“That's the thing about this city,” Will said, looking at the two lane highway. “Nothing changes, nothing stays the same.”
“Wow, Will, that was real philosophical.” I shoved him playfully on the arm.
“What?” He asked. “Just because I’m a handsome skier doesn’t mean I’m a total airhead.”
“Riley Grace!” My mom called. “Young man, why are you still here?”
Will Jackson, my boyfriend, looked up at my mom. “Sorry, ma’am. I’ll be going now.”
He stood up from his seat on the stairs and trudged through the mud as soft flakes started to fall, landing on his soft bronze hair. He looked over his shoulder and flashed me a small grin, and stuck his tongue out at me. I stifled a giggle.
“Riley Grace, I told you to have that boy gone by an hour ago!” My mom said, her face contorted like she had just drank sour milk.
Will was never Will to my mom. He was always that boy, or young man if Mom was talking to him directly.
Will disappeared into the snow flurry.
“Well?” Mom asked.
“I’m sorry, Mom.”
She sighed, then said, “Come inside. It's freezing out here. It's also dinnertime.”
I sighed and walked up the steps.
Snow wasn’t a rare occurrence in Truckee. Will would probably be happy about the snow. It would make for great ski practice tomorrow. And he had a race this weekend. The fresh snow would be helpful.
I watched the big, fluffy flakes fall as I chewed my pasta.
I liked to ski, but I never participated in races. I just helped Will practice.
“Come on, Ri, make it a challenge.” He teased.
I dug my mitten into the snow and grabbed a handful. I rolled it into a ball and threw it.
It exploded against his green parka. He looked down at it, then at me, then down, then back at me.
“Oh, it is so on.”
Me and Will were famous all over our school for our ability to lead the best snowball fights, Will heading one team and me the other.
I ran for a tree and hid, gathering the snow off its limbs and shaping it, while Will threw almost nonstop. The snow exploded upon impact, and splashed onto my parka.
Almost an hour later, we finished the fight.
Will fixed his beanie. “Darn it, Ri, stop getting me off track!” He said jokingly. “Wanna race?”
“Sure.” I said. “I’ll beat you, the usual.”
“In your dreams.”
He won, of course.
That night, Will walked me back to my house.
“I’ll see you tomorrow?” I asked.
“Well, I hope you come to my race tomorrow.” His mouth pulled into a little smile.
I smacked my forehead. “Of course. I’m sorry.”
He pulled me in for a quick goodbye kiss that left my lips tingling.
As he said goodbye, I looked up at my house. Mom looked out of one of the front windows.
She sighed, shook her head, and closed the curtain.
“What’s your problem with him?” I asked Mom, looking up from my chicken.
“What?” She asked.
“Will. You treat him like he’s a plague, or inferior in some way. Why? Why can’t I just be happy?”
“Riley Grace. We are eating dinner.”
“So? I know you’re gonna make some excuse, or disappear into your study until I go to sleep. We talk about this now.”
“Yes! What is your problem?!”
“He reminds me of your father, okay? I don’t want you to end up like him...end up like me…”
“That's what this is about? You’re worried Will’s gonna disappear on me?”
But Mom was done. She had pushed her plate away and her head was in her hands.
I stood, leaving my plate, and went to my room.
I texted Will later that night:
found out why mom isn’t a fan of us
why? He typed back immediately.
dad. whoever he is. she’s worried you’re gonna disappear on me.
i would never do that.
i know. mom is just being paranoid, i guess.
yeah. i’m sorry, but i’ve gotta rest up for the race. talk to you tmrw?
I set my phone on the bedside table, it’s LCD display fading as I heard Mom’s socked footsteps trod past my door.
Shortly after that, I fell asleep.
I woke up to the harsh sun shining through my curtains. A beautiful day for a race. Unfortunately, I had woken up two or three times last night with nightmares I couldn’t remember.
I threw on a t-shirt, my parka, some jeans, and my sneakers before making the trek to the course.
We lived just off Highway 267 in an apartment building. Will lived nearby, and I was meeting him there.
It was nearly a five minute walk to the course.
“Hey!” Will said, running up to me. “Sleep well?”
I forced a smile, hoping he didn’t see in my eyes that I did not sleep well. “Yeah, pretty good. You?”
“Couldn’t wait for the race. I was awake for about thirty minutes thinking about it before I could fall asleep.”
“You’re gonna do really well, Bill.”
He looked at me with a smile. “You can’t call me Bill or Willy until we’re ninety and in the old folks home together.”
“No promises,” I said, shoving his shoulder lightly. “Go get ‘em, Tiger.”
“Wrong sport!” He said as he jogged off.
“Will! Will! Will!” His teammates chanted as they lifted Will onto their shoulders.
Will had won first place in his races, and his skiing buddies were ecstatic.
“Come on, guys, put me down!” He said, laughing.
They set him down after some well deserved parading.
“Will!” One of his teammates yelled. “Let's go into Truckee, to DQ, and get some celebration Blizzards!”
“HUZZAH!” The rest of the team cheered. They were the Tahoe Knights, after all.
“Do you want to come?” Will asked me.
“Sure, why not?” I said.
The other Knights went to their carpools, but me and Will went to his truck.
He started the engine. “About your mom,” He said.
I looked down into my lap. “Yeah.”
“Ri, I love you. I won’t abandon you like your dad did. I promise.”
“I love you.” I said, looking at him thankfully.
Snow was starting to pelt the windshield. Clouds had suddenly started to cover the bright blue sky.
Will leaned forward towards the windshield. The windshield wipers flicked back and forth. Thwip, thwip, thwip.
We made it to one of the many roundabouts of the Truckee area. The Interstate 80 off ramp looked clear, but it was hard to tell in the thickening storm.
Will turned his steering wheel with the roundabout, and then
The world stopped.
When I woke up, my head was pounding. I opened my eyes.
“What happened, Will?” I tried to say, but my voice was just a whisper.
I looked over at him.
“Will?” I reached over to him. “Will?” I touched his shoulder. “Will?”
“Riley…” He groaned.
I fumbled for his phone. The screen was cracked, and it cut my finger, but I didn’t care.
“Nine-one-one, what is your emergency?”
“I’ve been in a car accident, me and my boyfriend…”
I stood with a blanket around my shoulders in the emergency room.
“Are you Riley Grace?” A nurse asked me.
“Yeah, but you can just call me Riley.”
“Here, RIley.” She handed me a warm styrofoam cup. “Cocoa.”
“Take a walk with me, honey.”
We walked down the hallways, past beeping machines and the quiet sounds of people dying.
“Hon, there’s no easy way to tell you this…”
“What?” I stopped walking.
“Your boyfriend, he came out of surgery.”
“And it was good? He’s good?”
He’s gotta be alright. He’s my Will.
“He...didn’t make it.”
The cocoa fell out of my hand and landed with a splash on the ground, the thin brown liquid spreading over the linoleum.
The room started to spin.
He couldn’t be.
Not my Will, not my Will, not my Will.
I would walk into his room and he would smile and comb his hand through his hair.
Will couldn’t be dead.
I’ll never abandon you. Will wouldn’t lie.
I sank to the floor, the knees of my jeans saturated with the spilled cocoa, but I didn’t care.
It felt like nothing mattered other than the fact he was gone.
“So I guess you’re happy now.” I said to my mother.
I stared straight ahead into the pale snow outside the hospital.
“What?” Mom said, giving me a startled look.
“You wanted him gone. Now he is. Are you happy?”
“Riley Grace, I-”
“No! Don’t even, Mom! You never listen to me! I say, Trust Will, he’s a good guy. Nope! I say, I would like to be called Riley instead of Riley Grace. Of course not! Because you don’t trust me, you don’t listen. I need you to start! Otherwise, I’ll find somewhere to live until I’m eighteen.”
“Riley G- Riley, I’m sorry. I was wrong. Wrong about Will.”
“It took him being dead for you to say that, Mom!”
“Riley, I- Riley!”
But I was already trudging off into the snow.
I walked and walked and walked in the snow. I was miles away from my house, but I would keep walking.
“Hey, Riley!” Chase Gryff pulled up and slowly moved forward, matching my pace. “Are you okay?”
Chase was one of Will’s friends on the Knights. Him and I were pretty well acquainted.
I shook my head.
“You haven’t heard?” I looked up at him.
His brows furrowed. “No? Anyway, you may want to get in. It’s freezing. And you can tell me what's wrong, and I’ll give you a ride to wherever you’re going.”
My hand hesitated as I reached for the handle. I had thought Will was a good driver. Look where he was now. I didn’t know how Chase drove, but I decided to take a risk. I pulled on the handle and climbed inside the warm space.
“So, what’s wrong?” He asked once I was settled.
“It’s Will.” I began.
“Have you two been fighting?” He asked.
“No. Will…” I paused. “You may want to pull over.”
He pulled the Tacoma to the side of the road.
“Will’s gone. We got into an accident earlier. I was fine, but...he didn’t make it through surgery.”
Chase put his head in his hands and whispered, “Oh, God, no.”
And then he looked up. “I’m so sorry, Riley.”
“It’s-” I started, then questioned my statement. Was it really okay?
“It’s heartbreaking.” I said. “I really loved him.”
“He really loved you, I know it, Ri.” He said through his hands.
I thought back to what Will had said a few days ago. Just a few days ago, but it seemed like a lifetime.
“That's the thing about this city. Nothing changes, and nothing stays the same.”