Chapter Twenty-Three

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It's a good thing my glass of soda water is still on top of the bar, since I probably would have dropped it if I'd been holding it.

Breathe, I remind myself, focusing on getting air in and out of my lungs.

"Want to sit down at a table?" Riley asks. "I think John's band is on second, so we have a while."

I nod, not trusting my voice quite yet. I'm steady enough to pick up my glass from the counter, though, and to walk the few steps it takes to get to a table.

"When you go out with me, we go out in style," he smirks, examining the top of his stool before sitting down. I check my stool before sitting, too.

"This is a lot like a place in Boston where I used to go to see bands play." I raise the straw in my glass to my lips and take a drink.

"Did you go to a lot of shows when you lived there?"

"Only when I could find a way to sneak out of my aunt and uncle's house without them catching on to where I was going. My aunt wasn't a fan of me going to any concerts that weren't someone's piano recital or a night at the opera."

"Are you sure she wasn't just concerned about you being out somewhere that wasn't safe?"

I shake my head. "If it was anyone but my aunt, I might agree with you." I take another drink, sucking the soda water through my straw a little too quickly. Bubbles fizz in my mouth, making my eyes water. I try not to cough.

"I'll learn how to drink one of these days," I manage to sputter, wiping my eyes.

"I'm trying to picture you with a tequila shot," he says. Ah, we're back to this. That didn't take long.

"It would probably be a disaster," I tell him. He looks like he wants to disagree, and I can see mischief in the golden flecks in his eyes, but he takes my lead and veers away from where I think he was going with that.

"Did you like it in Boston?" he asks.

"It was okay," I answer. "I spent most of my life there, so mostly it was just familiar." I stir the ice cubes in my glass with my straw. "Have you ever been out there?"

"Where, Boston?"

"Boston, or the northeast."

"New York City is about it," he replies. "I went out there in my senior year, thinking I might go to college there. I wanted to see what it was all about."

"Did your parents take you?"

He shakes his head. "No. I went with..." His voice trails off, and I don't know if he realizes he's stopped mid-sentence or that he has a really strange look on his face. A few moments pass before he shakes himself out of it and starts talking again. "I went with a good friend," he finishes, looking down at his glass.

He went to New York with Amanda. It doesn't take a genius to figure that out. Leave it to me to ask the ultimate mood-killing question. Not that there is a mood, or is there?

Shut it, Noah, I think, before my chaperone can chime in. He does as he's told.

I look down at my glass, too, studying the ice cubes. There are probably tons of questions I could ask Riley right now to get him to stop thinking about Amanda, but not a single one comes to mind. I move my eyes away from the ice cubes and glance at the floor.

There's a white feather on the ground beside my stool—the second one I've seen tonight. My hand shoots out to grip the side of the table. I feel Riley's hand on my back, trying to steady me.

"Careful of these stools," he warns. "They're a little wobbly."

He thinks I'm gripping the table because I'm off-balance. I tear my eyes away from the feather and give him a grateful smile.

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