It was almost dawn as Arder Santiago trudged up the hill to the entrance of the town graveyard. The grass was covered in a film of frost and the trees were all void of greenery. The only sounds were that of the frozen grass beneath her feet and her own breathing.
At the top of the hill was a wrought iron fence surrounding the graves. Arder pushed open the gate and walked towards the back, just under the old willow tree.
Arder crouched in front of her grandmother’s grave. There was no grass on the ground around it, just upturned dirt. The wind began to pick up as Arder settled down onto the cold earth. It was the only time she could have some space and truly be alone with her thoughts.
Arder squeezed her eyes shut for a moment- willing away the tears threatening to fall- and then stood. It was time she went home.
She walked back to the gate, but stopped as she was reaching out to open it. There was a boy in the other side of the grave yard, standing in front of a mausoleum. Arder could only see the side of his face from where she stood. The wind blew his black hair in front of his face as he looked up at the structure. He looked to be around her age, seventeen or so. Something about him was familiar. So familiar that Arder almost walked over to him.
Arder opened the gate and left. She could not approach a stranger in a graveyard at night- no matter how familiar he looked.
The next day Arder had a hard time getting out of bed. She was exhausted. After getting home at almost six in the morning, she had tried to sleep. However, her mind had other plans.
Her thoughts kept wondering to the boy in the graveyard. In all her nighttime visits, there was never anyone else there. He had looked so familiar.
Arder left the house in a rush. She was due to be at work in an hour, which was a good excuse to help her avoid her mother and her mother’s boyfriend.
Outside, the rain poured down in buckets. Her uniform and work shoes were safely stored in her backpack, which allowed her to walk to work despite the rain. Arder let it shower over her, causing her bright curls to stick against her face.
A feeling of freedom came with standing in the rain. Arder let herself forget it all; the hell she would be in once she got home, the lies she knew she was being told, and the constant memories of her recently deceased grandmother.
She turned onto the busy street, watching all the cars and buses speed by while pedestrians on the sidewalk pushed and shoved their way through the crowd.
“Excuse me,” she said, trying to stay near the edge of the walkway to get around the throng of people.
Still attempting to navigate through the sea of bodies, Arder spotted a man yelling angrily into his cell phone. Not paying much attention to the people around him, he slashed his umbrella back and forth, hitting anyone who was unfortunate enough to get in his way.
Arder tried to sidestep around him, but was pushed right back into his path.
Without a second glance -- or a first one, for that matter -- the man shoved his way past her, causing her to trip and hit his shoulder mid-fall. He paused at the impact.
“Watch where you’re going,” he spat out, not noticing that she was falling towards the road.
She spread her hands out in front of her to break the fall, but it didn’t stop her knees from hitting the hard concrete. Agonizing pain came only seconds later. The murky rain water splashed all around her, drenching her clothes and filling her cuts with dirt. The pain doubled and she instinctively let out a curse.
Lifting her palms off the street to inspect them, she could already feel a burning sensation beginning to spread. Her hands were covered in the dirty water, but it didn’t conceal the road burns she had received. She tried to brush the dirt off her skin before it got inside her cuts, but it was no use.
Arder looked away from her hands in time to see the red street light change to green. Her eyes widened, and she scrambled to get off the ground. Once safe on the sidewalk once more, she felt a weight on her shoulder.
Arder turned around to see a boy. He was dressed in nothing but dark grey jeans and a plain black shirt despite the cold weather. He looked like he was around her age, but something about him felt different and she just couldn’t place what it was.
He pushed his dripping midnight-coloured hair away from his face, making his dark green eyes stand out. The headlights of every car that passed by made the gold speckled throughout his irises even more vibrant.
“Are you okay?” he asked, concern lacing his voice.
Arder switched her gaze down to the blood dripping off of her knees, feeling the pain radiating from them combined with the burning of her hands. “I’m okay,” she managed. The realization of what could have happened played itself over and over in her mind. She took a few deep breaths, trying to calm her nerves.
He nodded, the ghost of a smile on his face. He then looked to her knees, just noticing the injury. “Are you sure?” he asked, pulling her out of the path of a woman rushing by.
“It’s not as bad as it looks,” Arder said, desperate to get off the street. She needed to get to work soon, she had been late one too many times that week.
“Where are you going? I’ll walk with you,” he persisted. She peered over the crowd of people to see the warm glow of the sign that read Cara’s Cafe. The wooden board was positioned in front of a brick building, with a fire escape leading to an upstairs apartment snaking around the side.
Arder pointed to it. “Just there- on the corner.” He waited for her to start walking before falling into step beside her. He pushed his way down the street, making sure neither of them ended up on the road again.
When they were closer to the cafe, Arder spoke. “I’m Arder,” she said. Wrapping her scratched hand around her ever-present necklace, she waited for his reply.
She had been told the necklace was from her father, so she never took it off. It was a constant reminder of him, even though she didn’t know anything about him; she had never met her father before he died.
The boy held the door open for her to enter, his eyes on her necklace the entire time. He stared at the pendant for a second longer before walking inside. Arder didn’t know what was so interesting; it was just a small, detailed stone kept in place with a pair of golden wings.
The cafe was filled with the strong scent of coffee, along with the smell of the freshly baked cookies that were sitting on the counter. She heard the whirl of the frothing machine before finding her boss, Sophie, operating it.
Sophie was in her late twenties and had recently graduated from art school. Her aunt was the original owner of the cafe, naming it after herself before moving away and leaving it to Sophie.
Sophie smiled before her eyes visibly zeroed in on her Arder’s knees. She handed one of their regular customers her change before rushing across the room. “What happened?” she exclaimed, her bright blue eyes landing on the boy standing next to Arder. She ran a hand through her short blonde hair, worry practically seeping through her pores. Arder was about to explain, but the boy beat her to it.
“She fell on the street. I—” he started to explain, before being cut off by the cafe owner.
“Come to the back,” she said to Arder. Turning to the stranger, she added, “We’ll take care of it, thank you.” With a curt nod, she whisked Arder away.
Once they left for the back room, the boy’s soft smile turned dangerous. His grin said it all: this boy knew something they didn’t.
“I guess I’ll see you soon, Arder,” he called out to her retreating figure. And then he was off, pushing the door open and walking back into the rain. Arder turned around, frowning at his words.
It was as she trailed behind Sophie that the alarm bells going off in her mind became clear. He was the boy from the graveyard.
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