A yawn escaping her lips, Rue blinked rapidly to keep her eyes open. Another day had passed and surprisingly, the rain had subsided. She could smell the sweet scent of the air after a thunderstorm and ironically, welcomed it after complaining the whole day about its inconvenience.

The streets were surprisingly quiet and empty, only a few cars splashing by. Her shoes were indeed soaked and made a squeaky noise with every step. No matter. She could stick it in the dryer for an hour and it’d be dry again. Of course it wouldn’t fit the same but at least it was better than nothing.

The street lights above flickered every time the wind swooshed by and Rue glanced up at the sky, marveling at how close the full, luminous moon hung just a few feet from her. She could almost see every crevice and dark spot and her fingers itched to trace its shape.

Just then, she heard crude laughter just ahead and snapped her head forward, watching as two lanky hooded figures strode forward. Her heart skipped a bit and her steps faltered slightly. She cursed herself for being paranoid when they continued on without so much of a glance her way. Shaking her head, Rue quickened her steps. The faster she walked, the more at ease she’d be that home was close.

Unfortunately, that foreboding feeling that nipped at the back of her mind kept her eyes darting from left to right. What was this? She hadn’t felt this way in a long time. Ten years if she was counting.

Suddenly without warning, a hand reached for her shoulder. A yelp escaped her throat as the long fingers clamped over her shoulder. “Shh…”

Rue whipped her head around, expecting gleaming eyes and a sneering smile of a predator. Instead was a troubled expression of the bearded man. Her eyes widened realizing it was the young man from the bus.

Her heart slowed in response but she scowled nonetheless, wrenching her shoulder from his grasp. “Heaven come down!” she gasped for air. “How dare you scare me like that?” Tears gathered at the corner of her eyelids and she shuffled away from him.

“Wait,” his deep voice split the thick air and his footsteps quickened, following her as she staggered forward. It didn’t take long for him to catch up with her. Curse his long legs.

Rue kept her head straight, tears streaming her face, heart struggling to return normal. She clutched her bag tighter to her front.

“I’m sorry for scaring you. I just noticed you walking alone so I–”

“Followed me!” she accused, snapping a glare his way. “How dare you?” she repeated, chest heaving laboriously.

He raised his shoulders and even had the audacity to crack a sheepish smile. Rue wanted to slap him, to knock that look off his face. “You looked scared back there, when those guys were walking past,” he explained in a calm voice.

Rue narrowed her eyes at him. “Doesn’t explain why you were following me. What do you want?”

Gray’s smile faded and for what seemed like an eternity, he merely stared down at her, his eyes searching hers, expression unknown.

Impatient with his cryptic silence and still distressed by the attack, Rue bared her teeth and started walking away from him. “Stop following me, you hear?!”

This time Gray didn’t move a step toward her as she shuffled quickly to the bus station, just in time to catch the bus pulling out.

Rue ambled up the steps and muttered her thanks after paying for her passage. Then strolling down the aisle as the bus pulled away from the sidewalk, Rue plopped onto one of the chairs and folded her arms. Her eyes shifted to the window and through the dark tinted shades, she noticed Gray standing in the same spot, just staring at her.

Her heart skipped a beat when their eyes met and she glanced away, her jaw clenched. At the back of her mind, she released a sigh of relief that it had been Gray instead of the monster she’d feared.

2:00 AM. No sleep.

Rue sighed heavily and turned away from her glowing clock propped on her bedside table, tossing and turning on her springy mattress. It seemed as though the temperature had increased from just two minutes ago after she’d turned on the ceiling fan. Now all she got was a room that felt as hot as hell’s floor and a squeaking fan. She could also hear her roommate through the paper-thin walls, snoring without a care in the world.

Groaning, Rue snapped the thin blanket from her body and rose to her feet. “Fine…” she trudged to the window and slipped her hands under the curtains, pushing up the ledge. A welcoming sound of cool air pushing through the netting and into her room made her smile and she knelt, leaning her damp forehead against the wind.

Crickets croaked their welcome to the newest creature of the night and Rue smiled wryly. The one night she wished for peaceful sleep and these noisy buggers seemed to get louder and louder. Just then, a high-pitched scream could be heard from far-away, almost as though she hadn’t heard it but her heart told her a different story. Something was terribly wrong. Someone was in danger.

Suddenly, the scream stopped as quickly as it had first sounded, and even the crickets suspended their noise for a moment.

Breath grew shallow, heart’s beat elevated and Rue waited for another wail. Just silence. Soon enough, as predictable as nature could be, the crickets began again. For Rue, she knew there would be no rest tonight.

Buzz… Buzz… Buzz… buzz…

Rue groaned at the incessant noise and shifted in her kneeling position by the window. The buzz continued, now migrating to her left ear and tickled her earlobe.

She jolted awake instantly, just in time to see a wasp dodge away quickly and a trail of cobweb hanging on its wings. Rue rubbed her eyes and stared down at the window ledge. She’d slept here. “Ugh…” she rubbed her eyes.

One quick glance at her glowing clock affirmed she was late yet again. Fortunately, it was a Saturday. No work. Rue smiled. She could either sleep in or catch up on her leisure reading. Still musing on how she ended up sleeping on the floor, Rue rose to her feet and shuffled to the bathroom. The sounds of the shower spray broke the silence a few minutes later.

<<Part 1 || end of sneak peek>>