Chapter 17

Noah opened his eyes, his nerves and synapses tact. The room was violently bright from morning light. He turned to the windows, curtains barely closed. His breath wrung from his lungs, eyes focused beyond the sunlight pouring in through the glass. The day was still, with deep blue sky. Arching his foot, he slid himself down to the end of the bed and levered himself onto his feet. His muscles were sore and unyielding. A sharp scorch of pain jarred through his skull.

The ordeal.

The same nightmare blundered in again last night, ricocheted back from previous nights.

His headache kept on persisting, heavy pounding refused to let go of his temple.

There was this strange humming inside his head, mind running on several planes at once, trying to chase something but the scenes inside his head kept stuttering, disappearing- glimpsing faces, lights, objects, everything seemed hazy and moved on fast rate. His world suddenly appeared before him, everything, except that one night he didn't want to remember.

Why now?

Noah was a man who was always filled with deep, dark desire. But the desire he felt at the moment was so black almost as if it was coalescing with rage, fanning through his veins. Everything conjured before him freighted, bits and pieces of his life flying off into the dark. But he could not put the pieces together to assemble a comprehensible whole.

He looked down at the point between his bare feet. The hard concrete floor seemed cold. He focused on it, the elements, particles and compounds that made up the flooring. Slowly, he felt as if his body hovered, unattached from the ground. Then all of a sudden his breath was kicked out of him and he slumped onto the floor, clinging to the end of his bedspread, hanging on with both hands as the world was spinning around him.

The immaculate space he occupied suddenly seemed ghostly and sinister. Everything around him whirled around crazily.

Horror slid under his skin, burrowing deep into his body.

Not now. Please not now. Leave me the fuck alone!

Brutally twisted scenes he didn't want to remember suddenly took on a particularly vivid, saturated look. That thick, ugly welt of memory scabbed over...

He put his hand to his mouth and just sat there, struck by odd measurements. And when he looked at his palm, he realized with apparent horrified fascination, it darkened- with blood sticking to his skin. He licked his lips and tasted warm metallic tang on his tongue. It was trickling from his nose. He wiped his nose over and over again, smearing red fluid across the back of his hand.

But no matter how hard he tried to scrub the blood off, he couldn't stop the bleeding.


By mid-afternoon, Tiara became increasingly worried about Bobby. He finally showed up at school yesterday, but up until today he'd been avoiding her literally. Not just her, but a bunch of his close friends too. When she asked him why he didn't return her phone calls or responded to her text messages, he said he lost his phone. And when she told him she'd been worried about him, he brushed her off. She didn't mean to be a meddling cow but she couldn't bear to think they somehow might lost their friendship, closeness and trust.

A cold slab of despair pressed down on her chest at the thought of him closing off on her. She began doodling on her notebook as Mr. Stevens droned on about Holocaust in front of the class. Her fingers needed limbering up and she grappled to keep the information of Holocaust in her head, obliterating all other thoughts.

Bobby sat few feet away from her, his eyes pored over jumbles of words on his textbook. Tiara could tell he was trying so hard to concentrate, only he looked very much distracted.

Ryan leaned to her in attempt to whisper something, "He looks conked."

"I know. Unfortunately, I'm not allowed to grill him," Tiara whispered back. "Boy completely shut down on me."

"That's not healthy. Did you do something or was it something you say..." his words hung in mid-syllable when the teacher glanced sharply at them.

When Mr. Stevens averted back to the board, Tiara turned to Ryan, "I'm not even sure. I wish I knew. In fact, I wish I knew more about him."

No more old Robert Van Der Hoff, he was a complete stranger to her now.


For the past couple of days, Bobby kept himself closeted from the school's social circles. He rarely mingled, tuning everyone out. The news about his father's arrest was already too much to take, added on coping with his mother's manic-depressive phases and her freaky mood swings. The only person he turned to was Ben, Ben and all his croonies, who offered him something to sort himself up- and somehow it reached new heights. It was hard when he had that bitch churning inside his body but damn it did make him fly at the end of the day. It was the kind of demon that jumped into his head and opened his mouth, making him spout his deepest darkest secrets, making him forget about his emotional crisis.

The wound to his psyche was so deep, it kept hemorrhaging inside him. Tripping over painkiller won't heal anything and being high wasn't so smart at all, but ask him if he cared. He didn't give a damn care, he wanted to forget, wanted to relieve the pressure of madness that had begun crushing his mind.

At school, Bobby buried himself in coursework, forcing himself to work at top speed. He didn't even want to stop and think, or he'd go crazy. When Tiara came by his locker to say hi and informed him about the progress of their English project together, her voice washed over him- but he couldn't even turn to look at her. At home, everything was white noise- with the argument and his mom shouting. He could feel nothing except silent agitation, as if blood-red blotches punctured the air in front of him.

How he wished his mom's anti-depressants had been around, not only to rescue him from the dark tunnels, but also to keep him from fucking all other drugs.

Back at home, Bobby felt utterly drained after his afternoon run at the park that he wanted nothing but collapse on his bed and fall into a short, deep sleep. Instead he plunged into schoolwork, laying out his workspace at the battered desk in the living room. He was determined to block out other thoughts about his parents' situation- and the pressure just intensified when he got suspended from the playoff season. But he didn't want to think about those shitty moments at all. No time to dwell and ponder upon shit that happened.

"Hey I spent my last twenty on a bottle of Tanqueray gin. Man, how fucked up is that?" Bobby heard Ben's drawl over the line. From the slur he knew Ben was already tipping. "You want us to come over right now, buddy?"

"Not in a couple of hours," Bobby said over the phone. "I've got this paper I need to work on, so I have to get this done."

"BOO! Bullshit!" Ben was practically a stupor at the moment.

Bobby laughed. "Man, what can I say? I've turned over a new leaf. So don't corrupt me. Yet."

"Cheers to fucking school!" Ben rhapsodized before his line got disconnected.

The house had been quiet without his parents around, it was almost eerie. Good, Bobby thought. No dad's commanding and sneering bellow jarring his ears and no mom's shrill shrieking fraying his nerves. He didn't have to endure his father patrolling every night saying 'It's 2:30 a.m. Go to sleep, you fucking idiot' to him. In fact, the evil part of him thought life could have been better if his father got deported to state pen for a long time.

And his mother won't be back home until tomorrow night. Having Ben and his friends come over later might not be a bad idea. They pretty much 'saved' him from the bottomless pit of misery.

Bobby wanted more than to forget about this school crap, the stupid football team, his estranged parents, his absent brothers- and Tiara. How he wished she didn't even have those blue eyes- that filled with unmitigated concern for him, how he wished the sight of her didn't fill him with such unease and dozens of guilt, how he wished he never approached her in the first place, that she didn't smile at him the first time they locked eyes...

He yearned just to sit here getting blind drunk drinking gin and having too much toot- from what? Maybe Ben could pull him in for two bags of weeds, a dozen sheets of high powered blotter acid, a salt shaker full of cocaine...maybe he could add a quart of rum, a case of Budweiser, a pint of raw tonic and a dozen of morphines. And who knew maybe his mom would discover his body the next day, lifeless.

The thought made him grin.

He decided to stop writing for a while to rub his neck muscles and fumbled around his backpack for a pack of cigarettes, lit one and inhaled deeply. He wasn't really a smoker, but after feeling down for a week, bumming one hadn't been so bad.

The door slammed as he continued working on his paper. Bobby didn't turn around to see who it was. Probably mom or Ben, he thought. Without glancing up, he resumed doing his schoolwork, worksheets still pressed against the indentations in his fingers and his laptop anchored amid sea of scribbled notes.

"Bobby?" a familiar female voice called. It wasn't his mother. That particular soft voice sent chill down his spine. Just a single utterance and it was able to convey so much, and he couldn't believe his eyes when he turned his head to face Tiara.

For a second, just a split second, he was excited to see her.

The ray of late afternoon light touched the edge of the windowsill, and the air chilled as it blew through the cracks there. A thin wash of grey color slowly diffused the bright blue sky and the remaining light patches slanted across the wall and upon Tiara's life-form. Solid as real. She was wearing the same outfit he'd seen her in school today; a flowy tank top under a form-fitting brown jacket and a pair of dark skinny jeans that were snug to every curve of her body, making her legs appear slender and longer.

Then he realized, she wasn't smiling. In fact, she looked disgusted, having zeroed in on the cigarette in an ashtray in front of him.

He tried to swallow, a bitter taste trapped in his mouth. "How' did you find me here?"

"Chris gave me your address. I wanted to bring you this," Tiara glanced down at his sheaves of paper and handed him a thin binder. "It's our English paper. I made copies of some articles. I thought you might want to see them since you haven't responded to my e-mails."

He trained his eyes on the thin binder, feeling blood hurting his cheeks. Guilt pierced the fragile membrane that surrounded him knowing that he was supposed to work with her on their English project together. He was her assigned partner. "Um...thanks," his voice grated against the back of his throat. "Sorry, my internet is on glitch."

"It's okay," she said. "Anyway, I was really worried about you."

His insides twisted, setting his pulse thrumming. Her tone exuded such tenderness and concern, it pained him to hear.

"Tell me," she tried again. "Something's happened, hasn't it?"

He tried to dodge the tenacious thoughts, blood still hot in his cheeks. "I'm just pooped I guess."

"I know that," she continued. "I was just wondering why you carry on running yourself into the ground. It doesn't seem like you at all- to exhaust yourself."

"I've got so much work to do."

Tiara wasn't going to brush off easily. "What happened, Bobby? Was it the whole suspension thing? Because I can talk to Noah..."

"Tiara! Stop! Just stop asking me things okay?! Nothing is okay here! I'm not okay! NOT. FUCKING. OKAY. And it's not just because of motherfucking football thing! It's everything!" the words fired from his mouth like artillery barrages, ricocheting off the walls before he could barely register what he was saying.

Tiara's expression changed. Her face froze in a look of incredulous surprise, eyes widened in horrified tremor. All her interrogations stopped, leaving in their place a muddy silence.

A swelling despair pressed outward from the center of his chest, threatening to shatter his whole. "I'm...I'm sorry. It's not you," he stammered on, his breathing turned shallow.

"Well, sorry I bothered you..." she muttered, her tone cold as opposed to the warmth he felt earlier. "I didn't know you're this miserable. I didn't know you barely need anyone and you don't even give a damn shit on people who actually care about you. Again, I'm sorry I did bother worrying about your being. Sorry I even bothered coming here," she flicked her head to hide her face from him. "Hope you'll get everything sorted out soon."

A cloud of remorse settled over him. Silence stretched and unspoken phrase hovered between them, and for a moment Bobby couldn't find his voice. More airless bubbles of despair slowly stifled him. He was unsure what he'd been about to say. He didn't even watch her leave, just sat there smoking at his table and glancing down the scribbled notes as her footsteps retreated.

When the door closed behind him, another flick of pain hit his body- repeatedly in shocking, terrifying waves. It was as if a part of her had been severed from him.


Noah had always been a person who knew how to have fun, how to laugh and how to crack jokes- lame or degrading ones just for the thrill of it. But for the past couple of days, he'd been a different person. Sitting next to his parents in an educational consultant office, Noah trained his gaze toward the glass windows, staring up at a violently blue expanse of sky- although persistent grey clouds already made their way toward the other side of the town. The sun was transparent gold, stroking the ivy-colored buildings with light and filling it with delirium. All the movement and general conversation between his parents and the consultant buzzed around- strangely incomprehensible to him, like the noise of badly tuned radio.

Next to him, his father was talking about Noah's academic achievement. He didn't always get straight A's, but his grade was more than good enough to have him equipped for college. His mother was talking about how her golden son endured the painstakingly stale hours of closeted revision to maintain his GPA. And then his old man was telling the consultant about his goal to get an MBA.

But everything they said; getting enrolled to Ivy's League or going to some top business schools wasn't his dreams.

Then his father started talking about sports; about Noah being the star quarterback. "Just because he's been involved in too much sports doesn't mean he should slack off on study..."

Then, their voices faded to black. There was a sinking feeling inside Noah's chest- increasingly agitated and on edge. Light flashed in his brain and pain slowly corroded there, gripping his temples. An uninvited coil of madness began to climb up his spine and creep into his brain. He wondered if he could walk through these walls. But the walls around him immediately began to sway, the patterns and the colors of the wallpapers bled together, fraying at the edges.

Fuck, I need a smoke to still myself.

Noah screwed his eyes shut and then opened them again.

"Honey?" a light tap on his his shoulder rendered his attention. He turned to meet his mother's light blue eyes. "You're awfully quiet. Is everything okay?"

No, mom. Everything is not okay. When will you all realize that you're just living in your own fucking dreams?

He chewed the inside of his cheek. "I was just thinking that- in a space of just few months I'll be all by myself, out on my own, and none of you will matter. None of you will tell me what to do- or dictate my life."

Silence hovered, except for the blood pounding behind his temples. His parents stared at him- a chillingly still, open-mouthed gaze. Even the consultant too, looking astounded.

His father's eyes narrowed immediately, "What did you just say?"

"Honestly, I don't know why are you guys feeding our Mr. Consultant here your false hopes and shit," Noah interjected. "You guys keep dumping more and more bullshit about what you want me to be, not what I really want to be."

"Noah..." his mother gave an incredulous look.

"You're being ridiculous," his father said to him.

"No," Noah uttered with vehemence. "You are the only one being ridiculous here. Everything you said is about you, you wanting me to be this and that. Nobody fucking cares about what I really want."

"Watch your tongue, young man," his father was already beginning to lose it, face reddening and veins popping out in his forehead. "We have a reputation in this community..."

"Not everything is about you, dad," Noah muttered, heat scorched his cheeks and eyes darkened with rage. "I want you guys to stop filling your heads with fucking false hopes and dreams because I'm never going to be what you've always wanted me to be. I'm not a minor now. I'm eighteen- an adult who's capable of making his own decision." Somehow, a note of desperation creeped into his voice that he immediately tried to quash.

His mother just sat, dumbstruck- but his father picked up the ball at the hard sprint, eyes slit over him sullenly, "You know what? You should be thankful to me and your mother that you have food on the table, a roof over your head, a school to educate your ass and preparing you for your future. I don't understand how you could treat us with so little regard. You're really an ungrateful bastard."

The old man stood up and flung the college pamphlets across the floor- in the vague direction of a large filling shelf that housed all college brochures, completely dismissing everyone in the room.


Tiara spent the rest of the evening closeted in Olivia's room, doing her homework. But Olivia had guests coming over on last minute notice, and she and Ryan were entertaining them downstairs. She told Tiara to stay, still eager for details on Tiara's brief visit to Bobby's place.

The light in the room changed, colors of evening fell in series of patches across the carpeted floor and a russet haze filled the room. Outside the window, she watched the green-misted hills, the trees that paraded stiffly up and down the slopes and how the inky blackness slowly diffused the pale light with heavy wash of darkness. In a matter of second, the world melted into dusk.

The shadows across the room blended so well with the shadows in her mind.

Tiara saw how miserable Bobby had been. He was not okay. The young man was on the verge of falling apart, tormented by his own emotional affliction. When she saw him at his house that late afternoon- forcing himself buried in schoolwork, she was aware of a pain somewhere deep inside him, and she felt it too. A stab of dread, agony, fear and mixed emotions altogether coursed through her at the sight of him that moment. While it wasn't apparent that he might lost weight, the violet hollows beneath his eyes and his new-found smoking habit told her so much that he was still struggling with something.

Tiara thought she could help him ease his pain away, but she felt like she'd been relentlessly reinforcing his misery with her every gesture; the way she approached him at school, the brief intervention, and the uninvited visit to his house. She couldn't leave the thought of him alone, and he clearly wanted to be left alone. Maybe it was for the best if she let him cool off a little and then things would go normal between them again.

The sound of Olivia's laughing and Ryan's hooting downstairs shook her off her trance. Clearly, Olivia wasn't going up to her room any time soon. The girl obviously got immersed in whatever activities that took part with her guests downstairs.

Bored from calculating trajectory, Tiara shoved her textbooks and calculator into her backpack and picked her way out of Olivia's room, leaving her backpack on Olivia's study table.

Stepping into the silent hallway, she was able to make out the smell of cooked apples billowing out from downstairs. The Jenssens had every wall inside their house papered in cream with white flocking. The draperies for the opaque windows at the end of the corner were rich color of ivory and made of some heavy quilted satin. The hallway lined with doors seemed spacious, unlike the one at Tiara's place, which was filled with her mom's clutters. Her mother was quite a hoarder, having to place a massive highboy, a mahogany table with two chairs and a century-old oriental red rug with gold fringe outside her room. Tiara couldn't blame her mother though, since being a hoarder seemed theraupatic to her.

She meandered aimlessly, footsteps muffled by the thick carpet draped across the floor. Shadows flickered against the creamy opal white of the walls.

The prince's lair, Tiara muttered in disgust when she found herself standing in front of Noah's room. She pushed open the door, and no sign of life-form inside- although the room looked like a scene of crime with crumpled bedsheets and discarded clothes scattered across the floor. The room smelled of something stale mixed with cigarette smoke. No doubt he'd been smoking in the room when she saw empty cigarette packs dispersed into the trashcan under the study desk. But nothing was out of place, except for his Playstation smashed beyond repair- mashed gruesomely into the floor. Typical boy's room.

Shiver of apprehension skittered up her spine as the memory of him kissing her for the first time scabbed over. It happened in this room. She couldn't help feeling disgusted at the thought of how many girls he'd been macking with in this room...

She crossed the jumble of clothing, wound her way toward his study. Stacked against the wall was his collection of books, no comic books, but old textbooks and some novels. Everything from Oscar Wilde, Stephen King, Thomas Harris...she thought he was really into some intense stuff. She trained her gaze on his desk which was sparsely littered with AP classes' books, files, crumpled papers and more novels; 1984 by George Orwell, Perfume the Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind, Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess, The 120 Days of Sodom by Marquis de Sade...

God, he reads all these? she almost said it out loud. No wonder he's been kind of a cuckoo. He's probably lost too many brain cells reading these kind of books.

Being a fan of modern literature, Tiara would never recommend those books to anyone. There weren't even a single thread of anything of common decency in them although they were well-written. She had to praise the authors for their daring attempt to push the boundaries, the stories were unrelentingly brutal they hit all of her weak spots. And maybe, she thought, just maybe Noah had lost his inherent goodness from reading too much stories on human depravity.

Burrowed under a copy of Inferno by Dante Alighieri, Tiara found an opened file, the page splayed into a neatly hand-written song lyric. When she peered over it, it wasn't a lyric- or even a poem, it was more like a short story written in poetry arrangement. On the top of the page bored the title; The 9th Circle of Hell.

Down an empty great lane, I walk

I trudge on ahead, but I don't know where I'm going

So I keep running, full speed ahead

I swerve off the high road, leading to no-where

Picking up the high-speed, ignoring the dead end

With nothing but increasing velocity rush of madness coursing through me.

In the infinity of coldness, I am engulfed in darkness

Robbing me off my sanity

The sky is blue and the grass is green; these are what keeping me sane

My eyes are blue-green and my hands are grey

Instead of blue, the sky turns grey too and the grass is black

Black as my heart and I was forced to float across the sea of darkness

Drifting further into the depth of the dark ocean, I see you

A person filled to the brim with deepest darkest deception

A grey mask hides the black sleeping inside you

It tries to escape but you cling on the mask so tightly it might break

The grey hides the black so perfectly, remaining untouched by the joys of Heavens

Not sure I like the falsehood of it

Since my entire life is a lie, and I keep on repeating it.

I can't find myself, maybe I am lost.

Hairs bristled on her arms and she raised her head from the page, stunned and shaken by the strength of the prose. It couldn't be written by Noah. She couldn't imagine him writing such poignant piece. But then again knowing that he'd been reading Dante's Inferno and all the materials that shred people's faith in mankind, there was a fragmentary scrap of positivity that he actually wrote it.

Tiara took a deep breath and flipped to the next page.

You are holding onto my hand as we wade through this space overshadowed by darkness

And I know something is going to keep us apart

Your hand feels clammy and it keeps slipping off my grip

So you give me a black scarf to tie us together

But instead of wrapping it around my hand or my neck, you wrap it around my eyes

So I can't see you leave

Can't see you laugh when you let me go

I try to chase after you, but I can't reach you

So I use the scarf you gave me, but it got caught around my neck

And I choke to death

This journey of finding myself is the actual 9th Circle of Hell.

A chill came over her, the sensation turning her insides frosty. The fine hairs at the nape of her neck stood rigid and a burning lump formed in her throat. She never knew the vacuous Noah could come up with such tragic piece. It was so vivid as if he wrote it based on his experience...

Tiara heard the sound of the door creaking behind her. "What?" she was horribly jumpy from the adrenaline that flushed through her veins. She turned around- and blood rushed up to her face.

"What are you doing in my room?" Noah was leaning against the door, his hands disappeared behind him. The click sound of the doorknob assured her that she won't be able to escape from him- again.


Hey :) First of all, I'm really really really really really sorry that I have abandoned this story for a very very long time *cries*. Somewhere down the line, I lost touch with the characters :( In my previous author note, I did mention about wanting to make some changes but truthfully I couldn't make it lol. I added Prologue and that was about it. Anyway, I do hope you keep on supporting me (and my stories of course) because only your feedback can help me go through this annoying writer's block phase.

Adam & Eve's Epilogue will be up some days before Valentine's Day. I thought about uploading it the night before Valentine's Day but I'm not sure yet, whaddaya think? And if you're interested in best friend-turned-lovers story, check out Lilith's Lullaby :) I'm still working on the fifth chapter though. Haha.

Thanks a bunch to ForeverinDelirium, Fallcolours, Dimitrilover101, zooey will, diamondsR4eva xx, JesFun, victoria03, sunkissed-skin, atlalok33, Xrefghurion, darkoutthere, The Phoenix Girl, renegade01, LadeeDee, , Victorian Dreams, Tahireen Ahmed and random reader for reviewing the previous chapter :)

~champagne kisses~