RUSH (City Lights_ New York City Book 3)(4)

By: Emma Scott


“Hello?”

“Charlotte?” A man’s voice. Watery. Tremulous. A voice choked with tears.

“Uncle Stan?”

“Hi, honey.” A heaved breath laced with a sob. “I have some bad news. You might need to sit down.”

My chest tightened, and my heart skipped a beat and then jogged to catch up. But I didn’t move. I felt frozen. “What is it?”

“It’s Chris, honey. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry…”

Uncle Stan told me what happened but I remembered it in bits and pieces, and in the end, only one piece mattered. Chris was gone.

He was gone.

Then and Now. Just like that.

* * *

“You’re going to miss opening night?” Keith’s eyes, which I had always thought were blue like a cloudless summer day, were icy. “Charlotte, we’re a week out.”

I lifted my own shadowed, swollen, blood-shot eyes to meet his incredulously, though I hadn’t the strength to do more than mutter. “The funeral is in four days…”

“No, I know, I know.” He sighed and stood over me, rubbed my shoulder with one hand. “Christ, what a mess. Poor kid.”

I guessed he meant me, though he’d never called me that before.

“I’ll figure something out here,” Keith said, “but your seat on the Strings…I have to fill it, Char. You know that, right?”

I nodded and wiped my nose with the shreds of an old Kleenex I’d been clutching all morning. “I know,” I said, mildly surprised at how little that bothered me. It didn’t really register, actually. Keith’s words came to me from far away, like a distant transmission from space.

He one-arm hugged me, still standing. My cheek brushed against the rough side-pocket of his jeans. “You’re going to be okay, Char. Just go and be with your family. I wish I could be with you.”

I looked up, his words a faint flicker in the darkness. “You do?”

“It’s impossible, of course.”

I slumped. “Oh.”

“I can’t get away now, but you’re going to be fine, kid.” He jostled me affectionately, as if he were a coach and I were a Little Leaguer who dropped the easy out that would’ve won the game. “Yeah, you’ll see. Just fine.”

* * *

Bozeman, Montana. There wasn’t a more beautiful place on earth, as far as I was concerned. Until that trip home. I flew in at midday, but the Gallatin Valley seemed dark, as if it were hung-over from the longest night.

The flight had been a blur, the ride from the airport with Uncle Stan was a nightmare. He was afraid to speak to me, as if I would shatter at the slightest sound. We rode in his shiny SUV to my home, and I felt like a prisoner walking on death row. Not my death. Chris. Chris is dead.

Chris was dead.

That thought, or variations of it, danced in my brain like the painted skeletons I had seen at a Dios de los Muertos festival one fall. But I couldn’t quite grasp the enormity of it. Not while in New York City, or on the airplane, or in Uncle Stan’s car. But as soon as I got home it would be there. I’d never been so petrified to see my parents in all my life.

A wake of sorts was going on and had been since ‘the incident.’ I entered the maple wood paneled living room, with the Native American tapestries on the wall and the smell of eight different casseroles wafting in from the kitchen.

I was besieged by old friends and extended family. I had to wade through a forest of tear-stained smiles and comforting words to reach my mom. Elaine Conroy, an elementary school teacher. She walked around with a tissue clutched in her hand and a panicked look in her eye, as if she had lost something and couldn’t think where to look for it. She had lost something, her son, and she would never get him back.

She found me and hugged me and squeezed me, again and again, as if to make sure I was real or that I wouldn’t slip out of her hands like smoke.

Gerald Conroy, my math professor father, was a silent statue, his brows seemingly permanently furrowed, as if he were trying to work out some great and terrible problem—a problem that had no solution. Because it didn’t.

The horse bucked. Chris was thrown. He landed in the worst possible way.

There was nothing else to work out except how those simple facts resulted in the yawning, black void that had opened in our lives. My dad held me at arms’ length and then hugged me. Then held me at arms’ length and hugged me. Over and over until Uncle Stan intervened and then my dad just held me and sobbed into my hair.