“Bye, I’ll see you guys later. I need to go home and soak in a tub.” Jenny waved to her sorority sisters. Wednesday night aerobics had been tougher than usual this week.
“Are you sure you don’t want us to follow you home?” April asked.
“No, I’ll be fine. The police drive up and down the street all the time.” Jen worked to control the waver in her voice.
“I don’t feel right leaving you alone. The other girl had the same rose.”
Bile rose in her throat. “It may still be a prank.”
“I don’t think the sisters would hold on to a prank this long. It’s been three roses. Every sister knows the cops are involved.”
“You don’t need to keep saying that. I know how many roses there have been.” Her face burned hot. The parking lot lights would be too dim to show what must have been a glowing red face. “Plus only our sorority sisters know the cops are watching me. It could be the ones we T.P.ed.”
They stopped next to Jen’s car. April set her bag down by her feet. “I doubt it. They wouldn’t focus in on one person so long.”
“April, it’s a prank. Every rose has been found on a dead body.”
“It’s a pretty sick prank.”
“And when I find out who it is I’m never going to speak to them again.” Jen eyed her sisters for any twitch of guilt. None of them would be cruel enough to put her through this.
“Then why won’t you stay with one of us until things are safer?”
“I don’t want to be around campus.” She leaned her back against the car. The metal against her back made her feel less vulnerable. “I appreciate the offer. I’ll call Logan on the way home.” She unlocked the door and tossed her bag in the back seat to display confidence she didn’t have. “I’ll be fine. Logan isn’t far if I need him.”
“Okay.” April hugged her tight before turning to the sorority house with the others.
Jenny jumped in her car and scanned the parking lot. Once she cleared the buildings on the edge of campus she saw the remaining slivers of red sunlight low in the horizon and partially covered by clouds.
A knot tightened in her stomach. She’d pretended not to hear about the lady killed a couple weeks ago. Education major who lived on this campus. Jen’s hands began to shake and uncontrollable tears gushed down her cheeks. Some sicko was playing with her. Waiting and maybe watching. There was nothing she could do, the police could do. She could drop out of college and fly back to Minnesota. Erase any memory from the campus.
But that would mean leaving Logan. The cool chill of fear melted in the center of her chest. She dialed Logan’s number on her cell phone. After one ring he picked up.
“Hey. How’s your evening going?”
“Fine. Work was a little crazy but I got everything done. I spent a couple of hours at Mrs. Nylski’s helping her with lawn work. She pays too much for those grounds keepers to let her place go like that.”
“When will I get to meet her? She sounds like such a sweet lady.”
“Soon. How are you tonight?”
“I’ll come over if it will make you feel better.” He has added a sultry flow to his voice.
“I’m sure you would, with one thing on your mind.”
“Who? Me? Never.”
She smiled. “I need to hear a friendly voice. Can I talk to you while I drive?”
“Sure. I’m on my way over anyway. I was waiting for you to call.”
“Logan I can’t have you guarding me 24/7.” She said it but even as the words came out she hoped he’d insist.
“You could if you’d just say yes.”
“Logan.” Her voice trailed off for a moment.
“I told you before I won’t pressure you. I want you to know that I mean it. I can’t imagine my life without you.”
“Think about it then.”
“I will.” She swerved to miss a car that stopped suddenly. “I still have three more semesters until my degree.”
“Yes but as soon as you change your mind all I need is a yes from you. The offer remains on the table.” They could have the wedding after graduation. But she would only do this once. Why rush it? Long engagements were so tacky.
“I know. Maybe when classes are-.”
“Don’t worry about when, Jen. I want you to be my wife. I will do what I have to if it means you’ll be mine.”
“Thank you.” She turned in to the parking lot of her apartment. As usual the guy in the red sports car parked sideways. She groaned and parked in the next row. It was the furthest spot from her door. “I’m home now. I’ll let you go and we can talk more tomorrow.”
“I love you Jen.”
“Love you too Logan.” She flipped her phone shut and got out of the car. The sun was gone and a few crickets chirped in the grass a couple of yards away. It reminded her of summers in the country. Here the sound of traffic usually blotted out the crickets and footsteps-
The sound surprised her. Footsteps in a heavy, steady rhythm. It was a jogger. Just in case she snatched her bag from the backseat and put it over her shoulder. Don’t act alarmed. Get to the door. Stay calm. The traffic was unusually calm tonight. That was why she could hear the footsteps echo closer. She reached down and scooped up her books.
“Ouch.” She pulled her hand back from the seat of her car. A white rose, this one full of thorns, sat on the seat under her books.
The footsteps were closer now. She slammed the door and turned to the apartment. The echo from her car door ricocheted between the apartment buildings but was replaced again by the sound of her feet pounding on the blacktop. Her duffle bounced against her thigh. The keys rattled in her shaky fingers as she stumbled up the grassy hill and on to the sidewalk.
In the darkness of the stoop every key looked the same. They rattled as she tried to find the one to the outside security doors. The footsteps sped up.
“C’mon.” One key crossed over another and into the ring. She was trapped now between the security door and the footsteps. A whimper escaped her lips when she pulled the key free and began one by one to stick it in the door. Finally one slid in the hole and she turned the handle and ripped her key back out of the lock.
The footsteps were closer. They padded with an even thump-thump, thump-thump.
The door swung open and she threw the bag inside. It swung back and knocked the keys out of her hand and in the grass behind her. She groped around in the dark grass. Why didn’t they ever mow this stuff? Her hand landed on beer bottle lids and what felt like pebbles or broken glass.
“Hey, hold the door.” A deep voice demanded only a few feet away.
Her fingers wrapped around the keys. She stood.
“Hold the door.” She spun toward the voice. A man silhouetted by the streetlight was less than twenty feet away. In an instant she was in the building. She slammed the door shut behind her, grabbed the bag and sprinted up the steps two at a time. Her heart thumped hard in her chest and the muscles in her legs groaned. Adrenaline pushed her to the third floor. She stumbled down the hall to her door and jammed the key in the lock. Below the security door squeaked open.
“Thanks for holding the door.” A voice screamed followed by an explicative. His voice resonated through the halls and his footsteps fell hard down the hallway on the floor below hers. She closed her door, slid the chain in its holder and double checked the deadbolt.
Footsteps thudded up to the third floor then someone pounded on the door down the hall. She jumped and backed away from her door.
“Does a dark haired lady live with you?” The man said to her neighbor.
Muffled voices followed. A door closing. Then knocking on another door. There were only eight doors on each floor.
Jen walked in the kitchen and pulled a knife from the butchers block on her counter.
Muffled pounds. Three.
Footsteps. Muffled pounds. Four.
“Bang…bang…bang.” He knocked with such force the chain on her door rattled. Jen stifled a scream and gripped the knife tighter.
You are reading A Face in the Shadow by Tiffany Colter.
Tiffany is a writer, speaker and writing career coach. She is a frequent contributor to print and online publications in addition to her regular marketing blog at www.WritingCareerCoach.com
Get each new chapter delivered to you by signing up for the Tiffany Colter Fiction Blog using the link on the right.
This story is copyright Tiffany Colter. 2007. It may not be copied, distributed, sold or included in any larger work without the expressed written permission of Tiffany Colter.
Bloggers may comment on or link to this blog from their own blog. To link directly to this posting click the title then copy the address in the browser.