Chapter Fourteen

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The wavy brown locks falling over my stiff shoulders bounced with every step forward in my furious stride. I was beyond livid, fuming even; to have one of my closest friends even consider that I'd risk their lives for my own selfish desires... unbelievable.

I was blocks away from my apartment, my feet taking me further than my mind anticipated. As hard as it was to admit, accompanied by my anger were feelings of hurt and disappointment by Elliot's thinking. I was certainly not going back to my apartment and I hated asking them to leave, since they weren't all guilty of misjudging my intentions.

After fifteen minutes of roaming around the streets aimlessly, my phone buzzed in my front pocket as I received a notification. I fished for it and unlocked the screen, to find a message from Ariel asking me to return home. A second later, my phone buzzed again as I received another, and another; and I halted in my tracks to read over the several messages.

"Noah and Elliot left.

I'm going after them to speak some sense into them. They're too angry to understand, but you did nothing wrong, Nora.

Go back home. I'll return later tonight."

I smiled involuntarily, appreciating her support, then returned down the same path I'd taken to go back home.

Deep down, I knew Elliot didn't mean any harm. He was just worried, which is something he does often. As the oldest in our group, he kind of feels a certain obligation to watch out for us, especially given the length of our friendship and the hardships we faced together throughout those years. He never admits it, but we all know he feels it; which is why we respect his over-protectiveness.

But I had spent such a good day today, after so long of staying on guard with everything, and I only hoped I could end the day by joyfully informing my friends of how amazing it had gone. And to instead be faced by all the criticism and the hurtful words I least expected...

I had the right to be mad, I tried to reason with the slight guilt I felt inside.

I was snapped back to reality a second later as my phone began buzzing in the palm of my hand. I glanced at the screen and Elliot's name flashed as the caller ID. Out of poor pettiness, I let it ring for a few seconds longer, then clicked decline.

That'll teach him, I thought.

The sun was beginning its descend, turning the sky a bright shade of orange and yellow. The warm colors almost mocked me, as if encouraging my fury and indirectly telling me to grasp onto the anger that was gradually dissipating. Knowing myself, I most likely wasn't going to last longer than a day angry at my friend, even if Elliot's words were somewhat insensitive - because I know him better than to judge him based on his choice of words in one tense conversation.

Minutes later, my apartment building came into view. I sighed in relief, the heels of my feet aching in despair. I'm definitely soaking myself in the bathtub; I know where Ariel stashes her bath-bombs, I instantly thought to myself, an evil grin sneaking its way onto my features.

I jogged over the four steps leading to the front door, and waved a gentle greeting to our night guard, Paul, who sat behind the front desk. He immediately recognized me and offered a wide smile, gesturing me in. I took the elevator up to my floor, then reached my front door. Knowing no one was in, I fished for my keys from my purse and unlocked the door.

Once I stepped inside, a warm gush of air greeted me. Involuntarily, I scrunched up my nose in distaste - I was never a fan of summer heat. Following the source of the wind, I found the living-room window half open and ran to close it shut. The whole place smelled like summer, which some might appreciate, but it was never my taste. Moving to the coffee-table set by the couches, I immediately went to work on the scented candles, lighting them up to give the place a cozy lavender scent.

My feet worked on their own, leading me towards Ariel's bedroom, and then her bathroom. The bathrooms of our apartment was probably my favorite part of the entire place. They were huge, with marbled counters, sink, and bathtub. Ariel decorated hers with loads of scented candles to light up before soaking in the tub. I went to the sink and pulled open the doors of a cabinet underneath, exposing a selection of Lush bath-bombs. I grabbed a rose-scented one and then hurried out towards my own bedroom.

Once inside my own bathroom, I began to fill the tub up with warm water, and I took out my phone and set it beside the tub in case I get any important calls, then headed back into the room to find a comfy and fitting outfit for later. I settled for a pair of black sweatpants and a plain light-pink t-shirt. When I returned to the bathroom, I found the water to have reached almost halfway already; so I pulled my hair up into a messy bun, stripped of my date-clothes, and sank deep into the warm water, dropping in the bath-bomb and watching as it soothingly turned the water a light-shade of pink. The aroma lifted to my senses and instantly began relaxing me, and I inhaled deeply, letting the scent fill my lungs and soothe my nerves.

I reached for the lighter I brought in with me earlier and began lighting up some candles I had lying around the tub, staring into the dancing flames with a deep interest.

All too soon, my eyes began drooping as they got heavier and heavier; and I didn't fight the sleep. I allowed the exhaustion to take over, and gradually watched the flames turn blurrier as my eyes fell shut.

*

All I could tell was that it was too cold. Wherever I was, whatever was happening, was causing my body to shiver recklessly. My breathing was coming out in loud huffs as my body struggled to create heat. There was also a faint creak coming from far, far away.

As I tried to regain consciousness, the first thought that hit me was that I was wet. I forced open my eyes to inspect my surrounding, and everything slowly came back to me. I was still in the bathtub, only now the water has turned way colder than I appreciated. I sighed, my hands coming up to grab the edges to lift myself up, but accidentally knocking over one of the candles in the process.

"Crap!" I hissed, the melted wax running down my wrist and leaving a burning ache behind. I shoved my hand into the water and stroked the area to soothe the discomfort.

I blew out the rest of the candles and again grabbed the edges of the tub, pushing myself upwards with what little strength I had left within me after that power-nap. I silently thanked God that I didn't slip underwater in my drowsy state and suffocate. I reached out for a bathrobe and put it on, grateful for the warmth it offered after lying down in the cold water for so long.

After searching around the bathroom, I realized I had left the assorted outfit on my bed. I moved towards the door and went back into the bedroom, and it finally hit me how long I spent napping. It was now completely dark outside. It must've taken me longer than two hours.

Suddenly, someone deeply exhaled from the left corner of the bedroom.

I shrieked, my hands instantly coming up to fasten the rope around my waist. I turned on my heels, ready to reprimand Ariel for sneaking up on me that way, but instead of the familiar blue eyes, I found myself staring into a chilling, endless black pair.

My throat tightened. I opened my mouth to let out a gasp, a shriek, a scream, anything - but the air got stuck in my throat and the hairs on the back of my neck stood on high alert.

"That was one Hell of a nap," his voice was rich with an unfamiliar accent, and hoarse enough that it sent a chilling shiver down my spine. "Feeling refreshed?" His lips pulled back into a menacing grin.

The bedroom door creaked open, and my eyes snapped to the second intruder of the night.

"Sleeping Beauty up yet?" Another unfamiliar voice sounded through the room. He looked taller, broader, and unlike the first - this one had hair on the top of his head. It was long and slick, pushed back. His head snapped up from the object swirling in his hands, and his eyes locked on mine, the same menacing grin I saw on the first guy appearing on his lips.

My blurry eyes flashed down to the object in his right, gloved hand. It was long, and silver. He tilted it a centimeter to the side, and it shined. An inner voice screamed at me, but I couldn't comprehend her words. It wasn't until he directed the pointy end at me that I finally realized I was standing on the other end of the intruder's knife.

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