It was an incandescent day in Canton. I glowered impatiently at the wiry white boy across from me as he fished through the pockets of his navy blue jeans. With a triumphant grunt, he pulled a small vermillion bottle from the back left compartment. He popped the top, tipping the bottle so that its contents would spill into his awaiting palm.
Ardent winds beat relentlessly against the windows of the periwinkle villa, whistling when turned away from the thin translucent barriers. Seven monochrome capsules now rested in his hand. He split them up into two piles; three for me and four for him. He slid my pile across the coffee table that rested between us.
The saccharine aroma of blueberry waffles wafted into my nose, making my mouth water. I made a mental memorandum to take them out of the toaster in about five minutes. I grabbed the pallid pills from their place on the tiny table, simultaneously retrieving the porcelain goblet that had been resting by my feet.
An insipid red liquid filled it to the brim. Matt and I glanced at each other. I counted the pills, downed them, and chased them with a swig of wine. I enjoyed it; the pills, the chardonnay stolen from my mother's liquor cabinet, the danger, the bittersweet taste of it all.
Of course my enthusiasm receded when nothing happened. Again I found myself glowering at Matt, though I saw the same look of malcontent in his azure irises. "Are you sure these things work?" I inquired, displeasure evident in my tone.
He didn't bother with a response; I frowned. Then I had a thought. Maybe they had worked, and I just couldn't tell. I mean, I'd never done this before, so how could I know? I waved my hand, a test of my coordination, and again frowned. Nothing. Now I was convinced, the pills were duds.
Just as I was about to give him a piece of my mind, and demand my twenty bucks back, Matt plummeted to the floor. Before I had a chance to comprehend the situation, Matt was rolling around, tugging at his russet hair, trying desperately to regain control over his body's spastic movements.
I leapt from my seat with the intention of aiding Matt, but it was futile. My legs became wet noodles and I sank quickly to the floor. Within all of a second I was whisked away. Whisked away from Matt, away from the villa, away from the smell of soon-done waffles, from all of Canton.
This was a different place entirely.

Now whenever I think back on my first trip to this magical place, to be named later, I can only recall bits and pieces. Abstract components of a memory in gamut, slices of a pizza, if you will. No, not even slices. Toppings on a slice. For this reason, I will describe it only briefly.
The first piece would have to be the vegetation. It's not a great forest, or desert, or any other biome you've seen in some textbook. Instead there lies a vast field of decaying stalks, each about three feet in diameter and ten feet high, each one hard as rock. An endless field of growing dead plants, one I like to call the melancholy meadow.
Of course, as with everything, there is a reason for this phenomenon. It just so happens that in this case, the reason is a blistering ball of fire looming ominously overhead. This sun, at least four times bigger than our own, colored a murky shade of sangria, reigns mutely over the melancholy meadow, painting the sky a paler shade of burnt sienna and spurring the cultivation of the putrefying pasture.
Unlike ours, this sun never sets, never cycles nor retires to its celestial bed below the horizon. In fact, the ubiquitous presence of the great, smoldering orb could be the reasons the natives worship it. Primitive, by our standards, the land's inhabitants are also unlike anything known to man. Each one was a good eight feet tall with scaly, chartreuse skin, with sharp ecru beaks; identical in every way except for the shape of their eyelids, each lid shaped in a uniquely abstract fashion.
The last facet of this place I dare to recollect is, without a doubt, the feeling. No matter where I was in this enchanted realm, I felt it. This tingling in my gut, this euphoric sensation induced by the land's unusual ambiance. To you it may sound like a dismal thing, but in truth it's the most significant aspect of my unfortunate anecdote, and I spent the majority of my adolescent years chasing it.

Chapter 1

Little white hairs. An abundance of them could be seen in the hag's ears. The hag would be my geometry teacher, Mrs. Hill. "Thomas King." She called out. I raised my hand without thought, not even bothering to look in her direction. She did the same, absentmindedly marking my name off and moving onto the next name on the list. Despite her negligence, I could feel every other eye in the room on my back.

Ever since the incident two months ago, I'd become something of a boogeyman at Mooney High School. I wasn't surprised; at private schools, those who had run-ins with the law were alienated. This combined with the fact that I was Black at a nearly all white school left me completely isolated. I didn't care; I'd be lying if I said I was popular before the incident. To me, the kids that went to these schools were pussies, excuse my French, and I wanted nothing to do with them. It was just a little harder to deal now that Matt wasn't around.

In case you're wondering what happened to him, he was in The Phoenix House, our local rehabilitation center. Apparently, one of my neighbors heard a loud thud coming from the house and decided to call the police. According to the officer's statement, the one who responded to the call, when he arrived he knocked only to find no one was home. So he let himself inside, where he found Matt and I passed out on the living room floor. He called for an ambulance, and we were transported to the nearest hospital, St. Joseph's. This is where I was when I woke.

The doctor's diagnosis stated that I'd gone into a catatonic state and Matt had had a complex convulsion all due to an overdose of OxyContin. Now if you don't speak Harvard then this doesn't make much since to you. In lamens, I went into a short-lived coma and Matt had a seizure. About four days and several hundred dollars worth of consented medical tests later, I was released from the hospital. Matt, on the other hand, was detained in the hospital till the day of our trial. You didn't think we'd get off Scot-free, did you? Come on, even we knew better than that.

Long story short, I was sentenced to five hundred hours of community service and two hour-long sessions a week with a state-employed psychiatrist. A slap on the wrist. Matt, however, who had already been in legal trouble for drug-related crimes previous to our ordeal, was condemned to a year in The Phoenix House. It seemed like Matt was always getting the short end of the stick.

Still, there was nothing I could do for him. "Mr. King, would you like to answer this one?" Mrs. Hill invited, more a command then a question. I turned my attention toward the board. Several equations were written there, though I must confess I had no idea which one I was supposed to answer.

"No." I answered. A dangerous move, but I never have been one to take humiliation lying down.

"Well maybe you would be more inclined to answer the question if you spent more time paying attention to the lesson and less time doodling." The hag walked over and snatched the paper I'd been drawing on, crumbled it, and tossed it in the nearest garbage can. I grimaced. 'Maybe I should start worrying about myself…' I thought inwardly. Mrs. Hill continued where she'd left off; I heard snickers in the back of the classroom.

For the rest of the period I pretended to be interested in what the hag had to say, letting only the dismissal bell's wailing break my façade.

I sauntered briskly down the elongated hallway, muttering a string of profane statements as I did so. I was in a hurry, which was unfortunate in that Mooney High's corridors had not been built with expediency in mind. I was going to be late again, I was almost sure of it. Still, I hung onto the unlikely hope that if I reached my locker in time, retrieved my biology book and ran as fast as I could, there was a chance I'd make it on time, ultimately avoiding another detention.

Maybe, by the grace of god or some other almighty deity, I would have made it. But there, on my locker, in big red Sharpie letters was my deterrent. 'Pillhead', it read. Some douche had actually taken the time out of their day to write Pillhead on my locker. I looked around for the culprit. They were nowhere to be found. I opened my locker and threw all my books inside. I was no longer concerned with finding a way to biology.

Instead I found my way to the parking lot and took a seat next to the wheel of a dilapidated green pickup truck. For what seemed like hours, but in reality couldn't have been more than twenty minutes, I stared up into the baby blue sky, just thinking. Occasionally clouds would merge and seem to form something significant to only me, evoking a certain emotion for a brief period and then evanescing back into what they really were, clouds.

And then I closed my eyes and something funny happened. A sense of tranquility swept over me, and for once I felt at peace with myself. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever just isolated yourself from everything and stared at something beautiful for a while? If you have then you know what I mean when I say you begin to feel like a part of the backdrop. And when that happens, the rest of the world just seems to melt away.

"I figured I'd find you out here." I opened my eyes to find a young woman standing over me, smiling. I couldn't help but smile back. Maybe it was just the way light was hitting her. Or maybe it was my sun-muddled vision. Maybe it was the makeup she spent a half hour putting on every morning. But whatever it was, it made her look like an angel.

"Wow." It was the only word I could manage.

"Well I try." She joked, giggling a little. Amber had always been a pretty playful person. I just kept smiling. Amber was of a pretty fair complexion and her long golden-blonde hair, cut neatly just beneath her shoulder, accented it well. Every month she would dye a couple strands in the front of her hair an atypical shade; I referred to this as her feather. This month it was scarlet, which was interesting to me in that contrasted her emerald eyes. Or maybe I was just staring too hard.

Amber was my next door neighbor and had been for as long as I could remember, which is, according to my mother, around twelve years. After my incident at the local high school, a story for another time, we both came to Mooney High together. And, now that Matt was gone, she was the only friend I had.

Without a word she sat next to me, and we laid back, once again just staring up into the baby blue skies, just thinking. That is, until the familiar wailing of the dismissal bell wrenched us from our trance.

"Congratulations," She started in. "your first day back and you've already skipped a class." I frowned. Amber had a propensity to state the obvious. Did she really think I didn't know I missed a class? Did she really think I even cared? Still, I didn't respond. It wasn't an argument I could win. "Well, lunch time." She declared, climbing to her feet and brushing some nonexistent dust from the lap of her jeans.

"Er… You comin'?" she asked after I didn't follow suit. I shook my head, not taking my eyes off the sky.

"You go on ahead." I ordered. "I forgot to turn in an assignment. I'll catch up in a little while. Promise." I added when she looked at me cynically. I don't think she bought it, nonetheless she continued on her way, shaking her head as she did so. When I was sure she was out of sight, I removed a small carton from my pocket. From it I removed a cigarette, which I stuck between my front teeth, and the Bic lighter I would use to ignite it.

Ensuing a metallic click and the roaring of a controlled flame, the cancer stick was lit. I took a long drag, waiting for the poison to fill every corner of my mouth, and then exhaled, a javelin of smoke erupting from my lips and dissipating into nothing. I repeated this process until the cigarette was burned down to the filter and I had had my fill.

I didn't like having to hide things from Amber, but it was common knowledge that she hated cigarettes. Of course she was too nice to come out and tell me she wanted me to quit. Instead, she would just share all-too-relevant statistics and not-so-fun fun facts that made me cringe. I smoked to deal with my problems, not to add on to them.

First flicking the remnants of my cigarette into the bed of the pickup truck I'd been laying near, I set off toward the school cafeteria, intending to make good on my promise.

And make good on my promise I did. Lunch went well, and by well I mean it was without incident, aside from the cacophony of hushed whispering most of which, I was sure, was due to my presence. I paid it no mind. As long as I had one good friend, I was happy as could be. That being said, Amber didn't seem to share my cheeriness. In fact, she seemed more despondent than ever.

I could feel it, something was wrong. But whatever it was, she didn't want to talk about it. Instead, she just pushed her food around on her tray using the plastic utensils provided to her. Several times I attempted to make small talk, and each time she evaded conversation with one word answers. Once, I even tried asking her a question that required a little elaboration, but she just shrugged. I just gave up after that, and so we ate in silence.

Before long, lunch was over. However, Amber's moodiness had just begun. With each period that passed she grew more pessimistic and the lines of stress sitting atop her furrowed brows grew deeper and became more defined. I was concerned, but also didn't want to get caught in the line of fire. So I decided to leave it alone. Whatever was going on, she'd probably get over it soon enough anyway.

But when the end of day rolled around and Amber was still stomping through the halls, I decided my curiosity had been gnawing at me long enough. I managed to corner her while she was at her locker, angrily whispering to a friend of hers. I waited patiently for her to finish talking but when I saw that she had no intention of ending their chat, I cleared my throat. Still no response. I waited a little longer. "Um… Amber, got a sec?" I interrupted.

The girls threw each other a look, and then said their goodbyes and see-ya-laters. Then she turned to me. "What do you want?" she demanded. I was taken aback, but tried to rebound with a little humor. My first mistake.

"Well you seem enthusiastic." I joked, chuckling a little but then stopping when I saw my laughter was unrequited. She threw me a sort of half-glare that I took to mean strike one. "Sorry. It's just… Are you okay?" I inquired.

"I'm fine." She shot back without taking even a moment to consider the question.

"Are you sure? Cause you don't seem fine." I pried. She began to glare at me again. Strike two. "I just mean that you seem upset is all." I corrected before she had the chance to yell.

"Now why would I be upset?" She solicited, cocking an eyebrow.

"I don't know, that's what I'm trying to find out." My voice began to rise, out of frustration. "So what is it? What the hell is wrong?" I demanded.

"My best friend lied to me." She answered at last. Relieved that she'd finally admitted there was a problem, and yet angry that it'd taken so much prying, I took a minute to calm myself.

"Okay, that's a start. What did he, or she, lie about?" I inquired, trying to get her to open up further. She began to chuckle, but somewhere along the way it turned into an out and out cackle. "What's so funny?" I asked, not amused in the least. Here I was, thinking that we were about to have a serious discussion and she was making jokes.

"You. You're just so clueless. I was talking about you!" I was taken aback. For a moment I just stood there, mouth agape, in complete bemusement.

"W-what are you talking about? I never lied to you." I declared defensively, stammering a bit. She took a step toward me. I tried to retreat but the chain of lockers behind me held fast.

"Liar. I can smell the smoke on your breath." Strike three. "By the way, did you really think I was stupid enough to fall for that lame excuse? You don't even DO any work in Mrs. Hill's class! You just make fun of the little hairs in her ears." You had to give the girl credit, she knew me pretty well.

"Amber, I-" She cut me off with a curt gesticulation. Without further ado, she walked out the double doors of the school's main entrance, and all I could do was watch her go.

I launched my bookbag over the top of the corroding fence, making sure to toss it high enough so that it wouldn't get caught on the barrier's spiky metal extremities. First wedging my foot in one of the fence's cavities, I climbed over, careful to avoid the aforementioned barbs. I reclaimed my over-encumbered, camouflage bookbag from the cluster of bushes it had landed in and continued down the vacant street. I'd walked about a quarter mile farther before the sound of cars whizzing by returned, which let me know I was headed in the right direction. The familiar ache in my calves made me wish I'd taken the bus.

My house is about five miles from the school. The city provided a bus, and usually I rode it, but sometimes I just feel like walking. So I do, and so did Amber. However, at some point we decided the walk was too far. That's when Amber and I found it, the shortcut. It's just a dirt pathway through an abandoned steel mill, but it shaves about three miles off the trip, making it a great deal more bearable.

During the few months just before the incident, we'd gotten into the habit of not only walking through the mill nearly every day, but hanging out there as well. So many conversations and games, so many memories, had taken place here. The vacant refinery still echoed with the laughter of our past. It was a sound I missed.

I arrived at my house about a half an hour later. There was a shiny, white 81' Cutlass Supreme, restored to mint condition and augmented with shiny silver rims, parked in the driveway. Junior was home. As if I didn't have enough to deal with at the moment. I glanced over into Amber's driveway. It was unoccupied. With a sigh I let myself into the periwinkle villa.

I cringed as the deafening music attacked my eardrums. There were at least a dozen people in the house, all of them gathered around the television from which the blaring music emanated. Still, not a one of them noticed me, so I just slipped quietly upstairs into the sanctuary of my room, locking the door behind me.

I tossed my bookbag onto my bed, kicked off my shoes, and dug around my sty-of-a-room in search of my cell phone. After a couple minutes of rummaging through the field of clothes, I located the phone under a languidly discarded bag of potato chips. Gotta get those out of here before they attract ants, I thought to myself. Brushing the thought aside for the moment, I began to dial a number from memory.

The phone rang, rang, and rang again. No answer. An automated message began to play. Hey guys, it's Amber. Obviously I'm not here right now but if you leave your name and number, I'll get back to you. Well, that is, if you're important enough. She giggled. I mouthed the message mockingly as it played, getting ready to leave one of my own. I cleared my throat.

"Hey- uh, Amber. I-I wanted to apologize for earlier. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings, or imply that you were dumb. But that's no excuse; I-er shouldn't have lied. Well, anyway, I'm sorry. Hopefully you'll call me back and we can talk about it, but if not, I guess I'll see you Monday. Well I guess that's all. See ya." I wasted no time in hanging up, berating myself for acting on my urge to call without thinking of what to say.

First putting my phone back on its charger, I reclined so that my back lay flat against the queen-sized mattress. Yes, I said queen-sized. I know what you're thinking, but it's not true. Me and Junior used to share a room before he moved out, and had twin beds. When he left, my mom and I decided it was best that I switch to a bigger bed. At the same time, she thought that a "child as irresponsible" as me, would ruin a new bed in no time. So instead, she gave me the bed from her room, and bought a new one for herself.

Soon, I felt myself sinking farther into the mattress and drifting lightly into sleep. But my catnap was short-lived, cut short by a violent rapping on my door. "Yo! Nigga, you in there? Yo, it's Junior, open up." With a groan I got up, stretched, and unlock the door. On the other side was a light-skinned teenager, just an inch or two taller than myself, nodding his head to the music still playing downstairs, simultaneously eating a slice of pizza. I tried not to look at the chunk of bright red tomato sauce trapped in his thick goatee. It was Junior alright.

"Yo! Whaddup bruh, when'd you get home? I ain't see you come in." He asked.

"Just a little while ago. I let myself in and you looked busy so I just came straight to my room." I lied. But hey, it was almost true.

"True true. But I ain't never too busy for my little bro. You tryna chill?" He invited. "Cause we about to roll a blunt." What's sad is, in his own misguided way, this was Junior's version of being a good big brother. What's even sadder is, in my own misguided way, I appreciated it.

"Nah, I'm pretty tired. I think I'm just gonna take a nap." I made up an excuse. It was true, I was tired, and I really was going to take a nap. But that wasn't the main reason I didn't want to hang out with Junior and his friends. It mostly had to do with me trying to stay clear of drugs ever since the incident. I know if I told Junior I didn't want to smoke, he wouldn't make me, but even being around people who were was something I wanted to avoid.

"You forreal tired? It's only three-thirty nigga." He probed.

"I k-know, it's just that walk home tires me out." I added. He seemed to buy it.

"Alright then bruh, I'm out. Gotta get down there for these niggas chief all my green." He started to leave.

"Hey Junior!" I called out; He swung his head back around the corner. "Does mom know all these people are here?" I inquired. Junior smiled.

"What she don't know won't hurt her." He answered, without really answering, before disappearing around the corner again. No, but if she finds out you let all these people in her house, she'll hurt you. A thought unspoken. I let my door shut but, this time, left it unlocked. I didn't want to have to get up again.

I plopped onto the pink, queen-sized mattress. As I lay there, I contemplated the day's events. Among them, or rather the most prominent of them all, was my last conversation with Amber. Here words cycled through my mind over and over again. My best friend lied to me.

I'd always thought of Amber as one of my two best friends, but that was because I was a loser. I never thought she considered me as anything more than a neighbor and casual friend. I mean I guess it was a natural thing. We'd known each other for nearly all our lives and had spent a lot of of time together. Still, it surprised me. My best friend lied to me. Best friend. I knew she meant it in a negative way, but the phrase gave me comfort. Enough so that I was able to lull myself to sleep by repeating it in my head as I let my, now heavy, eyelids come to a close. Best friend.

I awoke to the sound of sirens in the distance. Fire truck sirens, to be specific. I climbed out of bed and looked out my window. The sky had significantly darkened in recent hours, going from a stale baby blue to an indigo of sorts. I looked to the digital alarm clock on the stand next my bed. 12:30 am, the big neon green numbers read. I shook my head in disbelief. Had my supposed catnap really turned into an eight hour slumber? Again I looked out my window. The cutlass was still present, but parked behind it was a little red Miata. Mom was home.

My stomach's grumbling cut through the silence. Suddenly I realized I'd not eaten anything since lunch. The thought of going so many hours without eating made my stomach ache. I was starving. Still, I didn't feel like dealing with my mother's nagging. I mean I never did, but especially not today. I began to wonder if everyone was asleep. Maybe I could slip downstairs for a midnight snack without being noticed. Unlikely, but I was determined to try either way.

I crept across my carpeted floor, quietly, on the balls of my feet. Before I'd even made it to the door there was a sickening crunch. I jumped backward, both out of fear and to distinguish what manner of animal I'd crippled, only to discover a crumpled bag of potato chips where my foot had been. I let out a breath that I only just realized I'd been holding in. Picking up the bag, still half full with stale, crushed chips, I continued on my way.

When I reached the top of the stair, I stopped dead in my tracks. There was a wavering blue-white light downstairs and hushed whispering. Someone was up. Should I just go back to bed? I asked myself. But I dismissed the thought. Probably just ma sleepin in front of the TV again. I inwardly assured. I crept down the steps and peeked silently around the corner.

"Stop sneaking around, it's creepy." I immediately pulled back, but realized it was futile, I'd already been found out. I stood up and walked down the remaining steps. Sitting on the gray, pastel couch was my mother. She was wearing pajama pants and a t-shirt that was so overly-large it draped over her legs like a dress. Several orange curl activators were set, in loops, around strands of wavy obsidian locks. It was like something out a monster movie.

"How'd you know?" I demanded, looking at her quizzically.

"Heard you step on those chips in your hand. By the way, what did I tell you about eating in your room?" She took her eyes off the television and threw me an angry look. I hid the evidence, a giant yellow bag of Lays potato chips, behind my back. "You might as well throw em' away, no way they're still good." She was right. I walked into the kitchen and tossed them in the trash can. "What are you doing up so late anyway?" She inquired.

"Getting something to eat." I replied tersely. My mother and I didn't get along very well. I used to think it was all her fault, but sometimes I'm not so sure.

"Well don't let me stop you." She muttered, turning her head back to the TV. I headed over to the fridge, opening it up and leaning my head in. I looked around for a minute, then started moving things around. At our house, the fridge was always full but most of the food inside was either slightly expired or just unappealing. When you found something worth eating, you ate it. And if you weren't hungry, you hid it behind something else and hoped no one looked thoroughly enough to find it.

"What the hell is taking so long? Grab something and get out of the fridge! If the electric bill is any more than normal, you're in deep shit." My mother whined. I ignored her, continuing to take my time. Eventually I unearthed a microwave pizza. Without hesitation I removed it from its packaging and slid it into the microwave. Four minutes and forty-five seconds later I removed the smoking pizza pie from the microwave, and used a butter knife to cut it into big, uneven pieces.

After I'd finished preparing the pizza, I set the asymmetrical slices on a paper plate and took a seat next to my mom on the couch. There was an old Jay Leno rerun on. Tonight's guest was a musician from Cambodia. "How was school?" mom asked, severing the cloud of silence that filled the room.

"Gay, like always." I spat, hoping to avoid more conversation.

"What have I told you about using that kind of language?" My mother scolded. I rolled my eyes but didn't respond. "What's so bad about school? It seems like no matter where I leave you, you gotta go and get yourself inta' trouble." She was starting rant. I set my plate, and what was left of my pizza, on the floor and headed toward the stairs.

"Where are you going?" Mom demanded.

"To my room." I answered, not breaking stride.

"What about your pizza?" She reminded, picking up the plate to emphasize her point.

"Lost my appetite." I countered as I raced up the stairs, climbing them two at a time.

"We don't waste food in this house!" She hollered after me.

"Then you eat it!" I snapped as I reached the top of the stairs, taking refuge in my room, closing, and locking the door behind me. Even still, I could hear her empty threats. I punched the top of the dresser nearby. Almost immediately I felt a dull ache in the knuckles of my right hand. I was sick of it; sick of having to endure her tantrums, sick of having to hide in my own house, sick of her. But there was nothing I could do about it. I took a deep breath, and then another, letting the built up rage seep through my pores. When my anger subsided, I returned to the sanctuary that was my mattress, both exhausted and wide awake, just peering into the darkness.

Then I began thinking of Amber. Suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn't checked my phone in hours. I flung my hands under the bed sheet and began to fumble about blindly until I retrieved the phone. There was one missed call, but the number wasn't listed and there was no message left. I tossed the phone away in disappointment. This time it was the absolute silence that lulled me to sleep.

The next morning was an uneventful one. I woke up around nine, and immediately checked out the window. Both Junior and mom were gone. I had myself a hearty breakfast, in bed, lounged around in my pajamas and watched TV. Gotta love those Saturday mornings. I went about in this manner until around three. That's when things got interesting.

Out of the blue, there was a massive vibration in my pocket. Having been startled, I knocked over the glass of milk I'd been drinking, spilling it all over my sheets. Rather than whine and curse, I just sat and glared at the mess, as if somehow it had all been the glass's fault. From my pocket I removed the pulsating phone. "Hello" I answered a hint of annoyance in my voice.

"Hey, Tommy." I hated being called Tommy. Back in second grade, all my friends had gotten into the habit of calling me Tommy, despite countless threats made by yours truly. After a couple months, the name died out, and, to date, there was only one person who still called me by it.

"Hello, Amber." I responded, bland at best.

"Well don't get too excited." She muttered sarcastically. I would bet any amount of money, with the utmost confidence, that she rolled her eyes. "Anyways, whatcha up to?" She inquired, beating around the bush. Any idiot could tell she hadn't called to ask what I was doing. Still, I played along.

"Nothin' really, just washin some sheets." I replied, simultaneously stripping the covers from my bed.

"Aww, did someone have an accident?" Amber mocked, giggling a little.

"How about you?" I asked, ignoring her comment.

"Nope, haven't had an accident since kindergarten." She quipped. It took me a minute to get the joke.

"No, not that." I was getting a little annoyed with Amber's lightheartedness. Why was she always in a bantering mood? "I was asking what you were doing." I clarified, though I was sure she knew.

"Well, actually, I was getting ready to go to the mall. Which is kind of why I called. I was wondering if you wanted to come with me." She invited. I could tell she really wanted me to go. That or she didn't have anyone else to go with.

"I thought you were mad at me." I retorted, acknowledging the purple elephant in the room. Amber sighed.

"Yeah, well about that… I've had a lot of time to think about it and, even though I still don't like that you lied to me, I think I may have overreacted just a tad. It's none of my business what you do with your body. I guess what I'm trying to say is… I'm sorry." I was flabbergasted. The last thing I expected from Amber was an apology. I did my best to think of a response.

"Me too. Ya know, I think that maybe-

"Hey, do you mind if we talk about this later. Like on the way to the mall." Amber cut in. "That is if you want to come…"

"Yeah, I'll go. But I still need to get ready." Amber groaned.

"But you take forever! You're worse than a girl, I swear." She teased. I took no offense. Like I said, she knew me pretty well. "So what am I supposed to do for the next hour and a half?" Okay, now she was exaggerating.

"Come wait over here like you always do."

"Is it cool if I let myself in?" She requested. I rolled my eyes.

"Oh right, because you ask any other time." I ribbed.

"Good point. See ya in five." She declared, hanging up. I put my phone back in my pocket, finished undressing the mattress, tossing the damp sheets into a basket, and carried them downstairs into the deep recesses of my basement.

When I came back up, Amber was sitting on the couch. "Hey there. What's a nice girl like you doin' in a place like this?" She joked, shooting me a wink and a smile.

"You havin fun? That spare key's not a toy, ya know." I scolded.

"Blah blah blah, you sound like my mother, so cynical." Amber mimed making herself puke.

"Whatever. Look, I'm gonna take a shower. You gonna be okay down here by yourself?" I wasn't really asking, this was just my way of saying behave yourself and don't break anything while I'm gone.

"Yeah Yeah, your casa, my casa. Just don't take too long." She spat, throwing her legs over the arm of the couch and retrieving the remote from off the coffee table. This was Amber's way of saying you're kidding, right? Even still, I continued on my way upstairs.

Three silver knobs protruded from the tiled wall. First adjusting them so that no water would be released from the fountain overhead, I climbed out of the tub, the plastic shower curtain rattling as I did so. Excess water dripped from my hands and hair, forming a small puddle around the base of my feet. I grabbed a towel from a nearby rack.

As I was drying off, I began to examine myself in the mirror. It was the pair of eyes staring back at me that drew me in. There was something there, in those cold brown irises of mine. Was it pain? Or Anger? Perhaps it was just boredom. Or maybe it was the lack of all familiar emotion. Vacuity at its peak. My eyes were omens, glassy white orbs foretelling events yet to come. Windows into my slowly eroding soul. Of course, much like the soil beneath us, I didn't notice until it had completely worn away.

When this inspection of sorts became too intense for me, I wrapped the towel around my waist, tucking a corner into the top so that it wouldn't fall. The whole thing closely resembled the bottom half of a Toga. I gave the half-Toga a little tug to make sure it wouldn't fall around my ankles and, when it held-fast, I exited the bathroom. There, sitting on my bed, was Amber.

"My god, you take forever in there! What were you 'washing your hair' again?" She prodded, throwing air quotes around washing your hair. I knew what she was insinuating, and no, it wasn't true. Sliding the Plexiglas screen behind me closed, I left the room, heading down the stairs. I heard footsteps behind me.

"Er… Amber, why are you following me?" I prompted, not breaking stride.

"Cause I've got nothing better to do." She answered. True enough.

I continued down to the basement, doing my best to navigate both Amber and myself into the wash room. Once there, I began to poke around in the dryer, extracting different pieces of clothing that would coalesce and become my outfit for the day. "Turn around, I'm gonna change." I ordered, gesturing for amber to turn her back to me. She obliged. I waited. After a couple seconds I began to see her head rotate, slowly, so as to escape detection. Alas her head tilted so that she could see me in her peripheral vision. I raised an eyebrow as if to say 'Did you really think it'd work?' Amber left the room.

It wasn't long before I rejoined amber upstairs, this time fully clothed. "Whatd'ya think?" I inquired, putting my arms out and doing a full spin. I was wearing a pair of baggy black South Pole jeans and a plain, forest green polo shirt with a plain white tee underneath. She nodded.

"Lookin' snazzy babe. Ready to go?" I nodded, grabbed my keys off the coffee table, turned out the lights, and escorted Amber out the front door.