The Sky Is Still Blue
By Lauren Brice
My hand presses against my mouth the entire drive from the airport to the dorms. I’m trying to inhale steadily through my nose to power the dam keeping the mess in my head from spilling out of my eyes. There’s nowhere I want to look, and my eyes bounce from the window to the head rest, slashed and oozing foam, to my purse, but, somehow, each glance makes me feel more fragile.
I don’t say anything to the driver when he tells me to have a good night. Instead, I focus on tugging my suitcase over the curb, giving it a yank every second or two to get over the cobblestone street. I march toward the glow of the dormitory building with the stoney face of a solider. My flight arrived late, so I’ve already missed orientation. Everyone is settled into their nests.
The scrawny guy at the desk with salt and pepper hair and trenched wrinkles tries to smile at me. I don’t have anything joyful to return and accept my student ID and room key with all the pep of a wet blanket, dragging my feet and avoiding his amber eyes.
The elevator shutters under me as it creaks to life, slowly chugging up, up, up to who knows where. The beige hallways and flickering florescence don’t help me feel any more comfortable. Beige should not be a color.
This can’t be my new home. I find door 211, marked by scratched, brass numbers. The fake metal knob isn’t even close to cold under my fingers, and the door flies open easily, like it’s made of poster board.
There’s a girl with braids and a bright smile sitting on the bed closest to the window. I guess she had the right to chose her place for actually getting here on time. I throw down my purse and drop my suitcase near the other bed, too tired to care.
Her side of the room is a vomit of color, collage, and spirit with a vibrant comforter already spread across her standard order sheets and the wall above her desk covered in pictures of high school graduation and beach parties. This school must have been her first choice and not her only choice.
My side of the room will never look like hers. I let out a sigh. She’s chattering into her phone at a mile a minute going over every detail of the morning from the welcome breakfast to the tour and the potluck in the afternoon where she met tons of sorority girls. All she can do is wave to me and mouth hello, but the earnest look on her face scares me. She’ll want a conversation as soon as she’s free.
I’ll have to think of another place to wait till she falls asleep. I don’t need asked the getting to know you questions because they are the sharpest knives. I take a minute, though, to settle on my naked mattress facing the beige wall. That awful color will have to be covered one way or another.
I slip my phone from my back pocket and dare to open photos. My thumb flicks over the glass screen, barely touching the faces of everyone I left behind. No emotion comes because they’re all blocked in the pipeline, a giant glob of feeling. I miss my mom and my dad and even my little sister, but they’re the ones who made me come to this place. I want to hate them for it.
Electro-girl starts to wrap up her conversations, so I grab my hoodie and a pair of earbuds and head out, past the rickety elevators and into the stairwell. I take them two at a time, moving like a gazelle pursed by a pride of lions. When I burst back into the night, adrenaline is starting to make me feel better. I’m in more control. The prison march is over; my time can be mine again.
With one foot in front of the other, I start walking down the sidewalk, figuring I’ll spot a cute shop to stop into. Maybe there is a tapestry or a scarf I can hang across the wall to make it less offensive. Perhaps, it will be the ray of sunshine that grows me into a beautiful flower again.
The soft strumming of guitar tickles my open ear and pulls me off the main walk toward an alley that leads to a wide open square lit by a bustling market. The music gets louder, and I round the corner to see a guy and his guitar standing in the middle of it, singing and playing. There’s already a group of people huddled on the market steps in front of him using the ancient building like a makeshift amphitheater.
I drift closer to them, like a moth drawn to the closet of wool. The sound is sweet and soothing, much softer than what I’d started to blast from my earbuds on my walk, and it is centering in a way I can’t put my finger on. I drop down on the steps along with the rest of them to watch the guy, with chocolate factory hair and eyes, like dark coco swirled with caramel and raspberry. His jeans have a hole in one knee, slashed open after it left the designer’s warehouse, and his shirt is sunfaded. Studded with character. It only makes him more fascinating to watch.
The song changes again from angelically soft to loud, pounding and edgy like the seismic waves in my brain, and I drop my bag to get to my feet. I kick off my clunky, leather boots and step out under the bright lights of the square. I drop ten dollars in the foaming sea of bills erupting from the guitar case and start to move my feet in a way that is foreign and familiar, transitioning across the square.
My toes tap into the ancient cobblestones probably trekked over by revolutionaries; I am becoming a revolutionary. I let my arms drift around in the air, following my body through a pirouette. I’m almost too lost in myself to feel the soft tap on my shoulder from a nervous hand.
“Care for a partner?” he says. He looks about my age and all I can see, glowing from his olive skin, is his emerald green eyes. I place my hand in his outstretched one and let him take the lead.
He whispers quiet directions and gently sways my steps to match his own. For a moment, I forget where I am or why I was so angry, why this song rang so deep in my soul, and I just dance. When the song ends, we take our bows to a smattering of applause from the audience that has thickened since I got up.
My partner leads us away to the side of the square. “What’s your name?” he asks me.
“Bobby. Are you from around? I spend a lot of time here and never run into you.” His hand slips into mine, and I squeeze it back before I can talk myself out of it.
“Just got in today, but I think I’ll be here for a while,” I say, wishing it was so casual. There’s no choice in being here.
“If you have a little time, I can show you around the market.”
“That sounds good.”
He smiles, and I follow his lead toward the glowing market building. When we step inside, I remember my shoes are missing and realize I’ve ripped a hole in my tights. But that doesn’t have to be important.
The market is loud and full of different people; couples, singles, families. They’re all saying different things and moving in opposing directions, but I shake off the urge to run. We stop at a fruit stand covered in chandeliers of bananas and adorned with colorful fruit cups and kabobs. It’s too loud to say much, but he points over toward it and I nod.
He buys us two cups of watermelon and remembers to grab plastic forks before we walk back to the square where the musician is back to a sugary, slow song.
“Are you in school for dance?” Bobby asks when we find a spot on the steps.
I laugh because that’s the only thing to do when you want to cry. “I wish. I really do wish. My parents made me quit competitive dance when I started high school to focus on making it into an Ivy. That’s all that matters in life, right? It opens so many doors.” I roll my eyes.
He gives me a scrunched look I can’t quite read. I never know how people will respond to my attitude. Usually, it gets me labeled an ungrateful brat, but I’m hoping Bobby will be different.
“So, did it pay off? Cause you clearly didn’t lose your dance skills.” His eyes shine with more curiosity than judgement which makes me smile.
“It worked out for them. You can probably guess which university I’m hiking back to after this.”
I spear a pink cube of watermelon and let it burst in my mouth. It tastes like summer and home.
“I don’t think you want to hear that I’m impressed with you, if I’ve read you right at all. But few people are able to go so far to fulfill someone else’s dream. I’m too selfish for that. I’m in school for dance. Choreography, really. I want to stage shows that make people feel something through movement, even without music.” He shakes his head. “Waste of money, I know, but where else am I going to learn enough to not hate waking up every morning?”
His words make me want to scream because they should be coming out of my lips. He says the only thing I honestly believe, yet have never been strong enough to admit. “I want that,” I whisper, and I’m not sure if he can hear me, but he shifts his arm over my shoulder and pulls me close to him. The cotton of his hoodie is soft under my cheek.
Bobby laughs, rueful and laced with bitterness. “No you don’t. Ask anyone. In four years I’ll be a starving loser with a worthless degree. I’m banking on the one in a million.”
“You can do it,” I reply, words muddled into the fabric. I don’t know anything about this boy other than his drive and that he has eyes that could steal a heart, but I know I’m not lying. There’s just something there.
I feel his shoulders flex and shrug, and he rests his head on top of my own. “So can you,” Bobby says. “You’re amazing.”
“And a business major,” I retort.
“Since when did our majors define our lives? The world can be what you need if you stop looking for the walls to run into.”
I’m silent while I turn his words over and over in my mind, kneading the dough into something familiar. Before I can think of something to say, the musician is saying his goodbyes to the crowd and people are walking back to the main street to hail a cab.
I stand before Bobby can say anything else and join the crush, becoming a drop of water in a roaring river. I don’t want to know what he’d say next because it would forever change the moment. I’d rather it just live on a shelf in my mind, corked in an emerald, glass bottle, in storage for when I need it again.
The sky is more interesting than the darkened streets around me, so I watch it as i make my way back home. Home.
Space is still blue; navy laced with an electric third dimension that extends forever. For some reason, seeing the ocean up there, even in the early morning hours, cements that I will be okay; that this place will be okay. My sky is still the same. This city can fend off the despondent blackness that wanted to swallow me.
I push through the dorm entrance and look towards the desk for the man with entrenched wrinkles, but his shift is long over, a scanner replacing his watchful eye. I still smile at his empty seat to make up for this evening and begin to hike up fourteen flights of stairs, whispering a new reason to smile every step.
As I exit the stairwell, I say, “The sky is still blue,” and quietly open my paper-thin door so not to disturb the girl with the braids who is recharging her smile. One more glance out the window is all I need to drift off with resolve to unpack my sheets in the morning.
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About The Author: Laine is an author, book blogger at Reading, Writing, And Me and the editor of Fireworks In The Night which she created to share her own work and that of others who have a story to tell.