Chapter Six

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I push open the door of Amoeba Records and walk inside, coming to a dead stop three steps past the entrance. I was just looking for a decent indie record store when I found this place listed online, but this is more like some kind of music palace. There's way more vinyl than anywhere I used to sneak off to in Boston. Holy cow. This could take me all day.

Some guy who clearly knows where he's going brushes past me. Oh right. I'm blocking the door. I take a few more steps into the store, and then spot the signs hanging from the ceiling. Okay, good. I can find things here kind of like I can at the grocery store. I scan the signs until I see one for the rock section and head in that direction, breathing in the scent of the plastic album sleeves. It might be the best smell that exists in The Before. Not quite The Life-After, but this will do for a couple of hours.

I stop in front of one of the shelves, and then turn around to see what else is behind me. That's when a blond head one row over catches my eye. There's only one person standing in that row, and his hair looks mighty familiar. Hmmm.

I tiptoe closer, watching as the guy I've spotted plucks an album out from one of the racks to examine the cover. It's definitely Riley, unless he has a twin brother. I try to get a closer look at the album in his hands, and then have to smother a laugh when I realize what he's holding. I wouldn't have pegged him for a fan of Top 40 tween pop.

I take a step toward him, thinking about appearing at his side and teasing him about what his favorite song on the album is. Then I stop, another thought crossing my mind. I can have way more fun with this.

I quietly move to stand by a nearby wall, concealing myself behind a rack of magazines. After I dig my phone out of my purse, I find the number he gave me last night and tap out a text message.

It's Cassidy. You said to get in touch if there's an emergency, and there's definitely an emergency. Send. I hear a quiet chiming sound a second later.

I watch him put the album down and reach into his pocket to pull out his phone. He glances at the screen and frowns, then starts typing. I look down at my phone to make sure I have the sound turned off.

His message appears on my screen a second later. Where are you? Are you okay?

I clamp a hand over my mouth to keep from laughing out loud. Once I'm sure I have it under control, I remove my hand and type a reply.

I'm fine. Your taste in music might need a 911 call, though. I send the message and look over at him, waiting to see his face when he reads it.

His phone chimes again and he raises it closer to his face to see the screen. He jerks his head to the left and then to the right, squinting when he looks at the far end of the store.

"Behind you," I say, stepping out from my hiding spot by the magazine rack. He turns around. I can't keep the grin off of my face when he shoots me a dark look.

"Not funny. I thought you were in trouble."

"Nope. I'm here to rescue you this time, from your tragic taste in music." I point at the album he's put down. "Tweeny girl pop on vinyl? Here I had you as more of an alt-indie kind of guy."

"It's for my niece." I can tell he's trying to keep a sour expression, but the corners of his lips twitch up into a smile.

"Well then, she's lucky to have an uncle who'd risk being spotted with that. It could ruin a guy, you know."

"Impressed now, are you?" he asks. I can see he's trying not to laugh.

"Don't let it go to your head."

"I wouldn't dream of it." He slings his arm around my shoulder, turning me in the direction of the cash register at the front of the store. Just like last night, a tingling feeling spreads through me at his touch. It makes me dizzy.

Once he pays for the album, he steers me out of the store. I'm not really sure where we're going, but he's not telling me adios or anything, so I go with it.

"That was rude, you know," I tell him.

"What was?"

"Cutting my shopping trip short. You didn't even ask if I was finished looking around." He looks at me, probably to see if I'm serious. The expression on his face makes it impossible not to laugh.

"Damsel in distress one night, and a sarcastic pain in the you-know-what less than twenty-four hours later," he mutters. "How exactly do I keep running into you?"

"You're just one incredibly lucky guy." I punch him lightly on the shoulder, and I swear I hear him grunt.

"Lucky isn't really the word I'd use." He tries to sound grumpy, but I can tell he's amused. He seems more relaxed than last night, anyway.

"How old is your niece?" I ask, letting him lead me down the street.

"She'll be seven soon." I can tell from the look on his face that he adores her.

"How are you old enough to have a seven-year-old niece?"

"Maybe I'm actually fifty." He arches an eyebrow at me.

"Maybe your student card told me your real age." I arch an eyebrow back at him. I already know he turned nineteen last month. "So back to my question."

"I'm the baby in the family, and my niece is my older sister's daughter. Want to grab lunch with me?" He stops walking, so I do, too. I look up and see we're standing beside the patio of a café.

"Eating is always good. What is this place?"

He puts his hands on my shoulders, turning me toward the door. "It's my secret hideaway. Best panini in Hollywood."

The interior of the café looks like it could be someone's house circa the 1950s, except for the deli case and antique cash register. I follow Riley to the counter, noticing the worn look of the dark wood surface.

He takes a menu from a holder on the counter and hands it to me. I open it, but have to strain to read the tiny print on the page. For such a small place, the sandwich selection is almost ridiculously big.

"The apple one," he says.

"Hmm?" I shift my gaze up to him.

"The panini with apples and brie." He points at the middle of the menu. "You can't go wrong if you like apples, or even if you think you don't."

"You like apples, I take it?" I wonder if he knows how earnest his face is right now. Probably not.

"I'm a guy. I like pretty much anything."

"Ha. Very true." I read the description and have to admit it sounds good. I'll get it, but not because he suggested it.

"What do you want to drink?"

"Whatever's on tap," I say. He looks me up and down, frowning. I can tell he's trying to decide if I'm joking.

"Are you even old enough to drink?" he finally asks. "You look like you're sixteen."

"I'm seventeen, actually. Eighteen on Saturday."

"And still not even close to being old enough to order drinks," he finishes without missing a beat. "Neither am I, for that matter."

"You're no fun at all, are you?" I pretend to make a face at him and he chuckles.

"Why do I get the feeling you're kind of a handful?" I can't deny that, but he doesn't need to know. Before I can come up with a good answer, the cashier finishes with the person in front of us and asks to take our order. I get the apple and brie panini and an iced tea, and Riley orders the same thing.

"Copycat," I tell him.

"Great minds think alike." He takes a wire stand with our order number on it from the cashier, and then we head outside to the patio. Our iced teas are brought over by a waiter almost as soon as we sit down.

"So, eighteen this weekend," Riley muses, leaning back in his chair. "You must have big plans for celebrating?"

"Nope." I take a sip of my iced tea.

"So that means your family is coming to town and you're keeping it tame."

He's teasing me, but he wouldn't be if he knew my family. "Nope," I say again.

I can tell he wants to ask me another question. It's time to make something up before he can start digging.

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