Chapter 1: Spilled Paint
Who am I?
Now there was a question Color had asked herself many times, until the words themselves started to lose meaning. A question repeated throughout her life, reemerging above the surface like a pesky piece of cork in water; present but full of holes, only half of what she needed.
Color couldn’t quite remember when she had first starting asking herself this question. She could only recall the times when it had reoccured to her. When she moved away from her first hometown. When she started going through puberty. When her mom left, probably. Too many times to count.
It seemed that she was cursed to ask herself this question forever. An answer never presented itself to her, no matter how hard she looked for it, but maybe she shouldn’t have been searching at all. What did it mean to search for an answer anyway? Answers came when they wanted to, not at her own convenience.
Maybe she hadn’t been thinking about it lately, but Color was pretty sure that streak was over now.
“You’re fucking what?” Color said into the phone, aghast.
“I’m breaking up with you,” Ian sighed from the other end of the line. “I don’t think I can make this any clearer.”
Color pushed her bangs out of her face, flabbergasted. She was standing on the balcony of the bookstore, a long lonely drop stretching out beneath her. Slow traffic crawled by on the street below, and angry honks from the cars crowded the night air, like a flock of birds was pecking at her ears.
“Okay, hold on hold on. First of all, why?”
Ian actually seemed to mull over that for a second, and for the first time Color felt that stabbing pain in her heart that she knew was going to come one way or another. She didn’t understand why this was happening. Or perhaps she did, and she just didn’t want to admit it to herself yet.
“I think we’re just different people now,” he said finally, exhaling slowly. To his credit, he didn’t seem to be taking this lightly. “I’m not the same guy you started dating nine months ago, and I don’t see you as the same girl either. I’m not condemning you or anything, Color. You’re a fine person. I just don’t think we’re meant for each other anymore. Can we please keep this civil?”
Color realized rather abruptly that her mouth was hanging open, but she was too far gone to have the wherewithal to close it. She could hear her father calling out to her from inside the bookstore, but she failed to respond. The moon hung moodily overhead, a pale spotlight on the sorry state of her life.
After a while she had nothing of value to say, so she let her tongue take the cockpit.
“Nine months, and you dump me over the god damn phone?” She said, one hand still pasted to her head.
“Look, I realize this makes me look really bad,” Ian growled back. “But would it make you feel any better if I came to tell you in person? I live on the other side of the mountain.”
No. No, he was right. Ian was an asshole, she had known that before she started dating him, but he was always right. Sometimes that made the asshole part that much more infuriating.
She was getting dumped because he had lost interest. What worth was there in him coming all the way over here to break her heart? She didn’t mean that much to him anymore. Somewhere along the way, she had gone from the moon to being an ordinary star in the sky.
“I hope you don’t expect us to be friends after this,” she said finally, feeling sour at her own pettiness but inducing it anyway.
“I don’t,” he sighed. “You don’t owe me anything. I know that. I’m sorry, Color.”
Color couldn’t think of anything to say to that, not even something scathing or rude. Ian wanted nothing from her, not even a superficial guise of friendship. He was well and truly washing his hands of her.
I’ve had sex with this person, she thought suddenly, strangely feeling the need to laugh in a very ugly manner. Now he’s fucking me in a whole new way.
In the end she just hung up. Color had a feeling Ian was waiting for her to say something back, but she refused to give that to him.
Like he had said, she didn’t owe him anything.
After closing her phone she leaned against the railing of the balcony, staring at the staggered rooftops of Verdamar. The moon was vibrant and full over the pink and green painted buildings in her neighborhood, faded in color without the sun. The tops of the buildings clustered into a sort of infinity towards the horizon, clambering up the mountain side that the city was built on, like a child riding on an older sibling’s back.
She knew the pain and sadness was going to set in sooner or later. Maybe she would even cry. But right now she was just numb, the warm summer night massaging her into a malleable mush. She was a bowl of mashed potatoes and the stars were teeth waiting to sink into her. And she would merely submit, viscous as she was in that moment.
I’m single, she realized rather suddenly. For the first time in nearly a year she was single. What a strange feeling. She had spent most of her life being single. How quickly the human mind adapted to newfound circumstances.
How quickly people could decide to change.
Fingers digging into the railing, Color gave into her impulse and leaned over the abyss, taking in a deep breath. Once her lungs were full she screamed, yelled as loud as she could at the mountain, and the city, and the cars below, at everything. She was screaming at the inevitability of something she wanted gone forever, at the crushing sadness she knew she could not prevent, and the simple sensation that even mashed potatoes looked different depending on who made them.
Some of the people on the street started screaming back up at her mockingly, shouting and whooping. Color cursed under her breath and lowered her head, burying her face in her hands.
“Color!” Her father called from inside. The smell of good cooking was wafting through the screen door. “I’ve called you to dinner five times now! What are you doing out there!”
“I don’t want to eat right now,” Color said back, not moving from her position.
“But it’s going to get cold. I thought you wanted to eat beef curry tonight? I ran to the store just to make it-”
“I said I’m not hungry!” Color snapped, banging her hands on the railing.
“Leave me alone!”
Dragon Petals Beneath the Moon
After that Color took a cold shower.
She took a cold shower because hot showers made her think. And Color didn’t want to think right now. She wanted to bury herself in a suffering more present than the latent pain in her heart. To live completely in the moment, until time itself became irrelevant.
When she got out she was shivering so much her teeth were chattering, goosebumps erupting over her skin. Her deep black hair clung to the sides of her face as she dried herself off in the mirror, staring dazed at the complexion of her skin. The cold cobalt blue of her eyes stared back at her from the glass, and for a moment she fancied she was some sort of ice queen, immune to something as silly and fickle as human emotion.
But as much as she pretended, she knew it was a fantasy. Given time, the cold would wear off. The shivering would stop, and her body would warm itself up again. Once she was warm again she would start thinking again. It seemed that her body wanted to think. Maybe thinking was living. Maybe living was being in pain.
Her hair was a wet mess when she stepped out of the bathroom, but she hardly cared. If she caught a cold, great. Then she wouldn’t have to go to school, and she wouldn’t have to see Ian’s face ever again.
But her plans were foiled when she left her room to find her father standing in the living room, a large fluffy towel in hand. He smiled when she saw him, his thin stubble curling around his lips.
“See, you never dry your hair properly,” he said, pulling out a chair. “Come on. I’ll dry it for you.”
Color stared at her dad for a moment, then sat down in the chair. She had a feeling she wasn’t being given a choice. And maybe the towel would absorb her terrible thoughts from her brain.
Her father’s firm hands brought the towel around her head, and he began to dry her dripping wet hair. Color closed her eyes as she felt his fingers massaging her scalp, sending little tingles down her spine.
It was quiet like that for a little while. Color wished a little while was the same as forever. A soft yellow light illuminated the living room, gracing the cramped space that they both shared together. A warm summer breeze snuck in through the screen door. A fan buzzed in the corner behind the couch. The sounds of night life rose up from the street below, and she lived through their words, a million different people at once.
“So,” her father said at last, “What happened?”
Color closed her eyes and sighed. She had figured it would come to this. But she had sat down despite knowing. Her body was getting warmer.
“I just got dumped,” she muttered, closing her fists against her bare knees.
“Dumped? Seriously?” her father said, shocked. “By who?”
Color furrowed her brow, turning to look up at him. “What do you mean who? By Ian! I only have…had one boyfriend!”
Her dad blinked, then laughed in embarrassment. “Oh, right. Of course. My bad.”
As Color made a disgusted noise and faced forward again, her father grabbed a blow dryer plugged into the wall and turned it on, pointing it at her hair.
“Was he at least a gentleman about it?” he asked, running his fingers through Color’s dark locks.
“He was gentle, all right,” she muttered. So gentle that it hurt…
“At least you have that,” her father said, working out the kinks in her hair. “The knowledge that you dated a good person.”
Along with the knowledge that she had lost a good person. Color didn’t know what hurt her more. The fact that their relationship was over or the fact that it ended quietly, like the last embers of a campfire fading into the dirt. In some ways she wished it had ended in a glorious, heart rending argument, because at least then she would have known for sure that she existed in Ian’s heart, that she meant enough to unbalance him, to change him.
It was probably the cool calmness with which it had ended that hurt her the most. To know that they had drifted apart so far before she was able to notice, but even if she did pick up on it in time, would it have made a difference? They were all ships without captains. The waves did with them what they pleased, and she could only pray she got to float next to someone she didn’t mind being with.
The dry rasp of the blowdryer ceased as her father finished his work, setting the device aside. He then got around to parting Color’s hair down the middle, arranging it neatly around her shoulders.
Color stared at the wall while he worked, and suddenly had the hideous urge to cry, which only hurt her doubly because she knew Ian wasn’t crying wherever he was.
“Hey, dad,” she said softly, “Do you think I just wasn’t good enough for him?”
Her father’s hands paused, then rested on her shoulders, as gentle as Ian’s words but so much less painful. He leaned down and kissed the top of her head, his lips warm against her skin.
“You’re good enough for anyone in the whole wide world, my love. Just not all at once. The moon waxes in phases.”
Color reached up and wiped at her eyes. She didn’t know what he meant by that, but the words comforted her for some reason. Her body was still thinking without her. She felt so unexplainably warm, on a beautiful summer night.
“I’m sorry for yelling at you,” she said, rubbing her nose.
She heard her father smile, and his hand stroked her hair. “That’s okay. I might have yelled at you too, if it were me.”
Color had to smile at that. They both knew that he would never in a million years yell at her. But he would say he would, if only to make her feel better.
“I’ll have the beef curry now,” she said.
Her father reached around and pinched Color’s cheek, the smell of food returning to the room.
“There’s my girl.”
“Well, I’ll admit I expected you guys to last until graduation,” Demetrius said.
The two of them were sitting on the roof of Color’s building, watching the moon glide across the sky. Color lived on the top floor of her twenty story building with her father, who also owned the nineteenth story bookstore one level below. It was possible to reach the roof if they stacked some boxes on the balcony and climbed up.
She and Demetrius had started using the roof as a frequent hangout spot, so her father had compromised by making them let him build a small wall around the perimeter so they wouldn’t end up as ugly stains on the pavement. Now a small wooden barrier kept them relatively safe, unless one of them really wasn’t feeling life on a particular day.
“Well, we’re a week out from graduation,” Color said, laying on her back with her arms and legs sprawled out.
Demetrius was sitting leaned up against the makeshift wall, scrolling through something on his phone. He was a tall boy, the same eighteen years of age as her, but in some ways felt a decade older. Maybe it was his face, handsome and mysterious, the one that made so many girls at school fall head over heels for him, although Color knew too much about Demetrius to fall for that trap.
She was surprised that he was even here. A text explaining her new relationship status had been replied to with an offer to come over. She hadn’t expected him to, but she accepted. A few minutes later he had taken the block long walk to her building and was knocking the door.
Demetrius was such a weird guy. Sometimes she couldn’t get a hold of him for days on end. Sometimes he just popped into her life like a grasshopper on steroids. Still, they had been friends for years. And he was the only one she really wanted to tell about this so early.
“Yeah, I guess I’ve got to give you both props for lasting as long as you did,” Demetrius said, still staring at his phone. “I didn’t expect it to last more than three months.”
Color stared up at the stars, relating to their meager brightness, further reduced by the city lights. “Thanks, Demi.”
“I’m not trying to be an asshole for anything,” Demetrius sighed. “But you saw this coming, didn’t you? You guys were losing momentum. I could tell from a mile away.”
“No…I know that,” Color said softly. “I knew.”
She really did. She could tell weeks before that something was up, but she never asked about it because she couldn’t guess the problem herself. He seemed less engaged in their conversations, less interested in spending time with her. Something seemed to pull him away from her, in the way water left a wet towel left out in the sun.
“If it makes you feel any better, I didn’t think you two looked that great together,” Demetrius continued. He really sucked at comforting people. “He was heading one way, and you another.”
“That’s amazing coming from you,” Color muttered, draping an arm over her face. “Mister new girl every other week.”
“I don’t pursue anything long term with anybody,” he deflected, shrugging. “People are good in short spurts. And I haven’t met anyone worth the turnaround time yet.”
And neither have I, apparently, she thought.
“At least you won’t have to see him again,” Demetrius said. “You’re going to college on the other coast, aren’t you?”
“I heard Ian’s staying here. You’ll get to leave him behind.”
Strangely enough, that did make her feel a bit better.
“You know, you’re actually so bad at being nice that it kind of works.”
“Sometimes I’m better at using my heart,” Demetrius shrugged. “It depends on the person.”
It really did.
Color often wondered about her father’s decision to move to Verdamar.
It was a tiny city built on the side of a green mountain, on the edge of the continent by the sea. From far away it looked a bit like someone had spilled colorful concrete soup down the side of an ant hill, if the ants were actually people.
Verdamar was, to put it lightly, a crowded place. The mountain was tall but not very wide across, so its founders had been forced to shove as much as they could into what limited space they had. The result was a literal cluster fuck of soaring apartment buildings, shopping complexes that had been built upwards instead of sideways, and roads narrower than the margin of error on a critical heart surgery.
When one stood on top of a building near the bottom of the mountain where Color lived, and took the time to crane their necks back and look up, it could seem to some like gravity was shifting horizontally the further up one went. The tops of business headquarters, vertical markets and housing complexes clambered on top of one another in a desperate race to reach the peak of the mountain, and if she stared long enough Color could imagine that she could reach out and grab those rooftops to climb up herself.
As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, Verdamar was also a city one with nature. Tall colorful trees were shoved between buildings every few blocks, almost hilariously out of place in the already cramped space. A ten story tall cherry tree was growing next to Color’s building. Parks were sandwiched into alleys that were too wide for dumpsters but too narrow to fit two lanes of cars. The buildings were so close to each other that there was a legend the old people like to tell about a man who had gone from the bottom of the mountain all the way to the top just by hopping from one rooftop to another. And quite frankly, Color believed it.
Soaring buildings, a mess of trees and cars honking constantly at each other in the brightly lit dead of night, accentuated by the constant buzz of simply way too many residents. It was said that there was nothing you couldn’t find in Verdamar, so long as it wasn’t fresh are you were looking for.
It was a city that, like her, wanted everything.
Color was actually a little reluctant to tell her other friends about the breakup. Demetrius might be a blunt asshole, but he was usually a good person at heart and he had her best interests in mind. He acknowledged that she was going through something shitty, and didn’t try to glamorize it. If there was anything she appreciated about him, it was how unfazed he was by everything.
Her fears were confirmed when, upon announcing her singleness in the group chat, all the girls promptly flipped the fuck out. She didn’t know what it was about girls and their love for flipping the fuck out. She was guilty of it herself; maybe because they felt like men didn’t flip out enough.
A flurry of comforting messages poured in, which made her happy. Then they demanded that the group had to meet up, which she wasn’t so adamant about, but ultimately agreed to.
So that weekend she put on some nice clothes and went out, finding herself greeted by a cherry sweet summer afternoon. The traffic was light, and people were hanging out in shorts and shirts, showing as much skin as they dared.
Color walked north up the street, appreciating the flatness of the ground. The mountain had been leveled in certain places so that everything didn’t have to be built on a steep incline, since that tended to be bad for the general livelihood of the people. Her father had once joked that if they hadn’t leveled parts of the mountain, they’d start shitting sideways too.
She hadn’t found the joke very funny, but she had laughed to boost his confidence.
It was a ridiculously gorgeous day outside. Her neighborhood had a tradition of painting the outside of every building in vibrant summer colors, in preparation of the summer solstice festival. As a result the shopping complexes and apartments shooting up around her were covered in pallets of pink and shy green, innocent whites and bold yellows. It looked like someone had built a town inside a cherry blossom, but she was used to it by now. People could adjust to anything, even beauty.
The scenery didn’t do much for her mood, though. Everything seemed gray to her, like a film had been dropped over her eyes. The color was there, but her heart was a broken prism.
She met her friends in a small cafe tucked about halfway up the mountain, its interior decor done entirely in white. The tables, chairs, walls and decorations were all done in an innocent white color; jaded as she was at the moment, Color found herself wondering what would happen if someone spilled coffee in there.
Her friends were sitting at a big table by the window, and were waving her over when she walked in. There were five of them, surrounding her like a flock of suffocating peacocks, which was a strange perception to have because she was supposed to love her friends.
“So, Color,” one of them said as soon as she sat down, “How are you holding up?”
Color blinked in surprise. She had always thought that her friends were not very straightforward people. A lot of girls weren’t to begin with, but she had expected to have to slough through meaningless conversation first.
The other three girls nodded in agreement, apparently very eager to get down to business. It felt like she was sitting with strangers.
“I’m…” Color stopped, suddenly realizing she didn’t know the answer. How was she holding up? Surprisingly, she hadn’t cried last night, and she didn’t want to either. Maybe because this wasn’t her first break up. Perhaps her body was becoming numb to the changing tides. “I’m…okay, I guess.”
A smattering of murmured condolences. Someone else reached out and cupped her hand with theirs, her smile as mature as Color had ever seen.
“Well, whatever you need, we’ll be here for you,” her friend said. “That’s what we’re for, right?”
The girl sitting across from her nodded vigorously in agreement. “Boyfriends are temporary. Friends are forever!”
Those words stuck inside Color’s head as drinks were ordered, and the conversation devolved into something more casual. They were trying to make her feel better, she knew, but strangely it wasn’t working, even though she knew that it should, that it had worked before. Was she not the same person as she was back then?
Friends are forever. What a weighted and terrifying statement. Anything to do with forever was beyond her, even if she wanted it. Color had to wonder if the statement was even true. There were girls who had been there before she met Ian who weren’t sitting here now. The people she associated with today weren’t the same as the ones she met upon entering high school, which was funny in retrospect because she had been so excited when she found her first friend group, thinking they would be with her for the years to come.
She wasn’t lonely, but it seemed to her that friends were as temporary as boyfriends, only less sanctified.
Color’s mind withdrew further and further from the conversation at hand. She felt terrible about it, seeing as they were here for her, but she couldn’t bring herself to respond to anybody. She had thought she would go out today and live it up with her friends. That was what she had done the last time. Not today, though. Today it was different, and maybe tomorrow would be too.
She sighed and cupped her chin in her hand. Her eyes drifted out the window, to the crowded and eager world beyond. The street was narrow and filled with people. They looked no different from the ones sitting in front of her now. They were all warm bodies, and every star was the same.
Just as she was about to close her eyes, something flickered by.
Beautiful caramel colored hair. The phrase entered her mind effortlessly, despite the fact that she never used it. Color raised her head just in time to see the figure of a girl in exercise clothes run around the corner, her form quick and fleeting like today.
By the time she looked the girl was gone, and she only caught a glimpse of that beautiful caramel colored hair, the world no longer so gray as it had once been.
One of her friends asked her something. To cover up the fact that she hadn’t been listening, Color forced a laugh and a smile. It seemed to work.
It seemed she too could be more than one person at once.
Color spent the next week trying to return to her normal life.
That raised the difficult question of what “normal” meant, however. Days earlier she would have met up with Ian at the crosswalk and gone to school with him. They would have sat next to each other and probably slept through first period. Stolen a kiss in an empty hallway. That was normal.
So was the thing she was pursuing now also normal? She woke up in the morning on Monday and did her hair, enough to be attractive but not tailored to anyone in particular. She answered texts from her friends. She ate her breakfast and put on her school uniform.
None of that was outside the realm of “normal.” But in each of those activities Color felt something empty and forlorn, despite everything her dad did to make her feel better. She wasn’t used to him having to baby her, either. It seemed no matter what she did she was uncomfortable.
Color knew she shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. She was fresh off a breakup. That was never easy; if it was easy the relationship had never meant anything.
But she also felt like it was deeper than that. Something rooted closer to her heart than love. Her own perception of herself. Why couldn’t she just go back to the way her life was before Ian? It must be because she was a different person now. He must have changed her, but she had never managed to change him back. She was the blank canvas he had so casually molested, her wide open whiteness marred and violated by rivulets of spilled paint, and he the artist was no different for it.
If she had stayed white and untouched, would he have left her?
It was the end of spring when Color walked alone to school that morning. After today she would be a high school graduate. She didn’t feel any different, but she would be. Whether she liked it or not that change was coming.
She knew she wasn’t happy, but she wore a brave face. Her dad was going to be at the graduation ceremony. She didn’t want him to look at her and see the sadness she carried with her.
A group of construction men jogged by her. A team of painters was working on a mural by the road, a massive picture of a flower yearning for the moon. The summer solstice festival would be here soon. It would be a new season, and she would have no choice but to adapt.
The ceremony was about as boring as everyone expected it to be.
First they had to sit through hours of speeches and introductions, as old person after old person got up to talk to them about their futures or whatnot. Older people talked about the future as if it happened just like that. Despite this expected disappointment, however, Color sat straight and did her best to pay attention. She had the perception that her own history was in the making. Her friends giggled and poked at each other to her side, which she couldn’t fathom. They would be different after this was over. Couldn’t they see that?
At last the speeches from the adults were over. Next it was time for the valedictorians to speak. Color started to phase out at this point, her vision going double as she lost her focus. Her cap went a little crooked on her head, and her gown suddenly felt stifling.
The first of the speeches slipped entirely through her mind. But when the second one began her friend elbowed her in the side, rousing her from her stupor.
“Hey, there she is!” the girl whispered, motioning toward the stage.
Frowning, Color looked forward to see who was about to speak.
The girl standing on the stage was both mysterious and beautiful. She looked completely different from the rest of them despite wearing the exact same cap and gown, as if something intangible resided in the fabric. Her pale brown hair tumbled halfway down her back, and it was the only color Color could see, even in the height of spring.
The girl cleared her throat, and began to speak. Her voice was gentle and melodious, and Color found herself listening even if she didn’t want to.
“Who is that?” She whispered to her friend.
“You don’t know?” Her friend whispered back. “That’s Athena. She’s in some of our classes. She’s so cool; all the girls really look up to her.”
So she was that well known. Now that Color thought about it, she remembered seeing that face around a lot. It was a face that demanded everything of her, even if she had nothing. A beautiful and awe inspiring face.
As Color watched from the crowd, she thought that Athena turned and looked her right in the eye for a moment, but it was probably a coincidence. A small shiver ran through her body nonetheless, and suddenly she found herself consumed with envy.
She knows what she wants.
After the ceremony was over she just wanted to go home, but she had to stick around and say goodbye to everyone first.
Most of her friends were leaving to go on vacations somewhere, and would be gone for the majority of summer. Color hugged countless people goodbye, telling them congratulations, telling them good luck. With every hug and every handshake she felt the fear inside her building higher. Suddenly there was no tomorrow. What would happen when she didn’t get to see these people every day anymore?
She caught a brief glimpse of Ian, far on the other side of the school courtyard with his family. He didn’t seem to notice her. It was so strange, he seemed different from the last time she had seen him even though he looked the exact same, because he wasn’t the same person to her anymore. It seemed the heart had eyes too.
Soon she was saying goodbye to her main group of friends, and a good number of them cried while hugging her. Color shed a few tears herself, even if she knew it didn’t make sense. Why shouldn’t see? It was always sad when something ended.
A couple hours later people were starting to filter out of the courtyard. Her father started to lead them back to the car, but she suddenly stopped him, seized by a sudden apocalyptic feeling.
“I want to walk around the school one more time,” she told him. “I’ll meet you in a few minutes.”
Her father smiled and nodded, then left without a word.
Color did exactly what she said she was going to do, but it wasn’t out of some stereotypical sense of nostalgia or yearning. More of a desperation. She stood in the courtyard, beneath the blinding branches of an old tree growing by the concrete, and tried to imagine back the days she wasn’t going to have anymore. The people who had been permanent fixtures of her life, suddenly passed into irrelevancy a few minutes ago.
She stood in the tree ringed courtyard of her now old high school and thought about how quickly her life had changed. In the past week her boyfriend and her friends were both effectively removed from her life. In a few months Verdamar would be gone too, once she moved to college. It seemed nothing was permanent.
It occurred to her then that this was just a blip on the greater course of her life, and in ten or fifteen or twenty years she probably would barely remember the things she was feeling now. She would shed everything that she was and become someone else. It was inevitable, if she wanted to live. Even in human society, you either adapted or lost.
In that candid moment, Color suddenly found herself wishing for a rebuttal, something she could use to combat the incessant permanence of transience. Wasn’t there a way to make things last forever? What was something that was the same no matter how much it changed?
For a moment, her gray world pulsed with a deep hue. She felt the trees and the grass hold their breath.
She turned and saw a graceful figure standing in the entrance to the courtyard, her hair long and vibrant down her back. The figure stood obscured behind a veil of branches, but somehow Color could see her clearly, as if she had opened her eyes for the first time.
Wind whispered around them as the figure approached her, and only then did Color realize it was Athena, still in her gown.
Up close, the girl was even more breathtaking. Not necessarily in a stereotypical way; her face did not look like those of the models one found in magazines. No, her beauty lay elsewhere, in something more innate. Her beauty was a part of her.
What could something like that want with something like her?
“Yes?” Color asked, slightly nervous. The two of them had barely talked before, and she couldn’t think of a reason for the other girl to seek her out. She was completely in the dark.
Athena smiled at her, an expression that was like the night sky, mysterious but full of stars.
“I’m glad I caught you alone,” she said, stopping on the other side of the branches. Pale flowers grew on the wood, washed out and forlorn. “I wanted to have a word with you.”
Something in the girl’s voice made her shiver. Color bit her lip as she grabbed her elbow with her other hand, apprehensive. “About what?”
Athena didn’t answer immediately, instead staring up into the depths of the tree standing between them. Color couldn’t see anything up there, but she wasn’t seeing much these days, so she gave up on it.
“Hard to believe we’ve graduated, don’t you think?” the brunette asked, looking at her. The girl’s eyes seemed to linger on hers. “It’s usually only easy to recall the beginning and end of something. I’m already forgetting the years I spent here.”
Color found herself laughing softly at that, mostly because it was entirely true. She hadn’t worried about remembering her high school life until it was already over. Now she was scrambling for something, anything to hold on to. It was probably why she was standing here now. But she knew no matter what she did, the time had changed, and so had she.
“I guess we live with our heads underwater most of the time,” Color admitted softly.
Athena hummed in agreement. “I’ve never really enjoyed not being able to breathe, though. I’ve always tried to live above water. That way you can see where you’re swimming.”
Color just smiled awkwardly, unsure of what to say. She still didn’t know why this girl was talking to her. Not that she was averse to it, but the encounter didn’t make sense.
“Was there anything I could help you with, Athena?” she asked.
The brunette seemed to shiver when Color said her name. Before she could mull over the reason for this, Athena smiled again, turning to face Color fully.
“Actually, yes,” Athena said, her pale green eyes floating through the branches. “You can help me keep my head above water.”
Just as Color was about to ask the girl what she meant, Athena lowered her head and bowed, her caramel colored hair falling around her eyes.
“Color,” she said, “I have been in love with you since we met.
“Would you be my girlfriend?”
It seemed to her then that the deep hues became even stronger, and a splash of color scattered across her vision. Suddenly she could see again; shades of green and caramel, pink and white. The colors bled into her body, and she could breath again, as if brought from under water.
As beautiful as the feeling was, however, her mind took a little longer to catch up.