Chapter 1: Carpe Diem

Ms. Pennyweather stood in Mr. Denton's library. It was an old library, lavishly decorated with an expensive rug. An Edwardian mahogany chair sat smartly behind a wooden desk, as if reserving a place for the master of the house. Leather bound volumes of Spinoza, Euripides, and several other classics lined the shelves. The room was especially complimented by the extremely handsome young man wearing a charcoal gray suit with short cropped hair who happened to be sprawled out and very dead on the floor. A large gash on his head had formed a pool of blood on the carpet, and there appeared to be several stab wounds in his chest.

The detective, a large, burly man with few manners stood smoking a pipe. Next to him was Ms. Pennyweather, who was the most unlikely sleuth around. No one knew exactly how old she was, and no self-respecting person dared to ask. She had slender hands, and wrinkles on her face that gave her an air of seniority. She wore a decadent silver ring from her late husband, but otherwise stuck to very traditional clothing for an elderly lady.

At exactly four in the afternoon, she had already located the murder weapon, while the detective was still interrogating the maids. At least, that was as far as I'd gotten in the novel the night before, and I was eager to find out the next twist in the plot. My mind had already begun formulating potential killers from the various character appearances.

It was the last week of summer vacation, and the unbearable heat was finally beginning to die off. I'd spent most of my holiday working a mundane job at a counter and reading books in my spare time. It was just a summer position, so my last week was over with. This gave me a precious week of enjoyment and freedom until classes began again.

I dumped my courier bag unceremoniously onto my bed and grabbed a dog-eared book off my nightstand that I was in the middle of reading. I tossed the book into my bag before zipping it up. Slinging the bag over my shoulder, I closed my bedroom door before heading downstairs.

On my way out I shuffled around in my back pocket for a second and fished out a set of keys. Jabbing the metal implement into the door, I waited until I heard the lock click shut. There wasn't anyone else home, and I didn't know how many hours it would be until someone else was.

It was a beautiful day. The sun was just right, not blinding, but pretty as it filtered through the canopies of overhanging leaves. Some big elm trees lined the street and acted like a soft-box as the yellow-white light shimmered downward. I inhaled. Late summer air filled my lungs. How could it already be august?

After a few blocks of meandering and just enjoying the last breaths of my summer vacation, I reached the local park. The grass was a bit wet, possibly the discharge of an automated sprinkler system or the remnants of dew that had remained from overnight. It felt cool as it curled around my footwear and slipped against the edges of my toes and feet.

I made my way to a big old tree at the edge of the park. It was huge and literally engulfed the sky as I drew nearer. I frequently came to this spot, to sit, to think, to be alone. I would wallow in the beams of sunlight as they wafted down through the branches of the big tree, nestling myself between some gnarled old roots.

To me, the camphor tree had always seemed as old as time itself. It was kind of a constant in my life– it had always been there, unchanging. Camphor trees were evergreen, so unlike all the deciduous trees that shed their leaves in the winter, it was never bare. That kind of consistency was a nice thing to have in life.

I dropped my bag and curled up beneath the tree, pulling my book open and flipping to the marked page where I had last left off. It was a murder mystery, nothing of too much substance. Once I'd started reading it, however, it was difficult to put it down, so I was thankful for the free time and the lazy, sunny afternoon.

I wasn't sure when I dozed off, but I must have at some point, feeling very comfortable beneath the tree. When I awoke, the sun was on the verge of setting. The sky was golden. The shadows were longer and darker, more pronounced than they had been earlier in the day, when the bright orb was near its zenith. The sunlight bouncing off the blades of grass before me made them look like they were composed of a fine metal, maybe gold, and the tree's bark reflected the light like copper.

I picked the book up off the ground and dusted it with a lazy hand before bending the corner of the page that had spilled open. Tossing the book back into my bag, eyes half-lidded with sleep, I stumbled to my feet and hauled my bag out of the grass. Sleepily, I stretched and yawned, making my way home. It had cooled off remarkably, and the cargo shorts I was wearing left my legs exposed to the elements. Luckily it was still warm enough that I wouldn't be chilly on my way home.

I had made my way to the edge of the park and was crossing the first street, still not really paying attention. My mind was lost contemplating when exactly it was that I'd fallen asleep, or trying to recall what had happened last in the novel. I hated falling asleep in the middle of reading; it meant that I would have to reread the last page or two, otherwise it would just be a foggy haze of meaningless words all jumbled together in my mind that I couldn't decipher.

There was a distinct possibility that I was beginning to mull over thoughts of school in my head. It felt like I'd fallen into some kind of time warp over the past few months. The weather had changed and even though I had been working, I hadn't seen a lot of the other students or teachers besides my closest friends. As a result, my life didn't have the same strictly regimented schedule that it did during the school year.

Either way, I clearly wasn't paying attention when I nearly crashed headfirst into a blur of movement that sent me flying toward the pavement. I was dazed, and my head was reeling. I winced, having managed to somewhat catch myself from suffering too much damage. I arched my back upward, pivoting my shoulder to steal a hasty glance at my forearm. There was a pretty bad scrape and a little bit of blood was forming, but nothing too serious from the look of it.

My eyes trailed up from my injured arm to a skateboard that lay pinned to the ground by a shoe. The board was held down by a skater shoe- Emerica I think, with a black and white design. As my eyes followed the natural path, they rose along the folds of a pair of dark blue jeans that were littered with scratches and holes. The jeans had a faded look to them, as if they'd been well worn. After the jeans came a narrow tank-top. It was black with a large red slogan on the front reading "Skateboarding Is Not A Crime". From the angle I was at, on the ground, the shirt seemed to stretch the wearer's torso out even more.

It was only then that I noticed the well muscled arms that extended from the edges of the sleeveless shirt. There was quite a bit of substantial power behind those muscles, even in their current relaxed state. They were tightly wrapped with a soft looking, lightly tanned skin.

My eyes roved up to the face of the person that had sent me flying. That same soft looking skin. His hair was dark- maybe black, but more likely dark brown. A red hat perched upon his head with an unfamiliar white logo. And then I saw his eyes. They were crystal clear blue and beautiful as they caught flecks of the golden light of the setting sun.

"Hey, dude." The words spilled from his lips quite casually. I was clearly still a bit dazed and could feel my face flushing. I don't know why I was blushing; I guess I was embarrassed at having crashed into the guy. The whole situation made me look like an idiot. My face was burning up, and I was certain my cheeks were starting to go crimson.

"Uh…" I muttered a bit groggily, wincing slightly as I raised a hand to my head, growling the words "Watch where you're going!" I realized how defensive it came across. I don't know why I said it, and I immediately regretted it. It wasn't like I had been paying attention either when I set myself on a collision course with this random stranger. I could feel my face going even redder by the second. My insecurity about the situation was getting to me at this point.

"Chill out man." The words flowed from his soft lips and wafted along the late afternoon air, trickling along the breeze and sticking to me like honey. I shook my head slightly, as if trying to escape the syllables as he spoke them, hoping it would just look like I was still dizzy from the tumble.

"Look-" I began, about to say something stupid again. I was probably about to berate him again, or say something equally moronic. I was still on my ass, my legs clumsily sprawled out before me like demented tree branches, twisted into awkward positions. Given that I'd heaved myself up, my torso was still leaning back at something like a forty-five degree angle.

He cut me off with something unexpected: an outstretched arm, like some kind of a peace offering. His fingers were slender and a little dirty, probably from running around in a skate park. My eyes refocused like a camera lens, past the fingers and arm and up toward his face. His expression had not broken for a second. He looked completely serene.

I wasn't even sure when I had taken his hand, but my fingers seemed to reach up with a life of their own and intertwined with his. His touch was gentle and warm. He yanked me to my feet in a fluid motion. I nearly collapsed forward from the force, but his hands had withdrawn from mine and were suddenly flashing around my sides, supporting my shoulders and keeping me steady.

"Bro, you bailed pretty badly, and you didn't even have a board." He remarked, his fingers firm against my shoulders. His voice was smooth and the remark came across as rather casual. "You got scraped up really rough there, you okay?" He inquired, his tone shifting to one of concern. He tilted his head a little to try and look at the underside of my arm, where the gash was. I could feel the warmth of a trickle of blood that had pooled and was slipping down my arm; it felt hot and sticky.

"I'm fine." I said, trying to shrug his hands off and avoiding his searing gaze. I was still embarrassed at being so caught off guard. He seemed worried, when he could've just left me there and skated off, but for me dismissal was like a knee-jerk reaction. "Don't worry about it." I said quietly, pulling away from him and rearranging my bag.

I didn't have anything else worth saying so I started walking away. I made it about a block before I heard the familiar sound of wheels against cement. I just continued moving, thinking nothing of it at first. The sound grew louder as the skateboard grew closer and closer.

"Hey!" A recognizable voice called out. I stopped and slowly turned around. No more than a few feet away the skater guy was pulling up. He came to a halt uncomfortably close to me.

"Uh, did you want something?" I asked, probably sounding comically stupid at this point. I honestly had no idea why he had followed me, or for that matter, if he was actually following me at all. Maybe I had somehow damaged his skateboard during the run-in and he was going to ask me to pay for some of the damage. That would just be my kind of luck, wouldn't it?

"Here." The skater quipped, dropping one foot onto the ground to steady himself as he extended a hand to me. "I think you forgot this." The cadence of his words seemed filtered like the sunlight through the trees. Fuck! He was holding out my book. I would've been pretty upset if I'd lost that. It must've dropped out of my bag when I'd been knocked over. I had only been half-awake when I put the book into my bag, and obviously I had failed to zip it shut.

"Thanks." I muttered, reaching out to quickly snag the book away from him, as though our simultaneous hold on the same item might cause it to spontaneously combust. I was quick to pull away, dropping the book carefully into my bag, happy for an excuse to break his unyielding gaze.

"Not a problem, dude." He said, and I could hear the smirk in his voice, but I kept my head down as I cautiously closed the zipper on my bag this time. I already looked like a suitable idiot; there was no sense in even trying to undo it at this point. Also, there was something jarring about his gaze, as though when I looked at him I could feel his eyes cutting away at me in a manner that made me feel uncomfortable. He certainly seemed pretty laidback, but those steely blue eyes were scrutinizing and formidable.

There was a pregnant pause, as though he or I should have said something, but he'd spoken last and was waiting for my response, and I had no idea what to say. I stood there looking, or at least feeling even stupider after having zipped up my bag. I really had no idea who this guy was, and just standing there looking away was even more awkward for me.

"Well I gotta jet." He said the words evenly, as though he wasn't actually in that much of a hurry to get anywhere, "But I'll catch you later." He finished, flashing me a smile. I figured he was just trying to be friendly or something. Seeing as how I had pretty much walked into the guy, and then gotten mad at him over the incident, and was now fumbling like a moron, I wasn't sure why he even bothered.

I heard the skateboard wheels running along the ground and off into the distance. By the time I looked up, I saw him fading off into the golden sunset, a black silhouette of muscular shoulders that tapered into a strong waist getting further and further away. I think some of the red in my face had finally started to fade away by then, and as he vanished completely, I turned and began to make my solitary way home.

The water was frigid. I adjusted the tap ever so slightly. As it trickled down my head it matted my hair, pressing it flat against my forehead. The clear liquid ran down my back and chest in rivulets, slipping down my stomach and reeling off toward the drain. It was still cold, but damn if it didn't feel great.

Earlier in the summer when the heat kicked in, I had started taking cold showers. It cleared off any sweat that had developed on my body overnight, and kept me cool for a little while. I was still in the middle of running the bar of soap along my abdomen when something interrupted my solace. It was an incessant, muffled ringing.

I grunted and tossed the soap aside, trying to clear out my vision. I thrashed at the tap to try and turn the flow of water off. I was unlucky the first couple attempts and missed, but after a few swings I managed to stop the shower.

Still dripping wet, I hastily threw a towel around my waist and slid open the door, rushing into my bedroom. My phone was still ringing when I got there, probably on the third or fourth ring by then at least. I fumbled around, trying to figure out which pocket of my cargo shorts I'd left the bloody thing in. I seemed to be doing a lot of scrambling right then, but I hadn't been expecting a call.

It seemed my efforts were not in vain, after all. When I clicked the cell open I was greeted by a cheerful, masculine voice.

"Hey Ty." The familiar person on the other end greeted me. It was Ethan, my best friend. We'd been close friends for a while, but our friendship had really solidified during the summer before high school.

"Hey man, what's happening?" I asked, catching a breath from my frantic crash-course into the bedroom moments before.

"Uh, dude, did I interrupt something?" Ethan teased over the phone, his voice coming from the speaker smooth and clear.

"Yeah, as a matter of fact, you did. I was totally fapping away and you just had to fuckin' interrupt." I replied sarcastically.

"Look buddy, you keep that up and your hand is gonna fall off." He retorted, "And with the amount you go at it right now, you won't be able to play piano anymore."

"I don't play piano." I pointed out.

"Okay. Well, don't blame me when your fingers are wearing away and the inside of your hand is all burnt off from friction, and you decide you want to learn to play Beethoven." His smug reply was nearly instantaneous.

"You wouldn't know a Beethoven song if it ate your mother, raped your sister, tied you up and made you watch." I scoffed, "And besides, I wasn't wanking. I was in the middle of a shower, you freak."

"Sure, sure. Ty, you know, you're my best friend, lil' buddy. You can tell me these things." He retorted in a patronizing tone. "I won't spread it around… too much. I mean I wouldn't tell anyone important, just all your teachers and your parents and stuff, because I'll bet they're all real concerned as well."

"Look, man. Since you're so 'concerned', I'll print out a schedule with dates and times. That way you can get your little pervy binoculars out and see a free peep show." I rolled my eyes at the thought.

"Done and done. I'll expect it on my desk by tomorrow." He said in a cocky tone, "Have to make sure my best bud is healthy and regular, you know."

"Do you want a schedule for when I take a shit too?"

"Scat is so last year, man."

"I think you need help, from a licensed professional." I sighed, "So was there actually a purpose to this wonderful little check-in, or was it just to contemplate my masturbation habits and your fetish-of-the-year?" I asked, deciding the current topic had reached its natural end.

"Yeah. What're you up to today?" He asked.

"Same old, same old. I figured I'd mope around the house a bit, maybe read, and then annoy the neighbours with some loud music or something." I said, it was pretty standard fare for me.

"Dude." He paused for emphasis. "You're throwing your last week of summer away. Soon the sun is gonna fade into the hills, and the leaves are going to change colour. And that means you'll be stuck in a shitty old building with a bunch of reptilian old assholes droning on about some old dead guys who nobody cares about anymore, or electrical particles. And everyone will be throwing on hoodies and sweaters instead of baring skin. You keep this shit up and you'll have wasted your youth. The time is ripe and happening! Snatch it up while you still can. 'Viva La Vida' and all that-" Ethan berated me in some sort of dramatic sounding monologue. I think it was supposed to have been inspiring or something.

"That's a Coldplay song. You mean 'Carpe Diem'." I corrected him.

"Whatever", he continued, not about to be thrown off by anything I could possibly say. "Dude, you've gotta grab life by the balls. You've got to go fucking skydiving, you've gotta live life the rawest and roughest you possibly can. Let's go get shit-faced or something." He quipped.

"Getting wasted? That's your idea of 'grabbing life by the balls'?" I snorted, "Dude, we've been getting hammered for the past- I don't know how many years together."

"Okay, okay. I'm just saying, don't sit around on your ass all day." He paused for a moment, "I was thinking we could hit up the arcade today."

"Sweet. I'm game." I loved the local arcade and wasn't going to miss an opportunity to go there.

"I gotta walk The Mutt after though." He said. I groaned a little vocally. 'The Mutt' was his neighbour's dog, Bailey. The dog was a Jack Russell Terrier, and as cute as it looked, it was a bit of a brat. Ethan had agreed to walk the dog for his neighbours for a few weeks while they were out of town.

I'd already accompanied him once or twice on these walks, as Ethan was the kind of guy who preferred company. Inevitably, Bailey usually flipped out over something he smelled or another dog he saw, and would go all-out. Bailey would start barking like a maniac, hopping up on his hind legs and yanking wildly at the leash. The rest of the time, he'd have his nose to the ground, sniffing wildly around in the grass and pulling insistently.

Let me just say that Ethan was by no means a small guy, at nearly six-foot three, with broad shoulders and as much muscle as I've ever seen on someone in high school. Appearance-wise, he was a pretty stereotypical jock. He was on the school football team and worked out regularly. His body was envied and lusted after by most of the school's population.

Bailey wasn't even that big of a dog, and compared to Ethan, the terrier should've been easy to reign in. Bailey was a mischief maker, and highly ingenious at discovering new ways to escape from or generally cause trouble to the person walking him.

"Do I have to come?" I whined.

"C'mon man. You know he actually likes you. He won't even listen to me." He pleaded.

"I'm also not getting paid ten bucks a day to walk the mangy thing." I replied.

"I'll pay for dinner." Ethan replied. Damn it! That was a cheap tactic on his part. He knew I was a sucker for food.

"Ugh, fine." I said bitterly.

"I'll pick you up for the arcade in twenty." He said.

"Yeah, yeah, whatever." I said off-handedly.

"You better not still be masturbating when I get there, bro." He commented.

"Pfft. You enjoy it, pervert." I retorted.

"Get your ass moving, Ty." He said, a bit more serious.

"Said the turtle to the snail." I pointed out, moving the phone to my shoulder as I readjusted the towel around my waist.

"This turtle is gonna kick your snail butt if you don't get a move on."

"Okay, I got it. I'll see you in twenty, dude." I replied and hung up the phone with a click of the button.

I looked down and could see a sizeable shape forming in the towel. I was hard. Damn teenage hormones, raging up whenever they felt like it. Back into the cold shower for me.

A/N: My deepest gratitude to my beta-reader, theearthisdoomed, who has been brilliant in thoroughly refining my work.