The Flowers

Spohie is a small-town girl attending her 4th year of college at age 21. The year starts normal, with crushes, bestfriends, and simple girl drama. But then, the notes start coming. Calls from a mystery number fill the answering machine. Flowers are left by the door. But who could be leaving these gifts? At first they seemed harmless, but now her boyfriend is being targeted. Even her ex has been involved. The cute "I <3 you" notes turn violent, and no one can figure out who the stalker is.

Roses are red, violets are blue. You can't see me, but I can see you...

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5. The Shoulder

    Roses covered my bed. They were placed in a shape of a heart surrounding a red-silk dress. It would have been the most beautiful and lovely thing I had ever seen, if only it hadn't come from some crazy-ass bastard that likes to play mind games. I put a hand over my mouth to stop the bile. I ran to the bathroom and puked in the toilet. With my head pounding and my chest in pain, I still had to take a closer look. It was just too...bizarre. Why me? As I walked back out, I thought to myself, What if this is all a dream? Am I imagining things? How wonderful would it be to wake up? But that look of terror on Ilia's face...It was too real.

    When I finally walked back into the room, my fears were confirmed. Ilia had finally composed herself, for the most part, and was sitting on her bed petting Louise. She had a distant look in her eyes, but they snapped back into focus when she saw me come back in. Now it was my turn. I had to get myself together, if not for my sake, Ilia's. I took deep breaths and picked up the phone. Ilia's strong, but with the right gun, anyone can be shot. Even her.

    "What are you doing?" Ilia asked.

    "Calling the best CSI guy I know," I said.

    "Hello?" Thank God he answered.

    "Joseph?" My voice cracked, so I cleared my throat.

    "Yeah, Sophie?"

    "I need you to come to my apartment. Like, right now. And hurry!"

    "What? Wh--" I had hung up the phone already. Now was a time for action.

     I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures of everything I could: the bed, the dress, and the entire room. At the same time, I was asking myself questions. Why me? How did he get in? What do the notes say? Why me? When did he do it? Why me? How did we not see him? Then it struck me.

     "Damn it, the window!" I rushed to the open window and slammed it shut, locking it. "Ilia! Was the window open when you got up?"

     "What? Oh, shit. Yes!" she exclaimed. Fuck. We went to bed at about 12:00 last night. I woke up at around 6:00, Ilia probably at around 5:00. That leaves 4 hours for whoever to sneak in and hide, it was unlikely that they came in when we were awake. I made a mental note to thank Ms. Prothe, my CSI teacher. But where could they have hidden?

     "Ilia, you went to the bathroom, didn't you?" I asked.

     "Yeah, then I walked out and saw the bed," she replied. Whoever it was probably hid in the closet. And they had about ten minutes to get the bed ready. Ilia likes to blow off steam in the bathroom. But, I was on the phone with him for most of the time... How could I not hear him? It wasn't a recording, he responded to me.... A team? I walked over to my bed, mentally preparing myself for any surprises. On closer inspection, I could see more and more of this guy's obsession. The dress was perfectly my size, and there was a note on top of it.

     "'Tennis courts at 7. Wear this'," I read. At the bottom, there was a little heart drawn on the page. I pulled a piece of paper out of my backpack and tried the trick that Joseph showed me. The words were still typing, but that heart was definitely done by hand. I called Joseph again.

     "Hello?"

     "Joseph! Where the hell are you?" I asked frantically.

     "Sophie, chill. I'm almost there," he said.

     "Hurry, and get Dakota. I don't have his number."

     "Ilia's boyfriend?"

    "Yes! There's only one Dakota! Hurry!" I yelled. I almost hung up again, but Joseph stopped me.

    "Wait! Sophie, what is this all about?" Joseph asked. I hesitated, "It's better if you come take a look for yourself..." I hung up.

     I took a deep breath and sat next to Ilia on her bed. We scooted closer to each other and hugged, keeping one arm draped over each other's shoulders.

 

    We cried.

    And cried.

    And we let the tears roll down because we knew there was no stopping them.

 

    God, I hated crying. I hated feeling vulnerable, helpless, and weak. That's why I take martial arts, so I can prove that I can take care of myself, that I'm tough. Most people's nightmares are scary monsters chasing them, or a loved one disappearing. Mine are not being able to rise above the challenge. Not being able to defeat whoever I was fighting. How could this escalate so quickly? We've studied so many stalker cases in class... They watch. They wait. They warn. He's watching, but not really waiting. Or warning. Just... "come here and let me murder you, OK?"

     I found myself hoping that Joseph would get here soon.

     Then again, maybe not. The only thing I hate worse than crying is having people catch me crying. I like solitude, but Ilia's an exception. I finally ran out of tears, my throat opening up and the snot stopping to drip.

 

     Crying: I hate it.

 

      Joseph finally knocked on the window. At first, my hand itched to grab the lamp and throw it at him, screaming and cussing as loud as I could about how he was late, how he should have called because I thought he was the stalker, and how I needed a moment with Ilia.

     "Who's at the window?" Ilia asked, her face still red but her eyes now clear of water.

     "It's Joseph. I told him to bring Dakota, too." I saw her breathe a sigh of relief. Dakota always made her feel better, even the mention of his name brightened her day. They were the perfect couple. I wiped my eyes and waited for the blood to leave my face. I walked over to the window and let Joseph in, silent. The brisk, harsh wind lashing at my face. When did it get so damn cold?

     Joseph and Dakota crawled in, Ilia leaping into Dakota's arms. She immediately started crying again, whether it was from relief or some more from fear, I didn't know. I wished that Brendon was here. A bad boyfriend, yes, but a good friend. I hugged myself tightly, one last tear running down my face. Joseph looked confused at all the sudden emotion, the heaviness in the air. He saw me and lifted his arm as if to hug me. He paused with his arm in midair, looking awkward. His face was torn between confusion and grief as he stared at me. I just looked at the ground and hugged myself tighter.

     Finally, some unknown dam broke and tears started to gush again, fresh and new. I sat back down on Ilia's bed, bawling my eyes out. I tried stopping myself, tried plugging back up that dam, but I couldn't. My eyes were closed tightly and I hugged my knees to my chest. I felt someone sit next to me and put their arms around me, hugging me tightly. I thought it was Ilia, trying to comfort me while comforting herself. I dropped my knees and hugged her back, crying into her shoulder.

      But the shoulder I fell into was hard, corded with tight muscle. The pull-over hoodie was gray and rough, unlike Ilia's soft blue top.

 

     It was Joseph.

 

     When I realized that, I only hugged him tighter, breathing in his scent. Although he wasn't my boyfriend, or even a life-time friend, it was comforting to have him there. I could feel every muscle in him, tight and hard. I knew he was a state-champ swimmer, but it never occurred to me how ripped he was. The unconcerned, ditzy girl continued babbling in the back of my head trying to distract me from reality for at least a moment while the rest of me wallowed in self-pity and fear. After drowning out the prissy chick that went on about how cute he was, I started to feel better. His arms, wrapped around me, made me feel safe and warm.  I finally pulled away, done with crying for the day.

     "Are you alright?" Joseph asked. I could see the concern on his face through the corner of my eye, but all I could do was nod my head.

     Dakota, with his arm still draped over Ilia, finally asked the one question I dreaded to answer.

 

     "So. What's wrong?"

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