Tibo had never been good with after. He liked before. When something was over, he didn’t want to relive and rehash, keep things going or talk until morning. He wanted everything to go away and leave him in peace. Something cold and wet hit his cheek. He turned his face up to the night’s first snowflakes drifting down. Clean and brief, snowflakes. Uncomplicated, beautiful things.
He wanted to keep walking and not go back. He wanted to go back and apologize to Rolly, make him laugh again. He wanted…he wanted everything to stop for a bit. Today New York, in two days Boston, then Philadelphia and Baltimore and DC—the tours, the studio time, the practice, it never stopped.
Rolly got mad that he never practiced his emotional manipulation. He was supposed to be getting a handle on how much, how fast, but it always got away from him. In Detroit two months before, he’d collapsed on stage and it had nothing to do with dramatics. There was never any time to practice that part, and how was he supposed to anyway? Make everyone in Times Square cry?
Never any time. For anything. Somewhere in the whirlwind of the past few years, Tibo had realized he’d fallen in love and he didn’t have a spare breath or the courage to say it. Better that way, probably. He’d say it, Rolly would have to go through some awkward, painful rejection of him, and the band would break up. Even if he needed things to stop for a while, the band was his world. He couldn’t think of going on without them, without the music.
“Hey! Aren’t you…?”
Tibo scowled at the couple peering eagerly at him, a nymph boy and a human girl. “No.”
“But you are! You look just like Tibo Gle—”
“No. I get that all the time. Something about goblins all looking alike.” He shoved his hands in his coat pockets and pushed past them, not caring if he hurt their precious little feelings. Maybe he should have been gracious and friendly to fans, but his little basket of fucks to give was all empty that evening.
Despite his exhaustion and his aching head, Tibo kept walking, hunched down into his coat as the snow picked up, unaware of direction or distance. It was fucking cold. He should probably button his coat at least, but he didn’t. He just kept walking, as if his whirling brain might quiet that way, as if the world would make more sense if he walked far enough.
Finally, he stopped on a corner, no idea where he was. The buildings were older here, more like the neighborhood he’d grown up in. He tipped his head back to take in the building on his left with its broken fire escape and old, grimed windows. Shabby. Just like home.
He hadn’t sold out. He’d clawed his way out of the slums after a childhood of bullying, after losing his family, after being homeless more years than not while he was a teenager. Clawed, hissed, and crawled to get where he was. If those grannies had known the half of what he’d been through…
No one had ever given him a damn thing. No one. He’d made it and he sure as fuck didn’t want to look back. Of course he was a role model for poor goblin kids. Let them see that just because you were born gob, that wasn’t the end of it. You could climb up out of the filth and the fear.
Gods, he was tired. Even his fingernails hurt, though that might have been the cold. He dug in his coat pockets, searching for his phone. He better have the damn—oh, there. His chilled fingers closed around it in his inside pocket.
Better call a cab.
He turned on the phone to several missed texts from Sean, who somehow had found out that Tibo had left the hotel, and one from Rolly that he didn’t want to look at yet. Instead, he glanced up at the street signage. Madison and 126th Street. Damn it. He had wandered far. A quick search brought up a cab company he hoped would be willing to come out that way. It wasn’t like he had a chance to hail one on this corner at this time of night.
The streets were eerily quiet up this way. Cars passed, sure, but not the constant stream of mid-town. People were scarce, a few obviously hurrying home from night shifts, intent on their own routes, studiously minding their own business. That was why the goblin girl caught Tibo’s attention.
Across the street from him, she scurried. Every few feet, she risked a hurried glance over her shoulder before she rushed on again. Maybe eleven or twelve years old—what was she doing out so late? She reached the corner opposite, spotted him and froze. Tibo leaned against the light pole, trying to look small and non-threatening as he talked to the cab company who would come and get him for an outrageous fee.
I’m not scary. Come on, girl. Cross the road. It’ll at least put me between you and whatever’s after you.
She took one more harried look around, locked onto Tibo’s gaze, her black eyes wide and shining, and stepped off the curb toward him. The moment she was in the crosswalk, a black car careened around the corner. Tibo called out, hand outstretched helplessly as the car slammed into the girl. She bounced off the hood and flew several yards before hitting the pavement with a sickening crunch.
The car pulled around her motionless body and sped off.
That fucking bastard! Where did he come from anyway?
Phone held out, Tibo snapped what he hoped were images of the fleeing car, then cursed a blue storm as he ran to the girl sprawled on the pavement, his thumb already punching in 911. He slid to his knees beside her on the snow-slick road.
Her breaths wheezed and gurgled, but her eyes followed his movements. Unable to think what else to do, he stroked the wild black hair back from her forehead. “Hey, what’s your name, little one?”
She winced and coughed, but managed to whisper, “Shandilevinar Kass.”
“Okay, Shandi. It’s okay. Help’s coming. I’m gonna stay right here with you.”
A little smile tugged at her lips. “I know you. You’re Tibo Glent.”
The smile stayed, but her eyes closed, and abruptly, her tortured breaths stopped.