Evening was always the worst. Across New York City, people were coming home from work, picking their kids up from day-cares or nannies with heavy accents. Husbands were kissing their wives who were pulling casseroles from the oven. Homeless people were making their ways into shelters. The city that never slept was preparing to defend itself from the dark.
In the evening, I was alone, wallowing in the emptiness of the oversized house, pounding the ivory keys to the desolate sound of Moonlight Sonata. I was so close to perfecting it. At least I could say that about something.
The daylight was slowly dwindling; soon the shadows would set it. And still I would be alone. My parents had decided to celebrate their hiatus from teaching with an extended trip to Peru. Of course I hadnt been invited. Or informed. I guess that's just how life goes sometimes.
My thoughts had managed to consume me just enough to hit a wrong key. I knew that was about the point when piano was no longer distracting me. When I needed something more.
The phone wasnt far away, and the number was always on my mind. My own personal escape route. A quick, painless way to make life bearable.
Riley answered on the first ring. "Of course you can come over," he said, though he didnt sound as thrilled as I'd imagined. "My parents will be at some benefit all night. I wouldnt mind the company." Riley's parents were doctors who expected him to be the same. Some days I was sure he would. Others I thought he might just disappear entirely and I would never hear from him again. I wasnt sure if I'd mind it or not.
If anything, Riley had become a good friend. Not the kind I could tell anything, like Willow, although thinking on it I kept a good deal of secrets from her. Riley was more so the kind who's chest I could curl up against when the weight of the world became too much to bear.
"Thanks," I said. There was no enthusiasm in my tone. "Let me just pack, and I'll be right over."
The ride wasnt that bad, although I found myself longing for a cigarette. I almost never smoked them, but when the urge hit me, it consumed all thoughts in my mind.
Riley was waiting at the bottom of his stairs, angled and leaning against the wall. His greeting was an emotionless smile as he rose to his feet. I found myself asking how I could find release in such an empty shell. And how he could do the same. Two nothings didnt really amount to much of anything.
"Let me get your bag," Riley said softly, coming to where I stood. Instead of reaching for it, however, he extended a hand to push back a strand of hair from my face.
"You're so beautiful, Harper," he murmured. Those words caught me completely off guard. Riley and I were supposed to keep it totally casual. No feelings to complicate things. Getting attached was what led to heart break, and neither of us needed that.
"Riley," his name tumbled from my lips as I pulled away. Stepped back until I could feel the wall, solid behind me. I'd never been scared of him, not when he was demanding more of shoving me down into the mattress. But here we stood, sparks flying in the air around us, and I was terrified.
The brown haired boy looked away the outline of his face illuminated by the glow of the city that came in through the nearest window. "I'm sorry," he muttered. But when he looked back a new fire was burning in his eyes.
"No, I'm not," he said harshly. "I'm not sorry, Harper, because we've been playing this game for months and I cant do it anymore."
I opened my mouth, knowing full well no sound would come out. There was nothing to say. I was salvaged only by the sound of the door clicking out of place. Riley's dark expression shifted into one of utter fear, but it melted to a blank one when he saw who was emerging.
The man was one I didnt recognize. At least, not at first. But slowly, my memory crept back to me. In the back of my mind, I could see the sunlight reflecting on the pavement, could see Willow caught in the blur of the crowds. She was speaking with a man, a man with dark hair and dead eyes.
That same man stood before me now. The world just couldnt get any smaller. The story just couldnt get any more twisted.