Chapter 1: Meeting

I poked my head around the hall corner and into my new dorm room. It looked exactly the same as the other dorms here at Rowan Sprig College that I'd seen on Orientation Day a month ago. Two beds, two desks, and a sink. Of course, it was ridiculously tiny, only a little bigger than my bedroom at home. And I was sharing it with another girl.

Said girl was already here, and she must've been here for awhile from the looks of things. Her bed was covered with light blue sheets and a sea green comforter, with lots of fluffy pillows placed near the headboard. Towels, toothbrushes, shampoo, and other toiletries surrounded one side of the sink, and a laptop computer sat on one of the desks amidst neat piles of various school supplies. Posters of different bands, popular mangas and animes, and even a few nature scenes papered the wall on her side of the room.

As I stepped inside, the girl looked up from where she was sitting quietly on her bed. Intense blue eyes, which had formerly been fixed on some point three feet in front of her, snapped to my face, studying what seemed like every pore of skin and strand of hair. It was a little nerve-wracking, actually, having someone stare at me so closely the second I got to college. Even if that person was my new roommate.

"Uh…hi," I said, readjusting the strap on my duffel bag and holding out my hand to shake. "You're Alexandra Davis?"

"Yes," the girl said, in a voice so quiet it was practically a whisper. A soft smile broke out on her face. "But please, call me Alex." She stood up and shook my hand. I noticed that except for those odd blue eyes, she was pretty nondescript. Shoulder-length, light brown hair, a black T-shirt with silver butterflies screened onto the front, jeans, and sneakers.

And she'd seemed like such a free spirit when we'd talked online over the summer. I felt a little kernel of disappointment wedge its way into my gut, though I felt immediately guilty afterwards for judging her so soon after we met. But still, this soft-spoken girl was nothing like what I'd been expecting.

"You're Dana, right?" Alex continued, still in that soft voice. "Dana Owens. We talked anime on the Internet?" Her smile didn't waver at all, even though she must have noticed I'd been staring. "I like your hair."

"Thanks," I said, feeling a smile of my own creep its way onto my face as I reached up to touch my hair. My parents had caved to my relentless begging and pleading over the summer, and had finally allowed me to dye my hair black and put in two crimson streaks. Needless to say, I was really happy with the new 'do.

"Dana, honey!" I heard my mom yell out from the hallway. A moment later, the bump and scratch of my broken-down old luggage could be made out among the noise and general chaos in the halls that was Moving In Day at the school.

"Um, before they come in, I gotta tell you, my parents are-." I started.

My mom entered the room, dragging one roll-along suitcase with a wheel missing that scraped loudly along the floor, and carrying another valise held together with string. "Oh, you must be Dana's roomie!" Mom exclaimed. She dropped the luggage and rushed forward to clasp Alex's hand in both of hers, shaking vigorously.

"-weird." I finished under my breath. Too late now. Alex was going to be subjected to the natural disaster that was my parents. What a way to make friends with the roommate.

"Hello, I'm Alex," Alex said, still in the weirdly quiet voice, though tinged with a little surprise this time. "Nice to meet you…"

"It's wonderful to meet you too, dear!" Mom cried. "And where are your parents?" She started looking around the room, as if Alex's mom and dad might be hiding under the beds or inside the miniscule closet.

"They left already, to go back home." Although there was no change to her voice, I noticed Alex scuffing at the floor with a sneaker. Brown hair slid forward to hide her face as she ducked her head slightly, and I couldn't help but wonder…was Alex upset? Maybe she'd fought with her parents before coming over here and they'd left early, or maybe she didn't get along with them so well…

"It's a long drive back home to Maryland," Alex continued quickly. "So they left after helping me set my side of the room up."

"Oh, poor thing, all alone up here in New York…" My mom made a sympathetic noise. "We have to leave Dana soon too, and catch our flight back to Michigan. And actually, speaking of 'we,' where's my husband?" Mom went to the entrance and yelled out into the hallway "ROBERT! GET YOUR BUTT IN HERE WITH DANA'S THINGS!"

I face-palmed, groaning slightly. Ten minutes into college, a place where I'd hoped to completely reinvent how people saw me, and my mother had already managed to embarrass me. Just freaking wonderful.

Dad came into the room a few minutes later with a couple more suitcases, newer ones that were in better shape than the two Mom had brought in. (Really, we should've thrown those things out ages ago, but we couldn't fit all my stuff into the new suitcases.) He was panting slightly from lugging around my piles of sheets and blankets wrapped around the suitcases and, in the case of one coverlet, tied around his neck. Following him was my sixteen year-old sister Becky, carrying a couple more things Dad hadn't been able to manage.

"Jeez, Rob, when I said 'try and get the sheets in here first,' I didn't mean to kill yourself over it." Mom rolled her eyes.

"I know Monique, but it's a mob out there in the hallway, and I really don't want to keep making trips out to the car." My dad took the coverlet off his neck and put it on what was soon to be my new bed in a crumpled heap, sitting down next to it himself.

The next few hours were spent setting my half of the room up. In between trying to find a few of my towels that had mysteriously vanished, fitting the new sheets over my mattress, and organizing my school supplies on the desk, I sneaked a few peeks back over at Alex. She was just sitting on her bed quietly, staring at a point in the air a few feet in front of her.

I shrugged it off as nervousness or some kind of new meditation technique. At least whatever she was doing was quiet. I felt sorry for the roommate of the girl I'd seen carrying the drums kit down the hall a few minutes ago.

"Mom, we're gonna miss our flight," Becky whined. "It leaves in, like, an hour."

Mom sighed. "All right, honey, we'll leave soon." She and Dad hugged me tightly. "You call every night, missy, you hear?" Mom tried to sound stern, but I could hear the tears just underneath her voice threatening to come out.

"Have a good semester," Dad said. "Make sure we only find out about the good stuff, OK?" He smiled slightly, giving me a huge wink.

I nodded, biting my lip a little to keep the tears back myself. I really hated goodbyes. A part of me just wished my family would leave already, so I could hang up my posters and get ready for dinner. But another part wished they could stay forever and take care of me. I hugged them tight.

Becky squeezed my hand. "See you at Thanksgiving," she said. Then they were gone.

I flopped down on my bed and pulled my posters out of my laptop case (which, incidentally, was where we'd found the towels.) "So Alex," I said, as I scoped out the wall for the best place to put my Death Note poster of L, "What made you decide to come all the way out here to go to an all-girls' college?"

I could almost hear Alex's attention snapping from the invisible midair point to me. "Oh, uh," she said, "I had a really nasty breakup with a guy a few years ago, so I wanted a place where there weren't any guys around acting like pigs and constantly copping a feel. I'm not really looking for a relationship right now."

I chuckled. "I hear you. I kinda wanted the same thing. I don't have a boyfriend because I think boys are pretty immature. I'm waiting for a real gentleman, not someone who's only in it for the sex."

"Exactly." Alex seemed more relaxed now. Her voice didn't have that shy softness that it held earlier, and I could see a bit of the girl I'd chatted with online coming out. "They also have a great English program-that's my major."

"Really?" Now I was very interested. English major meant someone who wrote. And if Alex was a writer, that meant she could collaborate with me on a manga book. It was my dream to draw manga for a living, despite not living in Japan, and I wanted to get started ASAP.

"I'm an Art major," I said casually. I didn't want to bring anything up until I knew more about her personality, and figured out whether or not I could work well with her.

A girl walking by stuck her head into our room. "Yo, dinner's starting now," she said before moving on.

"Guess we should go," I said. Alex nodded and we followed a crowd of other freshmen to the dining hall, talking anime and manga the whole way down. Alex opened up even more as we walked. She did the funniest Sora impersonation from the video game "Kingdom Hearts," which had me laughing my butt off. So I was in a pretty good mood by the time we got to the dining hall, not to mention starving. It had been a really long flight up here, and all I'd had to eat since breakfast were airplane peanuts.

"Whoa," Alex said, her eyes widening in surprise at the crowds of people waiting in line to get food and sitting around chatting at tables. "There's…so many people here."

"You think this is a lot of people?" I snorted. "There were eight hundred kids in my senior class at high school. Trust me Alex, this place is teeny."

"I went to a small high school. There were only around a hundred kids," said Alex, and I was disappointed to hear the soft shyness return to her voice. I was starting to see that Alex was pretty shy around new people, and it would take work to get her out of her shell. A lot of work.

Still, I was never one to back away from a challenge, and underneath the shyness, I saw the potential for a good friend in Alex. "Let's go get food," I said, taking her hand and pulling her over to the lunch line.

We came out of the lunch line around ten minutes later, me with a burger and fries and Alex with Eastern style tofu. (Turns out she was a vegetarian.) After circling the dining hall around three times, we found seats at a table with an African-American girl whose dark hair was up in about a hundred tiny braids, and another girl with long wavy red hair tied back in a ponytail and the vivid green eyes to match.

"Hi," said the African-American girl with a friendly little smile that lit up her dark eyes. "I'm Fatima. Fatima Abdoul. This is my roomie, Rose Tyler."

"Wow," I said. "Like the Rose Tyler in-?"

"If you say 'Like the Rose Tyler in the Titanic movie,' I will cut you." Rose's green eyes narrowed at me, mouth set in a tight frown.

"O-kay…" I held my hands up in a gesture of peace, hoping to calm the girl down. Sheesh, I'd been hoping there'd be less crazies at college. "I'm Dana Owens; this is Alex Davis."

Alex was concentrating on her tofu as if it were the most interesting thing on the planet, cutting each curry-covered cube in half with a fork and putting each halved cube neatly in her mouth. She seemed set on pretending that she was alone at the table.

"Does she…talk at all?" Fatima asked, giving Alex a funny look.

"Sometimes. She's shy." I sighed, resisting the urge to bang my head repeatedly against the table.

Rose snorted. "Whatever. I'm gonna go sit at a table that hasn't gone completely psycho." She glared pointedly at my purple "Venus Versus Virus" T-shirt, as if clothing with references to obscure mangas was a sure sign of mental instability, then picked up her tray and stalked off, her nose so high in the air it was a miracle she didn't crash into anything.

I rolled my eyes. "Jeez, what's up her ass?"

Fatima shot me a desperate look. "I dunno, but do you know when I can apply for a roommate change? Honestly, the girl's a total bitch. All she's done since the moment I showed up at school is complain and whine and criticize everything I say."

I shrugged. "Beats me, you'd have to ask someone from Residence."

"I just didn't think I'd be having roommate problems on the first day, you know?" Fatima sighed, resting her head on the table.

I shot a pointed look at Alex, who was now moving half a tofu cube around and around in the curry sauce without eating it, and then looked back at Fatima, who smiled. Needless to say, we hit it off. Turned out that Fatima was big on drawing too (though her major was currently undecided) and we were making plans to meet up tomorrow and look at each others' sketchbooks when some Director Of Something-Or-Other got up and started tapping on the microphone for attention.

The Director woman, all perky and happy smiles just like everyone else I'd seen so far at Rowan Sprig, launched immediately into a speech about how happy she was to see us all here. I'd heard this same talk a million times now, so I quickly zoned out and went back to watching Alex out of the corner of my eye. It didn't look like she was paying attention either. Instead she was staring down at her lap, long lashes shading her bright blue eyes from view.

What was with this girl? I'd never seen anyone so quiet and antisocial before. Sure, it was the first day and all, but she hadn't tried to talk to anybody! I was starting to wonder if I was going to have a hermit as a roommate-someone who never left the dorm at all. I really hoped Alex relaxed and loosened up a little in the next few days, or I didn't think she'd have a good time at college. And isn't college supposed to be the best time of your life or something?

The woman ended her speech and we freshmen headed back to the dorms. It was pretty early-only 10:00-but Alex and I had both had long trips up here. So we opted for an early night instead of joining the after-dinner meet and greet being held in the Student Lounge.

I fell asleep that night with bright blue eyes and shy, quiet voices dancing around in my head, strands of brown hair wreathing the edges of my thoughts like a cat's tail brushing someone's toes.

I don't remember why I woke up that first night. Back home, I usually woke up in the middle of the night only if I had to use the bathroom or get a drink. I was never the type to have nightmares, not even when I was little.

But when I sat straight up in the bed that night, the blanket tangling around my legs and my hazel eyes straining to see in the pitch black darkness, my first thought was that I'd had a bad dream. I leaned over and switched on the bedside lamp, hoping to calm myself down.

That's when I saw that Alex's bed was empty.

"Alex?" I called softly, as if she might have decided to start a game of hide and seek with me at four in the morning. My heart started to pound in my chest. What if something had happened to her?

Easy, Dana. I tried to calm myself down. She probably just went to the bathroom or something…no need to freak out like this; you would have woken up before now if something happened…right?

Just as I was about to have a full-on panic attack over my mysteriously missing roommate, I heard quick, quiet footsteps padding down the hall. A moment later Alex appeared in the entryway, brown locks in a gnarled mess around her head and her lilac pajamas rumpled.

"Dana?" She sounded surprised, not at all tired like someone who'd only just gone around the corner to use the bathroom. "What are you doing up?" Her forehead wrinkled in confusion.

I could practically feel her blue eyes boring into my hazel ones, drilling holes into my head, scooping out the thoughts within. I felt all of a sudden like she knew everything I'd been thinking about her since we first met face-to-face today, that she knew everything I'd ever thought since I was able to think…

"N-nothing," I whispered, shaking my head slightly to clear it. "Just…just a bad dream. Must be from the trip, and the stress of packing…yeah. That's it. Where were you, anyway?"

"The bathroom; where else would I be?" She looked at me as if I was nuts.

Hell, maybe I was. Thinking such weird thoughts about my roommate…Sure, she was quiet, but that didn't mean she was psychic! It was impossible for anyone to be psychic. I was right, it must have been the stress of preparing for college finally getting to me.

I lay back down in my bed and wrapped the blanket around me. I heard Alex get into bed as well, switching the light off as she did so. "Night," I whispered. There was no answer from the bed next to mine.

It took me awhile to get back to sleep. When I finally did drift off, my dreams were filled with ghostly black shadow creatures with sharp teeth and claws, swirling around me as I ran through choking white mist, searching desperately for an escape. The morning found me pale and wide-eyed, huddled deep under my blanket for safety.

Author's Note: There's Chapter One! I know it wasn't super exciting, but I'm just setting up the plot right now. We'll start getting into a little more action in Chapter 2, and into a lot more in Chapter 3.

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