Lavender – mistrust (from the Language of Flowers)
Val sat cross-legged on her bed, staring at the pages of her psychology textbook but not really reading it as Mary bustled around the room getting ready for the party. "How do I look?" she asked finally.
She was wearing black pedal pushers and a white t-shirt with an explosive graphic detail, but clearly she didn't think she looked acceptable yet, since she'd been standing in front of their full-length mirror for about an hour messing around with brushes, combs, anything that wasn't glued down, really. Considering that Alex wasn't her boyfriend, Mary certainly spent a long time getting ready for him.
"You look great," Val said, looking up from her textbook.
"Really?" Her face was anxious as she picked up a glass perfume bottle and toyed with the cap. "I think the shirt's too childish."
Suddenly, the rich scent of lavender filled the air, a scent that Val had always associated with velvet and silk ribbons, drifting down in a soft mist where Mary sprayed it — which was all over the room. "It looks fine — and I don't think that's meant to be used as an air freshener," Val added pointedly.
"It's too strong to just spray on," Mary said, missing the point entirely, "You have to spray it and then walk through the mist." She set the purple-tinted bottle back on her desk, spinning around to look at Val as she leaned back against a straight-backed chair. "Areyou going?"
Mary shot her an exasperated look. "To the party."
"How can I not?" Val asked wryly. "It's open dorm."
"Youknow what I mean."
Yes, she did know what Mary meant. She wanted her to get involved; to party.
She could say she had to study and Mary would probably accept that, perhaps trying to persuade her only once or twice more. She could easily do that, but it would be the start of a ridge between her and Mary and they would never truly become friends. A year is a long time to spend alone.
"Oh, fine. I'll make an appearance," Val promised, wincing as Mary threw her bejeweled arms around her neck in a huge, suffocating hug.
Six hours later, Val was starting to remember why she didn't like going to parties — they could be unbearably awkward unless you knew somebody present, and Mary had vanished, leaving her to fend for herself.
Although she had to admit, Mary and her friends had certainly outdone themselves. She wasn't quite brave enough to venture into some of the other dorms, but in this particular room somebody had set up a strobe, making the figures bobbing in front of it seem surreal, somehow, like images in a phantasmagoria. The food was about what you'd expect on a college salary; chips and sodas of all kinds and varieties, store-bought cookies, and cheap pizza from a local greasy spoon.
Somebody tapped her on the shoulder, and she spun around to see a red-haired guy smiling at her. His lips moved as if in a silent film, and she realized he was speaking — not that she could hear him over the throbbing baseline. "What?"
He cupped his hand over his mouth and repeated his previous statement. Amused in spite of herself, she shook her head slightly and watched as he pantomimed dancing with one hand and then made his other hand 'dance' along side it.
She laughed and nodded her assent, relieved that she no longer had to wear a mask of indifference as she pretended she didn't care that nobody was talking to her. The guy took her hands in his, and she felt an instinctive rush of adrenaline accompany this simple touch.
The song playing was slow, with a slight swing to it, as the vocalist sang about love and danger. Val closed her eyes, feeling her body sway with the gentle beat. This was nice... so normal. She'd missed being normal, and the simple things that other people took for granted.
When she thought of the grandmaster's mercurial temperament and his eyes, her heart frequently seized with fear and other slightly more puzzling emotions. He'd always left her with a vague feeling of being off-guard. How unfortunate that the last person to hold her hands like this had been... him.
Don't think about that.
She winced a little. He'd hurt her so badly, on so many levels... He'd destroyed the world she knew; turned order into chaos.
I don't care, don't think about it.
Val banished the thoughts from her mind, where they receded to her unconscious, waiting for nightfall so they could haunt her in her dreams. Instead, she forced her attention on her dance partner, whom she'd only paid a cursory glance before accepting his invitation.
The boy stood around 5'11", comfortably topping Val's own modest five feet, eight inches; providing a nice height difference, but not dominating her. He seemed to give off an aura of protection, and Val responded accordingly, resting her head on his shoulder as he placed a comforting hand on her back.
She sighed, and then inhaled deeply. The fabric of his shirt was emerald green and coarse against her cheek, smelling of old books, sunshine, and a strange aftershave she couldn't place. It was almost... spicy, but sweet at the same time. Out the corner of her eye, she caught a glimpse of a cowrie shell necklace half-hidden beneath his collar.
The slow rock song ended, and she pulled away as a fast techno song came on, prompting the ravers to swarm the dance floor. The boy's mouth opened again and he motioned for her to follow. A feeling of apprehension started to bubble up inside her, and she pushed the feeling down. She was safe here.
He led her to the hallway, where it was a lot quieter — more so, when he shut the door behind him. She could hear loud music pulsing from various other rooms, but at least it wasn't deafening. Her ears were still ringing from being so close to the speakers so she barely heard the boy when he said, "I'm Jade."
"Jade, like the stone?" He nodded. "Isn't that a girl's name?" she asked, before she could help herself.
Oh, nowwhy did she say that? Her social skills were going to be the death of her.
Jade smiled, apparently amused by her brash remark. "It's actually short for Jaden, which is Latin. It means the judge. Not that I'm judging you, or anything, but what's your name?"
Val told him and his grin widened. "Isn't that a boy's name?"
"It is, actually," she admitted. "Latin."
"Really?" his eyes widened, only a shade or two darker than hers.
"He was a Roman emperor," she said, neglecting to mention that it was also, in fact, a flower.
Valerian. It means love, sleep, purification . . . protection. Sound like you?
Jade straightened, shaking his head; obviously embarrassed. "Oops. I was just kidding. Well, that's me, Mr. Tactless, at your service."
"Jade Tactless? Now that is an odd name."
She enjoyed the sound of her laughter mingling with his.
"Can I get you a drink?" Jade asked.
"Sure. Anything that doesn't have alcohol in it."
"Two bottled waters coming right up," Jade said. He disappeared back into the noisy room.
Slowly, she leaned back against the blank wall. She was Valerian Kimble — nineteen years old. College student. Protector. Survivor. Victim. She came with a history and nobody could ever change that, no matter how hard she wished otherwise.
But for tonight, at least, she could start over as someone else.
"You and Jade looked so cute together!" Mary gushed the next morning, picking up soda cans off the floor.
Valerian smiled shyly, picking up the plastic bracelets that had flown off from the ravers' flailing wrists the night before. They were handmade with brightly colored beads, and she'd already decided that they were too beautiful to be thrown in the trash.
"You were there? I didn't see you," she commented lightly, slipping one of the bracelets around her wrist.
To her credit, Mary looked properly chastised. The garbage bag in her hands dropped a few inches as her shoulders sank. "I'm sorry, Val. I had... something to take care of. But at least things went well, didn't they?"
"Mm," Val agreed. "Do you know him?"
"Jade? Barely," Mary shrugged. "He's one of Alex's friends, but he seemed really nice."
"Odd name," Val remarked. "I thought my parents were the only ones interested in naming their children freakish Latin names."
"I think his parents actually teach Latin at another University," Mary said with a shrug. "That would explain the interest. Anyway, you haven't even met Nenia, yet. Hard-core goth girl. She likes to brag that her name means funeral march, or whatever, in Latin."
Her statement received an eye roll from Valerian, who had moved on to wiping up stains. "How pretentious," was her comment.
"She's actually not that bad once you get to know her."
Val had barely managed to bite back her retort about appearances being deceiving when her eyes caught on the battered alarm clock on Mary's dresser: 2:30pm. Shit. "Is that the right time?"
Mary looked at her questioningly. "Pretty sure. I reset it last week. Why?"
"I have a class at three-fifteen and I guess I'm really late for it." She tossed the paper towels aside, as she headed towards the alcove where the beds were. "But I'll help you clean when I get back, all right?"
"I'll probably be done by then. I'll force Alex to come over and help me."
"Sounds like a plan." Val reached into her dresser drawer and pulled out a pair of worn jeans with the knees torn out and a black t-shirt that read, in yellow bubble writing, I sold my soul on E-bay. As she hurriedly changed clothes, she noticed a black envelope on her nightstand with her name written on it in white gel pen. Valerian.
"Hey, Mary? Did somebody leave me a letter last night?" Val called, twisting her hair into a ponytail.
"No!" Mary's response resounded clearly through the wall, and probably to half the other people in the building as well. "It came for you this morning, while you were asleep."
While she was asleep?
She sank down onto the flower-printed cover of her bedspread to examine the writing. Since there no address that meant it had probably been delivered by hand. Somebody in the dorm, perhaps? The handwriting was vaguely recognizable, but no one she knew offhand.
Val frowned, holding it close to her face. Sweet? A faint but unmistakable perfumey scent clung to the midnight folds, and when she tore it open a flurry of pink-white petals fluttered into her lap. Val stared at them and her throat seemed to close up on itself.
Suddenly, she didn't want to read this letter, but she had no choice. Her eyes had already gravitated back to the creamy piece of paper inside against her will. There were only three words there, so carefully inked in glittering black calligraphy, but those three simple words turned her inside-out:
Do you remember?