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Student Notebook: When the Lights Are Out
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By William Breault, 18

Monroe High School

The wind was bitterly cold, like an ice cube being held against any part of exposed skin. That night, it was particularly annoying, stinging the nape of Ryan's neck. It was only a block away, he knew, but it felt like miles before he would open the door to his apartment.

The city wasn't the best place to be in the middle of an arctic blast. With every corner he turned, he was whip lashed with wind coming in from the West. The long walk also left his fingers numbed, even though he was wearing gloves. If that wasn't dangerous enough, there was also no such thing as a back-up generator in Ryan's old apartment building.

Ryan rounded the corner. Less than fifty steps and he would be in the lobby to the apartment. The anticipation was making him feel almost giddy as he jogged the last few steps and opened the door. The normal stench of old coffee hung in the air, as did a humid heat. It was too cold for him to take his hands from his pockets just yet, but he was at least happy that he could begin to feel his toes again, even if they did hurt.

He shivered his way to the elevator, reluctantly pulling his hand out of his pocket, pressing the up button. Ryan started planning out his evening: putting some water on the stove for hot chocolate, pulling out books from his bag, watching the news to wait for a sign that spring would eventually come.

The lulling music in the elevator was starting to sound familiar when the doors opened up. There was a woman in the hallway, knocking on the door to his neighbor's apartment. Her hair was in a braid, and it bounced against her back with every swing of her fist. It was almost whimsical. Ryan walked to his door and looked over at her. She was beautiful - thin and with soft curves. She had a furious look on her face, but it was too cute to be intimidating.

"I don't think the door will open if you keep knocking. There isn't a sequence of knocks that will allow the door to magically unlock." Ryan appraised her softening expression, trying to decide if his joke made her concentration waver. It did.

"I know he's in there." She didn't look so sure as her hand fell to her side. She wore a tight pea coat and a scarf wrapped around her neck. Subconsciously, Ryan lifted his hand to make sure that he could still feel his. It was there. Ryan thanked the god of awful weather for not giving him nerve damage.

"Good luck with that," Ryan said as he pushed his door open. He unslung the bag from his shoulder as he kicked the door closed. A lamp was on next to the couch and there were stacks of paper covering the coffee table. He made a note to clean them up, though he knew he wouldn't.

He kicked off his shoes and unzipped his jacket, throwing the jacket on the couch and the shoes in the bathroom which sat next to the entryway. He flicked on the light next to the doorway and dug for a pot in the cupboard. He filled it up with water and put it on the gas range. He found a match and lit the stove. Soon, he would have boiling water and a nice cup of hot chocolate.

He let it sit as he went into the living room. Just as he stepped into the room, the lamp turned off. It was as dark as night in the apartment. Ryan took a deep breath, finding the drapes to the window, pulling them open. There was only a little light that spilled into the room, but it was enough to navigate through without stubbing his toes into oblivion.

Someone knocked on the door. Ryan reluctantly made his way to it and looked into the glass. It was the girl banging on his neighbor's door. It had to be. Through the fish eye glass, he could see that she had her eye looking in.

"Does this door have a magical sequence of knocks that will let me get out of this freezing hallway?"

"Yes. It's the tune of "Yankee Doodle', if you can muster that." Ryan said, chuckling at his cleverness. He heard only two knocks in succession. "What was that?"

"The tune to "Screw off'."

"Fiesty one, I see," Ryan unlocked the door and opened it. In the darkness of the room, her face was almost luminous, her eyes looked grey.

"Do you know what happened?" she asked, reaching up to remove her hat. She then began to strip away her gloves and her jacket. She wore only a skimpy, lacey tank top.

"To the rest of your shirt?" Ryan asked, looking at her inquisitive expression, her eyebrows gathering to the middle of her face. "I am assuming that the manufacturer forgot to add sleeves and a neck." She reflexively crossed her arms over her chest, her inquiry turning to offensive disposition.

"I was talking about the power, thank you." She stepped past Ryan and into the kitchen. Ryan followed.

"Did you know that you have a habit of making yourself right at home? You're welcome for letting you in, by the way." Ryan walked into the kitchen and observed the woman standing over the stove, warming up her hands and arms.

"You're welcome for being your company."

"Not exactly what I was going for, but thanks?"

"Not a problem." She looked at Ryan, raising an eyebrow, "You got a name, Curls?"

Ryan ran a hand through his hair, feeling the wave of it. He traced it to his shoulder. "Ryan," he mimicked her expression. "Do you have a name, Low Cut?"

"Back to the shirt again, huh?" She pulled up the shirt, though it fell back into place immediately. "Alice."

"Nice to meet you, Alice. What exactly were you trying to accomplish by banging on Logan's door?"

"His name is Logan? Your neighbor?" she seemed confused. "He said his name was Jack."

Ryan laughed. "Sounds like him. He isn't very masculine. He tries everything to make it seem like he is, but it never really works."

Alice shrugged. "Those guys are usually the nicest, anyways."

"You don't know him. He yells at everything and drinks too much. He tries too hard at being a jerk to be nice. You guys would have probably gone to a sport's bar and he would watch a game he knows nothing about, screaming at players - "

"That doesn't really come included in what I do."

"What do you mean?" Ryan pulled himself on to the counter opposite of the range, sitting next to the sink.

"I mean going on dates doesn't come with the territory, buckoh," Alice said, matter-of-factly.

"What territory?" Ryan was starting to connect the dots, but he didn't want to make an accusation that she could be a -

"Being a call girl." Alice stood a little straighter, looking Ryan in the eye.

"A what?"

"You heard me," Alice said, looking aggravated, pulling on her short denim skirt that led to her long legs that were covered with black tights. She had black, leather boots and her makeup was blotched.

"You're a prost - "

"Don't say that word. But, yes, I am." She was still standing tall and rigid. "Don't get any ideas."

"I wouldn't dream of it." Ryan scooted off the counter and grabbed two coffee mugs. "Do you like hot chocolate?"

"Love it." Ryan poured the hot water into the cups slowly, adding powdered cocoa and mixing it. He passed a glass to Alice and she drank a few sips down immediately.

Ryan took his mug in both hands, clasping onto the warmth. He started to walk into the living room. "Care to join me?"

Alice walked after him. "Can we watch the news?"

"The power is out, remember?"

She looked uncomfortable, darting her eyes around the room. Ryan decided that she was beautiful in that moment with her face half luminated in the light. The skin of her arms looked like a Greek or Roman statue, white and silky. Her hair was auburn, her eyes brilliantly bright. "I am going to grab something from my coat."

With that, Ryan sat down on the couch as she dug around. She came up a few seconds later with a small flashlight. She clicked it on and sat it on the coffee table so that the stream of light pointed towards the ceiling.

"I'm afraid of the dark." She sat down next to Ryan, crossing her legs, one over the other. "Hope you don't mind."

"Not at all." Ryan took a sip of his hot cocoa. It was finally to his preferred temperature. Not enough to burn the tongue, but enough to warm the trail down the esophagus. "What's it like?"

"What, being afraid of the dark? Have you ever been, like, three years old?"

"I don't mean that, Alice." Hearing her name seemed to have an effect on her, as she looked up at Ryan. Her lips were parted slightly, as if she were about to say something but decided against it. "Being a - call girl," he hesitated, wondering if he stepped over his bounds, "what is that like?"

She nodded. "I guess it is fair to be curious." She took a sip of her cocoa before answering. "It's like - there are all of these friends that I can call. But they are all men. And they all expect something. And the only way I can do what I want to do in life is hang out with these guys and hope I don't get hurt." She shook her head. "And I get paid to hang out with them."

"What about your parents?" When Alice rolled her eyes, Ryan tries to recover. "Where are they?"

"I don't have daddy issues, if that is what you are assuming." Her words seeped with sarcasm.

"C'mon, seriously. What happened?"

"They're dead, Ryan. They died years ago. This is what I have to do." Alice was talking fast, as if she rehearsed the answer many times. "This is what I have to do to get through school."

"You don't have to go - and sell yourself." Ryan was trying to be cautious, but his curiosity and opinions beat his manners.

"Do you know how well this pays?" She set her cup on the table, knocking over the flash light so that it shined against the wall opposite of them. Alice's face was dark as she said, "This pays better than any job I could possibly get in this city."

Ryan sat back in the chair, looking at the ceiling. He knew it was true, though he didn't want it to be. "Are you numb to it?"

"I am not numb. I am always painfully aware." She sat back in her seat, resting her head on Ryan's shoulder. Though Alice would never admit it, he was very comforting.

"What do you want to do with your life?" Ryan's words were almost a whisper.

"I want to be a nurse. I want to heal." Her words were soft, as if she were trying to coo to a baby.

"Is it worth it?" Ryan looked at Alice. She raised her eyes so that she could see his face.

"I tell myself that it is."

"What about a relationship? Haven't you tired being with -"

"Do you really think that a guy would put up with that? Having his girlfriend go and - and - "

"No." Ryan was starting to feel depressed as he felt Alice's helplessness. "I mean to have someone who can help you."

"I don't want anyone to help me, Ryan." Alice tried sounding defiant, but her voice was trembling as she said Ryan's name.

"I would help you." Ryan looked at her, so that she could see he was serious. "I would help you so that you wouldn't have to - "

"Don't say anything that you don't mean."

"I do mean that, though. You shouldn't have to endure what you do. It isn't - it's - "

"I know what it is, Ryan." Alice reached for Ryan's hand, taking it. She rubbed circles into his palm as Ryan calmed down. It was a few minutes in silence before either spoke again. They lounged on the couch, shivering in the cold. Ryan excused himself to grab a blanket from his room and returned to Alice, who was waiting expectantly.

Ryan sat down next to Alice, covering them up. He extended his arm across her shoulders. Alice leaned into him, resting her cheek on his chest, breathing in the smell of his shirt. He smelled welcoming, like walking into a coffee house in the middle of a snow storm.

The flashlight turned off. Ryan heard Alice swear under her breath. "I can get another one. I think I might have one in the kitchen ..."

"No, no." Alice scooted closer to Ryan, hugging him.

"How can you heal others if you haven't healed yourself?" Ryan looked down at Alice. She was so peaceful that he couldn't help but admire her: the soft features of her face, her steady voice. He wanted to be there with her, in that moment, for as long as he could.

"I don't know the answer to that."

Ryan accepted the answer, though he was hoping for a better one. The two fell asleep, entangled in search of warmth in the dark apartment.


Ryan awoke to light pouring in through the open window. Ryan could see that the lamp was still on, as he never got a chance to turn it off before the power went out. He was shivering despite the blanket that was wrapped around him. He couldn't feel Alice beside him.

As he was getting up to find her, he noticed that there were no more papers on the coffee table, save one that was under his half full mug of cold hot chocolate. The words that were scribed were written in a female's hand, curvy and neat. Ryan moved the cup aside, picking up the note to read it.

Dear Ryan,

I am sorry that I left without waking you, but I didn't think it would be nice of me to disturb you.

I thought about what you said. That I couldn't heal anyone without healing myself. And I decided that you are wrong. The only way I can heal myself is through healing others.

Thank you for not letting me freeze.

Your friend,

The Call Girl.