This is major. Today, we’re pleased to bring you a complete and exclusive short story by Jill D Block, taken from the upcoming collection of short crime stories At Home in the Dark. And we think you’re going to enjoy it.
The anthology is being assembled and edited by Lawrence Block, creator of the Matt Scudder series, and his short story collections are highly sought-after reading material. We loved Alive in Shape and Color, and In Sunlight or in Shadow before that. Both were themed around artwork – great crime writers basing their stories on famous pieces. At Home in the Dark is a book in which Block crosses over into other genres. So, James Reasoner appears with a signature Western, while crime author Joe R Lansdale messes around in a dystopian future.
Jill D Block’s contribution is included below in its entirety and we’re not going to spoil it for you. Read on – the dialogue-led format is superb…
O, SWEAR NOT BY THE MOON
By Jill D Block
Rich was sitting at his desk, and Chazz was sprawled across the beanbag chair. They each held a copy of the Ridgely Fells Report.
“Hey, who’s this one?” Rich asked. “She’s new, right?”
Chazz got up to see which picture Rich was looking at.
“Which one, her? Maggie May Costello. Good God. Who would name their kid Maggie May?”
“It says she’s from New York City but doesn’t say what school she came from. Tenth grade.”
“Oh, yeah. That’s right,” Chazz said, sitting back down. “I think I heard about her. She’s CeeCee’s daughter.”
“CeeCee Castile?” Rich turned in his chair. “You’re so full of shit.”
“I’m serious. I heard she was coming here.”
“Oh, you heard?” Rich asked.
“What, you think you’re the only person who hears stuff?”
“So, who exactly did you hearfrom?”
Chazz dropped his copy of the Register on the floor and picked up his phone. “You know that girl with the red hair? The tennis player? You know the one I mean. She hangs out with those girls from San Diego. Anyway, she told me. Her mother is on the board.”
“So you’re telling me that CeeCee’s daughter is a student at Ridgely Fells?” Rich took another look at her picture. “Google it.”
“Okay,” Chazz said. “Hang on. God, what is with the shit WiFi in this building? Okay. Here it is. We’ve got CeeCee tour dates. CeeCee’s new album. CeeCee at the VMAs. Oh, here. This says she had a daughter in 2003, so she’d be 15. That sounds right. Right?”
“Big deal. That doesn’t mean – ”
“Ok, wait. What about this?” Chazz read from his phone, “Quote, while CeeCee has never confirmed paternity, there have been persistent rumors of a brief affair with Rod Stewart during his marriage to Rachel Hunter, unquote. Uh, hello? Maggie May?”
“None of that proves that she’s CeeCee’s daughter,” Rich said, getting up. “She’s in Turner. Let’s go meet her.”
“That was so nice,” Maggie said. “Don’t you think? For them to come by like that?”
“Are you kidding?” Katie replied. “Yeah, it was nice. Seriously. Those guys are seniors. They have never even looked at me before, let alone spoken to me.”
“Oh, so that thing about them being from the Welcoming Committee…?”
“Umm, yeah. There’s no such thing. I think they just wanted to see you in person.”
“Really? That’s so … did I act like a total dork?”
“You were fine. A little shy, maybe. But people like that. Everyone’s just really –”
“That one guy, Rich? He’s really cute.”
“Oh, totally. He’s definitely in the top ten. I would have said he was out of reach, but apparently not.” Katie continued, “Chazz, though? Total jerk.”
“Yeah. But it’s like Rich thinks so too. Do you know what I mean? How he acts like he doesn’t even like him?”
“He probably doesn’t,” Katie said, getting up from her desk and sitting down on her bed. “My guess is that he just hangs out with him for the Blueblood cred.”
“What’s that?” Maggie asked.
“Okay, so here’s how it is.” Katie stretched out on her bed, her legs crossed at the ankle, her hands behind her head. “People here are either Misfits or Bluebloods. The Bluebloods are super rich, usually old money, mostly legacy, but also major corporate types. I mean, children of, obviously. But yeah, hedge funds, Fortune 500 companies, like that.”
“So, like you,” Maggie said.
“Well, yeah. I mean, I’m fourth generation.”
“And the Misfits are also mostly super rich, but it’s different. New money, or shady money. Plus there are the scholarship kids. Oh, and the fuck-ups. You know, like, the kids who got thrown out of other schools.”
“Oh, great,” Maggie said. “So I’m a Misfit?”
“You? Uhh, no. You’re Spawn. Third category: Superstar Spawn. There aren’t very many of you. We get maybe one a year, if we’re lucky. Maybe not even. There’s a girl here, Christina? You’ll meet her. Anyway, her father used to be a pro golfer. Like, big time. All the dads were super psyched for parent’s weekend last year, like he was going to be helping them with their swings or something. But that guy’s nothing like CeeCee.”
“Superstar Spawn. Okay. It could be worse.”
“Are you kidding? It’s the best!” Katie said, sitting up. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to have you as my roommate. Seriously. This is going to make my whole year.”
“I’m glad I could help. So umm, what makes Rich a Misfit?”
“Shady money. I don’t know this for sure, but I think his father is connected.” When she saw the look on Maggie’s face Katie continued. “Connected. As in, in the mafia.”
“Oh. Well, I just thought he was cute.”
“He totally is. Plus, it’s not like being a Misfit is even a bad thing. The Bluebloods are mostly pretty dull. Except for me, I mean. But seriously, the Misfits are definitely the coolest and the most popular.”
“Other than the Spawn?” Maggie asked.
“Right. The Spawn are on their own level. See? You get it. Come on, let’s go downstairs. I’ll introduce you to everyone.”
Dad, I think I’m in trouble. He closed his eyes, repeating the words in his head, in sync with the on-hold music. I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble. I’m in trouble.
“What?” Emphasis on the T. It wasn’t a question. It was an order, a command, a countdown clock.
“Oh, hey Dad. Hi.” Rich pictured him, hair combed back, double breasted suit, the knife-sharp edge of a white handkerchief just poking out of his breast pocket.
“What is it? She pulled me out of a meeting.” He was probably standing at his secretary’s desk, Rich imagined, using her phone, stretching the cord across her keyboard, invading her space, while she sat there pretending to be invisible, watching, listening.
“Yeah, I know. JoAnn told me —. I mean, I know you’re busy. I just —.”
“You just what? Richie, I can’t do this right now.”
Shit, just say it.
“Okay. I umm. I think that I —.”
“Okay, yeah,” Rich said. “I’m sorry to bother you. I think –.” The words he’d practiced were gone.
“You think. You think what? For Christ’s sake. Can you understand that I do not have time for this shit today?”
“I know. It’s just —.” Rich looked up, making sure that he was still alone in the room, that the door was still closed. “There’s this, uh, girl,” his voice lowering almost to a whisper.
“Jesus Christ. Call your mother.”
Wait. Don’t hang up. Please don’t hang up.
“I would, but I thought —. It’s just that —. I didn’t want—.”
“Richie, I’ve got a conference room full of lawyers charging me by the goddamn tenth of an hour. I don’t have time for your girl problems.”
“Yeah, ok. I know. I’m sorry. It’s not really—.”
“You’re eighteen years old. Whatever it is, deal with it.”
“I know. I’m trying, but I really don’t –. Dad, I don’t know what to do.”
“You’ve got ten seconds and I’m hanging up.”
“Okay. Sorry.” Say it. Just say it. “I umm, I think I raped a girl.”
“You think –? Jesus, fuck. Call Roland.” Click. The call was over.
“Maggie! Hi, Doll. I’m so glad you called. I was just thinking about you. Are you getting all settled in?” Maggie could hear the muffled street noise in the background, the beep beep beep of a truck backing up.
“Pretty much, yeah. I just, umm, I wanted to thank you for driving me up here. And, like, for helping me unpack and everything.” She looked around her room, at the pink throw rug on the floor, the Broadway show posters framed and hung on the walls, the bookcase filled with the books she couldn’t bear to leave behind.
“Are you kidding me? I loved it. Besides, isn’t that what being an aunt is all about? I get all the glory, and none of the stretch marks.”
“Yeah, thanks.” Maggie wondered how many times had she said that.
“Hey, so I was just looking at your mom’s Instagram. It looks like Tokyo is cuckoo for CeeCee. Have you spoken to her?”
She’d seen all of it. The Instagram stories, the tweets, the TMZ reports.
“Yeah. I mean, no. I haven’t heard from her.” Hashtag CeeCee. “I read about the show. It sounds like it went great. I was going to text her, but then I decided I didn’t want to bother her. You know how she is when she’s on tour. Like, especially after a big night?”
“Seriously big. Can you believe the Dome holds something like 55,000 people? It’s nuts. Anyway, I talked to her right after I dropped you off. And you saw that I sent her those pictures of you and your room. I copied you, didn’t I? She really wishes she could have been there to set you up.”
“It’s okay.” The tour was planned more than a year ago. It would have cost a fortune to cancel. Blah blah blah. “I get it. The show must go on.” Hashtag Mom.
“Sweetie, are you ok? Taxi, hey! Sorry, honey, hang on a sec. Hi, thanks. Here, let me just –” The car door closed, muting the background noise. “I’m going to 84th and Riverside. Okay, hon. I’m back. Oof, it’s hot out. Anyway, you sound a little, I don’t know, homesick maybe?”
“I’m ok. It’s weird though, you know? Being new? Everyone here already –.”
“Can you just take Madison and then go across on 86th? Sorry. What were you saying?”
“It’s nothing. Just that everybody who’s my year already knows each other. Pretty much no one ever starts in 10th grade.”
“Do they know who your mom is? That should help break the ice.”
“Believe me, they know. Everyone keeps pointing and whispering, and then they stop talking when I walk by.”
“I’m sorry. That must be annoying. But people will get used to it. I really do think you’re going to love it there.”
“You’re right. It’s fine. I mean I think so, too.”
“I bet you’re going to make some great friends there. Once they stop all the pointing and whispering.”
“I know. My roommate’s really nice. Katie, who you met? She knows everyone here, and how everything works. I’d be pretty lost without her.”
“I’m glad to hear that. It sounds like she’s a good friend to have.”
“Plus, there’s this, umm, this boy.”
“Oh yeah? A boy you like? That was fast.”
“We just met. Obviously. But he’s really nice.”
“Tell me more.”
“I spoke to your father. I need you to tell me what happened.”
“I thought it doesn’t matter what happened,” Rich said. “She’s fifteen, so it’s statutory rape.”
“Tell me again where you went to law school?” Roland asked, impatient.
“Sorry. I didn’t mean –. I googled it.”
“Oh, good. You googled it. Next time, google it before you do it. Now tell me what happened.”
“So it’s not automatic? I thought –”
“Rich, just tell me what happened.”
“Okay. We were hanging out, just talking and stuff. And then we were, you know, fooling around. But my asshole friends came looking for me and because they were loud and stupid and it was after curfew, Security followed them into the Tower. And then, all of a—”
It’s the building where most of the classrooms are. Other than Sciences which they –. Anyway, all of a sudden this guy Walter, he’s one of the security guys here, came out onto the roof and –”
“Roof, terrace, whatever. It’s like a roofdeck. There’s furniture and stuff, like outdoor furniture, but it’s just for teachers. Kids aren’t supposed to go up there but sometimes we do. There’s a door, around the back by the dumpsters? And it’s never locked. Anyway, it’s called the Tower because it’s the tallest building on campus, and from the roof you can see all the way out to the lake.”
“Go back. I need you to start at the beginning.”
“Oh, okay. I wasn’t sure how much –. Okay, from the beginning. After dinner, everyone went to Assembly, which started out exactly the same as last year. And every year. The Dean spends forever going through the PSL, even thought it’s the –.”
“Policies for Student Life. You know, like the academic honor code, dorm curfews, that kind of thing. But anyway, there’s this new thing this year. They’ve always had a zero tolerance prohibition against smoking, drinking and drugs, but he added this whole other thing, which is new. The Intimate Contact policy statement. You know, about consent and stuff.”
Roland didn’t say anything, so Rich continued.
“It was pretty awkward, you know? To be sitting there with everyone while he was talking about inappropriate touching, and how no means no? It felt like it went on forever. When it finally ended, there was only about an hour before curfew. Anyway, I saw Maggie while she was walking out and I went and caught up to her. She was with her roommate and some other girls, but they sort of sped up or something, like they were letting us be alone. You know, together. So I figured that meant she liked me. Like, that maybe they had talked about it.”
“Right. Then what?”
“We just walked around for a while. People kept coming up to us, kids I know. And at first it was like they were just saying hey, asking about my summer, that kind of thing. But it was pretty obvious people were just trying to get a look at her. It seemed like it made her uncomfortable. So I asked her what it was like, you know, to be CeeCee’s daughter.”
“CeeCee? The … what is she, a singer?”
“Yeah. But she’s more than that. She’s huge. You know that song, Get With You? That’s her.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it.”
“So, yeah. Anyway, we just talked. About how her mom always kept her completely separate from the CeeCee stuff. Like totally sheltered. And how she always felt like she was this distraction, or not even. A burden, or like an old mistake her mom had made. And she told me about how she was home schooled? Like, by teachers who would come to her house. And how she didn’t even live with CeeCee.”
“What do you mean?”
“I know. It’s weird, right? But I guess she was pretty much raised by this nanny. Like, it was the nanny’s job to live at Maggie’s apartment. And even when CeeCee isn’t on tour or anything she lives someplace else. In a completely different building.”
“Okay. It sounds like she wasn’t appropriately supervised. This is good.”
“No. It’s not like that. She said it was to protect her, to keep her safe I guess, even though it always made her feel, like, unwanted or something.”
“It’s like she was over-supervised. She never hung out with other kids. She said she never had any real friends. It seems like it was always just her and the nanny and her teachers. And books. It seems like she read a million books. Anyway, she was saying how it was her choice to come here, to Ridgely. She said she begged to come, because she was too old for a nanny, but didn’t want to be alone, and how she wanted to experience a regular life, to see what it’s like to be a normal kid. That’s what she said, that she needed to learn how to be normal. Like, to do what normal kids do.”
“I’m telling you,” Katie said. “It’s a really big deal.”
“I don’t get it. All we did was have sex. Isn’t that what teenagers do?”
“It’s a violation of the PSL. They can kick you out. Both of you.”
“You’ve got to be kidding,” Maggie said. “You’re not kidding? I don’t get it. It wasn’t anything bad. It was like in a movie. Or a book. Did you ever read –?”
“God, weren’t you even listening? Berwin went on and on about how the zero tolerance policy. And then an hour later Security totally catches you going at it.”
“It wasn’t like that,” Maggie said.
“Were you, like, in the act?”
“No. I mean, not really. We were … we were done. But still, like, cuddling. And the door opened and it was one of the security guys, with a flashlight.”
“Jesus. Were you naked?”
“Partly. But he looked away while we got dressed. I really don’t get why it’s such a big deal.”
“Well, it is. You’re for sure going to be called before the Disciplinary Committee, and trust me, that’s no joke. My brother’s friend got caught with beer a couple of years ago and it was this huge thing. You’ve got to be prepared.”
“Prepared how? I don’t even –“
“Just tell me what happened,” Katie said. “I’m on your side.”
“We just, you know, walked around for a long time, talking,” Maggie said. “He’s really nice. Like, way nicer even than he was when he came by. It was just, I don’t know, normal. Regular. Do you know what I mean?”
“So, it was regular. And?”
“And that’s it. It was like we really connected. Like, even though our lives are completely different, like how I’m an only child and grew up super sheltered, and he’s from this big loud family, and he’s the youngest of five, and he went to catholic school, where all his brothers and sisters had gone, but then he had this terrible thing happen –”
“What terrible thing?”
“What? Oh, nothing.” Maggie wished she hadn’t said anything.
“What? Come on.”
“I shouldn’t have –. Forget it.”
“I can’t forget it. Tell me.”
“It’s nothing. I really don’t –. It was probably private.”
“Did he say you couldn’t tell anyone?”
“No. But it wasn’t like that. I mean, it was just us. It’s not really any –”
“Maggie, just tell me. Whatever it is. I’m trying to help you. Let me be your friend.”
“God, fine. I was asking why he came here, like why his parents sent him here, when his brothers and sisters all lived at home and went to catholic school. I mean, I get why you came here, how it’s this thing in your family. And I know why I came here. But I keep trying to figure out why normal people send their kids away.”
“I was right, right? It was it because of that mob thing? I knew it.”
“No. It was umm… Actually, you know what? Forget it. It wasn’t anything.”
“Maggie, come on.”
“No, really. I don’t think I should be talking about this.”
“I won’t tell anyone.”
“There was a priest in his school who, like, you know, messed with him.”
“Yeah, and I guess it went on for a long time. Like, for years. But the thing that was messed up was that he kept it a secret. Even though he didn’t like it. And he knew it was wrong. But he was just a little kid when it started. And he knew that for his mother it would be like the most terrible thing that could happen. Because I guess she’s super churchy or something. Plus, he said he was afraid his father would kill the guy if he knew. So it was like he was just trying to protect everyone. But no one was protecting him.”
“Oh my god.”
“I know. Right? But then, when he was in ninth grade, people somehow found out about it and I guess at first he lied about it, like he was still trying to protect the guy. So then it seemed like he was covering it up, like he wasn’t a victim at all, even though he totally was.”
“I know! It made me feel so bad for him. And I guess the whole thing really messed him up for a while, because he ended up taking the rest of that year off from school. And then he came here and started ninth grade over.”
“But he’s not gay. I mean, I told him it would be fine if he is. Obviously. But he’s not. He told me he’s had girlfriends. Like, that girl Brenda?”
“Oh, shit. I wasn’t even thinking about Brenda.”
“What about her? They broke up, didn’t they? He said they did. Anyway, listen to this. It was so cute. I asked if he was going to get back together with her and he said no, that he’d met someone he liked better. I was like, yeah? What’s she like? And he goes, she’s cute and funny and she seems really worldly but she’s actually pretty shy. I thoughthe meant me, but I wasn’t sure. So I asked if she liked him back and he said he didn’t know, so I said he should find out, and he said how. And I said he should try holding her hand.”
“Adorable. Then what?”
“He took my hand,” Maggie said, smiling.
“Right. I figured. After that.”
“It was so nice out, remember? It was a really beautiful night. I thought it was a full moon, but he said not until tonight. Waxing gibbous, he said. Anyway, it was this huge moon, and it looked like it was really low in the sky. So he said let’s go up to the Tower. The lock on the service door is broken – he thought they might have fixed it over the summer, but they didn’t. So we went up to the roof. It’s the tallest building –”
Yeah. I know.
“Rich, what the hell did you do?”
“Dad is freaking out.”
“What did he say?” Rich asked.
“He wouldn’t tell me what happened. He just said to call you so I can help him figure out what he’s going to say to Mom. What happened?”
“I umm, violated the PSL. The Policies for Student Life. I think they might kick me out.”
“You fucking moron. It’s the third day of school. What did you do? How stupid –?”
“I got caught with a girl. After curfew.”
“They’d kick you out for that? They sound worse than the nuns.”
“We were, umm … we got caught having sex.”
“And she’s only fifteen.
“Well, that at least explains why Dad’s so freaked out. This is going to kill Mom. No way can she handle another sex scandal.”
“It’s not a sex scandal. Or, I don’t know. I guess maybe it is. Or it could be. It’s technically statutory rape. But Roland didn’t seem too worried about it. ”
“I know. I messed up.”
“Messed up? No. Messed up would be getting caught with weed. This is like you’re a goddamn sexual deviant.”
He had nothing to say to that.
“I shouldn’t have said that.”
“No, really. I’m sorry. It’ll be okay. You’re fine, right? You’ll be okay? We’ll figure this out. Just don’t do anything stupid. Okay? Rich? Promise me.”
“Okay. I have to call Dad. I’ll call you tonight.”
“Are you up?” Maggie asked. “I wasn’t sure if it was too late to call.”
“We just got to the hotel. I have to change, and then we’re going to this club that they say is really wild. The car will be here in a few minutes. Tokyo is insane. Did you see the pictures I posted?”
“Yeah. It looks really cool.”
“So quick, tell me. How is it there? Your room looks cute.”
“It’s okay, I guess.”
“Did classes start yet? I don’t even know what day it is.”
“Not until Monday.”
“We fly to Berlin tomorrow. You should see this hotel room, by the way. I’ll take some pictures when I get back.”
“Okay, yeah. That’ll be great.”
“So, quick. Tell me everything.”
“Well, I was wondering, actually. What would happen if, like, if it doesn’t work out here? I mean, if I ummm, if I decide I don’t like it.”
“What are you talking about? This is what you wanted. Why would you –? Sweetie, you’re probably just homesick. Once classes start, you’ll be busy, and you’ll make lots of friends. That was the point, right?”
“I know, but I was thinking maybe I could move back home. Like, if this doesn’t work out.”
“Maggie, that would be impossible. I could never make those arrangements from here. You’re being silly.”
“Or maybe I could come meet you. And just, you know, be with you, on the tour. That would be educational. And I’ve never been anywhere.
“Sweetie, no way. Don’t be ridiculous. You have no idea what this is like. I’m working all the time, and it’s nothing but airports and hotels. You would hate it. Listen, I’m getting a call. I have to go. You’ll be fine. I promise. Okay?”
“You’re right. I was just –. I’ll be fine. Have fun tonight.”
“I love you, Baby. I’ll call you soon.”
“Are you ok?” he asked.
“I didn’t think you’d come,” she said.
“I came as soon as I saw your text.”
“It was probably dumb to come back up here,” she said. “It’s almost curfew.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “The worst thing already happened.”
“I know. I’m so sorry. I never should have said anything. I thought she was my friend. Katie, I mean. And she said she wouldn’t tell anyone. It was stupid, but I believed her. I never expected that … you must hate me.”
“It’s okay,” he said.
“It’s not,” she said. “I don’t care what they say about me. Like, someone wrote SLUT on the dry erase board on my door. Umm, hello? Dry erase, get it? And plus, hearing Rod Stewart blasted on every stereo across campus. Fine, whatever. But I heard what those kids were saying to you. The names they were calling you. I just –”
“It’s really okay,” he said.
“It’s not okay.”
“It’s like they can’t decide if I’m a faggot, a pervert or a rapist. I don’t know. Maybe I’m all three.”
“You’re none of those things. God, I was such an idiot to trust her.”
“I don’t even know why it was supposed to be such a secret. The thing with Father Joe, I mean. Everyone’s been telling me how it’s nothing to be ashamed of, my parents, my therapist, and then they come up with this story for me to tell about why I left St. Catherine’s, and it’s this giant secret for me to keep. I’m supposed to guard it with my life or something. Like the worst thing would be for people to find out. But the worst thing is that it happened, not that people find out about it.”
“I shouldn’t have said anything. She acted like she was helping me, like if I didn’t tell her everything it was going to be worse. Then I find out she has a huge mouth and just wanted me to tell her so she could tell everyone else. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m glad it’s not a secret anymore, the thing with Father Joe. It’s like I finally don’t have a stomach ache anymore, for the first time since I was nine years old.”
“But everything else is my fault. Us getting caught? What I did to you? I never should have even brought you up here. I know the rules, and I know how things work here. I’m really sorry.”
“Don’t be. I’m not mad at you. This is so dumb. We didn’t do anything wrong. So we broke a stupid rule. So what? No one got hurt.”
“It’s a pretty big deal, actually.”
“Do you think they’ll really kick us out?”
“Probably not you.”
“I don’t want to stay here if you’re not here. I’m serious. I can’t be here without you. Isn’t there someone we can talk to? That guy Berwin? I’ll tell him I’m fine, that it was my idea.”
“I talked to my dad’s lawyer today.”
“A lawyer? Seriously?”
“He said that there’s this thing called the Romeo and Juliet defense. To a statutory rape charge. Because we’re close in age, even though you are under 16. But only if it was consensual.
“It was. I mean, that’s true.”
“Are you sure? Because if I hurt you. Or forced you, I would –”
“Are you kidding? You kept asking me if it was okay. You probably asked me at least ten times if I wanted you to stop.”
“If you told me to stop, I would have. It’s not like I couldn’t control myself.”
“I know that. I didn’t want you to stop. I wanted to do it.”
“It just looks bad, you know? Because of how we just met, and that it was just your third day here.”
“But it doesn’t feel like that. Not to me. I feel like I’ve known you my whole life. And its like you know me better than anyone else. I know it seems crazy but I –”
“I really like you. A lot.”
“ I’ve never felt like this before.”
“I swear to God. I think I might –”
“Don’t swear. Just say it. What you were going to say.”
“Huh? Sorry. You lost me.”
“You said ‘I swear to God’. I feel like bad things always happen whenever people say ‘I swear’. I know it’s dumb. It’s like I made up my own superstition. ‘O, swear not by the moon.’ Do you know that line?”
“I don’t –. All of a sudden I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“It’s a line from a play. Never mind. It just popped into my head.”
“Did you read Romeo and Juliet?”
“Yeah. Well, parts of it.”
“Parts of it? How do you not finish Romeo and Juliet?”
“I guess I read as much as I needed to write the paper.”
“God, I’ve read it like ten times. Anyway, I just keep thinking –. Forget it. This is embarrassing.”
“Come on. Tell me.”
“Okay, so all day today there is all this bad stuff happening, right? Everyone knows we had sex, we might get kicked out of school, my roommate totally betrayed me and because of my big mouth people are saying all this terrible stuff about you. And I just keep thinking it’s like Romeo and Juliet. Like we’re these star-crossed lovers or something. Like how I was up here looking down from this balcony? And there you were, stepping out of the shadows and looking up at me.”
“I was afraid someone would see me, coming here. Roland said I shouldn’t even talk to you.”
“Do you see what I mean? Then there was that thing you said the lawyer said, about the Romeo and Juliet defense? Plus, the moon is full. It just feels like –. Never mind. It’s dumb.”
“What is it – don’t swear by the moon?”
“‘O, swear not by the moon.’ I’m not even sure what it really means, but I think it’s something like don’t make promises about how you feel right now because the moon is always changing, and your feelings might change, too.”
“Maybe. But they won’t.” He took her hand. “I mean, I get it. Things change. And sometimes stuff happens really fast. Like, we literally just met a couple days ago. And I know we don’t know what’s going to happen. But right now, just you and me? I love you.”
“I love you, too. Right now. Just you and me.”
They sat in silence.
“Can I ask you something?” Rich asked. “What did you mean in your text?”
“Just that I wanted you to meet me here,” she said.
“You said I shouldn’t blame myself. And you said goodbye. How come?”
“I was afraid you wouldn’t come,” said Maggie.
“Were you –? I was afraid you were going to do something. You know, try to do something,” Rich said.
“You mean, like, kill myself?”
“Yeah,” he answered.
“I don’t know. I was only thinking about seeing you. I figured I would wait fifteen minutes. If you didn’t come I don’t know what I was going to do. It was almost fifteen minutes when I looked down and there you were.”
“I saw you sitting on the wall. When I looked up. I was afraid you were going to –. Like, right then. You can’t do that. Promise me you won’t do that.”
“You know how you sometimes hear about people who have this huge will to live?” Maggie asked. “I don’t think I have that. I never did.”
“What do you mean?”
“Like how someone will fight and fight and fight to get away from someone who is attacking them? Or when someone survives for days drinking their own pee after getting lost in the woods? Or cuts off their own arm?”
“Yeah,” he said. “Or they lay down really still and flat in the middle of the tracks and the train goes right over them without hurting them?”
“Sort of. Or more like hanging onto a tree for days while a tsunami is wiping out your whole village.” Maggie turned to him. “There’s no way I would do that. I guess I never felt like my life was really worth fighting for.”
“I tried to kill myself once.”
“You did?” she asked, surprised.
“The day my mom and dad were called to St. Cat’s to first hear about the thing with Father Joe. I didn’t think I would be able to face them after they knew. I knew they weren’t ever going to look at me the same way as before.”
“What did you do? I mean, how?”
“I took all the pills in their medicine chest. And then I got in bed and tried to go to sleep. But then my sister came home and found the empty pill bottles. She drove me to the emergency room and I got my stomach pumped.”
“I’m glad,” Maggie said. “That it didn’t work, I mean. Otherwise we never would have met.”
“If you were going to kill yourself, how would you do it?”
“I don’t know. Something quick, I guess. Like, jumping off a roof.”
“Like from here?” he asked.
“It’s high enough, don’t you think? Come look.”
“Yeah, definitely,” he said, leaning across the wide top of the parapet.
She pulled herself up to sit on top of the wall.
“It would be a really big deal,” he said, sitting next to her. “I mean, obviously. To your mom and everything. But it would really rock this place, you know? Especially if we both –”
“Really? Would you?” They turned to face out, their legs hanging over the edge.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I can’t stay here.”
“There’s no place for me to go,” she said. “I talked to my mom today. I was thinking maybe I could go be on tour with her or something. Like, if I got kicked out or if I decided to leave? She said no.”
“I can’t think of a single reason not to.”
“The only reason I can think not to is because CeeCee would have to cancel some shows, and someone would lose a shit ton of money. I don’t even know who. But that’s always her excuse. She can’t do this because it will cost someone money. Or she has to do that or it will cost someone money. Whatever.”
“And I just keep thinking how my parents are already wrecked by this stuff. At least this would be the end of it.” He reaches for her hand. “It really would be like Romeo and Juliet.”
“It would,” she said, looking down onto the path below. “Look, is that the same guy from last night?” she asked. “The security guard who came up here?”
“Do you think he’s looking for us?” she asked.
“Probably. It’s past curfew.”
“I don’t want to get caught again.”
“Me neither,” he said. “Should we do it?”
“I think so. Don’t you?”
“I do,” he said. “Are you ready?”
She nodded. “Don’t let go of my hand.”
They kissed, and together leaned forward into the moonlight.
Grab yourself some more of Jill D Block’s writing or pre-order your copy of At Home in the Dark below. It’s out 30 April.