 911 would send at least the police, but I wondered if it was the right call.
“Give me a second,” Janet said. “I need to brush my teeth. My mouth tastes horrible.”
I pulled my phone back out and put it to my ear as soon as I heard her brushing.
“Hello?” I whispered.
“Hello, sir? We’ve sent police to your location. What’s happening?” the dispatcher said.
“I think we need an ambulance. My friend is not well. She’s talking nonsense and not acting like herself,” I replied, listening for Janet to get out of the shower.
“Stay on the line,” the dispatcher replied.
I nodded as though they could hear me and then shook my head, feeling ridiculous.
“That’s better!” Janet said. “Almost done now. Don’t disappear on me. Greg?”
“I’m still here. I’m not going anywhere,” I replied.
“Greg? Why are you in my bedroom?” Janet asked.
“I’m just checking in to make sure you’re alright,” I replied, “You called me, and I got worried.”
“Could you wait in the hall, please?” Janet said as the water shut off. “I’ll be right out.”
“You got it,” I said, stepping out into the hall, shutting the door behind me.
“Sir?” I heard back on the phone. “Can you tell me what’s happening?”
“I can’t right now,” I whispered back. “She’s just not acting right. I’ll explain everything to the help you send.”
“Is she dangerous?”
“No,” I said.
“Who’re you talking to?” Janet asked from the bedroom.
“I was talking to myself,” I lied as I tucked the phone back in my pocket.
Janet emerged from her bedroom wearing a pair of jeans and a loose shirt. “Ready to go?” she asked.
“I thought we’d have some breakfast first,” I replied. “I don’t know how long we’ll be driving, and I’m already pretty hungry.”
“That’s a good plan,” she said, waving a finger at me. “You’re so smart.”
I followed her into the kitchen. From here, I could see out on the street. I breathed a sigh of relief as I saw a patrol car pull up outside.
“Do you want cereal, or do you want something hot?” Janet asked as she opened the fridge. “Oh, I guess I’m out of eggs. Plenty of milk, though!”
“Cereal is fine,” I replied as an ambulance pulled up behind the cop.
“What kind of cereal? I’ve got cheerios, captain crunch, cinnamon life, what’s your preference?” she asked, as she pulled two bowls from the cabinet.
“Life, please,” I replied, not hearing the first two options.
“Are you sure I called you?” Janet said, snapping my attention back to her. She was looking up at the clock over the sink, “It’s like five-thirty in the morning.”
“Yeah, you called me pretty early. I was worried,” I said.
“I don’t remember calling you? What did I say?” she asked, her cheeks flushing.
“Nothing really, you just seemed upset, so I drove over,” I replied.
“You’re such a good friend, Greg,” she said as there was a knock on the front door. “Who could that be?”
Janet walked out of the room, and I heard the door open.
“No!” she screamed as she came running back into the kitchen. “They found us! We have to go now!”
I put up my hands, “Calm down, Janet. It’ll be okay. I promise.”
“Not you too! You can’t be with them!” she cried as she pulled the back door open. A man reached in and wrapped his arms around her as she screamed and tried to break free.
I watched in horror, feeling tears rolling down my cheeks as the man wrestled her to the floor, and another came in and gave her a shot of something in the thigh. A couple of seconds later, Janet went limp, mumbling through her tears.
The cop walked in from the entryway, “Are you the one that called?”
“Yes, sir,” I replied.
“It’s a good thing you called, her programming was beginning to break down,” he said.
“What?” I asked as I felt a firm hand on my left shoulder and a brief pinch on the other side.
The room slid sideways, and I found myself at eye-level with Janet. Her eyes looked at me in panic as she mumbled.
“Don’t hurt him. Please, just don’t hurt him,” she was whispering as the world faded to nothing.