The amaranthine glow of a beautiful Californian sunset, so steeped with color that it could have been the work of markers on thin rice paper, had painted the skies a glorious shade of pink. Clouds so white that they seemed carved of ivory floated with the salty evening breeze. The beach beneath my feet was thick with sand and cold from the ocean water. Waves licked at my feet, sweeping up the shore until it was up to my ankles. I looked out over the horizon, watching as the dying sun began to fall like a warrior that had fought his last battle—at least for today. There were few things you could count on more than the sun rising again in the east, but tonight, I counted on it to disappear and leave me in the full moon’s care. Day sizzled out, and the moon rose like a scarred, barren lamp, bringing with it the night.
The seagulls called brashly in the evening air, the wind whipping my curly dark hair as I looked out into the ocean. The surfers were all returning, paddling back with tired smiles on their faces. I could not bear to think of how they did it, going out where there was no solid ground, when one wrong move could send you plunging into the abyss. Among the adult surfers was a boy, his blond hair looking almost gilded in the moonlight, grinning right at me as he swam toward shore. He was lanky with long, awkward bones that jutted out at the limbs. He was still growing into his height.
I knew him, of course. He was my best friend.
“Pat, did you see?” he asked when I’d gone over to help with his board. His eyes shone bright as emeralds, sparkling with excitement.
“Of course I saw,” I replied. Every second he’d ridden those waves, I’d kept my eyes trained on him, afraid of missing even a moment.
“Those were some killer waves, weren’t they?” He was looking to me for my approval. I nodded eagerly.
“Come on, boys,” said a mature feminine voice from behind us. We turned around, and there stood my mom. I hadn’t expected her to show tonight. It was a Saturday, after all, and most Saturdays, Mom was in a stupor, drunk in a club somewhere.
“Asher’s parents called,” she said, her eyes flicking to his face. Probably for my sake, he gave her a good-natured smile. “You boys are bunking tonight. Asher, honey, your parents had to fly out to see your sister. She broke her leg.”
Asher’s sister Danica was in college in Maryland. She lived there alone in her own apartment. She’d given us the grand tour over video chat once, showing us around her little room and the tight kitchen, bathroom and living room. I liked Danica. She was much older than us, but she was never mean to us. After she’d gotten her license, she used to take us for In N Out at midnight after all our parents fell asleep. I still remembered the sound her car would make when it’d pull into my driveway, and I’d sneak out of the house, tiptoeing down the hall and out to the car, greeting Danica and Asher’s bright, hungry faces. We’d go through the drive-thru window, get our food and then stuff our faces in the parking lot, laughing and joking about something or another.
I felt bad that Danica had gotten hurt. It didn’t seem fair; nice people didn’t deserve to be put through pain.
“Patrick, can I use your phone?” Asher asked. “Mine’s at home.”
I dug my cell out of my pocket and passed it to him. He unlocked it, already knowing the password by heart because it was the same password I used for everything. As the three of us began to walk to the parking lot, Asher spoke to Danica.
“Are you sure you’re fine?” Asher asked her. The waves and the wind were too loud for me to eavesdrop into what Danica was saying, but I wasn’t bothered. Asher would tell me later.
“You boys hungry?” Mom asked when he’d gotten settled into the car. Asher handed me back my phone and I pocketed it. We both put our seatbelts on, snapping them into the buckles, and looked at her with pleading eyes. We were starving.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” Mom said with a laugh, looking at us through her rearview mirror. She took us to a Denny’s where Asher and I ordered the same thing—cheeseburgers and fries and chocolate shakes. We ate heartily and then flicked french fries at each other when Mom excused herself to use the restroom. I hit Asher in the face with a fry and he grinned, his teeth all straight and white. He wasn’t even going to need braces, and me? I had a small gap between my two front teeth that Mom said she’d have fixed when she had the money. His eyes, green as the newly-born leaves of delicate flowers, shone as they peered into mine. My stomach twisted, and I tried not to think about what that meant.
“Do you know when your parents are coming back?” I asked him, ignoring the emotions that had come bubbling to the surfaces.
“Danica didn’t say.”
“So you’ll stay with us for a couple of days then!”
“I guess so, yeah,” Asher said with an easy grin. We both knew what this meant: video games, tree-climbing, skateboarding, wrestling, swimming—everything. We’d be able to do everything. Asher’s extended family all lived far enough away that I didn’t see them coming to take him becoming an issue. For the next few days, he’d be all mine.
My stomach twisted again.
“Are you okay?” Asher asked with some concern.
I nodded quickly. “Fine,” I said, and flicked another french fry at him.
When Mom said we’d be bunking together, what she really meant was that I’d be giving Asher the top bunk since there was a desk in the place of a bed on the bottom bunk, and I’d be taking a sleeping bag on the floor because those were just the kind of manners she’d been taught. You treated your guests like royalty, and in Asher’s case, he kind of was royalty. He lived in the nicest part of town in what was pretty much a mansion—I mean, what else do you call a house with eight bedrooms in Southern California? To eleven-year-old me, it was the grandest house I’d ever been allowed inside of. I’d grown up in his house just as much as I’d grown up in my own, and vice versa. My house was small, a two-bedroom in an okay part of town, but it had a pretty decent backyard so there was always lots to do back there. Asher and I knew each other’s homes, knew all of their secrets, and where best to hide or play or build forts.
“Goodnight, boys,” Mom said, shutting out the light for us after we’d gotten in our respective beds, me in my sleeping bag, of course. When she was gone, Asher’s head peeked out from the top bunk.
“Come up,” he said. I unzipped myself from the sleeping bag and then climbed up the rungs of the ladder to the top bunk. Asher had scooted over against the wall, his eyes tired and his smile soft. When we were kids, it had been easier to share the top bunk with plenty of room between us, but now that we were older, taller, bigger, our bodies were flush while we slept. Asher turned to his side, facing me as I slipped under the covers with him.
“Is Danica really okay?” I asked him.
“I think so,” he responded in a lazy sort of drawl. He was tired.
“Okay, goodnight then,” I said, avoiding looking into his eyes. I didn’t want to feel that weird drop in my stomach again. I turned my back on him, facing the railing.
“Goodnight, Patrick,” Asher whispered tiredly.
I was just closing my eyes when I felt his arm drape over my body. Asher mumbled something unintelligible and then cuddled up against my back. I stared at the railing, my cheeks red. A year ago, this would have been fine. A year ago, we’d been like brothers.
But now… now, things were different.
That unfamiliar drop returned to my stomach.
I'm so happy to have brought you the first two chapters of The Bedroom Archives, my newest story. The first eleven chapters of the story can be found on my Patreon here: www.patreon.com/norafares for a pledge as low as $3. The story will be self-published and available to the public soon!