Clouds Roll By

Chapter One

"So you understand," said Blaire softly; with that Irish accent she admired so much. "We're over. I'm breaking up with you."

-"I love you, Mel-bell. Always will. I promise."-

Something flickered behind her pale blue eyes, but Blaire had barely glimpsed it when it vanished. She was once again the impassive princess; once again that other Melanie she had become during these three years since her mother's murder.

Long brown ringlets, fair skin, big blue eyes, a slender figure; Melanie wasn't quite a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity beauty, but she was close. And she was just as untouchable as any of them. Today she looked like a little kid, with her hair in French-braided pigtails and her outfit a frilly blue dress with white lace fringe. The difference between a child's apparel and hers was the low neckline and the high riding ruffled skirt. Toned, tan legs stretched from beneath the skirt to the ground. Her feet were small and bare, her toenails painted as impenetrably black as her fingernails. The dark nail polish was just another of Melanie's tantalizing quirks, as was the risky outfit. If she were dressed as something dark and dreary, her nails would have been painted neon green or yellow or orange. From day-to-day her apparel varied. You couldn't stereotype Melanie just by looking at her, and rarely could you judge her by judging the gangs and cliques and people she kept company with. They varied, too.

"Okay, said Melanie, after a pause. She sounded calm and intelligent and, most of all, unfazed by her harsh reality. "See you around, then. It's all right with you if I turn up at Brian's later, though, right? He invited me to come play some new video game." Suddenly her solemn face split into a wry grin, and Blaire felt prangs of regret that he was letting her go. "Wants to see if he's finally got something that'll stump this little prodigy."

Out of habit, Blaire's emerald eyes flickered over Melanie's fit form. She was little, being at least a head shorter than Blaire, and Blaire wasn't a tall guy. He met her blue eyes again and forced a smile.

"'Course I don't mind," said Blaire, lying through his teeth. "I'll see you around."

"Goodbye, Blaire."

Melanie waited until Blaire's redhead was out of sight, around the corner, before she closed the door. Without knowing exactly why, she smiled at the old oak door. She felt like a weight had been lifted off her shoulders. Later she would feel the hurt, but right now she would enjoy her freedom.

-"I promise."-

Her smile melting away, Melanie turned and retreated up the hardwood stairs. Haylee, her roommate, was in the kitchen two floors above the main entryway. If she had been eavesdropping at the top of the second staircase, she gave away no indication.

Momentarily, Melanie stood admiring her roommate. Haylee was tall, slim, blond, baby blue-eyed, and absolutely beautiful. Men fell over their feet for her and Haylee walked allover them. She wasn't kind or considerate, but she cared about people's opinions more than she realized—when those opinions were about her. If they said anything not to Haylee's liking, God forbid, those people were labeled as nasty and unworthy, because there was absolutely nothing about Haylee's appearance to criticize.

Tonight Haylee would be going out to party. The party was in three hours, but Haylee was already dressed, her hair styled, nails manicured, and had her makeup applied to perfection. She wore a black mini dress with a V-neck that dipped below her breasts to her abdomen. A portion of her perfect-sized breasts peaked from between the borders of the silken black fabric around her chest. High-heeled black sandals were her shoes, the open-toes revealing her pedicured feet. Her limbs were each long and thin with sinew. Expensive, sparkling jewelry hung from her ears and wrists and slender fingers and around her throat, all white gold and diamonds and rubies.

This was the girl that had kept Melanie from falling completely off the Cool Radar throughout senior high school. Haylee was four years Melanie's elder, and had been a popular senior at Ely High when Melanie was just a fresh-meat freshman. Nobody messed with Haylee because of her high-ranking status, and so nobody messed with Melanie when Haylee took her under her wing. Even after Haylee had graduated and left high school, everybody had learned to like Melanie and accepted her as the new reigning princess of popularity. Now, at eighteen, Melanie was the reigning queen at the top of the senior's popularity scale, especially with Haylee the Actress as her sponsor. There were three weeks left until the end of the school year, and this year's seniors' Graduation Ceremony was at the start of July—like it was every year. That meant Melanie had three weeks in school and one month out of school to enjoy her reign and choose someone to reign after her.

"You're staring," muttered Haylee, her voice as pretty as wind chimes. She flicked to the next page in her magazine. "Who was at the door?"

"Blare," replied Melanie, smirking slightly. Haylee glanced up and saw the smirk, and mirrored it.

"What did he have to say? Or should I say do?"

Melanie's smirk went away, and she averted her gaze to the window that led out onto the deck of their shared townhouse. "He broke up with me."

In a fluid movement, Haylee was up and had her arms around her young friend. "Poor thing! How could you let him do that? What have I always told you about guys?"

"Love 'em and leave 'em; dump them before they dump you." Melanie smiled into Haylee's shoulder. "I appreciate the gesture, but you can stop hugging me now. I'm fine with it. We both know I didn't love him. He was just…" She shrugged, at the same time that Haylee released her and collapsed into her same chair as previously.

"A toy?" offered Haylee, picking back up her magazine and flipping the page. "'Boys are just toys.' Good, at least you remembered that lesson. So what are you going to do for prom? It's in two weeks."

"I'll dress up in my wildest outfit and go out, like every other school dance," replied Melanie. She walked over toward the deck and slid open the patio door to get a whiff of the fresh spring air. June, after May, had always been her favorite of all the months. It was right there, between spring and summer. The weather wasn't yet too hot, and the air sometimes had a chill to it that was never quite cold. The rains were lukewarm, and welcome. "Not like I've never gone to a dance dateless."

"This is prom, pet," retorted Haylee. "It's not like all those other school dances."

"I went last year."

"Exactly, and you went with—What was that boy's name? Tanner?"

"Turk Jefferson," Melanie sighed. "He was the captain of the football team at the time. That was expected. This year the captain is Greg Mitchell, and he isn't doing a great job of it. Nobody expects me to go with him, even if he does ask. They would applaud me for turning him down and going alone."

Haylee looked up again, her baby blue eyes brightening. Those eyes were a shade lighter than Melanie's, and rounder in shape. "That's exactly what you're going to do, then. Get Greg to ask you to prom—"

"Greg has a girlfriend to take already."

"Had a girlfriend, past-tense. And don't interrupt me while I'm telling you our plan. So you get Greg to ask you, entice him a little, and then turn him down in front of everyone. It'll be easy; all you have to do is throw the dog a bone. He's like all the other boys at Ely—a bit of popularity can go a long way, and you're the most popular thing around that God-awful place. They can't do any better than you."

"I can't do that!" interrupted Melanie, despite her friend's warning. Her expression was one of outrage and disbelief. "Turn him down in front of everyone! That would be so cruel! I could never forgive myself."

"He's a dog, Mel."

"Then it's animal cruelty. I am not doing that."

"Don't argue with me, pet, acting like you have a heart. Not when both of us know you lost it long ago."

-"I love you, Mel-bell."-

Abruptly mute, Melanie stared at her senior companion expressionlessly. Haylee turned a page in her magazine, careful not to look up and see how her friend was reacting to the stinging insult. It was like a slap in the face, more painful because of how unexpected it was, and both girls knew it. Yet neither of them ever apologized, no matter how hurtful their words were. They were just words, after all, and everything royalty did was ideal. Royalty doesn't say they're sorry, when they have nothing to feel sorry about.

"I'm going out for a while," said Melanie coolly, slicing into the icy silence. "Probably out to Lakeville for a while. Since it's Friday, I probably won't be back tonight. I might not be here on Saturday, either, but it depends on the cards I'm dealt. If anyone calls for me, tell 'em they can reach me on my cell phone. And if you get into trouble, you know you can always call me."

"Haylee Mercer does not get into trouble."

"Then if someone gets Haylee Mercer into trouble," retorted Melanie, half a smile curling her full lips, "you know I'll answer. See ya."

She turned and left the kitchen without another spoken word. In the entryway she paused to slip on her white ballet shoes, then slipped out the door. In the parking lot out front she had her choice of three cars to drive; there was the red '69 Corvette that was Haylee's, or the white '89 Viper that was hers, or the pink 2004 Pontiac that the two girls had bought together and shared. Melanie decided on Vamp, her Viper, and slid into the white leather driver's seat. The dashboard within was black, as was the carpet and ceiling and other three seats. Only the driver's seat was made of white leather, and the steering wheel had a white leather cover around it. From the overhead rearview mirror was a set of white and black fuzzy dice, and a crystal crescent moon hung on invisible thread. On the hood of the car was painted a silver White Viper, the snake poised and ready to strike with its long white fangs reared, it's slit-pupil eyes a venomous red, and the background bordering the snake an illusion of misty blue with sprits of red. It was all special bodywork, done by a friend of hers that worked at the local garage.

As she slid the key in the ignition and started the car with one hand, Melanie took her cell phone from the dashboard drawer and turned it on. She hit a speed dial as she brought the phone to her right ear and put Vamp in drive with her freehand. After two rings, someone picked up the other line. By then Melanie had sped out of the townhouse parking lot and was on her way toward the highway.

"Hello?" came a man's drawling voice.

"Hey. This is Melanie. Is Wesley around?"

"Wassup, Babe? Haven't heard from you in weeks. Where're you?"

"Heading out to Lakeville. You mind?"

"Not much. Why you coming out here?"

"What? Now I can't come visit my little Lakevillians? Have I done something to upset you, dearest Wesley?"

"Your little Lakevillians you've been neglecting for the past two weeks? Really? You're coming to visit us?" asked Wesley, feigning surprise and wonder. "No, you haven't done anything to upset me, darling Melanie. The others, though, have come up with some creative ways to describe you. Did you ever hear the term 'two-faced cockatoo'? That was one of my favorites."

"Punch Drew in the arm for me, will you?"

Wesley chuckled into the phone. "Sure thing. We're heading out to the mall soon, but we'll wait for you. You in?"

"No," replied Melanie mordantly. "I'm just coming out to send you boys off." Wesley laughed outright. "Geez, Wes. Your intelligence has really suffered through my absence. Am I going to have to re-install all that common sense?"

"It's all coming back to me," giggled Wesley. "See you soon, Mel."

"You too, Wes."

They hung up simultaneously, and Melanie flicked on the radio as she dropped her phone in her lap. "Up in Memphis, the music is like a heat wave," sang along Melanie as the retro music filled her car. "Duh-duh-duh… Black velvet in that little boy's smile… Black velvet in that slow, southern style… A new religion that'll bring you to your knees… Black velvet if you please… something, something, duh-duh-duh, in a flash he was gone… What could you do? … Black velvet in that little boy's smile… Black velvet in that slow southern style… A new religion that'll bring you to your knees… Uh, black velvet… if you please…" She tapped the steering wheel as she hummed and drove.

Forty-five minutes later she pulled into a long and winding gravel driveway. Two moments later, she pulled up to a rich country manor made up mostly of red brick and tan shingles with white shutters on the windows. It was a mansion in every sense of the word, with gray stone stairs leading up to the brown oak door that was bordered in white. Light shined through one of the front windows, in one of the front rooms. Melanie knew at a glance the light was from the den—she had practically grown up in this old country house, just as she had known Wesley since she was four-years-old.

In the lighted front window a face appeared. The silhouette connected to the face was tall, broad-shouldered, and equipped with muscle to spare. Beside it appeared a shorter silhouette, though still broad-shouldered and powerfully built. On the tall one's right appeared a third silhouette, this one tall and narrow. Melanie frowned at the lanky silhouette. She knew each of the young men the shadows belonged to, and she didn't like that one.

While Melanie got out of the car, the three silhouettes disappeared from the window and the brown oak front door opened. Out stepped the brawny Wesley, dressed in orange sports shorts and a torn red tee shirt that clung to his toned upper body. At age twenty-one, Wesley was in his prime. He looked like a slightly younger and much more muscular version of the '80's singer Prince, with his caramel-colored skin and soft black curls and angular face. His eyes were big and round and a heartfelt honey-brown. If he wanted to, and if he had a pair of shades, then Wesley could look as threatening as any hired bodyguard. But his expression was kind and smiling when he met Melanie's big blue eyes. It took him a hop and a skip, literally, to reach his young friend, and once he did he threw his powerful arms around her in a welcoming embrace that could have crushed her if it held any menace.

"I missed you, Pell-Mel," he whispered in his deep and rumbling voice, directly in her left ear, before relenting his grasp. He stepped away from her, still grinning wildly. "How have you been, Babe?"


"Great," said Melanie, returning with a tentative grin. She glanced behind him at the short Drew and the lanky Travis. "Hey boys," she called to them. Drew responded with an amiable wave, while Travis scowled and looked away. Melanie eyed Travis warily, and felt something in her chest give a painful squeeze. Travis was a year younger than her, and once upon a time he had been like an innocent little brother. It hurt to see him all drugged-up, as he was, with his skin pallid and his eyes bloodshot with puffy dark circles around them. And it hurt worse to see him turn away like that. She could understand why he hated her now, but Melanie didn't get why he would inject himself with those terrible substances. Was it her fault? Was watching him slowly die her punishment for abandoning him? She turned back to Wesley, expertly hiding the pain. If Wesley saw any sign of it, his warm smile gave away nothing. "Are we all driving separately?"

"We're taking Baby Blue," Wesley replied. His grinned widened when Melanie blanched, her tan face draining to white. "Scaredy-cat."

"Can Blue get us there and back?" she shot back, ignoring the rebuff.

"Won't find out until we try. Besides, haven't you ever heard the story Little Engine That Could? How it huffed and puffed, and chugged 'I think I can, I think I can,' over and over again until it made it all the way up the mountain?"

Melanie stared at her friend blankly. "No."

"You should. It's a good story. Has a good moral." Wesley turned away and began walking around his large mansion, to the garage behind the house. "Come along, my adolescent two-faced cockatoo. We mustn't be afraid of things that go bump and belch."

"It doesn't just bump and belch," muttered Melanie, falling in step beside Wesley. Drew followed, and Travis lit a joint as he came reluctantly after them. "It ticks and tocks like a time bomb. Then it leaks gas, and God-knows-what-else, and none of its gears work anymore. Nothing about it works anymore, except, some of the time, that sorry excuse for an engine."

"Well with all of your negative energy floating around, I'm not going to be surprised when my little Baby Blue spits you up."

"One of these days your little Baby Blue is going to explode in your driveway, and I'm not going to be surprised."

Wesley laughed as they came around to the barn-sized garage, and he pushed aside the metal, accordion-like, garage door. The motley crew wandered into the big dark room, then stopped a step inside to let their eyes adjust to the lack of light. Once adjusted, Wesley grinned at the bulky blue van before him. It was huge and rusting, and the paint-job was cheap and chipping. Baby Blue looked like a van that had been made by thrown-together scrap metal. And it was Wesley's pride and joy; despite the brand new Mustang his parents had bought him for his twenty-first birthday. The sleek black Mustang was still tucked away in a darker corner of the garage, a ragged sheet thrown over it, and gathering dust.

They piled into the spacious Baby Blue. For all that it lacked (which was style, class, and sometimes everything else), Baby Blue had plenty of space. Travis stretched his long form over the mattress thrown down in the back. Drew took a window-seat before the head of the mattress, and Melanie took shotgun. Wesley was driver and owner, thank God, and so he sat in the pilot's chair. And it was literally a pilot's chair. It had come off of an airplane that was being remodeled, and Wesley had found it at a local pawnshop. When he saw it, he bought it without hesitation and installed it in place of Baby Blue's lawn chair driver's seat the next day.

"Ready?" he asked no one in particular, and didn't wait for an answer as he bent beneath the steering wheel and began fussing with the exposed wires beneath it. After a shout, a curse, and some fireworks beneath the steering wheel, Baby Blue's engine sputtered indignantly into life and Wesley straightened in his pilot's seat. Proudly, he patted the steering wheel and sent Melanie a smug look. Melanie returned with an expectant look that irritated him, and Wesley looked back ahead of him as he switched the gear into reverse and gently tapped the gas pedal.

Baby Blue gave a popping noise that startled everyone, and died.

Melanie burst out laughing once the shock had passed, while Wesley grumbled and got out of the car to push. After some effort, and about three minutes, Baby Blue emerged into sunlight. Wesley, still grumbling, hopped back in his pilot's seat and dived beneath the steering wheel to try again. There was another shout, some other colorful words, and enough sparks to make Melanie think Wesley had lit an actual firework under there, before Baby Blue stammered into life once more. Wesley straightened, left off the proud patting, and put the stick shift in drive.

His foot had barely touched the gas pedal when Baby Blue gave a violent cough and died again.

"I think your Baby's a little cranky this evening," murmured Melanie, restraining laughter.

"Shut up."

Author's Corner: I'd like to thank anyone reading this and invite you to stick with me. There are plenty of chapters to come. Feedback would be dually appreciated, the gratitude from myself and my editor. Additional thanks to Jerry, my editor, and Virginia, my inspiration. More to come…

© Copyright 2005 Prince of Nothingness (FictionPress ID:457720). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Prince of Nothingness.