Under the industrial yellow streetlight, Caroline uncharitably thinks Violet's lipstick makes her mouth look like a big wet gash. It's raining, but the sound is swallowed by the traffic noise of the city street corner, and only the spatter of thick drops against Caroline's umbrella stands out. The two girls cling together, Caroline anchoring Violet as the other girl raises her arm out from under the plastic cover to try and hail a cab.
"Jesus!" Violet cries out in frustration as another taxi passes without stopping. "What's it take to catch a fucking cab around here?"
Caroline keeps her mouth shut, and doesn't point out the fact that visibility is short in the rain and the dark. Trains still run at this hour, but Violet doesn't like the metro. Plus, her dad is more than willing to shell out the cash for cab fares, not into the idea of his only daughter wandering the tunnels of New Amsterdam after nightfall. Caroline's mother doesn't even know that she's out. If she did, she'd throw a fit for sure, which is why Caroline always makes Violet leave the clubs early to give the two of them enough time to make it back before Caroline's mother gets home from her late shifts.
Violet huffs again, and Caroline sighs, takes her hand, and asks, "Wanna go to Donuts N' Brew and wait to see if the rain will stop?"
"Okay," Violet agrees, but wrinkles her brow. Donuts N' Brew is NOT her scene. Caroline knows from experience that in Violet's mind, the world should always be full of glitter and lights and boys and loud music. And focused entirely on Violet. So the greasy fluorescence of an apathetic donuts and coffee chain store holds absolutely no appeal for her.
Despite Violet's reservations, the two girls cross the street when the walk symbol turns. Caroline just misses a puddle that has begun to pool against the curb, and wrinkles her nose at the dirty water, causing Violet to laugh at her expression. The sound bursts unexpectedly from her throat and curls into the dank night air, reverberating off the slick concrete around them. Grinning, Caroline pulls on her hand, and Violet stumbles in her tiny black stiletto heels and loses control of the umbrella.
By the time they reach the Donuts N' Brew on the next block, both girls are soaked straight through. Caroline pushes through the glass door, and they immediately shuck their coats in the warm, sugar-scented air of the donut shop. They drop the coats at an orange plastic booth, and Violet heads up to the counter to get herself a cup of coffee and some black tea for Caroline. When she brings the Styrofoam cups back, Violet sets about the laborious process of adding enough sugar and cream to the coffee so that she can stomach it. Caroline just swirls hers a bit and brings the cup to her lips, closes her eyes and lets the steam curl against her cheeks.
She sighs, contented, before she feels the squish in her shoes. Not only has the water drenched the canvas slippers she bought in Chinatown, it's also spread up her lace stockings halfway to her knees. She pulls another face, but instead of laughing this time, Violet just says,
"Oh, don't be such a baby. It's your fault for wearing those shoes in the first place," and snaps open her designer clutch to fish out a packet of filtered cigarettes.
Violet lights up with the shiny silver lighter she keeps wedged down her bra for quick access, and it's all Caroline can do to keep her face schooled against the acrid scent. As Violet exhales smoke into the florescent light, Caroline's thoughts drift away to earlier years; before Violet smoked. Before she started wearing the short black dresses Caroline likes to think of as her "boy hunting" dresses and dragging Caroline along with her to the clubs which they gain access to with the fake IDs Violet paid a fortune for. Before, it used to be Caroline and Violet against world. They would run through the dingy streets like they owned them; sleep all day on a patchwork quilt in Trinity Park under the statue of the angel, and then stay up all night trying to take pictures of the ghosts haunting the old Queenstown apartment building Violet lives in. In the morning when Sister Agnes would catch them sleeping in class and send them to detention, they would spend the whole time folding paper swans and then run to float them in the puddles that collect in the potholes outside of the rickety Chinese bakery that Caroline lives above.
Now, Violet's always busy during the day with the boys she finds at the clubs, and in tears a few weeks later when they suddenly stop answering their cell phones or discover that Violet is still in high school. When that happens, it's always Caroline's job to buy the Crème-Brule ice cream and sit with Violet, stroking her hair while she watches the entire second season of Lonely Hearts and creates piles of Kleenex roses. Sometimes Violet will apologize to Caroline then; tell her she's sorry that she's been so distant, and what a great friend Caroline's been. Promises that she'll go to Kings Village with Caroline and buy her that vintage silk dress Violet knows she's been eyeing for ages. Then, they'll run around the city like they used to, and take silly photographs of each other. Caroline's heart melts at these times, but Violet never keeps her promises. By the next evening she's located another "fabulous" club to sneak into, and begged and weaseled Caroline into coming along.
"Earth to Caroline. This is your best friend speaking," interjects Violet in a bored voice and waves a hand coated in glitter polish in front of Caroline's face. Caroline shakes her head to clear it of any residual self-indulgent angst and forces a smile for Violet.
"Well, normally you get super pissy about right now. It's almost midnight," she says and looks meaningfully up at the clock on the wall above them. "Doesn't your mom get finished at the hospital soon?"
"Oh! Yeah," says Caroline, and then glances out the front window, dismayed to see the rain still sheeting down. She bites her lip, and then turns back to Violet.
"It's still so wet out though. And she doesn't get back 'till 2."
"Are you fucking serious?" snaps Violet. "You always make us leave like, an hour after we get there. You told me your mom gets back at 12!"
Caroline bites her lip harder, and when Violet's stare doesn't break, bursts out with, "I know, I'm sorry! I just... I don't like going clubbing. I don't like the guys you find either."
Violet doesn't respond, and continues to glare stonily at Caroline.
"I'm real sorry, Vi. Really," pleads Caroline. "I care about you, and I think you deserve better."
Violet's face softens slightly, and she sighs and puts out her cigarette on the table. "I know, Care. I'm sorry for exploding. It's just – I feel really bored all the time. Like everything's meaningless. Like there's something better out there." She puts up a hand to stop Caroline when Caroline looks at her with her wide dark eyes and opens her mouth as if to speak.
"I know you try Caroline, but I mean, come on! We live in the middle of New Amsterdam for Fuck's sake! And all we do is go to school and mind our parents like good little girls. I'm fucking sick of it! That's why I like sneaking into those clubs. They don't just let anyone in, even if they have fake IDs. Besides, I like the boys."
"But Violet, those boys, they just shut you out after a few weeks! That's not – that's not healthy."
"Don't you think I know that?" Violet snarls, and her eyes flash. Caroline recoils.
"Jesus, Care. I'm tired of this. Let's talk about something else," sighs Violet, and fumbles to light another cigarette.
"Like what?" asks Caroline, still reeling from Violet's outburst.
"I don't know! How about…" Trailing off, she scans the room as if for inspiration. Surprisingly, she finds it.
"Hey, isn't that the guy we saw in front of the club tonight?"
Caroline twists in the plastic booth to get a better look at where Violet's finger is pointing, over to where a boy with an flagrant orange scarf sits two booths away from them.
"Hey, yeah," agrees Caroline, realizing that Violet is right. "I remember that scarf."
"Ha ha, yeah," laughs Violet. "That's one fuck ugly scarf." She takes another drag of her cigarette, and then smiles with her teeth and says,
"Let's go over and talk to him."
"Um, I don't know," hedges Caroline. "I don't think that's such a good idea. He could be crazy. What if he's following us?"
"Don't be ridiculous, Care," Violet dismisses Caroline's worry as she levers herself up out of the booth.
"Hey, you!" she calls out rudely from behind as she stops to pull down the hem of her skanky dress where it's ridden up.
Caroline struggles out of her seat after Violet, mortified that Violet is actually going to go and bother the poor kid.
"My friend thinks you're stalking us," proclaims Violet, and stands in front of him with her hands on her hips and her head cocked coyly to the side. When Caroline stumbles into Violet in her haste, she's relieved to find that instead of an answering leer or a look of disgust on his face, there's only an easy smile.
"No I don't," Caroline protests, and feels her face heat up.
He just laughs in response and says, "No worries. I'm just here to get out of the rain. I'm Collin, by the way."
He sticks out his hand, and Caroline is impressed.
"Violet Lewis, and this is Caroline." Violet introduces both of them and takes his hand, giving Caroline a minute to observe him.
Collin is an average looking boy, with rumpled brown hair, fair skin and a sweet mouth. Around their age maybe; definitely not over twenty. His only standout feature is his build. Even sitting down, Caroline can tell he's of a good height, and while Violet would probably call him chubby, Caroline thinks he just looks solid. An overstuffed backpack and a sleeping bag rest on the seat next to him.
And then, out of the corner of her eye, Caroline sees the shadows under the table squirm. Her palms begin to sweat, and a shiver runs down the back of her spine, raising gooseflesh as it goes.
"Where're you from?" she asks him, apprehensive. The smile instantly disappears from Collin's face.
"Oh, you know. Around."
"You mean, you don't have a home," she clarifies, ignoring Violet's elbow in her side. Caroline knows that she has to be the responsible one yet again, because Violet won't understand. After all, Violet isn't the one who notices the weird shadows and the strange people; the ghosts and the things that creep in the alleys. It's just another one of Caroline's jobs to watch out and make sure that none of them hurt Violet.
"Um- I- Well, you see- yeah," he stutters, and then finally admits it. His downcast eyes and the flush on his cheeks are almost enough to make Caroline regret being so cold. Almost; before she remembers that he might not even be a person. Violet has other ideas though.
"You haven't been out on your own for long, have you?" she says, and slides into the seat across from him. Caroline shakily follows suit.
"Yeah. Only about," he pauses and his eyes roll towards the ceiling "Three days. This will be the fourth night," he laughs self-consciously. "It seems likes it's been weeks."
"What happened?" asks Violet.
"I'd – I'd rather not say." Collin looks down and folds his hands. "It's personal and- you wouldn't believe me anyway." Caroline thinks that Collin is absolutely right. Violet wouldn't believe him. Caroline has tried for years to make Violet understand, but she never does, just brushes Caroline's heartfelt confessions aside as more childish fantasies. At this point, Caroline only hopes that the conversation will end soon, and they can be on their way, safely away from this strange kid with the shadows and the apologetic smiles.
"That's okay," says Violet. "You can tell me all about it later."
"Wait, what?" splutters Caroline.
"I said, he can tell me all about it later. 'Cause, you know, he's gonna stay with me. Until he can get a job and his own place," she says and smiles sweetly, placing her own hand over Collin's where it rests on the table. He shudders at her touch, as if unused to contact, and his eyes go saucer round.
"I- I couldn't really. I don't want to impose or anything."
"Look! He's so damn proper. But really, you're gonna stay with me."
"Violet!" Caroline hisses. "You can't do that! What about your Dad? You don't even know what he did, or where he's from." Silently she adds, or what he is.
"Chill, Car-o-line." Violet drawls her name out slow and insulting. "You know my dad's never there. And the apartment's huge. He can just stay in the spare room and hang with us after school. It's gonna be summer soon anyway."
"Um, I'm from Wallis," interjects Collin meekly, naming the largest mainland suburb of New Amsterdam, "if that helps any."
"See? A tame suburb kid. I think I can handle it, Care."
"I want to go home now." Is all that Caroline responds with, well aware of the fact that she can't win when it comes to Violet.
"Time to go, Collin. Get your stuff, and we'll hail a cab. We have to drop Caroline off first though," Violet says and stands up, without bothering to fix her dress this time.
As Caroline stands up too, she notices that Collin avoids looking down at Violet's exposed legs, and knows that at least he won't try anything on her. The thought only makes her feel slightly better. They grab their coats on the way out the door, and once outside, Caroline spreads out her palms, pleased to find that the rain has lightened to a damp mist.
Five minutes later, Violet manages to hail a cab, and fifteen minutes after that, they've reached the bakery Caroline lives above. She runs up the steps, and then stops at the top for a minute, and pauses to watch the cab pull away. She thinks about Violet and Collin, alone in the ancient vaulted, apartment with the shadows and the ghosts. A shiver runs down her spine, and she resolves to call Violet first thing in the morning to make sure she's okay. Caroline doesn't think she'll sleep well at all tonight.