The dark blue-black sky lit up in shades of red and gold as the night receded. Emerson watched from his rooftop as the stars slowly blinked out and the sun started its take over of the cold October sky. It was quiet this early in the morning, with his three roommates either still sleeping or at work. He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breathe, smelling old leaves, wood smoke from someone's chimney and frost. He was freezing. His bare feet were numb. He pulled the blanket he'd brought out with him the night before tighter around his shoulders and shivered.
The roof was one of his favorite places. From where he was sitting he could see the sunrise perfectly and spent many mornings watching it. It was a good place to think, quieter than inside the house and intrusions were so much less likely than they would be if he stayed in his room or went down to the back porch. He had known all of his roommates since high school, he loved them all like siblings, and he didn't mind the busy atmosphere of the house, but sometimes he just needed the peace the rooftop brought him.
He'd been up there all night without even realizing. As soon as everyone had left for work or gone to sleep he had climbed out his window to watch the sky.
His tired, blue-gray eyes shifted down to look at the peice of paper his boss had shoved in his hand weeks before, as Emerson tried to skirt past her to leave. He sighed and ran his fingers thru his long greasy black curls as he remembered her words. She'd explained that the phone number on the small scrap of paper belonged to a group that helped low income people get behavioral health services, and that she felt he needed help. She'd been concerned about him, she claimed. His performance at work wasn't great and it was pissing her off is how he'd translated that.
It wasn't that he disliked his job. He just... didn't care. He worked evenings at a small pizza joint who's customers mainly consisted of teenagers who couldn't find anything better to do than unscrew the lids on pepper shakers and make messes in the booths or vandalize the bathroom. The managers hid in the back room and refused to do much of anything, and blamed Emerson and the other employees under them for any problems. It was tiresome.
He'd been up all night, alternating between staring angrily at the phone number he now had almost memorized and watching the stars as the whirlwind in his head raged, thoughts chasing each other in circles. He sighed and pulled his knees up to his chest. He let go of the paper and watched it flutter away as the wind and gravity fought over it. He didn't need it. He was fine. Just fine. He didn't need anyone from work meddling in his private life.
Almost exactly as he'd started to move back towards the window to go inside, he heard a high pitched yelp. He looked down toward the end of his driveway and cackled at the young man standing there.
"The fuck, dude?!" The figure on the ground yelled. "What the hell are you doing up there? You scared the shit out of me!"
"Good morning!" Emerson yelled back, still laughing, and he turned and crawled back thru his window. Once inside he stretched and went to meet his roommate downstairs.
Ezekiel "Zee" Jameson glared up at him as Emerson made his way down the last few stairs. Zee was the youngest member of the household and probably the loudest.
"You looked like a freaking gargoyle or some shit, sitting up there in the dark. Seriously, Em, you damn near gave me a heart attck!"
"Sorry, dude. I couldn't sleep. Calm down before you wake Lacey up" Emerson flopped back onto their old couch, exhausted. "How was work?"
Zee groaned loudly and threw himself down next to his friend dramatically, almost landing on him
in the process. "We all need to start playing the lottery, so we can all just quit our jobs. Tell Lacey, I'll try and convince Denny. I fucking hate that place." The slight brown haired man complained. "Anyone who comes in after 10 is either drunk or insane and I am soooo tired of dealing with crazy drunk people." He closed his bright green eyes and dropped his head back onto the back of the couch with a huff.
"Don't let Dresden hear you call him Denny," Emerson laughed, "he'll kill you."
"At least then I wouldn't have to go back to the gas station." Zee grumbled. He continued to tell Emerson exaggerated stories about the 'crazy drunk people' who'd come into the gas station and speculate about the probability of one of them winning the lottery for the next half hour, waving his hands around so much he nearly backhanded Emerson several times.
"Dude. Seriously. If you wake her up, you're on your own. Inside voice, my small friend." "Whatever, man. I'm exhausted. Wake me up when you leave for work?"
"Yea, later dude."
Emerson watched the younger man trudge up the stairs as he contemplated getting some sleep himself. It'd been weeks since he'd had more than a couple hours of sleep at a time. After a few minutes he decided he might as well just stay up and make coffee. Lacey would be getting up soon and Dresden would be on his way back from the museum. He figured if he went to sleep now he wouldn't wake up for work that afternoon. He couldn't afford to lose yet another job because of his insane sleep patterns.
He stood and ambled past the counter that served as a table and separated the living room from the dimly lit kitchen. As he was making coffee, a small blonde woman in a pink tank top and fuzzy blue and pink pajama pants stumbled into the kitchen. She flopped down into a chair and laid her head in her arms.
"Mmfph." She said into her arms.
"Morning, Lace. " Emerson responded. "Do you want coffee?"
She grumbled something in reply and he started pulling cups out for them. He sat down and handed her one of the cups. They sat in silence for a bit while they sipped coffee and Lacey glared at the table. Out of the four of them, Lacey was the worst at waking up. She hated mornings with a passion. After a while Emerson glanced over at her and noticed her staring at him.
"Did I grow horns overnight?" He joked. "Zee did mention I looked like a gargoyle." "No," she said, "but you look like shit."
"Gee, thanks, Lace." He replied. "You're so sweet this morning."
She looked over at her friend. Dark bloodshot blue eyes peered back at her from a thin pale sickly face, surrounded by dark purple bags that told her he wasn't sleeping again. He raked a hand thru his dark hair as she looked him over. It was greasy and wild, standing up every which way. He hadn't changed his clothes or shaved in a few days. Dark stubble covered his cheeks.
"You look sick, Emmie." She told him quietly. "You need sleep, you need to eat, and you need to shower. You can't go to work like this. I wish you'd call in."
"I'm fine, Lace." He smiled at her " I just had a rough night."
The front door opened and their final roommate, Dresden, walked in. He tossed his car keys at Lacey and sat down next to Emerson, unbuttoning and shrugging off the shirt to his security uniform.
"Is there food?" The tall blonde man asked hopefully.
Emerson stood and looked thru the cupboards and empty fridge. Cringing at the lack of anything edible. They really needed to get groceries more often.
"There's coffee, about a half a cup of milk.... oh, never mind on the milk. It's bad..... oh! There's an orange!" He smiled triumphantly and tossed the orange to Dresden. "I'll go and grab some stuff. I just need to shower quick."
"Nope. Lacey can get groceries, right Sis? You don't have classes today, do you?" Dresden said quickly. Lacey nodded and he turned his attention back on Emerson. "You need sleep dude. You obviously haven't done that for a while. Go to bed."
"If I fall asleep now I'll miss work." Emerson replied flatly. These two were getting on his nerves already.
"Dresden can wake you and Zee up when he gets up at one." Lacey replied stubbornly. "I'll get groceries. Go."
Emerson sighed, giving up, and glared at the siblings sitting at their makeshift table. He absolutely detested when they ganged up on him like this. The Edwards siblings were the very definition of stubborn and there was rarely any use arguing with either of them. Fights between the two often turned into all out wars that turned the entire household upside down for weeks. He spun away and stomped up the stairs. He'd humor them simply to get them to leave him be, he decided.
He closed the door to his room, sat on his bed and looked around. His room was a disaster. There were clothes piled up everywhere, dishes sitting on his desk, paint from a half finished project forgotten in the corner had tipped over and dripped from the desk into his chair. A large orange puddle had
formed there, now half dry and sticky. Old paintings and sketches, some only partially finished, lay scattered across nearly every surface. He sighed and flopped back on his bed, shutting his eyes against the mess. He would deal with it later, he told himself.
Moments later he had fallen asleep without meaning to, laying sprawled out on his back with his legs dangling over the side of the bed and his arms thrown over his head.
The two siblings sat in silence for a few moments after Emerson went upstairs. Lacey stood and started going through cupboards and the fridge, furiously scribbling on a sheet of paper. Dresden watched his sister a moment longer before he spoke.
"I'm beginning to worry about him. He's never been like this. Do you know what's going on? Did something change?" He asked.
"He won't tell me anything. I have no clue." She sighed and turned towards her older brother. "One minute, he was fine. He was painting and singing. We hung out and ate pizza while you and Zee were at work and then when I woke up the next morning, he was still down here just staring at the wall. He hadn't been able to sleep. And he's been a zombie since."
Dresden looked around the messy kitchen. They took turns cleaning, rotating rooms each week so that no one was stuck doing everything constantly. It was supposed to be Emerson's week to take care of the kitchen. Normally their friend was a clean freak who couldn't stand even a speck of dust. This week, however, dirty dishes hid the counter and filled the sink. The trash can was over flowing and had 2 full bags sitting next to it. Something sticky had spilled on the tile floor at some point. He stood and started emptying the sink, having decided to try to do a few loads of dishes before he too went to sleep. While he cleaned he thought about his friend, concerned. Emerson had been Lacey's friend first. They'd been in the same grade and had been inseparable from the moment he'd moved there. Dresden was originally just along for the ride, having been the only one able to drive at the time, 15 year old lacey had insisted on it until she'd gotten her driver's license. And by the time that happened, Emerson had grown on him nearly as much as he had Lacey.
Lacey continued writing her shopping list and watched her brother. She was irritated at their friend, not understanding why he hadn't wanted to talk to her the night before. She had tried to get him
to open up when he'd gotten home from work and they'd fought until finally he'd just walked away from her. When she tried to follow him he had slammed his door in her face. Then she had come back downstairs and saw the state of their small kitchen. She had been planning to confront him about it this morning but then he'd made her coffee and she had seen how sick he appeared to be suddenly, all her concerns about the mess had flown from her mind. Her normally happy, easy going friend had been irritable and angry for weeks, hiding in his room or sitting out on the roof for most of the day. When he did come out, they all found themselves walking on eggshells around him, not understanding his strange mood swings. They were used to his random bouts of insomnia, but this was something more. Something worse.
Lacey thought Emerson was the best of all of them. He'd always been one to try and help anyone he could. He always had a kind word or even just a smile for everyone. Hell, he had been the one to insist on taking Zee home with them five years ago. Once they had found him, Emerson had been adamant that Zee stayed with their little group. But lately the Emerson she knew had disappeared, leaving behind an angry, sarcastic shell that cared very little for anything. It scared her.
She finally finished her list and left, still thinking about her two friends and Emerson's strange behavior.