"What is essential is invisible to the eye."
- The Little Prince, Antoine De-Saint Exupery
To begin, all you need is to move.
Take a snowy day; take a boy dragging himself to school.
This boy, you see, was an idiot.
He thought of the world as a faraway thing, happening, but not affecting him in any way. Back then, a beginning meant something as simple as closing his eyes and thinking, "Once upon a time..."
There was something, somewhere out there that made the world grow colorful.
As for him, he'd stayed in the same place for years.
The day snowing as though the clouds tumbled down should have stayed colorless. And yet, as a careless mistake, Eliott found a something. It came to him like a slap to the face, and he wished it'd been just a metaphor.
At first glance, this something-a treasure-seemed obvious. By the second and third glance, however, it began to lose meaning. By the fifth, it had become a lie.
What could possibly stay true when you thought about it for too long, anyway?
Despite the sheer unlikeliness of someone calling him, Eliott paused. It felt stupid, in a way. Stopping meant the road ahead turned endless. Walking was better. It kept the momentum going. As with most things that were real-but not necessarily something-the illusion of having a direction brought momentary peace.
Speaking of mistakes, the voice grew stronger each time.
Just before it said, "Hey!" again Eliott decided, idiotically, to turn around.
He couldn't even think it through. The moment he did, it wasn't a stray leaf or a truth or a fateful meeting that hit him right in the face; it was a snowball. On top of being completely unprecedented, somehow, it held enough force to knock him back onto the snow.
Naturally, this caused him to panic.
Much alike the voice, the familiar crunch of snow under feet grew stronger, stronger each time. As it turned out, he hadn't found a something, but a someone. Or had that someone found him instead? With the bluish naked trees and the snow-covered ground and the world slowly blurring into nonsense, he couldn't quite know.
A few things he found out about the someone:
a) It seemed to have no sense of personal space.
b) Judging by the voice, it was a female.
c) Or was it? One never knew this days. For all he knew, the someone liked swallowing helium as a hobby.
d) She was right next to him.
"I think," announced the girl, "I may have overdone it."
Overdoing was an understatement, but Eliott kept that to himself.
Out came a light, childish laughter. An extended hand. Warmth. "On my defense," continued the girl, "I didn't really think it would hit you, you know? Much less in the face. I'm so sorry. I thought that only happened in old cartoons and badly-written romances. And! And I kinda sorta needed your attention, you get me?"
He wished he did, but Eliott limited himself to nodding.
Out came a crooked, carefree smile. The girl's straight hair mirrored the light brown shade of her eyes. As he stood up, Eliott caught a glimpse of her long enough to notice those tiny, insignificant details. He didn't get caught in the process. Probably since he'd forgotten to take her hand and all, and now she looked at it with a mixture of bewilderment and disbelief. Eliott thought about telling her he was just another asshole by profession, but she had probably inferred this by now, and so she just turned the rejected gesture into some sort of half-wave. Then she randomly kicked a mound of snow at her side and yelled, "Hee ya!"
As if the whole situation wasn't weird enough already.
She grinned. "Wanna do it as well? Yes? No? By the way, my name's Carrie. How about you?"
Which reminded him, he needed to speak. Like a normal person and all. He didn't want to come across as condescending, though, especially to the sort of person what would talk to a stranger so freshly, so casually. Usually, stray passersby just asked for directions or pretended Eliott was part of the decoration. Over the years, he'd learned to do the same.
A side-effect of isolation: excessive wariness.
People didn't talk to strangers just for the sake of talking anymore, did they? What did this creature want?
As if to showcase his brilliant social skills Eliott asked, "What do you want?" just as he remembered how friendliness was like. It lay back there, somewhere in his memories, along cursive writing and crayons and Yahoo! Messenger.
Carrie flinched at the tone. To be fair, he flinched, too.
Even then, the girl's dejection couldn't have lasted longer than a second. Before Eliott had time to formulate an apology, Carrie blurted out, "I don't think anyone knows what he or she wants. If anyone did, we'd know happiness."
And she grinned.
Stranger Philosophy 101: in action.
Eliott glanced at her from the corner of his eyes like it was a sin to do so. Far from accepting this hostility, Carrie jumped and caught a stray snowflake in her mouth. "So you're also going to St. Elimine school, right? Also known as the only school in Canada with a sushi bar."
Which was a big, blatant lie. That, or she was being ironic. Either way, being part of the only school in Canada with a sushi bar did sound kind of interesting, to say the least...
She clapped her hands together. Eliott translated the gesture: "Yay! He can talk!"
"Then!" continued Carrie, "Then could we walk together? Please? I got kinda sorta lost, you see. Curiosity almost killed the Carrie."
After Carrie had jumped up and cheered, "Yay!" he began to walk. For one dreadful, scary moment, he wondered if he'd even paused in the first place.
Thankfully, the girl confirmed her existence by humming absentmindedly, skipping and kicking the occasional mound of snow. Moving.
Once upon a time, was it?
That's all it took. That's all it would take.
"So," Carrie spoke out, snapping him out of his thoughts, "I take it you're the strong, silent type?"
Two words, three, a dozen. (Neither strong nor particularly silent; just socially-awkward.)
She continued, "I met this guy who was so strong and silent he dressed up as Winnie the Pooh for Halloween and they took him to animal control."
Two dozen, three dozen, a hundred.
Eliott stopped, perhaps too abruptly, for Carrie did the same. Her humming stopped, and she almost looked worried.
"O-oh. I get it. Silence is best, right?"
She laughed under her breath, nodding and scratching the back of her head. "Sorry. I'll… I'll shut up now."
Taking this as a cue to barge in, Eliott mumbled, trying hard not to sound hostile again, "I'm sorry."
Carrie tilted her head, confused. "Hmm? But what-"
"I'm sorry for making it look like I don't want to speak when that's all I've been trying to do but I can't and it's damn frustrating and I really don't mind believe me I don't and I'm sorry for spacing off I just do that sometimes and I'm also sorry for not saying my name which is Eliott, by the way…" he trailed off only because he had to catch his breath. Once he did he added, as an afterthought, "...and sorry for interrupting you. I'll shut up, too."
Carrie's face went from surprised, to puzzled to finally settle in amusement. A sight to see, really. By the time Eliott did, in effect, shut up, she'd gone back to grinning. In fact, she seemed bolder. In fact, without bothering to warn, she slapped him in the back so hard he almost stopped slouching. "Awesome!" she cheered, oblivious to the bones she may or may not have wrecked, "I really thought you wanted me to leave or something..."
He couldn't really blame her, could he?
Despite his thoughts and despite his earlier speech, his face, unlike hers, stayed unchanging. It always did. He always looked like he wanted to murder a puppy. "No," he replied, pushing the black hair away from his eyes like it wouldn't fall back a second later, "It's... kind of hard to explain."
Around them, the snowfall had finally come to an end. "So you kinda wanna but you kinda don't wanna?" inquired Carrie, quirking an eyebrow.
He felt tempted to shrug for a moment. Vague, non-committal replies left plenty of space for interpretation, but then again, the rest of his actions did not. Vague, non-committal replies kept the world a safe distance away. Sometimes safe wasn't enough.
"It began during middle school," he spoke out at last, "the glaring. It's not something I want to do. It just happens. All the time. So-"
"So it's a shield."
Sometimes safe meant isolation.
Glancing at her fully for the first time, Eliott nodded. "Kind of."
Carrie waved teasingly as if to say 'why, hello. You finally look at me!'. "It's nothing out of the norm," she nodded, adopting a serene expression, "After all, everyone has a shield."
"Everyone has a shield," Eliott echoed, awed, then asked, as casually as someone asking the time of the day, "Is smiling yours?"
Carrie blinked in surprise for a moment. She didn't smile; she didn't reply. Instead, she said simply, "Let's get going, shall we?"
And while they did begin to walk, in many ways they stayed there.