It's a summer night. I'm in my dorm, staring at the shadows on the blinds of my window. People's silhouettes are backlit by the lights strung up on the balcony. I could join the light, soft conversation out there, if I wanted to, or the raging party up on the roof.

But no. Instead, I'm sitting on my bed, in the dark, straining to catch snatches of conversation and watching flashes of colored light invade the sheltered darkness of my small room.

For a moment I think about joining, but then I remember that I promised myself this last night in peace. But even though I don't go, I can't help think about what I'd do if I did. I'd dance with my friends at first, then flit around, joining different conversations as students reminisced over the past school year. I would be welcome among them, because I'm the funny guy. The class clown. But just can't do that anymore. Really, I don't know why I became like that to begin with. It all feels so pointless.

If I joined my classmates, I'd have to fall into my old disgusting patterns. Laugh, make jokes, do stupid things, say stupid things, embarrass myself just so they could have a laugh. Am I the only one bothered that these people I call friends have long since sold their souls in return for love?

I hate to think that this is all there is to life, that I am living a life full of phony smiles now, and when I get to college next year, it will be the same thing except I'll have to drabble on about my supposed independence and individuality—yeah right. And then it's into the workforces, where I'll get pressed into the same cookie-cutter mold as every other poor office shmuck who ever dared to hope for something different.

No. I refuse to let that be my end be so bland, so colorless—I won't fade into the distant future.

A voice I recognize, but can't place, startles me out of my thoughts.

"Hey, Nate! You in there?"

I slowly pull myself off my bed, unfolding my long legs to pad barefoot to the window. Since my window is open, I just pull up my blinds. I'm confronted with a pale face framed by dark red-brown hair that curls under her chin.

I sigh and rub my eye with the heel of my hand. "Hello, Emerald."

"Whassup?" She's bent over so she can poke her head into my room. I'm standing over her and she looks up at me incredulously. "You weren't sleeping were you? On a night like this?"


"Oh, okay. You going to open tonight?" She glances back out to the party, and the light reflects off her glassy eyes.

I scratch my head and turn around, surveying my dark room. I know what's hidden there, away from the prying eyes of dorm parents. Apparently, drinking in high school is frowned upon. The way I figure, though, is if our parents actually gave a damn about raising us properly, they shouldn't have shipped us off to this hell-hole of a boarding school. Wealthy orphans, the lot of us. And now, the last party of the school year, before we have to go back to the folks who get to control our lives just because they couldn't be bothered to use condom. Life is a sexually-transmitted disease, one hundred percent fatal, and absolutely shitty.

Back to the present situation.

"I wasn't planning to open tonight, but since I'm stocked, I guess I could…"

"Shibby, then. I'll send Carson and Reese over. And why did you have the light off?"

In the dark, she can't see my desk where the beautiful sheen of metal reflecting the multicolored lights of outside. Black and silver death glistens cold and hard within arm's reach.

"I was just thinking. I planned to join the rest of you guys soon enough."

"Don't think to hard, it hurts the brain. See you when you open." Em vanishes out on to the balcony, presumably to get Carson and Reese, who help me mix drinks and manage the bar. Muffled thumps shake the ceiling over my head, reminding me of the dance that rages on the roof. Technically, the last day of school was yesterday, so the dorm parents have all split. The students don't leave 'til tomorrow though, which leaves a perfect opportunity for partying.

I walk to my door and flip on the light, wincing at the sudden brightness. I can hear Reese and Carson coming down the hall, laughing as they walk. They've been going out for a couple months now. Carson heads straight to the kitchen, which has a window to the balcony that we operate out of. He starts with the food; dip's made, chips are brought out, cookie bags opened and popcorn made. Reese comes straight into my room, helping me take all my bottles and such to the kitchen. Carson's grumbling about our lack of hotdogs, and Reese manages to find the sodas. Once everything's in place, I go back to my room and pull out my moneybox.

"Hey, you guys, I'm taking tonight off," I call out to Reese and Carson, trying to think up an excuse. Nope, can't think of one. "I wasn't going to even open originally. Get Alina to take my place, she's got a way with people."

"Yeah, a wrong way…" muttered Carson.

"You okay today, Nate?" Reese asks. She's always been my best friend.

"Yeah, I feel shibby. I'm going to bed though."

"Okay. Don't forget to get Alina!"

"I won't!" I call back, as I head for the balcony door. I really don't feel like going out there…


A girl with long, jet-black curls glomps me in a huge hug, and I lift her off the ground to give her a quick spin. Once she's set down, I keep my arms around her waist. It's Alina. One thing I've always liked about her was that she never played the same mind games that the others did; she's honest in her own way. Lies like the devil to adults, but then, who doesn't?

"Just the person I was looking for," I say, easily slipping on my mask of happiness, but then, it's not hard to be happy around Alina. Pulling her close, I give her a quick kiss. She smells vaguely of cinnamon. "They need you in the kitchen to take my place." I twist one of her silky curls around my finger as I speak. God, I've always loved her hair.

Alina is surprised from the kiss, but she manages to respond. "Where are you going?"

"To bed. I'm tired."

"Oh, shibby then." She still has a funny look, but really don't care. I've wanted to kiss her for a while. I turn on my heel and get back to my room, leaving Alina standing in the middle of the hall.

I'm sitting on my bed in my dorm room again. My light is off, and I'm still watching the shadows slid off my blinds, which sway slightly in the breeze. My back is pressed up against the wall, with my head tilting to the side to face my window. A shot glass sits in my hand. Bringing it up to my lips, I swallow the cool smooth liquid down. It tastes bitter and spicy all at once. I reach over, and place the glass on the stand near my bed. I reach over, fingertips ghosting over cool metal, like touching a ghost of life. I pick it up, finding pleasure in the heavy, solid weight in my hand. I let my eyes slide shut, oblivious to the flashes of colored light out side the window by my head, and not hearing the soft sounds of distant laughter floating on the wind. I'm almost asleep now, but before my dreams can overtake me—dreams of peace, without images that forcibly define me…dreams of freedom…I lift the gun to my head. I can hear Alina's laughter down the hall, and regret squeezes at my heart. Automatically, my hand clenches…

Author's note:

First published 7/29/03. Revised as of 09/29/04