John’s little apartment was trashed. The smell of pizza and beer and other things made him dizzy, and all he wanted was for the last few stragglers to leave. Especially his ex-girlfriend, Stacy.
Tormented by the hurt look on Lily’s face before she’d run away from him, John nudged Stacy toward her roommate. “But I don’t wanna go, Johnny. I wanna shtay here with you.”
Patting her arm, he passed her into her roommate’s arms along with twenty bucks. “The cab’s waiting. Here’s enough for the fare and tip.”
“Hey! Where’s the party?”
Three men John vaguely recognized jogged up the walkway. Gritting his teeth, he blocked the doorway. “Sorry,” he said, although his tone telegraphed the opposite sentiment. “Party’s over.”
One of the men punched another in the chest. “I told you we shouldn’t have stopped.”
His friend rubbed his arm. “Like you didn’t want to know why there were cop cars swarming down the block!”
It was unsettling how fast John thought of Lily. He lunged and grabbed the guy’s shirt. “What are you talking about?”
Eyes wide, the guy jerked his thumb in the direction of Lily’s street. “We—we saw some cop cars in front of a house. A murder, it sounded like. The neighbors said the Cantrells lived there.”
John released him with a shove and started running. He ran as if his life was in danger. He ran faster than he’d ever run in his life.
Heart pumping, John’s legs wobbled every time his feet hit concrete. He pushed himself to go faster, ignoring the terror stiffening his muscles and hitching his breath.
She’s fine. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. She’s fine.
But when he turned the corner to her street, he knew Lily wasn’t fine. Three police cars were parked haphazardly in front of the house. An ambulance. A white van imprinted with the word Coroner in large, block letters. Yellow tape bordered the front walk, keeping out the crowd that had gathered there.
Guilt flooded through him. If he hadn’t messed with her feelings, she wouldn’t have run off. Had he put her in danger? Had she been hurt because of him? John stumbled, moving forward, pushing through the crowd and shouting Lily’s name.
A uniformed cop grabbed at his arm, but he jerked away and dodged around him.
Relief washed over him when he saw her. She was sitting on the front stoop, her eyes dull and vacant, her body painfully frail under an oversized long-sleeved shirt and sweats.
She didn’t look up at his call, but the cop standing next to her did. He rushed forward and planted himself on the sidewalk, blocking John’s view of Lily.
“I’m sorry,” he said, not sounding sorry at all, “but you need to leave.”
John craned his neck and caught sight of Lily’s father standing just inside the doorway. Their eyes locked and John instinctively flinched. Fear. Grief. Anguish. There were no words to describe the other man’s torment. Blood stained the foyer’s white walls.
“Lily!” He tried to push past the cop standing in his way only to be shoved back.
“Knock it off, or I’m going to have to take you in.”
Mindless with worry, John tried to dodge to the left, grunting when the cop got him in a choke hold. “Lily,” he gasped, needing to know. “Is she hurt?”
The cop shook John’s head like a maraca. “She’s not hurt. But she’s in shock. Now ease up, man. You are going to back off. Do we understand each other?”
John’s panic subsided just a hair. “Yeah,” he breathed. “Okay.”
Slowly, the cop loosened his grip. “What’s your name?”
“My name is John Tyler. We’re—we’re friends.”
Before the cop could respond, an EMT jostled by them and guided Lily to her feet. He led her down the walkway toward the ambulance, passing within two feet of John.
Lily walked slowly, almost robotically. She stared straight ahead. Didn’t acknowledge him in any way.
All John could think about was her declaration of love and the way he’d thrown it back at her earlier that evening. “Lily,” he murmured. She stopped.
John held his breath, waiting for her to speak. Scream. Cry. Anything.
Tentatively, he reached out and touched her face, surprised when the cop didn’t stop him. “Lily. It’s John. Are you okay?”
He saw a flare of recognition in her eyes just before she reached out and slapped him.
Staggering back, John felt someone grab his arm to steady him.
Grief flashed in Lily’s eyes. And then there was nothing.
The EMT walked her to the ambulance and helped her in. Her father quickly followed. John watched the ambulance drive away, then collapsed to his knees. In his peripheral vision, he once more saw blood. Then he threw up.