On Common Ground – Chapter 1

Slouched in the back seat of a cab, I rub a hand over my two-day stubble as the driver parks, the streetlamps almost blinding my sleepy eyes. I step out into the chilly wind and retrieve from the trunk the three bags containing everything that’s left of my life in Paris. It’s all I’ll need for a fresh start. The rest would only be a reminder of Pauline’s betrayal.

A surge of anger engulfs me again, not as strongly as it has the past five weeks, but despite putting physical distance between us, the disgust, resentment and sense of failure still weigh heavily on my shoulders.

I stretch my aching muscles, stiff as if I’ve ridden planes and taxis for an entire month. Even in the foggy darkness, my building hasn’t changed much since I last lived in San Francisco—four stories high on a steep hill, with typical bay windows.

Inside the lobby and up the stairs, my surroundings still feel familiar, and so does the cold metal of my key in my hand. I’ve always clung to it, even after moving across the world. Deep down, part of me knew I’d come back. I’d planned to. Yet, not once did I imagine my return in these circumstances—alone.

I reach for the lock but hesitate. Madison lives here now, and I shouldn’t barge in. I knock on the door once, impatient to surprise my little sister—twice, the anxiety creeping its way back into my gut. How will Madison react after all this time? I hope she’ll be happy to see me. The impromptu visit seemed a good idea when I planned a one-week stay for my job interview. The intended short trip has turned into a permanent move back, and Madison might just be upset with me landing on her doorstep when I haven’t even called in months. 

Another apartment door unlocks behind me, and a young man comes out, dressed in black jeans and a hoodie, his long blond hair poking out of a beanie. With the shadow of a beard on his jaw and his six-foot height, I almost don’t recognize him.

“River?” I ask.

His eyes widen. “Adrian? Great to see you, dude.”

I drop my bags to shake his hand. “You, too. It’s been a while.” My gaze sweeps over him from head to toe.

The last time we crossed paths in this hallway, he was still a teen who looked up at me as if I were a rock star, tried to sneak in when I hosted parties and spied on every woman who left in the early mornings. A lifetime ago, it seems. The past few years have turned him into a man, and me into a boring adult.

River nods toward my front door. “Are you visiting?”

“Moving back, actually.” My voice sounds serene, as if uttering the words aloud marks the start of my new life. “I knocked, but Madison’s not here. Do you know when she’ll be home?” River pauses, one eyebrow cocked. “Dude… Madison won’t be here anytime soon.” He blows out a small laugh, cut off by his phone buzzing in his hand. “Gotta run, but let’s catch up, all right?” He walks down the stairs and out of the building before I can ask him to clarify his cryptic words.