Finley Rhodes sat silently at the water tower, her feet dangling over the edge as she stared down at the tiny town. It was all hers — from the vine-covered church to the new park. Once upon a time it had been his town, too.
But once upon a time she had also been his.
Her friend Amelia’s voice rang out, jarring her from her thoughts. She was suddenly back at the top of the tower, no longer holding his hand as they jumped off the bridge at the edge of town, promising to always be this crazy and in love. She was sitting with her best friend. He wasn’t there.
“I’m fine,” she muttered, but she wasn’t fine. She felt the way her heart clenched as she said the words, reminding her of the dull ache that for the briefest of moments had been dormant. She rubbed her chest, sure that if she did it enough times her heart would settle. It wouldn’t be broken anymore. She just needed to remind it to keep beating.
But that was a difficult feat.
“How are you really?” Amelia asked.
Finley looked up at her friend — Amelia stood in the shadows, but she knew her friend was decked head to toe in designer brand names that most people couldn’t afford to even think about, much less buy. Her friend stepped forward, her Tori Burch flats the most noticeable because of their golden hue.
“Really, I’m fine,” Finley finally said. “Can’t think of any reason why I shouldn’t be. Life is grand.”
Her voice — monotone and dull — even gave her away. She rubbed her chest again where she was sure her heart was located. It still beat, but she wasn’t sure how that was possible.
Not when the very life had been sucked out of her just eight hours before.
“We’ve been friends since before we could spell the word,” Amelia said, her perfectly manicured nails glistening under the bright light of the moon. She stretched her arm over Finley’s shoulders, hugging her friend close. “How are you, really?”
Finley didn’t know how to answer her friend without completely breaking down, sure that the slightest inkling of feelings would send her over the edge. She needed to keep herself composed, to not think about why her heart had ceased to beat wildly against her chest. She rubbed her chest again, a small shiny object catching her eye as she looked down at her chest, where she supposed her heart was lying inside, waiting to beat again.
“Do you know I met Sebastian on this tower?” Finley said, finding something she could talk about. Her memories of him hadn’t faded in the slightest. She remembered the first time she spotted him at the water tower, smirking down at her as she made her way from church to the corner store.
“The view from up here is fantastic.”
Seven words, and he’d hooked her. She found herself climbing the tower as well, breathless when she finally reached the top. But the view had been worth it — and so had her company.
“He was standing up here like he owned the place,” Finley continued. “Like he was king.”
“He kind of was,” Amelia told her.
Finley could only nod in agreement. Sebastian Graham was king of the town, the guy every other guy in town wanted to be friends with, and the guy every girl wanted to be with.
And he’d chosen her.
“He took me here the night we broke up the first time,” Finley told Amelia. Amelia felt her friend stiffen beneath her arm and instead clasped her friend’s hand tightly. Finley didn’t cry, though. “He said it was better if we just… went back to how things were. Stop driving each other crazy, stop thinking this was going to be some grand love story. He was about… six months too late though.” Finley laughed bitterly, but still she didn’t cry.
“Yeah, Fin, but he didn’t date anyone after you,” Amelia said. “He stayed here, just waiting for you to come back.”
Finley nodded in agreement. Sebastian had told her once, nearly two years after their break-up, when she was dating someone new, that he had been waiting for her. She’d yelled at him, told him she hated him, flat out screamed in his face that he was the worst person ever. Twenty days later, though, she’d ended her relationship with someone new.
But she didn’t come home.
“Do you know I saw him a few months ago?” Finley said. She finally felt her heart flutter, and she had to stop and look down at the necklace she was wearing again.
“It suits you.”
“In New York?” Amelia asked.
Finley nodded in response. “It was like, the most cliche thing in the entire world. He actually came into the studio, looking for one of my paintings that he didn’t realize was one of my paintings.”
Amelia could only laugh, knowing too well that if there were something that could bring Finley and Sebastian together again, it would be the universe, and it would be in the most obvious way.
A tear pricked at the corner of her eye and Finley hesitated. You can do this, a small voice inside her head reminded her. She could do this. She could relive that night. She could have relived that night a million more times and never tire of it.
“He was as dumbfounded as I was. Of all the gin joints, you know?” She peeked at Amelia in her peripheral, who could only nod in response.
“He laughed, you know,” Finley continued. “He looked me and burst into that loud, boisterous laugh of his. My agent actually had to walk out of her office to see what was going on. She thought someone was dying.” She paused. “No, it was just Sebastian, and that laugh of his that got us in trouble in high school.”
Six months she had been with him, toward the end of their senior year. But it had been long enough for him to engrave his fingerprints all over her — from her heart to her mind to places no other man had touched since him. His voice was one that would constantly haunt her — in her dreams and when she was awake. On more than one occasion she swore she’d heard him, but had just been her imagination playing tricks on her. For the briefest of moments she swore he’d been a mirage that day in the studio, until he’d laughed.
Amelia sat with her friend, listening to all the things Finley said aloud, and the things she left unspoken. Their hands sat clasped between them. Amelia was certain her dress was getting dirty, but for the moment she didn’t care. Finley needed her now more than ever.
“It was truly the best day,” Finley finally said, and Amelia perked up, focusing her attention on her friend. Finley rubbed at her chest again, unsure if the fluttering she’d felt earlier had been a figment of her imagination. It still hurt. But it was still beating, determined to continue fighting even when she didn’t want to.
“What did you do?” Amelia asked, equal parts trying not to pry while also wondering what could possibly have happened to make her friend so distraught at this moment.
A tear spilled down her cheek and Finley knew that this story would be her undoing. And yet it was the one she wanted most to tell. Everyone knew how she met Sebastian, when he’d called to her from atop the water tower. Everyone knew how she’d fallen in love with him in spite of her better judgment warning her not to get mixed up with the playboy extraordinaire. Everyone knew how she’d run from their town to get away from him and the promise he’d made to wait for her.
But no one knew this story — the last time they were truly happy. The last time she saw him alive.
“Everything,” Finley said, and she felt the lump rise to her throat. It hadn’t been there moments before, popping up to surprise her as she told her saddest story.
“We got frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity,” she said, remembering how Sebastian had been so hesitant to even try it, then ended up drinking the whole thing.
“This is delicious. You don’t mind if I drink it?”
She didn’t mind.
“We went to the roof of my apartment building and danced,” she said, remembering how she’d taken him by the hand and dragged him to the edge of the building nearest night club that blasted music until the wee morning hours.
“I don’t dance.”
But he’d danced with her anyway, laughing with her and twirling her around their small dance space.
“And we got tattoos,” she muttered, feeling her voice crack under the pressure of all the memories that had suddenly flooded her.
Amelia raised an eyebrow at her friend, feeling not for the first time as though she were somehow intruding. She had to remind herself, though, that Sebastian was not there. It was just Amelia and Finley. Sebastian’s absence, though, was everywhere.
Finley raised the sleeve of her up to her wrist, revealing the initials S.G.
“Sure you’re not going to regret this?”
She could never regret him. “He got my initials on his wrist,” she explained to Amelia, but the fair-haired girl needed no explanation from her friend. Some things didn’t need an explanation. Over the years, she’d learned that Sebastian and Finley were one of those things.
“We went to the very top of the Empire State Building.” Finley felt her heart lurch at the memory, reminding her that it was still there. It ached so much to remember how she felt standing at the top of the tall building, looking out at the city. She rubbed her chest, willing the pain away.
“The view from up here is fantastic.”
She reminded him of what he’d said the first time he saw her, and he laughed out loud, his voice carrying out all around them.
It all came crashing down on her then, all of the memories of that night, and she heard a bone-chilling cry, felt it envelope her as she sat at the top of the water tower with her best friend. Amelia pulled her friend in close and held her as tightly as possible. She’d read once that compression sometimes worked on animals when they were anxious; perhaps it could help the dark-haired girl sitting next to her in a shirt that was much too big for her and jeans that looked like they hadn’t been washed in a week. Amelia had seen Finley in clothes like this before, but her attire paired with her cries told Amelia that this was different. Long gone was the southern belle who paraded around in pearls and her nicest dresses. This new girl, with paint-splattered pants and the sweatshirt of the boy she loved had taken her place.
Finley composed herself long enough to catch a breath, and her heart ached again. She rubbed her chest, looking down again at the necklace as the moon caught it and made it shine under its light.
“He got this out of one of those lame claw games,” Finley said, looking down at the cheaply made necklace that she hadn’t had the heart to take off since he gave it to her.
“It suits you.”
His words still rang in her head. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself not to cry as she closed out this story — the saddest story she’d ever told.
“He gave me the necklace,” Finley said, composing herself, trying to catch her breath. “And before I knew what was happening, it was time for him to go. The sun was coming up. We’d stayed awake all night in the city that never sleeps, doing things I never thought I’d do with anyone, never even imagined I would have the chance of doing with him.”
“I’ll see you soon.”
He’d said the words so easily, with a smile that lit up his freckled face and made his blue eyes dance. He’d looked every bit the red-haired boy she met one January night at the top of the water tower.
“I’ll see you soon.”
But he didn’t.
She hadn’t been expecting a phone call from her best friend. She and Amelia had a standing Tuesday phone date where they chatted and filled one another in on their lives. Every month Amelia would come to New York City, knowing too well how Finley felt about coming back to their town. But on a Thursday morning, Amelia had received the worst possible news, and knew better than to let anyone else tell her best friend what had happened to the boy she loved.
GRAHAM DIES A HERO
The headline had been enough to make her sick, his death being exploited by the gossip mill who ran the local newspaper. But as ill as it made her, it was also true. Sebastian had always been the knight in shining armor. His father owned everything in their town, ran the local government (had been mayor for the last decade), and had made his own fair share of enemies. And one of those enemies had started a fire in the vine-covered church where Sebastian’s grandfather preached, and Sebastian was determined to get everyone out — his own welfare be damned.
Finley and Amelia both directed their attention to the church, vines still covering its south wall where the flames hadn’t touched it. Caution tape had joined the vines in wrapping around the church. Finley felt fresh tears spill down her cheeks as she stared at the lone cross at the entrance to the church. The white cross paled against the charred black front door of the church, much the same way Sebastian used to stand out in a crowd to her.
“I don’t know what to do now,” Finley said.
It was the first time she’d said the words aloud. Her mother and father had peppered her with questions, hovering the second she’d come back to town. Amelia had hovered as well, but knew better than to pester her friend. Their friendship had lasted as long as they’d been alive, it felt like, and Amelia understood Finley’s need for solitude.
Until she didn’t need that solitude anymore, as she sat at the water tower, looking out over the town that had once been theirs.
“You don’t need to know,” Amelia said. “Don’t pressure yourself to get your life in order right this second. It’s not the time.”
Finley could only nod. Amelia knew her better than most, she could acknowledge that fact. The only person who knew her better than Amelia was long gone, a memory now, but one that she knew she’d carry with her long after she left town again, never to return.
She grasped tightly to the necklace Sebastian had given her. She closed her eyes and leaned into her best friend, who in turn wrapped an arm around her. She clung tightly to one memory that she hadn’t shared with her friend, one that she’d wanted to keep as hers alone — hers and Sebastian’s.
As they’d stood at the train station waiting for his train to come in, Sebastian had laced his fingers through hers. They stood in a comfortable silence, both finally feeling the effects of an all-nighter crashing down on them. Sebastian yawned, and in turn Finley had as well. She smiled as she thought of the way they tried to cover their fatigue.
“Get home. I can catch my train back on my own.”
But she stayed until it came, holding tightly to his hand, wondering why she’d run from her hometown, from the man standing next to her, when all he’d ever wanted to do was love her.
And before she knew what she was doing, she’d kissed him, feeling her defenses falling down around her, pooling at her feet. She clung to his shoulders as he kissed her back, feelings she’d long buried coming alive again as they stood in the train station.
It was over before it began, his lips leaving hers first. She felt the absence the instant it happened, the very second he’d pulled away. He’d smiled, though, and kissed her quickly once more before boarding his train.
“I’ll see you soon.”
He’d said it with such confidence, such happiness that she felt herself getting caught up in it, too, even as he was walking away from her, creating a distance she desperately wanted to bridge. Even then, he still loved her, still waited. A love that powerful could surely survive a thing like death.
She was sure of it.
“What are you thinking about?” Amelia asked her, breaking her from her reverie.
Finley could only shrug. Her thoughts were focused solely on seeing Sebastian again, on how much their love could take. She pursed her lips as the sun climbed a little higher, and looped her arm through Amelia’s.
“Let’s get out of here,” she said.
Amelia nodded, pushing herself up and following her friend to the ladder-like steps that led to the ground. Finley stopped a moment, taking off her necklace as she neared the steps. She hooked the necklace to the first rung.
“He should get to see the sunrise, too,” she explained.
Amelia accepted her friend’s explanation, following her down the steps to the ground.
At the top of the water tower, the necklace sparkled in the sun, almost dancing beneath its light.