In a small town like Grenner Valley, it’s easy to get sucked into a routine. Every place is similar and every face is familiar. Some people might be content with such a place, either because of a deep routed fear of change or some absurd belief that one should never want more, but not Ristica. She always wanted something more out of life – something exciting.
Standing outside her parent’s simple house on a cloudy day, all Ristica could think was that she did not want to spend her life in Grenner Valley any longer. It seemed like the life she wanted was calling out to her from some distant land, far over the hills and farms of Grenner Valley.
Ristica stood on the porch for a long time, staring at the door nervously, until she finally summed up the courage to go inside. There was no time to waste.
Inside the house, Ristica’s mother, Arno, was sitting at the dining table with a cup of coffee. The TV in the living room was switched on to a news report about some rich girl who was accused of killing her entire family in a fire. Ristica stood in silence as she watched the girl on the TV hide her face with her long and curly red hair while she pushed passed the paparazzi to get to her car.
Arno looked up at her daughter, realizing that she had been standing there for a long time. Ristica looked anxious and Arno wondered if the news had bothered her or if it was something else.
“You’re home early today. I’ve made some coffee. Why don’t you join me?” Arno asked, trying to get Ristica to sit down and talk about whatever was bothering her.
Ristica sat at the table and lifted a cup of coffee to her lips. Her movements were almost mechanical.
“Is something wrong, Risti?” her mother asked, noticing the unusual silence from her daughter who always had a story to tell.
“I’m moving out.” Ristica blurted. “I’m going to live in Golrifison City with cousin Ice.”
Her mother looked at her with an expression that asked “why”.
“I can’t stay here any longer.” Ristica continued. “There is nothing in this town for me except for unnecessary problems and stagnancy.”
“This is about your father, isn’t it?” Arno asked, trying to find a shred of sense in what her daughter was saying. Ristica nodded.
“He has never understood me or made an effort to try. After all that I have accomplished, he still calls my blog a hobby and tells other people that I am still looking for a real job.” Ristica explained. “A week ago, he accused me of making money by selling his stuff and then he ransacked my room. Yesterday he threatened to kick me out onto the street. This can’t go on any longer, especially since it gets worst every year.”
“When are you planning on leaving?” Arno dismally asked.
“I’m leaving today. Ice is on her way here right now. I want to leave before he comes home and tries to stop me.” Ristica replied.
“I see. So your bags are already packed? I knew this day would come, Ristica, but I just didn’t expect it to be so sudden. I wish there was something that I could do to make everything better so you don’t have to go.” Arno said solemnly.
“This isn’t your fault, Mom. Please don’t blame yourself his behaviour-“
The sound of loud pop music suddenly broke through their conversation, followed by a car screeching to a stop.
“I think Ice is here.” Ristica said, standing up to look out the window. Her mother stood up as well. She looked at Ristica for a long time as if to save one last look at her before pulling her into a tight hug.
“Risti, you know that I will never stand in the way of your happiness. Just what am I supposed to tell your father? He is going to be so angry.” Arno said as the tears began to fill her eyes.
“Tell him that I’ve moved on with my life.” Ristica proudly replied. “I wish you would come with me and leave him in his stagnant world.”
“You know I can’t just leave him, Ristica. What will the community think if both his wife and his daughter leave abruptly? The uproar your big sister caused was bad enough. Please promise me that you won’t do anything that she did. “Arno pleaded.
“You mean seduce a rich businessman and take over his company? That’s not my style.” Ristica replied causing Arno to laugh hysterically.
Arno and Ristica went out onto the porch together. Arno stood a bit back as she watched Ristica go up to Ice’s car. She couldn’t help but think of the first day she brought Ristica home 23 years ago. She was such a tiny, fragile girl in her mother’s arms and now that same girl is stepping out into the world on her own.
Ice had parked her car in the driveway and was standing outside it. Her mini skirt and crop top compared to Ristica’s sweater and leggings told Ristica and Arno that wherever Ice was coming from definitely had better weather.
“Hey there Aunt Arno and Ristica!” Ice greeted over the music blaring from her car and some of the neighbours peeped out their windows in irritation. Ristica got her luggage from inside and loaded them into the car while Ice spoke with Arno.
“Please take care of my daughter.” Arno pleaded.
“Take care of her? She’s a big girl, Aunt. She’ll be fine. I can even let her practice driving when we get to the highway.” Ice said jokingly. Seeing the tension on Arno’s face, Ristica shot Ice a mean look.
“But I guess I could look after her anyway.” Ice added quickly. Once everything was packed in the car Ristica and her mother said their final goodbyes and then she left with Ice.
Ristica only truly felt that she was finally leaving home once they drove passed a sign that said: “Thank you for visiting Grenner Valley”. She smiled at the thought of being a visitor to Grenner Valley rather than a permanent resident but felt a little sad that one person could make such a beautiful place feel so hostile to her.
The drive to Golrifison City was long. They passed three other little towns and listened to an album by Ice’s band twice.
Ice was the lead singer in a band called Calectico. Their music was mostly alternative rock with a few mainstream pop songs. Ice always described Calectico as “experimental”. It seemed that the general public shared that view because whenever Ice and Ristica stopped at a convenience store, Ice was met with either excitement from the 100th biggest fan or disgust.
When they finally arrived, all Ristica could do was stare out the window in awe.
“We have arrived, Ristica! That building on the right is where you’ll be staying from now on with me.” Ice said as she turned the car into the underground parking.
Ice spent the day taking Ristica on a tour of the building from the parking lot all the way to the rooftop, leaving the apartment for later. Ristica listened like a good student, making a mental note of everything she saw.
Ice finally took Ristica to their floor when it was around sunset. The two of them had just stepped out of the elevator when the neighbour from across the hallway came out of his apartment.
“Perfect timing!” Ice cheered as she approached him. “You came out at the right moment to meet my cousin Ristica.”
“Ristica, meet Jamey. He is one of my closest friends and the drummer in Calectico.” Ice said.
Jamey was leaning against the door of his apartment. He and Ristica looked at each other for a long time as if there was some secret that they both knew. “It’s nice to see you again, Ristica.” Jamey said smiling.
“You’ve met? When? “Ice asked in total confusion.
“Jamey and I met at that gig you guys did in Grenner Valley last month.” Ristica replied. She told Ice about how she met Jamey backstage when she was looking for Ice.
What Ristica didn’t tell Ice was how she and Jamey had built quite a friendship, about the late night texts and about the subtle flirting that made Ristica wonder if he was into her. But Ristica could never be sure what his true feelings were because it always seemed like he was holding back. After all, it’s easy to mask feelings when you’re chatting to someone behind a screen.
“Tonight I’m hanging out with some friends at Purple Kiss.” Jamey said. “You and Ristica can meet me in the parking lot in 10 minutes and we’ll go together.” Jamey said. The girls nodded in agreement. Afterwards, Jamey headed for the parking lot while Ice took Ristica into her apartment.
At first glance, Ice’s apartment looked like she just moved in partly because she doesn’t spend much time at home. All the furniture that the apartment came with was still there and unmoved, including two tall shelves full of books that Ice has probably never touched, judging from the dust.
Ristica walked around the apartment a bit to get familiar with her new surroundings. She came to a large window and looked out at the other buildings. Although they were only on the 8th floor, Ristica still found the view fascinating. The sun had just set, it was starting to get dark outside and some of the buildings nearby were starting to light up.
Ice observed Ristica for a moment. Suddenly, she began to laugh.
“What’s so funny?” Ristica asked, turning to look at Ice.
“You are still wearing that sweater after all this time. Come on, Ristica! Your Grenner Valley days are behind you.” Ice said. “Put on a nice top so that we can go, go, go!”
After searching through her luggage and failing to gain Ice’s approval, Ristica decided to wear one of Ice’s tops: a pale yellow loose fitting blouse with silver studs for straps.
“How do I look in this?” Ristica asked nervously.
“You look better than I usually look when I wear it.” Ice replied frankly.
As planned, Ristica and Ice met up with Jamey in the parking lot. He was sitting in his car whistling to a song on the radio.
“Ristica, please go sit in front with Jamey. I need to adjust my top.” Ice instructed. Ice had changed into a purple tank top and lilac skirt earlier on.
“Couldn’t you have done that while we were still upstairs?” Ristica complained but Ice couldn’t be bothered.
Ristica had to endure a very awkward 15 minute drive with Jamey whistling to “Shape of You” on the car radio and Ice fiddling with her top and bra in the backseat.
Despite all the awkwardness, Ristica wouldn’t let anything ruin her chance to enjoy a scenic drive.
When they arrived at Purple Kiss, Ristica was very surprised to be stopping at what looked like an office building.
“What is this place?” Ristica asked as she looked around her.
Jamey replied: “It’s an underground club that only a select group of people have the privilege to enter.”
Although the building exterior had glass panels all around, the lobby was a dimly lit room with two tough-looking bouncers at the elevators.
Jamey chatted to the bouncers like they were his best buddies before going into the elevator with Ice and Ristica.
As they got out of the lift and into the basement club, the glow of purple lights and smoke paved the way. Ristica and Ice followed Jamey straight to the back of the club to the VIP area, where a group of 5 were seated by a table full of drinks.
The group immediately rose to their feet when they saw Jamey, Ice and Ristica, the cousin that they had all heard an earful about already.
Exchanging their usual greetings, Ice brought Ristica forward.
“So, guys, this is my cousin Ristica. I told you she’s going to be staying with me from now on. Ristica, these are my best friends.” Ice said. She then went on to introduce Ristica to all of them individually.
“This is Alissa with the star tattoo and her girlfriend Darla, co-authors of the Cooking With Crazy series…”
“This is Xavier and he owns this place…”
“This here is Rob, but only I am allowed to call him Roby. He plays the bass guitar in Calectico…”
“And lastly, Zerona. She’s the red-head with the perfect curls. She is the heir to the Scath family, one of the founding families of this city.” Ice concluded.
There was something about Zerona that seemed a little off to Ristica, unsettling even. Zerona didn’t say a word to Ristica the whole time. She just stood there staring at Ristica as Jamey and the others spoke. Ristica felt like she had seen Zerona somewhere and even heard her name.
Ristica suddenly remembered the news report that her mother was watching and then the realisation hit her that Zerona is the girl who the media had been accusing of murdering her family.
Jamey started to tell the group about how he met Ristica a month ago and have been chatting online ever since. Xavier looked over at Zerona and immediately noticed how irritated she was.
“Zerona,” Xavier whispered to her. “You have that look on your face again. Are you okay?”
Zerona didn’t respond. Her eyes were fixed on Jamey. Although Xavier was Zerona’s best friend, sometimes he really didn’t understand her.
The night progressed and after lots of chatting and a few drinks, Ristica started to loosen up a bit and enjoy the night. Looking at all the people around her having a good time, Ristica knew that her old life was behind her and in this strange new world she could be anything she wanted to be.
The group easily liked Ristica. She seemed to have a hidden side to her that was exciting and made people want to get to know her more just to get a glimpse of that hidden side. Even Darla, who is usually snobbish, took an interest in Ristica.
“You’re pretty fun to hang with, Ristica.” Darla commented. “Come to Paige Pickners’ beach party tomorrow night. I know Ice will definitely be there so you should come with.”
“Paige Pickners?” Ristica asked in amazement. Xavier piped in.
“Actress, model and generally nice person.” Xavier said. Ristica found it harder to believe that Paige was a nice person than believing she was being invited to her party.
“Oh please do come. It’ll be so much fun.” Darla said. Ristica said yes and Darla and Xavier cheered. Zerona felt betrayed. Xavier was her best friend, not Ristica’s.
Everyone but Zerona seemed to have enjoyed the night.
Ice and Rob had a very interesting conversation about matching outfits for a future show. He appeared to be more frightened than fascinated.
“We could all have those furry animal hats with glowing eyes.” Ice was ecstatically saying.
Xavier was off on his own waiting for his girlfriend Mayra to arrive, completely oblivious to Darla and Alissa making out behind him.
Mayra arrived a while later, dressed in all white skinny jeans and a corset top. Mayra and Xavier spent most of the night together at the bar in the VIP area, like two lovers who hadn’t seen each other in a very long time.
Ristica and Jamey were out on the dance floor owning the spotlight. They were dancing together so well that it looked like they had practiced.
“You didn’t tell me that you’re such a good dancer.” Jamey complimented Ristica.
“Thanks!” Ristica replied blushingly. Both of them were equally excited to be having fun together after all the chatting online.
Jamey couldn’t help but stop and watch Ristica. His eyes were glued to her like no one else in the room existed. He had seen pictures of her but nothing could compare to seeing her in person, so lively and happy.
Zerona stood in a corner silently watching Ristica and Jamey.
She didn’t expect some nobody to show up and steal everyone’s approval and affection in one night, especially Jamey’s. Somewhere in Zerona’s complicated mind, Jamey became her property and, as the media believes, Zerona would kill for her property.
But, of course, no one has concrete proof of that.
Right then and there in, Zerona vowed she would do something. She wouldn’t let anyone take away her chance with Jamey. Zerona declared war on Ristica.
Zerona heard Ristica’s laugh crash through her chain of thoughts. To her, it was like Ristica was mocking her. Zerona left hurriedly before her emotions made her do something stupid.
The rest of the night went on peacefully. It was only after people started leaving around 3.am that Xavier noticed that Zerona was already gone. No one thought anything of it but Xavier knew that his best friend would never leave without saying goodbye unless something was wrong.
The morning after the club, Ristica woke up still feeling excited about everything. She phoned her mom and told her all about it before getting out of bed.
Still in her pyjamas, a large blue sweater and furry boots, Ristica decided to write a new post on her blog which was called Ristical. She sat by a desk by the window with her laptop and titled her new post “Four Hours After Moving Out: Here’s What Happened”.
Ristica sat there writing for at least an hour or two. She was just about to finish editing and click the “Post” button when she heard a knock on the door. She got up and walked to the door, combing her hair with her fingers.
Ristica swung open the door and to her surprise, she saw no one there.
“Hello?” Ristica called out. There was no reply. The only thing different about the hallway was the new plants.
Ristica thought that maybe a kid must have bumped the door by accident and ran away but the more she thought about it, the less it made sense. She could have sworn there was someone out there.
Ristica turned around and pushed the door closed but at the last second, someone stopped the door, reached in and grabbed her shoulder.