Andria was certain her parents did not love her. She could not remember a time when she felt loved by them. She would tell herself how ridiculous it was to even question that love, because how could she really understand the love a parent has for their child? She wouldn't really know the connection until she had a child of her own. But the fact that none of her or her brother's baby pictures or any other pictures of the two were on the mantel of the fireplace, the only pictures being that of their parents during the childless years of their marriage, began to eat away at her and leave behind an aching doubt. There were pictures of her parents on their honeymoon in Barbados, pictures of her parents in Hawaii, pictures of her parents in different states from their child-free cross-country roadtrip. And they were actually smiling. Big happy white-teethed grins that glowed from their brown faces, smiles which Andria could not recall from her entire life's memory.

It seemed that her parents had been fairly successful and outgoing people who thought that settling down and having two kids within the picket-fenced house would round out their African American dream, but when the kids arrived they began to feel resentment due to the amount of freetime children actually consume. And so twenty-year-old Andria and her seventeen-year-old little brother Allen experienced a childhood with little love and affection, no hugs or kisses. They stayed within their rooms and only came out to quietly eat dinner. They went about the house like the ghosts of strangers. Her mother would tuck her and Allen into bed, roll the blanket up to her neck nice and snug, and instead of giving a warm smile and a "Goodnight, sleep tight" or a warm peck on the forehead, she would pat the cold surface of the blanket, as near to the edge of the bed as possible and leave them in the darkness of the room. During high school, Andria had long since given up on getting her parents' affections or approval.

When she discovered her talent for art and would show her mother and father the paintings and drawings that her art teacher had praised her for, she was met with an unenthusiatic "Hmm" from Mom or an unamused nod from Dad. Having learned that her parents did not want to be bothered with her she became an avid reader and writer. The stories gave her motherly and fatherly advice, and helped her to create art; the words fueled the images. Rarely did she actually see anything that she painted. She felt that drawing from life was a waste of time because the images were already there for one to see, they were already complete; already drawn up by the hands of reality. Taking images from a book allowed her more freedom. A freedom she couldn't get from her overprotective parents.

At age eighteen she was to be home by ten and wasn't allowed male nor female company, not even her best friend Robert who she'd known for five years and she secretly thought it was the fact that he was white that kept him unwelcomed into their home. She often wondered why her parents were being so watchful over her, someone who'd always earned good grades, never had a boyfriend, and whom they didn't love. She'd felt so alone sometimes. Invisible. Unworthy. But she let a bead of hope rest deep inside her that someday she would make her escape and be independent and free.

When senior year came around and both Robert and her art teacher began to question whether she would take her gift on to an art school, she began to create a scenario in her head in which she would ask her parents to pay for her expensive art school tuition and they would happily agree to pay in order to see her leave them once and for all. Even though she was afraid to go off to college and leave her best friend Robert behind at the local university and afraid to leave her baby brother behind to deal with their parents alone, she knew she would have to make something of her life. So, one evening she went downstairs to speak with her parents. She walked over and stood by the arm of the sofa where the two were watching television.

"Mom...Dad...I want to tell you that I've decided to go to art school and I would really appreciate it if you would give me permission to and help me to be educated in a field I love and will make you proud in."

The whole time her mother had stared expressionless at the television screen. Only her father responded. He turned his head in Andria's direction but his eyes remained on an area on the carpet. The light from the television screen left the side of his face in a darkness that enhanced his angry look.

"Your not going to college," he spat, "you are going to stay here and work with me and your mother. You owe it to the business."

His eyes remained on the ground and his voice lowered to a tone of feigned softness. "Afterall, you have an obligation to the family business. You're family."

Then he turned back to the television. And the force of the blow came at her with a delay, like the aftershock of an earthquake, she could feel the pressure of her father's words upon her chest. She struggled to breath and then she stumbled backwards and turned around to run up the stairs and to her room where she opened her mouth and let out a scream that burned her throat like bile. For the first time in her life, Andria felt the same way about her parents as they did of her. Allen rushed into her bedroom to comfort her. He hugged her as she pounded her fists into the carpet. He held her back as she tried to claw the window open and climb out of the house. Her parents did not come up to see that she was alright.

When she cried to Robert about it the next morning before school, he held her tightly in his arms and called her parents every name in the book.

"Don't cry Andria. Just one more month and you can come live with me, 'kay?"

The one month passed. The morning after her graduation, which her parents did not attend because of work but she knew otherwise, Andria packed everything she could into two garbage bags, hugged Allen as they both cried, and went down the stairs to leave. Her legs felt heavy and unstable as she stepped down the stairway. She could hear the ruffling of paper. Downstairs her mother was sitting at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. Seeing Andria with the black trash bags stuffed, one in each hand, her mother looked up from the paper.

Her lips tight and her eyes hot with anger, her mother stated, "Your not welcome back," and returned to her reading. Robert was outside waiting for her. He put her protectively under his arm and took one of her bags, both had tears in their eyes and Robert began to sing in a deep crackly whisper.

"It's a new dawn, its a new day, it's a new life for me. And I'm feeling good."

He smiled down at Andria but the fact that he was trying to cheer her up only made her sob harder.

When her sobs began to lessen as they walked in front of his apartment building she asked him, "Who sings that song?"

He answered, "Nina Simone."

She smiled up at him and said "Let's keep it that way." When they finally got into Robert's apartment, now their apartment, they were still laughing.

A laugh was what had brought them together that fateful day in high school. Fourth day of school, freshman year, English class, Robert walked into class late and sat down beside her. Freshman year he was the same height he was now. At the time he was taller then any kid in his class but the other boys soon caught up to him. His short black hair brought out his soft blue eyes but Andria, luckily, didn't find him at all attractive.

"And you must be Robert. Can you explain why your late to my class?" Mrs. Crane asked.

Robert stared seriously at their English teacher and spoke: "When I woke up in the morning and the clock let out a warning I didn't think I'd ever make it on time. By the time I grabbed my books and gave myself a look, I'm at the corner just in time to see my bus fly by."

Andria looked around the room and up at the teacher in shock wondering if anyone else knew what was going on. He had just recited the Saved by the Bell theme song. She watched it every morning before school. The class was quiet. A laugh escaped her mouth and Mrs. Crane gave her an annoyed look and then looked back at Robert.

"Well, let this be a warning Robert. If your late again you will get detention." She went back to her lecture as Robert looked over at Andria and smiled and they chuckled quietly through the whole first half of class. From then on they were pretty much inseparable.

Robert was a smartass and outgoing and Andria was quiet and understanding. They were a perfect match since sometimes Robert just needed a quiet talk and sometimes Andria just needed to get away from the seriousness of her life. When Robert didn't have a date to the dance she'd accompany him. And since Andria never had a date to the dances Robert would always take time to dance with her. They had to fight off a lot of stares and teasing about their friendship. First it was because he was white and she was black, then because she was a girl and he a boy and then after a few years they were teased about whether they'd ever just hurry up and marry each other. But both Robert and Andria knew that they would stay best friends; Nothing more, nothing less.

Andria eventually got a steady job and was able to pay half the rent and utilities for the apartment the two shared. At that time during which both of them were nineteen, Andria began her addiction to clubbing. The Techno/Dance/Trance clubs in particular. Every Saturday she would wear her hair down in a pin straight bob with her bangs out, and even though she usually wore no makeup at all, she'd put on some lip gloss and some coal black eyeliner inspired by the Egyptian queens, slip into her favorite glittering green party dress and black boots and go down to Erratic. She didn't go there to drink. She didn't go there to pick up men, necessarily. She'd never even had the guts to ask a guy out so how could she pick up guys? It was the feeling of losing yourself for awhile and dancing with all those people around her. Nobody knew her but they accepted her closeness and weren't afraid to brush against her while they danced. On the dance floor, head swaying, arms waving, it was just a sea of people who were feeling the music. A dark ocean of intoxicating presence. And when a guy came up to dance with her, she didn't dance with them because they were attractive, a lot of them weren't. As long as they were good dancers she accepted them. She let them touch her while they danced, but not in a sleazy way. In a way that is acceptable when your dancing with a guy. And usually Andria's eyes were closed. Feeling the presence of another human being was enough. When she was done for the night she would whisper 'thank you' in their ear and quickly exit the club.

Sometimes the guys would yell after her for her number or chase her down to get her name but she always jogged out of Erratic, down the pavement and around the corner before they could catch her and her tears. She felt bad about what she did, using those guys, and yet she just kept going back like some sick fiend. She was lucky she hadn't been beaten up for leading a guy on. Often she would jokingly say a quiet prayer of thank you to the man she called The Seer, for allowing her to escape without harm. The Seer was the guy who looked down from his third story apartment window at the people going in and out of the club. She could just make out his face to know that he was young, around her age, and she felt weirdly reassured when she saw him up there looking down, like he was seeing everything and looking out for her.

A year later, now 20 years old, Andria was doing well enough working at the bookstore to afford a place of her own. Robert respected her wish to move out and have a place of her own, though with some sadness and fits of seperation anxiety. She was like a sister to him and he worried about her. When she'd moved out on her own, it only made her go to the club more often. Robert wasn't there as much to feed her needs with the occasional hug or kiss. They talked on the phone a lot but didn't see each other as often as she wished, what with his busy college schedule and all. And so tonight she was getting all made up to walk down to Erratic. It'd been a whole week since she'd last went and she was jonesing for it. She slipped on the green shimmery dress that hung just right over her trim but curvy form and the black boots that were the source of her power and headed out into the pulsing Friday night air.