she’s wearing sunglasses (and now she can’t see the colors)
The old cottage is yellow beneath the peeling gray. How fitting.
She sighs and leans back on her car. The garden in front is rather sweet, even if the horrendously blocky black fence is trying to hide it. The house itself, however, is a different story.
Apart from the peeling paint, the steps are crooked and saggy, the porch is sporting a rather tall carpet of moss, and the door is ridiculously red. The roof hangs low over the eaves, dark gray and rusty, and the windows are covered in enough dust to stuff a pillow with. Falling apart.
Kind of like her life.
“Home, sweet home,” she mutters, pushing off of the Toyota and lifting a large box from her trunk. Thirty minutes later, all the boxes stand on the new porch (it would have taken less time, but there is a swallow’s nest in the eaves of the roof, and its owner takes great pride in letting Raina know her displeasure at having a new neighbor). She takes a deep breath and turns around, taking in her new place with dead eyes.
It would be easy to get used to a view like this. The wide span of the ocean and cliffs behind the cottage, and the rundown row of houses in front. Although as of right now, Raina hates the view with a passion. It is a cover, a picturesque cover to a broken world. She doesn’t allow herself to how romantic all the circumstances were. After all, it was only a while until it revealed its true colors. Yikes, even her thoughts were cliché.
She snorts. “Yeah, okay, we’re done here.” She pushes the door open with a box balanced on her hip, breathes in the dust, and. . . feels nothing. It’s a plain house: a red sofa, a TV table, a breakfast bar/table, behind which is a kitchen. A hallway to the right, leading to a bathroom and a bedroom. And all the walls are pale, moldy yellow.
Everything is covered in cobwebs and white bedsheets. The windows are grey, the light is weak, and the air is frigid. It’s empty.
So, so empty. There’s no meddling, badass best friend, no warm, steady boyfriend, no stupid, loving classmates. She’s all alone.
It’s times like these that she wonders where everything went wrong. Sure, she had always been alone, but she had found solace in herself and her thoughts. She had never been needed by anyone, never had more than acquaintances: her mother, her father, her brother, her aunts, her uncles, Aunty Kat who saved her as a child, Beth and Leo from university. But she had been fine. Capable. She never blamed them, because she thought she didn’t need them.
A year ago, her life could’ve been turned inside-out, and she would have continued walking her own path, with her head held high and her eyes blind to anything outside her. No one knew her, so no one could hurt her, and she would always have herself. But now…now, her eyes see everything. Alex—He came along and somehow convinced her that she needed him, then left her, ripping the cozy curtains off her eyes and leaving her exposed to the harsh sun. She’s lying on the ground, hurting, and can see everyone and everything and everytime.
She wonders absently what Beth would say if she saw Raina crying herself to sleep on a dusty red couch.
Ginger Nibble Joint.
The name is so nonsensical Raina can’t help but wonder how the namer was allowed to name it. But she is soaked to the bone and is in desperate need of something warm, so she pushes the door open and flinches at the bells that ring. The cafe is somewhere between empty and full, like most of the world, and most of the occupiers are college students like herself, half dead and half asleep.
There’s a beautiful, rather intimidating girl at the counter, who gives Raina a flat stare and grabs a cup. “What’ll it be?”
It startles her, because she almost felt a flicker of hope for a human connection (immediately reprimanding herself for it) and she can already feel her face shutting off, and her mind withdrawing. She barely spares a glance at the menu before telling her, “Hot chocolate,” and pulling a bill out of her purse. The barista’s lips twitch.
She flips her long, dark braid over her shoulder and asks, “Name?”
Raina searches her mind for a random name to give her. “Hill,” she blurts, her face still blank. The barista doesn’t bat an eye. Raina Zari’s too fantastical, she hears his voice. You don’t want to seem a child, do you?
“It’ll call you when it’s ready. Help yourself to a seat.”
Raina nods, and stalks into a corner booth, pulling out Wuthering Heights and settling herself down to stare dumbly at the page for a few minutes. She’s read the same sentence seventeen times when her name is finally called, and she walks to collect her drink with her ears ringing. I’d rather be hugged by a snake; I’d rather be hugged by a snake; I’d rather be hugged by a snake. . . it doesn’t make any sense and although she’s an English major, she can’t understand a single word.
So she shakes herself out of it and watches the other students. Three weeks in Plaicarres Bay, and she still didn’t know the name of a single person. She had, of course, started attending classes at the college, but had kept to the back and avoided speaking to anyone. She’s learned, now, and knows she can’t love anyone.
It doesn’t stop her from romanticizing the situation, though. As much as she’d like to pretend she didn’t, her mind is subconsciously making everyone a fairytale. Every pair of green eyes, every dark-haired head, every cheekbone, every elegant scarf. A tragic backstory here, a knife-trained assassin there. Here a princess, there a prince, and everywhere she looked, friends.
That one guy who had come late to class yesterday, the one with the blue eyes: her best friend of ten years, who would sneak into her room through her balcony. The girl in the red dress, an orphan girl whom she had met behind the gym bleachers at a school dance.
The barista who had taken her order, the lone survivor of an apocalypse, a warrior who she had hidden behind for her whole life. A second Kat, she thinks bitterly. The other barista, who had just come out from the back, one of the immortal fae-folk left behind from past millennia, who had taken Raina under his wing.
She tries to shut off her mind. They’re all burnt-out college kids, she tells herself. You don’t even know their names.
“Hey! You new here?” She snaps out of her thoughts to see the two baristas coming over to her table. Ohhhh, darn it, human interaction. He’s definitely Scottish, she thinks absently. Definitely a fairy. Or an elf. And she’s probably incredibly efficient with knives. Placing her cup on the table, she nods, hesitantly.
“I’m Jo Frisk, and this here’s Cassandra Rosario. I would like to apologize on her behalf. She isn’t always such a jerk.”
The other girl snorts. “Call me Cassandra, and you won’t live to see the next day. It’s Cass.”
“I take that back. She’s always a jerk.”
Raina smirks. “You can call me Maria.”
“Nice to meet you,” he says and sticks his hand out. Cass gives her a short nod.
“Likewise.” She puts her coffee down and shakes Jo’s hand. It’s warm, and for a second, she almost feels safe again, before he lets it go. She tucks it into the crook of her sweater. “Sooooo…Maria Hill, huh?” Cass asks. Raina curses catchy Marvel names (hopefully it was in her head) and shrugs.
“I may or may not be an agent for a secret governmental institute,” she says. “You’d never know.”
That seems to be the right thing to say, because they both grin broadly and high-five each other, still staring at Raina. “That seals it, she’s a keeper,” Cass whispers loudly.
It’s not until she’s walking home after the rain that she realizes her thoughts are starting to be coherent again. The disgruntled, anxious world she lived in has disappeared. (And when it comes back the next morning, and all she can think about is how the paint on her ceiling looks like South America, she drags a brush through her head and heads over to the cafe.)
It’s another three weeks later that Raina finds herself with a drunk Cass at Brew & Chew, which is down the street from Ginger Nibble Joint, and frequently in danger of shutting down for offering drinks to underage college students.
It’s a weird time of the year, not quite fall but definitely not summer, and on top of that, Cass and Jo still think her name’s Maria Hill. They’ve been meeting up more frequently now, mostly at the cafe, because Raina still has boxes everywhere and only the kitchen is habitable, and Cass and Jo still live in the dorms.
She’s learned a lot about them, because Jo is a chatterbox, and Cass…well, Cass doesn’t talk but she drinks and it eventually equates to about the same thing.
“You—you know what your problem is,” Cass slurs, her dark hair framing her large eyes and tan skin. “You’re a real-really bad shpy.”
Raina stares at her listlessly. She isn’t, but she’s had no sleep for four days now and it’s starting to show. “A spy?”
“Hmmm,” Cass closes her eyes and leans on Raina’s shoulder. The physical contact makes her feel safe, so she puts an arm around the tipsy girl, although she never would, had she been Maria Hill, imposter extraordinaire and stone-cold agent. But tonight she’s Raina, because Cass won’t remember anything tomorrow. She’s still muttering to herself, so Raina tunes in. “You think you’re really good. . . or something. . . but. . . ” She’s silent for too long.
“Cass?” Raina shakes her. “Don’t fall asleep now, honeychild, we’ve gotta get you home.” Huh, honeychild. She hasn’t called anyone that since Beth, but it’s less bitter than it might have been a month ago. Cass starts awake, and continues. The corners of Raina’s mouth twitch. That girl.
“You think you’re good and all ice-princess… but re-really—” she hiccups, “you’re just a little kid and you’re sho shunny,” she straightens up and squints at Raina, shoving her finger in Raina’s face. The motion is, once again, so Beth. “You look grey and shpider-y, but you’re yellow, Maria. You’re so yellow.”
It takes a second for Raina to register that there are tears flowing down her cheeks, and that Cass has fallen asleep.
She lets herself cry, deciding that she deserves a little pity, because she’s so tired. She’s tired of not being truthful to Cass and Jo. She’s tired of avoiding Beth. She misses the “shunny” kid she used to be. She misses classmates taking one look at her and smiling, even if they didn’t talk to her.
It hits her all of a sudden that she’s like her house. Hiding yellow beneath gray, and almost empty save a few bright specks of anger and bitterness. (It makes her idly speculate whether or not she looks just as bedraggled, and whether or not she has a swallow’s nest in her head.)
She thinks of Jo and Cass.
They’d told her about their entire lives, about Cass’ uncle and Jo’s sister, and Raina—Raina hadn’t even given them her name. Only Maria, the name Alex had given her and she had blindly adopted. She had adored Alex. Tall, classy, and an author, he had come into her life and swept her off her feet with his attention. He made her colorful dreams come to life. He had been the one constant in her life, the one person who was always there. He was never supposed to leave, she thought. Not Alex, with the charming smile and the bright laugh. He wasn’t supposed to let her go.
She wanted to be angry at him, but she couldn’t be, not when he was her everything. And she remembers taking it out on her friends, fighting with Beth and Leo about whether Alex was good or not. As if it had been a question back then, when she was convinced the whole world was against her. No, her Alex had been perfect and she would have done anything for him.
He really had painted her over, she thought. Covered the purple fairy tales with pale grey maturity, the red-hot anger with white icy control. The orange, the green, the yellow, all of it was gone. And Raina is tired.
She wants her yellow back.
And that’s how Jo finds her, crying her heart out, cuddling with a drunk girl in the corner of a college bar.
He looks distressed. Still a fairy, but a distressed fairy.
“Both of you?” he moans. “How many did you have?”
“Do you still see my yellow?” she asks him, laughing and sobbing at the same time. He’s looking at her with wide eyes, and Raina feels bad for a moment. He’s never seen her like this, and clearly had no idea what to do.
“Um, I know you’re Asian, but I didn’t—”
“No, no, no.” She’s stumbling as she tries to explain herself. “Cass said I’m all gray but I miss my yellow, so can you still see it?”
His eyes soften in understanding and he slides onto the bench across from her. “Yeah, I can.”
It’s so comforting that all she can do is reach across and grab his arm. And she feels like maybe he won’t let go. Cass definitely won’t, seeing as she’s draped over Raina like a koala. “I can’t,” she tells him pleadingly.
“Well, you were gray when you lied about your name, because your credit card literally says Raina Zari, but you were yellow when you called Cass a peach. And you were grey when you stayed out of the ocean last week, but you were yellow when you got excited over the mussel shells. And you’re grey when you won’t tell us anything, but you’re yellow because you made us cookies. And that little poem from last week? That was so yellow it was Cass’ ugly cardigan.”
Raina huffs. “Thanks, Jo.”
“Wanna be yellow and tell me something?”
“Hm?” Raina looked up at him.
“Why couldn’t you be ‘yellow’ all the time?” He scrunches his nose at the color, as if figurative language burned him.
She knows she can’t hold back now, not when his green eyes are inviting and Cass is warm, so she takes a deep breath and lets her mouth run, staring at their clasped hands the whole time. “People took turns trying to paint me, and I let them, because I loved them. But most of them never even finished one coat. There was Alex, the one person who I thought was putting me back together, but I think…I think he was chipping away at me instead, and I wouldn’t let any good painters near me.” She smiles softly, squeezing his hand. “But I think I found some real ones this time.”
“Oh my gosh, you are drunk,” he gapes at her. She looks up from the table, indignant. He shakes his head, “That metaphor went on about four sentences longer than it should have.” He squints. “Is this your yellow?”
Raina laughs, really laughs. “The yellowest of all yellows.”
(They repaint her house that month, Jo and Cass and Beth and Leo. It took days to dry, and she had to live with Jo, but she’s ok, because it taught her how to paint—up, down, up, down, even strokes—and now it’ll always be yellow.)