New York Four

Staff: Written by Brian Wood, illustrated by Ryan Kelly with the lettering done by Jared K. Fletcher. Synopses by Babycakes and Fantomex

Chapter 1 - Itchyhead

The story begins with Riley Wilder, a college student at NYU, being videotaped in conversation with Dr. Paka. It’s her 14th session. She doesn’t seem too interested, and almost leaps onto her cell phone when it rings.

Riley later emerges from the underground at Houston & Broadway en route to class, listening to Cat Power on her MP3 player. She texts as she walks. She knows her way around by heart and she’s only been there a week. Despite growing up in Brooklyn, she’s never really been to Manhattan. She has neurotic parents and an older sister, Angie, who broke all their rules. Riley believes that they are really overprotective of her.

She leaves class and heads for a meeting with Angie, texting all the while, bumping into people and ignoring the general hustle and bustle of the city. She is interrupted by a couple of obvious tourists looking for the ‘N’ and ‘R’ subway. Riley becomes flustered and a stress rash begins to break out. She rushes away and joins a queue for coffee.

There, she overhears a striking brunette named Merissa Vasquez; tall, loud and superior. She has five boyfriends right now. Standing next to her is the bespectacled Ren Severin, a lapsed vegan, who recognizes Merissa as being in her English Lit class. Also there is Lona Lo, a dark-haired Canadian. Merissa immediately goes on about the cost of books and that if her parents hadn’t given her their Amex, she’d be freaking out right now. Ren doesn’t have that facility. Riley recognizes the girls. They’re all in her class, and Riley reckons that she probably has the entire reading list at home, courtesy of having literati parents.

Riley listens to their conversation. They are worried about money and Ren wonders if she could maybe work in a bar. Merissa likes that idea. She fancies getting out of the dorms and into an apartment by next semester. The dorms are nasty. Ren and Lo seem to agree that moving to an apartment could be a great idea and fancy getting jobs and pooling their rent. Riley’s phone goes ping which attracts their attention. Merissa knows that Riley looks familiar, but before she can speak to Riley, Angie appears carrying a guitar on her back and opens her arms wide. “Recognize me?” she smiles, as she approaches Riley. The two sisters hug warmly and Angie whisks her sister away for a coffee at the Porto Rico Importing Co.

Riley is in awe of her red-haired older sister. Her poor parents didn’t really stand a chance. She left home when Riley was eleven and she feels like she barely knows her, despite lurking on Angie‘s MySpace for over a year. Her hands were shaking when she finally e-mailed her. Angie replied as if nothing had ever happened. Riley’s not even sure what was so bad that she did that her parents won’t talk about it. All she knows is that Angie dropped out of her private school, and that was enough to give her dad a coronary (and ensure Riley’s enrolment in public school.) She’s afraid to ask Angie what happened.

They take their coffee and walk. Angie reckons her folks have no idea that she is hanging out with Riley, cuz they’d freak if they did. Angie is amazed that they let her come to Manhattan. She thought they would have her on campus at Wesleyan or Middlebury. Riley admits that, despite this, she’s still living at home. Her phone pings once again. Angie isn’t surprised as Riley was always on AOL chat all night. Riley ignores her sister and texts a reply. Angie isn’t impressed at Riley dropping everything for her phone. She warns her to stop that. Does she even know her online friends? Riley asks why, and Angie explains that her cute, reclusive, mysterious girl thing will only last for so long, but it won’t hang in college and certainly not in the city. She has to actually get out there and meet people. That’s what this time of her life is all about!

Riley replies with sarcasm that she thought being at college was all about education. Angie asks her not to be so snippy. She doesn’t think Riley understands how sheltered she has been. Growing up in their brownstone with the parents they have, so thrilled to have a daughter who preferred sitting in her room reading the classics to hanging out with friends and seeing the city. They did nothing to help Riley prepare for life, although Angie admits that her sister has dealt with it better than she did. Angie tells Riley that she had to run away to escape it, and now look at her. She has a great life but she lost her family in the process. She asks Riley to find some balance before it gets all toxic and ruins her life. They head to Tompkins Square Park (Brian Wood’s favorite Manhattan park) and Riley has an epiphany. “Hey Angie… do you know of any available apartments?”

Riley appears on video tape again, talking to Dr. Paka. They chat about Angie and Riley explains that her parent’s wouldn’t want her to see her sister. Riley is really happy to have re-established a relationship with her, but doesn‘t think she‘ll tell her parents about it. She hopes the doctor won’t either.

Later, at Washington Square Park, the sun is shining and Merissa, Lo and Ren are sitting around a fountain. Merissa is seeing someone else, but she already has a boyfriend. Lona warns her away from him but Merissa explains that the guy has Shins tickets so why should she deprive herself? They hear an all-too-familiar ping and turn to see Riley walking towards them. Everyone says hi, and Merissa asks if she’s gonna answer that. Riley is about to, but remembers what her sister said. She leaves the phone in her pocket and asks if they’re still looking for jobs. She couldn’t help overhear them in the coffee shop. She tries to keep her composure, but struggles due to being the insecure non-social animal that she is. Merissa replies that they’re still looking. She have something?

Later, on the subway, Riley informs them about the work that she does. Ren asks if that’s it. Twenty-five bucks an hour just to road-test a bunch of PSAT prep courses? Riley tells them that there’s a catch. Merissa grins and asks if they have to be naked or something. Riley explains that the company makes the SAT and PSAT tests that nervous parents make their kids take. They’re always developing new courses and techniques, and they hire college kids to beta-test them. They all took the tests so they’re the experts now. It’s like a focus group. The catch is, they have to make sure they’re ok, not too stressed out or over-tired. That might affect the test results. So, every couple of weeks this totally annoying therapist interviews them. Lona enquires what they ask about. Riley assures them that it’s nothing serious. Just things about school, how she’s handling the workload, if anything’s on her mind etc. Like she said… annoying, but nothing to worry about.

Ren seems keen on the idea. She aced her SAT’s and can’t believe they’d pay her twenty-five bucks an hour to take a high-schooler test. “Sign me up!” The girls exit the train at Brooklyn Bridge and Riley provides them with an afterthought. “Oh, I forgot,” she says. “You have to have at least a 3.8 GPA.” The girls happily climb the stairs into the open air, and only Merissa isn’t smiling. “Crap!”

(The Circle Line)
The fresh NYU students are having a party on board the boat. Merissa flirts with all the guys, Ren mingles with the more intellectual types and Lona aims her camera at Manhattan. She then swings the lens around and captures Riley in it. Riley is alone, still unable to bring herself to engage in small talk. In her thoughts, Riley reckons she tried, but she can only do so much. It’s not easy for people like her, not like it is for all those other people. She feels like she is on display, with everyone’s eyes staring at her and analyzing. It makes her want to cringe and find a dark corner somewhere. She built her rituals and systems of guards and defenses to get through the days, and Angie is asking her to drop them all at once?

She fiddles with her MP3 player, putting on a PJ Harvey track. She thinks that eventually, people will be able to see the real Riley Wilder. She be there, buried somewhere deep. So, it might take some time, but she likes her new friends, so she‘ll keep trying.

Chapter 2 - Paths of Victory

The girls have signed up for work and Merissa is interviewed on tape by Dr. Paka. The other three, Riley, Lo and Ren, started work three weeks earlier because Merissa’s grades weren’t quite there. Clearly, that has now been rectified. A little flashback sequence shows Merissa all over her meek teacher, asking who it’s gonna hurt. She really needs the job, so can’t he just change her test scores? She nails him by telling him they should get a drink together afterwards.

In the present, Dr. Paka tells her she got a 3.5 which is wonderful. Merissa smiles, innocently.

She leaves the interview room and receives her W-4 from a receptionist. She explains that Merissa will be paid every two weeks, directly deposited into the bank account she has provided. She adds that she will be required to meet with Dr. Paka twice a week in order for her employment to continue. If there is an emergency and she cannot make it, she must call immediately to reschedule. Once a month she will receive copies of her transcripts to make sure she is keeping her grades up. “No problem,” smiles Merissa. Her tutor sweats as he listens to the conversation and watches Merissa leave with a wave.

(Riley’s thoughts)
Merissa makes heads turn wherever she goes. She is uber-confident and pretty much the exact opposite of herself. She makes life look easy, and maybe it is for people like her. But, maybe she just projects it all really well. Riley wonders what Merissa is like at home, around her family. What does she think about when she is alone?

Later, Ren is interviewed and informs Dr. Paka that everything is fine, although something a little crazy happened the previous weekend.

(Riley’s thoughts)
Although Riley thinks that Ren is unflappable, she doesn’t know everything. She is a tomboy with a great laidback style. She’s comfortable in any situation and around any kind of person. Riley is so jealous of that. But, she guesses that if there’s one glitch, it’s that she completely and utterly at a loss when it comes to boys.

(flashback - the Brooklyn Banks)
Ren visit’s the skate park and has a go. During one particularly difficult maneuver, Ren slips off the board and all the guys have a good laugh at her expense. One good-looking guy appears and tells them to shut the hell up. He reckons they couldn’t land that trick so they don’t even try it. He approaches Ren and asks her not to mind them. They’ve got this glitch about girls who skate; a total cro-mag mentality. She shouldn’t let them get her down. He introduces himself as Oscar and asks Ren her name. Without replying, she moves in to kiss him but he draws back and asks what the hell she’s doing. What’s the matter with her? He turns and rides away, adding, “Crazy girl!”

(present - the interview room)
Ren asks the doctor if he can believe that… and he thinks she is the crazy one. “Well…” replies the doctor. Ren asks why he would come over to her if he wasn’t into her. She’ll never figure guys out. Lona is sitting outside, breathing deeply.

(Riley’s thoughts)
Riley thinks that Lona is a strange one. Her days are so regimented. She has a plan and a routine for everything. She drifts in and out of rooms like a ghost, and when she does speak, it’s easy to miss if you’re not paying attention. She also has this super-weird thing that she does where she takes pictures of people without asking and keeps notes on people. Riley thinks she’s wound pretty tight.

Lona is called to the interview room and sits herself down. She tells Dr. Paka that everything’s fine, but he points out that according to a recent transcript, her GPA’s dropped a little again. He asks if everything is okay at school. Lona recalls her teacher berating her on not keeping up with her work and tells Dr. Paka that her teachers hate her. He asks why they would do that. She replies that she has always been a perfect student. If her grades are dropping it’s because her teachers hate her. What else could it be?

Over in the Lower East Side, Angie and Riley are in a bar, having a sisterly chat. Angie asks for a low down, and Riley tells her that she has a few quirks but she loves her new friends. Angie tells her it shows. Riley admits that she’s not really used to having friends. Most of the people she hung out with at high school just wanted her as a lab partner or something. They never wanted to be friends. This is all new to her. All their craziness and imperfections just seem to make her worry less about her own. Angie smiles. She’s just happy that things are working out for her little sis. Riley asks where Frank is. She’s dying to meet him. Angie turns and says he’s here now. Frank arrives and gives her a big hug and introductions are made.

Frank says he can tell they’re related. Riley has killer eyes. Riley blushes and can feel herself coming out in that rash again. Frank wonders what they put in the water over in Brooklyn. Angie asks Riley to ignore the big flirt. Frank puts his arm on Riley’s shoulder and tells her that he’s a huge dork. It’s nothing short of a miracle that someone as awesome as her sister is seen with him in public. He mentions the apartment that she’s looking for. He has a friend who is probably going to be subletting his two bedroom. It’s pretty nice and on Avenue B. If she likes he can get the details. Riley is shocked but replies that it would be great. “Consider it done, “ replies Frank as he orders a drink.

He then grabs them both and ushers them to the other side of the bar as the band’s about to start. He tells Riley that the band is amazing. He reckons that in six months they’ll be selling out tour dates and all her friends will be into them. She’ll be the first to say she saw them in this hole-in-the-wall club. The band kick off, and because she’s been swept off her feet, Riley reckons it’s the best song she’s ever heard. She begins to dance. This is the coolest crowd ever. This is the greatest night of her life!

She soon makes her way to the restroom and splashes some water on her face. She talks to herself as she looks at her reflection. “Riley Wilder. She’s quiet, and because of that she comes off as rude to those people who don’t know her… or aloof, stuck up. But she’s really nothing like that. She hates big groups of people, and new situations. But one-on-one she really opens up and you see what a smart, engaging, independent young woman she can be…” Another girl enters the restroom and washes her hands. “’scuze me…. Ms. Wilder, she grins. Riley watches her leave. That was real smooth, but nothing’s gonna bother her tonight. However, maybe she needs to quit while she’s ahead. She gets a strange look off the girl as she leaves and decides to call it a night. She is bumped into by a young guy and leaves, only to discover upon arriving at the subway station, a note in her pocket. It’s from sneakerfreak@the-hoteliers.net. “The Hoteliers,” says Riley as the train arrives.

She looks at the note as she rides back to Brooklyn. She gets home and looks at a large poster of the band. The Hoteliers are one of her favourite bands. If you go to their website you can sign up for a free e-mail address. She has one, and so does someone named sneaker freak. But, she wonders, who is he, and how did his e-mail address get into her jacket pocket?

Riley whips her phone out and speed taps a message to sneaker freak, asking who it is. She sends a second message adding that she’s a huge Hoteliers fan. She waits for a reply but none is forthcoming. After a while, she rests her head and falls asleep.

The following morning, her friends sit in class next to Riley’s empty seat. Riley is secreted in the library, texting once again but not getting any response. Her friends soon find her asleep with two empty coffee cups. Riley asks what time it is, and can’t believe she missed class again. She admits that she didn’t get much sleep last night. Lona reminds her that she e-mailed them last night and said she had found them an apartment. Riley then informs them about Angie’s boyfriend, Frank, and how his friend might have a sublet. “Might,” replies Merissa with her arms folded tight. Riley informs them that it wouldn’t be until next semseter but she figures they’ll need that time to save as much as they can. Lona thinks it’s awesome, but Ren is more concerned about Riley missing class. She has to be careful. They’re moving pretty quickly through the material.

Riley’s phone pings and she cuts Ren off in her prime. Merissa is furious and tells her that Ren was talking to her. Without even replying, Riley smiles and walks away, tapping the keys in response to her message without a care in the world. “What the hell!” remarks Merissa, angry at Riley’s rudeness.

Later, in another video session, Riley informs the doctor that she thinks she’s met someone. Forget that, she absolutely met someone. Someone great. Dr. Paka asks if it’s someone from class. Riley informs him that it’s more like a blind date. They have lots of things in common. The doctor doesn’t reply, and Riley asks if he’s happy for her. He asks if she is happy. Riley flops into her chair, thinking that is such a therapist thing to say. Dr. Paka tells her that he is happy for her. He knows how hard it is for her to communicate with people. Can she tell him about him? What’s his name? Riley finds that she can’t answer that question.

Chapter 3 - Love & Communication

(Park Slope, Brooklyn - as good as Brooklyn gets)
Riley is at the dinner table with her folks, Bernard and Ellen, who she calls by their first names. Her phone pings and Bernard asks her not to use it at the table. She apologizes and they go back to eating. Riley finally plucks up the courage to make an announcement. “So,” she mutters tentatively, “I saw Angie the other day.” Her father is surprised and her mother asks if she spoke to her. Riley informs them that they had coffee, adding that sometimes Angie has her over to her place for dinner. Her mother asks how long this has been going on. They had no idea she was even back in the city. Riley snaps that she wouldn’t would she. For all she knew Angie was dead.

Bernard says that was a little uncalled for, but Riley says it’s true. Angie is great; a really cool person. She knows they think she’s some kind of monster… Her mother interjects, assuring her that they don’t think that. It’s just a little… complicated. Bernard asks what she was thinking. She is in school to study, not hang out and socialize. Riley corrects him that she is in college, not school. Like, as in being an adult. And it’s only coffee anyway. It’s not like she’s off sacrificing animals and worshipping the devil, or whatever they think Angie’s up to. She asks them why they hate her so much. Bernard tells her that obviously they don’t think she’s a monster, but like her mother said, it’s a little more complicated than that. They have worked hard and done everything they could to provide them both with a world-class education. Her sister… she didn’t appreciate it the way she does.

That’s all? asks Riley. Angie didn’t like school so they kicked her out of the family? “Jesus!” she gasps, dramatically. Bernard tells her that Angie left. She left school, left home. She didn’t even get the chance to attend college, not that she could have with the grades she got. Riley asks why she did that. Ellen replies that she should talk to her about that. “No she shouldn’t,” says Bernard. He reminds Riley once again that she’s in college to study. Her classwork is important over all else. She’s worked all her life to get where she is and her sister can only act as a distraction. Riley snaps back, asking if they’re banning her form seeing her own sister. Her father replies that this was the deal. She wanted to go to school in the city, so she lives at home and follows their rules. End of discussion. Riley glances at her mother before barking, “No!”

She stands and tells them that they can’t do this to her. Bernard tries to butt in but Riley is in full flow. She reminds them that Angie is her sister. They can’t deny that. They can’t change that. They always talk about how they raised her to be responsible and smart and a good student and how proud they are of how she turned out… so why can’t they f***ing trust her to keep things that way and just let her be friends with her big sister. Her parents look shocked, but Ellen replies that she is right. She has never shown anything but total responsibility and good judgement. It’s not fair to punish her. Riley turns to Bernard. “Dad?” she asks, tentatively. Bernard stares at his newspaper and replies that as long as the schoolwork keeps up, that’s all he asks. If he sees her start to slip, they’ll have another talk. He looks at her, and adds that she will continue to live at home, of course. “Actualllyyy…” replies Riley, rubbing the back of her neck nervously. “I wanted to talk to you about that as well…”

Riley knows that she should have quit while she was ahead, but she was on a roll. She never managed to talk her parents into anything before. But then again, she never really tried. They didn’t say yes to her moving out with her friends, but they didn’t say no, either. She takes that as a win.

(later)
Leaves blow around the park on a cool day as Riley takes her dog for a walk. Elsewhere, Lona flips open a can of pop. She faces the Metropolitan Museum of Art in the Upper East Side, staring at the door. Soon, her teacher, Mr. Adams, steps out with his wife and walks down the steps. Lona moves quickly towards them and her shoulder collides with Mr. Adams’ as she storms past. He turns and asks, “Ms. Lo?” She turns as if nothing has happened and says hi, asking if he’s been to the Tate exhibit. He replies yes. They were just leaving, actually. He introduces her to his wife and his wife to Lona. “So pleased to meet you,” she replies with a strange smile. Mr. Adams tells her to enjoy the exhibit. She has a paper due on it tomorrow morning after all. Her wife tells him that Lona is an odd one. “You don’t need to tell me that,” he replies. She adds that Lona seemed to deliberately bump into him. He can feel Lona’s eyes staring at him as he departs.

(Prospect Park, Brooklyn)
Riley and Sneakerfreak talk every day, sometimes all day and sometimes at night, too. Thank God for unlimited text messages or her home life would resemble one of those stupid cell phone commercials - the ineffectual parents vs. the crafty teenagers. She walks through the park with her dog leading the way. She’s told Sneakerfreak everything: her parents, her friends, her sister, how school was and what it was like living in the city, the new Hoteliers download off their website. Actually, Sneakerfreak tended to do most of the question asking, but Riley doesn’t mind. When it comes to music, however, Sneakerfreak knows way more than she does.

She wonders where he lives. What kind of college does he attend? What kind of sneakers does Sneakerfreak wear? She wants to know the obvious stuff but she can never get a word in edgewise. His questions were rapidfire and her text-fu was strong. She doesn’t mind though, because sometimes, out of nowhere, he’ll text something right on the edge, to ask what she’s wearing or to send a photo of herself. To ask what her wildest fantasy is or maybe what they’d be doing if he just happened to be there with her.

She texts as she walks with a smile on her face. “Quite inappropriate,” she can hear her father say, if he knew of course. It’s cool because she doesn’t know Sneakerfreak and he doesn’t know her. She likes it that way. She deflects his more flirty questions, knowing that later today, or ore likely later tonight, he’ll try again. But, for now, the boy can wait.

Chapter 4 - Disown, Delete

(Little Japan)
The New York Four are in a restaurant eating sushi. Merissa teases Lona by telling the others that Lona will be paying. She saw the check she got from her parents. Nice allowance! A few more of those and she could buy the place they’re in. Ren tells her to shut up, and Riley adds that she’s the one to talk, “Ms. Prada handbag over there.” They tuck into their spider rolls, softshell crab, avacado cucumber, sprouts and spicy mayo between classes. It’s delicious. Ren asks Riley if there’s any news on the sublet. She replies that Frank says it’s theirs if his friend ends up taking this job in L.A. He’s 90% sure it’ll happen. They should get it right after the winter break. Ren needs a little more assurance. They have to say if they’ll be staying in the dorms next semester when they register, and there’s her financial paperwork to crack on with. Riley tells them that she’ll ask Frank again, though she’s sure it’ll work out fine. She asks Ren not to worry so much. “Says the girl with the brownstone in Brooklyn,” replies Ren as she takes another bite.

Riley doesn’t like the inference, but she is broken off when her phone pings. Merissa asks her to shut it off, at least until lunch is done. They haven’t talked for weeks, just the four of them. Riley slips the phone into her bag and says okay. The girls continue eating, but Riley gets up and tells them she has to go to the bathroom. Merissa is furious. “Unbelievable,” she cries. “What is she, a crack addict with that thing?” She adds that Riley can’t sit still for five seconds and they’re trusting her to come through with a place to live! Ren stands and asks them to stay there. She’ll get Riley. Merissa slams her fist down on the table in frustration.

Once Ren is in the bathroom, she hears Riley’s phone ping once again and sighs. When Riley emerges she is surprised to see Ren standing there. Ren demands that Riley give her the phone and she snatches it from her grasp. She clicks the mute button, telling Riley that the thing drives her mental. Riley doesn’t know how to respond, but Ren says that it sucks that she has to say this, but it would suck more if Merissa came back there like she wanted to. Or Lona, even. They take this really seriously. They’re worried about her. She’s missing classes, falling asleep in the library and her head’s in the clouds every time they see her… when they see her. They also miss her. They’re her friends and they’re supposed to be roommates soon. She only seems to have time for her phone.

She then asks Riley about last night. “Last night?” enquires Riley. Ren tells her that at 8pm they were supposed to go to a screening at the anthology film archive for class. They were supposed to go together. Riley stutters as she tries to recall what she was doing. She forgot, completely. She decides to spill all to Ren, someone who could fully appreciate the awesomeness about what she was going to tell her, and so she informs her that she has a secret boyfriend. Ren’s face light up in surprise. “A secret boyfriend!” she cries. Merissa overhears her , and the secret is out.

(later)
Riley and Angie are at Angie’s place, and she asks Riley when she’s going to meet this mystery guy. “Why?“ asks Riley. “Why?“ replies Angie. Her baby sister meets some guy, lord knows who. All they know is that he has excellent taste in music. He’s obviously swept Riley off her feet, so why wouldn’t she want to meet him? Riley didn’t mean that. She asks why she would want to meet him. Everything’s perfect as it is. Angie gives her a look and tells Riley that it was an absolutely perfect thing to say.

Frank suddenly rushes in and apologizes. He won’t be a moment. Angie tells him damn right he won’t. He’s interrupted a very important conversation. Riley says hi, and Frank asks what he’s missing. Angie tells him that Riley’s been schooling her on the nuances of the modern dating scene. Frank asks if he should be worried. What is modern dating like now? “Apparently, quite virtual,” replies Angie. He shouldn’t be worried, though. She likes her men very much in the flesh. She shoos him away and tells him to come back tomorrow.

Angie and Riley look through some old photos. Riley is amazed at Angie’s hair back in 1998. Why does she not remember this? Angie tells her she’s lucky. She keeps trying to forget it. Anyway, Riley was all of ten years old then. A long time ago. Riley hugs the album to her chest and tentatively asks Angie why she left home. Angie turns to her younger sister. “Mom and dad didn’t tell you, huh? Oh, Riley... you’ve really gotta be careful with that guy of yours.”

Clutching a glass of wine, Angie explains everything. Their mom and dad take the slightest distraction as a catastrophe. And dating a boy whilst in high school… there goes your whole future, right? Early admission to Bryn Mawr or whatever down the toilet. And so, she adds, Bernard and Eileen Wilder have spoken. Riley says that she hasn’t told them anything about him. Angie reckons that’s a smart move. She was stubborn and wanted to rub their faces in it. She knew they couldn’t deal, but she did it anyway. She is surprised that they never told Riley any of this. What must she be thinking? She warns Riley to be prepared to be shocked.

Angie explains that she fell in love. He was older than she and suddenly, school didn’t seem so important. Riley asks her if it was Frank. God no, she replies. Frank is the real thing. This guy was just a guy. It was typical high school kinda stuff. It was exciting at the time, but later all you can think is, what a loser. Anyway, she continues, he was the center of her world. He was in a band, naturally, and of course they were about to hit it big. He needed her to go on tour with them.

“And you did?” asks Riley. “Two months before graduation,” replies Angie. Riley can’t believe it. She asks what their dad said. Angie asks her to guess. She feels that she owes Riley an apology. They’re so strict with her mostly because of what she did. They’re terrified Riley will end up ‘bad.’ Riley asks if that was it. She dropped out? Angie tells her that she went on tour, for three weeks. Three weeks in a crappy van. Dad called the cops but since she was eighteen, they couldn’t do anything. The tour ended when they disbanded after some show outside of D.C. over creative differences. So clichéd. She took the Amtrak home.

She adds that dad shut the door in her face. She looked like hell and had run away from home to basically live in a van with four guys. She still didn’t expect her reception to be like that. Riley thinks that is so unfair, but Angie tells her it’s not. It’s just mom and dad, and she knew that. The pair of them curl up and go to sleep. Riley loves her big sister.

(meanwhile)
Merissa is in a session with Dr. Paka. She informs him of an incident when her boyfriend got beaten up by another boyfriend (though she doesn’t phrase it quite like that). She assures the doctor that she’s keeping up with her grades, so he doesn’t have to worry about that.

(later)
Ren has her session with Dr. Paka who asks her how her social life’s going. Ren replies that it’s going great. She recalls a recent date with an older guy who took her to a sophisticated restaurant and poured her a glass of wine before going to a nice club. She tells the doctor that the key is to try not to date college guys. With them it’s always cheap beer, Kung Fu films and filthy dorms. The guy pouring the wine asked if she was twenty-eight. “Yep, twenty-eight,” she replied. “That’s right.” Dr. Paka asks if she’s having any better luck. Ren thinks so. She thinks she’s always related better to older men.

(the college photo lab)
Lona is in the darkroom developing some photos. She removes them from the developing fluid and hangs them up on a line behind her. Every one is of Mr. Adams and his wife. More interviews take place with Dr. Paka with each one being videotaped. Merissa complains that Riley is doing the classic thing whereby someone starts dating and forgets they have friends. Ren tells him that they haven’t heard from Riley in weeks. They just get the odd text here and there. Lona wonders if Riley is having problems at home or something. Riley is next into the chair.

She wonders where she’s supposed to find the time to do everything she wants. School, friends, this job, a relationship… her sister. “Something’s gotta give.” She leaves the session and walks through the city, texting all the way as if nothing else mattered. She receives from from Sneakerfreak which reads ‘So let’s meet up. Face to face.’

(a few days later)
Riley is on the sofa having something to eat whilst her dad sits beside her. The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade is on television. Riley is clock-watching, and moments later she has changed and is heading out the door, thanking ‘Ellen’ for a stellar thanksgiving dinner as usual. Angie’s get-together starts at eight so she should get going. Her mother, who is washing up, asks her when she stopped calling her mom. Riley pauses, a little surprised by the question. She admits that she doesn’t know. Ellen tells her that she does. It was in fourth grade. One day she just started. There was no explanation, but because they didn’t want to direct her too much in her social interactions, they let it go. She was sure it was just a phase, but… she never stopped. Riley stares back at her. “Mom…” Her mother assures her that she loves her and her sister, and wouldn’t change a thing. She asks Riley to tell Angie that she said hello.

As soon as Riley is out of the door she grabs her phone and calls her big sister. She tells Angie what her mom said and reckons this is just about the best day ever… except for just one thing. She looks at the message she got from Sneakerfreak three days earlier. Since then there’s been nothing. He usually texts her a hundred times a day. What does that mean? she wonders. She assumes it means he’s waiting for a reply. No pressure then. Everything is so perfect for her at the moment. Does she try and make it perfecter? Take that risk? She meets Angie at her place and gives her a big hug. Frank is there and the place is lively. Everything’s too perfect at the moment. She’ll text Sneakerfreak tomorrow.

Angie introduces Riley to some of her friends who seem pretty cool. Guys chat to her and she gets along fine, playing games with them. Angie and Frank watch her from the sidelines. “Look at her,” says Angie, proudly. The Riley she knew couldn’t even think about looking you in the eye, much less meet new people and actually converse with them. It’s a big change, she tells Frank, though she always seemed cool to her. Maybe a little quiet, but essentially normal. As she flips through the collection of vinyl, Angie adds that there’s still her stupid smartphone, though. Frank reckons it’s cute. Angie reckons he would, since he has one of the things too.

(later)
The party is over and everyone’s gone home. The place is a mess, but it’s the price you pay for a good party. Angie’s not ready to finish yet and they’re out of wine so she figures she’ll head to the liquor store. She asks Frank to hold down the fort and not to let Riley crash just yet. They’ve barely talked all night. “Yes ma’am,” he replies, “I’ll keep her entertained.”

Riley wants to crash. She’s beat, but Franks tells her Angie would be disappointed if he let her do that. He asks about this boyfriend of hers. Riley looks up, wearily, and says Angie told him about that? How embarrassing. Franks wants to know the details, as salacious as possible. “Ha,” she replies. “You wish, Frank.” As Riley heads for the bathroom, Franks replies that he does wish. All he wants is one detail. Angie’s told him nothing. Riley asks him to leave her alone, but Frank has just the one question. “Is he really into sneakers?” Riley’s face drops and she pokes her head out of the door. “Frank?” she asks. Frank holds his smartphone up and smiles. “Otherwise known as you know who.”

Riley is shocked. “… oh, Frank… no, please…”

Frank lowers the phone and tells her that they finally meet. He approaches her and she looks up at him. She says his name once again, but he tells her that she can call him Sneakerfreak if she likes. As their mouths are just inches apart, Angie returns and calls out that she’s back. Frank goes to meet her and tells her she got back fast. Angie replies that it’s freezing out there. She practically ran there and back. She asks where Riley is. Frank says she’s in the bathroom. Kind of a lightweight for a college kid. Angie calls for her and asks if she’s okay. Riley emerges and tells her that she just splashed some water on her face. Is there a glass for her? Each of them grab a drink and Angie makes a toast to Riley, back in her life after far too long. She’s her sister, her best friend and will never be estranged again. The glasses clink together. “To Riley,” says Frank.

Later that night, Angie sleeps in Frank’s arms and Riley heads for the sofa, but she doesn’t stay long. As soon as the couple are asleep she heads outside into the night and grabs a cab, crying all the way home.

In Riley’s next session with Dr. Paka, she asks what she’s supposed to tell the others. How does she tell them? This apartment is what they’ve been working towards all semester. She’s ruined everything.

Later, it snows and Riley is walking along when a voice says, “Hey stranger.” She turns to see Merissa, Ren and Lona walking towards her, all wrapped up in sweaters and scarves. Merissa makes fun, saying she thought she’d never hear herself say this, but Riley should answer the phone once in a while. She keeps missing her appointments with Dr. Paka. Ren tells her that they’ve been trying to find her. Is she okay? Riley blushes but replies that she’s fine. Everything’s fine.

Ren asks if there’s any news on the apartment. She didn’t renew her dorm room for the second semester and so if she needs to now, she’ll be waitlisted. “We don’t all have safety nets, “ adds Merissa. Before Riley can reply, Lona interjects, pointing out that her parents will need to fly out and see the apartment before they’ll start paying her rent. Ren says that she can’t get hold of her to save her life and Merissa adds that there are four weeks left to the end of the month. They’ve got to get utilities hooked up, internet, cable and hire movers. Riley becomes flustered, unable to get a word in edgeways. Merissa asks who’s gonna move them on New Years. Lona then asks about the bedroom situation. Are they all the same size? How many bathrooms?

Riley can’t take all these questions and tries to slow it down, but the comments keep on coming. A male friend of theirs realizes that Riley is struggling so he shouts for them to shut up. “What?” snarls Merissa. The guy gulps and points to Riley, feebly, saying he thinks she needs to say something. Riley doesn’t know what to tell them. Luckily, she is saved the embarrassment when Frank appears dangling a set of keys from his fingers. The place is theirs. Merissa almost jumps on him, qualifying that he’s talking about their sublet before hugging him tightly. It’s great news, and she lets him know that he’s officially her new favourite boyfriend.

Frank looks behind her straight at Riley and says hi. “Hey, Frank,” she replies with a little uncertainty. Her friends celebrate their newfound freedom. Riley knows that she should be relieved. Her friends got what they wanted and she was saved a tough talk, but she thinks her heart is going to pound right out of her chest. What’s worse? she wonders. That her sister’s boyfriend is the worst kind of scumbag, or that he’s the same guy she’s been falling for all semester. How can Frank be Sneakerfreak? How could she have been so… gullible? She watches Frank dish out some flyers to the indie label showcase, informing them that if they want some tickets they can e-mail him. Riley sits down and rubs her forehead. What does she tell Angie? Does she have to tell Angie? How on Earth does she tell her?

Frank comes over to Riley and plonks himself on the bench beside her. He asks her to turn her phone on. Right now. Riley turns it on and Frank asks her to check her texts. Sneakerfreak really misses her. They stand up and Frank asks her to walk him home. Before long they are on his stairwell. Riley is in his arms and they are kissing passionately. This is not the best moment for Angie to return home.

Riley?” she asks in horror. “Frank?” Standing there with two bags of shopping tucked under her armpits, Angie is furious. Riley reddens up immediately and looks back, shocked. She asks her to listen, but Angie is not in the mood. “My boyfriend, Riley? With my boyfriend?” Franks scratches his head, nervously, as Riley tries to explain. Angie warns Frank to shut up, go upstairs and wait for her.

Riley slumps against the wall and assures her sister that she didn’t mean for this to happen. Angie is understandably hurt and upset. “Really, Riley?” she asks. She mentions that Riley appeared out of the blue, not having seen her in years, has been around constantly, tagging along with them to shows… “What the hell, Riley? Was this just about Frank?” Tears stream down Riley’s cheeks. She asks Angie how she could think that. She’s her big sister and she loves her. She wanted nothing more from her than to be friends. Angie laughs, sarcastically, and Riley asks how she can be so mean. Angie lets her know in no uncertain terms.

She tells Riley that she expected better of her. She saw the little sister she used to have and bought into the shy, naïve routine. She guesses that makes her foolish. She expects this kind of thing from Frank. He’s a guy that lots of women find attractive, and as clichéd as it sounds, he can’t help himself. Riley replies that she doesn’t find him attractive. She’s not like that. Angie points to the stairs and asks what the hell she just saw two minutes ago. Riley looks down and sniffs, tears continuing to run down her face. Angie waits for a reply.

Riley then admits that she doesn’t know. She got confused. She doesn’t know what she was thinking. She’s sorry, really sorry. She asks what’s going to happen now. “What’s going to happen?” replies Angie. She says she’s going to go upstairs and fight with her boyfriend. Riley is going to get up and go home, grow up, and maybe they’ll see each other again in another ten years. She turns her back and heads upstairs, leaving Riley dumbstruck.

Angie adds that she’s trying not to be mean, but she can’t go through this. Not again. And not with her. Maybe mom and dad were right about her. Regardless, Riley doesn’t need her. She got this far on her own. She should just be careful who she falls for. Compared to how it could have gone, she’s getting off easy. She is still in one piece, and despite how it may feel, her heart is not broken. She should trust her big sister. She doesn’t know hurt that bad.

Riley runs from the house and into the street, crying. She wanders down the snow-covered sidewalk with Angie’s final words ringing in her ears. “You’re just losing a sister you never really had in the first place.

Epilogue: What Would the Community Think?

Riley is in an interview with Dr. Paka. She tells him that everyone moved in, sure, but her mom and dad fought it. However, her mom feels better that she’s living so close to Angie now. Dr. Paka asks if she’s told them what happened with her sister. Riley asks what could she tell them. At the very least it would confirm all their stupid fears: Angie still hasn’t got it together, she’s a bad influence on Riley, the whole city is a bad influence on her…

She just isn’t ready to move back to Park Slope. Dr. Paka asks if she wants to move back. Riley admits that she did. She wanted to go crawl into bed for the next three and a half years. But, this won’t be the end, she maintains. She screwed up but she can get through this. She can deal. This city can’t break her so easily.

Later, Riley exits a subway with her phone in her hand. She’s reminded of a corny old saying - out with the old, in with the new phone number. ‘No Messages’ reads the screen much to her dismay. She trudges through a wintery New York feeling kinda lonely. However, she has a new address, a new apartment and some new roommates. She opens the door to find Ren, Lona and Merissa waiting for her with broad smiles across their faces. “Welcome home Riley,” beams Ren. Riley’s face lights up.

New Year’s is spent at a bar with her friends and lots of revellers. Classes ended and finals went well. With that out of the way and no other distractions, they moved in and unpacked in record time. They reconnected and all stayed there over the break. Something about the holidays in the city gave them warm, fuzzy, happy feelings all round. Merissa began to chill out. She and Lona shared a room. Riley’s not sure what they have in common but they’re bonding. She and Ren share the other room. Ren goes out a lot, and Riley thinks that means she’s the perfect roommate. Riley misses her sometimes.

Classes start again in a week or so, but right now that feels like light years away. She heads to the roof to check out the city as the new year begins. New York awes Riley into silence sometimes. It makes her want to shout out at the top of her lungs. Is there any place better, she wonders. At this point in time, she seriously doubts it. The countdown drops from ten to two seconds and Riley ‘s phone pings. She reaches into her pocket and looks at the screen. Everyone shouts, “Happy New Year,” as Riley’s face drops. The message reads ‘Here’s to an even better one. Kiss!’

Standing on the opposite side of the roof is Frank, smiling as he looks at his phone. What’s he after, blowing off his girlfriend on New Year’s Eve?

End.

New York Five will follow once the series has ended.

Notes:
Brian Wood is an American writer and designer who has written several books including Demo, DMZ and Supermarket.

Ryan Kelly is an American artist who has worked on books such as American Virgin, Northlanders and Local.

Jared K. Fletcher has worked on the fantastic Ex Machina, as well as The Spirit, Catwoman and All-Star Batman and Robin.

The Minx line of books of which this series belongs, was a series primarily aimed at teenage girls as a way of bringing them into the comic shop. Other titles include Aaron Alexovich's Kimmie66 and Andi Watson & Josh Howard's Clubbing. New York Four is a perfectly good read for guys, too.

This series is set in New York City. The hub of the action takes place in the Greenwich Village/East Village area, roughly between 14th Street and Houston, clearly a favorite area of the author's. The NYU campus where Riley is heading at the beginning of the book is between the Broadway & Houston junction and Washington Square Park.

Broadway & Houston is between Greenwich Village and Little Italy.

Tompkin's Square Park is in Alphabet City, a park which, like much of Manhattan, has lost some of its character, for better or worse, over recent years. It is now quite safe for people to visit.

Washington Square Park, famous for it's huge arch seen in When Harry Met Sally, is in Greenwich Village.

The East Village is a popular area in Manhattan, known for its bohemian connections and busy shops.

The Porto Rico Coffee Company is a coffee retailer at 40½ St. Mark’s Place.

Yaffa Cafe is at 97 St. Marks Place.

Dojo's is a Japanese restaurant at 14 West 4th St, between Mercer St. and Broadway.

The Khyber Pass is at 34 St. Marks Place, an Afghan/Middle Eastern restaurant.

Toy Tokyo is a toy store at 121 2nd Avenue.

Kim's Video is a DVD and music shop at 124 1st Avenue.

English singer/songwriter PJ Harvey's Stories From the City, Stories From the Sea was released in 2000.

The Shins are an American indie band, known partly for their contribution to the Garden State movie soundtrack and several albums including Oh, Inverted World which was released on the well-known Sub Pop label.

GPA stands for Grade Point Average.

Cat Power is husky-voiced singer/songwriter Chan Marshall, whose albums include the excellent The Power and Jukebox, an album of mostly cover versions.

Amtrak is a government owned corporation, created to provide an intercity passenger train service in the United States.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is on Fifth Avenue and was featured heavily in the Pierce Brosnan movie, The Thomas Crown Affair.

Prospect Park, designed by Frederick Law, is a 585 acre park. It can be easily found if you cross the Manhattan Bridge from Manhattan and keep going down Flatbush Avenue. It houses a zoo, a boathouse and and ice-skating rink amongst many other features.

The Circle Line has been running since 1945 and offers sightseeing cruises around New York City.

Park Slope, Brooklyn where Riley lies is an affluent area full of townhouses in the $1 - 2.5m region according to 2003 statistics.