Campus Games (chapters 7-9)
Ashley and Katelyn meet when they find they are to share the same house on the campus of the college they attend in New Mexico. Ashley has hopes of becoming an artist while Katelyn dreams of becoming a prosecutor.
Then the murders start and even Ashley herself is attacked!
As the students live in fear, Ashley and Katelyn form a special bond. Can they survive long enough to find out just how strong that bond really is?
The week passed slowly. No one seemed to notice that Ashley was spending more and more time with Katelyn, including the nights, and if they did, they didn’t seem to care. The others mostly kept to themselves, though Dalene and Rose were rarely home. Everyone knew that Dalene hung out with the so-called popular girls as well as promiscuous guys, but no one knew where Rose spent her time. She remained evasive about her life whenever Ashley would try to initiate small talk with her in the kitchen when they’d happen to prepare meals or snacks at the same time.
“So, where have you been hanging out these days?” she asked Rose one evening when they were fixing themselves a cup of tea.
“I started working out,” Rose told her. “Mainly weight-lifting.”
“That’s cool. Excited about going home for Christmas?”
Rose nodded mechanically and left the room with her tea.
Ashley took her toasted coconut almond tea, not to her room, but to Katelyn’s. Katelyn was sprawled out on her bed studying. She let Ashley have the desk. They studied together about four nights a week and made love almost every night. They took walks on weekends, browsed through stores together, and either ate out or had pizzas delivered. They listened to music together and sometimes watched TV. Where you’d see one, you’d see the other. Katelyn asked that Ashley not go out alone in light of the recent murders, and she was never happier to oblige.
For Ashley’s twentieth birthday, her aunt mailed her more money than she usually did on a weekly basis, and Katelyn surprised her with a gold heart-shaped necklace with I Love You inscribed on it as well as a dozen pink roses and a small box of chocolates.
“My goodness!” exclaimed Ashley with excitement. “You really went all out.”
“You’re worth it.”
“Thank you so much,” said Ashley, kissing Katelyn on the lips, “though you didn’t have to go so overboard.”
“I could never go overboard for my Ashley,” Katelyn insisted with a smile. Then her expression became serious. “The necklace speaks the truth, Ash. I really do love you.”
Ashley’s eyes glistened with emotion. “And I love you. I have for a while now. I just wasn’t so sure I should say anything. I mean, when this is all over…” she gestured at their surroundings.
“When this is all over we’ll find a way to be together. If we both truly love each other, we’ll find a way. Hell, I’ll move to Las Cruces if I have to.”
Ashley’s eyes lit up and she grinned widely. She threw her arms around Katelyn. The two needed no more words at that point as they fell onto the bed, hearts afire with love, bodies aflame with lust.
Ashley thought she’d be thrilled to go home for Christmas and New Year’s, and while she truly was, a part of her wasn’t looking forward to it because she knew it meant not seeing Katelyn for nearly two weeks. They exchanged phone numbers, promising to call every couple of days or so just to touch base.
“See? You won’t be totally without me throughout the holidays, after all,” Katelyn told her before she left with her mother, who seemed to be a very pleasant woman.
“I’m so glad to meet you,” she had told her. “I’ve heard so much about you.”
After Ashley made one last search of her room to make sure she wasn’t leaving anything behind that was of value to her or that she needed, Katelyn’s mother was kind enough to drop her off at the bus depot where Ashley soon boarded a Greyhound bus bound for Las Cruces. It was barely 9 AM, and with Las Cruces being so far down by the Mexican border, she wouldn’t arrive until around midnight.
For a while, she simply gazed out at the passing scenery, glad to be at the back of the bus with no one next to her. After a while, she pulled out a paperback. When she felt herself growing sleepy, she leaned her head back and closed her eyes.
She tried to get her mind off Katelyn and to focus on her aunt and her friend Joy. She smiled when she thought of how her aunt would no doubt be waiting at the door as soon as the taxicab pulled up, eager to take her in and give her milk and cookies as if she were a child all over again before they turned in for the night.
She thought of the clothes her aunt would no doubt shower her with this Christmas. They’d be a touch on the conservative side, but nice nonetheless.
Then she thought of Joy, who would undoubtedly catch her up on the neighborhood gossip. She couldn’t wait to tell her more about Katelyn. She knew she was very fortunate to find someone as smart and as mature as Katelyn was and at such a young age. She gently fingered the heart-shaped necklace she wore as thoughts of Katelyn seeped backed into mind once again, displaying various images of the tall, sexy brunette across the screen of her brain.
She was exhausted when she finally got off the bus and into a taxicab, and to make matters worse, the driver wouldn’t stop talking. The older, filthy, pockmarked guy was probably as lonely as he was desperate. She wished she’d taken her aunt up on her offer to pick her up from the bus station. It’s just that she hated to put her out and so late at night, too. She couldn’t have been more grateful once the cab finally pulled up in her aunt’s driveway ten minutes later as the cabby flashed her a nicotine-stained, partially toothless grin.
However, it wasn’t her aunt that waited at the door, but her aunt’s best friend Iris instead. She was in her mid-sixties like her aunt, with two grown kids.
Iris? Why would Iris be waiting up for her? Her first thought was that her aunt had been stricken with a bad cold or the flu until she exited the cab with her suitcase in hand, purse slung over one shoulder, and strode over to the front door. Even in the dim light cast by the low-wattage porch light, she could tell by her expression that whatever inflicted her aunt was much more than a cold or flu.
Ashley felt herself begin to tremble. Though she tried to console herself by urging herself not to jump the gun, she knew she had every reason to feel the tendrils of dread that were slowly yet surely winding their way throughout her.
Always trust your gut instinct, both her aunt and her mom had told her. What you suspect is probably true.
“Iris,” Ashley said, trying to keep the tremor out of her voice.
Iris opened the screen door wide enough for Ashley to squeeze through.
“Oh, darling. Darling, darling, I am so, so very sorry.”
“F-for what? Where’s aunt Hilary?” Desperateness now rang through Ashley’s voice.
“She’s gone, dear,” Iris replied, red-eyed from crying.
“Gone? Gone where?” Ashley asked, though she knew full well what ‘gone’ meant.
“They tried to resuscitate her, but it was to no avail.”
“Iris, what happened?” Ashley demanded, now on the verge of hysteria.
“It was a stroke. It was so massive that she was pretty much gone by the time the ambulance arrived. We had been playing bridge together when she reached for her head as if in pain, then she slipped off the kitchen chair…”
Iris’s words faded along with the light as Ashley succumbed to the safe recesses of total darkness where loved ones didn’t die, leaving you with no other family whatsoever to call your own.
When Ashley did come to, daylight was streaming through the window. For a minute she was confused, even forgot where she was. The sight of her aunt’s friend looming into view above her was a stark reminder as she lay on the living room couch with an afghan over her which her aunt had made. Ashley felt incredibly groggy as if she’d been drugged.
“Hello, dear. You gave me a little scare for a minute there last night when you passed out on me. How are you feeling now?”
Ashley thought about it a moment. “Pretty out of it and depressed.”
Iris looked sympathetic. “Oh, but that’s to be expected, honey. It’ll get easier with time. You’ll see. Meanwhile, as Hilary would want you to do, you’ll go back and finish your schooling and have a wonderfully productive life.”
Ashley shook her head miserably.
Iris continued on anyway. “She left a sufficient amount of money for you to get by on till you’re independent and working somewhere, so don’t you worry your pretty little self about finances. You can also call me anytime with anything you need…”
“When’s the funeral?” Ashley interrupted.
“Tomorrow. As executor of her will, I have her being prepared the way she requested to be at the mortuary.”
Shakily, Ashley swung her legs over the side of the couch and sat up.
“I have some breakfast made up. It would really be a good idea if you got something in your stomach. We don’t need you getting sick now, you hear?”
“Thanks, Iris. I appreciate all you’re doing, but shouldn’t you be getting on home?”
“Oh, nonsense,” said the matronly woman as if Ashley had said the silliest thing. “What’s an old widow like me going to do sitting at home at a time like this?”
“What will become of the house?” asked Ashley.
“We’ll put it on the market after the funeral. I know Hilary would want us to do that so you could use the money to get yourself a little apartment somewhere once you graduate.
Certainly, you wouldn’t want the responsibility of this house at such a young age, even though it’s all paid for? And before you’re working somewhere?”
“No, it’s too big for me anyway, Iris.”
“On the other hand, you might want to think about hanging onto the house, dear, for when you have a husband and some children.”
“I don’t want a husband and some children, Iris.”
“Oh,” said Iris. “Didn’t some special gentleman give you the lovely heart necklace you’re wearing?”
“No, a special lady did,” Ashley said, gazing directly into Iris’s eyes, unashamed.
“Oh. Oh, well, to each their own, right?” Iris said nonchalantly.
“Yes, ma’am,” Ashley said with a tone that suggested they should change the subject.
Ashley went through the rest of the day in a daze. She felt numb. Not even Joy’s normally comforting, cheery presence could perk her up. She felt lost and alone, though she appreciated everyone’s effort in trying to rekindle her spirits.
She knew she had Katelyn and that she’d do what she could for her, but she didn’t want to burden her with her loss and make her feel obligated to do anything she might not have otherwise done once they graduated. She almost hoped Katelyn would forget to call, but on the other hand, just how true would she really be if she didn’t call when she said she would?
When Iris answered the inevitable call that came that evening in the kitchen, Ashley said she’d take it in the living room. As soon as she picked up the phone, Katelyn was offering her condolences.
So she wouldn’t have to tell her after all.
“I really think I should get on the next bus heading your way,” Katelyn said, voice dripping with concern as well as empathy.
“That’s really sweet of you, Katelyn, but I hate to see you lose out on your vacation, too.”
“It wouldn’t be any loss to me, sweetheart. If I came, it would be because I wanted to. When is the funeral?”
“I could leave real early in the morning so I wouldn’t get there too late.”
Ashley thought about it a moment. Then said, “You know, to tell you the truth, there’s no face I’d like to see more at the moment than yours, so if you’re sure you want to do this…”
“Absolutely, babe, absolutely. I’ll catch a cab from the bus terminal. That way your friend or your aunt’s friend won’t have to bother with coming to fetch me.”
“Thanks, Katelyn. Thanks so much.”
“No problem, sweetie. You just hang in there for now, okay?”
Ashley nodded as if Katelyn could see her. “I will, and Katelyn?”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
The next day passed in slow motion. The funeral seemed almost surreal. How could she lose her parents and then her aunt too, when she had no siblings, cousins, uncles or other aunts to turn to? She was grateful to have a good friend in Joy and someone who cared for her as much as Katelyn did so she didn’t feel as alone, though she still felt the weight of all she’d lost. She had known her aunt was aging and in ill health, but had always assumed that she had another decade or so of life left in her. The fear of losing Katelyn as well was overwhelming.
When the services ended and Ashley and Iris returned to the house, Ashley was surprised at just how full it was of mourners who had come to offer their condolences as well as dishes containing various pastries, salads, and baked goods. She hadn’t realized just how well liked her aunt had been. After all, she had only seen her once or twice a year before her parents’ death.
Ashley was waiting on the couch by the living room window when Katelyn’s cab pulled in shortly after nine that evening.
“Sounds like your friend is here,” said Iris who sat in a chair knitting with the TV softly droning away in the background.
“I’ll let her in,” Ashley said, feeling the first faint stirrings of happiness since learning of her aunt’s sudden and unexpected death.
When Ashley opened the door, she found Katelyn clad in black jeans, a royal blue sweatshirt and the black suede fringed jacket she’d always thought she looked so good in. Her dark glossy hair shone in the light. She held a small suitcase in one hand and a mixed flower arrangement in the other. She dropped the suitcase just as Ashley threw her arms around her long, athletic-like body. Unexpectedly, tears began to flow freely from her reddened eyes once again.
“Hey, sweetie, it’s okay. I’m here,” Katelyn gently cooed.
Ashley stepped back. “Thank you so much for coming.”
“It’s no problem,” Katelyn said, flashing a quick smile before handing her the flowers. “These are for you.”
“Got some homemade cookies in the suitcase, too.”
“Oh, Katelyn, you really are too much,” Ashley said with a smile. “Come meet Iris. She was good friends with my aunt. She’s been kind enough to sit with me and oversee the things that need to be done.”
They entered the living room which was just a few feet away from where Iris stood up to greet Katelyn with a handshake.
“Boy, you’re a tall one,” Iris said, eyeing Katelyn from head to toe.
“Yeah, my dad always said I should try out for one of the ladies’ basketball teams,” Katelyn said with a chuckle.
“I’m going to go get these flowers into a vase,” Ashley interjected.
“Oh, okay,” said Iris. “They certainly are beautiful.” She turned back to Katelyn. “Would you like her to bring you a drink or something?”
“I hear you’re a law student.”
“Yes, I am,” said Katelyn, voice fading as Ashley headed back into the kitchen to fetch a vase for the flowers. When she returned to the living room, Katelyn was admiring the house. Ashley sat down next to her on the couch.
“It’s a good size,” Iris said. “Four bedrooms upstairs. This is Friday now, so come Monday I plan to contact a realtor.” She turned to face Ashley. “Over the weekend we’ll go through whatever you want to keep that you don’t want to lug to school with you. I’ll store it at my house until you’re settled somewhere on your own.”
“Oh, thanks, Iris,” Ashley said with a smile. “I really appreciate that, though most of it can be sold. Especially bulky items like furniture.”
“What about your stereo system?”
“As long as Iris has room and she doesn’t mind holding the stuff, it’d be okay to hang onto things like that,” Katelyn told Ashley, “because we can haul it in the truck to my place once we graduate. There’s plenty of room on the farm.”
“Your folks own a farm?” Iris asked.
Katelyn nodded. “Eighty acres. My folks live in the main house and I live in the little cottage that’s a couple hundred feet away. When my grandparents first bought the farm, a couple that worked for them lived in the cottage.”
“Grandparents still around?” Iris asked.
“No, not my paternal grandparents. My maternal grandmother is still alive. She’s in a nursing home, though, and not very coherent most of the time, I’m afraid.”
“What do you farm?”
“We raise cattle. Some are meat cows, some are dairy. Got some chickens too, and a few horses.”
“A twenty-one-year-old sister. She’s out on her own working as a real estate agent.”
“And you’d be willing to take this girl, even though you haven’t known her a year – not to say that you aren’t a very kind and generous person, and not to say that Ashley isn’t a good girl – to your farm to live with you once you graduate?”
Katelyn glanced at Ashley. “I’d love to. If it’s what she wants to do when the time comes, I’d be delighted to take her home with me. As I said, there’s plenty of room.”
“I don’t have that much stuff, though I assure you I just may take you up on your wonderful offer,” Ashley told her with a smile.
“Hope it works out. In the meantime, it’s a good thing you’ll have a sizeable bank account for a while, dear Ashley, for young people just don’t stick together like they did when I was young myself,” Iris said.
“I’m rather old-fashioned,” Katelyn assured her with a smile.
“But you’re living in a time when it’s more fashionable for a lady to seek a career instead of a family,” Iris said.
“That’s okay. I’m seeking a career simply because it’s what I want, and while I’ll admit it would be rather difficult to squeeze children into such a hectic schedule, I’m sure I can make enough time for Ashley. After all, she’ll be a grown adult too, with a career of her own.”
“I waited till I was in my forties to have kids. How I wish I’d had them younger when I stood more of a chance of getting my old figure back after they were born! If you’re like most women, whatever you are after the child is born is pretty much what you’re going to be. That is until you go and have a second one,” Iris added, patting her ample stomach that spanned nearly the entire width of the chair she sat in.
Ashley and Katelyn laughed.
“Keep the careers, girls, keep the careers. Besides, they pay money instead of cost money.”
The talk shifted towards the campus murders with Iris assuring Ashley that she would assist her in transferring to another school if she felt spooked enough to do so.
“That’s sweet of you, Iris, but I think that if I’m extra careful, I’ll be okay. People do get killed everywhere anyway. There’s no getting around that.”
“Just be conscious of your movements, Ashley,” she warned.
“Oh, I will.”
“I made her promise not to go out at night, especially alone,” Katelyn added, “and on weekends we usually hang out together.”
After about fifteen more minutes of small talk, Ashley suggested to Iris that she consider going home. “Iris, I hate to see you spend another night here on my account,” Ashley said.
“You’ve done so much for me as it is. I’ll be okay if you want to go home, but of course, you’re always welcome to stay, too.”
“Well,” Iris began thoughtfully, “now that you’ve got a friend to keep you company, I think I will go fire up the old clunker and head on home. You sure there’s nothing I can do for you ladies before I go?”
Ashley and Katelyn assured her there wasn’t, and Iris had Ashley promise to call if she needed anything.
Alone with Katelyn, Ashley turned to face her. “I am so, so glad you’re here.”
“Good,” she said with a smile. Then her expression became serious as she took Ashley’s hands in hers. “How are you doing? How are you really doing?”
Ashley looked downward and shrugged. “I’m surviving. It’s been hard,” she told Katelyn, looking back up into her caring brown eyes once again, “but I’ll get by.”
“I wasn’t kidding or just trying to ease your aunt’s friend’s worries about the farm. I meant it, Ash. Never think you’re alone in this world. You’ll always have a place with me if you want it.”
Ashley’s eyes misted over. “Oh, Katelyn, you’re so sweet.” She planted a kiss of gratitude on her lips. “It’s just that I’m so afraid of losing you, too.”
“You won’t,” Katelyn assured her.
“I lost my parents and now my aunt, and of course there’s the campus killer that’s still on the loose, and so I worry.”
“I understand, babe, but I’m young, strong and healthy. Besides, I’m extra careful about when and where I go, and I’m a pretty big girl too, who’s not exactly petite and frail looking. At my height, you don’t tend to attract too many psychos. You need watching more than I do, and to tell you the truth, I’d be quite honored to be your protector.”
Ashley smiled gratefully. “Then come protect me in the kitchen while we try some of those cookies your mom made. I haven’t eaten hardly a thing all day.”
“Okay, but first – mind if I call home? I’ll call collect. It’s just that I know my mom would want to know I made it in safely and all that.”
“Of course. You can use the phone in the kitchen.”
In the kitchen, Ashley nibbled on one of the cookies while she poured them glasses of chocolate milk. “They’re delicious. Thank your mom for me.”
After Katelyn made the call to her mother, the two sat at the kitchen table where Ashley told Katelyn a little more about her aunt and her parents. “I feel like I’m in a dream half the time.
Like my aunt’s going to come waltzing in any minute laughing, saying it was all just a big joke.”
Katelyn gave a slight smile of understanding and nodded her head gently.
“Your mother seems nice,” Ashley said after a few minutes of each girl being lost in her own thoughts.
“She is,” Katelyn said with a smile. “And so is Dad.”
“Your sister’s on her own?”
“Yes. She lives with her boyfriend.”
“So she’s straight?”
“No, she’s bisexual, actually, though she does prefer to have a boyfriend.”
A while later they showered and got into bed. Katelyn squeezed in next to Ashley in her twin-size bed because they wouldn’t have felt comfortable in her aunt’s larger bed. They were used to Katelyn’s bed on campus anyway and the two loved to cuddle up close together.
Weary-eyed and emotionally drained, Ashley’s eyelids fluttered shut as she lay back against Katelyn. In no time at all, she fell asleep to Katelyn’s rhythmic breath, which gently caressed the nape of her neck.
What was supposed to be a relaxed and festive time was filled with speedy, hectic tasks. Closets were gone through, belongings were sorted, boxes were packed, touch-ups were done where paint was peeling, rooms were scrubbed spotless.
If it weren’t for the Christmas tree Ashley’s aunt had meticulously decorated, one would never know that Christmas had arrived by the glum expressions on Ashley, Katelyn and Iris’s faces. Nonetheless, they tried their best to generate as much of a holiday spirit as they possibly could.
Iris brought over some sweets she had baked, and Ashley opened the gifts her aunt had left under the tree. There were four packages; three from her aunt and one Iris added while Ashley was in another room.
Reaching blindly, she took hold of Iris’s gift first.
“Read the label on that one,” instructed Iris.
Curiously, Ashley studied it. “Oh, it’s from you.”
She opened the package to find a charm bracelet. The golden shapes were abundant with hearts, musical notes, angels and many other pleasant things.
“How charming. Thank you, Iris,” said Ashley.
“You’re quite welcome.”
The first of her aunt’s packages consisted of a cotton floral dress that would be suitable for school as well as going to finer restaurants.
“Nice,” said Ashley. “Not too casual, not too fancy.”
The second package was a pair of dangling star earrings, the third a journal.
“There you go,” said Iris with a smile. “Anytime this here girl don’t treat you right, you just write all about it, eh?”
The trio giggled.
Ashley felt bad about not having anything to give to the others, but they assured her that under the circumstances she shouldn’t think about it. Besides, Ashley herself was Katelyn’s present, as Katelyn later told her after Iris had gone home for the night.
“It’s still not fair to you, Katelyn. You should be spending this day with your family.”
Katelyn gathered her into her arms. “They understand, Ashley, and it’s not like there won’t be any more Christmases.”
“Yes, I suppose you’re right,” Ashley said with a sigh, resting her weary head upon Katelyn’s chest.
“You’re exhausted, Ash. Think we should turn in early tonight?”
Ashley pulled back and nodded. “I could sleep until New Year’s.”
The day after Christmas was when the house went up for sale. Since it obviously wouldn’t sell before Ashley returned to school, an account had been set up that would hold the money from the sale of it once it was officially sold. In the meantime, Katelyn, who had a driver’s license unlike Ashley, used Iris’s car to drive over the things that Ashley wished to have stored.
Since Belen was so much closer to Albuquerque than Las Cruces, it was agreed that Katelyn would stay with Ashley throughout the remainder of their vacation and that they’d return to school together. Katelyn’s parents wired money for her bus ticket. Classes were set to resume on Wednesday, January 2nd. The following weekend, her parents would drive to her with the things she’d taken home and anything else she might want to have on campus. Meanwhile, she had enough clothes with her, as well as on campus, until her parents arrived.
Ashley loved Katelyn all the more for standing by her and for allowing her to grieve when she needed to and for listening to her when she needed to talk. Instead of feeling smothered, she felt loved by Katelyn’s presence. She sensed that Katelyn worried she was being as intrusive as she was supportive, so Ashley made it a point to assure her every so often just how pleased she was to have her by her side. It was the truth anyway.
The sound of the people cheering on TV in Times Square as the ball dropped to signal the New Year brought both positive and negative feelings to Ashley. Whenever she needed feelings of hope and happiness to dominate her worries and fears, she would turn to gaze at Katelyn. The promise of a life with such a wonderful and gorgeous person overrode all else. They kissed lovingly when the ball dropped, not caring if it made Iris uncomfortable or not, for they had a right to live their lives as they saw fit and so they would. They weren’t hurting anyone in any way, and as they learned long ago…if you couldn’t be yourself, who could you be?
They sat at the back of the bus gently holding hands, heads resting back against the seat’s headrests.
Ashley still found it hard to believe that she would never again return to her aunt Hilary’s house.
Iris was kind enough to offer to send her weekly money until the house sold, at which time Ashley urged her to reimburse herself and take however much she ended up sending her. When the house sold, Iris would send her all the paperwork connected to the sale, she told her, so she could be sure she was getting what was hers, not that she didn’t trust Iris. If Iris weren’t trustworthy, then her aunt would never have been friends with her for as many years as she had been.
She had mixed emotions about returning to the campus. It was true that she was glad to be out of her aunt’s house where she missed her even more for the same reasons she had been glad to leave her parents’ Nevada home, yet she wasn’t up to the idea of dealing with classes, homework and first-class snobs like Dalene. Whatever the case, she told herself; I have someone I love by my side who loves me in return.
The five roommates fell back into the routine they had before their vacation. Dalene and Rose were hardly ever home, Nicolette studied hard, and Ashley and Katelyn spent every minute they possibly could with each other. It got to the point where Ashley only went into her room to get things. She rarely spent more than a few minutes at a time in it.
When Katelyn’s parents came to visit, they offered their condolences and encouraged her to hang out with them, assuring her she wasn’t intruding upon the visit in any way by doing so.
She found them to be jovial and outgoing people. Katelyn’s mother loved to chat and she had a wonderful sense of humor. Her father was more on the quiet side yet he had the same air of life emanating from him that her mother had. They seemed to genuinely love each other as well as their daughter and often stopped to comment about how lovely and smart Ashley was, with Katelyn’s mother winking at Katelyn with a knowing smile.
She knew that they knew that she and Katelyn were more than friends, yet it didn’t seem to bother them in any way. For this Ashley was grateful and she wished there were more parents in the world with their accepting attitude.
They insisted that she spend spring break with them and that it’d be silly for her to stay on campus all alone and vulnerable to the killer who was still at large, and for all they knew, might not have been caught by then.
It was a cold February night. Heat whooshed softly through the vents. The bedside clock told Ashley she’d only been asleep for a few hours and that it was now coming up on two.
So what had woken her?
She strained to hear any odd sounds, yet all she heard was the air pushing through the vents and Katelyn’s soft, steady breathing.
Just as she was about to close her eyes and concentrate on falling back asleep, she heard it again.
She hadn’t been dreaming after all.
She rose up on one elbow. The sound had come from somewhere inside the house. When it came again, she realized it was the sound of a key being inserted into the lock of the front door. Next, she heard it swing open, softly shut, and then the deadbolt being slid back into place.
Who could possibly be coming in this late?
Careful not to wake Katelyn, Ashley gently nudged aside the arm she had draped over her waist. Although slender, the arm was long and packed tight with muscle, making it seem like it weighed a ton and as if she was lifting a log rather than an arm.
With the arm now aside, Ashley cast the warm comforter all the way off and slowly got up from the bed. She squinted to see through the darkness for her long terrycloth robe that hung on the back of the desk chair. Once she found it and slipped it on, tying it snugly at the waist, she tiptoed towards the door. Although she knew it was either Dalene or Rose, her heartbeat sped up nonetheless. Curiously, she opened the door a few inches and peered out and down the long hall. Straight ahead at the end of it, a strip of light shone through the closed bathroom door that the other three occupants normally used.
She stepped out into the hall, closing the bedroom door behind her as quietly as she could. Guided by the dim night light in the hallway, she moved on past the living room and kitchen and down towards the other bedrooms.
Because Nicolette and Dalene’s doors were closed and Rose’s wasn’t, she assumed it was Rose who was in the bathroom. She couldn’t help but wonder why she would come home so late on a school night.
As if hypnotized into a trance by the strip of light, she sauntered up to the door and listened intently. She heard the sound of water running, splashing in the shell-shaped marble sink. Then she heard a louder splash followed by the sound of something being ferociously scrubbed.
What in the world would Rose be washing in the bathroom sink in the middle of the night? Maybe she was on her period and had simply had an accident.
She lifted a hand and was about to knock on the door to see if anything was wrong, but then she stopped herself. She wasn’t sure why, but something deep within her instincts told her it was best to keep her presence unknown to Rose.
The water stopped running.
Ashley took a few steps backward. Shadows began to flicker under the door and sounds of plastic rustling were now audible.
Just as Rose opened the door, Ashley spun around and darted into her own room, losing herself in the darkened shadows just as Rose passed by. From her vantage point, she could see that she was carrying a black trash bag.
Ashley gingerly crept towards her doorway, glad the house was on a concrete foundation and couldn’t have creaky floors, and peered out just as Rose rounded the corner and disappeared into the kitchen.
She shot towards the kitchen doorway, stopping just a few inches before she reached it to keep out of view.
She heard the back door open next. Whatever it was Rose had in the trash bag, she was determined to get rid of it now, in the wee hours of the morning.
She started to cross the kitchen doorway and return to Katelyn’s room but thought better of it. She wanted to remain hidden. If Rose saw her now, she would know she’d been spying on her, and the last thing she wanted was to come off as a snoop. With this in mind, she doubled back to her room, once again letting the darkness in it swallow her up.
A few minutes later she heard Rose, who was trying to be as quiet as she could, re-enter the house. She moved quietly and gracefully despite her extra bulk and softly shut her bedroom door behind her.
Ashley waited a few minutes to see if she would come out again. When she didn’t, she returned to Katelyn’s side, feeling almost a sense of relief to be within the warmth and safety in which the soft comforter and Katelyn’s arms provided.