Shock dug in, immobilizing her body, but her eyes weren’t deceptive. They remained fixed on the coffee table in the living room. Not the table itself, but the elegant present sitting upon it.

Fear flooded her veins, teetering her thoughts. This wasn’t possible. She set the deadbolt once leaving for her jog and had the only key. The building’s handyman re-keyed the front door two months ago, and the spare had been hidden; locked in a safe in her closet. Deep in her consciousness, she knew how the present got there. Knew he had left it. A twisted, sick gift.

Finally breaking through the dread, she stepped into the living room. As she eased onto the couch, a buzz emitted from the phone strapped to her arm, forcing a flinch. Her heart hammered from the vibration, and she fumbled to remove it, staring at the screen. It was Jenny, her best friend.

Words escaped her, forcing a simple text instead of accepting the call.

He Was Here!

Ten minutes passed before an anxious blonde barreled through the front door. She rushed into the living room, finding her distraught friend.

“Kate, what the hell is going on?” Jenny demanded, breaking the tense silence. “He was here? When? How?”

Kate slowly broke her gaze from the unwanted gift, acknowledging her best friend; the one person she really knew in this city. A subtle shake of the head was all she displayed, her voice still suppressed.

Seeing Kate’s hollow eyes, the lack of color in her skin hurt. Jenny knelt down on the throw rug. She reached out and massaged Kate’s knee. “Honey, please talk to me. I’m here. I need to know what the hell is happening.” With her free hand, she pushed Kate’s auburn, damp hair away from her face, tucking the bangs behind her ear.

After a few heartbeats, Kate released a long sigh. She took in the present once more, and her nerves dissolved. “That… that wasn’t here… when I left today.”

Jenny turned her head, looking at the gift. She cocked her head, brow furrowed. “What do you mean, it wasn’t here?” Her look returned to Kate. “Did that asshole break in here?”

“I don’t know, Jenny!” Kate stood, breaking the affectionate contact, throwing her hands in the air. “That thing wasn’t here when I left, and now it’s here. That son of a bitch has been stalking me. Showing up at my events, at my damn work!”

Jenny stood as well. “Shit! You never told me it was that bad, Kate.” She stepped forward. “Why didn’t you tell me? Why won’t you let me in, share these worries so we can get through them together?” She gently grasped Kate’s hands; caressing them. “Let me help.”

The sincerity resonated, and Kate’s eyes welled over. She was alone when she first came to Seattle, and Jenny was the first person to approach her. The first to invite her to a girl’s night. The first to truly befriend her. Jenny was the only person in this rainy city she could trust. A simple nod ensued, and the two found themselves locked in a tight embrace, sobs flowing from both parties.

Once the emotions dwindled, the two separated, wiping their saturated eyes. After a few moments, they both sat on the couch, attention aimed at the beautifully wrapped present.

“You really think it’s from him? How the hell could he have gotten in here, Kate?” Kate sat there, solemn. Still taking in the situation. “I… I really don’t know. But who else could it be?”

“Sick bastard.” Jenny shook her head in disgust, fists clenched. “I’m gonna kill ‘em. Yup, he’s a deadman.”

There was no response. Kate merely dropped her face into her palms, mind warping with what ifs.“Do… Do you think there’s anything in it?” Jenny asked, the fury dissipating and being replaced by intrigue.

Kate delivered a side glance and shrugged,not wanting to know.

“Well, let’s find out what kind of twisted present this is, babe.” Jenny leaned closer to the table, lifting the lid and peering inside. Her eyes suddenly widened, and a gasp escaped her throat.

“What is it?” Kate cried while grabbing the topless present, eyes penetrating the contents. Without realizing her actions, she reached inside with nimble fingers and pulled out a single polaroid. It was of her, sound asleep in bed. In her apartment. Dated two nights ago.

“No, no, no, no.” She held the picture in front of her face, disbelieving the truth. Falling back into the cushions, she released the photograph. It fluttered downward, landing face up on the table’s surface.

Jenny jumped up, circling the room. “Screw this, I’m calling the cops. We’re pressing charges, and his ass is going to prison, Kate.” She paced the room. “What the hell’s wrong with him? You said it was over, so it’s over!”

Kate remained motionless, staring at nothing, lips parted.

“I’ll be right back, hon. My bladder acts like a fool when I’m heated.” Jenny released a growl. “Oh, we’re going to get his ass!”

She stormed out of the room and entered the bathroom down the hall, closing the door. She paused at the sink, turning the water on and splashing her red face, watching the drops fall from her chin and nose. Slowly, she lifted her head, gazing at her reflection. And a sick giggle came forth.

It’s working. She believes it was him. Screw that guy. He can rot in hell for all I care. Whatever it takes to get what I want. Soon, she’ll realize she needs me to move in here, to protect her. Then, she’ll fall in love with me, like I’ve fallen for her. She has to, or…

She forced the dark thought away, shaking it off and stepping over to the toilet. As she pulled down her shorts to urinate, a bronze key fell out of her pocket, clattering to the tile floor, and a sly grin formed across her lips.