Serenity. Bliss. Peace.
Today, that is how you might describe the sky, because as the sun rose above the clouds, it brought peaceful, calm shades of pink and orange, with just a tad of gray. Not so much gray that would keep you down, but just enough so that you know the sun is still rising and the day has yet to come.
As the day went on, and the young woman continued to rest in tranquility, this sentiment proved to be true. The sun continued to rise, and at the point in which she had to cover her eyes with her arms and squint, the sky was almost completely blue. No more gray, just sky blue, and fluffy white clouds.
The true beauty of this wide open sky swept the student away from her troubles; the calm breeze brushed past her, taking even the slightest thought of stress along with it. The breeze would turn into a wind, harsher by the second, but then would calm back down to an easy flow. This young woman had learnt to hold her ground long ago, and so this wind never bothered her; in fact, she was comforted by the peace it gave her.
But suddenly, Iris felt her chest inflate with stress and pressure. After so many years with her father and the sentiments around her, she had learnt to sense when others pressed too close into her space.
But, as Iris turned, she knew there was nothing to worry about.
Niquise, her childhood friend, stood directly behind her with his school bag, glasses gone from his face. Normally, the sight would worry her, but she was too distracted because Niquise was right behind her. Honestly, she could see every detail of his face, from the leaves in his hair to the dirt on his face.
His eyebrows raised, and he smiled a little. “You’re hungry, aren’t you? I don’t have any food on me, you know.”
She pouted a little, playfully, and looked down at her stomach as it rumbled. “No, of course you don’t,” she patted to the spot of grass next to her, “but you can still sit next to me, silly! I won’t eat you, I swear.”
As he sat next to her, bag in between the two of them, he replied, “I believe you, Iris. You don’t have to promise me anything.”
He sounded tense, not at all what he was like just seconds ago, and definitely not the way he usually acts. She was reminded of his missing glasses, but decided to ignore them for the moment.
'There’s no point in embarrassing him,' she thinks, 'I’ll just... change the subject, I guess. But what do I talk about? Current events, yeah... But what current events?The personal kind? I don’t even follow the news anymore so there’s no point in even considering politics or anything like that...
She sighed, glancing over.
'Looks like it’s going to be personal.'
Iris looked down at Niquise’s bag, hoping to find a hint, or something. She noticed the butterfly embroidery on the pocket, his mother’s handiwork, and thought of his father’s recent passing.
'I wonder how his mother’s doing... I guess I can just ask, but would that be rude?'
'...No way, he’s my best friend! He’s told me everything since we could talk! Just ask!'
“So, how has your mother been after..." She hesitated, but though better of it and continued, "You know.”
Niquise tensed, from his shoulders all the way down to his elbows, locking them in place to help hold himself together.
'I’m such an idiot! There’s no way I can mention his father right now. What was I thinking...?'
He started to relax a bit, though, sitting up and putting his hands in his lap, just staring at them. His chest moved up and down, slowly.
'Yes, breathe, calm down, tell me what’s bugging you. I don’t want to have to ask. Please tell me.'
He looked up at her finally, and the missing glasses on his face were enough to make her want to cry. “My mom... has been shaken up. Understandably so, but...”
'He looks like he wants to cry...'
He grabbed his backpack suddenly, and opened it. What was in there, though, was not school material. It was broken glass. Tiny shards and the frame of his glasses, larger shards with family photos ripped up from the sharp objects. He got up and dumped out the glass shards into the patch of purple, white and yellow that was behind their spot on the grass.
“Niq, what are you doing? You can’t just dump out shards of glass into a bunch of flowers like that! What if you hurt the animals?” Iris jumped up and walked over to him as he held the open mouth of his bag to the ground.
“Niq, are you cryi-”
“She did this. My mom, I mean. The day after the accident, she had a pretty bad break down. Sh... She ran through the house, breaking all the picture frames with him in it. She said she didn’t want to see his face again, and,” He kneeled down, and took a long breath before speaking again, “then she passed out, right on top of a bunch of broken glass. I had to carry her to her room, and patch up the cuts while she was sleeping.”
He picked up a shard of glass that had a little bit of dry blood left on it, but then dropped it again. She kneeled down next to him, and put her arms around his shoulders. She let him cry as long as he needed, because she knew he would’ve done the same.
As he cried, she started to remember what started all of this.
'The sky is still blue, and the sun continues to shine. You shouldn’t be crying like this, your father shouldn’t be gone, and your mom... I’m so sorry, Niq. So sorry.'
Iris had thought it so many times, and yet she’s never said it, before now, “Hey Niq, don’t you think this is kind of funny? I mean, this is pretty ironic... Me holding you while you cry over something that-”
“Be quiet, Iris.” He had looked up when he said that, eyes red and puffy. The tears continued to fall, even as he continued, “None of this is your fault. My dad is gone because of your father. That had nothing to do with you.”
'So... he doesn’t blame me? I guess that’s a relief, but how can I honestly not blame myself for this? It’s.... impossible.'
She took a shuddering breath.
“I know what you’re going to say, Iris,” Niquise said, “but don’t. I can’t listen to you when you’re like this.”
The stress between the two friends built up between each other, as if there were a hot air balloon separating them. It was a long time before it had enough air to lift away, but when it did, the two teenagers could finally look back at one another.
“You’re right. It was pretty stupid of me to worry you like that. Blaming myself is pretty ridiculous, I know, but it’s hard not to, you know? We both have a pretty good idea of what they were arguing about, so... You know.”
Niquise looked at her for a long while, and then began to laugh.
“What are you laughing at?" She panicked a little, and though it was a little bit vain, she asked, "Is there something in my hair?” As she says this, she starts combing her hands through her hair to try and get whatever he was looking at out.
“Well...” he began, “there was something in your hair, before you started messing with it.”
Iris huffed, and then, “Well, what was it?”
Niquise smiled wearily as he replied, “Just a butterfly. It looked like a hair clip, or something...”
Fatigue settled over the chilled atmosphere, sinking into tense muscles and aching bones. The wind no longer felt like a comfort to either of the young characters, nor did it whisk away troubles and personified demons; instead, it presented itself in reality as a deadly force, inhaling life out of every gust.
In these lands, Spring meant peaceful days and harsh nights for everyone; for Iris, it meant only a temporary escape from home. In the Winter and Fall, she had the excuse of school during the day, though she no longer attended, and running the family’s wood shop in place of her late mother, which she also no longer attended to. During the Summer months, she slipped out at dawn and returned late when her father was already passed out. Her father, who was always drunk, was none the wiser, as long as she wasn’t there; when she was there, however, he was abusive, and loud, blaming her for her mother’s death, shouting slurs and bigoted speech in her direction.
She has to remind herself to breathe in the reminiscence of the memory. Her father was once an outstanding man, long before her mother died, but stress, as she's rationalized countless times in the wake of fear, took what was left of him.
It drained the light out of her mother, it caused so much pain on her family and those she loved, it strangled the hope out of her every breath.
She couldn't bear to believe someone she was once so close to caused her mother such pain.
She startled as Niquise stood up suddenly, continuing to watch the bloodied and damaged petals below him. He turned, looking at her, giving the brightest, fakest smile she had seen from him in a long time.
"Let's get out of here. What do you say, Iris?"