God, this sucks... it's probably riddled with typos and stuff, and I know Marethryu's OOC, but I'm too tired to do anything about it.

Julia's an OC. Her sisters Jasmine and Jay are OCs. Chloe is an OC.

I'm doing my absolute best to avoid Mary- or Anti-Suedom, so tell me what you think of character development. Although please don't say, in your review for the first chapter, 'I think Julia's really underdeveloped, so you should work on her character'. It's the first chapter. Give her time.

There was a strange man watching Julia from the edge of the playground.

She hadn't noticed him at first- in fact, he was exceedingly hard to notice. She'd only realized he was there because a beggar had asked him for money. Her friend Chloe, who was babysitting a neighbor's kids with her, had said that he looked a quite genteel sort of stalker- but this was from Chloe, who had been stalked three times by various ex-boyfriends, collected restraining orders for fun and bred exotic tomatoes.

And once she looked harder at him (surreptitiously, or so she thought) she realized she'd seen him before. More than once, in fact.

She'd seen him in a cafe next to her school. She'd seen him standing at a corner outside her older sister Jasmine's tae kwon do class. And, most disturbingly, she'd seen him in her younger sister Jay's drawings.

When Julia confided this to Chloe, her friend's eyes lit up.

"That's soooo creepy!" she said excitedly, as though she'd found out that she'd won the lottery. "You should ask Jay where she's seen him."

Julia looked at Chloe askance. "This is Jay," she said by way of explanation.

Chloe cocked her head and looked pensive. "Point taken." She glanced down at her watch. "We should be heading back. Simone said she'd give us cookies if we brought the kids back unscathed, and I don't want to test our luck. Plus, they'll be wanting an afternoon snack soon."

Julia nodded, casting one more furtive glance at the edge of the park.

The man was gone.

She nudged Chloe viciously and pointed at the perfectly empty sidewalk. "He's not there any more," she hissed.

Chloe raised her eyebrows appreciatively. "You know, I thought it was cool when Liam wore makeup and a wig to try to fool me, but this takes the ticket. You've got yourself a magical disappearing stalker here. Coolio." She glanced at Julia's face. "Oh, don't worry. I'll watch out for him on the way back."

But he was not to be seen, however enthusiastically Chloe looked. And after fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and Simone's six year old daughter spray-dying Julia's usually drab dishwater brown hair with orange streaks, she had all but forgotten her fear of the strange man.

So much so that when her mother asked her to walk the dog around the block, she convinced herself she'd been overreacting.

The family dog was old and crotchety, and walked at a speed of about 0.5 miles per hour. This didn't usually bother Julia. The twenty odd minutes it took her to walk around the apartment block was generally a break of calm in the turmoil of her day.

It started to really worry her, however, when she saw the man in the dark coat crossing the street thirty feet from her.

She glanced down at the dog who, at the speed of continents shifting, put one leg ever so carefully in front of the other.

"Hurry up, you old lump!" Julia hissed. An arthritic head turned and regarded her skeptically, then ignored her. She looked back at the man. He was twenty feet away, and walking towards her rapidly. She sighed and started jogging back to her apartment, dragging the dog behind her like a sled.

She heard footsteps close behind her and quickened her pace, but then the man was right behind her and she was acting without thinking, turning into the nearest alleyway- and she realized it was a dead end. The old brick path which, ten years prior, would have cut straight through to the next street, had been boarded up and was now a vacant lot.

Spinning around, she had just enough time to open her mouth to scream before a gloved hand muffled her voice.

She kicked the dog, hoping it would start howling, but all it did was puff a bit.

The man's face was hidden mostly by a hood, but she could see a pair of bright blue eyes. Not what she would have expected for some sort of psychopathic rapist, but, well, you live and you learn, she thought. Or not.

"I'm going to let go of you now," the man said in a low voice. "Do not scream, or make any kind of commotion. I'm not going to harm you. I just want to talk. Do you understand?"

She nodded frantically, eyes wide.

The man took his hand from her mouth and Julia sucked in a few sweet breaths. To be fair, the man probably hadn't know she had a cold and could barely breath through her nose.

"What do you want?" she managed.

"I need to know if I can trust you."

She looked at him, his words not registering. "What?"

"I said, I need to know if I can trust you."

"You," Julia said slowly, just to make sure she wasn't having some form of auditory hallucination, "trust me? I'm not the one stalking little girls! What did you want with me?"

"I needed to know if I could trust you."

"Is that all you say?"

"No. Bananas. Catfish. Pirate ships."

"Are you insane?"

"No. Are you?"

She spluttered for a moment. "I'm starting to think I may be, because this conversation is so not happening." She looked at his eyes and, true to his words, they looked perfectly, utterly sane. Scarily so. She sighed. "Yes, for what it's worth, you can trust me. With what, though?"

"It's about your sister."

Snorting, Julia took a step back and surveyed the man. He was dressed head to foot in a heavy black cloak, and she could see no identifying feature save his sky-blue eyes. "You mean Jasmine? Really? What do you want, an autograph? Because I really wouldn't have figured you for the fanboy type. Still, it takes all sorts." Mentally, she cursed herself. Why was she being so cocky? She'd heard of the survival instinct. Maybe she had the opposite.

"I mean Jay."


"Yes." He stood back and sighed. "She's in trouble. Someone needs to know."

"And couldn't you just have stopped me politely on the sidewalk? Sent me an email? Something more normal?"

"No. I can't afford to attract attention like that."

"But don't you think wandering around the streets of Seattle in a medieval cloak is likely to achieve the same effect in the long run?"

"You'd be surprised how few notice me."

Julia ran a hand through her hair and absentmindedly patted the dog. "Listen, you're creepy. I can't see your face, you might have weapons under that cloak. I don't even know your name."

He brushed the hood back, revealing a rather messy head of straw-blond hair and a surprisingly youthful face. "And you can call me... Tim."


"It was the first name I thought of." He smiled briefly, and it looked odd on his face, as though it utilized muscles that rarely had a work out. "I've always been able to ruin a good dramatic moment."

"Fine. Tim. Nothing wrong with that." She realized that he'd avoided her second question. "And what about the weapons?"

Tim pursed his lips. "Nothing I would use on you."

Julia briefly wondered how far she would make it if she sprinted, and if she would be able to drag the dog in front of Tim and use it as a barricade. "Nothing you would use on me, eh? That's good to know." Her voice had gone up in pitch.

"I'm not going to hurt you. The only reason I'm talking to you is because your sister Jay is... well, she's hanging out with the wrong people and she's going to get hurt. Trust me, I've seen it happen before."

"Jay? The wrong people? But Jay is... Jay is... she's a good girl! She gets straight As, she's got great hopes for her future, she worships Jasmine... she's not one of those teenage rebels!"

Tim rubbed his eyes with his one visible hand. "Just take my word on it," he said tiredly. "She was jealous of Jasmine. She thought she could get her own power by consorting with a certain class of person. They're using her."

Julia stumbled back and leaned against the wall, her mind reeling. "You mean drug dealers? Alcohol? Prostitution?" A horrible thought struck her. "Jay's not... she hasn't... no one's..." Her eyes started stinging.

"No, nothing like that!" Julia sagged with relief. Then: "They're more dangerous than drug dealers or pimps or mobsters."

A cold dread settled over Julia, and she looked up at Tim hopelessly. "You sure know how to comfort a girl."

Tim looked at her, deadly serious. "Just talk to Jay and tell her to be careful. And if you're in a tight corner... I'll find you."