When I woke up the next day I was plagued by confusion and guilt.
Confused because of how acutely aware my body was of Noir – of his touch, of his eyes and lips. Confused because just a few hours before that Eden had kissed me and I hadn’t disliked it. How could being in the same room with Noir cause every fiber of my being to ache while I had enjoyed the caress of Eden just before that? Did it mean I was in lust with Noir and in love with Eden? Or was it the other way around? Had my body betrayed me simply because it had been my first kiss; stolen without permission? How did everyone else navigate these feelings? It seemed there was an impossibly thin line between love, lust and like.
Guilt because I was distracted by such thoughts when my father was missing. This was not the time to ponder love. There would be plenty of time for that when he was found. The thoughts persisted despite the anguish they brought with them. I tried to make myself useful as I contemplated the deepest darkest corner of my affections and emotions. I cooked hot meals for everyone who could eat. I alleviated Jasper of his duties by replacing gauze, setting broken bones and cleaning wounds.
It was morning, my reflection for the day just beginning, when a pink head bobbled into view. She looked tired, her clothing wrinkled and matted. Normally perfect make-up was flaking onto high cheek bones and her once smooth hair was knotted. The ever present scowl on her face, however, was still there. I turned the burner on the stove off, ready for Shiloh to throw her usual insults at me.
“You,” Shiloh raised a shaky finger at me, “you need to stay away from Noir.” The moment my hands began to move her lips tugged further downwards, eyes ignited with anger, “For your own good and his. Just please, leave him alone.”
She turned on her heels, dismissing me just as quickly as she had accosted me. There was only one way I was going to have a proper conversation with her – I knew that. Taking a deep breath, I sucked up a lungful of air before expelling it through my teeth, “What’s your relationship with Noir?” It was a question I needed to know. How could I be contemplating love with a man who may or may not be intimately involved with another woman?
She paused, startled, before facing me. A movie roll of emotion streamed onto her face one by one – annoyance, remorse, anger and finally distress, “He’s my friend. My best friend and I need you to stay away from him. I know what girls like you do to men like him.”
“I wouldn’t do anything to Noir!” My voice squeaked, surprise prominent in my tone. Why Shiloh would ever think I would every hurt Noir was beyond me.
“Yes, you will and you have. You can’t defend yourself so you depend on others to protect you – you depend on Noir to protect you. Why do you think he is sleeping in the bed upstairs, deaf!?” Shame bit my gut and I casted my gaze away from her as she growled in my face, “You’re so fragile and innocent, blindly trying to change the world to benefit yourself without worrying about the causalities that will ensue.”
My mind reeled at her attack. That is not true. It was the only sentence my mind could form, repeating it over and over again until it leaked from my lips.
“Oh really?” She sneered, hands on her hips.
Pink eyes narrowed as I shook my head, “It’s not! I didn’t want to be a part of this! Noir asked me to! He begged me to join. Day after day, Shiloh. I’ve never once asked for any of this, it was pushed upon me!”
She stumbled for a moment, unsure how to respond. Written on her face was regret and sorrow before it hardened back into the disdain she usually held while speaking to me. “Then leave him. Leave now. Noir will get himself killed fighting for this, for you. Living with the regret of that will haunt you.”
It was then that it clicked. I understood why Shiloh hated me so much.
Is it too late
Nothing to salvage
“Shiloh, what happened to you?”
“What?” She sputtered, alarmed, “Nothing happened, I’m just telling you-“
“It’s okay if you don’t want to talk about it,” I start softly, “but you don’t have to project your past onto Noir and me.”
“I’m telling you that nothing happened!”
I smiled, turning back to the stove top, “Okay. If you ever feel like talking about it, Shiloh, I’ll listen.”
“There’s nothing to talk about!” She snapped. Her footsteps echoed on title as she rushed out of the small red kitchen, huffing the whole way. The scene reminded me a little too much of a mother and daughter and I found myself laughing when she stomped back into the kitchen just a few minutes later.
“If I tell you, will you leave Noir alone?”
“No, but I’m not going to leave him alone if you don’t.”
Shiloh sighed, defeated. I saw it in the sag of her shoulders and the grind of her step. She slowly wandered out into the empty dining room, taking a seat. I felt smug for the first time in my life as I joined her. I had beat Shiloh. It was terrible, really. She was about to pour out some deep dark secret to me and I was practically beaming. I allowed myself to soak in it, though. It was better than the confusion and guilt I had been sinking in for the past twenty-four hours.
You look away
Clear all the damage
“I went to high school in Bubbleport with Noir and his best friend, Ashe,” Shiloh bit her bottom lip, drumming her dainty fingers as she spoke, “Ashe was a trouble maker, always had been. He was tall and good looking and he wasn’t pink. No, he had shaggy gray hair that fell into wide eyes and the softest off-white lips. He had fallen in love me long before I knew he existed but once I was within his grasp he wouldn’t let me go. I resisted, of course, but it didn’t last long. He swept me off my feet and washed away any doubt I may have had by bringing me to the Bubbleport Uprising. We were young and dumb and very cocky. We thought because we had an organization backing our love we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. They made sure to prove us wrong.”
She paused, letting out a shaky breath. I flashed Shiloh a small smile in an attempt to be encouraging, “It happened at a small park. We were holding hands as we walked, displaying our love for all to see. There were men – three of them – and they started to make a ruckus. Ashe told them to get lost, to leave me alone. Before long two of the men were holding Ashe down while the third pushed me to the floor. They said if I wanted a different colored man’s love, they would give it me. They made him watch before they- before they killed him,” A single tear rolled down Shiloh’s cheek, “the police found a ring on Ashe, an engagement ring. He was going to propose to me. Now he’ll never get to marry anyone.”
My hand found the small of Shiloh’s back, rubbing soft circles as she sobbed quietly. We sat together, me consoling her, until her shaking ceased and her voice was only a soft quiver, “That’s why you need to leave Noir alone. After Ashe died he made it his life goal to legalize marriage between all Berries. He puts himself into enough danger without you in the picture.”
Are you friend or foe?
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “but I can’t just leave. I promised Noir – I promised everyone – that I would help. I can’t let them down.”
The emotion slipped off of Shiloh’s pink features. She stood silently, only pausing when she reached the doorway, “You are sentencing him to death.” And then she was gone.
Shiloh’s story resonated inside my head for the rest of the day. Knowing her past helped me to understand her hatred. She knew Noir better than I did – longer. She must have known his impulses, how he would gladly throw himself in front of a bullet for any member of the Uprising. It was the fact that these bullets were more than likely going to be aimed at me that caused her spite. The fact that she saw me as helpless, like she had been that night in the park. Her story cleared up much for me but it had not answered one question, the one question that had been tugging at my heart strings.
What was Shiloh to Noir? There was only one person I could ask.
The walk to Noir’s recovery room seemed long and tedious. I almost talked myself out of confronting him numerous times before I finally knocked on the door a few times. There was no response. I frowned, discouraged, until I remembered that Noir couldn’t hear me knocking. I cracked the door slightly, peering through the opening. Noir was inside, sitting on the maroon colored comforter. His chest was still bared but I was relieved that he had thrown on a pair of pajama bottoms since the last time I had visited.
“You can come in, Estelle.” He waved me in and patted the empty space next to him. I kept my eyes low as I crossed the room, crawling onto the bed much like we had the night before. This time, however, I kept enough space between us so we were not touching.
‘I wanted to talk to you about,’ I realized we had never made a sign representing Shiloh. Instead I spelt out her name, ‘S-H-I-L-O-H.’
“I’m sorry, Estelle. I’ve told her a dozen times to leave you alone-“
I held my hands up, shaking my head rapidly, ‘No. Um, I just spoke to her a few minutes ago and she told me to stay away from you. I was wondering… what is she to you?’
“What is Shiloh to me?” Noir repeated the question, eyebrows furrowing, “She’s my friend, Estelle. I’ve known since I was fourteen but we didn’t become close until we were almost eighteen. We’ve been through a lot together and I’ve always tried to be there for her.”
‘She told me what happened. Between her and Ashe,’ I bit my lip, feeling my face flush at just the thought of what I was going to ask, ‘So you’ve never been intimate… with her… after what happened?’
Noir stared at me blankly and for a moment my embarrassment spread wildly though my veins. It was stupid to ask. I should have kept my questions to myself, “You mean have we ever had sex?” He asked. His tone was bland but I nodded, eyes casted at the blankets under us, “No. I have never had sex with Shiloh. We were there for each other when Ashe died and every event after, that’s all. There were a few times where she tried but I always turned her down. It felt wrong to take comfort in my best friend’s girl. Though, I’ve never been a saint, Estelle. I’ve slept with a lot woman; broken even more hearts.”
“Oh.” I mumbled, a red hot mixture of jealousy and disappointment building in the pit of my stomach. Images of beautiful purple women flashed through my mind; their make-up perfectly done and backs arched as Noir’s hand trailed down their spine. Being envious of women I had never met was silly and I began to pick lint from the bed sheets, trying not to make eye contact with Noir. He would surely know what I had been thinking.
And innocent show of affection
I touch your hand
Rough fingertips brushed my chin, holding it gently before forcing my head up, “Are you jealous?” His lips were pulled into a half-smile, an arrogant glint in his eyes.
He was right. He knew he was right. I knew he was right. Yet I denied it with a huff and a slowly enunciated no.
“Remember the game we played the last time we were at Jasper’s house? The one where we have to answer questions honestly?” I nodded and his smirk widened, “I do believe I still had one left.” I gulped, nodding again slowly. “Are you jealous?”
I could lie but Noir would call me on it. He would see right through me, just like he had when we began this game, when I had bumped into him at that bistro. I had been transparent from the very moment I met him; because from that moment on, Noir had set my world on fire, ‘Yes.’
Noir leaned in. His mouth was warm against my ear, the studs hard under his lips. A soft hand on his bare chest ceased his descent and he retreated back to his side of the bed, questions in his eyes.
‘I had one left, as well.’ His laugh vibrated in the air as he waved for me to continue, ‘Do you like me?’ Because if it was one thing I was certain of, it was that Eden had affections towards me. Eden made that clear. Meanwhile, Noir was a mystery of soft touches and smoldering eyes, teasing words and kind gestures.
“Estelle,” My name was wrapped in his soft laughter, “if you would have let me finish, you wouldn’t have had to ask.” In the next moment Noir was kissing me, mouth dancing against mine. I responded instantly. My body soared to life against the feel of him, silently begging for more.
What we had might not have been love. Perhaps it was pure hormones and chemicals. I didn’t care. I wanted Noir. In all the ways a woman could possibly want a man; in ways that I did not crave Eden. If it wasn’t love I would deal with it when I knew. When my heart was broken in two. For now I wanted my skin to ached at his touch and his lips to cause a thick fog in my head. I gasped, startled when Noir gently guided me down to soft mattress. He crawled on top of me though his hands did not stray, deepening our kiss into feathers and cotton.
It only lifted when the scent of smoke penetrated my trance. I twisted my head, breaking contact with Noir’s lip.
I tapped my nose and watched as the lines between Noir’s brow deepened. I didn’t need to mouth or sign anything for a mutual understand to click between us, “Stay here. I’ll go downstairs.” Noir said, untangling his limbs from mine.
I wanted to tell him to be careful but he was already off the bed, heading towards the door. The words came too late for when Noir opened the bedroom door a man was there to greet him.