Avila heart pounded all the way home. What if the \”Gabriele\” she saw in the videos was not \”Gabriele\” in real life? But then, the \”Gabriele\” in the videos did address her by her name. Did he? She couldn\’t remember for sure and had no access to the older videos because she had already deleted the app. It\’s entirely possible that the scammers had ready-made exercise videos edited with voiceovers and the \”Gabriele\” was the Chinese man she saw at the supermarket.
Freaking out, she called her husband to wait for her at the carpark on the pretext of needing his help with the groceries. He grumbled something about getting groceries online the next time, but she couldn\’t focus. All she could think of was going home and scouring the internet for that damned app.
Avila stayed up almost the entire night searching for the app but to her frustration, she couldn\’t find it. She was a wreck the next morning. She couldn\’t function even though there was a million and one things waiting for her. The more she thought about it, the more frightened she was. That man had her home address because she keyed in her billing address together with her credit card number. He also had her photo because she signed in to the app using her google account, which had a headshot of hers. It creeped her out so much that she decided to come clean to her husband about the whole thing.
As expected, he did not take it well, seething with anger by the time she had finished her story. However, the only thing he said was, \”Let\’s go to the police.\”
On the drive to the police station, he didn\’t speak. The more Avila thought about it, the angrier she became. He was the one neglecting her in the marriage and yet, he got angry when she sought attention elsewhere. She wasn\’t even having a physical relationship with someone else. It was just texting on the phone.
They lodged a report with the police. However, without evidence from the app, which held all the text messages, they only had numbers from the missed calls as proof. None of the numbers worked when they tried to call back. She also couldn\’t give an accurate description of the man since he was wearing a mask. The police had advised Avila to try to contact the companies in which the gifts were sent from to check who the sender was. They also asked her to check her credit cards to look for unauthorized expenditure.
Avila logged into her internet banking and checked her credit card account. To her horror, all the gifts she had received from Gabriele were charged under her card. Essentially, she bought herself the gifts. Feeling entirely wrecked, Avila broke down and sobbed uncontrollably at the station. She didn\’t understand what was happening and she felt like a total fool.
Feeling angry at the same time, Avila tried to look for the app again. How could an app with such high rating disappear from the app store overnight? She even wanted to head back to the supermarket to ask to see the security tapes because she was sure it would have captured the man\’s face somehow, or the carpark surveillance could show him walking her to the car.
\”Avila,\” her husband said in a gentle voice. \”I think you need to rest. I\’m taking you to the hospital now.\”
\”Why? I\’m not sick? Do you think I\’m crazy?\” she yelled at him in frustration. \”I\’m telling you I didn\’t imagine this whole thing! Why would I buy gifts for myself? Go ask the stores how the orders were placed!\”
\”Avila, stop. I understand you\’re very stressed.\”
\”Stop yelling, darling.\”
She looked around and all everyone in the station staring at her.
\”Madam, we\’ll be calling an ambulance to take you to the hospital,\” one of the policeman said.
\”No need! I\’m fine! It\’s ok. I don\’t want to lodge a report anymore. Just take me home. I\’m fine.\” She crossed her arms, feeling very irritated.
Her husband managed to convince the police that she would be fine at home and that they would make an appointment for the psychologist first thing in the morning. Avila was absolutely sure she didn\’t imagine the whole thing and that she didn\’t need a psychologist. However, for the sake of pacifying them, she didn\’t argue.
When they got home, there was a bunch of flowers on the dining table. Apparently there was a delivery for her while they were at the police.
\”See? I told you I\’m not imagining things!\” Avila said adamantly. \”Do you think I could have ordered the flowers for myself while I was with you the whole time?\”
While her husband called the florist to find out more details about sender, Avila called the bank. She found out that there were purchases made for jewellery, more flowers and orders for food that she did not authorize. She took note of all those companies so that she could call to check when those purchases were made and whom they were sent to, and cancelled her credit card.
\”I did not imagine this,\” she mumbled as she tried to search on the internet for the companies. \”I just stupidly fell for a scam.\”
\”Avila, the florist said the flowers were pre-ordered two days ago.\”
They called up the companies for the other gifts and found out the purchases were made last week and scheduled to be delivered to her on different days.
\”But how did he know what I needed at that time? He always sent exactly what I was thinking about,\” she argued.
\”If you sent them to yourself, you would know what you need.\” Her husband gave an exasperated sigh. \”Look, let\’s just make an appointment to see the doctor tomorrow.\”
\”Then what about those phone calls?\”
\”You said they were scam calls.\”
\”But he answered one of them!\”
\”Which one? None of the numbers we called back worked!\”
For the first time, Avila started to doubt herself. Maybe she had imagined the whole thing and gotten so stressed with her life that she had been hallucinating about a make-believe relationship. She stopped arguing with her husband and agreed to make an appointment the next day.
That night, at about 2am, Avila\’s phone rang. It did not look local as the caller ID displayed a whole string of numbers. She tried to wake her husband up, but he told her to just switch off her phone and went back to snoring. Seeing that she had already exhausted him with an entire day wasted at the police station, she decided to pick up the call in the bathroom.
\”You bitch. You went to the police, even after all that I had done for you!\”
\”You are a stalker! And a bastard! You bought all those gifts using my credit card!\”
\”Imagine if I didn\’t! You would have wasted my effort!\”
\”Your app is a scam anyway. It doesn\’t exist in the app store. You are a crook!\”
\”I had to take it down because of you! I even helped you with your groceries you ungrateful shit.\”
\”Avila!\” her husband banged on the bathroom door. \”Who are you talking to? Open up!\”
She quickly unlocked the door. \”He\’s on the phone,\” she told her husband angrily. \”Talk to him!\”
Her husband took over the phone, but Gabriele had hung up.
\”The number! Use the number to log a police report for harassment.\”
\”Avila.\” Her husband leaned against the door frame, pinching his nose bridge. \”Go take an anti-histamine pill to help yourself sleep, or do you want me to take you to the hospital now?\”
\”You don\’t believe me! If only you woke up to answer the phone just now! You just keep brushing me aside!\”
\”Yes, I\’m sorry. I have been neglecting you. I won\’t do it anymore. Please. Get some sleep.\”
\”Do you think I\’m able to sleep after all this? You go back to your precious sleep if it\’s so important to you. I\’ll go to the doctor\’s with you tomorrow. Leave me alone.\” She stormed out of the bedroom and locked herself in the study.
How did everything turn out like this? All she wanted to do was to workout. Why did she sign up for the damned app? Still unconvinced that she was imagining the entire thing, she tried to call the number back. It wouldn\’t connect. But the conversation seemed so real!
She slid down against the wall onto the floor and bawled her eyes out. Maybe she was really so stressed that it was taking a toll on her mental health.
Her phone rang again. It was a different number this time.
\”What do you want now?\” she asked, voice hoarse from crying.
\”I\’m sorry I got carried away just now. I shouldn\’t have said the things I\’ve said. I\’m just outside your house. Please. Let me apologize.\”
Feeling numb, she got up from the floor and walked out of the study. Probably hallucinating again. But she had to open the door to find out if he was real.
She opened the door.
There he was, holding a gift in his hand. Not the \”Gabriele\” she saw on the video, but the same Chinese man who helped her with her groceries the other night. If she were to scream for her husband, he would run away. Her husband would think she\’s crazy again.
She unlocked her gate and walked out. Maybe if she could knock him with something and hurt him, she would have solid evidence that she wasn\’t hallucinating.
\”What this?\” she asked, looking at the box in his hand. \”Something I bought with my own money again?\”
\”I\’m sorry I said hurtful words to you. In my defense, you hurt my feelings too. I thought we were friends. In fact, I thought you wanted to be more than friends. You told me you were unhappy in your marriage and you felt trapped.\”
\”And that gave you the right to harass me?\”
\”What? I am here to apologize and you call this harassment? You led me on!\”
That\’s it. There was no point reasoning with this man anymore. Avila had to act now, before he ran away again.
She picked up the high-heeled shoe that was on the shoe rack next to her and hit him with all her might. She even jumped on him and clung onto him for her dear life, yelling at the top of her lungs. He wouldn\’t be able to get away with it this time. She\’s not going to let him.
She kept shouting and hitting him until someone pulled her off him.
\”Stop! Stop! Avila! What\’s wrong with you!\”
\”Don\’t let him run away! It\’s him!\”
\”Avila!\” her husband yelled at her and apologized to \”Gabriele\”. \”I\’m sorry, my wife is mentally unstable. Let me call for help.\”
\”Why are you apologizing! It\’s him!\” she screamed at her husband and struggled with all her might. Why didn\’t he believe her even when the evidence was right in front of them?
\”Don\’t worry. I\’ll get the police to arrest him later. Right now you need to calm down,\” her husband pinned her to the floor and straddled over her.
Why was her husband restraining her? Why wasn\’t he on her side? She tried to kick him off her, but he wouldn\’t budge.
Feeling exhausted and utterly defeated, she gave up. Her husband, who was still sitting on top of her, stroked her head gently, \”Don\’t worry. Help is coming.\”
Sometime later, some paramedics appeared. Avila received a jab on her arm, and was carried onto a stretcher. She glared at Gabriele, who was still standing around, gloating at her. The paramedics strapped some restraints onto her hands and passed a clipboard with a form for her husband to sign.
As the paramedics wheeled her away, she heard her husband apologizing to Gabriele again. \”I\’m sorry. I\’m willing to pay for all the medical bills for your injuries. I haven\’t got your name.\”
\”No problem. I\’m Matteo. I just moved into 1312 two weeks ago.\”
Thriller is not my genre, but I tried. Thank you for reading this.