Two days later and my nose was still swollen, though not the mess it had been yesterday. The bruises were yellowing, blending into my natural skin color, and I was beginning to regain my sense of smell. Pangs of discomfort ebbed from my nostrils, reminding me that I the last thing I wanted to do was show up for color theory. In fact, I had no intention of staying. I just didn’t know how else to track Cream down. She was always the first one in the classroom. Today was no different. Her books were clutched to her chest, head down as she navigated the busy halls.
“Cream! It’s Maize.” I called out.
Well, that was dumb. She probably didn’t even know who I was, “Er, I mean. I am Maize,” I corrected myself.
Cream stopped, a small smile flickering on her lips. It lit up her eyes for just a moment before being snuffed out. “I know who you are, Maize.”
“I do,” She laughed.
My heart soared, “Are you okay?”
“I am. I wish you hadn’t done that, though. You’re only going to make it harder for yourself.”
“I couldn’t just sit there and watch them hurt you.”
“Why not? You let them hurt you all the time.” She stepped closer to me, arms wrapped protectively around her books.
It didn’t feel appropriate to divulge my crush. I turned my head towards our classroom door, “Are you going to color theory?”
“Yes,” She fiddled with the cover of a book, “You aren’t?”
“Wasn’t planning on it.”
“I’ve never skipped before,” She looked up at me through her eyelashes, “Where are you going?”
“The world is our oyster,” I spread my arms dramatically.
“Ours,” I repeat.
In some ways, skipping in high school is a bigger deal than in college. There are no legal repercussions, no chain link fences reaching for the sky, no cameras to stalk us. Just the knowledge of the inevitable F that awaits should we miss three sessions.
Though we could go anywhere, Cream suggests an ice cream parlor down the street from campus. It’s a colorful building, like most things in Berry are. The girl behind the counter stares at us like we have three heads and only speaks when addressed. Surprisingly, even then she only regards me. Cream seems unfazed. I will the boil in my veins to settle.
Cream and I talk about our classes; our ambitions. I’ve always wanted to be an artist – it didn’t matter the medium – but I didn’t have innate talent. Cream’s focus was biology.
“I’ll never graduate though,” She said.
My gut tells me her belief stems from the same hatred that turned our cashier’s eyes hard. Still, I don’t understand, “Don’t say that.”
“It’s true,” She shakes her head, “I’m wasting my time. I won’t be able to complete my thesis. No one will mentor me.”
“You shouldn’t say such things.”
“You’re sweet, Maize. But I was born with my color faded. I’m lucky I’m even alive. I owe that to my mother, as well as my attendance at BU.” Cream finishes off her orange sherbert, dropping the spoon into her bowl with a plunk. Her self-deprecation cuts me like a blade.
My mouth turns to sand but sick curiosity propels my tongue, “They kill Berries who are born faded?”
Her gaze meets mine, uncertain if I am joking, “Yes.”