Kari stirred in her bed, turning away from the barely-there caresses sweeping over her hip and side. A low, rumbling laugh answered her actions, the hot press of a large hand following the curve of her lower back to her bare shoulders. Grumbling, Kari turned onto her side, absently pushing herself up onto her elbow to push away whatever drunkard had stumbled into her room courtesy of her friend. Her open-palmed push met empty, yet charged, air.
Sitting up, blankets pooling around her hips and cold air washing over her naked torso, Kari eyed her surroundings. The curtains were closed, the TV off. She heard the faint sound of upbeat music through the floor of her one-room apartment, the door leading to the bathroom cracked open and the lights off. Kari eyed the sole door in her apartment, then looked towards the door leading to the entrance of her home.
The locks were all in place and the latches done up. The rest of the open space, from her kitchen to her sitting room to the corner her bed was tucked in, was devoid of any signs of life outside the few cats resting on the windowsill overlooking the gardens in the back of the complex. The windows were all closed tight. No one was around, but Kari couldn’t shake the feeling that someone had been in bed with her. Someone had been touching her.
Her arms folded across her chest, suddenly uncomfortable in the studio-attic she had come to call her home. The couch was undisturbed, the rugs on the floor in the same place. Pictures were up on the wall, straight and untouched. A few dishes sat on the end-tables on either end of her could, the wall across the room packed with books and journals and sketching pads.
No one was there. Turning over, Kari eyed the clock resting on the windowsill above her bed.
The red, blinking numbers did little to comfort her. She reached over and grabbed the housecoat lying on the end of her bed. Slipping it on, she rose out of the warmth of her sheets and blankets. The water dripping into the sink drew her attention and she made her way to the kitchen, slowing as she spotted a fresh glass of water sitting on the counter. The glass still had condensation on it, three cubes of ice floating innocently in the water.
A plate with some crackers and cheese waited by the plate, tempting her. Kari turned to look out at the room, squinting to peer into the shadows. Swallowing, she called out, “Lauren, are you in here?”
Silence met her answer, and, after a moment, she made her way to the door and left the apartment. Kari followed the sound to her friend’s large, multi-roomed abode. A few dozen people leaned against the walls in groups or sat on the couches, drinks in hand. A few waved at her as she passed, and Kari paused when she spotted Carter on the couch.
Making her way to the older student, she observed him for a moment. He was chatting up a few of his friends, no drink anywhere in sight. He wasn’t one for alcohol. Then he looked up, their gazes locked, and he blinked. Then he smiled, a friendly twist of his lips that had her stomach clench and her eyes to widen. Smiling back, she paused just outside his and his friends bubble, voice low as she asked, “Have you seen Lauren? I need to talk to her.”
Carver draped his forearms across his legs, a frown pulling at his mouth. “Lauren? I haven’t seen her in a few hours. Her and her boy got into a fight. I tossed the fucker out the door.”
His gaze swept over her. Then he paused. His gaze went to hers. “You okay, Kari? Not that I mind, but you’re a bit under-dressed. No hoodie in sight. Or leggings. Someone pestering you?”
Kari’s cheeks flushed. “No, nobody’s bothering me, but…”
“But?” Carter stood, expression serious. She’d seen that look on him before when some of the jocks in the college were harassing one of the Debate Girls. Carter wasn’t a fighter, not really, but everyone knew he had a thing about making sure people knew what was, and wasn’t, acceptable behavior. He lowered his voice as he stepped closer, holding her gaze as he said in a gentle tenor, “Kari, if there’s someone bugging you, tell me and I’ll kick their ass faster than God can call the Undertaker. Everyone knows the rules round here.”
Everyone knew the rules:
Carter made it clear, when he first started classes two years ago, that there were a number of things he would not tolerate. Harassing anyone was strictly forbidden. Verbal harassment was just as bad as physical or sexual harassment, in his book. Personal rights were to be observed and followed at all times. If someone, male or female, said no – then the answer was no. If he found someone trying to force their attention on another student, or anyone in general…
Kari had heard enough stories of what happened to not even want to ponder that situation. She was surprised to see that concern aimed at her; she and Carter hadn’t spoken more than a handful of times in the two years they lived in the same building and that included all the times she had proofread his essays for his various classes. Flushing, she offered a shy smile.
“Nobody bothers me, Carter,” he frowned at this, head cocked to the side. His seemed to appraise her for a moment, gaze sliding down her body, and then back up, and then smiled. Kari felt her cheeks flushing at the obvious attention, swallowing as he said, “That’s good. I’d hate to see someone try something with you. Too damn gentle for the pricks around here.”
Stepping back, he turned to his friend, Jason, and asked, “You see Lauren?”
“I think she went upstairs,” Jason was a tall man, thick muscles and a lot of hair. His gaze was heavy on her, something curious in his gaze. Kari blinked. Then she stepped back as Jason said, “I can take you up there, if you’d like? We could find her together?”
“Jason,” Carter’s voice dropped a notch, someone low and dangerous lurking in his words.
Before either could say anything, Kari shook her head and took another step back. “No, I’m good. If she’s upstairs, she’s likely not all that happy. She wouldn’t take well with someone intruding upon her space uninvited.”
Kari turned and left, conscious of the stares settled on her back. She made her way through the rooms to the stairs leading into her friend’s loft. The beaded curtains were closed, a telling sign she didn’t want to be bothered, but if her and Rey got into a fight, then she knew Lauren would want to talk to someone. Sweeping the beads aside, she made her way into the shadows of the loft and began easing her way towards the back where she knew her friend was hiding.
Lauren’s “bedroom” was separated from the rest of the loft by a thick, black curtain. The other girl had a thing about her safe areas being secluded and dark. Kari noted the music playing, a newer song with a faster-paced tempo, and smiled. When she pushed the curtain aside, she paused on the threshold as her cheeks heated and eyes widened.
Lauren, naked and golden-haired, was straddling some man’s waist with her head tossed back and lips parted. The man’s hands were on her waist, on her breasts, on her backside – groping, stroking, caressing anything he could grasp. Kari’s cheeks flushed even more as her friend’s tempo increased, the younger girl starting to chant a mantra of ‘oh god’ as her partner began thrusting up into her.
Kari turned and fled, face aflame as she made her way into the darkness that was the rest of the loft. She could hear her friend crying out, the sounds of their…union loud and clear. Pausing in the middle of the room, not wanting to go downstairs looking this frazzled and not wanting Carter to come up thinking someone needed to be taught a lesson, Kari took a moment to draw in a breath and will her heartbeat to slow.
She nearly came out of her skin when a warm hand caressed the back of her neck, a steady pressure that ghosted over her shoulder and skimmed the top of her breast. She whirled around, ready to yell, but found only darkness. She could hear Lauren, still. She was crying out, loud and long. A sharp cry, one that was drawn out followed by a long, deeper moan.
Kari stared towards that corner of the room, wondering what, exactly, could make her friend sound like that. What was so exciting about sex, anyway? When the ghostly hand trailed down her stomach, caressing her hip and moving further south, Kari turned and ran from the darkness. She nearly ran into Carter as she barreled down the steps, and he steadied her. He quirked an eyebrow and Kari, flushed and breathing erratic, shook her head.
“Don’t go upstairs, Lauren’s busy.”
Pushing past him, Kari fled Lauren’s apartment and made her way back to her own home. As she closed in on the door, she slowed to find the entrance wide open and the lights dim, as if someone was welcoming her back. Stepping over the threshold, gaze darting through the room, she shuddered. God, Lauren was having sex with someone. In the loft. During a party.
Shaking herself off, Kari made her way to the bathroom. No one was there, either. Forced to see that she was very much alone, she locked the doors to her home and made her way to the corner of the living area. Calming her breathing, Kari sat and picked up one of the romance novels resting there.
She knew she wasn’t going to go back to bed, but she still had four hours before she needed to start making her way to the college. She normally didn’t get up till five, so she could wait a bit before jumping into the shower and making breakfast. Smiling to herself, Kari flipped the book open to the page she had dog-eared and picked up from where she had left off.
As the hours slowly ticked away, the feeling of being watched slowly faded. The first hours of dawn peeked through her window. Kari found herself dozing in her chair with her book limp in her hand. She slid out of consciousness as a strand of her hair was slowly pushed behind her ear, the middle of her lower lip denting as her lips reddened. As the sun came up, on the table by the chair, a hand print slid across the polished, wooden surface. It left a mark, a tainted smear that gleamed black in the dawn’s morning light.