Chapter 6

Malik had never gotten on with them and Amari had quickly learned not to press the issue. Things between her two friends started deteriorating even back in high school, with Malik opting to keep his distance from them. It was strange, trying to figure out why two people who by all means had enough in common for a superficial friendship never liked each other in the slightest. Animosity rarely flared but when it did, Amari never knew how to diffuse the situation. Malik would pry, in that ever so subtle way that made them think he might hate them. They knew he did though. Always had.

     And Malik, these days he always seemed to know when they were the root cause of a problem. The few minutes he had while Cleo was off on her own didn’t feel like enough time to pry but Malik would make it work. So Amari struck first.

    “You ‘on look too hot. You good?” Malik narrowed his eyes, the light bags under there looking a bit more pronounced than usual. But he bit out a firm, “I’m fine.”

     “Then what?” Amari asked, confused.

    “I saw them on the RSVP email list. It wasn’t a blind CC.”

     Amari supposed she could consider it progress that she hadn’t simply gone to the bathroom and began dry-heaving; for a while, that had been her first response to mentions of them. But this presented a new problem-how was she supposed to manage everyone she didn’t want to ever be in the same place…being in the same place?

     “You still going?” Malik asked again.

     “No choice.”

     “What do that mean?”

     “It means I been in the house too much. Might as well start there.”

     “What are you doing?” exasperation slipping into his question.



     “’Mari!” Cleo came over with a tray of drinks and with an unspoken agreement, the two agreed to drop it. The rest of the visit went like old times, like Amari wasn’t intruding on things, like her presence was wanted until dinnertime, when Cleo finally started to tire out.

     “Lemme drop her off at home. Come by my place in like an hour. If I’m not there yet, you got a key,” Malik said. He gathered up Cleo and she waved tiredly as they walked towards the door.

     Amari knew she finally would have to give Malik more than vague platitudes to work with.

Malik’s house was what Amari wished hers was like. Warm. Inviting. Not lined in books she’d only read once and some she barely marked up, with game and movie cases strewn about. Malik’s books were worn and well-loved, the leather chair next to his bookcases faded and nearly cracked.

     Somewhere like this is where I want to be.

     Amari plopped down into the hair and dropped her chin to her chest, exhaustion suddenly setting in. She was tired of getting tired when she hadn’t done much of anything. A fitting and a few hours at an arcade? Putting on a put together facade for a 10 year old who didn’t need to know that she wasn’t well?

     No. It wasn’t just Cleo she was putting on a show for. But even though Amari knew she wasn’t hiding much of anything from Malik, she still felt compelled to try. Maybe she’d tried too hard.

     She dozed for a while, jumping when the door opened.


     “Right here.”

     Amari tried to pull herself together while Malik cleaned himself up and took off his outdoor clothes. I need to leave some new clothes here, Amari grimaced, wishing she could do the same.

     When Malik came out of his room, he sank into the couch, exhaustion rolling off him.

     “…you’re not okay, Malik.”

     “No, Amari, I’m not.”

     “Why you hiding it from me?”

     “You’re asking me that?”

     She didn’t like how that sounded, but it wasn’t like Malik was wrong.

     “I am. And I’m all ears. So tell me…when was the last time you slept?”

     “Few days ago.”

     “How bad is it?”

     “It’s been a few months.”


     “I’ve done it all. Exercise, nasty ass Valerian root, sleep aids…nothing works.”

     “The last time you weren’t sleeping you passed out in my kitchen.”

     “I know. But you have enough-”

     “Malik, this is not about me and my lil’ bullshit I got goin’ on.”

     “Bit more than a lil’ bullshit, I thought.”

     “This ain’t funny, Malik. Why’d you call me here? To make jokes?”

     “I didn’t wanna be alone, Amari. That’s all. You can’t fix this and I’m not asking you to. I just…don’t want to be alone. Just for a little while. And I felt like I could ask for that today.”

     Amari didn’t like the way Malik had phrased that, not one bit. But she went to the other side of the couch, sitting closer than she had in a long time.

     “I’m here,” she said. “Now what?”

     “I hadn’t thought that far ahead. You know how it be.”

     “That I do.”

Most of Amari’s time in Tamaki, she spent alone. She’d never had a huge passel of friends but it was enough to make her feel like she belonged. Once upon a time, they made her feel that way too.

     That was why it never made any sense to her that when it was just the two of them, it just didn’t work. They never seemed to want anything to do with Amari. Not at school where they barely came to the one class they had scheduled together even though part of the fun was supposed to be doing things together where typically they couldn’t. And certainly not outside, where Amari reached a point where even asking to see them just made her feel guilty. There was always something they had to do and who was she to question whether or not it was more important than spending time together?

     It wasn’t until months after it was all said and done that Amari realized none of that was right. On her worst days, she felt she had been on the receiving end of a bait and switch. When she was less in the mood for self-loathing, all she could ever think was,

     Malik was right about them. Always has been.

     And now, all Amari wondered was how long had she been putting her best friend in the same unpleasant situation she’d found herself in for so long, where her feelings had to be pushed aside because they always had it worse. That wasn’t the sort of friend she wanted to be.

     “Last time you came over,” Amari asked quietly, “after we left the pier, what’d you actually do?”

     “Listen to the rain.”

     “Then what’d it say, smartass?”

     “To stay with you. You know I hate driving in the rain.”

     “…I’m sorry, Malik.”

     “I know. But earlier, when I mentioned the guest list…”

     “I can’t…I have more important things to worry about.” She quickly added, “Like you.”

     It was true, especially after tonight where her best friend finally cracked. Nowhere near as badly as Amari had at any of her lowest lows but it was enough. Worse, even, since she had only just noticed it.

     “I don’t need that much.”

     “You need more than I been giving up and don’t lie and say you don’t.”

     “Sometimes, you take what you can get.”

     Now that, hearing the same words she’d told herself over and over and over again until she felt too sick to eat, too messed up to even make eye contact with people some days, and so fragile the first time anyone showed her any kindness while she was gone…

     “Don’t say shit like that Malik. Promise me you won’t.”

     “…I promise.”

     Amari let out a breath and took a few more while she listened to Malik readjust himself at the other end of the couch. Then a cushion was on one of her thighs and Malik’s head came right after. They hadn’t sat like this since they were kids, passing game controllers back and forth while one of their moms made dinner.

     “What’s this?”

     Malik looked up at her, his eyes still tired, stubble already growing in.

     “What do you think it is?”

     Amari nodded slowly and then Malik’s eyes drifted shut. He wouldn’t sleep, probably wouldn’t even manage to doze. But Amari knew firsthand, sometimes quiet was all you needed.

There were some days that Amari wanted to quit writing. Today was one of them. She needed to meet Khadijah soon and she had little new to show. But “soon” was in a few hours and that wasn’t enough time to write anything worth sharing. The bit of progress Amari had made was good, but it was a few thousand words shy of ten.

     The two story bookstore at Del Amo was more quiet than one might think given it shared a lot with a shopping mall. If Amari had ideas, she could have gotten something done. Instead she sat in the U-shaped row of chairs and flipped through her notebook. She’d decided to write by hand for a while, but most of what she ended up doing was scratching things out.

     “Amari Brooks?”

     She looked up, not intending to drop the scowl she’d been directing at the latest barely comprehensible block of her handwriting, but then she had to.

Never wanting to draw attention to herself for being American, Amari tried her hardest to go with even the smallest of customs, one of which was not putting eggs in the refrigerator. She didn’t get it, but rather than risk questions after she could barely stand to be caught in the kitchen, she left them in her assigned cabinet. Then, when she went to boil a few, they all floated to the top.


     It was no surprise; she remembered neither when she bought them nor the last time she’d braved cooking. When she felt herself in legitimate danger of not being able to stay awake, most of her meals came from St. Pierre’s or the Subway around the corner. They’d get her through the day if nothing else, even if exhaustion was always lingering just behind her eyes.

     “You wanna go grab dinner?”  

     Amari was certain she’d introduced herself to her before; there was no way she wouldn’t have talked to the one other black person in the flat. But her name? Amari drew a blank. Even still, she said, “Sure. Just lemme throw this out and lock my room.”

     Her throat felt dry and her voice had come out a lot rougher than she meant it to but she’d not spoken much in a solid week. At her room, she grabbed a jacket and quickly checked the weather for rain; zero percent chance. She could leave with no umbrella for once.

     The girl was waiting on the front porch for Amari, taking advantage of the house sitting on a platform, swinging her legs back and forth.

     “I grew up in a house,” she said softly. “Living in one is about the best part of this place.”

     She stood up stiffly and dusted off before turning to Amari and she knew better than to comment on how haggard she looked. She knew the feeling.

     “Anywhere you wanna go?” she asked Amari.

     “Ah…I usually end up at St. Pierre’s.”

     “That works.”

     The steep downward slope on Carlton Gore Road didn’t seem to slow her down any; she clearly spent more time outside than Amari. She walked behind her down the narrow sidewalk on Seafield View Road, noticing how she also had to duck under trees and turn sideways to stay on some especially narrow segments of sidewalk.

     A number 70 bus went by as they walked up Park Road and Amari wondered if it was one she should have been on; the days had long since started to blur together and actually making it to class was a special occasion. Barring the reminders on her phone for tests and finals, she generally had no idea where she was supposed to be.

     As she walked into St. Pierre’s she was greeted by one of the cashiers reciting her usual order. Out of habit, she just said, “Yes, please. Thank you.”

     “Oh, so you a regular.”

     Right. She wasn’t alone. But the girl’s tone wasn’t mocking; rather it was the sort of light teasing she hadn’t experienced outside of her increasingly sparse video calls with Malik.

    “Yeah. You know that kitchen always dirty. This is safer.”

     “You right,” she laughed softly before going up to place her order.

     As Amari perched on one of the tall stools, it hit her how little laughter was in her life. She could never tell if they were laughing with or at her and it made her draw into herself even more. Malik would have known, always a buffer of sorts between Amari and whatever they really meant.

     “You homesick yet?” she sat across from Amari, the closest she’d been to another person in a good two weeks.

     “Have been since the day class started.” Why she was honest with this stranger whose name she couldn’t remember, whose only connection to her was some days that was the only black person she saw, she didn’t know. But she was glad she said it to someone who wouldn’t push.

     “It took me a lil’ longer than that but I finally miss the sun,” she smiled.

     “I ain’t think I’d ever miss that but it’s only so many times you can get soaked at the bus stop,” Amari sighed. “Finally did make it to the beach on a dry day though. I barely go at home.”

     That was how dinner went after they’d picked up their orders; comparing notes on what they’d done so far in spite of not having cars or being able to afford rentals. It was…normal, discounting that Amari sometimes missed normal breaks to ask things. She didn’t even know where the girl was from aside from probably the west coast.

     When they got back to the flat and said their goodbyes, the girl went upstairs while Amari went to her corner room next to the shed-bathroom, trying to figure out why her eyes welled up with tears when she saw they, after three weeks, finally reached out with a message.