Authors: Tricia Drammeh
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
Quotes from The Divine Comedy are translations from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
THE FIFTH CIRCLE Copyright © 2013 by Tricia Drammeh
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Cover Art by Victoria Barrow
Publishing History: First Edition, 2013
ublished in the United States of America
This book is dedicated to my parents, Ray and Diana Borus. Thank you for your love and support. You’re the best.
I’d also like to thank my husband. Aaron Haruna Drammeh—you’re my heart and soul. My wonderful children—Chris, Dena, Khadeja, and Ahmed—I love you so much.
A big, gigantic thank you to my beta readers. Katrina Jack—without your helpful input, this book would be five-hundred pages of rambling. I appreciate you taking the time to read the first draft and for pushing me in the right direction. Jacoba Dorothy—thank you for your encouragement. I don’t think I could publish a book without letting you read it first. Your insight is always welcome and invaluable.
Thank you, Kim S., for answering my frequent questions about the criminal justice system.
Boundless gratitude goes to Victoria Barrow for creating the amazing cover art.
And, finally, I must thank Dante Alighieri and
The Divine Comedy
Chapter 1- Alex
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost
(Canto I, lines 2 & 3)
The music in my head was so loud, I could barely concentrate. It was
my theme song, the tune that played every time I was faced with a decision. I could blame the song on my mom because she’d forced me to watch old movies with her from the time I was a little girl. Or, I could blame it on Choir because we sang an
medley during my Junior year. The truth was, I had only myself to blame. The lyrics to “I’m Just a Girl Who Cain’t Say No,” most accurately described my biggest problem, at least where Sean was concerned. With Sean, I could never quite say no.
I longed to say
“no” just this once, but “yes” tumbled out the second I opened my mouth. It wasn’t because Sean was irresistible. At five-foot ten, Sean was average in every way. With his dark brown hair, green eyes, and slight build, he looked like a typical high school Senior. At school, he was known for being anything but typical.
I wished I could take back my answer
the moment it escaped my lips. The last thing I wanted to do was parade in front of the whole school with Sean as my date. But, I felt sorry for him. I couldn’t bear to break his heart. It occurred to me that Sean felt sorry for me too, and that between the two of us, I was the most deserving of pity. It was too late. “Yes” had already sealed my fate.
“Thank you, Alex,” he said. “You’ll be glad you went. This is our last chance to go to Homecoming.”
It was my last chance to do a lot of things. My life was a series of last chances and missed opportunities because even though I couldn’t say “no,” saying nothing at all was an answer in itself.
In the past,
Sean wouldn’t have pressed me for an answer. I missed the old Sean, the Sean who wouldn’t have even dared to ask me out. I liked it better when he was shy like me. Over the past few months, he’d become bolder. Maybe it was because he no longer cared what other people thought. Or, maybe he’d become fearless because he’d faced death.
“We’ll go out to dinner first and…”
“Sean,” I interrupted before he got too carried away. “You don’t have to take me to dinner or anything like that. We’re going as friends.”
“Of course, Alex. Always as friends,” he muttered.
“Best friends, right?” I smiled to take the edge off my rejection.
There was a time I hadn’t been a very good friend to Sean. We’d been next-door neighbors since the first grade
and were inseparable growing up. But when we started high school, I began to view Sean differently. I was no longer able to tune out what other people were saying about him: he was weird, a nerd, a gamer-geek. I noticed when he laughed too loud or made obscure references to Tales of Andrometis. Despite the fact that Sean often embarrassed me, we were still best friends. When my other friends ragged on me for hanging out with Sean, I always defended him.
Everything changed during
our Junior year. I didn’t have as much time for Sean after I got accepted into Honor Choir, and Sean didn’t have any time for me after he started playing Tales of Andrometis. In the lunchroom, I’d often find him huddled with a small cluster of gamers. They whispered animatedly about their avatars and latest conquests. After school, they congregated in the hallways, talking about strategy. When I tried to hang out with Sean on the weekends, he spoke of nothing but TOA. Any attempt to steer the conversation to something normal was fruitless. He was incapable of speaking of anything other than his favorite game. I finally gave up.
hen things began to unravel, I didn’t notice right away because I barely spent any time with Sean at all. We’d grown apart. It was my fault things went so terribly wrong. If I hadn’t given up on him, I would have noticed something was off. I would have been able to protect him the way he’d always protected me. Agreeing to go to the dance with him was the least I could do after everything he’d done for me.
“My mom will be happy,” he said.
we’re going to the dance,” he replied.
I looked down at my feet, not knowing what to say.
I watched a line of ants marching across the driveway. They reminded me of high school.
He continued, “She’s always up my ass, bugging me to do ‘normal high school stuff.’ Whatever that me
ans. Anyway, she’ll be happy to see me getting out of the house.”
“Maybe she’ll give you back your computer if she thinks you’re doing better,” I said.
Sean’s mother had confiscated his computer after his hospitalization.
gave it back to me last week. She said I’d need it for school. I have the internet, but TOA is blocked and so is almost every other decent game.” He looked over his shoulder and lowered his voice. “I found a new game. One that
“Sean, you need to be careful. I don’t want to see you…well, just be careful.”
“I can handle it now. Trust me. I’ll be fine. It’s not like before,” he promised.
“I should go home,” I said, gesturing toward my house. At any moment, my dad could come bursting
outside. He hated Sean. Well, actually, he hated everybody.
Are you riding with me tomorrow?” Sean asked.
Well, let’s see. I could ride the foul-smelling school bus, or I could catch a ride in my best friend’s new truck,” I replied, pretending to think it over. “I’ll see you in the morning.”
turned around and took a few uncomfortable steps toward my house. I could feel his eyes following me. When I tripped over the garden hose in my yard, I prayed for once, he wasn’t looking. I peeked over my shoulder and sure enough, he was watching me. My embarrassing display of clumsiness didn’t wipe the look of longing off his face, though. His yearning frightened me because I knew one day he might want something more than just a date to the school dance and I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to tell him no.
At school the next day, I met up with my best-girlfriend, Chelsea, in the lunchroom. Sean waved to me from his spot in the mile-long lunch line. I signaled for him to join us.
Chelsea’s eyebrows rose. “Sean? Really?”
“Come on, Chelse. He’s a nice guy.”
“Yeah, for a psycho.”
“He’s not a psycho. He’s doing really well,” I said. Then in response to the skeptical rolling of her eyes, I continued, “Yeah, he’s much better now. He went to summer school and got caught up on his classes. He’s going to start looking for a job, so his mom got him a truck. He actually drove us to school this morning.”
That’s scary. Should he even have a license?” she asked.
“He’s a very good driver,” I insisted.
“Until he snaps.”
“He’s my friend. I wish you wouldn’t say that kind of stuff
.” I changed the subject. “So, what do you think of that History project?”
“I can’t believe these teachers,” she replied. “They’re piling on homework and it’s only the first day of school.”
“Well, if you want to come over this weekend, we could make a dent in that stupid project before it gets too out of control.”
She seemed hesitant. “Why don’t you come to my house instead?
It’ll be more…quiet.”
“Um, okay,” I
agreed, somewhat offended by her barely concealed disdain for my family. But, in fairness, I couldn’t blame her for not wanting to come to my house. The more I thought about it, I liked the idea of hanging out somewhere else all weekend. If my dad let me.
Sean finally arrived at the lunch table, I felt a surge of renewed appreciation for him. He’d seen the worst my family had to offer and didn’t judge me for it. No matter what my dad did or how loud he did it, I never felt like I had to apologize to Sean. He was the only person who understood. For that, I owed him more than just a Homecoming dance.
Chapter 2- Sean
…and I the only one
Made myself ready to sustain the war
(Canto II, Lines 3 & 4)
ed, but it was a necessary evil. It didn’t matter. It was one of those things I had to do. I could have dropped out. I’d just turned eighteen. My mom couldn’t threaten me with hospitalization again, but she could take away my truck. Or, worse—the computer. I shuddered at the idea of losing the computer again. I’d just got it back.
There were two things in life I wanted
: Tales of Andrometis and Alex. Unfortunately, Alex didn’t want me and I no longer had access to TOA, so I had to be content with an alternative. An alternative game—not an alternative girl. There was no substitute for Alex. She was beautiful, soft, kind…everything a man could want. I longed to pull the rubber band from her long, dark hair and run my hands through it. Sometimes I could smell her shampoo and the scent of coconut made me dizzy with lust. The fact that no one else could see her potential just made me doubt humanity.
When I saw Alex in the lunchroom, she seemed happy to be back in school. It gave her a place to go and something to do.
She needed an escape from her house, and school gave her an out. I didn’t need school. I had a better escape. It just so happened that her mode of escape was socially acceptable, but mine was not. Her preoccupation with schoolwork earned her the title, “Honor Student.” My preoccupation with gaming labeled me a Loser.
The day was a total loss.
I drifted from class to class, feeling disconnected from everyone around me. A few people said some shit to me about Stryder, but most people just ignored me. Sweat beaded my upper lip and with each class, it got worse. The teachers rambled on about their high expectations for the school year. They assigned essays and projects. Even though I took summer school classes to make up for all the time I’d missed Junior year, it wasn’t the same. I had no idea what was going on…no idea what the teachers were talking about. Everything seemed so difficult.