‘Did you know that I fell in love with you before I even met you?’
‘Impossible,’ she shook her head, her hazel hair stroking her jawbone just as I liked to do.
I raised my eyebrow, ‘Do you not believe me?’
‘Of course not,’ she waved the notion away like an annoying insect; one you didn’t want to kill, but just wanted out of your way, ‘Love at first sight only exists in novels and films.’
‘I don’t disagree with that,’ I lifted my glass to my wine-stained lips.
Her olive-green eyes reflected the candlelight so perfectly, it seemed almost like her irises were the origin of its light.
‘Perhaps I should rephrase,’ I let the Shiraz she so loved trickle around my taste buds before I continued, ‘The saying goes: “If you want to learn what someone fears losing, watch what they photograph.” Do you know what I saw when I first found your photos?’
She rested her arm on the coffee table, placing her chin right in its nook. Her eyes peered up at me through those long, hazel lashes and her mouth drew into a small smile because she knew, but she wanted to hear me say it.
‘I saw images of your sister, frozen in a moment so inexplicably simple, yet utterly beautiful; street art that lamented and artists that cried at the shackled freedom imposed upon citizens of ‘World-leading countries’; I saw the people you loved most in the world, being so truly themselves; these rays of light in our world of shadows.’
She was still staring at me. She always stared at me like this when I talked without thinking; as if I was slowly turning a shade of violet.
‘And then I saw a picture of you,’ I continued despite my better judgment, ‘The one photo in probably twenty.’
My chest collapsed and reconstructed itself almost immediately. My body always turned on me if I allowed my mind to think too often without any boundaries, ‘and that is when I knew I would love you if the universe ever gave me a chance.’
She blinked but did not say a word. The sound of the rain pounding against her window now seemed like an unchoreographed drum beat, following a furious tune of its own.
We sat on her white, fluffy rug, sharing a corner of the coffee table; all the lights switched off with what seemed like a hundred candles burning all around the studio apartment. With only the one candle between us now, everything else darkened and we floated serenely around one another.
‘Why are you so hopelessly afraid?’ she finally spoke, saying what I did not expect at all.
‘Afraid of what?’ I managed.
‘Yourself,’ she said, ‘Being who you really need to be.’
I frowned, but looked away, ‘I’m not,’ but even I didn’t believe myself.
‘You’re afraid of dyeing your hair purple or getting a tattoo. You’re afraid of a third piercing or smoking a joint,’ she paused, ‘You’re afraid of me,’ her voice had changed now. She was no longer challenging me; she was confronting me, ‘You say you love me, but you’re afraid of loving me completely.’
I locked eyes with her again, ‘That’s not true,’ and this time, I believed it.
‘Do you know what I see?’ she asked, not expecting an answer, ‘When I walk into your room, I see your favourite books stacked on your desk, your favourite quotes scribbled on every spare piece of paper you get your hands on, the songs stuck in your head always spill from your lips, even when you don’t realise it,’ her left forefinger scratched against her thumb like it always did when she became emotional, but tried to repress it, ‘You proudly display everything you love, but hide me in a dark corner of a locked room when confronted by anyone you care about.’
She had said she didn’t care about meeting them. That if it was the decision I was making, she respected it. She was fine with not seeing me for a week, she would prepare her portfolio for the end of the term.
‘Hannah,’ I sighed.
‘Don’t,’ she frowned ‘Don’t say my name as if I don’t understand.’
But she didn’t. Not completely. No one ever understood completely.
‘I lied,’ she admitted, ‘and not because I expected you to know or because I wanted some grand gesture. I lied because I really thought I would be alright. I thought I would organise my portfolio, maybe do some yoga, hang out with Ayesha and Alec,’ she swallowed, passing her eyes over each individual strands of the carpet, ‘but every time I started doing something, this sinking feeling weighed down on my chest,’ she dug the tips of her fingers into her sternum, ‘Right here, and it felt like a boulder was crushing me just enough to suffocate me, but not enough to kill me.’
Hannah spoke in photographs, not in words. I assumed it was because that was the easiest way, perhaps even the only way, for her to express herself. Words were my forte. I was the one who, at times could not string together a coherent verbal sentence, but give me a napkin and a pen, and I could write out a letter to make even a stone heart bleed. Now she was making my very human heart bleed. I knew I was hurting her and it was something I couldn’t help. I couldn’t fix it.
My lips parted to say something poetic, but all that formed was: ‘I can’t tell my parents.’
Her face twisted into a puddle of disappointment and heartbreak, ‘Why? Your parents are the two people who are supposed to love you no matter what. It shouldn’t matter to them who you love.’
‘They would lever speak to me ever again,’ it was hard to swallow after those words formed in my mouth, ‘Not until I left you, saying it was all a mistake; that I was confused.’
She scratched her thumb, ‘Are you?’
‘No,’ I said immediately. If I hadn’t already told a million times how much I loved her, I would probably be afraid that I had said that too fast, ‘No, no. I love you, but,’ I shook my head, a rogue curl falling in my line of vision, ‘we live in a separate world to the only my parents live in. Theirs is monochromatic. If you’re not right, you’re wrong. But our world,’ the tips of my fingers found hers, ‘our world is filled with art and music and poetry and photographs; our world is bursting with a kaleidoscope of colours, and I don’t want their black and white world leaking into ours.’
I loved my parents, I really did, despite it sounding otherwise. It always seemed otherwise when I spoke of them to Hannah. I managed to paint the bleakest image of my childhood when in reality, I had a great one. My parents loved me enough so that I grew up as a stable human being, yet not too much so that I thought I was special. They provided my siblings and me with everything we needed and a small portion of what we wanted so that we would work really hard for everything else. I loved and admired them for who they were and what they believed. I just didn’t necessarily believe the same things, no matter how much they tried to get me to.
‘So will you hide me forever in your kaleidoscope world?’ she asked, sounding more content with this description of it than anything else.
I watched as our fingers aimlessly traced each other’s skin.
‘No,’ I said, ‘just until my parents die.’
She smacked my hand away, but her laugh, like a key, pressed accidently on a piano, floated through the room.
‘I love you, Hannah,’ my eyes drew to her caramel-coloured skin, baked warmly in the flaming light of our candle, ‘and I could tell you that for the rest of our lives and you would still not know just how much I do.’
She leaned forward on all fours, her hands on either side of my legs, sinking into the fluffy, white carpet beneath her palms. Her olive-green eyes seemed to trace every single feature of my face, and I wondered what she saw that mesmerised her so. My heart sped, begging to break free of the cage of my body so that I could hand it to her. I would have done it too if I had any idea how to. It was hers from the very beginning anyway. It would have been safer for her to hold my heart in the palm of her hand than her having complete control over it within my body.
As if reading my mind, as I had begun to suspect she could, she traced her fingers over my chest. I closed my eyes, disintegrating at her mere touch. We fell back on the carpet, kissing until our kaleidoscope world exploded.