Merle woke up to someone knocking on his door. On other mornings, he
would have ignored the sound, but he was reminded he had company this
morning. His guest had wrapped herself tightly in the sheets and
pushed him out of bed. She insisted on privacy while she
Merle put on some Sunday morning campus clothes while the knocking continued and was joined by Amber's voice.
"Merle, are you in there? I need a favor."
He stepped outside, blocking her from stepping into the room, and offered a clumsy greeting while closing the door as fast as he could. He did his best to conceal there was a woman in his room.
That didn't stop her curiosity. She knew there was a secret, and she was excited to hear it before anyone else.
"What's her name?" she whispered.
He kept his voice down so his guest wouldn't hear through the door.
"I can't remember." He avoided her eyes and mumbled, "I was hoping you knew it."
"Why would I know her name?"
"You know everyone's name."
She giggled and then took him out for coffee while the stranger changed into her clothes from last night.
Amber had come to borrow a few bucks from Merle's banker's box. Something was wrong again with her ATM card. Merle kept telling her banks were no good, just like Gran had told him.
The stranger had left by the time they returned to his room. Merle opened the banker's box and reached his hand down to unfamiliar depths. He had intended to have most of the stash still intact when he graduated. At this rate, he might not have enough for next year. And then what would happen?
"Something wrong?" Amber asked when he didn't effortlessly hand over the cash like normal.
"There's less here than there should be."
"How much less?"
"I don't know, just less."
"Do you think the girl from last night stole it?"
"What? No. She wouldn't." He didn't know for sure. He just wanted Amber to stop talking so he could count.
Shame weighed on him, crushing the carefree mood of the morning. He needed to ask a favor, a position Gran frequently cautioned him would lead to all sorts of trouble.
"Do you think you could you get by without the money today? I just don't feel well about this."
"No problem, hun." she kissed
him on the cheek and patted him on the back before
Eyeballing his stack didn't make it any taller. His friendships had brought him more comfort than he knew he needed, but he hadn't counted on them being so expensive. He went over the math again. The numbers were unwavering in their insistence: he needed to return to his old spending habits. There was another calculus that left him stumped. Would his friends understand?
Within a week, his dorm room was burglarized, and the contents of the banker's box were gone.
He called Amber in tears, and she dropped everything to race over and put her arms around him.
He was sitting on the floor hugging the empty banker's box when she arrived.
"First, things first," she said as she joined him on the dorm room floor. "Did you call the police?"
She was so smart. "I didn't. But do you think they'll find the person and get my money back?"
"No, hun, they won't."
He was so sure of his failure, of his ruined future. He would be a bum on the street and be ridiculed by Ferris or people like him.
But Amber didn't believe his self-pity.
"We can fix this."
"How can I possibly fix this?"
Her soft fingertip caressed his jaw, drawing his eyes into hers. Her gentle breathing offered promises he had to wait for.
She whispered, "You can fix this with dark magic."
He blinked so slowly he almost didn't open his eyes. It was the first time he heard the phrase outside of a fairy tale.
She continued, "There are a few secrets, but you have to want something strong enough to be able to cast a spell."
This did not clear the matter up.
Her voice turned stern, "Do you want the money?"
There was a deeper meaning to her question. Even though he heard the words, he didn't know what she was asking. His confusion came across as noncommittal.
She sighed and rolled her eyes away from his, leaving all the unspoken promises unfulfilled. "This is getting weird. Maybe I should leave." She took her hands off him and stood up from the floor.
She was right. The situation was weird.
He didn't know what to say. This had been about stolen money, but now
it was about something else. He'd never lost a friend before. If he
had been hurt when Ferris abandoned him, how much worse was it going
to be if she left?
Each step she took away from him plunged his mood deeper into darker places. Her hand touched the doorknob, and he couldn't take it anymore.
"I want you to have the money."
She made eye contact again. New energy glowed behind her gaze. If she had been playing at something before, now she was all business.
"Do you mean that?"
Her hand left the doorknob. A sensual playfulness returned to her eyes, but her voice maintained the measured pace of an expert.
"Merle, I have to be honest with you; otherwise, this won't work."
She knelt back down to the floor. Her perfume was as comforting as her hands resting on his legs.
Her voice became soft. "You'll have to pay a price."
"But Amber, I don't have any money."
"Not that kind of a price,"
she whispered again.
His voice shook. "What else can I pay with?"
The pressure of her fingers on his thigh sent a pulse of tension through him. She grinned deviously as his back arched. She wasn't talking about money anymore.
"The price is different for everyone. I can't tell you what yours will be. You just need to agree to pay it later."
"How much later?"
A detailed answer would have been useless. The movement of her hands had most of his attention now, no matter how he tried to keep it focused on the bizarre topic at hand.
"I don't know."
The moment was turning into something he had dreamed about but was unprepared for.
"What about Eric?"
"Don't worry about him. He doesn't need to know."
As much as he wanted to forget about him, he couldn't. Still, the only objection he could raise was a faint, "But he's your…"
She cut him off by placing a finger on his lip and whispered, "If you do this for me. You can have me."
She moved her hands up his thighs and moaned softly in his ear. He didn't know he could want something or someone so much.
"Are you willing?"
His need and desire had surpassed his
doubts. He nodded, saying, "I'll do anything."
She whispered the last of the instructions in his ear, and when the banker's box was full, she began taking off her clothes.