I - Paige
The evening air was frosty. Breath hung suspended in thin white clouds, coloured orange by a low winter sun. It made Paige think of smoke, of cigarette smoke. She needed another.
She slid a numbing hand into a tight jeans pocket and pulled out a battered white packet. Her hands shook slightly from the cold as she opened it and carefully drew out a slightly dented cigarette. The packet was slid back into place and then the other hand mirrored its partner and withdrew a lighter. It took three flicks to light and then she was inhaling, exhaling; release.
A light fog was rolling up the street towards the apartments. She could see it weaving its way through the cemetery down the hill, caressing the gravestones, shot through with sunset rays caught on bare branches. The sound of evening traffic was fading away. A dog barked from one of the apartments upstairs. A teenager had left a window open and the sound of a guitar band spilled down on top of her. Inhale. Exhale. Release.
Her hands were getting colder. She could feel the chill sinking into the bone and the numbness following behind it. She could feel the soft breeze stinging her eyes. Patches of frost dotted the car park. It would be warm inside, but... Inhale. Exhale. Release.
She dropped the butt to the paving slab at her feet and stamped it out hurriedly before shuffling through the half-open door into the relative warmth of the hallway. The door clicked shut loudly, echoing down the corridor and up the stairwell, announcing her presence to every flat in the building. She could almost hear the ears at the doors, waiting for drama, hearts beating so fast, ready for each word, each shout, each scream and all because there was nothing better on the television tonight. She hated it, but there was nowhere else to go, not tonight anyway. Maybe tomorrow.
Her footsteps sounded flat and empty, ghostlike, as she made her way back up three flights of stairs to the apartment past industrial beige walls and bubble gum blue graffiti. The evening cries of a baby stabbed through from the second floor and as the door to the third floor came into view Paige began to feel sick.
She collapsed against the wall at the top of the stairs, taking deep breaths. Her chest felt tight, her stomach was aching, there was a lump forming in her throat she couldn't just swallow away. She needed another cigarette.
Ignoring the door she walked over to the edge of the stairwell and looked down. She felt dizzy, a swirling vertigo that had nothing to do with heights. More to do with depths, she would have thought, not physical ones, but emotional, mental; the depths a soul can sink to. The tightening in her chest increased. She wanted to cry. She couldn't.
She made the journey back down the stairs look almost graceful. She could have run, but that would have made too much noise, attracted more attention and she was sick of all that. She wanted her personal sins to remain private. That one other person, the one person she had tried so hard to keep them from, now knew them so intimately was bad enough, she didn't need others to work it out.
So when she pushed through the doors to the ground floor corridor with a soft squeak and found the young man leaning against the wall opposite, she felt her heart leap into her mouth.
"Evening." He said casually as she passed on her way to the door once again.
She nodded, trying not to show any of her turmoil, not to draw him into any conversation which might force it out of her. He drifted out of the corners of her eyes, a vague shadow blurring to nothingness, and then she felt the icy air once more and let the frozen mist wash over her. It had spread so quickly. It always did. As fine a metaphor for her attempts to conceal one lie, then another, as nature could ever summon up. The thought raised a weak smile. Her fingers worked their skeletal little dance once more and then it was Inhale, exhale-
"A bit cold for that isn't it?"
She nearly choked. The young man had pushed through the door behind her so stealthily, she hadn't noticed at all, and now he stood beside her, his air condensing as he spoke in hot little clouds of moisture. She shivered, took a calming breath and ignored him.
He fumbled about in a denim jacket pocket and pulled out his own packet of cigarettes. His hands were steady, she noticed, although she kept drawing her eyes away from those masculine young fingers, knowing that in their confidence they held only more guilt.
"Mind if I join you?" He said at last, holding the cigarette towards her. She blinked, then realised she still held her lighter in one hand. She half shrugged, half nodded and then raised the light to his mouth. He took a long drag and then exhaled playfully. She could see the addiction in his pale blue eyes.
They stood in silence as the mist thickened around them and the golden evening hues faded through purple dusk to dark blue night and the cemetery faded out of sight. It suddenly seemed very quiet.
"You look tense." He was looking at her now, not just smoking companionably but engaging her. It made her uncomfortable. She didn't reply.
"I... uh. I noticed you were out before. Saw you from my window." She shivered again, her hands shaking as the cold resumed its steady march through her bones. "You looked really lost, you know. I just thought you might like some company."
Paige couldn't help but laugh. Then she ripped the cigarette, half finished, from her lips and stamped it out beside the others. She had made quite a pile this evening.
"That's the sort of invitation that got me into this mess in the first place." She turned to face him. He looked so earnest, but also sad. It didn't matter. "You're too young for me, so... good night."
Turning she pulled open the door cone more and made to go inside. His hand gripped her arm suddenly.
"You deserve better than him, you know that? I've watched the two of you. You should- you should leave him." Such a tight grip, it almost hurt, but not as much as it would later on, if she followed through.
"And run off with you, perhaps?" She gave a wry smile. "You're still a boy. Life isn't that simple. You'll learn." She shook her arm free. "Good night."
The lights hadn't come on in the hallway. Paige wasn't surprised. Power cuts were common, although more usually after storms. She wondered if the power station had been hit. It didn't matter though, she could find her way upstairs without any light. It was a worn old path already. As she listened to the silence and the punctuation marks of her footsteps, she couldn't help but feel sorry for the boy she had abandoned at the door. It would have been fun, but then, there was always tomorrow.
II - ???
He had watched the lights fade, first the sunlight, then the street lamps. The power cut had flickered across the apartment complex in a small wave, pools of sodium-lit fog vanishing into darkness. The old mausoleum had stood alone for a second, lit by the last of the lamps, and then it too had gone.
He had stared out the window for a few minutes afterwards before making his way into his kitchen, rummaging through the dark for the candles and matches and then lighting them, with the precision of ritual, and placing them around his flat.
He pulled a book from the book case, lay down on his sofa so that the candle on the coffee table gave sufficient light to read by, pulled a blanket over his legs and began to read.