My dear Conscious has told me countless times that love doesn’t exist. “It’s just silliness people make up in their heads,” she says. “It’s not worth it.”
The summer before sixth grade, there was a boy in my swimming classes after school. I hated those classes; I didn’t even like swimming. But I never complained. I kept at the swimming lessons, not because I thought that I should learn how to swim, but because of the boy. He was rather soft-spoken and an averagely skilled swimmer. I didn’t really have a knack for finding interest in cute faces and whatnot at the time. I didn’t even know this kid, there wasn’t anything to like. Still, I would daydream with my feet in the water, eyes on the boy and ears on the hard splash splash of his kicking.
But the problem was that I couldn’t stop thinking about him. It was more like the idea of this imaginary boy, who I could make something of. Like he was the body to a pretend person. So I guess it wasn’t love if he wasn’t real.
Reality gets to everybody eventually. And I did end up learning how to swim because of the imaginary boy schpiel. It was worth something, I guess.
So I’m now told to not fall in love, because it isn’t worth it, because it isn’t real. I listen to her anyways. But why should I listen to her? She laughs at me more than anyone else when I embarrass myself. She’s the one second-guessing my words before I speak up. She tells me that I’m always doing something wrong when I’m not. Conscious doesn’t need to work to get inside my head, because she already is. I had this idea of love in my head, something I think it should be, conjured from TV shows and my daydreams, but I’ve never had the experience until this spring break.
“So how are you feeling?” Mom asks over the hotel phone. I’m lying in the bed and I can hear James peeing from the bathroom, even with the door closed. So loud.
“I’m good,” I lie. “Where are we going tomorrow?”
“I don’t know, what do you want to do?”
“I thought you were supposed to have this planned out.” I sigh.
“We’ll figure it out in the morning,” Mom suggests.
“Okay. Bye sweetie, I love you.”
“Love you too,” I say and hang up. I’m just glad that we’re out of the Hellhole they call the airport. The worst part is security. Even though you know you don’t have anything to hide, it makes me nervous when the security officers are cranky. They give you a menacing, suspicious look when you show them your ID, and it makes me feel like if I do anything wrong I may as well be swallowed whole by the dirty, germy ground I have to put my bare feet on.
So now, I sleep, and then tomorrow is L.A. Here We Come Day. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure it’ll be fun, but I’m not convinced I’ll love anything we do.
I’m first to wake up, but James is the first to get out of bed. I just stay underneath the covers and play on my phone until he’s done with the bathroom, and even then I don’t feel like getting up. Mom calls on the hotel phone again, telling us we have to be ready in ten minutes to get downstairs before breakfast closes. I look at the clock. 8:10.
“Damn, why do these Californian people eat breakfast so early?” I wonder aloud.
“I’m guessing most of the people at this hotel aren’t from California,” James says. I roll my eyes with a ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah.” I slowly stand up with a long groan that lasts as I get dressed and ready. When I emerge from the bathroom, James is back in his bed, snuggled up in the white linen comforter. He laughs, but eventually follows me down to the breakfast buffet. Mom and Dad awaited us there, both busy on their plates. The small restaurant in the small hotel had a small assortment of food. Not surprising.
“So, Indigo, do you have anything in mind?” Mom asks me as I sit down at the table.
“Uh, I don’t know…” I murmur.
“I was thinking we could see a movie, or go to the beach,” Mom suggests. I look at the other members of our family. Dad is unattentive and looking at his phone, I assume on Yelp looking for fun attractions in L.A.. James is snarfing down bacon and pancakes, nodding along to the dull conversation every now and then.
“Sure, I guess so,” I say, “I’d be fine with whatever.” The list goes on, back and forth, discussing what would be the least waste of time.
“What about the observatory?” Dad adds, looking up from his phone. I say nothing, because that actually sounds fun. I guess Mom can see it in my face, because hers lights up.
“That’s settled,” she says with a smile. We finish our food and make our way to the L.A. Observatory. It isn’t hot, but rather warm, and the sky is cloudless and sunny. It’s strange, very unlike Oregon. Spring is my favorite season, even if it was often rainy in Portland. Spring always has a ‘fresh’ feeling, like a new beginning for everyone, even the birds. The beginning of Spring is the transition from slushy snow to pouring rain in the seasonal North, but in this desert it’s more like a transition from less hot to moderately hot.
“We’re here!” Dad announces. I don’t see any observatory. We’re just on the side of a rocky hill.
“No we aren’t,” I say.
“Yeah, it’s just up the road. You can see it eventually. It’s a big building with some dome ceilings and it’s on the edge of a cliff.”
“I said it’s a big--”
“That was a rhetorical question,” I explain. We get out of the car. Dang, it is a little hot. I wore tights when I shouldn’t have. You can’t just up and take off your tights in public. I mean, you can, it’s easy, but people look at you weirdly. The observatory was just a mile up the cliff, but the sidewalk was definitely uphill and I was tired. Not only was I sweating a lot, but my tights kept sagging and I had to ‘subtly’ pull them up every two minutes. When we reached the building, I had to go to the bathroom so bad; luckily I was already drenched in sweat so nobody would notice if I peed myself. James was waiting for me outside the bathroom.
“Indy, did you see the dryers? They were those cool ones that you put your hands inside and it blasts air on them as you pull them out,” James laughs.
“They’re so loud, it’s bothering,” I reply with a chuckle. I looked around for Mom and Dad. “Where’d they go?”
“Oh, they left to look at some exhibits. There’s a planetarium show at noon, we’re gonna go to that. It’s eleven.”
“Oh, okay.” James goes on his own to look at an exhibit about how black holes work. I’m left to explore this place myself. I was too busy frantically searching for the bathroom, but when you walk into the observatory, theres a grand hole in the ground, with a fence around the edges of it. In the center of the hole hangs a large pendulum, swinging from the ceiling. Tock, swoosh, tock, swoosh, and every time the pendulum touches the side of the hole, it swings back in a slightly different direction. It was a gargantuan clock, and the weight at the end of the pendulum keeps it running forever. I try to lean out over the brass fence and touch the pendulum, but it’s just out of reach. I wonder for a second that if I stopped the pendulum, it would stop time. I keep stretching my tiny arm into the hole, as far as it could go, when I hear an unfamiliar voice.
“Don’t touch the pendulum, you might mess up the all of time,” the stranger says with a giggle. I turn my head, hoping I don’t look too scared. It isn’t a threat, I’m not in danger. It’s a girl, who looks about my age. She has shiny auburn hair in perfect locks, tied in a perfect side ponytail, with a perfect round face and a perfect little button nose. Her expression is confident and amused, like she actually cares. I could tell, even then, that she was out of this world. “Um, are you okay?”
“Oh, um, yeah,” I stammer. I hope I wasn’t looking at her for that long.
“My name’s Saffron,” the girl introduces herself with a warm smile. I smile back. Not a fake smile you shoot back when someone asks how you’ve been doing, or when you’re not hungry but want to be polite anyways, or when you want something from them. No, a real smile, that rises up from your chest in a flutter and slowly spreads across your face.
“I’m Indigo,” I reply, still grinning. I feel like I must look like a deranged monkey that is about to ambush its enemy, but Saffron doesn’t seem intimidated. She actually looks glad to meet me. I am too. “It’s nice to meet you,” I add.
“Nice to meet you, too,” she says. I look around, hoping to find an exhibit or something to look at. Something interesting, anything, anything at all to keep this conversation going. My hands are clammy and I feel nauseous. Saffron steps closer and puts her hand on my shoulder. “Are you sure you’re alright?” she asks, sounding more concerned this time. I’m shocked, like this girl has sent a bolt of electricity from her hand and through my body. I wipe my hands on my legs and casually steady myself on the railing surrounding the big pit. I nod, not too fast, not too slow, and try a natural smile again, but I can’t feel it flutter upwards from my lungs.
“What are you talking about? I’m fine,” I convince myself. Saffron smiles again, and those cute dimples return to her cheeks.
“You’re really something,” she says, shaking her head in a playful manner. If any other stranger had said this to me, a tornado of thoughts would whirl up in my mind, trying to figure out what that phrase meant. But this time, I took it as a compliment. Because I just knew that she meant it as one.
Saffron and I explored the observatory together, looking at models and exhibits but not actually reading the information on them. We talked about ourselves and the meaning of life, we played ‘would you rather’ and voiced over conversations of people we saw from afar. We discussed our favorite TV shows and our favorite places to be and our favorite ice cream flavors. I know Stranger Danger is a legitimate principle, but Saffron was definitely not a predator or working for thugs. Saffron is a friend. I guess I had friends back in Portland, but I don’t know if I could actually consider them friends; they were never there for me. If I had disappeared from the face of the earth, they would never notice. But I’ve known Saffron for about an hour and a half and she’s already the greatest friend I’ve ever had.
We’re examining a rocket exhibit when I hear James’s voice, calling me. I follow the sound, and Saffron follows me, and we find him.
“Hey, the show is on soon, come on,” he explains. I swallow.
“James, this is Saffron, my friend,” I say, pulling her into view. “This is my brother, James.”
“Nice to meet you, your sister is lovely,” Saffron says with one of her heavenly smiles. James smiles back and shakes her hand. I feel the blood rush to my face when she says it.
We join Mom and Dad in the planetarium and I sit in between Saffron and James. The lights dim until the whole room is dark, and the dome’s ceiling lights up and the show starts. The show is fascinating, but I can’t focus. I can’t stop thinking about her being there, next to me, inches away. I’m too aware of every single little movement I make. But then, Saffron puts her hand on mine and gives it a little squeeze. It surprises me, but I squeeze back, and we keep our hands held secretly until the show ended. I might be imagining it, but I think I saw James glance at us. I shrug it off.
I spent the rest of the week with Saffron. I would tell my parents I’m taking a walk, and I’d meet her someplace in L.A.. She showed me her favorite spots in the city. We went on countless adventures. I could almost feel a different person inside of me. Someone who wasn’t afraid to slip past a ‘do not enter’ sign or to walk in the street at night. I felt newer, fresher, and as the trees became greener I became livelier. Spring, a time to shed your skin and bask in the sun. I’d never realized how breathtaking the sky could be. It was just as sunny and beautiful as Saffron.
Before this spring break, I had never experienced love. But I also didn’t believe in it. It’s not like I refused to believe in it if I hadn’t seen it. I’ve seen it everywhere; in movies, PDA in the street… it was nice, but I didn’t think that it was real. I don’t know what I thought. That it was propaganda? I just didn’t believe in it if I’d never really felt it.
Now, I believe in love. I believe in it more than anything I’ve ever felt.
I’m falling hard for Saffron. And now, I’m more confused than ever, but it’s worth it. Today is the last day I have with her before we fly home. But I don’t want to leave. I never want to leave her. So I’m going to ask to move here, to L.A., to be with Saffron.
We’re on the boardwalk, sitting on a bench. The beach is almost empty, with only a couple people walking their dogs. All I can hear are the gulls crying and the breathing of the ocean. The sky is cloudy today. Saffron looks anxious, she keeps shifting her weight. Something is wrong.
“Indigo,” Saffron says abruptly. “Ah, um…”
“Yeah?” She looks away.
“I’m just going to miss you a lot,” she says, her voice slightly shaky.
“Are you okay?” I ask. She must know something.
“N-no,” Saffron stammers. “I gotta tell her,” I overhear her mutter to herself.
“I like you, Indigo,” she blurts, her eyes shut tight. Her hands are white, clenching the edge of the bench. My heart skips a beat.
“Oh,” is all I can get out of my throat. My hands start getting clammy and I feel like I’m falling. Or am I flying? Is there a difference?
“I like you a lot, and you can’t go. You can’t leave,” she chokes. I feel really, really bad.
“I don’t want to go.” My vision goes blurry, and I feel the tears fall, and I feel her closer, and I feel her kiss me, and I feel like a thousand birds are lifting me into outer space and then I melt.
But we went anyways.
James had blurted about me and Saffron when I was with her. Turns out he had seen us holding hands at the planetarium show, figured out who I was spending all my ‘alone time’ with and put two and two together. The parents aren’t angry at me, they’re not disappointed or devastated. They don’t seem to be caring that much. They just don’t believe me.
“Indy, we’re not staying here. It’s just a crush. You’re too young to know what you want, anyways,” Dad persists.
“I do know what I want, though,” I reply with a lump in my throat.
“You might think you do right now,” Mom says sweetly, “but you can’t.”
“I can, I do,” I declare, the volume of my voice rising. I didn’t want the swimmer boy, or any other boy for that matter. I wanted Saffron.
“Calm down. I’m very sorry, honey, but that’s just the way it is. We have to go home.”
I am voiceless. Weak. My eyes fill with tears and I feel hot anger well inside of me, rising up my chest. There is nothing I can do. I need to throw something, kick something, run away as fast as I can. But I can’t, because if I do they’d scold me for acting up.
So I say nothing. I look up at them from my feet, chin held high, and give them the worst look I have. I leave their hotel room and take the elevator by myself to the 4th floor. I open the door to James’ and my room to find him relaxing in his bed. He springs up, and starts apologizing like crazy. I wave him off and lock myself in the bathroom. I haven’t cried for years. I let it all out in one day.
We pack our bags in the morning to leave Los Angeles. I’m not weak anymore. I’m not strong, either. I’m just okay. When we get in line for airport security, my hands don’t sweat and my jaw doesn’t shake.
Saffron was fearless. She was exquisitely sweet. She was as beautiful as the sky. It was a bitter feeling to have left her.
I never believed in love. But Saffron proved everything that my dear Conscious stood for completely wrong. Saffron proved that love is real. Because I didn’t believe in love until I felt it.