The dust made it hard to breathe. It was incredible how quickly it had spread in such a small time, as if it had been skulking in some quiet corner, waiting for a chance to attack.
He collapsed on the beanbag with a sigh that devolved into coughing. It was a hot day. There was a fan in the corner, with a cable looping out the window to a crank generator on the ground, but it was exhausting to charge and he'd left it well alone as he clambered up the ladder, much to his present regret.
He traced a pattern in the ground, not really thinking about, his head wandering to other matters entirely. The only decoration on the walls was a poster of a band he'd liked as a boy: a quartet of unruly youths in rebellious black leather jackets, dotted with studs that gleamed in the lighting of the photograph. He remembered the concert. He'd gone with Her, of course. It was quite a long time ago when such a camaraderie had existed between them, but he remembered the time exquisitely. He eyed a small music player on the other side of the treehouse, wondering if it'd still play their favorite songs.
There was a noise on the ladder, and he craned his neck.
"So that's where you wandered off to," said a voice. It belonged to a boy with jet black hair, which had heated ridiculously in the sun, sending rivulets of excessive perspiration down his face and neck. His dark polo was wilting in the heat, and he wore jeans that were ripped in such a way that it was impossible to tell whether the scarring was artificial or the product of some misadventure. His glasses hung crookedly from his nose, which didn't have enough of a bridge to support them.
"I didn't ask to be followed."
"No," the newcomer admitted. He seemed to frown at the musty surroundings, but plopped on the floor without voicing a complaint. "You just . . . rushed off."
"Look, Thomas . . ."
Thomas raised his arms in mock surrender. "Hey, I'm not judging. Man's gotta have some alone time -- but you could've given me a heads-up. I thought Lily Gardner'd ambushed you again. I was this close to mounting a search, but then I caught you slinking behind the rosebushes."
The boy smiled reluctantly. Thomas had a way of talking that simultaneously annoyed and amused him, a pleasant mixture which had only fueled their friendship. "Lily's fine," he said. "Or, she should be, once she sees how Harold keeps ogling her."
"You think so? If I had to pick a boy to ogle me, I don't think it'd be Harold."
The boy smiled again, but didn't answer.
"Listen, Dorian . . ."
The boy flinched. "Don't. Look," he said, meeting Thomas' eyes. "I'm fine, okay? It's just I've been away awhile, and I . . . I just wanted to see it." He patted the beanbag with an empty fondness. His eyes glinted strangely in the afternoon sun, impossible to read in any capacity.
Thomas picked up the music player, the dust upon it so thick it'd turned yellow. He brushed it off, turning it around in his hands. "She used to come up here, right?"
Dorian's face hardened. The dreaminess in his expression dissipated, replaced by a warning. "Once or twice." He didn't like to think of it. The visits hadn't exactly been conducted under pleasant circumstances, but that was nothing that Thomas needed to know. "We were neighbors, Thomas. It wasn't exactly a passionate night on the Seine."
The other boy cleaned his glasses with a snort. "You're talking funny again." He put away his rag, and placed the glasses gingerly onto his face. Immediately, they tilted back to their original angle, and Thomas leaned back, satisfied. "Listen, we all heard about it, Dorian. You don't have to come up here and act all emo"--
He bridled. "Is that what you think of me?"
"Look, all I'm saying is, remember that time when you're dog died and"--
"This is nothing like that."
Thomas frowned. "I still don't understand why you missed it. Everyone was there. Of all people, I didn't think you'd be the one to skip."
The sun had begun to set. Dorian shifted in his seat, letting the shadows obscure his face. "I don't like funerals," he muttered. "I visited later. With flowers."
There was a long moment of silence, which Thomas filled with restless fidgeting, as if he was reaching for something to say. Finally, he said, "it wasn't like you two even talked; you said it'd been years." He regretted it immediately. Something about the way Dorian looked at him began to unnerve him. He stretched out the front of his soaked shirt, feeling self-conscious, suddenly wishing his friend would look at something else.
Eventually, Thomas got to his feet, the silence burdening him more than the heat of the evening. His finger tapped against the side of his leg, and he ran a hand through his hair in slightly confused distress. He frowned, silhouetted in the doorway, and said, "at least try to enjoy the summer, will you? Give me a call." And, with a swift jerk of his scrawny head, he disappeared, looking worried, and not a little hurt.
When he'd gone, Dorian sighed, setting his gaze to the ceiling. On a different occasion, he'd have felt a pang of regret -- he would've called Thomas back, apologized, and they'd have traipsed off as they often did, looking for some antic to distract him from what was on his mind. Tonight was different. He frowned, his thoughts jumbled and confused.
A car crash. His mind returned to her auburn hair, the way she smiled when the clouds parted to reveal the stars, the dreams she'd harbored, of studying painting in the colleges of Europe. All that, gone in a single unlucky collision. It seemed impossible.
Through the open window, July winds blew softly through the treehouse, bringing a scent like old rain and ripening grass. He held up his left arm, noting with surprise that the index finger was coated in dust. Looking down, he noted for the first time what he'd been drawing on the floor.
It was a letter "M," capital and full, and as the moon came up and the first of the nightingales emerged, he drew two eyes to accompany his work. Crude as they were, they were enough. He closed his eyes with a nod, as if momentarily contented, and in his dreams he filled them with a green as deep as the seas.