Works

Pyre of Envy I: Friends

Friendships, we never know when they start and we can’t predict how they’ll end either. We hope they’ll never end. Then, once in a while, an end comes, unsuspected and unexpected, far from pretty or the usual growing-apart, changing the lives of all involved forever.

***

Friday late afternoon, a bulk of Scarlet University students stirred with an anticipation of a ravenous night out, making preparations for the night. But Rolemn sat at his desk, in his dorm room, researching World War II. His friend Corklin was running late but that didn’t bother Rolemn, not when it meant he had more time. A history essay deadline was drawing near and he needed the marks.

Just when he was felt he was going somewhere Corklin barged in, threw his bag on the floor and jumped on his bed.

“Are you ready?” asked Corklin.

Rolemn turned in his armchair to face him. “Are you?”

Corklin nodded, looking down. “I’ve got news first.”

Rolemn grimaced. “Is it about dinner?”

Corklin nodded. “It’s actually why I’m late. I wanted to text you but my phone couldn’t catch a bar. I’m sorry.”

Rolemn sighed. “What’s the news?” The frown on his not softened at the apology. He found it hard to adjust to a sudden change of plans. He only had so much of himself to give a day and scheduling his day helped him to allocate himself accordingly.

“I was with Erica just now.” Corklin smiled, amused by Rolemn’s worried facial expression.

Rolemn turned back to his computer screen, not that there was anything worth looking at. He just didn’t want be looking at him when he told him the news. It also robbed Corklin of reading his emotions, something that he felt gave him an advantage. “And?”

Corklin giggled. “She wants to have dinner with us.”

“What? You booked her a meal?” He meant in the dining hall. The protocol was  that extra meals had to be booked two days before the actual meal. If Corklin had booked an extra meal for her it would mean he had planned it all along.

“No. She wants us to have dinner at her place. She is preparing something.”

“Today is my favourite chicken on the menu, dude. And isn’t she vegetarian?”

“She is but I’m sure she will make something for you on the side.”

Rolemn sighed. “Fuck, dude. We had plans.”

“I know, I have turned her down too many times this week already.” He pleadingly frowned. “Don’t worry. We will leave as soon as possible. We still gonna chill.”

Rolemn was unresponsive for a while, staring through the computer screen. Demotivated. It would take a bit of appeasing for him drag his feet out the door.

“This is the only way she will let me spend time with you tonight,” Corklin added.

“I thought you told her you have work today.”

Corklin took out his IPad started working it, logging unto the Wi-Fi. Probably for Facebooking Erica as he talked with Rolemn. “I did tell her that,” he said, sounding weary. “I just felt bad for her and told her we’ll see her for dinner before we go working. This is the third weekend in a row I have lied to her so that we can get wasted.”

“I thought she knew we were hanging all those times before.”

“No, bra. I lied to her. She is super clingy. I had to.” Corkling snorted. “You know I’m like her only friend.”

Rolemn found it strange how Corklin was treating her. Two years ago, Corklin won over Erica by serenading her at a Freshmen’s Jazz Evening. In one romantic gesture stealing her from a controlling ass of a boyfriend who witnessed the whole thing.

“She was the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. She did not deserve to be treated like that,” Corkling had told him. “I had never felt that way about a girl before. There was a way she looked at me. It got me giddy inside. There was a way I thought about her that consumed all of being. I had to be with her, there wasn’t a choice. She was with a rich guy that could do amazing things for her. What I had to do for her had to be something authentic and original that money can’t buy. I had to make her feel loved, valued and respected. You see, after all I had something he couldn’t buy for her.”

He got a few stitches as a result but it was well worth it. Erica spent months in his dorm room where love making was constant. The two were inseparable. Their love so binding. They alienated themselves from their friends and social gatherings until they had nothing but each other. They became each other’s everything. They spent so much time together that they became socially awkward. It’s as if the time together had withered their social skills. Which should have served as a warning to that kind of isolation, but the fear of embarrassing themselves only made them more rare and eccentric. Always basking in the comfort of each other’s company.

It did not make sense why Corklin wanted to spend less and less time with her, or the fact that he lied to her so often recently. There was a lot he kept from him, at least Rolemn had that in common with Erica which made him sympathize with her a little. It was about the only thing he definitively knew about Erica, the rest was from the periphery where everyone in the whole world was.

“She is asking if you are coming,” said Corklin.

“What have you told her about me?”

“What? Nothing. Just that we have been working and hanging a bit.”

“So she knows nothing about me?”

“Not much. We don’t discuss you much.”

Rolemn slowly nodded, turned to face Corklin and folded his arms. “So she wants to see what kinda company you been keeping. Is there any specific way I should behave? Something you don’t her knowing about?”

Corklin rubbed his chin with his index finger and thumb, shaking his head. “No. Obvously you can’t tell her how we have been spending our time.” He took a deep breath. “I think she just wants to meet the person behind the name. Plus, if I go with you it can help us come back  earlier.”

Rolemn stayed silent, looking down at his lap.

“We can get a hundred bucks from her if we go,” Corklin conciliated. “C’mon, think about it. We could get more booze, grass and caps.”

A crafty smile crept up on the side of his face. “Well, tell her I’m joining then.”

Corklin laughed. “We are so going to hell.”

“It’s long hard road,” Rolemn remarked.

***

When they pulled into the driveway at Erica’s place Rolemn was relieved. Corklin and Erica barely exchanged any words during the ride. To diffuse the tension Erica put on some soft music. Soothing as it was Rolemn couldn’t get past the sense that it served to conceal a grudge than incite cordiality. Not being briefed on how to navigate the encounter with Erica, he felt safer the less he talked, pretending to listen to the music. The less chances he had to say something that would expose Corklin’s cunning dishonesty.

The place was a huge double story house with the iconic Scarleton architecture, built to beat the hills. The house could easily be rented by six to eight students, it was a common occurrence, so  Rolemn expected to meet people inside.

Him and Corklin waited in the living room while Erica cooked in the kitchen. From time to time she came and sat with them. It surprised Rolemn to find no one else was in the house. The house was surgically clean and tidy, unlike other students’ digs he’d seen. The furniture was far from second hand or lower grade. It was a house, it did not feel like a student’s accommodation. Everything higher grade, quality and luxury. On the living room stand, among the flat television screen, home theatre system, books, CDs and cable decoders lay a Sony Playstation 3. He had never seen or touched one in his life, no parent – from where he came from – earned  enough to spend three thousand on a plaything and subsequently spend a couple more hundred bucks to buy accessories that went with it, excluding the games. No family back home would make such a purchase without encroaching on household’s essentials. No one need know so he declined the offer to play a game and choose cable television while waiting. No need to embarrass himself. Thanks to torrenting and the internet he knew a lot more about cable television channels than PS3.

“What you wanna watch?” Corklin had asked, sitting on the sofa directly in front of the TV, as if not noticing how opulent the place was.

“Something with music.” Rolemn said, his voice small. “I know the music is mostly shit but the videos can be entertaining, right?”

“Alright.” He picked up the remote and tuned in to VH1. Then he got unusually quiet, kneading something in his head. The tension was lighter with Erica in the kitchen but the sounds from the kitchen were an unpleasant reminder. He heaved, threw the remote on the sofa and clasped his hands together.

“Babe, can you roll one for us?” Erica called from the kitchen.

Corklin didn’t hear a thing, sunk deep in his thoughts.

“Babe?” Erica called.

“What?”  He irritably responded.

“Can you roll one for us?”

He frowned. “Okay,”

“What’s that?”

He snapped,“I said yes!” He looked to Rolemn. “Bitches, dude. Fuck!”

“What does she want?” Rolemn asked.

“She wants a joint,” Corklin replied, taking out a small plastic bag filled with weed from the table’s drawer. Then took out a pair of scissors, rolling paper and a grinder. The frown on his face would not go away.

Rolemn watched as Corklin picked buds from the twigs, comfortable in the role of an observer. A routine he had seen countless times but this time it wasn’t done with the grace and joy he had often enjoyed. He separated the seeds from the bud and poured the buds in the disc-like grinder and began crushing. His movements swift and impatient, refinement the last thing on his mind. In no time he started pouring it on rolling paper and rolled messiest joint Rolemn had ever witnessed. He placed it on the table and resumed his former stance.

Erica duly entered and sat next to him. “So quickly?”

He gave nothing more than a sidelong glance. “Gets simpler every time.”

She smiled. “Thank you, babe.” She picked it up and searched for a lighter in the open drawer with her free hand. “Here we go.” She lit the joint.

After a few puffs she outstretched the joint to Rolemn, offering. “No, thanks,” Rolemn replied.

“Are you sure? It’s alright, you can have some.”

Corklin nudged her. “Rolemn, doesn’t like weed that much.”

She gasped. “Really?”

“Yeah.” Corklin said.

“No way.”  She shifted in her chair and glanced back at Rolemn with an inquisitive glance. “I thought maybe it’s all you guys do together.”

Rolemn shook his head.

“Babe?” She turned to Corklin.

“What?”

“You can’t be smoking all that weed in your room alone.” She turned to Rolemn. “It can’t be. Can’t believe how much is left in just a few weeks. If he’s smoking that much I should be worried. It’s jars worth of weed, Rolemn.”

Rolemn nervously glanced at Corklin he bobbed his head her way. A sign that it was his cue to cover for him.

Rolemn forced a laugh. “Of course, he doesn’t. I am partly responsible. Me and a friend of mine. He has been kind enough to spare me some.” Corklin discreetly nodded his approval.

She glanced back at Corklin. “Really?”

Corklin nodded. “Yeah.”

She smiled and looked back at Rolemn, silently connecting the dots.  “Is the friend a girl?”

Rolemn looked to Corklin who shook his head and mouthed a no. “No, just a guy at res.”

She checked Corklin’s face for corroboration. Then she curtly nodded. “Okay.” She passed the joint to Corklin, jumped to her feet and disappeared into the kitchen.

Corklin gave Rolemn a thumbs up and proceeded watching the screen leaving Rolemn to debating whether to ask. Rolemn decided against it, the night was long. He watched the screen but he found he could not follow any thing that appeared. The music was muffled and all the pictures became mere fleeting shapes and forms as he receded into his mind. Erica was gentle and naive which made tricking her disquieting. It was like swindling a child. He trusted Corklin to have practical and reasonable grounds for lying to her. Apart from the fact it made him feel safe he admired that aspect about Corklin.

Erica called them to the kitchen where they sat on the kitchen counter. Food served and stomachs eager to be filled. The smell of grilled meat wafted about overpowering that of cooked vegetables and salads.

“Babe, will you go and switch off the TV and lights in the living room? Thank you,” she said, placing wine glasses by the plates.

Corklin disappeared into the corridor leaving Rolemn and Erica with the silence.

“Sit down.” Erica grinned at Rolemn, her face glowing.

“Anywhere?”

She giggled, a pleasing sound to his ears as her beauty was to his eyes. “Of course, make yourself at home. I’ve been dying to meet you. If only you guys didn’t have to work tonight.”

“Yeah. Bummer.” Rolemn took a seat across from her.

She went to the stove to wipe some stains off, unintentionally giving Rolemn the back view. He watched, savoring her exposed back and smooth shoulders. He slid his eyes down to her hips, then her butt which hug lusciously in her tight low-waist black jeans.

“So,” she turned, “are you also a Journ’ student?”

Rolemn  ran a swift glance across her chest, stopping at eye level. “No. I’m a Classics major.”

“Really? Wow!”

“Yeah.”

“I’m a fan of mythologies and anything based in the BCs. Corklin doesn’t like it.” She laughed.

Rolemn smiled. “Why didn’t you take Classics?”

“It was either that or Music. My love for music is greater unfortunately.”

Rolemn nodded.

She glanced at the corridor, checking for Corklin. Then she approached and leaned against the counter. She gazed into his eyes, her face wrought with concern. “What exactly are you guys working on?”

Rolemn leaned back, folded his arms and narrowed his eyes. “Why?”

She checked for Corklin again. She lowered her head for a while. When she raised her head she forged a smile. “It’s alright. Forget it.”

After a couple of seconds of silence Corklin shuffled into the kitchen.

“Finally, we didn’t start,” said Erica. Then turned to Rolemn. “Do you mind saying Grace, Rolemn?”

Rolemn stared at her for a while. “No. Not at all.”

Corklin sat beside Rolemn, grabbed his left hand as Erica took their hands from across.

Rolemn lowered his head and closed his eyes. It was forever since he had said Grace. He had to remember. “Bless us, O Lord,” he paused. “And these, Thy gifts,” then the innocent eight year old in him inserted himself and the rest rolled off his tongue, “ which we are about to receive from Thy bounty. Through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”

“Well done,” Erica remarked, a sidelong grin on her face. “By the way, not all of our visitors are subjected to the requirement to pray. Not that we get many. We are aware of the different beliefs out there.”

Corklin nodded. “Yeah.”

“It’s okay,” Rolemn said. “It kinda felt good actually.”

“Ah, I knew you would feel that way. It’s just something warm and welcoming I believe,” Erica said.

“You’re right.” He nodded.

They started taking their first bites. Rolemn was the only one served the steak, he was surprised that Corklin wasn’t having steak but he kept his thoughts from himself. He sliced a bit and tasted it. It was tender, juicy and spicy with a tad of sweetness. His tongue a virgin to the taste. His eyes widened and a wide grin formed on his face.

“Fuck! Wow, no offence but I didn’t expect a vegetarian could whip up a steak that tasted this good. It is so good!” He said.

Erica laughed, visibly pleased. “Thank you.”

“I wish you could taste it,” he continued. “If only you could.” He put his fork and knife in the plate to cover his mouth. Then he stared at her. “You don’t understand. If a person died without having tasted this at least once in their life it wouldn’t be right. It is that good.”

Corklin put his hand on his shoulder. “Alright, calm down.”

Erica blushed. “Thank you.”

“I hope it’s not against your values and beliefs to cook meat, since your vegetarian. I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright. Don’t worry about it,” she replied lightheartedly. “Maybe next time you could make it up to me by not eating meat.”

He chuckled. When he turned to Corklin he was met with a strange sidelong gaze he couldn’t decipher, one that silenced his laugh. “What?”

Corklin just shrugged and put on a blatantly faux smile.

He didn’t know what to make it of it. So he dismissed it and took a sip of wine. He had made an incision in the tension and he wasn’t going to stop trying to weaken it. However, he couldn’t understand why it mattered to him. Why he felt like he needed to step in although he was oblivious to the circumstances that caused it in the first place.

“What are you guys doing next Friday?” asked Erica. “I’m going to perform at the Music Deportment’s theatre.”

Rolemn attempted to consult Corklin with a glance but he was focused on his plate as if he hadn’t heard a thing. “I don’t know,” Rolemn replied. “What else is gonna be happening there?”

“There’ll be other musicians and performances for the night. Like a concert,” she answered.

“Entrance?”

“Don’t worry about it I will get you tickets.”

“Will there be any refreshments?”

“Rolemn, doesn’t go anywhere where there isn’t free booze or booze at all,” Corklin clarified.

Erica smiled. “Well, there will be plenty of free booze and snacks.”

Rolemn nodded approvingly. “Sounds good. I’ll have to check my schedule.”

“It’s cool. Just let me know by Wednesday.”

“Yeah, we just got to get some work out of the way first,” Corklin planted an obstacle he could use later when he turns her down, Rolemn noticed it. “We actually planned to work all night tonight. If we pull this off we could get a significant amount of work done. Do you have a hundred bucks? It’s just so we could get some snacks from the department’s vending machine if we get hungry. Maybe a couple of energy drinks as well.”

Without flinching she answered, “Sure, babe. Of course.” She smiled. “What’s Rolemn helping you with? You haven’t told me.”

“Sound. He studies Sound Technology. He is helping me with recording a track and all the post-production stuff,” Corklin answered with ease.

Erica flashed a smile at Rolemn. “Do you charge people?”

Rolemn was still stunned by how Corklin weaved lies and the truth together without raising any suspicion and how easily she believed him. Reluctantly he answered, “Well, I don’t. At least not now.”

“Great news. Can I have your number?”

He checked with Corklin by a glance, he didn’t seem to mind. “Sure!”

For the rest of the dinner Corklin remained minimal in his interaction. The wine served to lubricate conversation between Rolemn and Erica for a while but none of them could keep talk with Corklin’s loud silence. It was resilient and restraining especially when boundaries were still being negotiated. His lack of input bordered between a show of disapproval and approval for how they were getting along. That made conversing between them cumbersome and ungainly. Rolemn lacked the courage to prod Corklin and Erica came across as merely unwilling to. Rolemn was ambivalent about whether or not Corklin was bothered and  that was sufficient enough to dishearten his efforts at great conversation.

The ride back was fairly similar to the one before. When she pulled over at residence Rolemn thanked her dinner and climbed out. He waited in the cool night breeze, a few feet away from the car, for Corklin who was wrapping up things with Erica before he could climb out from the passenger’s seat. His gestures became frantic as he talked to Erica while Erica’s were subservient. Then it seemed the matter was discussed and Erica leaned in for a kiss but Corklin drew back shook his head. He climbed out and marched past Rolemn to residence.

“Come on,” he commanded. “We got a lot to do.”

Rolemn gave Erica a second glance, her shoulders were down and she piteously watched as Corklin walked away.

###

I hope you enjoyed this. First chapter of ,second book of the Scarleton Series, Pyre of Envy

More than ten chapters are up, the rest will be released.

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