The boy was crying again. Why did he always do that? It wasn’t like it was that bad. She watched from the sand pit, interested, as the biggest of the trio around him gave him a shove. Not a hard shove, but it unbalanced him, nonetheless; sent him stumbling back into one of the others, overbalancing and falling on his hindquarters with a thump. He dropped his ball, the little sphere of it bouncing a few times on the dusty ground. He didn’t try to pick it up, too busy raising an arm to wipe a sleeve across his eyes. The older boy stooped for the ball and grabbed it, saying a quiet word to the other two before stepping away. They didn’t care about him. They just wanted the ball.
She watched him a moment longer as he sat there, seemingly lost to the world around him, before he raised his face towards the cloudy sky, closed his eyes, and began to wail. She rolled her eyes. Why were boys so lame? She let out a huff, then pulled herself to her feet.
Right. Time to deal with this.
She made no effort to be quiet as she stomped over to the boy; it wasn’t as if he’d have noticed either way, with all the noise he was making. Once there, she squatted down beside him, thought for a second, and came up with the perfect plan. She extended an arm towards him, one finger outstretched from the rest, and pressed the tip of it against his cheek, pushing him sideways hard enough to unbalance him again.
The boy stopped his mewling, more out of surprise really than because he felt any better. He opened his eyes and gazed across at her in a bleary sort of confusion.
“Hi!” She smiled. “I’m Kayley. Wanna come make sandcastles?”
“W-wha?” The boy began, but he didn’t really get any further; she’d already taken hold of his wrist, tugging him back towards the sandpit. Kayley had learned one vital lesson in her short life, and that was that to get what you want, you don’t wait for people to agree with you before you start doing things.
“What’s your name?” She asked, glancing back at the boy as he stumbled along in her wake, bobbing like a heavier than average balloon.
“Uhh… Liam? I-I’m Lia-”
“Nice ta meetcha, Liam!” She interrupted, grinning widely at him as they reached their destination, taking him by the shoulders and pivoting around on the spot to half shove, half throw the boy into the sandpit. “Now, we’re gonna make the best sandcastle that’s ever happened ever, kay?”
For a moment or two, the boy simply stared at her; then, tremulously, he allowed himself a smile.
She nodded approvingly as she plopped herself down in the sand alongside him, passing the quiet boy her spare spade. She gave him the brown one. The yellow one was hers, because yellow was better. It didn’t bother her when the clouds built up overhead, covering their sand pit with a light sprinkling of rain. It didn’t bother Liam, either. Sand was easier to work with in the rain.
Middle school, him:
“I don’t care what you say, the old Blade Runner was way better,” Liam said lightly, popping a chip into his mouth from the bag between them. “It had cooler fights and better detective stuff. Plus? Harrison Ford.” Kayley opened her mouth to reply, but he cut her off. “Before you say it, Harrison Ford, when he was cool and hot. Girls like that, right?”
“Well, yeah,” Kayley admitted grudgingly. “But so what? The new one’s got cute guys too, you know. Plus there’s way more stuff going on and the fight scenes are cooler to watch!” She paused there to shove a fistful of his chips into her mouth, munching loudly on them while looking him dead in the eye, daring him to comment. He didn’t. He knew a losing game when he saw one.
“Yeah, but it’s not just about cool fight scenes, though.” He muttered, reaching into the packet, his fingers searching for a moment, only to find it empty. He scowled at her and she gave him a sly grin, her lips parting to show a couple of chip fragments still stuck to her teeth. He shook his head. There were some times, just some, when he felt that she did these things just to annoy him. “And come on. You gotta admit you can’t beat the first one’s lines.” He pulled back for a moment, clearing his throat, then gave her his best android impression, gazing at the wall behind her to keep his performance pure. “All those… moments… will be lost in time. Like… tears… in… rain.”
He returned his gaze to her, grinning, only for the empty chip packet to hit him lightly in the face.
“You’re such a doooork,” she groaned, rolling her eyes. “Why do you even know that speech? It’s laaaame!”
Liam wasn’t looking at her. He was too busy staring at the empty chip packet. Kayley had been getting… frustrating, recently. He took a deep breath and stood up, snatching the packet off of the table. The snack theft was nothing new, but the teasing? That had amped up a notch recently.
“… I’m gonna get more chips.” He muttered, still not looking at her.
He walked away, crushing the chip packet into a ball in his fist and trying his best to ignore the call of: “Oh, come on, baby boo! Don’t be like that!” That echoed out into the hallway after him.
He stomped down the barely filled hallways towards his locker, fuming, and tossed the crumpled up chip packet into a bin on the way past. Why did she always do stuff to make him mad lately? It was infuriating. Why was she like this? It was like everything she ever did was planned to be just as annoying to him as she could make it. He checked his surroundings for teachers, before grumbling a few of his favorite curses under his breath.
He made it to his locker and put in the code on his lock, before giving it a tug. Nothing. Of course not. He always got it wrong when he was angry. He tried again. Nope. He had to mentally restrain himself from headbutting the locker out of sheer frustration. He forced himself to breathe deep, then very, very carefully, he entered the code. It clicked open. Finally.
He pulled his bag forwards and opened the lip, half-heartedly digging around inside it for the second chip packet. He always brought two along just in case Kayley decided to act like a thief again. He didn’t even know why he bothered acting surprised anym-
His thoughts were cut short when a finger flicked him hard in the back of the head, a pointed nail digging for a short moment against the skin. He let out a grunt of pain and turned to face whoever it was, ready to kill someone, when Kayley stepped forward and gently pressed her lips to his.
It tasted of salt. Salt and potatoes. His eyes went wide. His cheeks red. This… this was new. She pulled away, smiling impishly at him.
“Still mad?” She asked. Had he been mad before? He couldn’t remember. He didn’t think he’d been mad. There wasn’t any reason to be. Why did everything feel so warm all of a sudden?
“I-I uhh… you… Wha?” He tried, four or five distinct questions all fighting a losing battle for control of his shock-paralyzed tongue.
She giggled at him.
“Yeah. That’s pretty much what I was going for. Come on, nerd!” She grabbed his hand, pulling him back towards the cafeteria. “Keep telling me why I’m wrong about stuff.”
Kayley was laughing. She couldn’t help it. Liam was just too funny sometimes.
“Aww, C’mon, buddy,” she giggled, shifting forwards on the bed a little to wrap her arms around his shoulders. “I’m not even mad!”
“Please don’t,” he whined, still refusing to look at her. “Please? I… Look. It was the first time a-and I swear it doesn’t normally do that, and-” He was cut off there by another burst of laughter that, try as she might, Kayley just didn’t have the constitution to hold back. He stared at the bedsheets clumped pointlessly over his still mostly clad legs, his face glowing with the heat and intensity of a dying star.
After a few moments, she managed to force herself to stop and pressed her lips against his cheek.
“It’s okay, dude,” she murmured. “I guess I came on a bit too hard. Was I going too fast for you again?”
“… W-well,” he mumbled. “Turning up naked on my bed didn’t help, okay? I got… excited.”
This time, through an immense force of will, Kayley managed to keep a straight face as he spoke, even managing to look a little sympathetic.
“Well, that’s understandable,” she chuckled. “We both know I can be pretty exciting… Does that mean you’re giving up on me?”
“… No.” He grumbled eventually, grinning slightly in spite of himself.
“… And are you gonna just sit there and feel sorry for yourself when I’m right here and ready to go?” She asked, leaning forwards slightly to make him as aware as she could of her chest against his back. “Or are you gonna let loose for once and take me on an adventure?”
She hadn’t realized it was possible a moment ago, but if anything, Liam blushed even harder at that. It did the trick, though, because the boy laughed as he turned to face her, a hand settling lightly on her waist. He was shaking far less this time.
“I think I’mma go with an adventure.” He murmured, his eyes glittering slightly.
“Heh,” she chuckled, leaning in and resting her forehead on his. “There we go.”
Liam prodded at the bag of pills on the small kitchen table of their two-person dorm room. Of course she’d gotten drugs. Why was he even surprised? What part of his best friend, girlfriend, and semi-acceptable roommate would not be the sort of person to wanna try these? She was an arts student, for fuck’s sake.
“… Are you asking my permission?” He asked, looking across at the couch on which she lay. “Cuz this’d kinda be the first time you did that, you know.”
Kayley shrugged, her external calm undershot slightly by the consistency with which she continued to avoid his gaze.
“Well, not permission,” she started, pulling at the edge of a second-hand cushion for something to do. “More like… well, I know you can get kinda uptight about this sort of stuff, and I… I wanted you to know, you know? I didn’t want to have to keep it a secret. So, are you okay with it?”
Liam thought about it for a long moment, then sighed.
“You said you got these at a party?” He asked.
“Yeah,” she replied, defensive. “But the guy I took ‘em from was on them, and he seemed fine the whole night, so I figured they’d be okay, right?”
“… I have two conditions to be okay with it,” he said slowly, lifting the pill bag up between them. She opened her mouth to say something, but he cut her off. “You stay with me the whole time… and you let me take two of them.”
Kayley was silent for a long moment at that, staring at him.
“You wanna try these?” She asked, cocking an eyebrow. “Since when?”
“You always told me I should be more adventurous. Maybe I just feel like going on an adventure.”
“… Liar,” she grinned. “You just don’t wanna let me take all four of em, do you?”
“Do we have a deal?” He asked, ignoring her.
It was raining when the two of them stepped out of their dorm. Not a heavy rain, just a light pattering of droplets falling all around, ensuring that everything within the purview of the clouds would forever be slightly damp. His favorite kind of weather, to be honest.
They made their way across the campus in the dim light of the moon, heading towards their special place: a small grassy spot with a couple of benches, placed just between both of their respective faculty buildings. Lunches here were a little magical in a way, he thought.
“You really gonna do this with me?” Kayley asked when they finally reached the place, brushing wet hair out of her eyes with a hand. “Cuz I promise not to judge if you back out. It’s no fun if you don’t wanna do i-”
That was as far as she made it before he kissed her, enjoying one of the few moments in their time together when he actually had the chance to take the lead.
“You know your problem?” He smirked. “You think too much.” Then, without another word, he fished his half of the pills from his pocket and popped them in his mouth, tilting his head back in the rain for some water to swallow them with. He looked back at her. “You gonna pussy out on me?”
“… You’re so damn hot right now.” She grinned, following suit.
They lay together on the grass for a time, just holding hands, looking up at the moon and the stars through breaks in the clouds. When the pills kicked in, they were subtle. The lights were a little brighter now, the feeling of her hand in his infinitely warmer in the rain. In the back of his mind, he knew she was talking. Some half understood line of thought about wishing she could paint it all. He just gripped her hand a little tighter and gazed up at the stars, wondering if anything had ever been so beautiful.
One year, her:
Kayley awoke with a groan to the sound of Liam’s alarm. God damn it. Another fucking morning. Beside her, she heard her boyfriend sigh, accompanied by the faint clinking noise of his hand searching blindly at his bedside for the off switch. After a few moments, the awful beeping stopped, the two of them breathing a collective sigh of relief. They lay there for a minute, neither wanting to admit they had to rise, before Liam spoke in a quiet murmur.
“…You take first shower, I make coffee?”
“You’re the best boyfriend ever, you know that?”
“Eh,” he grumbled, his voice muffled for a moment by his pillow as he began attempting to climb out of bed using only his legs. “Special treatment today. New interview. You get all the good juju.”
“Ah, fuck,” she groaned, pushing herself upright and leaning down for a moment to plant a kiss against his neck. “You had to remind me.”
“Too late,” she muttered as she climbed out of bed. “Showering. Apologize with coffee.”
The water was cold. Of course the water was cold. Why wouldn’t it be, the way her life worked right now? The pilot light must have gone out in the storm. A part of her wished Liam earned enough to afford a better boiler. A bigger part of her felt bad for wishing that when he’d supported her so far in the year since graduation with his boring ass job. As it turned out, getting work in animation was hard. Really, really hard. This new place was the first one to even reply to her portfolio in months.
She finished her shower quickly, not wanting to spend too long in the chill, and toweled the important parts of herself dry, mooching back into the bedroom for a shirt big enough to throw on for breakfast. The interview was late, she had time.
She wandered her way through to their kitchen and frowned slightly as the scent of bacon met her nose. It wasn’t the usual bacon smell. The budget bacon packs they tended to subsist on gave off very little of their aroma as they cooked, shaved clean of all the juiciest bits of fat and meat. This was stronger. Mouthwatering.
“Liam,” she murmured, approaching her equally poorly dressed companion as he worked the stove. “Why do I smell expensive food?”
“I thought I said before,” he replied, flashing her that same boyish smile he’d had as a kid. “You get good juju today, so don’t complain. Just sit down, drink your coffee, and wait while I cook your damn bacon, kay?”
“… Fine,” she agreed, giving him a peck on the cheek before making her way to the coffee pot. “But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”
“Yeah yeah,” he chuckled, flicking the meat onto a plate with his spatula, accompanied by a couple of eggs. “You don’t have to thank me till after you get the job, kay?” He passed her the plate. “But afterwards? All the blowjobs. We agreed?”
Kayley didn’t bother dignifying that one with a response as she took her seat. Instead, she took a bite of her bacon, and genuinely tried to suppress a moan, letting her eyes drift closed as she savored the flavor. She felt him place a peck against her forehead on his way towards the shower.
“I believe in you, okay? You got this!”
She shook her head at that, trying to hide a smile. Such a dork.
One and a half years, him:
Liam strummed at the guitar strings for a few moments, trying desperately to remember the shape his teacher had shown him to make a chord with. The sounds it was producing could charitably be called music, he thought. Maybe he was making progress. Kayley hadn’t said it sounded like a castrated beaver for a while. To be honest, she hadn’t passed any comment at all, these last few nights. Or said much in the mornings, for that matter. She’d been quiet. Kayley was never quiet.
He pushed the thought from his mind. She was just tired. Ever since she’d scored that job, she’d been spending half her life at the studio. He chuckled. That was why he’d started learning the guitar to start with. She was away so much these days, that for the first time in his life, he actually needed something to do when she wasn’t around to hang with. It was… new, being home alone so much. He didn’t judge her for it, though. She was living her dream. He strummed another chord, and this one, to his surprise, actually sounded like it had when his teacher had shown it to him.
He liked his guitar. Maybe he’d have something to play for her someday. Probably a weekend, though. Or at least on a day when she didn’t just go straight to bed. She’d been so tired recently.
Two years, her:
Kayley stared at her monitor, unmoving, trying to will her hand to move the stylus across the trackpad. She needed to draw something. She needed a starting point. It was meant to be a forest backdrop, right? Then go with green. Go.
With what felt like a herculean effort, she pushed the stylus across the pad, selected a color, and used the brush app to dab a blot of it into the middle of the screen. Then, she kept staring at it. Nothing moved. There was no spark. No forests sprang to life around it in her mind. No great vistas like the ones that had gotten her the damn job. Everything felt grey and cold in her mind right now, and she lacked even the energy to find it weird. Belatedly, she realized the blot she’d been staring at wasn’t even green. It was blue.
She knew what this was, of course. She’d dealt with stuff like this before; on and off since high school, really. Her doctor at the time had given her meds, and they’d helped, in their way, but they made things weird for a while; made it hard to think, to draw. She couldn’t take that time right now. Not with deadlines looming this close. She moved her stylus and slowly changed the blot to green.
Her monitor pinged, chiming an alert from the office email client. She tore her eyes gratefully from that damned splot and opened the new window.
The message was short and clear. It brooked no arguments.
‘Kayley. You’ve been staring at that screen for two days. I’ve seen this before, and powering through doesn’t work. Take some time off. Come back when you’re together. Alan.’
She had to read it three times before the meaning finally began to seep its way into her mind. God, she was tired. She wondered if it should have made her sad to read it. It felt like being called a failure, and being called a failure was supposed to make people sad, right? She tried for a while to be sad about it, then went back to staring at the dot. Why not? There was nothing else to do.
Three years, him:
It had been a long drive to get back to the old college campus. Worth it, though. His car had nearly given up the ghost on the ride across, but he didn’t mind. He stepped out of the open door, and looked up towards the cloudy sky. It looked like rain. He smiled.
It was a long walk to get back to their picnic spot and along the way, it did indeed begin to rain. The same light drizzle that had highlighted all of their better days. He stood under the light patter for a moment, scratching at the scraggly beard that had grown unevenly along his chin. He really should have shaved, he thought. It would be far better if he’d shaved. He shrugged off his coat and dropped it on the ground behind him, letting the water tap gently over his back. It was better that he could feel it.
He reached the grassy spot after a time, and took a deep breath through his nose. The same smell of fresh grass and pine that he remembered filled his mind, radiating something warm through every inch of him. He liked the memories it evoked. They helped to keep him calm.
In his pocket, he heard his phone chime, and dug it out, curious. It was a text.
‘Liam. Please call. You don’t have to handle this alone. Where are you?’
His mother. He flicked the message aside with his thumb and, for a moment, caught sight of his mobile’s wallpaper.
He could still remember the day he’d taken that picture of her. Good god, had she always been that beautiful? He smiled, slipping his phone back into his pocket and taking a seat on one of the moisture clad benches that lined the grass.
He craned his neck to look up at the night sky, looking for a trace of stars among the clouds.
He laughed. Of course not. Kayley had never let him get exactly what he wanted. Why break the habit now? He dug his hand in his other pocket, and pulled out the pill bottle.
It wasn’t an act done with ceremony. He simply flicked the lid off with a thumb and brought the opening to his lips. They tasted foul. Covered in that ashy sugar stuff that was so often used to coat pills these days. He dropped the bottle to the ground and reclined back in his seat, gazing up at the sky.
It happened just as he felt himself drifting off; a break in the clouds through which he could catch just the barest glimpse of the moon, sitting against a backdrop of a half dozen stars. He felt something run down from the corner of his eye at the sight of them shining so bright up there, and remembered an argument from years ago. Blade Runner.
“All those moments will be lost in time,” he murmured, feeling another faint touch trickling down his cheek. “Like tears in rain.”