Butterflies fluttered in Clarke Griffin’s stomach as the red numbers on her bedside clock changed to 12:00. Midnight. She brought her knees up to her chest and rocked back and forth ever so slightly, trying to calm her nerves and remind herself that there was nothing to be nervous about. She was just making a life-changing decision. That’s all.
She sat in her dark, quiet bedroom, waiting, hoping Finn would show up on time for once. Her boyfriend was notoriously not punctual. In fact, in the two years they’d been dating, she’d grown accustomed to giving him at least a twenty minute leeway for everything. But if he made her wait too long, then she might talk herself out of this. And that wasn’t what she wanted to do.
At 12:01, she glanced down at her cell phone, noticing that her friend Jasper was also up late. He’d posted a new video to Instagram of him and Monty chilling out in their dorm room. Apparently the first day of classes tomorrow wasn’t dissuading them from playing video games well into the night. Jasper’s girlfriend, Maya, had Tweeted out a few pictures of her over-stuffed backpack, the incredible view from her room, and a few smiling selfies with her new roommate. Some girl named Jennifer.
Looking around the room, Clarke let the loneliness sink in. Her friends were off on their new adventure now. Which was why she was about to embark on hers.
It took Finn until 12:05 to show up, but being only five minutes late was miraculous for him. Clarke knew he was there when she heard a small rock hit her window, so she nearly leapt out of bed and ran towards it, pushing it up so she could peer outside.
“Hey, Princess,” he called up to her quietly, but excitedly. “You ready to go?”
Clarke smiled down at him, her nerves melting a bit when she saw that eager grin on his face and gleam in his eyes. For months, they’d been talking about this. Now it was actually happening.
She grabbed her huge duffle bag, stuffed fuller than she’d ever imagined it could be, and slung an impossibly full backpack (the same one she’d carried all throughout high school) over both her shoulders. Sneaking downstairs proved to be difficult, because there were so many creaky floorboards in this big old house of theirs, and her duffle was so big and heavy that she actually dropped it once. It landed on the floor with a loud thud, and Clarke grimaced, sure that the noise would wake her mother. She froze, waiting for the door at the end of the hallway to open up and for her mom to storm out and demand to know what was going on. But it never did. Which meant one of two things: Either work had worn her mother out, or Marcus Kane had.
Carefully, Clarke picked up her bag again, and this time, she didn’t hesitate to just hightail it out of there. To hell with trying to be quiet and sneaky. She trundled down those stairs and didn’t even bother to stop at the front door and take one last look over her shoulder. She flew out the door, as fast as she could fly with two heavy bags weighing her down, and joined Finn at the car.
Finn was clearly amped as he loaded his own bags into the back of her Cadillac. “I’m so fuckin’ pumped,” he declared. “This is gonna be awesome.”
“Yeah,” Clarke agreed, handing him her bag so he could toss that into the backseat along with his. “This is crazy.”
“Crazy amazing.” He smiled at her and motioned for her to take her backpack off her shoulders, too.
Once everything was loaded up, Clarke handed her boyfriend the keys, and she climbed into the passenger’s seat while he hopped right over the driver’s side door and planted himself behind the wheel.
“New York City, here we come,” he said, starting up the car. As old as it was, it made a horribly loud rumbling noise as it came to life, but once again, it wasn’t enough to wake Clarke’s mom up. Clarke kept her eyes focused on the upstairs windows, halfway expecting to see her mom run up to one of them and watch helplessly as Finn backed out of their long driveway towards the street. But she should have known that wouldn’t happen. Her mother had other priorities now.
Still, though, looking at that house, the same one she’d grown up in all her life . . . it sort of got to her. She remembered sitting out on that big wraparound porch back when her grandmother had been alive, listening to stories about what it had been like for her to grow up in the same bedroom that Clarke now had. She remembered playing around outside with her cousins and setting up a lemonade stand with Maya one summer because their allowances just were not cutting it. She thought back to all the nights she and Monty had spent studying for finals and the time she and Jasper had snuck a few of her mom’s wine coolers back in junior high. (They thought they’d been so badass with wine coolers.)
But mostly, she remembered her dad. She remembered running around the yard in a fairy princess costume while he chased her. She remembered falling asleep while he sang her to bed at night. She remembered family dinners, where he’d always asked her about what she had learned in school that day, and she remembered Christmas mornings, when there had always been so many presents under the tree that it’d taken them at least five hours to open them all up.
She remembered better times.
The memories didn’t fade, but the house started to when Finn put the old car into drive, turned the wheel, and drove off down the street. He didn’t exactly go slow, either. One minute, she was looking at her house, and the next, the tree line was obscuring her vision. And she couldn’t see it anymore.
Settling into her seat, Clarke let out a deep sigh as her heart pounded in her chest, either out of nerves or excitement. Or maybe both. She wasn’t sure.
They drove down the familiar streets of their small town, where there were no traffic lights and no need for any, where the 25 mph speed limit signs were completely ignored and nobody questioned it. They drove past the grocery store, the library, the post office. They drove past her friend’s houses, where they would all return home with heaping hampers full of laundry on their holiday breaks. They drove past the small hospital where her mom worked and past her dad’s old offices, where a For Sale sign was still plastered to the front door.
Thank you for visiting Arkadia, a sign on their way out of town read. Please come again!
She rolled her eyes, hoping she wouldn’t have to. If everything worked out the way she and Finn planned, their friends and family would be coming to the city to see them.
It was a nice night out, still very warm, so Finn kept the top of the Cadillac down even out on the open highway. Clarke’s hair blew back from her face, the wind making it so loud that she could barely even hear the music playing when Finn turned on the radio. He must have heard it loud and clear, though, because he sang along to every song, looking like the biggest goof ever. At one point, he even threw his head back and just howled at the moon like a coyote. Clarke laughed at him, happy to see him look so rejuvenated. An entire summer spent working construction had been hard on him, tiring, but even when he was exhausted, Finn Collins had endless energy. His plan was to drive all night, and Clarke didn’t doubt he could do it. In fact, he wanted to make the eighteen and a half hour drive a straight shot. They could stop for food and bathroom breaks, he said, but that was it.
All night, they drove. Or rather, Finn drove and Clarke dozed off once he put the hood up. Missouri was much like Kansas in that it didn’t have a whole lot to see, especially at night. And Illinois was a lot of open fields and trees, all of which she’d seen plenty of in her life. So she leaned against the window, resting her head against the glass, and slept. But not soundly. Every hour or so, she woke up, not because of Finn’s driving or even the loud music, but just because . . . she was restless. She kept fighting the urge to peek at her phone and see if her mom was calling or texting her yet. Surely she’d find the note taped to the outside of her bedroom door sooner rather than later. Surely she’d be worried.
After six and a half hours of driving, when the sun was already coming up in the sky, Finn pulled off the interstate to stop at a gas station and stretch his legs. Clarke did the same. While he filled up the tank, she went inside the station and bought some snacks. And breakfast pizza, since it was technically morning now.
Her dad had always made sure she ate breakfast. Most important meal of the day and everything.
She was awake after that, for the rest of Illinois. She opened up the window and stuck her hand out, making rolling wave motions with her arm as the open countryside flew past them. But once they got into Indiana, things started to get less open. It wasn’t that there were more exits or anything, just that there seemed to be slightly bigger towns coming off of those exits. They didn’t stop at any of them, though. Finn drove straight through to Ohio before he needed to get out and move around a bit again. He stretched and twisted his back, and she could tell he was getting stiff. She offered to drive so he could get some rest, but he assured her he was doing fine. So when they got back in the car, he remained at the wheel, and she remained in the passenger’s seat, and because her sleep hadn’t been a restful one, she ended up nodding off again.
By the time they got to Pennsylvania, Finn was starving, so they stopped in the middle of some city—Clarke didn’t even know which one—for lunch at McDonald’s. She wasn’t overly thrilled with her soggy chicken nuggets and undercooked French fries, but Finn seemed to think his burger was the tastiest thing in the world. He raved about it so much that Clarke finally had to mention their friends, just to get him talking about something slightly more interesting.
“I wonder what Jasper and Maya and Monty are doing right now,” she speculated. They were in a different time zone now, but not by much. So they were probably in class, or studying for class, or just hanging out, enjoying their first real day of college.
“Who knows?” Finn said flippantly before slurping down the rest of his pop. “Ready to go?”
Was she ready to get back in the car and sit for about three more hours? Not really, but she supposed it’d be worth it. In three more hours, she’d be able to get out of the car and walk into their brand new apartment. In the city. In New York City. The thought was thrilling. And a little overwhelming.
The farther east they drove, the bigger things started to feel. The cities they drove through were just that—cities. Actual urban areas with large populations of people. Places where there wasn’t a “Main Street,” places where country music did not dominate the charts and not everyone knew everyone else’s business.
Finn got a little prematurely excited and thought that New Jersey was New York, and he rolled down the hood again. Clarke wrinkled her nose up, because it was most definitely not fresh air she was inhaling. Cities just smelled different. And there was a lot of noise, a lot of traffic, even on the Interstate. A wreck up ahead slowed their lanes down to a near standstill for a good half an hour, and Finn started to get so impatient. He muttered something like “Fuck GPS” and started to veer off towards an exit, but Clarke told him just to wait it out. The last thing they needed to be doing was getting lost and end up at the Jersey shore or something.
By the time they reached New York City, it was nearly 8:00. Still light enough at this time of year for it not to look like total nighttime yet, but clearly the lights of the city were starting to come on for the night. Clarke’s eyes widened in amazement at the vast array of buildings in front of her. All the cars. All the people mulling about on the sidewalks. She used to think Kansas City was huge, but this place made it look small in comparison. As far as her eye could see, there was just this gigantic, sprawling city. One she’d never lived in before. One she probably should have felt intimidated by. But for the first time since they’d left, she felt that same level of excitement that Finn did. The butterflies in her stomach finally vanished and instead were replaced by awe. She was pretty sure her mouth dropped open when they drove across the Brooklyn Bridge.
“We’ll go sightseeing soon,” Finn promised.
God, she hoped so. She wasn’t a travel buff by any means, but why not go see the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Center now that they were here? Hell, come New Year’s, they were going to have to go to Time’s Square. Maybe Maya and Jasper and Monty could come visit them for that. Watching the ball drop had to be a lot better than watching drunk frat boys play beer pong.
They drove past some nice apartment complexes, and Clarke found herself hoping they’d pull into the parking lot for one of them. But they never did. They just kept weaving through the busy roads of the city, and it seemed that, with each block they went or turn they took, the apartment buildings started to look . . . older. Rougher. Dingier. The particular neighborhood they ended up in didn’t appear to be the nicest one. There was trash littering the sidewalks and plenty of neighborhood watch signs on display. A few blocks up ahead, red and blue police lights were flashing, and Clarke was pretty sure she could hear a domestic dispute happening down the street when she turned the radio off.
“Here we are,” Finn announced as he turned right and pulled into the parking lot of the Mount Weather apartment complex. “Home sweet home.”
Clarke surveyed the large building, wondering how many people lived here. It looked more like an old hotel—maybe it once had been. There were six stories, and some of the units had balconies. There was no grass in sight, though. It was all just pavement. So unlike Kansas.
She supposed she’d get used to it. She’d get used to a lot of things.
Finn turned off the car, eyes still aglow with energy and excitement, and said, “Let’s go check it out.”
I hope it’s nice, Clarke thought. Maybe the outside was misleading.
Finn had been the one to handle all the apartment arrangements for them, but Clarke was alarmed to find that he still hadn’t even signed a lease yet. He had to call up the landlord, who luckily only lived a block away, and he signed a lease right there on the spot. Clarke signed it, too, and after they forked over a bit of cash for the security the deposit, the landlord then gave them both a key. And that was it. They were now proud new renters of a one-bedroom apartment.
Finn loaded himself down like a pack mule in order to haul all of their bags up there at once. Clarke carried as much as she could, but her progress was slow since the elevator was broken and they had to trudge up three flights of stairs. It was a little disturbing to see a drunk man passed out in the stairwell, but they just stepped over him and continued on their way.
Clarke wrinkled her nose when they got up to their floor, because it reeked of pot. Somebody was definitely smoking something somewhere. Finn didn’t seem to mind, probably because he’d gotten high a few times in high school. But Clarke had only tried it once and hated it, and she had no desire to ever do it again. Or to walk down a hallway every morning that smelled of it. Maybe if they sprayed some air freshener . . .
Finn’s key got jammed in the door lock, and Clarke wasn’t even sure they had the right apartment. As she was double checking the number on the outside of the door, he threw his whole weight against the door and shoved it open. “Nice,” he remarked as he walked inside.
Nice? Clarke thought, warily taking a look around. The whole apartment was dark, so she couldn’t see much. She tried to flip on the nearest light switch, but no light came on.
Finn set their bags down in the middle of the empty living room and walked over to the window, pulling open the curtains. It was still light enough outside that the natural light coming in allowed Clarke to see more of the space. Nice . . . wasn’t exactly the word she’d use for it. Small, sure. Way smaller than Finn had told her it would be. The kitchen and living room space kind of just blended together. And actually, the kitchen was more of a kitchenette. They didn’t even have a table, just a counter island with two stools at it. They did have a refrigerator and an oven/stove combo, though, and a sink and cabinets. But not much else.
“What do you think?” Finn asked, holding his hands out to the sides.
She set her bag and backpack down, trying to think of a nice, not too nitpicky way to admit that she wasn’t impressed. “It looks a little different than the pictures online did,” she remarked.
“Well, yeah, they always do,” was Finn’s response. He ran his hands over the countertops and turned on the sink. It sort of . . . gurgled and then sputtered, but eventually, some water did come out.
“We’re gonna need to get some food,” Clarke pointed out, crossing the room towards the refrigerator. When she opened it, she couldn’t help but make a face of disgust, because it smelled awful. “Oh god, and some baking soda,” she added. “Right? Doesn’t that help with a smelly fridge?”
“I think so.” Finn was already wandering down the short hallway, so Clarke followed him. They peeked into their bathroom, which, of course, was also much tinier than the pictures had made it appear, but at least there was a tub with a shower curtain around it. Finn liked showers; she liked baths, so at least they both could get their way here. Clarke was a little too scared to look at the toilet, afraid of what permanent stains might be in there, and really, she was more interested in the bedroom anyway.
“Oh, sweet,” Finn said as he opened up the door to their right. “We got a balcony.”
And another empty room, Clarke thought, already making plans for how they could arrange things in there. They’d need a bed, obviously, or at least a mattress for now. They’d brought one extra-large sleeping bag and two pillows, and that was it.
Finn slid open the glass doors and stepped out onto their balcony, which, much like the rest of the apartment, was small. But Clarke could definitely picture herself sitting out there in the morning sometimes, strumming her guitar.
“Decent view,” Finn noted.
She joined him out on the balcony for a second to see if that was true, but . . . unless a view at the run-down homes across the street qualified as a decent view, she didn’t see what he was seeing.
“I think we’re gonna love it here,” Finn said, ushering her back inside. He slid the door shut and said, “See, I told you my cousin could hook us up with a good place.”
She tried to smile, but . . . she had to force it. This just wasn’t what she had pictured.
Finn put his arm around her and hugged her to his side as they walked back out into the living room . . . and kitchen. The living room/kitchen combo. (And here she’d never even lived in a house without a dining room before.) He started talking about where they could put the couch, once they had one, and the TV, once they had one. He asked her if she wanted him to paint one of the walls brown, like an accent wall or something, and she said she’d think about it. She completely tuned out of the conversation, though, and tensed up when she saw a mouse scampering across the carpet to a whole in one of the corners. “Finn,” she said, pointing it out.
“What?” He looked over there, too, and just shrugged. “So we’ll get a mouse trap.”
“We have to get a lot of things.” She was already making a mental list. Furniture, groceries, air freshener, now a mouse trap, too . . .
“We will,” Finn assured her, reaching into the front pocket of his jeans when his cell phone rang. He said, “It’s Cage,” and answered right away. “Hey, man, we got here.”
Clarke let the cousins talk and bent down, opening up her purse. She pulled out her phone, checking for a text or call from her mom. There was one text, but nothing substantial. Just her mom letting her know that they had a job opening at the hospital. Probably something janitorial, which was hardly a step up from the drive-in movie theater Clarke had worked at all spring and summer.
She must not have seen my note yet, she thought. Knowing her mom, she’d walked right past her room in her haste to get to work that morning, probably hadn’t even noticed it. But sooner or later, she would. Or she’d realize that she hadn’t seen her daughter or heard her mulling about at all. Sooner or later, she’d find out. And when she did . . .
“Yeah, yeah, I’ll meet up with you,” Finn was telling his cousin. “Just text me the address. I’ll find it.”
Clarke frowned. Finn was going somewhere? Already? She’d sort of imagined that they would unpack the things they did have, try to make it look cozier in there. Or that they’d go out and stock up on some food. They’d eaten like crap for the past nineteen and a half hours. Maybe they could even go out for dinner somewhere to celebrate the first night of their new life.
“Alright, see you soon,” Finn said as he ended the call. He shot Clarke a semi-apologetic look and said, “Baby, don’t hate me, but Cage wants to meet up and talk about some work stuff. You know that’s important.”
She sighed heavily, knowing it was. But it still sucked that, on her first night in a brand new city, brand new state, she was going to be alone. “Okay,” she said, reluctantly accepting that Finn’s job was going to have to be a big priority, especially since she didn’t yet have one lined up.
“Okay.” He moved in close to her, put his hand beneath her chin, and tilted her head up so he could give her a kiss. “Thank you for understanding.”
“I’ll just do some unpacking while you’re gone,” she decided.
“I won’t be out long,” he promised. “He wants to meet up a couple blocks away. I’m just gonna walk. Should be back by 9:00.”
In Finn time, that meant at least 9:30. She wasn’t exactly sure how she was going to pass the time until then. Maybe she’d give her friends a call, let them know that she and Finn had actually done it. They’d left Arkadia. Monty and Maya would be surprised, but at least they wouldn’t be angry like her mom would be. Jasper would just be proud.
For about half an hour after her boyfriend had left, Clarke busied herself with unpacking. She first set out her guitar, leaning it against the corner walls of their bedroom. Then she laid out their sleeping bag and pillows, hoping the floor wouldn’t be too uncomfortable for a night or two. Thankfully, Finn had packed plenty of snacks—crackers and chips and granola bars, mostly—so she munched on a few things as she unpacked their clothes and hung them up in the closet. There was only one closet, and it was right by the front door, but at least it was spacious enough for both of them to share.
The mouse reappeared right when she was debating whether or not to set out a picture of herself, her mom, and her dad; even though she didn’t like the pesky little critter, Clarke wasn’t about to be some helpless girl who climbed up on the counter and squealed in horror until it went away. She grabbed a clear plastic bowl—one of the few bowls they’d packed—and chased after the mouse, quickly sensing that it was more scared of her than she was of it. She managed to get close enough to slam the bowl down on top of it, but the determined little mouse struggled and pawed against the sides, like it was trying to get out. Clarke sat there with both hands pressing down on the bowl, afraid that it would get loose if she let up. She really didn’t want to kill it. She just wanted to keep it trapped there until Finn got home. Then he could toss it over the balcony or something.
Using her feet to pull her half-empty duffle bag closer, she reached inside with one hand and took out one of her Harry Potter books. Placing that on top of the bowl, she felt like that would be heavy enough to keep it down and keep the mouse imprisoned, so she sat back and sighed tiredly. All this unpacking was kind of wearing her out.
She thought about going into the bedroom and curling up on that sleeping bag for a while, but that seemed impossible when, all of a sudden, a tremendous shouting and yelling arose from next door. She couldn’t make out much of what was being said, but it was loud.
Oh, no, she thought, bracing herself for another disappointment about this place. Had they gotten stuck with lousy neighbors? Were the people next door going to start throwing vases at each other or, worse, throwing punches? Was that cop car down the street going to have to pull up here next?
She heard a door slam, followed seconds later by a persistent, loud knocking. A male’s deep, gruff voice seemed to be saying, “Come on, let me in,” and for some reason, curiosity got the best of Clarke. She got up, creeping closer to her door, and pressed her ear against it, being nosy.
“Bree!” the guy shouted. “Come on, you can’t just lock me out of my own apartment!”
“Leave me alone!” the girl next door screeched.
Sounded like a break-up. Must’ve been a pretty bad one. Clarke tried to look out her peephole and see if she could catch a glimpse of what this obnoxiously loud neighbor man looked like, but it was so dirty, she couldn’t see a thing.
Hesitantly, she opened up her door, stepping out into the hallway with a feeling of uncertainty. Whatever was going on was none of her business, and in a city like this, it was probably best to just not get involved.
The guy next door had dark, olive skin and dark, messy hair to go along with it. His biceps bulged beneath the sleeves of his black t-shirt as he continued to pound on the door. When he glanced over at Clarke, he apologized, “Sorry,” and then continued to slam his fist against the door insistently. “Bree, let me in! This is my place!”
“Fuck you, Bellamy!” Clarke overheard the woman shout back. She thought it was best to just slip back inside her own apartment and let them hash it out themselves, so that was what she did. Or at least what she started to do. She didn’t close the door all the way, though.
“Just let me get my keys then,” the guy—Bellamy—implored. “I gotta get to work.”
“Screw you!” was the girl’s reply.
“Bree, please . . .” he begged.
Clarke heard him sigh heavily in defeat, and she kind of felt bad for him. His girlfriend sounded like a major bitch.
Close the door, she told herself, not sure why she hadn’t done so already. The last thing she needed was to get caught up in some other couple’s dramatic domestics, especially when she didn’t know them and didn’t know if it could turn violent.
Despite what her mind was telling herself to do, her hands had other ideas. She pulled open the door again and slipped back out into the hallway. “Is everything okay?” she asked the man.
“It’s fine,” he—Bellamy--muttered, but clearly it wasn’t fine. He leaned back against the wall, shut his eyes, and shook his head.
You don’t know him, Clarke reminded herself. He’s a stranger. But she and Finn didn’t know anybody in town except for his cousin, and . . . she supposed it couldn’t hurt to be on speaking terms with her neighbor. “Do you need a ride to work?” she offered, and those weren’t the words she’d meant to come out of her mouth. Those were the kind of words she could speak in small town Arkadia, where she knew everyone and where everyone knew her, not the kind of words she should be saying in a city with a high crime rate.
For a second, Bellamy looked to be considering it, but then he said, “No, it’s not that far. I can just walk or try to catch the subway. I won’t be that late.”
She nodded, but still . . . she was willing to help. “I can drive you,” she said, figuring that she had her pepper spray in her purse. This guy didn’t give off creepy killer vibes, but just in case . . .
“Really?” He sounded surprised that a girl he didn’t even know would take a chance on him.
“Yeah. Just give me a minute.” She slipped back inside, shut the door, and took a breath to steady herself. What the hell was she doing giving a ride to a stranger? Probably hoping that, by the time she dropped him off, they wouldn’t be strangers anymore, and she could be on her way to making her first friend—or at the very least, acquaintance—in this big city.
She grabbed her purse and took her keys out of it, double-checking it for her pepper spray. Yep, there it was, easily within reach. Maya had given that to her last year back when they’d both been planning on going to college. That and a rape whistle, since college campuses were notorious for that sort of thing.
When Clarke headed back out into the hallway, Bellamy was still standing there, waiting for her. “Thanks,” he said. “You don’t have to.”
“It’s no problem,” she said, struggling to get her door locked. It wasn’t just Finn’s key that was the problem; it had to be the whole damn lock. Finally, she got it, though, and said, “Let’s go,” leading the way down the hallway. Bellamy followed a couple steps behind her, hands in his pockets. He stayed behind her as they headed down the stairs, but when she walked around the drunk man, he stopped and helped him to his feet. “Hey, go upstairs, Dale. Sleep it off,” he said. “You alright?”
The man nodded dazedly and stumbled up a couple steps, mumbling, “Thanks, Bellamy,” as he went.
Oh, yeah, he’s not a bad guy, Clarke thought, feeling a little more relaxed. Bad guys wouldn’t waste any time on their drunk neighbors.
When they got out to the parking lot, his eyes widened in shock as she led the way to her blue vintage Cadillac. He didn’t seem to think they were at the right vehicle at first, because he asked, “This is yours?”
“Yeah,” she said sheepishly. She was well aware what a fancy car it was and how it stuck out like a sore thumb in this parking lot full of dilapidated trucks and other junkers.
“Wow,” he said, smoothing his hand over the hood. “It’s nice.”
“It was a gift,” she said, climbing into the driver’s seat.
“Top down, seat back, rollin’ in my Cadillac,” he mumbled, shaking his head in amazement as he got in on the passenger’s side.
“Where do you work?” she asked him as she started the car.
“Grounders,” he replied.
She just nodded, as if she had any idea what or where that place was, but clearly he saw through the façade.
“I’ll tell you where to go,” he said, leaning back in the seat, draping his arm over the side of the car.
“Okay.” She hoped it was easy to get to, because she couldn’t deny being a little intimidated by driving around in New York City for the first time. There was so much traffic, and just because Finn had been able to handle it fine, that didn’t mean she could. She was used to gravel roads and roads with no traffic lights. This was a major change.
She turned on the radio once they got out on the streets, keeping it low enough that she could hear all his directions. Bellamy told her what lane she had to be in, when to turn, and assured her that it was perfectly normal for other drivers to be honking at her. New York was full of angry people.
“You must be new in town,” he remarked as they drove down a busy street at a fairly decent pace.
“How could you tell?” she asked. Did she stick out like a sore thumb just like her car did?
“You’re driving with the hood down,” he said.
“Do people here not drive with the hood down?”
“Not really,” he said. “You’re breathing in some of the most polluted air in the country.”
She wrinkled her nose, thinking that . . . yeah, it did smell kind of bad.
“Plus, I can just tell,” he said. “So where you from?”
“Uh, Kansas,” she replied, and it wouldn’t have been at all surprising if he had no idea where that was.
“So you’re pretty much Dorothy and this is the Land of Oz?” he surmised.
She laughed a little. “Pretty much.”
“Well, I’ll tell you one thing: There’s no wizards here.”
She glanced over at him curiously, but his freckled face was looking off in the other direction now.
A song Clarke didn’t even recognize came on the radio—some hardcore rap thing—and she felt embarrassed when Bellamy started mouthing the words, because she didn’t know any of them. She was so accustomed to country. Even though it wasn’t her favorite genre of music, it was the only genre that played over the loudspeakers at her high school’s football games, the only genre that the DJ had played at homecoming and prom. It was everywhere there and nowhere here.
“So what’s your name?” Bellamy finally asked.
She’d sort of forgotten that she hadn’t yet told him. “Clarke.”
“Clarke,” he echoed. “I’m Bellamy.”
“Yeah, I know,” she said. “I . . . heard.”
He shook his head frustratedly, apologizing again. “Sorry about that.”
“Is she your girlfriend?”
“Who, Bree?” He made a face. “No, she’s just . . .” He trailed off, shaking his head some more. “She’s a bitch.”
Clarke’s eyebrows shot upward.
“I mean, not like . . . not like in a derogatory way,” he clarified. “She’s just a bitch to be around sometimes. She freaks out.”
“What’d you do to make her so mad?” Clarke inquired, not that it was any of her business.
“I don’t even know.” He rubbed his forehead, then shrugged carelessly. “I don’t care.”
So he’s not a bad guy, Clarke deduced, but he doesn’t exactly seem to be Mr. Sensitive, either. Maybe it was all just a front and he actually liked this Bree girl more than he let on. Some guys could be blind to their own feelings. Hell, it’d taken Finn until his junior year to realize he had a thing for her.
It didn’t take more than a few minutes to get to Bellamy’s workplace. Grounders, as it turned out, was short for Grounders Bar and Nightclub. Bellamy was muscled but a little too small to be a bouncer, so Clarke figured he was probably a bartender or DJ or something.
“Well, thanks,” he said, getting out of the car.
“Yeah, no problem.” Now she just had to try to find her way back home. “Do you need someone to come pick you up later then, or . . .”
“No, I’ll find a ride home,” he said, shutting the door. “Thanks, though.” He smiled at her a bit, then hustled inside. And that was that.
Clarke looked around, trying to remember how many turns she’d taken to get here. It probably would have been smart to have him tell her the address of the Mount Weather complex before he left, just so that she could program it into her GPS. But she had a general idea of what direction she’d come from, so as long as she headed back that way, she figured she’d make it.
About to back out onto the street—which seemed like an impossible task given all this traffic—she glanced in her rearview mirror. And her eyes caught sight of something across the street, so she twisted around to get a better look at it.
There was a restaurant called Dropship. And in the window was a Help Wanted sign.
Well. Any job was better than nothing.
It was nearly 10:00 by the time Finn got home. Clarke sat at the counter, eating away at the pizza she’d had delivered for the two of them. It was pretty cold now, and with no microwave to warm it up . . . well, whatever. Finn was one of those weirdos who preferred cold pizza to warm pizza anyway.
He had to slam his body against the door again to get it to open, but he didn’t appear frustrated with it at all as he came inside with a big grin on his face. “Hey,” he said. “You’re still up.”
“Yep.” She’d been busy since dropping Bellamy off at the nightclub, productive. She’d gotten everything unpacked that she could, but there were some things that they were going to need shelves and tables for. And a couch. God, they needed a couch so badly. They needed so many things, including a mousetrap, because that pesky little critter had somehow escaped by the time she had gotten home.
“Did you have fun?” she asked him.
“Ah, you know.” He shrugged and walked over to the refrigerator, opening it up like he expected there to be something in there. But when he caught a whiff of how bad it smelled, he quickly closed it again.
“I don’t know, actually,” she told him. “I don’t know your cousin all that well. What’s he’s like?”
“Cage? Oh, he’s awesome,” Finn boasted. “You’ll like him.”
Clarke sincerely hoped she would. They’d put a lot of faith in Finn’s cousin when they’d decided to move out here. It was Cage who had planted the idea in Finn’s head in the first place, Cage who promised to have a job lined up for him, Cage who had assured them that he would help them feel at home here no matter what.
“So you guys just hung out at his place then?” Clarke inquired.
“Yeah. Well, then he took me out for some drinks,” Finn replied. “They didn’t even card me. Guess I look old enough.”
“Huh.” Clarke wondered if she looked twenty-one, or if she still looked like she was in high school.
“What’d you do?” Finn asked her.
“Oh, I, uh . . .” She looked around, wishing it looked like she’d done more. She really hadn’t sat down much since returning home, but now here she was, sitting at the counter, stuffing her face with pizza, probably looking lazy as fuck. “I unpacked everything I could,” she said, “and then I just . . .” She trailed off, debating whether or not she should tell him that she’d made her first friend—sort of—in New York. She definitely didn’t want him to find out down the line, though, and think she was keeping something from him, so she told him the truth. “Well, I met our neighbor, and then I gave him a ride to work.”
Finn frowned. “Some guy you don’t even know?”
“Well . . . no.” That just sounded stupid, and she wasn’t a stupid person.
“Because this isn’t Arkadia, Clarke,” Finn cautioned. “You can’t be so trusting with people here.”
“So you gave a ride to a guy you don’t know or trust?”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, when you say it like that . . .”
“You gotta be careful, Clarke,” he warned.
“I was. I am,” she insisted. “Look, he was harmless, and I had my pepper spray with me. You know, since I didn’t have my boyfriend with me.” She hadn’t meant to say that last part out loud, but . . . well, there it was.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked.
“No.” She really didn’t want to fight, especially not their first night here, so she stood up and walked towards him, putting her hands on his chest, leaning into him. “No, I’m not mad. I’m just kinda . . . stressed, I think, because . . . we’re here, great, but . . .” She looked around, feeling sort of overwhelmed by the emptiness. “We hardly have anything. We’re starting from scratch here.”
“We have a roof over our head,” he pointed out. “We have each other. And I’m gonna start work soon.”
“Hopefully I will, too,” she said. “I already put in an application at this restaurant called Dropship.”
“See? We’ll be fine then,” Finn said. “And I know it’s kinda . . . sparse in here right now . . .”
“Understatement,” she mumbled.
He rubbed his hands up and down her back and sides, almost like he was trying to smooth the tension out of her. “Cage said there’s a thrift store a couple blocks north of here. We can go there tomorrow, get a whole bunch of stuff for cheap. And he’s got some stuff he’s willing to give us.”
She breathed a sigh of relief, glad that they weren’t completely alone here, at least. If Finn’s cousin could start up his own advertising agency here, then surely she and Finn could be successful, too. Waitressing or whatever she ended up doing for work . . . it would just be a temporary job.
On the counter, her cell phone rang, and she recognized her mother’s ringtone. Well, it’d only taken her twenty-two hours, but finally, she’d called. Clarke had a feeling it’d be a heated conversation, possibly full of accusations, and she really wasn’t in the mood to deal with that right now. So she let the phone ring and kissed her boyfriend instead. She didn’t intend to take it any further than kissing until he shoved his hands down the back of her jeans and pulled her hips into his, pressing her body against the slight bulge in his pants.
“Right here?” she asked.
Well . . . it was as good of place as any, she supposed, for their first time in their new apartment. It was pretty much either here or on the sleeping bag.
Finn moved at a brisk pace after that, unfastening his jeans and pushing them down along with his boxers. Clarke took her shirt off and reached behind her back to unclasp her bra, but before she could, he was spinning her around and urging her towards the counter again. She took off her jeans, stepping out of them, and barely had time to bend over and spread her legs before she heard him tear open the condom. He rolled it on quickly, grabbed her hips, and positioned himself behind her after pushing her panties to the side. Seconds later, he was inside her, and she was holding onto the edge of the counter when he started moving insistently right from the start.
“Yeah,” he growled, and his voice got lower the way it always did when he fucked her. He didn’t bother to take things slow, which, she supposed, was fine, because she was tired and didn’t exactly have the energy for some long, drawn-out lovemaking tonight anyway. The downside of such a quickie, of course, was that, even though he came within a couple minutes, she was left hanging.
A few hours later, after Finn had polished off the rest of the pizza and she’d taken her first bath in her new bathroom, they lay in their jumbo sleeping bag together. Finn was on his side, facing her, sleeping soundly, but Clarke couldn’t quite nod off. She fell asleep for a few minutes here, a few minutes there, then always woke up again. Not because she wasn’t tired—no, she definitely was. But because she wasn’t used to not sleeping in a bed. A queen-sized bed, to be exact. She wasn’t used to this room, wasn’t used to all the sounds she could hear outside: sirens, music, traffic, voices.
As she lay there on her back, trying to fall asleep during what she could only assume to be about 3:00 a.m., she heard new sounds join the fray. And those sounds were coming from next door. Sounded like Bellamy and his girlfriend again, except they weren’t fighting this time. Quite the opposite, actually. Now, it seemed like they were making up. She heard lots of moaning and groaning and gasping and grunting. She heard a mattress squeaking and a headboard hitting the wall. How Finn slept through it all was a mystery.
Clarke’s eyes opened, and she couldn’t help but . . . listen. It was hard not to when that Bree girl was shouting things like, “Oh, fuck yes!” and “Fuck, Bellamy! Put it in me.”
Great, Clarke thought. Now, she was going to get to try to fall asleep to a symphony of sex sounds tonight.
She pressed her pillow up over her ears, trying to muffle the noises, but she still heard more than she wanted to. Whatever problems Bellamy and his girlfriend had, whatever they’d been fighting about, they sure had gotten over it fast.