Author's Note: This is my first time posting a story here on FictionPress. Thanks for stopping in to read! I hope you enjoy!

Longer Story Description:

Seventeen year-old Lillian is used to being abandoned on a relative's front door while her father vacations on a distant island. But cousin Lauren isn't like the others. She's cool, fun, and genuinely welcoming. Lillian enjoys staying with Lauren and being with her friends in the city. There's even gorgeous, mysterious Jake, who Lauren solicited to keep an eye on Lillian.

But then the threats begin. Warnings written on her mirror. Dead animals in her bed. Eyes staring at her in the darkness. Someone is going out of their way to torment Lillian.

And then Lauren's friends begin dying.

"Lauren, thank you so much for letting her stay here."

Lillian cringed at the saccharine voice that drifted through the ratty apartment door. Her father had yet again dropped her off with his sister while he went on a vacation in Hawaii with his latest wife, but his sister had already made plans of her own, so she was pawning Lillian off onto her daughter Lauren—yet another cousin Lillian had never met. Sometimes she was sure these people were just making up family so they wouldn't have to keep her around.

"Sure, Mom," Lauren agreed, sounding bored. "Where is she?"

"She's just outside. Now be nice, Lauren. She's a perfectly respectable young girl and she went to all the same boarding schools you did—"

"Oh, lovely. So she'll be just like all the other girls I went to boarding school with, right?"

Lillian's heart sank at the dry tone. She knew exactly what type of girl her cousin was referring to: pretentious, snobby, and manipulative. She couldn't blame Lauren for thinking Lillian would be the same way, since it seemed everyone in the school was, but she hated the comparison nonetheless.

"Now those were perfectly nice young ladies—" Aunt Barbara began.

"Oh spare me," Lauren retorted, in a mixture of disgust and irritation. Lillian eyed the door warily, suddenly wondering if Aunt Barbara had really brought her there to torture her, or Lauren.

It didn't really matter, she guessed. She was stuck there, whether she liked it or not. She was still technically a minor at seventeen, and even though she would have been fine on her own, her father would never hear of it. He would fly home in a heartbeat just to yell at her for putting herself in danger by being alone.

Never mind the ultra high-tech security system they had installed that covered every inch of their estate.

She sighed, studying the hallway. There were cracks all along the dingy yellow walls and the carpet was ripped up and badly stained. A large pot on the floor at the end of the hallway caught drips of water leaking from the ceiling. She counted ten rooms, five on each side of the hallway. The dilapidated apartment building appeared to be on its last legs, even compared to the rest of the seedy neighborhood.

Silently, she prayed each room had its own bathroom. If there were only communal bathrooms in this squalid, decrepit excuse for living space, she was going home whether she incurred her father's wrath or not.

The door to apartment 5C suddenly swung open. Lillian found herself face-to-face with her Aunt Barbara, a woman with short, frizzy blond hair and blue eyes. She was almost disturbing to look at, her skin unnaturally stretched from all of her plastic surgeries. She sparkled with every step she took, covered in diamonds from her rich husband.

Standing behind her and to the right was a girl in her mid-twenties, with short, spiky black hair, pale white skin, and big blue eyes. Lillian was taken aback by how pretty the girl was, despite the six holes in each ear and the messy array of necklaces and bracelets she wore. Her dress was short and black, daringly risqué, and she completed the look with a pair of black combat boots.

She looked like a walking cliché of those punk kids Lillian had seen on TV. She had never seen one in person before, but it was both intimidating and fascinating. She stared at her cousin, stunned.

"Lillian, this is Lauren, your cousin. Lauren, this is Lillian, my brother Mike's daughter. Now, she's only seventeen, so I expect you to keep an eye on her." Aunt Barbara eyed the hallway in distaste. "At least the best you can in this place."

"Aren't you going to be late?" Lauren reminded pointedly, glowering at her.

"Oh, yes, I am." Aunt Barbara turned to Lillian, taking her by the shoulders and holding her at arms length. "I'll be back for you in two weeks, dear, just as soon as I get back from the Bahamas. Don't you worry one little bit. Lauren will take good care of you." She air kissed Lillian's cheek, and then was gone, seemingly desperate to get out of there.

Uncomfortable silence loomed in the heavy, tense air. Lillian clasped her hands behind her back nervously, hesitantly looking up at her cousin. Lauren was glaring at the closed elevator door as if she could still see her mother on the other side, her expression saying everything her words hadn't.

"I'm… really sorry about this," Lillian finally said. She couldn't remember ever feeling so humiliated. There she was, just a few months from turning eighteen, and she still had to have a babysitter. Worse, one who obviously wanted nothing to do with her. "My dad pawned me off onto your mom, and she—"

"Is that your stuff?"

Lillian looked up, startled to see the girl pulling on her large suitcase. The girl dragged it into the apartment, pausing on the other side of the threshold to look back at Lillian with an arched eyebrow. "Are you coming?" she asked.

Lillian quickly stepped into the apartment, closing the door behind her. "Lock it," Lauren instructed, wheeling the suitcase into the middle of the living room. Lillian turned, gaping in astonishment at the five heavy, iron locks on the door. A shiver of fear went through her at the sight. Did Lauren really need all those locks to keep people out? Was theft—or something worse—common in this rundown neighborhood?

She quickly turned the deadbolt and lifted the chain on the door, then turned to join the girl in the living room.

The apartment was cramped, with a narrow hallway that had an opening to the left leading to the kitchen, and opening up into the living room at the end. There were stairs to the right of the hallway that ended at the living room. Against the far wall was a small window that only showed the dismal rain and surrounding brick buildings outside. A television sat on a heavy wood stand in the far right corner. There was a round coffee table in the middle of the living room, littered with empty beer bottles and ashtrays full of cigarette butts. There was a couch behind the table, several poposan chairs and a love seat creating a circle that faced the television.

From all the available seating and empty bottles, it looked like Lauren entertained quite a bit.

The walls were painted a strange green color, faded with age and cracked all along the bottom half of the walls. There were lamps everywhere, all turned on and casting an odd yellow hue around the room. The kitchen, looking in to the living room through a half-wall, was a mess, with dirty dishes piled high in the sink and on the counters. A box of spilled cereal lay untouched on the floor, discarded and forgotten.

"Bedrooms are upstairs," Lauren told her, setting her suitcase at the foot of the stairs. "The one on the left is mine. You can have the one on the right. The door at the end of the hallway is the bathroom. My friends should be here soon and we'll have one of them take this heavy thing up."

"Oh, no, I can do it—" she started, embarrassed. If she'd known she was going to be carrying her suitcase so much, she never would have packed as much as she had.

"It's okay. Are you hungry?"

Lillian shook her head. "I ate on the plane."

Lauren shrugged. "Okay. Well, my one rule is don't get the cops called here. As long as you follow that, I don't really care what you do."

Lillian flushed and eyed her. Lauren was being accommodating enough, even kind, despite her obvious irritation. "I really am sorry about this—" she started.

"We all get dumped growing up with parents like ours," Lauren told her calmly. "Don't worry about it. My mom was always dropping me with my dad and he was always pawning me off onto someone else." She dropped down onto the couch and patted it with her hand. "Have a seat."

Lillian hesitated, but slowly joined her cousin on the couch, turning to look at her. "Your mom said we went to the same schools."

"Oh, prison?" Lauren asked, nodding. "Yeah, I heard." She eyed Lillian. "Though I guess you probably fit in better than I ever did."

"No one fits in there," Lillian responded, before she could stop herself. She blushed under the girls' scrutiny. "I mean… Never mind."

Lauren nodded, studying her curiously. She suddenly stood. "Want a drink?"

Lillian looked up at her, startled at the sudden shift. Apparently sharing time was over. "I… Sure. What do you have?"

"Beer, wine coolers, wine—"


"Only with vodka in it."


"It went bad."


"Tap only."

"That's fine."

That settled, Lauren stepped into the kitchen. Lillian could see her through the opening, getting her a glass of water and opening the refrigerator for a bottle of beer.

There was a loud knock on the door, echoing in the tiny apartment.

"Can you get that?" Lauren asked her.

"I… Sure," she agreed, uneasy. She stood and hurried to the door as the pounding started up again. As she undid the bolt and the chain, she could hear loud laughter and talking on the other side of the wood. Her heart raced in her chest as she turned the handle and pulled the door open, bracing herself.

The group of people on the other side of the door stopped and stared at her.

She quickly surveyed them, startled at the sudden silence… and their appearances. To her surprise, they seemed perfectly normal. There was one boy, in his early twenties, with large brown eyes and brown hair that grazed his eyelashes, wearing a baggy tee shirt and a pair of jeans with sneakers. Beside him was a girl with long brown hair and big brown eyes, wearing a button down shirt with jeans. The boy in front of her had short, spiky blond hair and blue eyes, wearing a blue jersey and a pair of khaki pants. On his right was a girl with short, curly brown hair and hazel eyes, wearing a flowered blue and green dress and knee-high boots.

"You must be Lillian," the guy with brown hair finally said, breaking the silence. He held out his hand to her. "I'm Derek."

"Hi," she greeted shyly, taking his hand. She pulled away and stepped back, gesturing to the apartment. "Um… Come in?"

The girl with long brown hair laughed. "I'm Vicki," she told Lillian, walking by her.

"I'm Brian," the blond boy said, taking her hand before he, too, stepped by her, flashing a charming grin.

"And I'm Debra," the short brown haired girl said, grinning at her. "Did Lauren's outfit freak you out or what?"

"The outfit?" Lauren called from the kitchen, sounding amused. Lillian allowed Debra to lead her into the apartment as Lauren emerged, carrying several bottles of beer. "How about the accessories?" She shook her arm with the bangle bracelets to emphasize her point. "It took me an hour to get ready this morning."

"She doesn't always look like that," Debra assured Lillian. She stood there awkwardly, overwhelmed at the sudden change in her cousin and the appearance of this group who dropped into the seats in the living room as if they lived there. Then again—they might. "Nor are there usually all these empty beer bottles and… Ew, Lauren. Where did you get all these cigarette butts?"

"I swiped the ashtrays from the club and just didn't bother taking out the butts." Lauren wrinkled her nose. "It was kind of dirty, actually."

"That is so disgusting," Vicki declared, looking slightly green. She stood from where she sat beside Brian on the couch and picked up the ashtrays, holding them away from her. Debra began collecting beer bottles, carefully spaced between her fingers. Lillian could only stare in disbelief, her lips parting in astonishment.

"Sorry," Lauren apologized, grinning over at her. "I didn't mean to freak you out. I would just hate for my mom to realize how normal I turned out despite her best attempts to ruin my life." She turned to the brunette boy. "Can you take Lillian's suitcase up to the guest bedroom for me?"

"Sure," he agreed cheerfully, standing and lofting it up like it weighed nothing.

The sight shook Lillian out of her daze."Oh," she started, flustered. "You don't need to, really. I can get it. It's ridiculously heavy—"

He laughed, looking back down at her from the fourth step up the narrow stairway. "You're welcome," he teased.

She blushed furiously. "Thank you," she said, embarrassed.

He grinned and jerked his chin at her. "Come on. You can show me where you want this."

"I… O-okay…" She followed him up the stairs, surprised to discover Lauren right behind her.

"Don't try anything with my little cousin, Derek," Lauren warned. "She's only seventeen. Jail bait. Keep that in mind."

Lillian flushed, mortified, then came to a stumbling halt when the boy turned back to look at her. "You don't look seventeen," he told her, his expression filled with disappointment.

"Sorry?" she offered, shooting Lauren a nervous look.

"It's okay. I can wait for you, baby," he teased, then turned the handle on the bedroom door and pushed in. She walked in after him, delighted—and a little relieved—at the sight. The room was painted a light, dusty rose color, a dark rose carpet covering the floor. Unlike the rest of the building, it was stainless and clean, well-maintained. The sheets and comforter were the light red, with bold splashes of the dark rose color tying it to the rest of the room. A heavy wooden beside table was topped with a white lamp, and around the room, framed pictures of roses hung on the walls. There was a closet door to her right, and across from the bed a large window with a fire escape attached to it. She wasn't sure if that made her feel safer or not, but she dismissed the thought and smiled at the dresser, which bore a picture frame with a sign reading, "Welcome Lillian!"

In all of the places she had ever stayed, no one had ever gone out of their way to welcome her.

"So what do you think?" Lauren asked. Lillian turned to see her cousin peering up at her, trying to read her expression.

Lillian was shocked at her sudden desire to cry. "It's beautiful," she said softly, scarcely able to form the words around the lump in her throat. "Thank you."

Lauren smiled gently, an understanding smile. She nodded. "You're welcome."

"Lauren!" came an angry cry from down the stairs. "All the juice has vodka in it!"

"I wasn't sure if I'd have to offer my mom some!" Lauren called back down, grinning over at Lillian. "I'll go buy more tomorrow!"

"This kitchen is gross!" was the response.

Lauren laughed, slinging an arm around Lillian's shoulders. "Welcome to my home."

Even though she had lost track of all the different places she had slept, Lillian still hated sleeping in a strange place.

She could never seem to get comfortable, no matter what she did or how soft the bed was. She hated unfamiliar surroundings and the unknown that came with a new environment. Every sound set her nerves on edge; every smell seemed foreign and unsettling.

Especially when the noises sounded like rickety doors creaking open, and footsteps walking along the hallway…

Lillian bolted straight up in the bed, clamping a hand over her mouth. She could hear heavy footsteps moving along the hollow-sounding floorboards. Boots. Heavy boots. Despite the weight, the person was obviously trying to stay quiet, their steps careful and gentle on the squeaking boards.

Someone was in the apartment. She had to do something. She had to call the police or get Lauren or do something.

Her heart raced in her chest as she reached for a bat Lauren kept under the bed, relieved her cousin had thought to mention it. At the time she'd been unnerved, but now she clutched the wood in her hands, slowly creeping along the carpet in her bare feet. She prayed the person downstairs wouldn't hear her… or come up with a gun pointed straight at her. A million scenarios rushed through her mind, but she did her best to ignore them and keep her breathing controlled as she crossed the small hallway to Lauren's room. She gently turned the handle, freezing when it made a soft squeaking sound. Her heart pounded so hard against her ribs that it hurt, her blood rushing through her ears as she peered into her cousin's room.

And saw an empty bed.

Overwhelming relief washed over her. Lauren's bed was empty. The person downstairs was probably Lauren. She shook her head at herself, laughing slightly at her own paranoia. She set the bat down against her cousin's door, pulled her tank top down and straightened her shorts, and then went down the stairs, berating her foolishness. No one had broken into the apartment. She had let the rundown neighborhood get to her and her imagination had run wild.

No wonder her father still made her stay with someone when he left town.

She rounded the corner of the stairs, stopping short when she saw a man's back. He was standing in the kitchen, rifling through the drawers. Icy terror gripped her heart and she panicked, scarcely able to breathe. Someone had broken into the apartment. Someone wearing a black leather jacket, jeans, and a dark red t-shirt. Her eyes frantically scanned the area by the stairs for something to throw at him… anything that would knock him out for a few seconds, because he was leaving the kitchen and coming towards the living room, and in a second he would see her…

She grabbed the beer bottle on the table beside the stairs and, when the man turned his back to her, she lunged forward and struck him on the back of the head with it. She had never heard anything shatter quite like the bottle did, and a surge of triumph and relief washed over her as he pitched forward. Everything in her quickly turned to terror when he didn't fall, but instead turned to look at her, disbelief and anger darkening the most handsome features she had ever seen in her life.

He had longish brown hair, falling onto his forehead and in his eyes, which were a bright green color. His skin was tanned despite the rainy weather outside, and he was tall, a good head taller than she was. He was lean and muscled and she couldn't help being astonished at how good-looking their robber was.

"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded, touching the back of his head. He grimaced and came towards her, but she straightened and brandished the bottle furiously.

"Stay away from me," she warned, shaking in terror.

He did stop, eyeing her as if she were crazy, and then suddenly started swearing. "This is ridiculous," he told her angrily, pulling his hand away from the back of his head. She was a little giddy to see his fingers were red, and even if he was robbing them, she couldn't help but feel a little guilty. "You must be Lillian."

"I… Yes." The bottle fell a few inches. "Who are you?"

"Jake. Lauren's friend. Damn it, that hurts like a bitch." He glared at her, then turned and went to the kitchen. She followed, too stunned to say anything as he went straight for the third drawer down beside the refrigerator and pulled out a wash cloth. He stuck it under cold water and then placed it against the back of his bleeding head before turning and glaring at her again. "So do you always attack people who come into your cousin's house or am I just special?"

"Do you have any idea what time it is?" she demanded, feeling slightly hysterical. She had gone from trying to save her life to being a wild, paranoid attacker in mere seconds. "What are you doing here?"

He sneered at her. "When you don't live at home you don't exactly have curfews you have to abide by," he retorted coldly. "Lauren called me when she went over to Ray's and asked me to stay here to make sure nothing happened to you." He glared at her. "But you're obviously pretty good at taking care of yourself."

"I am so sorry," she told him, horrified and humiliated. "I… Let me get you some aspirin." She turned and hurried up the stairs, adrenaline coursing through her. She dove into her medicine bag, yanked out the bottle of aspirin, and clutching it, hurried back down the stairs. She stopped at the sight of him on the couch, still looking more angry than pained. Then she quickly joined him on the couch, opening the bottle and shaking two pills into her hand. She held them out to him, watching as he snatched them up and popped them into his mouth, washing them down with a large swallow from the glass of water in his hand. When he was done he eyed her as if debating between yelling at her and turning away in disgust. She flushed, dropping her gaze to the floor. "I am really sorry," she apologized softly. "I've never been in a real city like this before, and I thought you were a robber or murderer or something."

"Who said I'm not?"

Her head came up automatically, her heart skipping a beat as she stared into the cool green eyes holding her gaze. There was a moment of heavy silence between them, before he finally rolled his eyes and looked away.

"Would you relax? If I was going to kill you, I would have done it already. My head is splitting." He flinched as he peeled the wet towel away from his head. The center was covered in red, marking the bleeding spot. She winced at the sight, guilt consuming her.

"Let me look at it," she requested, not waiting for an answer as she turned his head, gently parting silky brown strands to look at the cut. It wasn't as bad as the blood indicated—she doubted he would need stitches—but it wasn't definitely nasty.

"So what do they call you? Nurse Lily?"

She frowned and released him, sliding over to the other side of the couch to look at him. He turned back to face her, arching an eyebrow at her. "No. They call me Lillian. Lillian DePree."

He burst out laughing.

She flushed and straightened, uneasily wrapping her arms around herself. He was making fun of her, she realized, but for what? Her name? Why? What was wrong with her name?

"It just figures your name would be something like that," he told her, shaking his head with a slight grin that barely hid a sneer. She gaped at him, astonished. "Lauren's told us all about her family."

She narrowed her eyes at him. Just because Lauren had told them about their family didn't mean she was anything like them. He had never met her before. What right did he have to cast dispersions on her character? "You don't know anything about me," she reminded him unhappily. "Today was the first time I've ever met Lauren. You have no right to jump to conclusions about me."

"Well Miss Lily, I do so apologize." He rolled his eyes and stood. "Look. I don't need this crap. I worked all damn day and I came right over here to help out a friend and my thanks was getting a bottle broken on my head. So why don't you just go back to bed and I'll sleep here and Lauren can pay me back tomorrow?"

"Pay you back?" she repeated, stricken. "Did… Did she pay you to be my babysitter?"

"Look, kid, you're, what? Fifteen? Sixteen?"


He scoffed. "Close enough. You're still just a kid and this city is still mean."

She straightened indignantly, embarrassment burning her cheeks. Even though it was the same thing she had thought earlier, hearing it from him made it sound so insulting… so cruel. "You're not that much older than me. You're what—twenty?"

"Twenty-two, actually. But that was a nice try."

She pushed off of the couch, humiliated and angry. "I don't need a baby sitter," she told him flatly, trying to control the urge to burst into tears. "So just tell me how much Lauren offered you and I'll double it just to make you go away. I am perfectly capable of handling myself."

His eyes darkened. "Lily, if that were true, I would not only be unconscious right now, the cops would be here handcuffing me and dragging me away. You broke a bottle on my head and expected that to stop me. You obviously don't know anything about protecting yourself or handling yourself when you're in danger."

Her mind whirled as she tried to come up with a response, but helplessly she realized he was right. She had been foolish. And worst yet, this unbelievably cruel and spiteful boy had won the sudden argument that had flared up between them. That was twice her pride had been injured in just a few minutes.

She scowled unhappily. "I'm locking my door," she warned him.

"Trust me, you will never catch me in your room."

She fought for a response, but once again he'd gotten the best of her. She turned quickly, stalking up to her bedroom and slamming the door. She had probably woken up the people below them, and possibly the people next door, but she was too angry to really care. She fumed silently, suddenly glad she had hit him with a bottle. He deserved it. Even if she hadn't known that at the time.

She threw herself into the bed and curled up on her side. No matter how cute he was, that guy was a jerk.