I throw on my jacket and boots before leaving the house. It’s just after three in the afternoon, the sun is still shining bright. I look down the street in the direction of Desiree’s home, and I spot Conrad in the same place we would typically meet whenever I snuck out of the house to see him. Although this isn’t the middle of the night, it’s the middle of the afternoon. I quickly jog towards him, and he pushes away from his bike to greet me.
“We should probably get out of here before somebody sees us,” I say before anything else, “we can’t risk one more person finding out about us.”
“Is there still an us?” he asks, sounding hopeful.
His eyebrows pinch together, and he reaches for me. I step away from him.
“Not here,” I reaffirm.
Conrad nods solemnly and hands me his spare helmet before getting on his bike. I put it on and climb aboard.
“Do you want to go to Mayfair point?” he asks me.
“Not on a Sunday afternoon, it’ll be busy,” I tell him.
He nods in understanding and starts the bike.
“Alright then, I think I know a place we can go,” he tells me before we take off.
We ride for just under an hour into the country towards the Virginia border, before we turn onto a dirt road. We drive down the road for a few minutes before Conrad pulls off onto a long, Oak tree-lined driveway. My eyes nearly pop out of my head as we reach the end of the driveway and pull up in front of a massive colonial-style mansion. Conrad shuts off his bike, and I climb off and pull off the helmet while staring at the gigantic white structure in front of me.
“Where are we?” I ask him.
“You are looking at Riley Manor,” he tells me warily.
“What?” I gasp.
“Yep,” Conrad murmurs in response.
“I thought you were from New York.”
I look at him in confusion and wait for an explanation. He takes a breath and finally speaks.
“I lived in New York before I came back here. I left this place when I was eighteen,” he explains.
“I didn’t have a very good relationship with my parents. They were of the uptight country club variety who had me raised by an endless slew of nannies before I got sick of it and left to New York to live with my Uncle.”
“You never told me…” I don’t know what to say.
“I haven’t told anyone, not even the guys. They know I lived in Mayfair as a kid, but that’s it,” he tells me.
“And why is that?”
“Because I don’t want them to see me as some spoiled rich boy. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time now; I’ve never needed my parent's money.”
“So, your parents live here?” I look nervously at the front door. What would they think of me?
“Just my father now,” he tells me.
“Where’s your mom?”
“She died this past April, that’s why I came back,” he reveals.
“You said you came back because you wanted something slower-paced,” I recall.
“Well, that’s still true. I’ve always loved it here, but I had to put some distance between my family and me so that I could figure out my life without their influence.”
All I can do is nod. I don’t know what to say, except…
“I’m sorry about your mom. How’d she die?”
“Cancer. I hadn’t spoken to my parents in a long time when my dad called me and told me she was dying. He asked me to come home, and so I did. He and I have been trying to have some sort of relationship again since then.”
“So, you’re an only child?”
“So, why’d you bring me here?” I ask curiously.
“Because I want you to know everything about me, Syd.”
“Everything?” I repeat.
“Yes. So, about Violet…”
“Ugh!” I groan and close my eyes, “I know I need to hear it, but that doesn’t mean I want to. That is not a visual I welcome.”
Conrad pauses, silently asking me if he should continue.
“Okay, tell me,” I say.
“First, I’ll go back a little further- just to give you some back story. So before I left New York, I was an English teacher at a private school in Manhattan, but my real passion has always been my music. I’ve been playing guitar since I was a child, but it was something my parents never understood. My dad wanted me to be a doctor or lawyer or something like that- even though he was the one who introduced me to music in the first place.”
“Why didn’t you become a music teacher then?”
“Because being an English teacher paid better. Anyway, I had to quit so I could come back, and lucky for me- I found a new teaching position here. Then by chance, I met Harrison and the guys at a house party I went to with an old friend, they were playing there. We started talking, and soon after that I joined their band.”
“Okay… so now I know more about your past, but what does that have to do with Violet?”
“After our first gig together, sometime in May, there was a huge party. I got extremely drunk that night…like uncharacteristically drunk. Violet, whose hair was bright red at the time, kept flirting with me all night long. I didn’t particularity like her, but I was drunk and feeling a bit lonely, so we hooked up.”
“Did you know she was with Jake?” I ask, not able to hide my glare. Poor Jake.
“No, of course I didn’t. Not until a few days later when she showed up at our practice session to see Jake. That’s when I realized they were together. I felt awful and wanted to tell him, but she begged me not to. Violet said she had been having second thoughts about their relationship, and that’s why she did it, but she realized she loved him after we did what we did.”
“You believed her?” I ask, dubious.
“Well, I did at first. But then Violet started showing too much interest in my life. I think she pretended to care about the rest of the band too, so that Jake wouldn’t get suspicious. It worked for her, until last night anyway.”
“So that’s why you don’t like her?”
“I don’t like her because of her bad attitude in general and most of all I resent what she did to Jake, and I didn’t want to hurt him, so I kept my mouth shut because it didn’t mean anything to me at all. I wanted to keep the peace. I had thought she loved him, and that would be it. When she started interfering in my love life, I knew she was full of shit.”
“I asked Jake why he didn’t think her behavior was weird, he just kind of shrugged it off,” I tell him.
“Well, he knows now. I think he was trying to convince himself that she was only trying to look out for the band,” Conrad, says.
“So, what happened after I left last night then?”
“I told him the truth about what happened. He was mad that I didn’t tell him, but he didn’t blame me. He dumped Violet right then and there.”
“Really? Did she think there’d be some other outcome? That you’d be like ‘Oh Violet, now we can run away together?” I snort in disgust.
“As a matter of fact, she did try and cry some spiel about how she was in love with me and that she thought we had a connection. I laughed in her face and told her I was so drunk the night we hooked up, that I was barely conscious and couldn't remember most of it- which is true.”
“That’s a bit harsh,” I find myself saying, though I don’t know why. Violet surely doesn’t deserve my sympathy.
Conrad nods slowly and frowns.
“Yeah, it was harsh, but I wanted to hurt her, the way she hurt us. She ruined what was probably the best night of my life. I told her I’m in love with you and nothing and nobody is going to change that.”
I stare up into his dark eyes and see the sincerity, hope, and love in them. Come on, Sydney, just kiss him and tell him everything will be okay. Without a word, I step towards him and reach up to wrap my arms around his neck. Pulling his face to mine, I kiss him softly.
“It was the best night of my life too…until well, you know,” I murmur.
Conrad sighs deeply and rests his forehead against mine.
“So, am I forgiven for being an incredible ass?”
“Yes, Conrad. I understand that you had a past before me. I think I was just upset that she was in it.”
“Trust me. I’m sorry she is too. It was not one of my prouder moments. For the record, that’s not my regular M.O. I think I was still a bit shell shocked about my mom, coming home and everything that was happening all at once. I was looking for a distraction.”
“I get it,” I assure him, “So, from now on, let’s not let her have any more of our time?”
“None,” Conrad agrees.
I pull away from him and gaze back at the mansion in front of us again. I still can’t believe this.
“So, am I going to meet your dad?” I ask, nervous.
“If you want to. I don’t want to push you. As I said, I just want you to know everything about me. We can do this another day if you want.”
“No, today is fine. I want to meet him,” I say.
“Sure, if you want me to. What’s he like, though? What will he think about you dating one of your students?”
“I’d like you to meet him. I’m not sure how he’ll feel about it, but I don’t care. We don’t even need to mention that part.”
This makes me think about my parents and how’d they feel about this situation. I know they wouldn’t like it at all, and I do care about their opinion. It’s safer for Conrad for me not to tell them for now.
Conrad reaches for my hand and leads me up the front steps onto the wrap around porch, towards the large white double doors. He knocks loudly and waits. Soon, a tall, older gentleman with thick, salt and pepper hair opens the door. He smiles a bright, perfect-toothed smile, and his dark eyes crinkle at the corners. Even without knowing for sure, I can tell that this is Conrad’s father.
“Conrad, what are you doing here, son? I wasn’t expecting you until next week.”
“Sorry for the intrusion Sir,” Conrad replies with a contrite smile.
The man shakes his head and steps aside.
“No, don’t apologize. I’m delighted you’re here, son. Come on in. Who’s your lovely friend?”
We follow the man through the spacious foyer, through a small corridor and into a massive and beautiful kitchen that looks like it jumped straight out of a home design magazine.
“Dad, this is my girlfriend, Sydney Chase,” Conrad tells him, placing a hand on my lower back.
Conrad’s dad smiles at me and reaches out to shake my hand. I take it and return his smile.
“Nice to meet you, sir,” I greet him politely.
“Please, dear, call me John,” he insists and then turns to Conrad, “would you two like something to drink? Iced tea perhaps?”
Conrad looks at me in question.
“Yes, please,” I say.
“Sure, I could use a drink. It’s pretty warm out there,” Conrad says.
John nods and walks to the fridge and pulls out a large pitcher. I watch as he moves around the kitchen. He opens a cabinet and pulls out three tall glasses and fills them.
“So, how did you two meet?” John asks, looking between Conrad and me with a curious expression.
“We met at one of my shows,” Conrad tells him.
John looks to me then.
“Are you a fan?”
“I had never heard of them until that night, but I became a fan after I heard them play. Your son is a very talented musician.”
John looks at Conrad, and I see his eyes twinkle with pride.
“Yes, I know he is. Unfortunately, I haven’t always told him so,” John says, sounding a bit sad.
Conrad clears his throat loudly. I think it’s either because he’s embarrassed, or he doesn’t want to go there.
“Yes well, good,” John murmurs, handing us the glasses.
We end up staying for dinner. Prepared by John’s housekeeper Mrs. Jansen, or Doris as she kept insisting. Fried chicken and potatoes, and then apple cobbler for dessert. The food was phenomenal, and I’m stuffed.
“So, would you like a tour?” Conrad asks me when his dad excuses himself for a moment.
“Sure, I’d love that,” I tell him.
I’ve never seen the inside of a mansion before, so I’m really curious. We stand from the table just as John comes back.
“Is it alright if I give her a tour?” Conrad asks him.
“Of course son,” John says with a nod, “I’ll just be in the media room watching the game when you’re finished.”
Conrad offers him a small smile and takes my hand. He leads me away from the kitchen, back into the foyer towards a large staircase.
“We’ll start upstairs and work our way down,” he tells me.
He shows me a few different rooms, the Master bedroom, guest rooms, and then we reach the last closed door.
“This was my room,” he says, opening the door.
The walls are painted a dark blue, with a large king-sized bed against the back wall. Music posters cover the walls, and there’s a set of drums and two guitars in the corner. On the wall, opposite the bed, is built-in bookshelves from the floor to ceiling, filled with books.
“I had thought for sure they would have converted it when I left, but I was astonished that they didn’t,” he tells me.
My eyes are still on the bookshelves.
“Wow, you have a lot of books. There must be hundreds of them. Did you read them all? And here I thought I was the bookworm.” I ask him, in awe.
“Most of them. There are a few that I bought and never got around to, or I’d read the first few pages and lost interest. If you find something you want, take it, they’re just sitting here.
“Really?” I smile.
“Yeah,” Conrad opens a nearby closet and pulls out a black backpack and sets it down next to me, “just put them in here.”
“Wow, thanks, Conrad. I think I’ve already spotted a half dozen or so.”
Conrad laughs and wraps his arms around me then.
“Of course you have, my sexy little bookworm.”
I wrap my arms tightly around his neck and hug him. Conrad lifts me off my feet and squeezes me against him, burying his face in my neck.
“So now that I’ve got you here in my childhood bedroom, what shall I do with you?” he murmurs.
I giggle in response as he carries me to the bed and playfully throws me onto it.
“I don’t know Mr. Riley, but now that I know what you’re capable of, school is going to be interesting. How will I concentrate when I know what you look like naked?” I tease.
“You? How am I supposed to concentrate when all I’ll be able to do is fantasize about taking you on my desk?” he replies, crawling up the bed so that he hovers over me.
My heart picks up a few paces, and I feel my body warm as I look up at him. I reach up and lace my fingers through his hair and pull his face down to mine. He brings his weight down on top of me and kisses me hard. I moan into his mouth, hungry for him.
“As much as I’d like to take you right now, I wasn’t so presumptuous to think you’d even let me near you like this, so I didn’t bring protection,” he says with a groan.
“That’s okay, we can just make out for now,” I tell him, kissing him again, “I just want to be in your arms. I hope we’ll be able to have a night together again soon though…with no interruptions.”