Color is the type of thing you hear on the radio. They tell you it’s what you see when you see the one you were made to be with, and most people scoff and dismiss it like an old fairy tale. Some have claimed to witness this phenomenon when they meet their soon-to-be lover.
I’ve always believed in colors despite what people tell me, including my parents. That knowledge leads me to believe that maybe Mom and Dad weren’t to be anyways.
My beliefs were confirmed one day, and it happened at a cafe. It was like something you see in books or movies; a pang of recognition between two ordinary strangers that twisted my perception.
He wasn’t any kind of prince. This barista was tall and clean-looking with dark hair and hands that always trembled; his glasses were reminiscent of a book character.
“May I take your order?” he asked, rubbing his hands together in a bit of a nervous gesture.
I paused mid-step. There was something about his left eye. A speck of something that bloomed in the corner; a green with a red hue. The vocabulary washed over me like a tidal wave. The strange sight began to bloom into his whole iris and spread to his eyelid. It was the most wonderful sight; reds, beige, greens, blues...
His voice snapped me out of my thoughts. “Can’t you see it, too?” I inquired, fascinated.
“See what?” he asked, and my whole world shook.
What did he mean, ‘see what’? What was there not to see? The whole world was busting with colors and he couldn’t see it? Wholesome, amazing, beautiful...
Maybe he couldn’t see it because he wasn’t in love, but I was. No, impossible.
“The colors,” I protested, “Don’t you see them?”
His green eyes squinted, scanning me up and down with a perplexed look coating his features.
“Blue,” he replied. The same look I’d given him was shot back at me and my heart began to pound. He repeated the word a few times as if tasting its meaning and took a step back.
By the time we stopped staring at each other like aliens I realized that everyone had paused like some overused cliche.
The barista and I laughed and agreed to meet after his shift.
An hour and a half passed and he met me out on the balcony with two fresh cups of black coffee. Yuck, but I guess being polite is worth the trouble.
I smiled as he passed me one. “Thank you.”
The boy nodded, sliding into the seat across from me. Gray steam tendrils climbed from the cup and clung to his lenses. “So, what’s your name, Miss Colors?” he asked, a smirk tugging at his peach lips. He was no longer shy now, and instead took on a suave disposition that struck me as amazing. Perhaps he were merely afraid of strangers.
“Dawn,” I said, “and yours?”
He blew against the steam and rubbed his glasses against his sleeve. A chilly breeze wafted over the cool winter day, sprouting goosebumps across my arms. I’m sure I looked cowardly and vulnerable in my sleeveless t-shirt.
Ethan, on the other hand, resembled some sort of god. His dark hair contrasted against the bright backdrop of the town behind him which was now spreading colors. He ran a hand through the black strands and flashed me a half-smile.
“Did you believe in colors?” he asked.
“Strongly. It sounded like a bunch of bologna to my peers, but I guess you could say I’m a dreamer.”
Ethan grinned. “I guess we’re opposites in that regard, huh? I never believed in them; too focused on school and work.
The word ‘school’ drove a grunt out of me. I glanced sideways. “I’m a dropout.”
His eyes widened. “A dropout?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I sighed. “I’m not the bulb in the batch.”
He folded his arms on the table and leaned closer, his intrigued eyes darting up and down my face. “You don’t look like a dropout.”
“Well you don’t ‘look’ like a jerk, but surprise, surprise.”
“Hey!” Ethan scowled.
I wrinkled my nose, resisting a smile, and sipped my coffee.
He took my hands in his subtly as he appeared to sober out of his drunken humorous state. The cocky smile disappeared from his face. “In all seriousness, we can’t tell my parents about us. They’re a couple of a-... people who believe that this whole color concept is a sign of evil or some sh-... something.”
“Damn,” I replied, wondering why he didn’t curse. “My parents don’t believe in them either but they’re not that strict.”
Ethan’s thumbs stroked mine; they were freezing. “To tell you the truth, I want to run away.”
A mood-lightening joke almost slipped my tongue, but I instead gave him a pitying look and squeezed his hands.
Silence broke our conversation and for what felt like forever, we gazed at each other again. Love wasn’t what I thought it was. It wasn’t always intense and fiery, even with being introduced to the color concept. My feelings were mellow but always there like a reoccurring thought.
Wow, love is really awkward, was something that came to mind. I checked my watch. Quarter to four.
“Hey, uh... Ethan, I’ve got to scram. My job starts in half an hour and my parents would probably kill me if I was late.”
His eyes flickered closed. He sighed. “Oh, alright. It was... more than nice meeting you, Dawn. I’ll give you my phone number so we can hang out later; we’ll have to get to really know each other.”
“Yeah,” I nodded and stood from my seat. “Good idea.”
Smiling, I continued, “I guess it’s worth getting to know more about your soulmate.”
I gave Ethan my phone and he typed his phone number with nimble hands, then passed it back. I left the balcony feeling like I had a purpose.
“Come in!” I called towards the door, my voice barely audible over the loud music I was playing. Ethan had agreed to come over later that day to get a more personal introduction.
Instantly, I heard him bound over to me with his face drained of color. “Why is your music so painfully loud?” He shouted over the chorus.
I laughed while tossing a now-magenta pillow at him.
“Is something funny?” He asked, catching the pillow. “It’s so loud.”
Reluctantly, I turned the music down and patted next to me on my bed. He glanced my room over at the posters plastered on the walls, the lava lamp, and how absolutely messy it was.
Notebooks and stray papers were strewn across the floor like some abstract piece of art that went wrong and not to mention the color choice. It was painfully awful.
Ethan swallowed. He clearly must’ve been reconsidering this whole color concept or something. “Wow,” was all he could muster.
“I mean... isn’t abstract a form of art?”
He gave me a sideways glance. “... I suppose you’re right.”
I erupted into a helpless fit of laughter. Gods, it was so unreal and exciting. I had met the one I was supposed to be with at sixteen years old! How lucky was I? My arms grappled around his shoulders beyond my will, clinging.
He gave me an awkward side-hug; we’d need to work that out later.
“Sorry,” I apologized quickly. “I’m just... really giddy about this, you know? We’re, like, soulmates.”
Ethan was a quirky kind of guy, I realized at that moment. So nervous and naive but at the same time teasing and on my level. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder and buried his face in my hair. “We’re both new to this,” he reminded calmly. “It’ll take some getting-used-to.”
Nodding in agreement, I fell back on my bed and gazed at the plain popcorn ceiling above. “Hey, Ethan?” I asked quietly.
“Can I come to your school?”
“Gosh no,” he scoffed, seeming to be oblivious to how much that hurt. “If they know I’m hanging out with a dropout, they’ll tease me about it forever.”
“So?” I inquired.
“I’m a jock.”
Oh, that explained it. What kind of anomaly was this guy?
He fell back beside me, stretching scarred arms across the width of my bed.
“Where’d you get these from?” I asked a little worriedly, running my finger across one of the red marks.
Ethan, now looking over at me, replied, “I’m prone to getting myself into precarious situations.” He sighed thoughtfully.
From across the house, I heard the familiar sound of the front door opening and the footsteps of my mother.
“Dawn...? Dawn!” She called down the hall, shuffling around the porch. “Whose shoes are these?"
Well, I thought, here’s the hard part. I leaped up from my bed and tugged at Ethan’s hand, urging him to follow.
“Mom, I know you won’t believe me but I started seeing colors when I met this guy... his name’s Ethan.”
She sighed audibly. “Dawn...”
“I’m serious,” I pulled at my soulmate’s wrist. He stumbled into the doorway beside me.
Mom looked him up and down; she wasn’t strong-willed. “Believe what you want, then... but don’t come crying to me if he breaks your heart.”
I hugged her loosely. This was the best I’d get from her. “Thanks, Mom.”
She mustered a half smile and continued her way into the kitchen. Meanwhile, Ethan and I wandered back to my room.
“My mom would’ve killed me,” he said, his furrowed brows relaxing slightly.
“Yeah,” I replied and sat down again. “... So, do you want to watch a movie or something?”
“I usually watch documentaries,” he protested.
Oh boy. “I’ll find one, then.”
Long story short, afterward I’d learned that a spinosaurus was, in fact, not bipedal.
The next few weeks were a blur of excitement and laughter. I’d learned that he had two brothers and a very lovable dog named Sir Leonard Reginald Archibald the First. Ethan played soccer in his free time and loved collecting the strangest insects he could find. Eventually, he let his ego drop enough to allow me to visit his school. We were discussing school subjects one day when he agreed.
He’d said, “Alright, just don’t let them know you’re a dropout.”
I replied with a “cool, sure,” and we were off to his classes that day.
Ethan was a different person around his friends. He wrapped his arm around my shoulder with a suave smile. His behavior around them made me feel special as if he felt safe enough to be his true self around me. It was a stark contrast from when he had been so introverted when we met.
One of them, Nathan, gave me a sharp look as he took a long drag on his cigarette. He had smoky hazel eyes and tanned skin. Nathan was an obvious football player with strong shoulders and an authoritative tone. “Dawn, right?” he asked in his vaguely Australian accent.
“What’re colors like?” his serious eyes focused on me curiously.
“Well,” I started with a nervous laugh, leaning into Ethan’s shoulder. “Nothing like I’ve ever seen before. They’re... like emotions you can see.”
Nathan squinted for a moment before pulling a cigarette packet from his coat and scribbling something down. “What’re they like for you, Ethan?”
“I think they’re pretty great.”
“Is that all?” I glanced at him.
Ethan kissed my forehead. “I guess they let me know what color your eyes are.”
“Blue,” I said.
“Yes, they’re like the sea. Alluring.”
“I think that’s the most poetic word you’ve ever used.”
Nathan struck up a conversation with him about football and the latest news about him and his girlfriend to which I tuned out after a few minutes. Ethan had told me that he used to be particularly close with his friends but drifted away from them a year back when one of them shamelessly stole a girl he was interested in and teased him about it. Nathan was the only one who took his side of the situation and they both decided to ditch the jerks. I wouldn’t blame them.
We’d told each other a lot in the past few weeks and told each other secrets nobody else really knew about. Ethan and I had decided we would be getting married soon after college and would work together in the archaeology field and, after a previously meaningless life, I finally felt like I had a purpose.
I buried my face in his collarbone affectionately, wondering what he was thinking about.
“... and then she told me her mom got a new job--...” I heard, temporarily listening to their conversation.
When I was younger, I’d thought that being able to almost completely block out conversations was my superpower. This was before my mom told me it was only my ignorance.
I used to have an aptitude for psychology and some random facts I learned on the internet. The first one I learned was how the female brain, in fact, works very differently from the male brain. Women think similar to the structure of a tangle of threads whereas men think in containers and can only focus on one thing at a time.
My collection of unusual facts led me to be the cool kid in class until my peers found more mature topics to be interested in. Eventually, I became an outcast and decided to drop out of grade ten; there was no point if I had no one to spend the classes with.
Playing with my tongue ring I’d worn today, I waited patiently for the two boys to finish their talk.
Ethan waved his comrade goodbye and turned to me. “Ready?” he asked.
I nodded and detached myself from his side. We trekked off into the long grassy field tipped with the morning dew, my shoes starting to soak.
“Sorry for taking so long,” he piped, “he wasn’t in class on Thursday and had some things to tell me.”
I gave him an understanding smile. “Hey, I was the one who wanted you to take me here.”
“I suppose you’re right.”
“Besides,” I continued, “It’s ‘Movie Friday’.” Fridays were the days we spent the afternoon together watching movies and playing games at a local place called ‘Player’s Card.’
By the time we arrived, it was close to high noon where the sun was reaching its zenith.
The building wasn’t anything particularly spectacular and was quite old. The sign on which its title was displayed had bands of peeled paint and the wood was starting to rot. It was a decayed yellow, bricks peering from behind the coating of color and various graffiti on the walls.
I used to go there a lot when I first stopped going to school. It kept me company.
As we approached, the buzz of conversation and a plastic scent lingered. Ethan and I exchanged a glance and a smile as we headed inside.
The first thing I saw was that most of the armchairs and chesterfields were packed with people save for two in the back.
A man in a fedora splayed his hand of cards to our left to which his companion uttered something. He simply laughed triumphantly. To our right, an old couple quietly played a game of crib.
We sat down in a comfortable chesterfield next to a television set and a stack of board games. we agreed to watch a b-rated horror movie (which still terrified me).
I slid on my pair of headphones as the opening credits rolled. The movie was about some creature in the woods with a stitched-together stomach filled with rows of razor teeth. The effects were sub-par save for the blood which seemed eerily realistic. I had to admit that movies were much scarier in color.
Ethan mumbled something to me and I turned my head, in the process of wolfing down a handful of popcorn. I nodded without understanding him and kept watching to which he laughed. Maybe it was something about the movie.
The ending was typical and something you see in every low-budget thriller. The remaining people escape, the love interests kiss, and a to-be-continued frame plays like it’s some big surprise.
Ethan and I cheered enthusiastically in sync and scavenged through the movie cupboard for another movie. The next one was about monsters who lived underground.
The quote ‘time flies when you’re having fun’ applied to our situation. Even by the time we finished the third movie and second board game, I didn’t want to leave.
“Ready to go?” Ethan asked over the credits.
I nodded reluctantly.
He took my hand, kissed my palm, and led me out the door.
We met the next day at my house and he caught me looking at a homemade card I planned to give him for his birthday. I snatched it from him instantly before he could read a word, then scowled, and hid it in my dresser. Above it, many pictures of us were plastered.
“What is it?” he asked.
“Nothing!” I snapped, sounding ruder than I meant to. The card held a poem I spent a long time writing for him; a really sappy one with little doodles marking its frame. I even peppered it with some of Mom’s expensive perfume.
He let out a heavy sigh, “Alright, alright,” and left his black drink on the dresser before tackling me onto my bed. My cat, Football (great name, I know), quickly leaped off and darted towards the doorway. Ethan pinned my wrists above me and planted his lips against mine. “But you can’t hide it forever. Is it for your mom? Your dad? A friend?”
I smirked at his naivety. “Can’t tell you, you big doof.”
“Soon, then?” he pleaded.
“Soon,” I agreed.
To my discouragement, he let up, and I sat upright beside him.
Ethan rubbed his hands together in the same way he did when he first met me. “So... I have some exciting news.” He didn’t wait for my reply. “I got a scholarship.”
“Oh my god,” I said, half-knowing how they worked. “That’s awesome!”
He smiled sheepishly. “I’m going to take a break before heading into archaeology, then use the money to pay off some of my classes. Hopefully, we’ll be able to get into the same college. Then, we run... I think.”
“I’m sure we will,” I said, leaning into his shoulder. Cold hands grazed my shoulder. “But you should really stop overthinking everything.”
“Sorry, I’m just stressed about the future.”
He leaned in for a kiss and I returned it softly, catching a glance of blue on his hand. Ethan liked to record his to-do list on his arm so he wouldn’t forget, and I’d doodle around the words to make his illegible handwriting look more interesting. It was something we did most days after he came to my house after school.
Unbeknownst to something the fact that tomorrow would change my life, I let him leave that evening with a cheek kiss and a wave. He told me he’d text me tomorrow.
I spent most of the day scribbling down some notes and reminders in my books. I wasn’t very skilled at drawing but at least I was trying. The black pen glided across the page like a figure skater, looping and sliding with precision and I smiled, grabbing a Copic marker from my case. ‘Cantaloupe Orange’ was printed in fine black letters across its base; a beautiful shade of my favorite color.
My nimble fingers began to delicately color in pieces of the sweater which matched the small tuque atop my character’s head. She was an adorable little girl vaguely reminiscent of myself, including her small button nose. Ethan told me it was his favorite feature of mine.
Next was her tan skin. Quickly, I picked up the next marker and began to carefully fill her face in, then down to her arms and little hands.
I reached for the next one and plucked a gray from the pile, but I don’t remember owning a gray marker. I suppose I could use it for her necklace. Beginning to outline the jewelry, my gaze was caught on the lettering that named the color. Wine red. Maybe it was a mistake with the manufacturers. Right?
I finished using it and went to grab another. A different shade of gray titled ‘Aquamarine Blue.’ No.
Finally, I gathered the courage to look over at my case. Thank god it was still the deep auburn orange I knew, but my markers weren’t themselves. The gray consumed them hurriedly and began to spread to my case like a wildfire of monochromia. No. Please, no. It couldn’t be.
Tears were already running down my cheeks by the time I had an idea of what was happening and, instantly, I was out the door trekking through the afternoon rain. Mom called after me but I couldn’t hear her. My heartbeat was attempting to escape from my chest too loudly.
Don’t do this to me.
My legs felt like dead weights while I traversed the barren road. Trees were looking unusually bare and fire hydrants had lost their vibrancy. I narrowly avoided choking on my own tears.
The next minutes were a blur of confusion and urgency when I saw the blaring lights and the familiar howl of a siren.
Cornered by the gray monotonous color of the road was a steady stream of oozing crimson blood whose color hadn’t yet faded.
It wasn’t him.
The pounding of footsteps muffled the thundering of my heartbeat as Nathan limped at me. His arms grappled around me in a protective embrace, soaking my shirt in a mixture of blood and water. A paramedic quickly ran after him and he choked out a, “I’m so sorry."
The boy was pried off of me and my legs began to stumble forward without my command. The trees. The streetlights. The ambulance. The... body.
It wasn’t him.
My eyes wandered down, down, down to the corpse with sprawled limbs as if reaching towards the light of a tunnel’s end that wasn’t there. Dark hair and empty green eyes devoid of life. Tattered jeans stuck to his legs and the shirt had been almost completely torn away. I bit my lip so hard it bled. He was the only being still in color.
It wasn’t him.
Thunder crashed and I fell to my knees, scraping them against the hard gravel. “You’re not Ethan,” I said. “You’re just another boy.”
It wasn’t him.
The paramedics wouldn’t understand. They tried to take me away from him but I held his cheek in one trembling hand. He was still cold and his skin so pale and dead. I held onto him as if he’d anchor me to sanity but they were too strong.
“Let go,” one said and, as if he was just an object, they said, “we’ve got to examine the body. Please, Miss.”
My jaws opened to emit the loudest scream I’d ever made. My whole world was collapsing and they didn’t care. I didn’t hear myself hit the ground.
I woke up in a room where everything was monochrome and too bright for my eyes. The first thing I realized was that this wasn’t my house, and the second was that this was, in fact, St. Michael’s Hospital. I should’ve cherished the few moments I didn’t remember what was going on.
Nathan’s accented voice awoke me from my groggy state. He said, “Dawn, I’m so sorry,” because that’s what you say to someone who has lost something important to them. That’s what you say, but did he mean it?
“Why?” was the first thing I scowled at him. “Why did it happen?” It seemed more important than the question of ‘how.’
Nathan knew to stay his distance. “I don’t know.”
He pinched the bridge of his nose, swallowing hard. He took a few tries to get the words right. “There was... a drunk driver who didn’t know what they were doing. It was a head-on collision and E-... Ethan just...” Nathan inhaled a ragged breath. “I don’t know what exactly happened but there was so much blood and it wasn’t instant. He was still breathing; struggling.”
My stomach dropped. I asked, “Why am I here?”
“I asked them to put you here,” Nathan’s eyes locked on mine and I could see the sour tears slowly dripping down his face. “I didn’t want you to do something stupid.”
My lips quivered in a slow, empty smile. “Something stupid?”
He didn’t have to reply.
I don’t know how long I spent feeling tied to that hospital bed. Nathan had insisted that I stay there until I felt ‘somewhat sane’ which would take an eternity so I didn’t leave. Nurses brought me some comfort foods every day which were mostly oatmeal, apples, and saltine crackers but I didn’t want to eat, so I didn’t. Weight slipped off of my bones all too easily.
I don’t remember which day I’d decided would be the one where I’d take my leave but I’ll never forget the motivation to let go of my misery. I needed to leave.
It started with an, “I need a breath of fresh air.” A convincing lie.
“Yes, sure, of course.” Nathan, to my left, said hurriedly as he passed me a big white book and a black pen. “You’ve got to sign out so they know your whereabouts.”
In loopy handwriting, I wrote ‘Dawn Metoh: 8:40 - 8:50, the front of hospital’ and passed it back. He nodded silently and we wandered off into the long pristine hallways. On both sides, I saw the outlines of people behind thick white curtains and nurses in colorless uniforms passing by.
Three flights of stairs later, we were on the ground floor. I rolled my neck as we exited the automatic doors and inhaled the biggest breath of fresh air I’d ever taken. “I trust you,” I said. “I trust you not to stop me, so don’t break it.”
I took off. My legs pumped against the smooth terrace before he could even comprehend what I was doing and, as I’d hoped, he didn’t follow. Instead, he stood still, his eyes giving me the same look a lost puppy gives you when you throw it out on the road.
My first stop was home to change into some clothes and grab a few keepsakes. I knew Mom would still be at work because her boss wouldn’t let her off her leash for anything, the greedy bastard. My hands scoured the closet for some clothes to wear. A pair of too-familiar ripped jeans threatened to make me vomit. Nobody had set foot in my room while I was away.
Ah, there was some casual clothing. I nimbly plucked a loose shirt, some sweatpants, and a pair of fingerless gloves. I quickly slipped them on and ditched the pale robe to the floor, feeling more normal than I had. I scavenged a few old notebooks which carried my many sketches and notes while nodding to myself and thinking too fast.
It was all a question of ‘what next?’ and ‘where do I go?’ from there when I’d packed up my little bag and prepared to head off. It was supposed to be us. It was supposed to be Ethan and I driving off together in his old truck to the middle of nowhere, drunk and lost. When we’d settle, we’d start figuring things out and work hard to become archaeologists. It wasn’t about the dinosaurs as much as it was about discovery and learning new things together.
I stood up, feeling queasy, and turned to exit when I noticed something on my dresser. His coffee cup was still half full of the black essence and pinned beneath it, a coffee-stained card. The coffee reminded of his life, cut short by fate. Our escape was now my escape. My tears dripped into the cup but I didn’t take it with me. No, some things are best left behind.
I pulled my phone from my bag and snapped a picture of my room. It wasn’t spectacular but it served as my safe place for every year of my life. Goodbye, home.
Pulling my fingers from the coffee, I turned around and left the room. Left the hallway. Left the house. I trekked down the pavement to my ancient-looking car and got inside. One last look at the house forced tears from my eyes and, just like that, I drove off into a gray sunrise.
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