This story was based on an idea I presented for a class in college.  
I decided to expand it into a short story.

Now, the story has been changed slightly from its original version -
I am expanding it again.  Rather than ending with a mystery, more
will be explained.  Don't expect answers to everything, though!

Living Alone
by Xander Riley

Alice was exhausted.  Staring at a computer terminal and printouts all day long was hard on the eyes.  Staring at another terminal and textbooks all night
multiplied it tenfold.  Maybe it would have been easier if she could go to class full-time and give up her job.  Unfortunately, tuition had to be paid and she
had no rich relatives or scholarship to help her financially.

Climbing the single flight of steps to her door took all of her energy.  By the time she reached the top, she was practically dragging her bag of
schoolbooks on the ground.  Alice dropped the bag outside her front door and fumbled for the keys in her purse.  She dug through her purse for several
seconds, through makeup and junk, before she eventually located the oversized keychain.

The apartment complex she lived in was old.  It was an effort to fit the key into the lock.  She finally forced the bolt to unlock and shoved the full weight of
her body into the door to push it open.  The bag of books was too heavy to fool with, so she dragged them inside by the strap.  The heavy door slammed
shut behind her.

Alice made sure that the deadbolt locked firmly into place once she was inside.  This was not one of the better neighborhoods in town.  The bulb in the
lamp flickered as she switched it on, flashing on and off a few times before finally staying lit.  The young woman took a deep breath and slowly released it,
forcing away the tension that had accumulated from her long day.

Her tiny apartment was crammed full of furniture - too much for such a small space.  The sofa and recliner were jammed together on one wall with an end
table and a lamp.  The huge coffee table covered the entire center of the room.  An entertainment center dominated the opposite wall.  It was very cool
inside; a strong breeze was blowing the curtains over the potted plants beneath the window.

Alice stared at the billowing drapes.  She had closed the window before she left for work!  It was an automatic habit – one she never forgot.  A chill ran up
her spine as she realized that someone had been in her home while she was gone.  She didn't notice anything missing, but the fact remained that
someone had violated her privacy.

The telephone was on the kitchen counter to her left.  Stan, one of her best friends, lived next door.  He would come over to help her search for anything
that may be stolen – and make sure that she was safe.  She dialed his number and waited as the phone rang.  His answering machine picked up.  Great,
he wasn't home!

Oh well!  I'll just have to do this alone.  As she opened the door to her bedroom, she remembered that the front window was still open.  It was stuck (as
usual).  Alice threw her weight onto it and slammed it shut.  One of her potted plants had been knocked over by the curtains.  She turned it upright and
shoveled as much of the dirt back into the pot as she could with her hands.  The rest of the mess could wait until tomorrow.

A door closed down the hall from her apartment.  Maybe Stan is finally home!  It was worth a shot to try again.  Hitting redial on the phone, Alice took
another look around the room.  It was puzzling!  Everything seemed to be in order except that the window had been open.

Stan's machine answered again.  This time, Alice decided to leave him a message, but the phone fell from her hand to the counter.  She stared at her
bedroom door - her closed bedroom door!  The door she had opened only a moment ago.  A scream escaped her before she could stop it.  Gathering
her courage once more, she faced the closed door.

"Oh my God!  Who's in there?  What are you doing here?  Leave me alone!"

The terror in her voice frightened her even more.  She was not the timid type.  All of her life she had been able to take care of herself.  She never asked
anyone for help with anything that she could handle on her own.  But now she felt like the stereotypical helpless woman.

This was not something she was willing, or ready, to face alone.  She hurried to the front door, one hand on the knob and the other on the deadbolt.  She
screamed as the door shook in her grasp from the other side.  Someone was trying to force it open, banging on it and kicking it forcefully.

"Alice!  Alice, are you okay?  Open the damn door"!  Stan's voice was tinged with both fear and anger.

She threw open the deadbolt and jumped back as he crashed through the door.  Stan ran to her and held her tight.  Alice fell limp in his arms - and then
fainted dead away.

Moments later, Alice awoke lying on the floor.  Stan was talking to somebody in her bedroom.  Groggily, she regained her feet and moved to the open
doorway to listen.  Stan was standing in the middle of the room, holding a kitten and talking to it as if it were a baby.  He noticed Alice was finally awake
and carried the young cat to her.

"Is this what caused all that hysteria?  It sounded like you were being attacked!"

Alice stared at the kitten, realizing that her fears were unfounded.  All this worry over a stray cat!  It must have accidentally pushed the door closed while
trying to get back out.  She fixed a bowl of milk for her new companion, and then walked Stan back to the hallway.

"Thank you for being there when I needed you most!  I don't know what I'd do without you as a neighbor - and friend.  It's times like this that make you
realize how vulnerable you are when you live alone."  Alice noticed that her voice was shaky, as were her hands.

"Alice, don't think a thing about it.  You know that I'm always right next door if you need me for anything at all.  I'm just glad that it turned out to be nothing."

Alice started to close the door behind him, but he stopped it with his foot.  “Say, Alice, how about joining me for a drink.  I’d say you could really use one
right now.  Maybe it’ll calm you down enough to sleep tonight.”

She looked back inside her apartment and smiled at her new little buddy.  He was so cute!  All this drama over a tiny little ball of fur that had crawled into
her apartment!  A drink was just what she needed.  Besides, she could stop at the store to pick up some cat food and a litter box on the way home.

After saying goodbye to the kitten, Alice locked the front door and smiled at Stan.  “Lead the way, Mister!”

Stan was a good guy – the type you could take home to meet your parents.  She suddenly realized that she was attracted to him.  Why didn’t I ever notice
him before now?  They strolled down the walkway to his car, chatting mindlessly about nothing in particular.

The bar was crowded and loud.  It wasn’t Alice’s cup of tea at all, but she was truly enjoying Stan’s company.  Yet all good things must end at some point.  
After an hour of meaningless chatter (and two drinks), she asked him to take her home.

It was going to be another long day tomorrow.  Now that she was totally relaxed, Alice was ready to crawl into bed.  She would probably fall asleep before
her head hit the pillow.  The keys were in her hand before she climbed the stairs this time.  The front door opened easily; she bolted it behind her without
thinking about it.

Seeing the room again reminded her of the earlier drama.  She smiled to herself, thinking what a fool she had been.  Being a creature of habit, she
turned on the coffee maker (set for morning) and checked the window.  It was unlocked!

Once again, the fear set in!  She was absolutely positive that she locked it before Stan arrived.  Then another thought occurred to her: It may have been
the cat that closed the door, but who opened the window in the first place?  Alice searched her apartment to make sure she was alone – and she was.  
Nobody was in her apartment.  No person and no cat!  Someone had been here.  Most likely, they were still here when she came home.

Shivers ran down her spine as she realized that they must have been in her bedroom.  She opened the door, but never walked inside.  Then, while she
was occupied with the window, they closed the door, hoping she would forget.  Wait a minute!  Why would they think that I wouldn’t go into my bedroom?  
They couldn’t have known that Stan would take me out for a drink.  Could they?

Stan was in the bedroom after she had fainted!  Talking to someone!  And he was the one who suggested that it was only the cat.  But why?  She had
nothing of value, nothing worth stealing.  Could it possibly have been an attempted rape?  If so, then why did Stan cover it up?  Who was Stan really?

It was time to get some answers.  

© Copyright 2008 Xander Riley
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