The front page headline was the same as it had been for the past three weeks. I couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. Yet, I felt an unbearable pull towards the newsletter. Maybe, I thought, maybe there will be something new today; maybe they found him. Hope is a silly thing, but it’s been my only fuel for the last few weeks. I picked up the newsletter and skimmed through it, landing on the article with a detailed description about his disappearance.
“Hey lady, are you going to buy that?” The man behind the newsletter kiosk glared at me. “You can’t read it if you don’t buy it.”
I sighed, taking out the money my mother had given me to buy milk. “How much?”
The man stared greedily as I sorted through the coins in my hands. “5 bronze.”
“5 bronze? That’s insane!”
“I don’t make the prices, lady.”
“Fine,” I said, handing the coins to the man. I only had 3 bronze left for milk. My mother was going to kill me. I took my overpriced newsletter and walked away from the kiosk before the man decided to up the price any further.
Sitting on a nearby bench, I opened to the article once again. The top of the page was his school picture from last year. It wasn’t the most accurate picture of him, but it served its purpose. His wild brown hair was combed neatly back, his hazel eyes typically bursting with life seemed bored, and his beautiful half smile - the one that I chose to believe he kept secretly for me - was clearly forced. The picture seemed like a parody of his appearance. It showed his full lips, but not the way they moved when he told me he loved me. It depicted his square jaw, but not the way it felt to run my fingers along the harsh lines. Yes, the picture was of him, but it was not him. And I missed him.
I gasped as I read the title below the picture. ‘17 Year Old Nikolai Rey Missing for 3 Weeks; Declared Dead.’ My heart sunk at the words ‘Declared Dead’, and I hoped that it was because the police had been too lazy to continue searching. But as I read the subtitle, I realized laziness had nothing to do with it. ‘Body found at nearby river is believed to have belonged to Nikolai Rey.’
I closed the article without reading any further. I could not stomach the thought of Nikolai being dead. I admit I had wanted news, but not this kind of news. There was no way I could continue reading this article, at least not now. I sat on the bench for what seemed like an hour. Thoughts ran through my head, and memories grabbed at my heart, pulling it apart into bits and pieces. I held back my tears, knowing that they were useless. It hadn’t been as if I’d never considered this fate, but I always pushed the thought away.
How could Nikolai be dead? I asked myself the same question over and over, but to no avail.
Once the sun began to set, I realized that I needed to snap out of whatever trance the heartbreaking news had put me in.I checked my watch. It was almost curfew. If Nikolai were here, he would not want me staying out past curfew and risking my life over something so stupid. He loved risks, but not unnecessary ones.
I shook my head, still in disbelief over his disappearance, and stood up. I was about to head home when I realized that I had forgotten to buy milk. I checked my watch. I had fifteen minutes until nine. If I came home empty handed, I would have lost my mother’s trust, and she’d have to send Milo next time. But there was no way I was letting my thirteen year old brother leave the house at this hour.
I stuffed the newsletter into my bag and ran as fast as I possibly could to the market. I was closer than I thought; it only took three minutes.
The bell rang as I opened the door to the deserted market. I was the only customer inside. Everyone else was on their way home. Breaking curfew was dangerous, and though nobody knew what would happened if one did, no one was curious enough to find out. The store clerk looked at me as if I were crazy. I had no time to worry about his judgment.
I walked quickly to the back of the store and grabbed three cartons of milk. It was all I could buy with three bronze. As I headed to the checkout, the clerk kept staring at me. It was making me uncomfortable. I placed the milk on the counter.
“That will be 4 bronze.”
“4 bronze? But it was only 3 bronze last week!”
“The prices are up again. If you have a problem, take it up with the government.” He laughed, and I glared. Taking anything up with the government was unheard of.
“I only want two cartons then. Please.” I placed the remaining three bronze on the counter, while the clerk bagged the cartons.
“You should get going, Curfew Enforcers start patrolling in less than 7 minutes. Unless you have a worker’s permit, that is. But you don’t seem old enough.” He was trying to be helpful, but his tone of superiority annoyed me.
“Thanks,” I mumbled, grabbing the bag off the counter.
I left the store and hurried home, aware that there was no one else on the street. I hadn’t been out this late in a while, and I forgot how creepy it was. I turned the corner to the street that led to my house, and I noticed a figure lurking in the distance.
I gulped and checked my watch. I had one minute left. I walked quickly, hoping to not alarm the enforcer, but he seemed to notice me. I could sense his footsteps falling into place behind me. I hasted my pace, and I noticed him beginning to run. I checked my watch. It was nine. My house was only a few yards away. But so was the Curfew Enforcer.
I held on tightly to the milk so that it wouldn’t fall, and ran to my house. I reached into my bag and took out the keys just as the enforcer began to reach me.
“Hey!” he yelled. I didn’t answer. I was too focused on inserting the key into the lock. My hands trembled with fear and made the seemingly simple task unnecessarily difficult. “Stop!” he yelled again. I managed to get the key into the lock and turned the knob. He was a foot behind me when I opened the door and stepped inside, closing the door on his face. I leaned my back against the wall and sighed. That was close. I could hear him grunting through the door, and mutter a selection of curse words. It was every Curfew Enforcer’s dreams to catch an outlaw. With nothing to do at night, their job became boring. Any opportunity to spice it up was always welcomed.
“Kia?” My mother’s voice called out from the kitchen. “Is that you?”
“Yes, mom. I got your milk.” And almost got killed in the process, I added in my head. Just like Nikolai. I gagged at the thought. Stupid brain.
I headed to the kitchen and placed the milk on the counter.
“Two cartons? But I gave you enough for eight!” She said, as she placed the milk into the fridge.
“The prices went up again,” I said, not wanting to tell her that I’d bought the newsletter. I’m sure she would have understood, had it not been so expensive.
“By 400%? That’s insane!”
“That’s what I said.”
She shook her head. “The amount of corruption in this government is appalling.”
“There’s no use in saying that. We can’t change a thing.”
“I suppose,” she sighed in reluctance. “Dinner’s on the table by the way. Milo and I ate already.” She seemed tired as she turned to go.
“Mom,” I called after her. She turned back. “How’s dad?”
“He’s doing better. The doctors think he’ll be ok,” she paused, sighing. “Eventually,” she muttered under her breath in so low a tone that I almost didn’t hear her.
She smiled sadly and left. I was alone in the kitchen. I took off my bag and placed it in the seat beside me. Sitting at at the table, I unwrapped the fettuccine my mother had left me. It looked delicious, but I wasn’t hungry. My bag, and its contents, taunted me maliciously. I yearned to see Nikolai’s face, even in that terrible picture. Even in that heart wrenching article. I reached for my bag and removed the newsletter. I shoved my uneaten fettuccine aside and placed the newsletter on the table.
I’d had a silly hope that maybe the article had changed, maybe I’d read the title wrong, maybe I’d misunderstood. But looking at the article, the title stood out as broad as daylight. There was no mistaking it. Nikolai had been declared dead, and there was a body to prove it. I stared at his photo for a while, before continuing on to the rest of the article. He was so beautiful, there was no denying it. All of the girls at school thought the same way. Nikolai Rey was a total heartthrob, my total heartthrob. He’d been my best friend before that, hanging out with Eli and I since the second grade. I knew all of the curves and crevices of his body better than I knew my own. I knew the dark secrets that he held in his stone heart, and the reason he’d turned so cold. Nikolai was no ray of sunshine, but he emitted an aura of spontaneity that nobody could resist.
I don’t know why he’d chosen me, or why he’d disappeared soon after. It made me wonder if maybe I wasn’t the only secret he was keeping from everybody. I pushed those thoughts away before I could get angry at him for something I only speculated. I continued to read the rest of the article.
Nikolai Rey, 17, disappeared on the 3rd of July. The police have been searching thoroughly for any traces of the boy, and have stumbled upon a body that seems to have belonged to the 17 year old. The body has been badly mutated and an identity will only be possible to achieve through the means of dental records. Whether or not the tests will be carried out will be decided by Rey’s family. The police have no suspects, and are labeling the case a suicide.
I stopped reading, shocked. A suicide? Nikolai would never have suicided. I may not have known some of his secrets, but I knew him. He was never that much of a coward. He wouldn’t leave his family behind. He wouldn’t leave me behind. I knew that. I was convinced of it. The article disgusted me. The police were just too lazy to do anything about the subject, and decided to rule it the only option that wouldn’t require work. I failed to see how a “badly mutated” body could have been the result of a suicide. There was no way Nikolai, or anyone for that matter, could have done that to themselves.
I closed the newsletter, unable to read anymore. I checked the watch on the kitchen wall. It was 9:27. I had thirty three minutes until the lights went out. Grabbing my bag, I headed upstairs to my room.
All surfaces of my room were covered in pink from a time where I felt left out for only hanging out with boys. Twelve year old girls could be pretty mean, and I thought that if maybe I acted more feminine, they’d accept me. They didn’t. Eventually I learned not to care, and Eli taught me to brush off their snide remarks as pure jealousy.
“They only wish they had best friends like me and Niko,” he would say. For a twelve year old, Eli was pretty insightful. He had always been there for me. When Nikolai had been having one of his bad days, and took his anger out on me, Eli had always stood up for me. He was the glue that kept us together, and he prided himself on that. Nikolai and I never told him about our relationship. We knew he would feel like the odd man out, no longer needed to keep his two best friends together. So we kept it a secret from him and from everyone else. To the world, Nikolai had only been my best friend. My heart contracted at the thought of how much more he had meant to me.
I took a quick shower and dressed for bed. The watch on my wall said it was ten minutes until ten. There was no time to do much else, so I laid in my bed and waited. I was glad that soon I would be rid of thoughts of Nikolai for the next eight hours, unaware of his presence in my life until I woke up. The bell sounded at precisely ten, as it did every night. Throughout the city, the lights turned off, as if there had been a city wide power failure. And as soon as the lights went out, so did the minds of every citizen in the west side.