Chapter Two

2. Date Night

Conley Stuart checked the time at the bottom of his computer screen again. Yes, it really was 11:30, and no, Sirena hadn’t logged on to PeepMeet to chat yet. He frowned at the pop-up window from PeepMeet which kept showing at one minute intervals.

Ennui, Sirena has not accepted your invitation to chat. Your invitation has been ignored for 14 minutes. Would you like to make a connection, instead, with other single women in your area who are online right now and ready to chat?

Until tonight, he’d never seen this message. Sirena had always been on time for their scheduled chats. Under other circumstances, Conley would have been amused at the site’s urgency to hook him up with someone else.

Where is she? He wanted to surprise her tonight and invite her to meet him a week earlier than they had already agreed. He wanted to take her to a place on the outskirts of Pond Hollows dubbed the “Precipice” with the best view of the once-in-a-lifetime meteor shower scheduled around midnight that night.

To Conley, his plan to take their online relationship to the next level was foolproof and romantic. Never did he consider a girl might not feel comfortable, or safe, moving to a next-level which included an impromptu face-to-face encounter at one of the most secluded locales in all of Bonanza County. Alone, and in his parent’s basement, he stared at the computer screen. The only things that changed were the count of minutes Sirena hadn’t been responding and the time on the clock which now showed 11:37 PM.

Looks like I’m going without her. Conley used the “Shout-out” feature on PeepMeet to send Sirena a personal message. Don’t sound too desperate.

Hey, Sirena,

I thought you were going to be around tonight. Guess not. We’ll chat again soon, I hope. I’m going to watch the meteor shower and won’t be back for a while.

Later. Conley

I wish she’d join the twenty-first century already and get a cell phone. Conley waited two more minutes for Sirena before sighing and logging off. He crept upstairs into the kitchen to pilfer some snacks, being careful not to wake his parents. A bag of chips crinkled as Conley filched it from a cupboard.

“Going somewhere?” asked a woman, her voice barely louder than a whisper.

Conley jumped. His mother, Helen, was still up. As his eyes adjusted to the dim light, he could barely see a silhouette in the family room, sitting motionless in a rocking chair. Helen’s alert eyes focused on Conley. He felt like prey being tracked by an owl.

“Mom? What are you still doing up?”

“Okay, don’t laugh, but I watched another episode of Killer’s Instinct and it scared me so bad I can’t sleep.”

“You would think after the first time you couldn’t sleep you’d stop watching that show.”

“I know, but it’s so fascinating to try and understand why people would do such gruesome things.”

“I guess. Is Dad still awake? This morning he said he might stay up for the meteor shower.”

“Are you kidding? He’s been out for a couple of hours. Shows like that don’t faze him. He was snoring half-way into it. I told him to just go to bed because the episode was about a chain-saw massacre and every time he started snoring it made me jump. He’s snoring in there right now and all I hear is chainsaw, chainsaw, chainsaw. I don’t want to go back to bed, but I don’t like being out here all alone either.”

“Sorry I can’t keep you company. I’ve got to get going before I miss the meteor shower.”

“You’re going out—tonight? By yourself?”

Her question stung more than usual. “Yes Mom. By myself. All alone.”

“Hmmm… I don’t know, Conley. Do you really think that’s a good idea? It’s kind of late.”

“Mom, I’m nineteen. I really don’t need your permission. I’ll be fine. Don’t worry.”

Yeah right, Conley thought. Helen would worry. That’s what she did.

“Seriously, Mom, I’ll be okay. I’m going to watch it up on a hill.” He blurred the words “on a hill” together, hoping she wouldn’t pay close attention to the a. She didn’t.

“Oh, up on The Hill, with everyone else from school? I thought you were going to be by yourself. Well, alright then. Have fun, but be careful. There are a lot of crazy people out there, even here in Pond Hollows.”

The Precipice was a hill of sorts— a bluff towering hundreds of feet higher than the dumping grounds below it. He wouldn’t find any friends there, though. The no trespassing sign by the start of the service road to the Precipice deterred most people. He could go to The Hill and join the university crowd, but tonight with Sirena’s whereabouts in question, he preferred solitude to anything he might find up there.

“See you later, Mom.”

“Don’t forget your jacket. It’s supposed to rain hard tonight. And lock the door behind you, please.”

“Sure thing. And I’ll remember to stay away from any lunatics with chainsaws tonight, even if they offer me candy.”

“That’s not even funny.”

***

Conley sat down in the driver’s seat of his truck and grumbled. His legs were wedged between his chest and the steering wheel. He didn’t mind if his mom borrowed his pickup truck— she filled the gas tank more than he did— he just wished she would readjust the seat when she was done.

He slid his seat back. Much better. At six-foot four he was nearly a foot taller than Helen. He got annoyed when people looked at him and assumed he played basketball. Whenever he confessed he didn’t, and as a matter of fact he really didn’t like any sport, the usual response was a chiding, “As tall as you are you should play something.”

Now, in his first year at Abundance University, amidst other tall people— ones that actually played on the basketball team— Conley’s height wasn’t so remarkable.

Years of mowing lawns in the summer coupled with teenage metabolism left him slender. Although he was thin, Helen’s excellent cooking and his insatiable appetite made certain he was not gaunt. Conley had a fair complexion, which never achieved more than a faint bronze hue, belying the fact he spent hours a day in the sun.

Conley looked at the dashboard clock. 11:45. Still, plenty of time. The four-mile dirt road leading to the Precipice was only a few miles away.

Conley tuned the radio to the local university station hoping for a weather update. The station was on location and Conley struggled to hear the DJ over the rambunctious crowd in the background.

“You’re listening live to Zeke. We’re here at The Hill with the AU crew waiting for the meteor shower. Arrival is estimated at 12:05. There’s still time to make it if you hurry. A good storm’s brewing out there, so be careful! The forecast calls for rain in less than half an hour. We’re gonna get wet, but we’re not going to let that stop the party. Right guys?” The broadcast erupted into even rowdier hooting and hollering.

Large raindrops began their slow plop-plopping against the windshield of Conley’s truck. He turned the radio off and smiled. The imminent downpour was going to make things miserable on The Hill.

As he drove, Conley thought about Sirena. Somebody else asked her out tonight. No, she’s at The Hill with everybody else. Our chats were probably just some game she was playing, if she even is a she. Stop that! Of course she’s a she. She doesn’t chat like a guy. Conversations with her are different. Wordier. She talks so much and gets so emotional. And then there’s the questions— so many questions. ‘How are you feeling? Why do you like chatting with me? What are you thinking about right now?’ Guys don’t care about that crap. My idea of a deep question is, ‘What’s for dinner?’ He came to the same conclusion he had countless times before. Sirena is a girl. Smart, funny, mysterious, and definitely, a girl.

“Stick with me for three months, and I promise you’ll find out who I am—face to face.”

Conley doubted that line Sirena had fed him a few weeks after they started chatting.

“So where are you tonight, Sirena?” Conley asked aloud. Something’s not right.

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