Updated chapter1.txt

Ahelmic6 authored
revision 987aa1ba1a35b1181c9bcaf11b5e117fe0586d9b
chapter1
> “Photography takes an instant out of time, altering life by holding it still.” -Dorothea Lange


A distant pounding noise startled Nolen from his slumber. He jumped with a start, his mind still immersed in the dream he had awoken from. His eyes struggled to adjust to the sunlight that was pouring in from his studio window. Thoughts raced through his mind as his heartbeat began to slow. The pounding started again, this time louder, closer. Suddenly, he realized that someone was at the door.

“Just a minute!” He called out, fumbling out of bed as he tried to free himself from it’s warm fibers. He had lost his shirt in the night, and could not find it beneath the mound of wool and cotton.

His pulse began to quicken, as he feared the unknown visitor would leave before he reached the door. Giving up on the shirt, he reluctantly made his way across the studio, preparing himself to answer the door in a pair of sweatpants.

“Please... don’t be a client.” Nolen muttered under his breath, bracing himself for the worst as he unfastened the security chain and switched the deadbolt.

The door silently opened, allowing Nolen to peek outside into the hall. His eyes met a pair of deep blue eyes. The eyes belonged to a young woman, a few inches smaller than he was, with natural blonde hair. The woman was casually dressed, a light yellow dress with a white shrug. Over her shoulder was a purse decorated in a pattern he was familiar with, yet could not seem to place.

“Well it’s about time Nole....did you forget about our plans today?” The woman questioned as she stared back at him with a smirk on her face. It was clear that she was bothered by his tardiness, yet she appeared to be enjoying herself.

“Uh...sorry Em. What was it we were -“ He began to ask as she raised an eyebrow at him. He stepped aside so that she could enter the studio apartment.

“You forgot? We were supposed to meet me for coffee, so that you could show me the proofs and I could pick out the ones I liked.”Emily smiled as she spoke, her gaze falling upon his exposed chest. He was small for his height, his body was lean, but not chiseled with muscles. She then shifted her attention to the apartment.

The apartment she now stood in was small, a single open room, with the exception of the bathroom which was hidden behind a wall of frosted window panes. The rest of the dwelling melded together, while certain areas still maintained its own unique individuality.

The space itself was tidy, with the exception of the bed that remained unkempt, pillows and blankets strewn about the mattress, some of which escaped onto the hardwood floors. There were wires attached to the bed to allow for it to be stored in the wall once it was ready to be put away. Across from the bed was a desk on which two computers sat. The desktop computer, an iMac, was connected to various devices through a USB hub. One of the devices was a digital camera, the word 'NIKON' was embroidered on the strap of the camera. The rest of the apartment held various pieces of equipment, as well as a few storage containers.

“I didn’t forget. You haven’t even given me a chance to get there. It’s not even twelve yet!” Nolen stated, as he desperately fought to stifle a yawn.

“Nolen, that was two hours ago. It’s almost three o’clock in the afternoon.” She spoke, a look of concern suddenly appearing on her face. “Are you still having trouble sleeping?”

Nolen gave a sigh and turned to walk across the apartment. He gestured for her to sit down on a couch next to his computer desk. “Let me grab a quick shower. I probably smell like ass. We’ll get started once I’m done?” Nolen asked as he avoided her question and moved toward a wall with frosted glass panes. It was the only room in the entire apartment.

“Would you like some company?” Emily grinned, watching as Nolen smiled back at her.

“Not this time.” Nolen replied as he moved the glass-paned sliding door open, and then quickly shut it behind him.

The door to the bathroom slid open twenty minutes later. Nolen stepped out, a towel wrapped around his waist as steam billowed from the bathroom. His graying hair was still damp, drops of water hitting his exposed flesh as he moved across the apartment. Emily had moved to his desk, and was perusing its contents when she noticed drops of water hitting her arm.

“You’re dripping a little, dear.” Emily said, glancing up into his deep green eyes. Her hand made contact with his as she released the mouse to the iMac so that he could take over.

“Sorry about that. I tried to hurry. I believe these are what you were looking for snoopy?” He said, opening a folder on his desktop that was marked with a bunch of numbers. He smiled as he shifted his eyes from the screen to hers.

“How do you even know where everything is?! There’s so much junk on this thing!” She exclaimed, referring to the hundreds of icons and folders on the desktop.

“It’s not junk. It’s work.“

"Ever hear of organization? I hear it's bigger than sliced bread.” Emily teased, examining the contents of the newly opened folder. Hundreds of photographs were spread out before her, in each one a familiar pair of eyes peered back at her. The images were so sharp, she could have been looking into a mirror.

“These look amazing, have you finished editing them?” She asked, excitement filling her voice. Nolen smiled at her, pleased with her apparent joy.

“Not quite. I've saved the completed photos in a folder. It should be near the bottom. How many did you say you needed?” Nolen had made his way to a dresser next to the bed, and was now searching for something to wear. He finally settled on a pair of loose khaki cargo pants, and one of his many charcoal gray shirts.

Glancing back at Emily, who was now staring at him with bright eyes, he asked, “So...are you going to stare at me the whole time, or those photographs?”

“I'm fine right here.” She replied, her grin becoming even larger. Nolen realized that she would not be fully content with just looking at the images on her screen, and retreated to the bathroom to dress himself. With the door ajar, he asked her “Mind if we discuss business over breakfast? I'm famished”

“You mean lunch?” She asked, the disappointment in her voice was unmistakable to him.

“Business first Emmie, then we can do whatever you want. I promise.” Nolen said, as he emerged from the bathroom. Gathering up his sling bag, he moved toward Emily. Grasping the camera, he untethered the device from the USB hub. Checking the battery and memory card, he gently placed the device in his bag.

Holding a hand out to Emily he smiled and said, "Ready to go? Since you were patient enough to wait on me, I'm buying."

"Oh really?" The woman asked, grasping Nolen's hand as he helped her out of the chair.

"It's the least I could do, I mean after all, your theater is paying me a decent amount of money to photograph you."

***
Nolen and Emily left the studio apartment on the fifth floor, using the stairs to make their way to the ground level of the building. The lobby of the building was brightly light, the red and orange autumn colors creating a warm, inviting atmosphere. The room was decorated with plastic ferns and multiple cushioned chairs that matched the color scheme. A single employee sat at a desk to their left, greeting the pair as they passed. Exiting the building, Nolen steered his guest to the right, and pointed towards an intersection.

"There's a nice little cafe around the corner. The food is great, and the dessert is phenomenal." Nolen said.

"Dessert? I thought you were wanting actual food!" Emily replied, glancing at Nolen, who was now waiting for traffic to cease so that the pair could cross the street. Noticing the traffic had stopped, he gestured for her to go first.

"There's always room for dessert, Em." He said as they stepped onto the sidewalk. Quickening his pace, Nolen took the lead, turning left at the corner of a building. He stopped at the entrance to an alleyway, turning to face Emily.

"It's down this way!" Nolen ushered his guest to follow him as he entered the narrow street. Emily hesitantly followed him, unsure of what lay down the forlorn street. A single royal blue awning could be seen further up the path. Reaching the awning, Nolen grasped the handle to the door and pulled. The door did not budge. Puzzled, Nolen glanced at Emily, who was now peering through a window next to the doorway.

"Well, this is odd. They're usually open by now." Nolen said as he gave the handle another pull. The green door remained closed, despite his efforts.

"...when was the last time you visited this place?" She asked, struggling to see inside the dark interior.

"Hm, I think it was after that 'Wicked' performance your theater group did. When was that..." Nolen paused, struggling to recall the memory.

"That was almost a year ago! How often do you get out exactly?" Emily teased, giving up on the window. Returning to Nolen's side, she grasped his arm and began to steer him back to the main street, away from the now abandoned restaurant.

"Come on, we'll grab a cab and go to Maxwell's. The special today is your favorite soup!" Emily said, throwing a smile at Nolen in an attempt to lighten his mood. She could tell that he was bothered by the sudden closure of what appeared to be one of his favorite places.

****

The cab ride to Maxwell's was brief, despite the late afternoon traffic. The driver proved to be experienced as he effortlessly guided the yellow cab through side streets, completely avoiding the busy streets of Boston. Nolen stared aimlessly out the window, trying not to think of how long the two of them had spent in the vehicle. On a normal day, Nolen would have never made a trip like this, especially in the middle of the week. The only mode of transportation he possessed, let alone desired to use, was a Trek Transport bicycle. The Trek had cost him a hefty price, but Nolen gladly paid the price to have the ability to navigate through the town. Automobiles were expensive, especially with the maintenance and fuel costs, let alone the price to park in the underground garage of his apartment building. For ten percent of the cost he could store his bike in one of the secure racks in the parking garage.

The car came to a sudden stop, causing Nolen's body to lurch forward. Nolen managed to brace his arm against the glass divider before his head made contact with it. A sense of uneasiness overcame him as he frantically looked around the cab. Emily, who had been texting on her phone, was now bent over, trying to locate her mobile in the dark abyss of the cab floor. Upon retrieving it, she turned her attention to Nolen.

"Are you alright?" She asked, concerned about the sudden change in his complexion. The color had drained from his face, but was slowly returning. He was obviously not a fan of vehicles. Emily could not recall a single moment where she had seen her friend in a vehicle, let alone in one.

"Yeah, I'm fine. Is this place much farther?" Nolen asked, failing to conceal the anxiousness in his voice.

"It's actually just a block over. Excuse me, sir, could you let us out here?" Emily addressed the cab driver, who obliged her request and turned into an empty parking spot on the side of the street.

Nolen exited the cab through the passenger door on the driver's side, feeling more at ease now that he had his feet on the pavement. He retrieved his wallet from his back pocket and was preparing to pay the fare when Emily placed her hand over his wallet. Handing the cab driver a handful of bills, she took Nolen by the arm and directed him down the street.

"Are you sure you're ok? You looked awfully pale back there." Emily hesitantly asked, afraid to offend her guest.

"I promise, I'm ok. Just not a big fan of cars I guess. You should have let me pay the fare." Nolen said as Emily pulled him towards a building. Maxwell's was a brown bricked building with a red canopy and large front windows. Peering inside, Nolen could see an assortment of maroon booths and tables. In the back of the building was a bar of some kind, but Nolen doubted it served any type of alcohol.

"What kind of place is this again?" Nolen asked as Emily pulled him inside.

Nolen struggled to make out the interior of the restaurant as his eyes adjusted to the change in lighting. A few moments later, he could see that the restaurant provided a friendly atmosphere. The bar he had noticed from the window contained a variety of machines, one of which he could see was an industrial juicer of some kind.

His thoughts were interrupted by the appearance of a waitress, who was dressed in a simple black uniform with 'Maxwell's' embroidered on the breast in red cursive letters. A silver name tag was pinned below the restaurant name read 'Jessica'. The waitress brought the pair to a booth next to one of the windows overlooking the sidewalk they had just come from. Nolen thanked her, as she placed two menus on the table, then retreated to the bar at the back of the restaurant. She returned a moment later with two glasses of water.

"Do you two need a couple of minutes to look over the menu?" She asked, placing the glasses of water in front of the guests.

Nolen flipped the cover open, revealing the contents of the menu. He noticed that while there was a variety of items listed, the meals were all vegetarian. Noticing his confusion, Emily began to order.

"Actually, we're ready now. I'll have the house salad with basalmic vinairgrette, and he'll have the tomato basil soup." Emily closed the menu, glancing at Nolen, whose head was still buried in the menu.

The waitress quickly jotted down the order, pausing to see if they wanted to add anything additional to the order. Emily declined and handed her menu to the waitress. Nolen however, was still examining the strange menu. Placing his finger on the page, he lifted his head so that he could look at the waitress.

"Excuse me, miss? How does this taste? I've never had hummus before.." He asked, his eyes returning to the menu as he spoke. The waitress glanced at Emily, who was now stretching as far as she could across the table in an effort to see what had caught Nolen's attention.

"Hummus is kind of like a dip. It's made from chickpeas. Right now we have a new pumpkin hummus, it's delicious. but we also have garlic and roasted red pepper kinds too. It comes with warm pita bread or vegetables. You can do both for a little extra." The waitress replied, clicking the stopper on her pen as she spoke. She was quickly becoming impatient.

"Can we get an order of that as well, with just the chips?" Nolen said as he closed the menu. He held it out for the waitress, who quickly grabbed it and hurried off.

An awkward silence fell upon the table following the server's departure. Emily was staring aimlessly out the window and onto the street, nothing particular catching her interest. Nolen continued to shift his eyes around the room, noticing the various details of the small establishment.

A few minutes passed before the silence was broken by Nolen, who had grown bored with the aesthetics around him. He turned to look at the girl who sat across the table from him. Her blonde hair falling from behind her eye, shielding her bright blue eyes from Nolen's view. Her right hand fiddled with a single golden chain that was draped around her neck, disappearing into the folds of her dress. It was impossible for Nolen to make out what the golden thread held, he could not recall ever seeing it before.

"Is it new?" He asked, his soft voice breaking the silence, forcing Emily to awaken from the trenches of her mind. She stared at him, the blue irises exposing her confusion. Unable to comprehend what he had said, she tilted her head. Nolen smiled while moving his hand to the base of his neckline, stroking an invisible thread in the air. As he imitated the movement she had just performed, Emily suddenly became aware of what she had been doing.

"OH! This? Not really, no. I've had it for ages. I thought I had lost it when I moved up here." She said as she unconciously began to caress the chain again.

"Can I see it?" Nolen asked as he held an outstretched hand above the table.

Emily fumbled with the clasp, wincing in pain as a few strands of hair that had become tangled in the golden hook were ripped from the back of her neck. As she removed the now severed cord, the pendant was exposed from beneath her yellow dress. The small cross matched the coil that held it around the girl's neck, and was made up of two braids of metal. In the center, a single emerald intersected the braids, shimmering as the sunlight from the window fell upon the table. After examining the fastening, she reattached it to the circular loop at the other end of the chain, and placed it into Nolen's open hand.

"This is a beautiful pendant, is the stone real?" Nolen asked, drawing the necklace closer to his face to study it.

"I'm not really sure.." Emily hesitantly replied. "It was a gift from my grandmother, so it's difficult to say." She quickly added.

Before Nolen could inquire further, he was interrupted by a series of muffled beeps. Emily glanced at her phone, which she had placed on the table next to the window, and then returned her gaze to Nolen who, embarrassed, fumbled around in his bag for his mobile phone.

"Damn..." He said after viewing the screen in his right hand. He passed the necklace back to Emily. Mouthing the words 'I'm sorry', he slid from the booth as he answered the incoming call.

"Rory, hey..." Emily heard as she watched Nolen exit the restaurant. Glancing out the window, she could see him pacing along the sidewalk, staring at his feet. Occasionally, he would glance up at her, making funny faces.

"I hope I'm not interrupting something Nolen, but this couldn't wait" The voice on the other line said, a hint of urgency in his voice.

"It's alright Rory, I was just out for a meal with someone. What's up?" Nolen replied, struggling to hold back the anxiousness in his voice, so as not to sound rude.

"Well, you remember that small film company, the independent one from Lewiston?" Rory asked.

"Lewiston...Lewis-ton...I can't say it rings a bell." Nolen sarcastically relpied, feigning ignorance.

"Nolen..." Rory said, drawing out his name, in a poor attempt to somehow appease his friend's mood.

"Oh! Lewiston, the one in Maine? You mean the one that didn't hire me because they felt I was too 'inexperienced'?" Nolen asked, the bitterness in his voice was unmistakeable.

"Yeah...that one. I don't suppose you'd want to give it a go, would you?" The caller on the other end hesitantly asked, afraid of the impending backlash he would face for merely suggesting such a thing.

"Are you kidding me?! Why would I ever want to work for those pompous assholes?!" Nolen spoke, his voice slightly raised. A few passersby glanced at him as they made their way down the sidewalk, some of whom appeared to be offended by his choice in language.

"They're willing to pay you double what they originally offered -." Upon hearing these words, Nolen interrupted his friend.
"Double?! Why would they pay me DOUBLE when they refused to hire me in the first place?!" Nolen all but screamed into the receiver. He was confused, and slightly furious.

"From what I understand, the other guy backed out at the last minute. They need you to start by the end of the week...they're desperate Nolen." Rory calmly replied.

Nolen felt that there was something else in his voice, which puzzled him greatly. Rory was not the kind of person that would beat around the bush. That was one of the qualities that attracted Nolen to him. It was difficult to trust a manager who constantly fed misinformation to you. Rory, on the other hand, had always spoke freely with Nolen. He was not afraid to give his opinion, even if it might cost him his job. It was because of this that the pair had managed to stay together since college.

"So I get to be the sloppy seconds then? Come on Rory," Nolen finally spoke, hoping to pry whatever it was Rory was hiding from him.

"You know it's not like that at all. They loved your work. Stunning, I think that's the word they used. But, someone better came along. Someone that had a lot of experience. And if you take this job, you'll get that experience! You'll be one step closer to your goal, to our goal!" Rory was desperately trying to lighten Nolen's mood, Nolen could hear it in his voice.

Silence fell as Nolen tried to consider his options. As much as he hated the film company for abandoning him, he was certainly in no position to be turning down work. His studio apartment, while small, cost a small fortune to rent. While the apartment was originally meant to be purchased, Nolen had worked out a deal with the manager that owned the property. He could pay rent each month and eventually claim ownership of the fifth floor studio, but it would be at an increased cost. Instead of a flat fee of three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, he would pay an extra twenty five thousand to rent it over ten years. The sooner he could pay it off, the less he would pay in the long run.

"Fine...I'll do it Rory. When do they need me up there?" Nolen asked as he turned his head and glanced at the restaurant window. He noticed that Emily was now toying with her phone in a poor attempt to pass the time. Realizing he was being a poor host, he decided it best to return to the table as quickly as possible.

"How about by the end of the week? Is that managable?" Rory replied, his voice suddenly changing, seeping with overwhelming joy.

"I think so. Hell, it's only a two hour drive. I'll find some way to make it. But, I really have to go now." Nolen said, jumping as he heard a tapping from behind him. Emily was trying to get his attention. As he turned around to face her again, he could see the waitress behind Emily, placing an assortment of dishes on the table.

"Sure, sorry to have interrupted your date -"

"It's not a date. It's just lunch with a client, nothing more." Nolen replied as he felt a small wave of heat across his face. Thankfully, his back was once again to the window. He could only imagine what Emily would say if she could see his face.

"Well, do tell her that I said hello champ. Oh, and one last thing. The film company has already arranged for your travel. Your flight to Ontario leaves on Thursday. I'll email you the details!" Rory quickly spoke before the connection was severed. He had intentionally ended the call before he had to hear the outrage in Nolen's voice.

Angrily, Nolen shoved the Blackberry device in his left pocket before heading for the entrance to Maxwell's. Before entering the restaurant, he took a moment to compose himself, inhaling deeply. When he returned to the table, his soup was waiting for him, a small trail of steam emanating from the red liquid. His guest had already started to enjoy her meal, and had abandoned any hope she had of his return.

"I'm really sorry about that, Em." Nolen said as he returned to the booth. Unwrapping his silverware, he took a moment to gaze at the plates laid out in front of him. The soup was a rich color, a few flecks of basil could be seen floating in the red sea. In the center of the table lay a small bowl of orange mush, what Nolen could only assume to be 'hummus'. A bowl of triangle-shaped 'chips' was beside it, however they were not what he had expected. Instead of a traditional crunchy chip, these seemed to be no more than pieces of bread.

"It's alright, it seemed important. I noticed you had a small audience out there." Emily said, taking another heaping bite of lettuce and other assorted vegetables.

"Is everything alright?" She added, moving lettuce around on her plate.

"Huh? Oh, yeah. It's fine. Just a last minute job, that's all." He feigned a smile, reaching for a chip. Before dipping it in the hummus, Nolen decided to taste the pita chip. As he suspected, it was merely small pieces of flat bread, however, the pumpkin hummus gave it a neat taste. As he took his first bite, he was immediately reminded of Thanksgiving.

"This stuff is pretty tasty! I'm a little disappointed in the chips, but this hummus stuff is really good." Nolen said, trying not to speak with his mouth full.

"What kind of job is it?" Emily asked, steering the conversation back to the mysterious phone call Nolen had taken during their meal. She was intrigued by his attempt at avoiding the subject.

Swallowing a mouthful, Nolen paused, looking outside at the busy street. He let out a heavy sigh, then turned his attention back to Emily and her bright inquiring eyes.

"It's some job I was rejected from a couple of months ago. It was for a film company, some small thing. They needed a location scout, a grunt who basically travels all over the place to find the right locations for a movie. It would have been, will be my first time doing something like this." Nolen explained, pausing to try a few spoonfuls of his now lukewarm soup.

"The guy they found backed out, so now they want me to do it." He finished, taking a sip of water from the cold glass in front of him.

"So, you're like their backup person? Like what the theater does?" Emily replied, attempting to persuade Nolen to change his perspective on the matter.

"I guess you could say that. I mean, technically yes it's exactly like that. The only thing is that the entire thing is going to be rushed. And I'm not a fan of rushed projects." Nolen said as he finished the last of his soup.

"I leave for Canada in three days." Nolen stated as he watched Emily, trying to gauge her reaction to the news. Whatever she was feeling, her face would not betray it.

"That sounds exciting. I've never really traveled much. This is the farthest away from home I've ever been." She replied, turning her attention to something beyond the pane of glass.

"Personally, I've done too much of it. It gets tiring after a while."

Glancing at a clock above the bar, he noticed that it had gotten late. Retrieving his black leather wallet from his back pocket, he slid from the booth and headed toward the bar, where their waitress had taken up residence after serving their food to the table. He spoke a few kind words to her, exchanging pleasantries, complimenting her on the food. After paying the bill, he returned to Emily, his wallet a little lighter than before.

"Well, I hate to run Em, but I have to start packing soon, so I better be getting back." He said, a note of disappointment infiltrating his words. She removed herself from the booth, standing next to him.

"That's a pity. We didn't even get to discuss the photographs you took of me. Plus, I need to give this to you." She said as she opened the bag at her side. From it she fished out a light colored envelope, examined it, then handed it to Nolen. Inside the envelope was a small piece of cardstock. Printed on the slip was an image of a man, whose face was obscured by a white mask. The words, 'Phantom of the Opera' were printed in white italics. The ticket was for a showing at the theater Emily performed at.

"For me? I can't accept this Em, you gave me a free ticket to the last two shows!" Nolen exclaimed, hoping not to offend her with his refusal.

"We wanted you to come. The cast is so thankful for the work you've done. It's really helped the theater a great deal. Not a lot of people are like you, Nole. They only care about money, they don't have the passion you do. Please take it?" Emily replied, almost pleading with him.

"Alright, you talked me into it. I promise I'll be there." Nolen replied.

Gathering his belongings, Nolen walked with Emily, holding the door open for her as she exited the restaurant. On the sidewalk Emily scanned the speeding traffic, hoping to find a cab.

***************

Nolen awoke the next morning in a daze. A dull headache disoriented him as his eyes adjusted to the sun-filled room, he noticed that his bed was empty. He was alone, his guest had all but vanished. He wondered if the events of last night had even transpired, perhaps, it had merely been a dream his mind conjured to torment him.

As he crawled out of bed, he took stock of his apartment. There were no hints strewn about the room, at least none that he could immediately decipher. The only abnormality was the misplacement of his Blackberry. His nightly routine involved placing it on the dresser beside his bed to charge it, but at first glance, he found that it was not there.

Upon further inspection of the room, he discovered the blue Blackberry Curve sitting on his desk, forlorn. Glancing at the screen, he noticed that he had missed three phone calls, and had received quite a few emails and texts the previous night. The battery was all but drained from it. He must have forgotten to plug it into the micro-USB cable. Considering how much he depended on the delicate device, he would have never disregarded his routine and ignored it. Without the mobile he would be lost. It was his lifeblood, he depended on it for nearly everything.

"So why did I leave you here?" He asked himself out loud, scrolling through the messages as he went.

The emails he had received contained mostly job-related information. Two of the messages had been sent by Rory, reminding him of his upcoming travel plans. A third email was from the company that had hired him, M.T. Pockets. The company had emailed to thank him for accepting their business offer on such short notice. The email also contained further instructions on his impending business trip to Canada. They had requested to meet with him the day before his flight was scheduled to meet.

After reading the handful of emails he had received, he turned his attention to the missed calls and unread text messages. One of the missed calls was from Rory, who Nolen assumed must have been anxious to talk to him. He made a mental note to call him after his shower. The other call was from a number he did not recognize. A text message had also been sent to him from the same number. Reading the text, he realized that it had been sent by Emily, the girl who had made her way home with him.

In the message, she thanked him for the lunch, and for the events of the previous evening. The message did not specifically mention what had happened the previous night, but at the end of the message was a semicolon and a parenthesis, which he assumed could only mean a winking face. Closing his eyes, he strained to recall what had transpired the night before. Taking a second glance around the apartment, he noticed a dark bottle with a starch white label and long neck. Two small glasses had been neatly placed next to it, the contents having already been consumed. Upon inspecting the bottle, he discovered it was a bottle of cheap wine. An empty bottle of cheap wine.

Nolen was not much of a drinker. In college, he had avoided alcohol like it was the plague. There was no moral reason behind it, he just detested the smell, and loathed the taste. Nevermind the fact that he had seen quite a few idiotic decisions made from people who became ensnared in the dangerous web of liquor. He was not overly fond of alcohol being used as a medium for socializing. He would much rather enjoy a quiet meal, or a nice cup of tea. Rory would often tease that Nolen must have been a red coat in a past life.

Thinking back, Nolen could recall passing a small wine store on the way back to his apartment. The name was unrecognizable in the breifly recalled memory. Emily must have persuaded him to purchase a bottle of wine for the evening. The only other image that was conjured in his mind was of Emily's warm body laying next to his in bed, her soft hair flowing down her back, tickling his throat. He imagined the smell of lilac filling his nostrils. Nolen was unsure of whether or not these images belonged to his imagination, or perhaps, reality.

As a general rule, Nolen made it a point to refrain from seeing clients outside of work. Nolen had learned a lot through watching others. He had witnessed firsthand what could happen when a business relationship turned into something more, and then fizzled out, becoming sour. He could recall how much Rory had been affected when his marraige fell apart. One woman had cost him his wife and children, practically taking his business right along with them. Nolen, who had been college roommates with Rory, stood next to him during the entire debacle, while everyone else who had claimed to care about him, discarded when the initial story first broke.

Technically speaking, Emily was not actually his client. The theater company, Pandora's Box, had hired Nolen to photograph the theater personnel, as well as create an assortment of advertisements and posters for the various performances. It was during his first job that he had been introduced to Emily. She had been cast as the lead female in the company's rendition of 'Les Miserables', Fantine. From the first moment he laid eyes on her, he could not help but to admire how stunning she looked, her beauty remained intact, the character she played had no affect on her attractiveness.

Following the session, Emily had approached him, inquiring about the types of jobs he usually accepted. It was she who had suggested he become a photographer for the theater. Emily had even gone so far as to discuss the idea with the management of Pandora's. This opportunity gave Nolen the chance to continuously spend time with the girl who had captivated him upon first glance. At the same time, it also provided him a somewhat steady income. Granted, it was a miniscule amount compared to other jobs, such as weddings, but he was free to express the creativity that had been left dormant in him for so long.

A loud buzzing forced him back into the present, the pleasant memories fading into the dark abyss of his mind. Jumping up, he retrieved the phone, anxiousness quickly building inside of him. His heart sank however, as he glanced at the phone, the name Rodderic illuminated upon the screen. He let out a long sigh as he pressed the green button to answer.

"Rodderic?" Nolen asked, quizically.

"Nolen! I've been trying to reach you all morning! Where the hell have you been?!" He heard over the phone, a strange, unrecognizable noise wailing in the background.

"Yeah...sorry about that. I just got up. What's wrong? Where are you?" Nolen asked, the curiosity in him becoming uncontrollable.

"Sorry! I'm on a train at the moment. Headed to Boston actually. I'm coming to see you!" Rory replied, his voice barely audiuble over the noises in the background.

"What? But, I'm leaving for Lewiston in another day, I won't be here!" Nolen said, confused by his friend's words.

"I know, and neither will I! I'm coming with you! It'll be just like the good old days!" His friend replied, some his words sounded unintelligible from the confusion in the background.

"I'll be there soo-" Rodderic started, as his phone disconnected midsentence.

Nolen shook his head, canceling the callback feature on his phone. Rory was always surprising him this way. He was the only person Nolen had ever worked with that would follow him anywhere, even going so far as to aid him in his work on a few occassions.

Glancing around the apartment, Nolen took a moment to consider what the arrival of his impending guest would mean. His apartment was small. Without rearranging the furniture in the room, he had just enough room for his couch to fold out into a bed. He hardly ever used his apartment for anything but sleep and work, so there was not much to do. Food however, would be an issue. Nolen's diet consisted of mostly rice and chicken, with an occasional piece of fruit or vegetable thrown in. Rory however, could be considered a snob when it came to food. He always had three meals a day that consisted of grains, protein, fruits and vegetables. Nolen was lucky if he remembered to eat twice a day.

He decided that before he did anything, he would need a shower. Rory lived in New York, which means that the train would take four and a half hours to get to Boston. Nolen however, had no idea when his friend actually left. He could be arriving at any moment. Weighing his options, Nolen decided that he had enough time to run out and pick up a few things, after he took a nice long shower to help soothe his headache.

After his shower, he gathered up his sling bag and wallet, then headed down to the garage where he stored his Trek bike. The bike was secured behind a small gated area. It was protected from the elements, which greatly improved its lifespan. So far, the bike had been his most reliable means of getting around the city for five years. Unlocking the gate to his storage area, he retrieved the bike from its cage. The glossy charcoal paint glimmered under the florescent lights of the garage. The bike looked as if it were brand new, save for a few scratches on one of the bars. From the gray storage bag on the side, he removed a black riding helmet, placing it on his head. The box was used to carry groceries and other purchases. There was one on each side, which was more than enough space for him.

Climbing onto the bike, he began to pedal, making his way out from the garage, and onto the street. It was still early, which meant that the lunch hour traffic had not yet started. He was not headed very far, the grocery chain he frequented was only a few blocks away. There he would pick up a few supplies for today and tomorrow, possibly a few snacks to take along for his trip to Lewiston.

***

Returning home, he returned his bike to the garage, replacing his helmet in one of the bags. He removed three grocery bags from the bike's cargo bags, then used the elevator to return to his fifth floor apartment.

Once he was inside, he removed his sling bag, placing it next to the door. He then placed his groceries on the small island-like table of his even smaller kitchen. He emptied the contents of the bag, placing the fruit and vegetables he had purchased in the fridge. The rest of the items were placed in the poor excuse of a pantry that was next to the counter.

Glancing at his phone, he noticed only forty-five minutes had gone by since his phone call with Rory. He decided to send him a quick message, in the hope that Rory would have a better idea of when he would be arriving. Impatiently, he waited ten minutes before giving up.

He left the kitchen and headed to his desk, grabbing his sling bag as he went. Removing a memory card from the bag, he inserted it into an SD card reader. As he watched the photos scanning onto his computer, his phone rang.

"Rory? Did you finally make it?" He asked, standing up from his desk. Before he could take his first step, the voice on the other line made him pause.

"Rory? Who is that?" The caller asked. The voice belonged to a woman, and sounded familiar to him.

Glancing at his phone, he realized that the caller was not one of his saved contacts. Confused, he asked, "Sorry...who is this?"

"It's Emily! Did you forget about last night already?" She teased, hinting about the events that had transpired the day before, events he could not be sure were real.

"Oh, Emmie I'm sorry, no I didn't...forget. Is this your phone number?" He asked, trying to convince her that he knew what she was referring to.

"I guess I never did give you my number, did I? You always contacted me through the theater! And you don't sound so sure of yourself. I could help you remember, tonight maybe?" She said, in a flirtatious voice.

Nolen pondered how to resond. Butterflies began to grow in his stomach. He would do anything to be able to see Emily again, especially now that he knew the feelings he felt for her were mutually returned. The only obstacle standing in their way was Rory, who had made a spontaneous trip to Boston in order to see Nolen.

"I'm sorry Em, I have company coming in from New York. I think it was a spur of the moment thing. Tonight is just no good." He said, disappointed in himself for not being able to see her again.

"Oh. Well...what about tomorrow night?" She said, giving Nolen a few moments to consider his options.

"Tomorrow night would be much better." He lied, hoping he could find a way to make it work.

"Great! I guess I'll see you tomorrow then. Have fun with your friend." She replied excitedly, before disconnecting the call.

Nolen sank in his chair, leaning back to stare at the ceiling as he worked through what had just happened. Emily wanted to see him again. She wanted to see him tonight. He hated himself for not being able to see her that evening, but he would not abandon Rory on his first night in Boston. He would spend the day with Rory, then let him know about his plans for the evening. Rory would understand. Nolen just had to make sure he left out the part about Emily being a client. He jerked himself upright as he remembered the meeting he had tomorrow with the M.T. Pockets in Maine. The meeting with the company was at three o'clock in the afternoon. It would take at least two and a half hours to get back to Boston. He would be cutting it close, but it felt managable. Besides, Emily appeared to want to see him regardless of the time. If the meeting took longer than what he thought, he could just call her and postpone their date. She would surely understand.

Sighing, he turned his attention back to the iMac, which had already finished uploading the hundred photographs from the memory card. As he skimmed through the photographs, he paused on a black and white photograph of Emily, who smiled back at him with her bright eyes. Unable to concentrate on work, he turned the screen off and moved to the couch, where he soon fell into a deep slumber.

He awoke with a start as he felt a vibration on his leg. Retrieving the Blackberry from his pocket, he saw that he had three missed calls from Rory. He pushed the redial button as he stood up, taking a moment to stretch his limbs. Rory answered on the first ring.

"Hey! You finally awake?" Rory asked, as Nolen stiffled a yawn.

"Sorry Rory...guess I was still tired. What time is it?" He replied, not bothering to glance at his phone to find out.

"Oh it's a little after three. The train took a little longer than usual. But I'm here now. I'm actually in the lobby. I couldn't remember which apartment was yours, and the desk does not seem to be around at the moment." Rory answered.

"I'm on the fifth floor, two down from the elevator. On the left!" Nolen said as he walked towards the door.

Rory ended the call and said that he would be right up. Nolen decided it was best to just meet him at the elevator. Slipping on a pair of sandals, he exited his apartment, and walked down to the elevator. A moment later, the doors opened to reveal a tall man dressed in khakis and a starch white shirt. His eyes, a deep hazel color, looked as though they had not seen sleep in quite a while. His face appeared thinner than what Nolen had remembered. He had not seen his friend in person for quite a while. His hair, which Nolen had always admired, was now gone. He had recently shaved it all. He had also grown a beard, which created a thin brown line that outlined his jawline. When he saw Nolen, he immediately hugged him.

"You're looking pretty sharp." Rory commented, taking a moment to evaluate Nolen and his physique.

"You look...different." Nolen responded, unsure of how to judge his friend's appearance.

"So where is this place of yours?" Rory asked, wrapping an arm around Nolen's shoulder as Nolen led the way back to his room.

Once inside, Rory threw his backpack down close to the door. IT made a loud, hard thud as it hit the floor. Nolen allowed his friend to take everything in before giving him a proper tour of the place, not that there was much of a tour to give.

"Well, this is it. The room over there is the bathroom. There's a tub if you prefer baths, but you can also shower too. That's the kitchen, my desk, bed, and your bed." He said, pointing out each space before finally settling his gaze on the couch.

"You know...I think this might be larger than my apartment back in the city." Rory replied, as he glanced around the apartment, moving towards the couch. He fell into the couch, letting out a groan as his face melded with the leather material.

Nolen followed his lead, choosing to sit on the armrest, balancing himself so as not to fall onto the floor, or Rory's head. He examined his guest, noting the subtle, and not so subtle changes in his appearance. He had lost weight, Nolen knew that much for sure. His hair, which Rory had taken pride in, was now gone. The image of Rory, that once showed a strong man, was now replaced with an image of someone who is frail, and simply waiting to take their last breath. Nolen could not help but feel a pang of sadness in his gut as he gazed down upon his worn out friend.

Placing a hand on Rory's shoulder, he gave it a quick pat before gripping it, hoping to show that he was there for him, that he was willing to help him. Rory had never been keen on asking for help from others. He would hide his troubles away, and pray that they never reached the surface. It was clear to Nolen that the past two years had finally taken a toll on him.

Finally, Rory pulled his face from the couch cushion, his eyes resting upon Nolen. A few tears rolled down his cheek as he fought to keep his emotions in check. Rory had never been one to cry. A lot had changed within him.

"I'm...so sorry Nolen. I shouldn't have barged in on you here. I just couldn't take it up there." Rory explained, referring to his home in New York.

"Don't be sorry. I would have you interrupt my wedding if it meant that I could help you, Rory. What's going on?" Nolen asked, concerned for the well-being of his friend.

"That woman...even now, she's still taunting me. I've already lost my wife and child. Ashley refuses to let me see our daughter. I can't even get the courts to give me visitation rights. It's like I'm a criminal now!" Rory said, trying hard not to raise his voice while he fought back more tears.

"You're not a criminal. It wasn't you're fault she died." Nolen said, trying to console his friend.

"The note she left said otherwise. She blamed me, for everything. Said I ruined HER life. I didn't ask for any of that. She came on to me in the first place....and now, I've lost my family, my job is practically gone...what do I have left?" Rory asked, almost pleading with Nolen.

"You have me, Rory. I'm always going to be here for you, you know that, right? We can talk about anything. We've always been able to. Remember all the trouble we got into in college? If you survived that, then we can certainly get through this bump in the road." Nolen replied, hoping his words of encouragement would help ease the pain and suffering his friend was feeling.

Rory remained silent. His sobbing had ceased, the tears that had been left lingering on the tip of his chin were already wiped away by his hand. Taking a moment to compose himself, he breathed in deeply, the exhaled slowly. Finally he sat up, turning to watch Nolen as the words his friend spoke began to sink in.

"Thank you, Nolen." He said after a long period of silence.

"Anytime. You know you're more than welcome to stay as long as you like. My place is small, but you can always call it home. Now, when was the last time you had anything decent to eat?" Nolen smiled, leaving the arm rest he had perched on, and entered the miniature kitchen. Rory followed his lead, eager to help with the preparations.

Once their bellies were stuffed with wraps made of teriyaki chicken, rice and stir-fry vegetables, the pair lounged on the leather sofa, their food slowly digested. Despite their bloated stomach, and Rory's protests for something stronger, Nolen had prepared a pot of black and orange pekoe tea after dinner. The tea however, proved to be just as good at relaxing the mind and loosening the tongue as a bottle of alcohol would have been.