I felt uncomfortable in the suit, it'd been a long time since I'd had something that had been new, let alone made for me. I tried not to feel self-conscious. Zack had already gotten ready and went somewhere. I wasn't about to attempt finding him in this mansion and get myself lost. I frowned at my hair but knew any attempt to tidy it would fail completely. I left the bathroom and looked around Zack's room. It wasn't snooping since I didn't open drawers. He had a few picture frames on a bookshelf. One looked like him and Lily when they were younger. Eight or nine at a guess, he was even cute as a little kid. There another of him and Lily, when they were a little older, this time with Amber. Amber's smile looked so foreign on it. This must've been before things went wrong. The last picture was Zack around his age with a women, she was in a wheelchair in a courtyard of some kind. They were both smiling, but it seemed forced from Zack, and strained by the women.
“That's Zack's mum.” I spun at the voice, feeling guilty for some insane reason. Amber looked completely different from school. No scandalously short skirts and outrageous make-up. What she had on now was to allow subtle highlights of her features. Her gown was full-length and elegant, she had a simple silver chain with a jewel round her neck and similarly jewelled earrings.
“The picture you were looking at,” Amber continued, walking further into the room to stand next to me. Something close to compassion could be seen on her face as she studied the photo, her blue eyes taking a shiny quality.
“She was an amazing person. She had more patience than most,” Amber said. I didn't speak, because I didn't know what to say to this Amber. There were no barbs with this Amber, no false emotions. When the silence had stretched I realised she wasn't going to say anything more.
“Sounds like you admired her,” I said, echoing how she spoke of her in the past tense. Amber nodded.
“She'd been in the army for years. Then in Iraq there was an accident. It wasn't even enemy forces that took her left leg. But she didn't let it phase her, she took a desk job and got on with life. We were ten when it happened. We didn't really understand, we were just glad to be able to spend more time with her,” Amber explained, all the time her eyes not moving from the grainy image of the women.
“She was probably happy to spend time with you guys too,” I answered lamely. I couldn't imagine my mum going off to dangerous places, she'd always been there. Amber sniffled a hoarse laugh.
“Yeah, until she realised what a clumsy fool Zack used to be. Uncle had to put more hours into the company to bring in extra money. This was before it became successful. She wasn't alive to see it reach it's peak,” Amber's voice softened towards the end. I hoped she didn't start crying, because I really wouldn't know what to do then. This open Amber was throwing me for a few loops as it was.
“It was cancer in the end. Seems crazy, huh? After surviving everything the army threw her way, it was her body that did it,” Amber whispered. She released a shaky breath and wiped at her eyes, careful not to smudge her make up.
“Come on, the party's going to start soon. Just avoid talking to people and you should be fine. Most they'll ask is who you came here with. Then they might ask how you know Zack. Say a friend. That's an order from uncle, not Zack.” The other Amber was gone, though this Amber was sneering. Just be blunt with her back to me. Slowly putting her armour back in place I guess. I followed her into a big lounge area. A long table of food and drinks lined one wall. The one directly ahead of me was similar to the library, made of glass that showed the distant Cambridge city's twinkling lights. The flooring was grey marble, polished to shiny perfection. Candles burned alongside the rooms electric lights. There were already some people, all strangers but equally dressed up. I felt out of place here and searched for Zack. He'd claimed a sofa on the far end of the room, looking bored. I smiled to myself a little and sat down next to him.
“So, this is part of your everyday life,” I said, looking over the decorated room again. Zack shrugged.
“Wasn't always, but the past few years, yeah,” he replied. He seemed a lot quieter and subdued than normal and it made me worry. Was he regretting letting me be here? I studied the strangers and saw one that occasional sent pointed glances to Zack. I knew it had to be Zack's dad instantly. Zack shared his facial features. The man's black hair was greying, and his blue eyes were harsher though. I wondered if he always had that expression, or if it happened after Zack's mother had passed away.
“Should we escape?” I suggested with a small laugh. Zack smiled a little, then his gaze moved to meet his dad's.
“While he's watching us like a hawk, we wouldn't be able to hide away for long,” Zack said. I nodded and watched as others walked in. Most circulating around Zack's dad. Talk of business and current affairs seemed to be the norm. No one seemed to bother me or Zack. A few young men flirted with Amber. In school she would've greeted that kind of attention with enthusiasm. Instead she kindly turned them down and stared out the window with blank eyes.
“Zackery, stop being anti-social right this moment,” a girl admonished. Zack's eyes grew wide as the smaller girl yanked him onto his feet.
“Jaz, what are you doing here?” he asked.
“You ask that like it's a bad thing,” the girl replied. Like Amber she was beautifully dressed. She had long, wavy strawberry blond hair and delicate features. Her eyes were a darker brown than mine. They looked my way, curiosity sparking instantly.
“Is this your new “friend”?” she asked, adding a little too much emphasis onto the word. She flashed me a knowing smile and held out a hand.
“My name's Jasmine. I'm the friend he left behind in private school,” she said, sending Zack a friendly glare. I took her hand and stood up.
“I'm Michael,” I said and she nodded, I felt aware that she was studying me.
“So, your dad's still trying to hide you in the closet,” Jaz said. It wasn't really a question, more a statement. One that Zack shrugged in response too. Someone called her name and she glanced over her shoulder.
“You brought them too?” Zack asked with a raised eyebrow. Jaz gave a warm laugh and grabbed his hand.
“Well, duh. They want to know the horrors of going to a normal state school,” she said.
“You coming?” she directed to me. I glanced over at Amber and shook my head. Maybe the guys would leave her alone if they thought she was taken.