My pulse quickened by about a million as my mother’s panicked voice poured over the phone.
“Arielle, I need you to do me a huge favor,” she said impatiently. I took a quick, uneven breath, letting it out slowly. It’s okay, I told myself. There’s absolutely no way for her find out I’m not home.
And why would she care, anyway? I hung out at Cordelia’s almost daily. I was just over-reacting…
Trying to convince myself of this, I replied, “Yeah?”
She explained it all in one short breath. Apparently she’d forgotten one of her important papers, and she needed me to read it to her so that she could retype it quickly. As she spoke, my heartbeat slowed and my flushed face returned to normal. I could easily get out of this one.
“It’s on my desk,” she told me. “It should be right on top.”
“Let me find it, and then I’ll call you back,” I said in the calmest voice I could manage. She agreed, and then hung up.
I set the phone down on Griffin’s bed, turning back to him. He looked at me, his green eyes laced with concern, burning into me.
“Is everything alright?”
Those three words were what really brought on the panic. My mother needed something from me. From our house. Where I wasn’t. And if I didn’t find a way to get that information to her, she’d be sure to figure that out.
And then my life would be over.
I was up and moving towards the door so fast, Griffin nearly stumbled back onto the bed. “We need to go. Right now,” I told him.
Griffin pulled his own phone off its charger, shoving it into his pocket. He followed me into the hallway, no questions asked, pausing only to glance at Cordelia’s door.
“I’ll only be a moment,” he promised as he turned and headed down the hallway.
I couldn’t bring myself to wait for him. My mind was set now, and I found it impossible to stay still. I flew down the stairs two at a time, and made a sharp turn into the foyer. Griffin was just sauntering in when I was forcing my arms into my coat. Seeing my flustered expression, he hurried into his own shoes and coat.
We emerged together into the freezing air of New York’s nights. Clusters of snow fell at a steady pace around us, but I hardly noticed as they covered us quickly in our own personal blanket. I walked with determination, knowing too well that there was absolutely no point trying to hail a taxi at this time of night, in this part of the city.
“Can I ask what’s going on?” Griffin wasn’t irritated, merely curious. Amused, maybe.
I took a long, deep breath; apparently, that was supposed to be calming, although I was pretty sure there wasn’t a force on this earth that could calm me down now.
“She just… she just needs me to get her something from the house.” There. That didn’t sound that bad. And if anything, I could tell her that I had trouble finding it. What was one more lie at this point? I felt my heart slowing down, my breathing steadying.
Griffin nodded, taking my hand. “Come on, then. We can take the subway.”
Although I wasn’t too eager to ride on the public transportation, it did seem much smarter than walking however many blocks in the cold of the night. Griffin and I boarded the train, finding a remotely private seat that we could both squeeze into, along with a little punk-looking kid who couldn’t have been much older than fourteen. He was holding onto his red electric guitar for dear life, murmuring along to whatever his iPod was blasting.
“Sorry, dude,” he shouted over his music as he slid over in the seat, making room for Griffin and I.
As I waited for the subway to pull from the station, I drummed my fingers impatiently on my leg. Could this take any longer?
“Are you a drummer?”
I jerked my head up to find the boy in the seat with us pointing at me. His dark brown eyes looked at me intently, his index finger pointing in my direction.
I smiled at the boy- despite everything, it was impossible not to. He was so young and innocent-looking.
“No,” I told him.
He shrugged. “Oh, well, it’s just that I’ve been looking for one, and they’re impossible to come across.”
I tried to catch Griffin’s eye, but he was busy people-watching, studying each and every person in the subway car, ever the meticulous one. I could only imagine his next art project.
So I said, “Are you in a band?” I found myself wanting to know this boy, maybe not each and every detail of his life, but enough to feel connected to another human being. Because, really, who did I have? No one but Griffin. And maybe, just maybe, if I focused enough on his life, then for however brief a time, I could forget my own. Surely his was much simpler- he was only fourteen after all. How hard could it really be?
He shrugged again. “I would be, if I could find a drummer,” he explained. “Mostly it’s just me, writing stuff down and whatever.”
I nodded. “Can I hear something?”
At first, the boy looked slightly embarrassed; his faced tinted pink for the briefest second, and then his tough exterior returned.
Without a word, he began to strum a few chords, starting out softly, then growing louder. After a few repetitions of this pattern, he began singing. The words flowed into me, filling me, reaching out and touching my core.
“Whenever I’m with you I can feel more than just the pain.” His voice was all too perfect for the melody. It was just rough to give the song an edge, while still staying soft. “I cannot feel the hurt because you take it all away.”
He continued through the verse and chorus, and I listened intently. Halfway through, Griffin turned his attention to the boy. After the words faded out, and he had strummed a few extra notes, he looked back up at us. There was no hiding his blush now.
“That was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever heard,” I said sincerely, causing him to redden even more.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
“Arielle.” Griffin’s hand was warm on my arm as he told me that we were at our stop. I wasn’t surprised when the boy, too, stood up and made his way off the train.
Once my feet touched the platform, though, I remembered what had brought me onto the subway in the first place.
“Oh my god,” I groaned, yanking out my phone to check the time. Almost an hour had gone by since my mom had called me.
“We have to go,” I said shortly. I couldn’t help but feel bad leaving the boy alone as Griffin and I hurried away, but after all, there were more pressing matters at hand here.
The subway brought us within three blocks of my apartment, and we reached the building in record time. I tapped my foot impatiently as the elevator rose to the fifth floor, bolting out faster than a bullet the second the doors parted.
“Arielle, wait,” Griffin called as he stepped out behind me.
But I didn’t listen. I skidded to a stop before the door, fumbling for my key in the bulks of my coat. By the time I found it, Griffin was beside me once again, resting a hand lightly on my shoulder.
“You can relax, Arielle. We’re here now. It’s going to be okay.” I actually did feel myself calming under his touch, breathing a little more peacefully, slowing down as I pushed the key into the lock. Maybe once this nightmare was over, Griffin and I could pick up where we’d left off.
The apartment was pitch black beyond the tiny stretch of light poured in from the hallway. It didn’t surprise me; chances were Mark had decided to stay late at the office. It wasn’t like he’d been spending all that much time at home lately. Or ever.
“I’ll only be a sec,” I assured Griffin as I moved into the shadows.
My mom had said that the paper was right on top of her desk, so, without bothering to turn on a light, I headed straight to her room. The handle only stuck for a moment as I twisted it around, and then it opened with ease.
I heard it long before I saw it. The high-pitched giggle erupting from behind the half-closed door. And although somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew exactly what I was about to find, I continued to push on the door, my brain momentarily on pause.
Mark’s deep voice, filled with so many emotions- shock, terror, anger, and many more that I was unable to identify- brought me back to reality. My mind shot into overload as I took in the sight of Mark, standing beside the bathroom door, and the breathtakingly beautiful blonde seated atop the bed. Atop my mom’s bed.
“No.” I wasn’t entirely sure if the word actually came out, or if I simply thought it, but as it exploded through my mind, and motion returned to my body, I found myself backing up slowly away from the door.
Mark made a move towards me. “Hold on, Arielle. Let me explain.”
Before he could take another step, I turned on my heel and full-out ran in the opposite direction. I hadn’t even gone two strides when the tears broke free. How? How could this be happening? Mark was cheating on my mom.
There was a voice in the back of my head asking me why in God’s name I even cared. After all, in the past I’d exerted as much energy as possible into hating him. He was the one who had stolen us from California. He was the reason I’d been forced to leave behind everything I’d ever known. He had single-handedly ruined my life.
But the same voice was quick to answer. My mom may have been all into logic and whatnot, but in dire situations, she’d been known to act on emotions. And her first reaction would be to get as far away as possible.
“Arielle.” A warm hand reached out and grasped my forearm tightly, forcing me to stop when all I wanted to do was keep on running.
I looked up into Griffin’s eyes, my own face still streaked with tears and eyeliner.
“Arielle, what’s wrong?”
In one swift movement, I shook him off, stepping backwards down the hallway. “Just leave me alone,” I whispered.
I didn’t bother to wait for the elevator. My body was telling me to run, and to run fast, and that was what I was going to do. I was well aware of his heavy footsteps behind me as I pounded down the stairs, but I ignored him, despite his calling for me to stop.
The rush of ice cold air that hit me as I shoved open the emergency exit slammed into me, a thousand knives piercing me instantaneously. That would have been relief, taking me away from this cruel, sick, sadistic world. Yet I kept on going, pushing blindly through the late-night crowds of people, moving as quickly as I could manage. All around me, the buzz became nothing more than a humming in the distance. More like a memory than an actual sound. A series of endless blurs. And I continued to run, intent on escaping the nightmare that lay behind me.
And then, suddenly, just as quickly as it had all started, it stopped. The dull hum faded into silence, the blazing lights winked out, the throng of people vanished, leaving me alone, and the world went black.