Laughter and the shuffling of feet approach me as I enter. I narrowly avoid collision with Elijah as Rory clung to his back like a tiny monkey. He is giggling uncontrollably while desperately trying to hold on to Elijah.

"Mia!" Rory exalts with a jovial gasp. Without much contemplation, he decides to launch himself off of Elijah's back to land onto my chest. There is not much time for me to prepare for Rory's landing. The wind is practically knocked out of my chest as I receive him. Elijah offers his support during Rory's transfer to my person albeit awkwardly. During, he takes a foot to the abdomen and I receive an elbow to the eye.

With my good eye, I assess the two boys before me. Their faces are flushed and their hair is identically disheveled. Elijah's usually confined tresses are completely free, having abandoned the hair elastic he usually wears. He offers me a rushed greeting as we finish detangling Rory. We pause for a moment, watching each other, but there is not much time to converse, as he quickly excuses himself to go upstairs.

As I watch him ascend the stairs, Rory tugs me into the living room. The creaks of the stairs fade as the volume of the television gets louder. His wild hair bounces excitedly as he explains the concept of a gingerbread house and how imperative it is for us to build one immediately. As expected, this new idea has completely consumed his thoughts.

"That does sound fun." I say, trying to match his energy level, while smoothing down his curls. Internally, I am dreading the idea. The concept is fun but the execution is going to be messy and stressful. However, with Rory's huge chocolate eyes glistening with anticipation, I can't say no. He should have as many happy holiday memories despite his parent's busy schedules.

"Okay, fine," I cave, leaning on the arm of the couch. "Next time I come. We'll build your gingerbread house." I laugh as he roars with excitement. He hops up onto the sofa cushions to climb on top of me once more. There, we commence a game that basically entails me running around with Rory on my back. The game I'm sure I had interrupted when I came in.

After the third or forth lap around the lower level of the house, I hear feet descending the stairs. We skid to a halt as I round the corner. We meet Elijah just as he reaches the landing. His unruly hair is now returned to his slicked back ponytail. He narrowly avoids colliding with me and slides past me to grab his dark jacket, that matches his overall black outfit.

After zipping up his jacket, his eyes finally meet my own. His deep brown eyes are now framed with dark glasses that I didn't know he needed until now. I can't help but admit that he looks slightly attractive at the moment but I still maintain my suspicions about him. Suddenly, I feel a bit self-conscious about my own appearance. I now match the state in which Elijah was in when I first arrived. Hair disheveled, breathless, skin glistening. . . Do I smell?

I may have been staring for a minute too long because he eventually clears his throat. I snap back to reality and set Rory down. I discreetly give myself a sniff while raising my arms to smooth down my hair.

Okay, I don't smell horrible, I rationalize.

"I'm heading towards the city," he announces, not giving much detail. He walks a bit closer to us and crouches down in front of Rory. "Be good for Mia and I'll bring you back something cool." He proposes this while ruffling his curls and uncharacteristically smiling up at me.

He stands up so we're now face to face. He looks like he wants to say more but he just turns on his heel instead and leaves through the backdoor

. . . Maybe I do smell.

With slightly aching muscles, I carry Rory's tiny body upstairs to his room after he finally falls asleep. I trudge back down the stairs once I finish settling him into bed. I take out my laptop so I can finish proofreading my paper.

The quietness of the house quickly begins to weigh heavily on me, slumping my shoulders and causing me to breathe heavier. Therefore, I grab the remote to flip on the television so that noise can fill the emptiness in the air and lessen my anxiety.

The indistinct chatter quickly makes me feel better and I return my attention to my work. In the background, I hear about the record breaking Christmas sales, advertisements and deals. Just as I am finishing up with my works cited page the current story catches my attention.

"And now we would like to take a moment to remember Viola Laurence. Her tragic death last year has made a lasting impact on us. She would have been twenty-two today. . ."

A nauseating churning begins in my stomach as I listen to the segment. I bite my lip as my pulse quickens when her picture is shown on the screen. Her kind almond shaped blue eyes meet with my own and I nearly pass out. I grab on to the arm of the couch for support and use my other hand to clutch my abdomen. Her death was a shock to all of us. Something I don't often divulge in.

I almost had let myself forget about it.

I can no longer focus on my work, so I put off the remainder for tomorrow. While clearing my throat, I shut my laptop and push back those memories.

Unfortunate things happen and we move on, I reassure myself.

A shower, I decide, will alleviate my tension. I check on Rory once more before heading to the bathroom. He is sound asleep and sprawled on his back. It's a bit past midnight and Elijah still hasn't returned home. I can't help but wonder what on earth could he be doing so late.

I let my curiosity flow through me as I cleanse my skin with the hot water. I let the water and my stress, mix together and cascade down my body and into the drain. The sudden shuffling outside of the door causes my body to still instantaneously. "Rory?" I call out over the stream of water pouring down on me.

No reply.

With a knotted brow, I continue showering a bit more rushed and anxiously. Just as I begin to wash my face, I hear the shuffling again. This time, I turn the shower's spray off before calling out, uncaring about the glob of suds slowly covering my eyes.

"Rory?" I call out again, squinting one eye open while the other is covered in soap.


"Elijah?" I squeaked out in a shrill higher pitched voice.

No reply either.

I really really really don't want to die naked so I finish my shower in record time, dress and leave the bathroom. With my skin and hair still slightly damp, the first thing I do is check on Rory, who is for the most part still in the same position as before.

Before I make my way to the guest room, I decide to do my now necessary rounds to make sure that the doors and windows are locked. It is one of the coldest days of the season. The harsh wind beats against the side of the Sandoval's house. Even in the confinements of their home, I still shudder.

After confirming that everything is fine in the house, I turn the thermostat up a bit. I pull my sleeves over my hands as I shudder again. Hoping the house heats up soon, I drag myself up the stairs. I have to pass by Elijah's room and I let my curiosity get the best of me. I press my ear to the door, it's scratchy surface irritates my skin. I hear nothing but silence.

My hand, possessed by a force that is not my own, has the audacity to turn the knob to his room. The door is pushed further open, just enough for my head to peek itself in. And again, through unforeseen forces, my head pokes its way in.

There is not much to be seen. The room is dark, only illuminated by the moonlight, but I can still see that it is very neat. It's almost like no one lives here, which is true in a way. Deciding not to push my luck, I do not turn on the light nor go farther in. With my luck, this computer wiz probably has some makeshift security system.

Grasping my curiosity by the neck, I drag myself out of Elijah's room and force myself to retreat to the guest room. I place my things on the dresser after gingerly closing the door. With a sigh, I lay down on the bed. It feels foreign and unwelcoming beneath me. The weight of my day and thoughts weigh down upon me and pushes me deeper into the mattress. I toss and turn for what seems like hours until my mind is filled with nothingness.

Abruptly my eyes snap open to the sound of footsteps in the hallway. The clock beams 2:32 AM into the darkness while my unconsciousness is slowly loosening it's grip on my mind. I jolt upright and stumble out of the bed and into the hallway. I happen upon Elijah quietly leaving Rory's room.

I sigh in relief and lean against the door frame. The floorboards gives a quick creak under my weight. This causes him to jolt slightly and spin around to see me. I hold my arms up with an apologetic smile.

"I guess you're the one sneaking up on me now." He chuckles bleakly as he shuts the door. I frown slightly, knowing that Rory likes the door left slightly open.

"Sorry," I yawn in return, without remorse, my exhaustion keeping my usual anxiety with Elijah at bay. "This house has me on edge lately."

"Yeah?" He asks, eyebrows knotting in interest while taking a step closer. I just shrug, not wanting to get into my erratic inner ramblings. "I'm here now. No need to worry."

Before I can muster up a remark, he slips into his room. He pauses for a moment at the door frame, nearly blending into the darkness, as if assessing the atmosphere.

Oh God, I think He knows I've been snooping.

However, instead of interrogating me, he just calls out a goodnight over his shoulder before shutting his room door.

I stand suspended in that moment before slowly backing up into the guest room.

Shockingly, when I lay my head down on the pillow, sleep comes easier.

I just noticed that this story has a very slow build up. Well much slower than my other stories. So thank you for reading and hanging on. Thrills await. I promise.