When Darkness Falls

By: Lisa M. Lilly

Chapter One

Head down against the wind, long dark hair whipping into her face, Haley Black hurried across the pebbled red plaza toward Van Buren Street. Her train left in fifteen minutes, and she was still six blocks from union   Station.

A man stepped into her path. He wore faded blue jeans and a leather jacket, collar flipped up against the early evening cold, and he held out a flyer. She veered around him, but he said, “Songwriters night.”

Haley stopped.

He thrust the flyer into her hand. “It’s at The Underground. In Printers’ Row.”

“I didn’t know there were clubs there.”

He grinned. “And so the flyers.” His eyes were green, the only green against the background of gray sky, sooty buildings, and salt-streaked streets. It was early November. The days had shortened, and, at five o’clock, the sun, pale and flat, sank toward the horizon. He held out his hand to shake hers. “Devon Somers. One of the performers.”

“Haley.” She omitted her last name, wary about sharing it with a stranger, though men and women hurried past, lugging briefcases and barking into cell phones. “Interesting place to hawk a concert.”

“Concert plus open mike. And businesspeople can’t like music?”

Haley smiled and said, “I guess they can.” She was a musician, too, but didn’t feel much like one these days.

“Well, Haley, maybe you’ll come see me play.” Devon stepped out of her way.

“Maybe.” Haley’s chest tightened. She folded the flyer, put it in her coat pocket, and resumed her trek to the station. Though there was no reason to hurry now. She’d be waiting thirty minutes for the next train.

When she stopped for a red light, she glanced back over her shoulder. Devon was still handing out flyers, but he noticed her watching and raised his hand in a half-salute. Her stomach dipped.

She fought the urge to bolt for the station and took a deep breath, feeling ice-cold air course in and out of her nostrils. There was nothing to be afraid of. She didn’t have to go to Devon Somers’ concert.

She walked on.

• • •

Haley got to The Underground at eight-fifteen. She wore jeans, heeled boots, and a silver-gray sweater under her wool coat. She’d planned to walk from union   Station, but she’d had dinner with her dad, who had pressed some bills into her hand and told her to catch a cab. He was a retired cop, and he always worried about her walking alone anywhere. She didn’t like taking money from him. At twenty-five, she felt she should be earning enough to get by on her own. But at least she was out for the evening, and she couldn’t truthfully tell him she didn’t need the cash. Until five months ago, half her income had come from playing and singing with her ex-boyfriend. So far she’d had no luck getting a full-time job. She’d just finished yet another interview when Devon had stopped her.

The Underground was a low-key blues and acoustic music club on Dearborn Street. Located in the storefront of a rehabbed postcard printing factory, it wasn’t actually below ground, but on street level. A green neon sign glowing in the lower right corner of its plate glass window read Live Music Every Night.

The stage, a slightly raised platform painted black, stood against the brick wall at the far end of the rectangular room. Haley threaded her way through the small round tables. Couples sat at most of them. Since the breakup, Haley saw couples everywhere. When she’d been one of them, she hadn’t noticed how the world traveled in pairs, like the chosen animals allowed to join Noah on the ark.

After getting a glass of Chardonnay with ice at the bar, she chose a seat near the stage, but a little off to the side. Three women and two men gathered around the table next to her, phones in their hands and on the table, debating what to do after the show. Haley sipped her wine, holding her body stiff, back straight. She was the only person in the entire place alone. But at least she’d come. She thought that was a good step.

She’d asked her friend Kari from her part-time job to join her, but Kari already had plans and nearly all Haley’s other friends were her ex-boyfriend Brian’s friends, too. Or perhaps they were only Brian’s friends. Most had known about his back-to-back flings and probably the rest suspected, and no one had told her. She didn’t plan on never speaking to them again, but whenever she saw them, for days afterward she did nothing but lie on her couch and watch videos if she didn’t have to work. Not good for her state of mind.

Her drink was nearly down to the ice cubes by the time Devon Somers stepped onto the stage. His eyes moved over the audience, but didn’t pause on Haley. When he introduced himself, the table next to hers erupted in whistles and applause.

Two other musicians joined him, one who played electric bass, the other mandolin.

Haley leaned forward, watching Devon’s fingers fly over the neck of his Martin guitar, drinking in the brassy, sweet sounds he wrung out of its strings. The tones buzzed through her body, along with Devon’s smooth, low voice. It rose to the exposed ducts and rafters of the unfinished ceiling above, flowed over her and back to the bar, reverberated against the front plate glass window. She forgot the people around her, the cold outside, and her empty and yet somehow still cramped one-room apartment. All she saw and heard was this man in faded jeans, dark hair falling to one side of his face.