The first time I saw him, I was sitting on a bench in the thin, wooded park edging our town.
This particular bench was my favourite – it sat by itself on a raised level of the park, which overlooked a gentle slope of dark, marshy landscape. A river used to flow through here a long time ago; now just reeds and toffee-like mush were left, and at night, it became a dim scene, all shapes and no substance. The only light, clear part of the view was the industrial bridge over the marsh, out to the left, which was always bright with streetlights and heavy with vehicles, but far enough away to be silent.
I loved my bench. Peace, fresh air, and stars, which weren't visible anywhere else in town because of the lights. With the wind in my face, the rustling of trees behind me and the smell of earth, pretty words came easily to me. I would scribble away in my notebook, letting it capture a whole hoarder's jumble of book ideas, passages and chapters, which I would make sense of on my laptop later. And when I was all out of words, I would take out my new, sleek little 4K camcorder, and shoot what I always shot: the view.
I muttered to my imaginary audience: "sorry, guys. I know you're fed up of seeing this. I'll find something better to film someday."
About to put the cam away, I gave a last long look through the lens. It happened to be focused on the bridge – and that's when I saw it. There was a figure – a man, it looked like – racing across the bridge with the flow of the traffic, to the tune of rampant beeping and screeching of tyres, as cars swerved to avoid him. One car braked harsh for him rather than swerving – the man stopped dead, lowered his already hunched body, and hurled himself straight at it.
I took in a sharp breath, shut my eyes, and let the cam fall clumsily to my lap. Some suicidal maniac? I didn't let myself breathe for four, five seconds, then forced my eyes open, scrabbled the cam up again – find him, find him… I found him. And I fell still, and muffled a strange noise.
The man was balancing on all fours on top of the stopped car.
The crazy moment lasted only a blink before he jumped off theatrically. He curled into a roll as soon as he hit the ground, his palms briefly making contact, followed by a shoulder. He rose to standing and was off again, this time going back the way he came, until he was right off the bridge and out of my sight.
The cars picked up their speed, the beeping died away, and I found myself wondering whether that had even just happened.
"I swear! He ran out, jumped onto a car, and then jumped off!" I insisted, waving my hands for emphasis.
Halley smirked and lifted her drink, her slender, manicured fingers fanning out around the glass. "Sure. Did you lose your virginity yesterday too?" She doesn't mean to be harsh. It just sort of comes out. "Oh my God, babe, I'm sorry. That was too mean. I didn't-"
"I know," I reassured her, then nodded at her cocktail, which was still half full – mine had emptied ages ago. "Come on, girl! Catch up!"
"No, Kasey! You know I can't compete with you. You drink like a man!" She took a quick sip of her drink, her round-shaped lips dainty and puckered, so as not to mess up her purple lipstick. No wonder she drinks so slow with her lips trouted like that! Gently, she placed the glass down and slid it across the table. "Here, have mine."
Just to prove her point, I gulped hers in one swift glug, and she gave me a round of applause. "Okay," I grinned, "what are we going for next? Porn Star Martini? Sex on the Beach?"
"Why are our favourite cocktails the ones with the dirtiest names?"
"Because we're secretly sluts, clearly."
"I don't think I want anymore. I'm starting to feel like a blender."
"You've only had two!"
"Hey, I haven't drunk for like, a week! That lightweights you up! Oh, and by the way, I'm pregnant."
"You're what?" I moved forwards sharply, which in turn triggered a tumbling of wild, messy hair over my left shoulder.
"Hmm." I cast my mind back… and reminded her, dully, "No, you're not. Your period was two weeks ago, remember? Just before you went to uni. You ate all my choc-chip cookies."
"Oh yeah!" Her appley cheeks creased as she gushed, smiling, "What would I do without you, Kasey?"
"Freak out and start buying baby clothes, probably."
"I need you. Come with me to university, Kase. You can live with us. Just study something, anything. You would love it," Halley pleaded, voice babyish and eyes cartoony.
'Come to university' was slowly becoming Halley's favourite sentence. In this week alone, I had now heard it four times. Hmm. Maybe the university was in the process of rewiring Halley's brain to turn her into RoboStudent1000, their walking advertisement. Maybe they were doing this to all of their students – a whole army of robot students! This was bad. I would need a wrench, and batteries, and apple pie, and…
I looked up. I had apparently been staring into space – this raised-eyebrow and tight-lipped thing was an expression Halley reserved solely for such occasions.
"How's space?" she asked me, hooking a long strand of honey-coloured hair behind her ear.
"Pretty good. I mean, I've been eaten and vomited back up again by a few Martians, but I guess it could be worse."
"Sure. Can we talk about uni now?"
Eurgh. No thanks, I wanted to tell her. But you see, Halley wasn't a 'no, thanks' sort of person – you couldn't 'no, thanks' her and live to tell the tale. So, instead, I muttered, "You know, it doesn't matter how many times you try and sell me the rotting horse – it doesn't change the fact that the horse is dead and that I am not going to, at any point, cowboy off into the sunset with it."
"It's that creepy old guy, right? You totally love him so that's why you can't possibly leave your job."
She was convinced I fancied Rob, the overly-friendly-with-me teacher at the primary school I was an office assistant at. This was one of Halley's many conspiracy theories. She was also convinced the third cog in our trio, our best friend Saffron, was going out with a spy (we had never actually seen him and so this was her natural conclusion) and that there was something alien about bananas ("they're just not… normal, you know? All squishy and… yellow. What other fruit is yellow?" To which I quickly answered "lemons, pineapples… apricots, too, possibly? In some lightings?")
"Firstly, ew. No, thank you, to I'm-Going-To-Stand-Really-Close-To-You-And-Breathe-On-Your-Face Robert. And, secondly, it's a good job, you know it is, and there's no guarantee I would be able to get a decent job if I went to uni. And, thirdly, I'm happy."
I lie. I lie a lot, actually. I lie because it's easier, and safer, and because, sometimes, we don't lie for the people listening, but for ourselves.
I wanted to go. A lot. But the thought of it gave me palpitations, made me physically sick. I'd even applied, but shunted it out of mind and let the other deadlines roll away. Anyway, it was the middle of October, so I'd had months to come to terms with the fact that this was my life now, stationed in the school office, picking up phones, filing, sorting, not to mention making tea (those women drank so much tea I was sure their pee came out brown and milky).
My day didn't end when I got home from work, because I had to look after my siblings. When they were asleep, I'd then go to my favourite bench, or go out with the cam, or just stay in bed and write until my eyes ached under the strain of the laptop screen and sleep was hanging from my eyelids.
This was my life. Earths away from Halley and Saffron's, with their lectures, assignments, midnight crying over exams, nightlife and lines of friends all linking hands like a happy chain of paper dolls.
And I was okay with that.
I liked to think that lives are goldfish bowls. Some are bigger than others, some are busier than others, but all have limited space, and mine was already full, with plenty of sparkly fish to light it up.
"I know. I still think you're making a mistake, though. You're missing out on living with each other, going out, meeting boys…"
"You're not supposed to be meeting boys! You have a boyfriend!" A really sweet, smart, amazing boyfriend, I silently added on the end of that. Jonah was gorgeous, inside and out, like… like a cake. Sigh. Never mind. I didn't want a boyfriend anyway – Halley and Saffron made them sound like a lot of effort. Pretty much the same as having a dog, what with the constant looking after, taking it out, making sure it's fed and alive and that it still loves you… more trouble than it's worth, really, let's be honest. And the dog seemed the better option – unconditional love in fluffy form? Yes please! With the added of bonus of them not cheating on you or taking up all the room on the bed.
"Kasey. Just because I've had dinner doesn't mean I can't look in the fridge!"
We made our way home soon after that. Halley and I lived next door to each other in a line of brown-bricked, tall but thin Victorian terraced houses with four floors, cute chimneys and narrow, rectangular windows, which shrunk in size the closer they got to the slate roof. Our bedrooms were side-by-side, with only thin walls separating us. We had this game where, if we needed each other, we would knock on the wall – three slow, consecutive taps – to see if the other was there. The tradition has lived on.
Living next door to your best friend is great. It means hanging out is easy. It means your dad will let you go out at night because 'Halley's going too' means there will definitely be someone to walk you home (and they think she's the good influence – it's totally the other way around). And it means if you're hungover after your best friend's house party and desperately need tea to stop you from unleashing the Hangover Hulk, but she has run out of milk, it's not the end of the world as we know it, but a fifty-second trip to your own fridge.
So it was strange now that she was at uni. It was strange walking past the house and knowing that she wasn't there anymore. Sitting in my room and not hearing her syrupy pop music wafting through the wall, or muffled, inaudible words from her high, girly voice. Halley was only back now until Tuesday, and then I probably wouldn't see her again until Christmas, which was a hole of a thought that kept dragging me in against my will.
Wordlessly, we moved through the quiet residential area en route, lined by iron gates and parked cars. There was not a single car on the tight road, and no movement but the shifting of little lights inside little houses. Peaceful silence, the sort of town-y silence that can only be achieved by a combination of night, streetlights and stillness.
Until, up ahead, shattering out of the shadows was a tall, sturdy body, dressed entirely in black, moving at an impossible speed towards us. He raced like that, impossibly, until his feet suddenly left the ground. He was in the air. Literally soaring – a strange bird's flight.
I gasped; Halley shrieked.
A thumping sound heaved out and it took my brain a second to register that he had landed, neatly, knees bent, on the bonnet of the first parked car in the row, which bowed very slightly under his weight and immediately began shrilling its alarm.
"Oh my God!" Halley yelled.
Almost reflexively, I swung off my small rucksack and took my cam out – I had been out with it before meeting Halley – and got it running. I focused on him – he had pulled himself up to standing and was now balancing across, shaking the whole car with every step. He rose to the hood, arms out by his sides, as though walking on a tightrope.
My eyes flashed to the space between the car and the next; it was a good half a metre away. He stilled, seemingly hesitating. Oh, God. He wasn't thinking of trying to jump that, was he?
He moved back to give himself a run-up, swung his arms forwards and his feet left the surface.
My chest seized. I felt so light all of a sudden. Light and nothing-like as dust.
Another metallic shudder. He had managed to root himself on the edge of the bonnet, which, unlike the other car, didn't dent, although still shivered violently. I let out a breath, my shoulders relaxing and my body slipping back into flesh and bone.
This jump seemed to have given him confidence – rather than balancing, as he had done with the previous car, he flung himself across it and was almost immediately back in the air again. Heavy shudder. Another car alarm rocketing off, as though he were an earthquake and this ringing was the debris he was leaving behind.
I realised only then that Halley had been shaking me. "Kasey! We need to stop him! He's… I don't even know what he's doing-"
The man was a bullet, shooting from the hood of the car into the air and then onto the final car parked in the row, which was the furthest distance away.
If he was going to injure himself, this was the fall that was going to do it.
"He did it!" I gasped, feeling somehow winded.
He launched himself onto the hood and then dived off with huge momentum, his extended arms swinging him forwards and his body arching itself downwards headfirst. He tucked himself into a roll as soon as his palms touched the concrete, his body tilted right, and he smoothly spun out of the roll, landing in a stooped but loose position well in front of the car.
Then, he did something strange. He straightened up and faced us.
Now that he was just shy of a streetlight, a pool of yellow light was holding him and I could make him out clearer. He was a good few inches taller than us, certainly muscular, and his cap, with the hood of his hoodie lifted over it, slicked a shadow over his face.
Slowly, he lowered his head and then let his body follow.
It took me a moment to realise he was bowing.
But, by that time, he had already swivelled around and fired himself across the road on our left and down a side street.
I shook myself into movement, lifting my cam, which was still recording, and charging after him.
"Kasey! Kasey, wait! Where are you going?"
I acted as though I couldn't hear her and diced away the remaining space between myself and the side street that had taken him away. Breathless, I let my frantic footsteps grind to a halt and looked left to right. He was gone.
Halley's shrill protests, and Halley herself, caught up with me. "Kasey! You know I hate running! Why are you making me run?"
"Wasn't that awesome? Totally criminal, but awesome. And I caught it all on camera!" I gushed, waving my phone in her face. I quickly moved it away when I saw her expression.
"Awesome? More like fucking psychotic!" she practically spat this at me, her curved lips frothing in the corners.
"I thought it was beautiful-" I began to contradict her, only to be interrupted by a rude scoff.
"Yeah, well, you like all the mental ones, don't you?"
That was a dig at me for liking this autistic boy in school. You have to understand that this wasn't my Halley talking, but Bitch Halley, who very occasionally reared her ugly head.
I stared at her, stunned. A pause made of stretched elastic bands followed. Taut. Unstable. Could be snapped by the slightest of movements.
"Sorry," she added. "I wasn't thinking about what I was saying. I'm just cold and tired. Come on; let's go home. I'm freezing my tits off."
I decided to just let it go, and joked, "How can you be freezing your tits off when you don't have any?"
"At least I haven't got mahoosive udders like you."
I acted offended. "Bitch."
She pulled me in for a hug – her petite dancer's frame always made me feel big and clunky when she did – and we headed home.
A/N: hello, hello! Great news - I am in the process of rewriting and re-uploading Yellow. There will be some differences - some big, some not quite as big. We'll see. Make sure you check out the rewritten shiny new prologue too. All reviews are returned (I review back).
All work by Victoria Best (id. 657454) is copyright under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.