Chapter Four: Faded

   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.”

   “You do?”

   “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.”


Chapter Three: 10 lbs in a 5 lb bag

Ivy brought me out onto a balcony off of the third floor – a spot she said helped to clear her head. There were two wooden benches against either side of the wall, each flanked by a trash can. Ivy pushed one in front of the door, pulling on the handle to ensure that no one could surprise us as I had earlier. The sound of machinery drummed out the voices drifting from the courtyard below. It reminded me of my friends back home; of our hideout crammed behind dumpsters and trash.

“It’ll be faster if you tell me what you know and I’ll fill in the gaps,” Ivy said as she sat on one of the benches.

I leaned against the balcony and thought back to my parents; our small yellow home, with yellow furniture and yellow knick-knacks, “I know most Berries dress in their own colors. My mom always insisted that I wait until I came back here to date. Wanted me to date a yellow -”

“Not most. All. And of course your mother wants you to date a Berry of the same color. I’m sure she wants grandchildren.”

“Why would I have to date a yellow Berry in order to have a kid?” My eyebrows rose. Ivy sighed.

“I figured Sims wouldn’t teach Berry biology but I assumed your parents would have given you the basics.” She adjusted herself, crossing one leg over the other, “Intercolor relationships are forbidden for the same reason that same-sex relationships are forbidden; procreation.”

“Forbidden as in-”

“As in Illegal.” She interrupted.

“Why?” It didn’t make sense. There didn’t seem to be a caste in place for the different color of Berries. Each color was treated with the same respect as the last with the exception of white.

“I already said why. Procreation. If I slept with you a million times we could never conceive a child, Maize. There are lots of superstitions and stories about it, most involving magic, but realistically the Berry race almost went extinct a few centuries ago. Our population is stable now but the laws haven’t changed.”  

My stomach dropped as Cream’s delicate features popped into my head, “And what happens if you break the law?”

“The intercolor law? It hasn’t happened in decades but the punishment is death. They’re big on capital punishment here.” She said with a shrug.

“And you? They’d kill you too?”

“They send us to some camp to ‘fix’ us and then arrange our marriages. No one really knows what happens in those camps though and the Berries who go there aren’t keen to talk about it.” Ivy’s explanation was so casual I would had thought she was talking about the weather had I not been hanging on her every word.

“If the population is stable now why don’t they change the laws? It’s unfair to force two people who don’t love each other to marry each other. It’s wrong to force two people apart.” Heat flushed my skin as I spoke, hands flying out in front of me.

Ivy looked at me, eyes calm and voice hard, “You’d be smart to keep those thoughts to yourself.”

“How can you say that? I can see you aren’t happy.”

“Don’t presume to know me,” Ivy said, “Look, people are afraid of change. It’s no different here. If anything, it’s amplified by our genetics.”


“Maize, I like being free and alive,” The bell tower chimed and Ivy stood. My mind raced, but before I could vocalize any of the thoughts tumbling in my head Ivy had cleared the doorway, pausing only to give me one last piece of advice, “Do yourself a favor and get yourself new clothes. Find yourself some pretty yellow girl and go make some pretty yellow babies like the Great Berry intended.”

And then she was gone.


Chapter Two: Creep

Warnings: Bullying, cursing, and blood. 

I have never been a Casanova. I was tall, sure, but sweaty palms and sci-fi novels don’t exactly send the ladies into a tizzy and I was a chronic sufferer of both. I wasn’t particularly smooth either, but I had, in the past, been able to keep my creep level to a minimum. That wasn’t the case now.

Don’t get me wrong. I had tried on numerous occasions to gather my self-confidence and introduce myself to Cream. I would fidget from my place behind her, taking deep breaths, practicing my introduction under my breath like some kind of paranoid schizophrenic. Every time I finally got up the courage to do something simple – like ask to share her paint or borrow a brush – Royal would crush my ego with a sweeping crescendo of laughter backing him.

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Today was no different. I was behind Cream working our color theory project; only, I wasn’t really making much progress – probably because I spent more time looking at the woman in front of me than the canvas that attempted to block my view. I knew it was a creeper thing to do – hide behind a canvas and stare – but I couldn’t seem to make my legs work or my lips move at the moment so it would have to do.

The professor was a middle-aged woman who either had the bladder of a child or a bad habit of chugging coffee before class began because, without fail, she had to excuse herself every morning. On cue her monotone voice carried over the student’s whispers, “I’ll be back shortly.”

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Instinctively my gaze darted to Royal and Scarlett. They never missed an opportunity to harass me. It was an unpleasant ritual but a ritual nonetheless and as they headed towards my aisle it was clear that they weren’t going to break it. I ground my teeth together. Prepared for the insults. Braced for an ‘accidental’ elbow or shoulder.

It didn’t come.

He did glare at me as he passed and said something like, “Berries like you shouldn’t be here.” but that was surprisingly harmless compared to his usual behavior.

Scarlett giggled along as they made their way to the back of the room. I couldn’t help but be curious. Were they really going to use the time reserved for tormenting me for something more productive, like refilling their paints? Because that’s what they were doing.

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They were only in the back of the classroom for a few moments before they started back down my row. I stiffened as they passed but all Royal did was puff out his chest and raise his fist as he walked by. A mere display of aggression. I really hoped he got what was coming to him one day.

When they stopped next to Cream, who had never diverted her attention from her piece during the teacher’s absence, my stomach turned. I willed them back to me, more than willing to endure any abuse if it meant sparing her.

“Hey Cream,” Scarlett purred, “How are you today?”

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Cream nearly jumped out of her skin, white eyes wide as she looked between Royal and Scarlett warily, “I’m alright, Scarlett. How are you?”

Royal and Scarlett were in rare form today. Their normal interactions with Cream were crude at best. Today they sounded almost polite.  

“We were just wondering,” Royal asked, “if you wanted to become a normal berry.”

My stomach dropped.

“What-” Cream began before a whole cup of purple paint stained her porcelain face.

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“What the hell is wrong with you!” My guttural outburst melded with Cream’s cries.

I slipped between the easels, grabbing Royal’s arm and twisting until the contents of his cup splashed onto the floor.

Scarlett wedged herself between us. “Look, we’re just making her normal. You both should be thanking us!” She hollered, punctuating her sentence with a shove. Royal followed it up with a quick jab. There was a crunch, and then warmth as my mouth filled with copper.

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Thankfully the professor’s voice spared me from a second blow as I hadn’t had the forethought to fend off another blow, “What is going on here?” She asked.

My head throbbed, drowning out their voices. Through blurry eyes, I could see Cream had disappeared. I hoped she hadn’t witnessed my complete lack of athleticism.

“Mr. Spring, is that right?”  


“Did you walk into an easel?” She repeated the story Scarlett had spun.

If I told the truth I would only get it worse later, “Yeah. Sure.”

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“Go clean yourself up.” She said, settling back into her desk.

The hallway was cold and empty; a sharp contrast to the warmth spilling from my nose. I gingerly wiped away the blood with the cuff of my hoodie, white-hot pain flooding my senses as I entered the restroom.

“Fern, I love you.”

“Stop it. You know we can’t-”

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The voices came to halt as I rounded the corner, both woman looking as startled to see me as I was to see them. I recognized the smaller woman from my first day, and like before, her face contorted into annoyance when she saw me.

“I thought you locked the door!” The other girl, Fern, yelled.

“I did!”

“Then how did he wander in here?”

“Shit, sorry, I’ll leave.” I began backing away, but Ivy caught me by the wrist and pulled me closer.

“Did you hear anything?”

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“There was nothing to hear. Okay. I told you it was a mistake.” Fern answered for me, face stoic as she pushed passed us.

Silence crept in as Ivy stared at the door, eyes glazed over in pain. Her grip on me loosened but remained. I cleared my throat, the oozing blood reminding me of my original goal despite my error.

“I’m sorry about your girlfriend, Ivy, and I’m sorry I went into the wrong restroom but-”

“You’re an idiot.” She scoffed, taking in my state for the first time, “You’ve been here for two weeks and still haven’t figured out a berry-dang thing have you?”

I didn’t know what she was talking about or how to respond. Luckily, I didn’t have to, “Go wash your face and then let me look at it.”

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I did as she asked, taking the time to rinse my mouth as well. When I turned the sink off, Ivy was waiting with paper towels in hand. “For the bleeding.” She explained before shaking her head, “It doesn’t look like you have a deviated septum. Who broke your nose?”

“Royal Endive.”

“Berry, you are an idiot.”

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“Why do you keep saying that?” I pressed the paper towels to my swollen nose.

“Because you have a lot to learn.”