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only love can hurt like this

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The streets run awash with the streams of the latest downpour, water that splashes past her carelessly in search of dips and storm drains. Cordelia cringes as a rising puddle infiltrates her sneakers by scaling the top; it renders her socks soggy and cold, and they squelch in their upset.

She grumbles the entire way home, wondering why her Mom couldn’t have given her a ride from the Benson's. There'd been exasperated mutterings of no time on the other end of their landline. With a set of hunched shoulders, she’d waited for the worst of the rain to give way before setting off back to their modest home. It sits nestled amongst a neatly placed set of more modest homes, on a modest little street, with regular trees lining the sidewalk. Nothing to stand out from the conformity.

Their home can at least be given distinction by the yellow door blindingly calling her closer. A kind of pleasant mustard that her father had painted the day they moved in saying it was as bright as her smile.

She wears that smile on the approach, abandoning her white framed bicycle in the front yard beside sagging viburnum. When it lands and tries to squash some of the stems, she uses those saturated shoes to nudge it onto the cracked path instead.

Just in time, as the return of the raindrops patters on her bare arm. Cordelia shivers, and rushes for that door with haste.

Inside, it doesn’t feel much warmer. She gently pads through the hall, then the kitchen, tiled in a lime green that stands shyly against the dark cabinets. “Mom?” she yells.

“Mom!”

Her shoes are shrugged off before she reaches the carpeted floor. Socks too, for fear that they might leave wet marks on the plushy fabric.

They are left scrumpled in a neat pile, just at the threshold, and Cordelia sets into a light jog. Her damp skin prickles with the stubborn cold, all bumpy where the sleeve of her red pinafore dress ends. Her twitching nose follows the thick scent of cigarette smoke. To no surprise, she finds her mother behind a cloud of it in the dim lights of the master bedroom.

If the woman spots her tentatively holding onto the doorframe, she makes no indication of it.

Cordelia gives a weary sigh, eyes raking her mother up and down to take in sight of her work dress. A sleek black affair that runs the length of her slim torso and hugs in all her curves. “You’re working at the club tonight?”

“It's Friday, of course I am – do you ever pay attention?”

The nine year old ignores the snotty retort. It serves no purpose other than to make her stomach knot. And she detangles it by watching Fiona tease and plump her hair with creams and sprays that add a sharp chemical scent to the bitter smoke.

“Does that mean that Miss Myrtle is babysitting?” She tries not to get too giddy at that. After all, she doesn’t want her Mom thinking that she prefers the company of said other woman.

Even if sometimes she thinks it’s true. Myrtle is a strange woman, an entrancing one with a wild nest of hair and bulging glasses that always makes the girl giggle. Behind her eccentric appearance, there are tales and stories enough to keep Cordelia's imagination altogether rampant.

She practically floats at the idea of picking Myrtle's brain again tonight; perhaps she'll ask about her escapades in South America, or when she'd accidentally ended up in Switzerland instead of France due to a last minute translation error. Perhaps, more excitingly, she'll get a whole new adventure to share in and gush over.

Fiona squishes her long cigarette into the ash tray, a glass circle that glistens in her bedside lamp. “She's on her way. Now go entertain yourself until she gets here.”

Disbelief floods through her. “But – I just got back.”

“And you can go play again. Go in the yard or something where you can’t bother me.” The woman insists, leaning closer to the mirror to curl her thin eyelashes in concentration.

“It’s raining, Mom.” She half groans, head thrown back to indicate the unjust nature of it all.

Now, her mother finally takes notice of her. More to glare at first, for Cordelia having the audacity to question her orders. Though it gives her the opportunity to study the rather bedraggled sight of her only child.

Her lips quirk, unimpressed. “Oh, look at you, Cordelia. You are a mess.”

“Well, I had to walk home.” She bites back, the high pitch of her tone ever so irritable. “The tyre on my bike is flat.”

Anger flashes through dark eyes, like a tiny explosion. “You little. . .I just got that fixed.”

Cordelia hides further behind the wall, leaning her weight on one foot and swinging the other idly back and forth. “It just happened – I – "

“You always do this.” She slices against any rebuttal and refuses to let it be heard. “I don’t know why I bother buying you things. You ruin everything! Then you come back with some sob story of how Madison Montgomery has one, and you need it too, or how else could you possibly go on?” Mocking sits heavily on her words, with a healthy batch of exasperation; the last bit, though emotive, is muttered between the application of lipstick. “Honestly, I don’t know why I ever had a kid.”

Cordelia frowns, allowing her head to drop slightly. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

“Go play outside while I finish getting ready. You’re throwing me off.”

“But - "

She’s waved away hurriedly. “Go.” Already, she is reaching for another cigarette as though the few minutes in her presence is enough to suffice the calming action. “And if you’ve left your bike on the front lawn again. . .”

Cordelia straightens, spine painfully erect, with a panicked little gasp. She rushes from the spot, toes wiggling against the threads of the carpet. The rain is heavier as she stands at the kitchen door, shrugging on boots over bare feet that refuse to accept them easily.

Groaning, she just about squeezes those feet in and surges around the side of the house to find the object in question gathering raindrops. It squeaks a little as she yanks it up, tilting awkwardly backwards with the flat rear tyre. Such a sight brings disappointment coating her insides. It’s going to take weeks to get that fixed.

As it is, the bike is taken dejectedly to the back yard, a mourning of her loss in every step. She doesn’t even care as her straight hair twists slightly on the ends with the weight of water, cold and persistent.

The lawn before her at least seems grateful for the deluge, beige grasses pooling with even beiger pools. Few trees line the perimeter, just enough to block their neighbor’s view inside. Thankfully really, seeing as her mother despises the neighbors. Everyone, really. The only thing she loves is a cigarette between slender fingers and the company of an adoring man.

Cordelia casts that thought away, blinking into a creased forehead when those puddles display something rather odd. A light, a warm and orange glow that dances prettily like a firefly. Only, this house is far too ordinary and mundane to host such a bright little creature. Yet the light persists. Now, a light isn’t strange in itself. Quite common, actually. The streetlamps not far away are already beginning to twitch into life and expel their own lease of life into the dim sky.

No, light isn’t strange; the strange, and rather alarming, thing about this light is that it pokes through the doorway of her tree house. Pausing, her features pinch and squeeze together, lips just parted. “What the. . .?”

Her bike goes abandoned again, the poor thing not hitting the ground this time, but thrown haphazardly into reel of the broken hose. Cordelia ignores it, scrambling forward. The saturated ground offers nought but a slippery surface to stumble over, and she just about manages to reach the maple tree. Slickness finds her hands, alongside green moss that stains her palms.

She stares, neck craning all the way back so she can judge the expanse of the climb. One she’s done before, but not for a while. A long time, actually. Not since her Daddy died a few months ago.

Once her left foot is neatly perched on the ladder, the rest comes with muscle memory and she scales upwards easily.

With each hop upwards, the branches grow in numbers, thick barrels of bark that dwindle toward the end. Even though there are the spindly forks of the tree's many arms in her peripherals, her focus goes to the hatch just above. One that she touches quickly with her arm flat against it.

For just a second, she is nervous.

She doesn’t know the reason why the light is on. It seems strange, after so long. No chance of being a mere accident.

Maybe she should descend the ladders, go tell her Mom and have her check. . .

No, she can do this. It’s her treehouse, after all; her Daddy had said so. And so the responsibility falls plainly in her shoulders, right? Right?

Her tongue feels heavy in her mouth, bulbous and gangly. But she’s brave, maybe, until the wooden planks above her clatter with movement. Footsteps. Light little things, an imp on the loose in her tree house. The complete opposite to the cumbersome way that her heart jumps inside of her.

Then, something falls. One of her things. “Dammit!”

Said muttering confirms it all, a squatter within. Hiding. Using things that were only meant for her and her Daddy.

“That’s it.” Cordelia announces, feathers ruffled and in a great display of intimidating.

With that bristle and burst of nerve within, she all but shoots through the way. Words are exploding from within before she can even register what she’s looking at. “You better get out of here or I’ll – "

“Arrrghh!”

The scream, shrill and lasting, almost has Cordelia slipping from her perch on the neatly built ladders. As she falls back, she claws out for the nearest solid object. That being the leg of the girl that has infiltrated the room.

She yelps again. “Ahh!” Shaking her limb frantically, the blonde struggles to rid herself of that stubborn hold. “Get off of me!”

Cordelia doesn’t quite see her face at first, but there is a mask of unruly blonde tresses that remind her of a mop. It jumps about, as though trying to clean the very air of panic around it.

In the movement, books are strewn to the floor, drawings pulled from their perfectly placed pins on the walls. And Cordelia, too, is sent askew. She loses her footing, traction stolen by the rain, and slips on the spot.

A noise escapes her, alarmed and winded, as her chest is concaved with the push of wood into it. Legs wildly move, a swaying pendulum, and hands pat and smack to drag her higher. “No, no, no.”

She can barely think over the sound of her own pulse, a percussion that little bit too loud. Glancing up, she desperately searches for a savior.

And it comes in the form of two piercing blue eyes, poking through a mass of hair. The intruder must realise the danger. “Oh, shoot.” She lunges forward, sneakers creaking with each step, and uses a set of warm hands to grip onto Cordelia.

They first latch onto her pinafore, then spread the length down her upper arm. “Here.” She starts sweetly, close to Cordelia's ear. With double the strength, the girl is easily lifted from her precarious position, guided by a soft touch. Together, they have Cordelia on solid ground again, the hatch slamming closed around her. Both their ragged breaths fill the treehouse.

Cordelia blinks, flattening her dishevelled clothes and hair, and well, everything.

There’s even a disordered jumble of her organs.

“Are ya okay?” the blonde asks delicately, hunched over on her arms and knees. It brings a shadow over Cordelia, who can’t quite fathom what has happened in such a short span of time.

“You. . .you – what are doing in here?”

The girl sits up on her knees, striped shirt all wrinkled from the movements seconds ago. “I was just lookin'.” She says, easily. Not a hint of shame. She’s even smiling.

Cordelia stares at her, brows furrowed. Once her heart calms and the adrenaline dissipates through her palms to the wood beneath, she leans her back against the wall. Legs are drawn up into a soft hug “This is my tree house.” And my Daddy’s.

“Oh. Well, it was rainin’. . .an’ the door was open.”

She gapes. “How did you get in the yard?”

“There’s a hole in your fence.” Already, she is standing. She’s lanky from this angle, those arms and legs that’d saved Cordelia stretching for as long as the eyes are willing to follow.

Cordelia jumps up, too. “There is?” She rushes over to the tiny window on the rear end of treehouse, where Kermit drapes hang on either side. Those are shoved out of the way and Cordelia, with a frown, spots the tiny hole that surely is too small for anyone to wriggle through.

Noise behind her distracts such a thought. Spinning on her heel, she finds the hatch being heavily lifted alongside a soft grunt.

Strangely, panic finds her. More than when she’d been dangling from the entrance. “Wait, where are you going?”

The girl's head rushes upwards, uncertainty in those blue eyes that Cordelia half smiles at. “Thought this place was yours?” That curls up into a half smile. “it was empty when I got here – I swear. I just didn’t wanna get my camera wet.”

Then Cordelia spies it. The clunky Polaroid that had moments ago been sat on the nearby camping chair, but is now in the girl's grasp. “Wow,” she swerves in, “that’s yours?” Hands cry out to pick it up, to inspect that funky gadget with probing eyes. Only, her mother's reprimand lies in the back of her head. So instead, she admires from afar.

Curiosity fills the small treehouse, and Cordelia grabs the lamp to drag it closer. With the intense amber glow shining over the camera, she can make out ever corner and angle of the device, although she isn’t quite sure of what to do with it.

Thankfully, there is an expert in their midst. Who has climbed up in their latest stage of the hokey kokey, and moves to stand next to Cordelia. Despite those long legs, she is slightly smaller than the older blonde, but smiles up at her either way. “Ya like it?” She crows, reaching for her device. The strap is placed gently around her neck so it can hang below curly hair. It sits proudly just at the top of her chest, where fingers run around the lens.

“Isn’t that the newest model?”

There’s a giddy grin next to her, all chubby cheeks and white teeth. The girl nods. “Yuh huh.”

Cordelia breathes out her amazement. “How did you get this?” She turns her head, finding a face inches from hers and still bursting with glee. At what? Cordelia doesn’t quite know. Weirdly, it is almost contagious. Really contagious. As an arm brushes against her, a burst of energy sifts right through her.

She does touch the camera then, berating be damned.

If anything, the girl only giggles. “It was a birthday present.”

“Oh, I only got a new dress for my birthday.”

That gaze persists on her, before moving in a steady decent over the outfit she’s currently wearing. “That one?”

“No.” Cordelia, too, snaps her neck lower to take in the stained pinafore. “It’s a lot nicer than this.”

“That one’s pretty, too,” comes the soft reply, dripping in earnest. Her shrug is a light gesture, and pale fingers idly play with the camera. It hits Cordelia with another pang of jealousy, one that is quickly pushed down.

Cordelia breathes out. “Thank you.”

And then they stare at one another. Like a cat and a mouse sizing one another up, though Cordelia isn’t sure which one she’s meant to be.

She finds that her mouth purses, eyes drifting around the tree house. In her absence, dust has taken back every surface like a littering of gray and dreary snow. Mourning in its darkness just as she has. Her hand idly wipes a small patch of it away where it floats like drab glitter.

“Are you okay?” She's asked, slower this time. More sympathy carried in on the tides of her voice. Then, “you look sad.”

“Hm, I’m fine.”

Cordelia shakes her head, most certainly sad. The air grows thicker around them, a humidity of sorrow that only Cordelia understands.

It must scare off the other girl, who is frowning and titling her head in a series of studying angles. “Well, guess I better get home." She’s already hiding the camera behind the fabric of her shirt where it bulges out ridiculously. Awestruck eyes take in one more circle of the room. “Cool treehouse.”

She smiles, sort of, and nods her agreement.

It feels nice to be in here again, to see her toys, her books; all welcoming her after a long absence. As much comfort as they give her, it’s not enough.

From behind, the lamp has cast out its glow so that her shadow stands proud against the wall. Cordelia’s breath hitches, her ears lost in the distant sounds of giggles as shadow puppets were once cast there. Then, it all hits again. Like the time she took an awful tumble off her bike, how her whole side and leg had been scabbed for weeks. Only, this scab is inside, and sometimes it feels like she’s the only person who can ever see it.

Her mind becomes a fog, thoughts hidden away. And a shudder makes a jittery appearance from her lips.

She doesn’t want to be in here alone.

It would make more sense for her to leave, too. To follow in the girl’s footsteps and make a chaste farewell. But she doesn’t. She’s compelled another way, with or without reason.

Turning nervously, she clears her throat where it bounces in echo. “Wait!” She pauses and sighs. “You can stay, if you want.”

She’s gone further this time. Her head has almost fully disappeared out of sight, but it pops back up like an excited ground hog. “Huh?”

Cordelia smiles, a genuine about it. Clammy palms are rubbed together and confidence summoned from her chest.

“We could hang out.” She says, a timorous affair like her company and time aren’t exactly worth offering out. Oh, but they are received with an even wider grin.

“Sure!” With great grace, the girl is lifting herself up and back inside. “This place is awesome.” She compliments again, fingers running around each and every surface as inquisitiveness takes hold. More of that dust is dislodged, though some so deeply embedded that it remains in a congealed pile.

Wiping her blackened fingertips on denim shorts, she reaches with haste for the stacked boxes nearby. “Let’s play this.” Then, head poking from behind that box that she swings around, there is a burst of smugness. “I’m real good at games.”

And in wake of that confidence, Cordelia finds herself giggling with a carefreeness that sits nicely in her muscles. “Doesn’t matter. I’ll still beat you.”

The board and pieces are thrown keenly to the floor, where she is encouraged to join them. As she lowers herself, that smile lingers.

“I’m Cordelia, by the way.”

“Cor – delia.” She drawls back, slowly. Cordelia leans in, finding comfort in the clattering of rain on the roof. If it leaks through at a couple of the corners, neither of them notice.

Nodding, she begins a thoughtful process of deciding just exactly where her ships will be placed. Directly across from her, the curly haired blonde is ready, tapping her fingers impatiently against the floor. They stare at each other, just for a second.

A gust of wind rattles the walls around them. “Misty,” comes the announcement at the peak of the bluster.

“That’s pretty.” Cordelia says softly, returning the compliment from earlier.

And it does a wondrous job, such a simple thing to say. With even simpler results. That being the brightest of smiles. “You can go first.” Misty offers.

She does, leaning down on her stomach and experiencing an awful sudden ache for times past. It’s ten minutes later, when she is one game up, that Cordelia finds amusement floating like spores in her chest.

“So, is it normal for you to break into people’s treehouses?”

Misty pauses, thoughts turned away from co – ordinates and sinking ships. Maybe she’s sheepish, but not for long. “Only the cool ones.” She decides after a beat.

“Hm,” Cordelia laughs, “guess I’ll forgive you then. And I won’t tell your parents.”

She snorts, not an ounce of hesitation. “They won’t care, either way.”

... 

Misty’s parents, turns out, really don’t care. In fact, they coo and crow over the girl excitedly a couple of days later as she describes everything that she'd found on her wander about the town. Cordelia isn’t really sure how she’d ended up at the family home, but Misty had been hovering around her front yard, riding her bicycle in circles. A greeting had been given from Cordelia, hunched over the new wheel of her own contraption (thank you, Myrtle) and easy conversation began,

Now she’s here, regarding the small family under their show and tell.

Apparently, no one has told them that curiosity killed the cat; it almost sounds like they are encouraging Misty to get up to mischief.

“Oh wow, look at these, Albie.” The Polaroid snaps are passed about between the pair, gleaming with pride. “I say she’s got your flair for art.”

Between them, Misty practically floats. “Ooh, ooh – did you see the one of the tadpoles?” She hoists herself on of the couch, dipping and diving between arms until she is in the prime position to show off the photos herself.

Cordelia watches, shocked far too quickly. If she stood on the sofa, she would get a beating so hard that she wouldn’t be able to walk for a week.

She closes the fly trap that her mouth has become and saunters a couple of steps. This downtown home is certainly far from the cookie cutter abodes she’s grown up around.

The first thing she notices is a distant lack of bland. Color has been used lavishly, clashing patterns found on the material of the couch, the drapes – even the lace that is hanging down from the piano that sits squished in the corner. She blinks, but those garish styles seem imprinted into her retinas.

Atop the walls, decoupaged in frames, are places and worlds that seem like something from a fairy tale. Mostly black and white, but some gifted with the tinges of sepia. A splash here and there of color; not like the room would miss any. Another step is taken, her eyes reeled in by images of jungles and tigers, and vast views that surely were taken from space. Cordelia widens her gaze, pupils expanding.

Strange, how a small device can capture such immense beauty. For a second, she wants to see it all with her own eyes.

The admiration is momentarily distracted as a strange smell finds her, bitter almost. It coats the back of her throat like a salve, thick and stubborn. She finds the source all too easily, some smoking black twigs nestled not that far away from her. “Hey,” she bounces with trepidation, “hey, your sticks are on fire!”

Her waggling finger points up and down, garnering the attention of the family on the couch. All of whom switch from confused to bemused.

Misty is still standing, a hand on her Father’s shoulder to keep her steady. Something she averts her gaze from. “No, silly – that’s just Momma's incense.”

“Oh.” She flushes pink, lost. The twinkling in the older woman's eyes is like Cordelia is unaware to a joke, and maybe she is.

“That’s right, dear. Sandalwood. Good for the mind.” Her voice is like soft ice cream, sweet and delightful to taste. “I use it for cleansing, too.”

She wide eyes the wispy and wild lines of the smoke, how it switches direction on a whim. It rises, black as the night, upwards towards the ceiling where a circular stain stares back. “Cleaning?”

“No, cleansing.” She chuckles, and moves to her feet. There’s a grace about her, an almost ethereal way that she moves. Slow, but with purpose. Long skirt accenting every gentle sway on her approach to Cordelia. Pale hands are extended toward the incense as the last couple of inches remain untouched by black. “And meditation, too.” She turns, a gracious smile on pink lips while she replaces the sticks with new ones, “speaking of which, dear, I think it’s time we. . .”

The moustached man sits straighter, catching on to her raised brow quickly. “Oh, right, yes. Misty, honey, why don’t you go play with your little friend now?”

“Alright.” She jumps down, moving closer to Cordelia with a timid smile of her own. They stand near the window, open the slightest bit and littered with chimes. Singing to the pair, they speak of a gentle wind outside.

She’s witness to the way Misty has fingers softly massaged through her wild hair by her Mother; the same coils that her Father adorns. Her stomach twists, a want inside of her. When was the last time her Mom did that?

A kiss is followed on those locks then, and Misty closes her eyes with a wrinkled nose. “Be good, darling.”

“Can I take my camera?”

She’s asking, but the item is still in her fingers, so it seems altogether a bit redundant. Even if the answer had come back the negative, she’s sure that Misty would insist either way.

“’Course, ‘s long as you take some good snaps, there. Got it?”

Misty nods eagerly, like some sort of happy woodland creature. She grasps Cordelia's hand with her own, leading her out of the room and down the short hallway to the door. “C'mon. You can show me the best places to hang out.”

“Come back when the streetlamps are on, dear.”

“Okay Mom!” She hollering back, digging feet into her sneakers without even bothering to untie the laces.

The same technique isn’t taken by Cordelia, who diligently works on her own. She only stops as her name is called, that honey coated voice, and she blinks upwards. “It was nice to meet you, sweetheart – I’m glad Misty has made a new friend.”

Well. Not like she gave Cordelia much of a choice, invading her treehouse like that. Either way, she smiles. “Thank you, Mrs Day.”

She’s horrified to see the joy slip from her features, a shock almost settling there instead. “Oh, just call me Judy. Mrs Day is so formal, you know? Like I’m some old lady.” And the more stares, the younger the woman appears. Smooth, creamy skin with hints of rose - delicate and sinewy arms that grasp the translucent material of her shawl. In all honesty, she barely looks as though she’s shrugged off her teen years.

Any further studying is denied when a tug on her arm appears. Almost painful in its insistence. “Come on.” Misty grins.

So, she does.

And the pair fly down the street on their bicycles- the tassels on her handlebars waving at every passer by.

Familiarity is adopted on the route; ordinary stores and fronts that go ignored most days. Places you’d find in any town, in any City, probably in any country in the world. A scene of repetitiveness, tedium found around every corner.

But she turns, watching Misty close her eyes ever so briefly in the growing breeze. Serenity sits well on her features, fighting sunshine for dominance. There’s such a simple joy that oozes from her. Such ease. Like nature quickens and scrambles around her and she simply has to bask in its adoration.

Cordelia’s smile widens. Misty isn’t like this town. Nothing about Misty is ordinary, and she likes that.

She really, really likes it.

...

“You wanna be my friend?” Misty asks as they peer around the storefronts, where potted flowers fall victim to the warm sun and sag in the heat.

With a growing grin, Cordelia nods. “Sure.”

Easy. Just like that.

She likes the ease.

Just as Misty must really, really like her treehouse.

If her constant appearance is anything to go by, anyway. She supposes it’s nice, it getting the attention that it was intended to have before. . .well, yeah. Someone ought to use it. Even if her Mom doesn’t quite know about Misty's appearances. The tree house was never for her Mom. It’s a sanctuary, an arboreal fortress, a gift from father to daughter. And so the contents of it, now including Misty, don’t seem right to be shared with her either.

Still, Misty is not subtle. Cordelia can’t find it in herself to be annoyed when she wakes to spot that green bicycle at the bottom of the tree. Leaning just beneath the large knot that beckons dark right to the tree's very core.

She doesn’t even shed herself of pyjamas the next morning. It takes a quiet creep past the open door of her mother’s room, still sleeping off the previous night’s shift. Done with care, a slight cringe in her neck, and breath exhaled the second she reaches the kitchen.

It’s there that she rushes out, disturbing the early morning dew on her way to where her treehouse stands proudly in the dawn.

Her nightgown is intent on catching every imperfection of the trunk, annoyingly so, but then she’s entering with a creak of the door.

A welcome awaits her; Misty wearing the same clothes she'd worn yesterday, given away by the juice stain just under her left shoulder. Rubbing at bleary eyes, the nine year old frowns. “Why are you here so early?” She yawns, resting her chin right in the center of her palm.

Misty is hardly listening. Stretched out on long legs, she wears a different Camera. This time a Canon, an AE – 1, if she can recognise it rightly. And she presumes so; it bares a striking similarity to the one that Madison has gloated over not many months ago.

The lens is pointed outwards, the nestled window offering the most wonderful of cover for where a mother bird preens the remaining down feathers of its young. Well, that answers her question.

“Shhh.” Misty says, one eye squeezed shut and her lips remaining open, as though there’s more to be said. But nothing other than focused breaths creep out. Her index fingers remained poised to snap the photo, waiting for just the perfect moment.

Though perhaps Cordelia’s hardening gaze is too much to ignore, as she lowers the camera moments later. Eyes flitter between the subjects of her interest, and her newfound friend.

“Hi, Cordelia.” She beams.

“You know you have a house, right?”

Misty’s lips curl upwards. “No treehouse, though.” She shakes her head regrettably, then drags the camping chair nearer her side and invites Cordelia silently.

She follows, flattening down bed hair that Misty grins at. “It’s not even seven am.”

“I was awake.” Misty smiles, “and bored.”

“So, you came here?”

Fingers fondly touch the floor, just at the edges of the striped rug that sits beneath her. “I like it here.”

As always, Misty is succinct. Honest. Cordelia enjoys that she doesn’t have to unwrap the layers of her words to understand her thoughts. Not like her Mom, or some of her other friends. Today, the admission brings a smile as warming as the sun that has barely made an appearance over the horizon.

The reminder of the early hour has her eyes hooding over, her head crying out for her to crawl back to her bed. She almost does, content to leave Misty capturing the world through a lens.

Until she hears the snap of a shutter, a metallic crunching sound. In addition to the lens facing her, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out what the girl is taking photos of now. That bring her. In this sleepy stupor. She grumbles, placing up her hand to stop Misty in her tracks. “Don’t do that!”

“Why not?” She frowns

“Because I look like a mess right now.”

Misty pulls a face, though does lower the camera and idly walk about the treehouse. Her hands sway by her side thoughtfully, a whistle poised on thin lips. “You wanna do anythin’ today?” She looks expectantly at her new friend.

There’s a long pause, a rippling of her brow. “Misty, school starts again today.”

“It does?”

“Yeah.” She says, more pointedly aware of the event because of how excited her Mom of “having a break from her". “Didn’t you know?”

Misty is distracted already, playing with a bare thread that hangs from a blanket. She snatches it off, coiling it around one of her fingers until it's too tight and cuts off the circulation. “No. I don’t go to school.” It’s said with such mirth, a ridiculous notion, and one that leaves Cordelia frowning.

“You don’t?”

“Nah.” She moves again, a creature of curiosity. This time, fingers drift over the spines of stacked books. “My parents teach me.”

“I don’t think I’d like that.” Cordelia half chuckles. “My mom is always at work, anyway.”

Misty glances her way, confused. The kind of unsure where Cordelia would just swallow what’s on her mind. Not Misty. “You’d rather go to school than be with your Mom?”

She stands stiffer, itching with discomfort. “Uh, yeah. I guess.”

But Misty isn’t judging, not a harsh study anyway. It’s a mere understanding that she wants, and it is accepted as Cordelia continues with the sudden need to defend herself. “All my friends are there, so. . .”

There, her face lights up with the brightness of the moon. “Can I meet your friends?”

Cordelia stalls again, lips pressed together. Her mind is still blurry with sleep as she ponders the very idea. What would her friends make of Misty? She takes in the full sight of her at such an early hour, in her corduroy dungarees and with unbrushed hair, and ink stain on the side of her cheek. Without thinking, she is smiling.

“Uh, sure. You can meet them.” She shifts on nervous feet. “What about after school today?”

“Time do ya finish?” Misty asks idly, peering out of the window for any photo ready sights once more.

“Three.”

Misty turns, aghast. “You gotta be there until three?”

Giggles splutter from her lips. “Yeah.”

“Every day?”

She nods, biting her lips to keep the laughter caged within as Misty very obviously sulks over the idea of such a time wasted. “Every day.” Tiny shoulders are slumped, then arms heaved upwards on them and come to rest at the window.

“Well, there goes my plans.”

“You can stay here.” Cordelia says, wanting to rid the pout from her expression. “As long as my Mom doesn’t see you. You’d have to hide your bike. . .”

It does the trick. Her easy smile returns. “I can do that.”

And so, together they sneak their way down the stairs. Fiona won’t wake so readily, she knows, so she points the best part of fencing the offers refuge for Misty's bicycle. As they slowly do so, she feels a pair of eyes steadily on her. “Well, I guess I should go have breakfast. Some of us have school to go to.” Twisting to get a better look at Misty, she doesn’t know whether she envies her lack of traditional education or not. What exactly does she learn about?

Another baffling thing about her really.

But when she finds the girl waiting for her just outside the school, perched on her bike and excitedly holding a jar of tadpoles, Cordelia finds her smile widening.

...

Misty melds well within her group, for the most part. She’s easy to get along with, kind to everyone, and kinda oblivious to any teasing sent her way.

That being said, there are certain. . .irregularities in her upbringing that don’t sit right with everyone.

“Wait, wait.” Madison Montgomery pushes through into the small circle where Misty, Cordelia and Zoe chatter amongst themselves. The girl hones in on Misty, brushing back impossibly straight hair from her shoulder. “Did you just say that you don’t own a TV?”

Misty blinks, like she hasn’t quite heard the question. But maybe she’s just digesting it unwillingly, as her head soon shakes no.

“Are you poor or something?” Here, she gives an obvious smarmy appraisal, eyeing where Misty’s striped dress is torn at the bottom.

Not a sign of poverty, yet the remnants of an exploration through bramble and woods that very afternoon. Cordelia knows this, seeing as she’d been the savior to unsnag said fabric from thorns with a giggle on her lips.

She glares at Madison.

Misty, thankfully, is quite happy to defend herself. “My Daddy says it rots your brains.”

“Ew, that’s so weird.”

Here, a darkness appears through Misty without any warning. Cordelia almost doesn’t recognize her, but she sees that annoyance sewn into her features.

She steps between the two and turns down the heat before any more pressure can build. “Leave her alone.”

“What kind of people don’t have a TV though?” a hand is placed to her hip, and the ridiculousness of such a notion offered throughout the group. No one bites today, to Madison’s frustration.

Cordelia doesn’t really care about that; Misty is fun and kind, and who needs a TV for either of those things, anyway?

She soon leads a quieter Misty away from the group’s usual hangout spot by the corn field. They walk beside their bikes, chains grinding slowly in their circuit.

From behind, she can feel Misty watching, only to turn and find eyes on the floor. Here, she slows, until they are right beside one another. “Hey, Myrtle said if you come over tonight she’ll make us popcorn.”

Misty’s eyes widen. “What’s that?”

“You've never had it before?”

“Nope.”

“You’ll like it,” Cordelia promises. “We can eat it in the treehouse.”

Her smile is suddenly wider, set comfortably between cheeks, and Cordelia mirrors it.

...

See? It doesn’t really matter if anyone else thinks Misty is strange (for crying when they find some road kill one night on the way home from school) or unique (when she sways and dances in the middle of the street as though notes are pumping through the asphalt) or downright odd (when she starts cleaning out the plastic bags from the store and muttering about reusing them).

Misty is Misty.

Cordelia can’t really say much more than that. Maybe she doesn’t understand it, but she’s drawn to it like migrating birds are led south for the winter. She seeks that warmth in Misty’s friendship.

And she doesn’t question, or judge. She only observes, usually with a telling little smile.

Probably because Misty’s mind has yet to find a firm footing on the same earth that Cordelia walks on. “Mistyland”, as she quickly names it. Another place, another world, where the girl often zones out to. She skips and trapezes elegantly, a bit like her mom. Though not quite as close to that elegance. There is the odd fumble, a stroke of clumsiness, but nothing compared to Cordelia, and nothing that can’t be covered with unstoppable laughter.

This is just what she does today as she loses her balance and launches herself heard first into the low lying swamp water she’d been wading in.

Bursting from the scum ridden surface, Misty is all deep bellied giggles, green stained skin, and moss covered hair.

Cordelia joins in with no hesitation, hiding her own laughter behind hands. “Are you okay?” She gets out between heaving breaths. Misty’s usually golden locks fall heavily around her, heaping with water, and she shakes them similarly to how a dog would rid itself of such a thing.

“I’m all good.” Misty grins, steadily tugging herself back up onto the surface and wiggling bare toes in the soft grasses. Those, too, are muddied and attracting a whole host of insects to them.

She’s just about to point that out when Misty surprises her with another show of her unusualness and begins stripping every last bit of her clothes off. Cordelia, stumped and halted, feels her mouth drop open. For soon, Misty is as naked as the day she was born, very much the sight of a wild being.

“W – what are you doing?”

Her drenched clothes are thrown over a nearby angled branch, bathed in afternoon sunshine that will no doubt work wonders on it.

Misty turns, lips puckered and eyes shining. “Well, I ain’t gonna keep wet clothes on, am I? Do I look like some sorta weirdo?”

And she’s so sure and so comfortable that her words somehow make sense to Cordelia. As if getting stark naked is totally fine. She thinks what her own mother would do if this happened to her, and winces at the spanking that she’d get.

For now, she’s glad to be dry and on land, even if the mosquitos are trying to pluck the blood from her arm.

Waving them away, she swallows any counters she had, and follows Misty where she makes to point out all the bugs that skitter over the water’s surface.

If only Madison Montgomery could see them now; she’d certainly have something to say about one Misty Day.

...

And so, Misty just continues easing herself right into her life.

There’s no conscious thought, no effort. Misty is often there before she sets out for a monotonous day of school, and easily spends most afternoons sidled up to her.

Even as the wet spring pushes into a blazing summer, Misty is there. Unique and gentle, consistent as the morning sun that sits high in the sky until the night threatens to take over.

Summer, just as the season before, trickles away with long days. Each longer than the last, until her skin is throbbing with the heat and a smile permanently etched onto her lips. Before she knows it, October is here, and Misty is sat in the treehouse with her as they craft together their Halloween costumes.

Outside, wind shakes the tree with all its might.

But their foundations remain sturdy, strong, and Cordelia peers up from the needle perched between her fingers to admire the blonde sat across from her.

Misty is hidden beneath a pile of brown cotton, tongue stuck out from puckered lips, and in a world of her own. She, herself, sews the costume as one with skewed lines. Wonky or not, she works diligently and proudly.

As if aware of eyes on her, Misty glances up. “What’s wrong?”

Cordelia slows, accidentally poking her index finger with the sharp object. It is quickly nursed between her lips. “Oh. Nothing.” She blinks innocently toward Misty. “How much have you done?”

The wrinkled material is dragged across the floor, admired. “Maybe half done.”

“Misty,” She laughs, “you’ve been sewing that for days!”

“Yeah, yeah, but it’s borin’.” Already, she seems to have grown disenchanted with the idea that had once had her buzzing with excitement. Not the first time Cordelia has seen this; notions fizzling with age.

One thing that does still garner Misty’s interest is soon revived. It has the girl dropping her homemade Scooby Doo costume to rush across the treehouse. Creaking beneath her weight like the keys of a piano, it plays a melody of giddiness.

“Wow! Look at the moon!”

And Cordelia finds herself following with no qualms. Her own things are placed more delicately, the now ten year old coming to stop beside Misty at the tiny window.

Ears catch the click of her camera, sees the bounce in her toes. Misty tugs the contraption down and grins as though the stars themselves are putting on a performance for her.

“How awesome is that, Cordelia?”

The full moon bows back at them, as them appreciative of their attention. Cordelia loses herself in its yellow glow, and nods. It is pretty amazing. Something she’d never taken the time to truly sit and watch. But Misty is here. Misty will stop any train of thought in its tracks for whatever passing fancy takes her. Fiona says it’s because she’s dimwitted, each time pulling a tense cringe from Cordelia.

Her friend isn’t like that.

As she smiles across at Misty, she realises that she likes this. The spontaneity, the whims catered to without a second thought. Cordelia sure isn’t like that, though sometimes she wishes she could be.

Misty has dragged the wooden chair from the corner and now climbs precariously atop it. Rather than give her orders about being careful, Cordelia merely holds onto her legs to maintain that steadiness. For a second, Misty freezes. Though the camera may be poised to take another shot, it is denied the chance.

Turning just a few degrees her way, Misty wears this strange little look on her face.

Cordelia only catches a flash of it, as she’s too busy anchoring the girl to the chair. Then, it’s gone, and Misty returns to her task. She’s ever so zealous in her efforts, at one point hanging half off of the window, tummy balanced over the wonky branch. “Misty. . .” Cordelia whispers. From this angled, she’s pretty much getting Misty’s butt and legs in her view, but she still holds on out of budding fear.

“I’ll be fine.” The girl assures her, confident as ever.

“If you fall – ”

As if to aid in her panic, Misty slips a little. Moss beneath hands, she loses her grip – and the camera almost goes with it. With the rustling of dry leaves, she all but scurries back inside.

Even so, she isn’t the pale faced sight that Cordelia is. Her grin is irreplaceable. “I can’t wait to show my parents.”

Cordelia’s eyes bulge. “Misty, you could have hurt yourself!”

“But I didn’t.”

“But you could have.”

Misty is still stood atop the chair, neck crooked as she is forced to glance all the way down at Cordelia. Who remains wrapped around her lower half. Lips twitching with something, she watches it quietly. In that time, Cordelia detaches herself and helps Misty to hop down.

As they are back on same footing once more, she finds themselves eye to eye. Perplex floods through her. “Hey, did you get taller?”

Swinging proudly on her feet, Misty nods. “A whole two inches. Daddy says I’m going through my growth spurt.”

“Yeah, you’re almost taller than me now.”

That fact seems to instil some pride in Misty, as though it’s a competition, or maybe something more. If it is, Cordelia doesn’t understand that. Either way, she leads them back to their forgotten projects.

Even if Misty does pull her face and grumble at the idea.

“It was your idea to make costumes.” Cordelia giggles.

“I didn’t think it would take so long. . .”

She’s returned to that concentration, glancing back and forth over her creation. When her friends had mentioned trick or treating, Misty had been the most enthused. Practically jumping for joy at the idea. Cordelia replays it in her head, letting her smile grow in their quiet work space.

It beckons attention, apparently. “What are you grinnin’ at?”

Her head is shook, eyes catching Misty’s. “Nothing.” After a pause, her own question pushes through. “Have you ever been trick or treating before?” She slows her own sewing to focus on Misty. “You seem pretty excited about it.”

“Uh.” Misty blinks. “Once with my Uncle. I ain’t ever been with friends before.”

The prongs of sadness like at her heart. “Oh, how come?”

“Well, I liked goin’ with my Uncle. I’m not normally s’posed to eat candy, but he let me keep it all.”

It sounds nice and, as such, Cordelia smiles. “You’re not gonna miss that this year?”

Here, there is an obvious pause as Misty stops to think. A rare moment where things are considered rather than just acted on. “You asked me to come with ya, and I wanted to, so.” A definite answer, very little wiggle room.

She doesn’t argue it, either way. “I wanted you to come, too.”

They share a pair of toothy grins.

Soon, Cordelia proudly reveals her latest creation. The lime green headband that she waves about for both to see. Misty scoots forward on her knees. “Are you gonna try it on then?” She does, delicately placing it along smooth hair where Misty is suddenly there to perfect it’s position.

Maybe it’s a little loose, but she can work on that.

Misty, not too far away, lets her mouth fall open in her retreat. Eyes flitter this way and that. “Well?” Cordelia probes.

“It looks great.” She says with no hesitation. “You’re gonna be perfect.” As though she has any knowledge of the character who Cordelia is supposed to be; she doesn’t, but those words are spoken in convincing.

The compliment is unexpected. Even so, it crawls beneath her skin and makes a nice little home there, with a blanket and warm hearth to keep it content. That warmth trickles all over Cordelia’s cheeks. “Thanks, Misty.”

She catches sight of Misty’s outfit, lay in a crumpled mess with abandoned black thread lay over the top. “You want me to help you with that?”

Her grateful expression says it all. And Cordelia doesn’t mind, she actually finds it kinda calming. Especially with Misty watching her for a few moments as she works.

Inevitability, Misty is drawn away from the boring task and headed toward things that offer her a hit of excitement. That being a stack of rat eared cards that she shuffles through continuously, then a moth that scuttles through the open window and flitters manically toward the bare bulb above their heads.

With hops and jumps, and the aid of the chair again, she manages to scoop it between pale hands. “C’mere little guy. You don’t wanna go there, it ain’t any good for you.”

Cordelia, who’d even watching the entire exchange, pulls a face. “You’re holding it?!”

“. . .yeah?”

“But it’s a bug!”

Misty is already closing in, hands cups together a d offering a fleshly confines to keep the moth within. “Aw, you ain’t scared of it, are you?” She gives a furious shake of her head, but hurries backwards on her butt and very much negates that idea. “It’s only a moth. You like butterflies.”

“They’re different.”

Tilting her head to the side, she offers her befuddlement with a scrunched up expression. “They’re the same,” She deadpans.

Something which Cordelia can’t, and won’t, accept. And practically squeals as it is neared once more.

In their dance of the moth, shadows pirouette around the splintered walls of the treehouse, and Cordelia experiences a sharp slice of nostalgia in her heart. She doesn’t tell Misty, even when a watery sheen sits over her eyes. Misty figures something isn’t quite right, stepping back apologetically.

“Sorry,” She mutters with a half smile. “I didn’t mean to make you scared – I just. . .it’s kinda cute really, if you think about it.”

But Cordelia’s mind is far, far away, traversing another track of thought that has nothing to do with the bug in Misty’s grasp. She thinks of her late Father, feels the echo of his laughter in her gut. Suddenly, a sadness washes over her that she can’t explain.

Misty appraises this in confusion, yet with the clear desire to help.

She jumps to the window where the gray creature is released and swoops down into the twilight, then pivots on her heel. In so much as a couple of steps, she is by Cordelia’s side on the floor. “You okay?”

“Oh, yeah.” She sniffles, and turns away. Conditioned to hide her feelings away, the girl pushes this smile onto her lips and pretends.

That’s what her mom tells her to do.

Pretend it doesn’t sting. Pretend that bad things didn’t happen. Pretend, pretend, pretend, and maybe it’ll feel like it hasn’t.

Cordelia doesn’t know how long she can keep pretending for.

She freezes as two arms begin to embrace her softly, tight around her shoulder. “Come on, you look like you need a hug.” And honestly, she doesn’t remember the last time someone truly hugged her. As such, the kind action draws out more tears to well in her eyes.

“That better?” Misty breathes into her ear.

It tickles in a good kinda way, and Cordelia lessens the weight on her chest. “Yeah. Um, thanks.”

As Misty draws back, she’s giving that signature wide smile.

And Cordelia is grateful for it.

...

When Misty doesn’t wait for her outside school, she is instantly worried.

If there’s one thing she’s learned about the girl, it’s that she’s strangely loyal. A notion Cordelia had only read about in story books. But Misty is reliably there, waiting, bike pushed up against the mossy brick wall as she awaits the ring of the school bell.

Today, the bell tolls.

Yet Misty is nowhere to be found.

Cordelia peers around with a frown, searching for her bicycle, a flash of blonde hair, or her laughter on the wind. When she comes up empty, a certain disappointment surges through her.

“Hey,” she asks quietly by Zoe’s side. “Have you seen Misty?”

The brunette merely shrugs her shoulders, “not today.”

“Oh.”

“Maybe she’s busy.”

She gives a wry twist of features. That is doubtful. Since moving here, Misty has made a pretty good routine of spending more time in Cordelia’s treehouse than her own home

“I just like it here,” the girl insists, with this barely restrained grin.

And Cordelia, if she really thinks about it, doesn’t mind Misty there either. In fact, she kinda likes it.

As such, Misty not waiting for her that day has this dormant disappointment inside. She walks half way home with Zoe, eventually wishing her goodbye a couple of blocks from her own home.

It’s quiet without Misty chatting beside her.

It’s dull without someone stopping them every few moments to admire a particularly interesting leaf, or snapping pictures at any given opportunity.

She finds herself throwing her bag just in the threshold or the kitchen doorway. As Cordelia pokes her nose around the frame, she catches the scent of her mother’s cigarettes.

“Mom,” she starts, tiptoeing in further. “I’m back from school.”

“Do you want a special award for that?” comes a biting remark.

Fiona turns the corner, pushing a ruby red handbag onto her arm. She glances at Cordelia, at her haphazardly thrown bag, then sighs.

Rolling on her feet, she peers up at her mother. “Where are you going?”

“Out. There’s soup on the stove. Heat it up when you want your dinner.”

She glances around, a vacant frown on her lips. “Is Myrtle not coming?”

“Honestly Cordelia, you’re almost twelve. You don’t need a babysitter anymore.”

“I’m almost eleven.” She corrects.

“What difference does a year make?” The woman shrugs, moving over to a side table to search for an item in particular. “Have you been moving my things around again?”

Annoyance slips into her expression. “No.” Then, “you’re just gonna leave me here alone?”

“Jesus, why do you always have to be so needy?”

Her chest heats with the simmer of upset. Glancing down, Cordelia tries to hide any of that away from her mother.

A hand pats her on the head. “You'll be fine.”

She feels less fine when as she watches her mother leave through the front door, as the house she’s grown up in quickly becomes all too foreign to her.

Darkness pushes around corners, shrouds the familiarity with a dormant fear, and Cordelia ends up turning all of the lights on to keep panic from her stomach. It helps, a little. Until the wind begins to rattle windows in their frames and have her all but scurrying out of the house.

Legs carry her with purpose, with direction, until she is climbing up the familiar ladder of her treehouse. Here, the single room is small, safe. Sure, the walls move, but in a way that allows for tension to slip from her muscles.

Frowning, she rushes to the window and stares out at the house. In the hurry, she hadn’t quite managed to close the back door properly, but her racing heart tells her that she can’t go back. At least not now. The mad dash in the dark has been difficult enough, and it is not something she intends on repeating. Well, not at the moment.

Eventually, she'll have to head back inside, she guesses. Back where unknown noises prevail. But she shoves that right to the furthest point in her mind and instead sits down on the treehouse floor.

In the corner sits Misty's current obsession, a comic of Ms Marvel that she’d spent the last few days attached to. Cordelia reaches for it, curiosity growing, and flicks through the colorful pages. Not really her thing, she realizes half way through, and then carefully lowers it down beside the board games to locate her own book.

Here, she finds comfort. These walls have grown softer over the past few months, they welcome her these days. Each one is lined with Polaroids taken by Misty, of nature and store fronts; a few rare shots of the two friends together. And, as she melts into one of the beanbags, she finally manages to relax.

For all of a few seconds.

Seeing as those troubling noises appear to have followed her outside! Cordelia slams the book closed, produces a sound close to a squeak and rushes over to the hatch that she locks with haste. Drawing back, she flattens herself against the splintered wood of the wall.

The hatch rattles, as do her insides.

But these unknown monsters soon own a voice, the same one that chases away silly little fears. “Cordelia?”

She exhales, leaving her body all kinds of sluggish. “Misty?”

Jumping down to her feet, they scrape in her zeal. Cordelia ignores the shoot of pain and has the door opened in a matter of seconds. Her smile widens. “What are you doing? It’s late.”

Misty is making to climb inside, in a skirt that reaches down to her ankles and snags at the corner of the door. As she tugs it away, she offers a frown, but it soon twists upwards at the sight of Cordelia. “Hey.”

She merely blinks at Misty.

It invites further comments from the girl. “I missed ya today.”

Cordelia pulls a face, a hint of accusing there. “Why didn’t you come after school?”

Already, Misty is tugging herself up with strong arms and joining where Cordelia remains huddled in the middle of the room. With her foot, she slams the door closed and makes the rustling leaves disappear with it.

“Oh, I was asleep.”

She peers at her like she’s just grown another set of arms. “Asleep?” An odd activity for Misty, who without fail is up at the crack of dawn every single morning.

“Yeah.” Misty laughs, but her voice has a certain nasal quality about it today, amplified as she sniffles every couple of moments. The Cajun holds out her arms with a smile. “Look, I got chicken pox.”

Cordelia grabs hold of that skin without thinking. “You do?” Upon closer inspection, she sees angry raised skin that is mottled and almost abstract in the dim lighting. “Jeez, what are you doing here?”

Misty only shrugs and smiles her way. “Bein’ at home all day is borin’.”

“Your parents though. . .aren’t they going to be mad at you?”

“I wanted to see you.”

Cordelia blinks. “Why?”

Again, Misty shrugs and moves to sit on her butt, crossing legs around one another.

“You’re sick, Misty.”

“I’m fine.”

Another strong bout of wind finds them, trying its best to rock their world but failing miserably. Cordelia, in her confusion, regards Misty through her lashes. “You’re shivering.”

Only to be met with a sheepish smile.

Misty, apparently, has bigger concerns. “Your Mom's car ain’t there.”

“Nope.” She bites out in irritation, having stood and starting a search in the cubby just beneath the window. A blanket is discovered, red and black, and a little scratchy, but it’ll do. “She said I’m old enough to be by myself.”

That statement doesn’t seem to bother Misty. In fact, she seems a little pleasantly surprised by the newfound freedom that this appears to offer.

Cordelia sighs and unravels the blanket. “Come here, silly.” No convincing is needed and Misty is soon nestled between the material like a burrito.

She sniffles again, the obvious sound of phlegm filling the room. Cordelia may be a little grossed out, but Misty is extending an arm from her warm sanctuary and wiggling fingers toward her. “Get in with me.” She’s pouting, skin still pink in spite of the cold; bleary eyes scream that she’s sick.

Cordelia yields either way.

Whey they’re sat together, Misty is grinning again. She points to her comic. “Will ya read it to me?”

“Can’t you do it yourself?” Cordelia teases.

“Noooo.”

Her whine is all low and deep. Here, she throws her head back in her mock despair, close to Cordelia. So close that her blonde curls are brushing against hers in a ticklish delight. “I’m too sick.”

“You came all the way out here and now you’re too sick to read, huh?”

Misty freezes, caught out. “. . .yeah, ‘m tired from ridin’ my bike.”

She shakes her head in a soft reprimand. “You should have stayed in bed.”

“I missed you.” Misty confesses, voice soft and serious, but Cordelia finds herself giggling. It summons a frown upon Misty’s thin lips. “Why are you laughin’ at that?”

The question comes without an answer, mostly since Cordelia doesn’t really know why. So, she moves under the guise of distraction and grabs the comic once more. This time, with Misty by her side, she finds it holds her interest more, just as her reading keeps Misty enthused.

But her tiredness catches on up on her friend, and she fights to keep her eyes open. Said fight is lost, head soon slumped at a crooked angle and on Cordelia’s shoulder.

Cordelia watches her, smiling softly before swapping out the comic for her book once more. With Misty’s soft snoring in her ear, she finds nothing but calm.

Two days later, when she in turns get chicken pox, she struggles to care.

...

Just as things with Fiona become astray, her mother working more and remaining at home less, she finds herself studying Misty’s parents in her place.

Where she had once found their ways a little unusual, she now laughs along with their jokes. She gets invited on walks with them, welcomed into their home. Basically, any time that she and Misty aren’t in her treehouse, they can usually be found in the downtown apartment.

And while Cordelia can adapt to most things, there is still one that makes her pause every time.

“Judy, do you know where my camera is?”

Misty’ s voice is loud, carried through the hall easily, and Cordelia waits for the twelve year old to get reprimanded for referring to her mother by name.

She doesn’t.

They hear the rustling of a bed, the pretty hum of music, and then Judy slowly appears from the colorful curtain of fabric that stands in place of a door. With the movement, it brings an odd smell that has Cordelia wrinkling her nose. “What was that, sweetheart?” Judy asks slowly, eyes half closed like she’s super sleepy.

Misty is already in front of her, bouncing up and down on long legs. “My camera,” she insists. “It was in my room an’ now I can’t find it.”

“Oh.” Fingers sweep through her messy hair. “I’m sure you’ll find it, darling. I told you, though – you shouldn’t get attached to material things like that.”

“But it’s my camera.”

“Okay, go check again.” She encourages her with a gentle push.

Misty rolls her eyes. “Judy – ”

“It will be in there somewhere.” The blonde chuckles in an airy affair, taking a hold Misty’s cheeks with slender hands. “Under all your mess.” She grins here, poking the tip of her finger to Misty's button nose.

Cordelia watches, peeking around the corner of the uttermost yearning. She’d drop dead of surprise if her own mother did that, if she talked about the disarray in her room like it’s something to be proud of.

“Fine.” Misty heaves in a sigh, spinning on her heel.

Judy watches after her, wiggling fingers in Cordelia’s direction as greeting. She waves back, only to have her hand grabbed by Misty and rushed back into her (definitely) untidy bedroom.

The searching continues, something that Cordelia aids in when she sees the stress that it’s causing her friend. They do find it, hidden beneath an open book called our bodies, ourselves that Misty delicately places on the bed as not to lose its page.

“I thought you only liked reading comics,” Cordelia teases.

“My mom gave it to me,” she shrugs, “told me that it’s important.”

Eyes flickering over black and white cover, she finds her intrigue growing. “Oh, what’s it about?”

“Just like, sex and stuff.”

The way it is spoken so nonchalant has Cordelia’s eyes bulging, her heart seizing within. Did Misty really just say that? Surely she misheard her. But, just as she studies Misty is shock, Misty returns her own blaringly obvious show of confusion. Lips part open unsurely, wrinkles appear at the corners of her eyes. “You okay?”

“Yuh huh.” Cordelia squeaks, feeling silly and dumb, and altogether laughable.

“Come on.” Her hand is grasped and yanked, “let’s go before it gets dark.” She’s always in such a rush to head out on days like this, to go catch every last drop of sunlight on her pale skin. It transforms her hair the moment they step outside, a shimmering sight that Cordelia gawks at.

Misty talks as they ride their bikes and she uses that as a good excuse to get her face back to a normal color, to mask her embarrassment.

But she doesn’t quite get away with it. As they stop at the grassy field, setting up the hideaway so they can get clear pictures of the wildlife without being seen, Misty stops to smirk her way.

It really doesn’t help.

“It’s ‘cause I said sex, isn’t it?”

Once more, she splutters and blushes, and wishes she was altogether cooler. “Misty – ”

The girl rolls her eyes fondly. “It’s only natural.” Just as easily, it is brushed over. “Here, this is the best spot.”

They sit cross legged on the itchy grass, with the click of Misty’s camera going off every so often. Almost calming, somehow just as natural as the bird song or cicadas. With firm attention on her friend, she realizes that there are so many question pushing on the insides of her lungs about Misty, about her family; more and more burning every day.

...

She works up the course to ask some one afternoon as they walk back from the lake with soggy hair and giggles between their lips.

“Where did you live?” Cordelia says, just a few steps behind Misty. The girl stops, her apple mid bite. In the sticky heat, gnats chase after them and hone in on the sugary snack - she watches Misty swat at the annoying bugs but keep eyes aimed straight her way.“Before you moved here?”

She goes to answer instantly, until something flickers in her soft eyes. Misty quickly embodies the sight of mischief; it shows in her swinging arms and marvellous smirk. “Why do you wanna know?”

Cordelia gives her a look. “Come on, tell me.”

“Why?” She raises her brow. “Have ya been thinkin’ about me?”

“I don’t know.”

“What do you mean – you dunno?” Misty shares her perplex.

Being under the spotlight, it seems, throws Cordelia. Even if it is only Misty, lacking in any judgement. Just curiosity. Enough to kill the cat, if not maim it. Words struggle to form where she’s normally found such ease.

Misty’s grin grows, a delighted little thing. “Why are you goin’ all shy? Not like I’m gonna tell anyone you were.”

No, because who is she going to tell? As confident and enthusiastic as she is with Cordelia, Misty has a habit of keeping herself to herself. Her time is saved for the save few she deems it worthy.

And Cordelia is grateful to be one of those.

“Just tell me.”

“Why?”

Puckering her lips together, she gives an innocent sway. “Because I asked.”

Misty pauses, the playfulness eclipsed. Her eyes narrow, the muscles in her neck shift as she visibly swallows. “Yeah,” she agrees, “can’t say no to that.”

Cordelia enjoys her little victory with a bounce in her feet, moving to link arms with Misty. Just like she would Zoe, or Queenie. Even Madison on the rare occasion that the two are being civil.

Today, it’s just Misty, and she notices how her lips grow that bit wider. “Tell me then.”

“Well, there ain’t much to tell.”

She doesn’t take that as an answer, and squeezes where her hand sits over Misty’s flesh. “Come on. I’ve lived on the same boring street my entire life – you haven’t. Madison Montgomery said your family used to live in a van.” Cordelia giggles. “Normally I don’t believe her that just. . .I don’t know, I could see that.”

“Why was she talkin’ about me?”

The strange, and growing, sense of paranoia is suddenly palpable between the blossoming trees as they amble down the side walk. “I don’t remember.”

Misty nods, staring straight ahead with an envious amount of concentration.

“She thinks I’m weird, doesn’t she?” No harm here, not yet. Just stating a simple fact that Cordelia cringes at when she realizes Misty already knows the answer.

The girl licks her lips and dips brows into a curve. “Do you think I’m weird?”

“Misty – ”

“Is that why you got so many questions?”

Cordelia shakes her head with the most obvious sign of disagreement. “No. I’m just curious, that’s it. Didn’t your mom say questions were good things?’

That is very much true, words taken practically verbatim from her earlier that day. It makes a visible difference in Misty, as does the insistence in Cordelia’s dark eyes. They shadow in annoyance that Misty would even suggest such a thing. “I don’t think you’re weird at all.” She speaks, beginning to walk again. Steps last for all of about three seconds. “Has someone said that to you?”

Misty bites at her lips, then sighs. She's taller now, only slightly the taller of the two, and has to glance down to meet Cordelia’s gaze. “Nah.”

“Then why did you. . ?”

She watches Misty, and Misty watches her right back. It’s the first time that their friendship hasn’t felt easy, natural. Like there’s something Misty is holding back – a strange sight of Misty editing anything that comes out of her mouth, and Cordelia’s chest slumps at the very idea. “You can tell me anything, you know.”

It is spoken with sincerity, kindness. One friend to another. Misty at first fights it, but then can’t best her own natural instincts. She smiles. “I know.”

“Anything,” she repeats.

Now, Misty giggles and for the final time pushes on. “I know.” Their legs move purposely in wobbly lines, a playful sight. Both watch their sneakers cross over one another as though some game.

It’s when they finally get to the treehouse that Misty is relaxed to her usual self. She throws the curtains open, a new plaid set that Cordelia had sewn. It sends the tiniest bit of dust flying, a cough on her throat. Either way, light soon floods in, and they are inundated with the sight of greenery from the tree they reside in. Sighing, Misty throws herself onto her own beanbag and grins over at Cordelia.

“I moved around a lot.” She says, “before I got here.”

“Oh?”

After a moment, she shrugs. One leg is perched atop her other bent knee, long skirt flowing around like a waterfall. Said skirt is covered in grass stains and crispy leaves that she hasn’t bothered to shed. “We did, uh, we lived in a van for a while. I dunno where. Lots of places, I guess.”

The confession has Cordelia quiet, tempted in with the idea of new stories. With slow footsteps, she’s soon dropping down in front of Misty. She shows interest on her expression, in her smile. Misty sits higher and continues. “We’d move across states. . .my parents friends were there, an’ I had friends, too. But then my mom got sick and my Uncle wanted her closer to him.”

Cordelia’s head pops up. “Your mom’s sick?”

“Oh, not anymore.”

Panic settles just as quickly as it had risen, and Cordelia relaxes. “Do you miss it? Travelling around like that?”

Misty pauses, all kinds of thoughtful. “I guess – yeah. But if we didn’t move, I never would have met you.”

“You only like me because of my treehouse,” Cordelia jokes, gesturing around at their surroundings.

“Nuh uh.” She insists with a pout. “I like hangin’ out with you, and Mallory sometimes. Maybe Zoe, too.”

“And Madison?”

Misty gives her the stink eye, then continues where she was following the groove of the wood with her fingers on the floor. “I like it here, but I – I guess I’d wanna leave when I’m older, maybe.”

And that very idea has Cordelia reaching to steady herself on the nearby chair. “What?”

Her friend sighs, half caught between awestruck and wistful. “I wanna see the world. Just like my parents.” Suddenly, she smiles; the image of idealism with the moon caught in her big eyes. “I’m gonna take my camera and take pictures of everythin’ I think is beautiful.”

“Where do you wanna go?” Cordelia whispers out.

Misty stops and she thinks, but maybe there’s not really much to think about. Seeing as one word hangs on her lips, and she speaks it with the uttermost reverence. “Anywhere.”

At that, Cordelia gulps. The prospect of anywhere just a little too daunting for the girl.

Suddenly, Misty is sitting up straighter. She reaches out hands that hold onto Cordelia. “You could come with me!” She proposes giddily.

“Me?”

She doesn’t let the first bout of shock rattle her enthusiasm, and then Misty is kneeling in front of her. Bounding up and down on knobbly knees, she gives a keen grin. “How fun would that be? You and me, explorin’ the world together.”

Cordelia gives pause, but she can’t deny the appeal. For their friendship is such ease, such an organic and fresh feeling, and maybe she could be tempted by such an idea. “But where would be live?” She jokes, “I don’t like camping.”

“We’d figure somethin’ out.” Misty chuckles, oh so sure. Full of ideas, full of invention, and perhaps full of nerve that Cordelia isn’t sure she has.

Who is she, after all, but just an ordinary girl that lives on an ordinary street? And why should her future be anything that strays from the mould? Yet she looks at Misty, at her endearing smile. For her friend, maybe she could rock the boat a little.

...

“Don’t laugh.”

Misty grins, happy and giggling, and her soul matching the bright daisies that they’d bought into the treehouse to brighten it up the very night before.

“. . .I’m not laughing.”

Cordelia groans and grumbles. “I look ridiculous, I know!”

“Oh, Delia, will you stop?” She yanks her hand away from where it is messing with the rim of her new glasses. Thick things, too big for her head, but sadly do make the world clearer. “You look fine.”

“I look stupid!” the thirteen year old huffs.

“No, you don’t.”

“Yes! I do.”

Misty sighs.

So does she. “You can be honest, I know they look dumb.”

“They look like glasses.” Her friend confirms, all kinds of exasperated.

It isn’t enough for Cordelia, who makes her own confession with a frown, “I want to – I just want to look nice, and now I have to wear these stupid things.”

And Misty is nothing if not befuddled. “You always look nice.”

“Pretty,” She corrects.

“You always look pretty.” Misty doesn’t miss a beat, but she does shift a little awkwardly and then blinks over at the girl. “What does it matter if you gotta wear glasses sometimes?”

She sighs. “Because it’s not cool, Misty.”

“Who cares about bein’ cool?” There is genuine confusion here, a world that she doesn’t know. But Misty has never experienced the politics of the school halls, the crippling desire to remain somewhat high on the social ladder. High school is the best time of their lives, after all. That’s what everyone says, and how is she supposed to enjoy it wearing these glasses?

“I – ” Cordelia wears a deep set frown. “Everyone at school is gonna think it’s lame. . .” Even as she says it, the words don’t feel like her own. They are hers, spoken in her voice, but the echo of her mother, of people like Madison, creep in. For a second, she resents the very idea.

There is no convincing Misty. “They are just glasses,” she drawls.

She makes a little huff, wondering how on earth to explain it to Misty in a concept that will translate. “Yes, but you want to be the kid that looks the nicest, right?”

Misty stares, curling into a slump in her position then continues to regard Cordelia with a soft head shake that exudes her uncertainty.

And so Cordelia sighs. “Like, the birds. Think of birds.”

“What do they got to do with this?”

“Those birds of paradise. . .the ones you showed me. Think of them – they have to be prettiest ones, don’t they?”

Misty gives her this wry look now, followed by a short laugh. “Yeah, only when they want a mate Delia. That’s the whole point an’, oh – ”

Her gut clenches at the way Misty’s face falls with realization. One because she doesn’t understand the lingering sadness there, but two because maybe just maybe, she didn’t realize how much her appearance mattered to her. Around her other friends, it goes without saying; they primp and pamper, and Madison even wakes up at 6am to put make up on.

With Misty, she suddenly feels awfully silly talking about this.

“You wanna impress boys.” Misty announces, eyes dropping to the floor.

It’s so quiet that she could hear a twig snap in the woods miles away. Cordelia’s breath shudders, yet why is she so nervous all of a sudden? “Maybe.”

“And you think glasses are really gonna make a difference?”

She rips the glasses from her face, throwing them to the side with the board games and piles of fabric. Her world may go a little blurrier, but that works in her favor – it means she doesn’t have to regard the strange expression adopted by her friend.

This is the only downside to “Mistyland”, to her idealistic world where everything is kittens and rainbows and everyone gets along.

As the girl resides in there, she doesn’t quite see that there are rules, and if they’re not followed, it means a dent in all and any social status. “They’re not going to help, are they?” Cordelia comments, “what guy is going to look at me in those and think – ”

“Can we stop talkin’ about this?” Misty cuts her off in one quick move, voice strangely low. To say it leaves Cordelia thrown for a curve ball is an understatement. When she does focus hazy eyesight, she finds this air of irritation about Misty, a frizz in her hair that definitely wasn’t there seconds ago.

“Hey. . .”

“I don’t think you’re ugly ‘cause you got glasses, an’ you shouldn’t either.” Misty insists in this almost growl, an uncharacteristic anger. “If a guy does, then he’s a doofus.”

The ferocity that takes over her is certainly a surprise for both. Misty’s heavy breath sits on her ears, and the treehouse feels just as cold as the night air outside. Cordelia continues to frown.

“I didn’t mean. . .are you mad at me?”

Misty lets out this barely audible gasp. “I – I couldn’t be mad at you.” She worries her lower lip between teeth. “I just don’t get why you think that.”

Those words linger again in their stubbornness. You wouldn’t understand. Sometimes she wishes Misty could go to her school, that they sit in classes together, laughing and giggling. But a school isn’t built for a girl like Misty; the walls aren’t designed to hold in such a spirit, and such a kind soul ought not be exposed to the social politics that she’s beginning to endure.

So, Cordelia swallows those words that slice at her throat and shakes her head. “Lets just forget about it.

Misty may nod and hum, but she fears it isn’t quite cast from her mind. The treehouse isn’t as comfortable that night, the laughter not as frequent; she knows the reason for Misty’s bad mood, letting that guilt be churned inside.

But she tries her best to shake it away. Jokes, stories of her day, desperately trying to get Misty to talk about hers. “It was fine.” The girl says softly.

“Just fine? No wandering through the swamps? No fruit picking with your mom?”

“I mighta gone to the swamp.” Misty shrugs, her attention cast elsewhere. Outside, like it often is. Normally, it’s nothing more than a reason for Cordelia to smile. Today, it feels like the girl wishes she could be elsewhere, and so upset quickly finds Cordelia.

She adopts the same forlorn expression that Misty stubbornly clings to.

Her sudden change is spotted by Misty, whose frown deepens. The tiny wedge of misunderstanding sits between the pair, only to be kicked and knocked out of place. “Hey, you know what we should do?”

“What?”

Misty is headed her way, reaching out hurriedly for Cordelia's hand. “Let’s go out and look at the stars.” Not an unusual activity for Misty, but something about it seems different today. She allows for this neediness to show through, looks to Cordelia in hope.

She nods her agreement with ease, even if it’s cold outside. Even if the grass they lie on is already painted with a thin layer of dew. She lies there because maybe it will make Misty that little bit happier. Then, catching her friend’s joyous smile as she gazes at beings far more magnificent than Cordelia, she feels it’s totally worth it.

...

It’s a calm and pleasant walk she finds herself on. In the woods, with not only Misty, but her mother and Father, too. In the midst of a chilly February morning where the sun seems to have slacked on its heat.

Walking beside Misty, she smiles over at the girl every few minutes. She hoists around a picnic basket with ease, surely swinging those contents into disarray with her zeal. “You’re excited,” she points out to her in a whisper, as though it’s a mystery and that giddiness isn’t the most contagious thing in the woods that morning.

“Yeah, well, I like picnics.” She shrugs, giving a small twirl in her step.

Cordelia giggles. “You said.”

“An’ I like the woods.” She adds, then peers over her shoulder toward where her parents linger behind. Hand in hand, their stroll is nothing short of leisurely and, just like Misty, they occasionally pause at budding flowers, or to point out tracks in the dirt.

It’s strange to Cordelia, but not unwelcome.

Nor is she out of place as they sit down at the peak of the small hill, with grassy fields and swamplands on offer for their viewing. “Have you been here before, Cordelia?” Judy smiles to her as they pass out fruit infused water from a reused bottle.

She shakes her head. “I don’t think so. My mom doesn’t let me go too far.” In between sips of the sweet liquid that dances on her tongue, she peers from the woman to Misty, and then back again with a smile.

“Ah, that’s a shame. You should explore more – you never know what you’ll find.” Next, from the cloth covered basket comes fruit and nuts, and weird looking sandwiches. “Did you know,” Judy begins lightly, “that Misty was actually conceived in these woods?”

Cordelia pauses, putting those words together into coherence.

And, for the first time ever, she finds something close to embarrassment in Misty’s normally casual voice. “Hey, she don’t need to know that.”

“Oh, it’s only natural, sweetheart.”

Just as natural as the way that Misty’s cheeks change in hue, mimicking the sweetest of roses, and earning a grin from Cordelia despite her own discomfort.

“Right over there.” Judy continues, pointing a distance away to a clearing where meadow flowers have made home and now populate the grasses, “it was a beautiful day, right Albie?”

“Huh?” The acknowledged man blinks back into the conversation with a twitch of his moustache and furrow of thick eyebrows, “what was that, dear?”

“July 3rd.” She leans in with a swoon, linking their arms, “fourteen years ago.”

“Ah, ah, oh!”

Misty rolls her eyes beside Cordelia, now smiling and reaches to get them both a sandwich.

“Was that with Atlas? The night with the mushrooms?” His laughter is a bellow that fills the air easily. “I sure remember that.”

“Yes, it was the third time we met.”

“And you were the most beautiful woman I ever saw.” He leans in nearer, an arm sweeping around her, “still are.” Their outward affection ends with a kiss, a lasting thing that doesn’t seem to faze Misty. In fact, the girl continues to eat and admire the scenery, particularly as birds fly above in an awesome display.

But Cordelia, she is pulled in by the two adults, watching scenes that are so unfamiliar to her. Had her parents ever kissed like that? Had she simply been too young to remember?

Those are questions to things she doesn’t know, that she’s certainly too scared to ask Fiona.

“You parents are really happy,” she points out to Misty as the girl takes pictures of a mystery burrow she’s found.

Pausing, Misty pushes herself back onto her knees and appraise Cordelia with a frown. “Well, yeah?”

“I mean,” she hurries to correct herself, “they really love each other. . .it’s nice.”

It’s a normal statement, she thinks. One that doesn’t need Misty to stare at her in such a bewildered manner, like she’s just said something totally dumb. Has she?

Thankfully for her, Misty isn’t one to keep her thoughts contained and so, they quickly follow in the afternoon breeze. “Why wouldn’t they be happy?”

“Well.” Cordelia blinks. “Some people aren’t. . .”

“Who?”

“I dunno. Some of my mom’s friends. They say bad stuff about their husbands all that time.”

And that seems to blow Misty’s mind, such an accepted concept for Cordelia. She’s been witness to bitter comments, to hushed words and subtle side glances. When she shares this with her friend, she gawks. “Why would you wanna marry someone that you don’t like?” For once, there’s almost judgement there, a strange color on Misty.

Cordelia shrugs. “I’m not sure - maybe some people do it for ease, you know?”

“That don’t sound easy.” Misty returns to her work taking photographs, one eye squinted closed as the other works ever so hard to focus. “You wouldn’t do that, would you?”

“Do what?”

“Get married just ‘cause you have to.” She announces with distaste on her words.

Cordelia laughs away the idea. “Who am I gonna get married to?”

“You could marry whoever you want.”

“Maybe I don’t wanna get married.” Cordelia decides, feeling all kinds of breathless all of a sudden. “Maybe I want adventure, like you.”

Misty's head snaps around, the camera almost dropping from slack fingers. She catches it just in time, a hand reaching up to fidget with hair. “You do?”

Here, Cordelia shrugs. “My mom always says getting married was one of the dumbest things she ever did.” Followed by a healthy amount of self deprecation, “after having me.”

There is very little time between those words and the way that Misty’s face warps angrily. “Your mom ain’t a very nice person.”

“No.” She agrees regretfully, but altogether resigned to that relation.

Misty watches her with interest in those few minutes, very much making Cordelia the subject of study. Under the weight of those gentle eyes, she feels altogether vulnerable, and distracts herself by idly plucking at blades of grass.

“I was bein’ serious, ya know?” Misty admits in a whisper. “I wanna see the world.”

“I know.”

Offering this nervous smile, Misty sighs. “I’d want you to come with me. I want that adventure. . .” She seems awfully still in that moment, too still for a soul like Misty, “I want it with my friend.”

Cordelia smiles, “you already told me that.”

“I mean it.”

She wonders just what would happen, if they did that, if they threw caution to the wind and gallivanted from state to state, to exotic and unique countries. The idea is so farfetched to her that she giggles almost manically – how could an ordinary girl like her capture such a life? But then she peeks at Misty through her lashes and thinks. . .maybe.

Then, not only does she humor Misty, but she rather quickly humors herself. “Where would we go first?”

Shuffling closer, Misty wears an ear splitting grin, “well, this one time my parents went to Costa Rica and. . .”

The story starts, and continues, with the wild antics of the two adults, of mishaps and memories that Misty holds on to fondly. It’s clearly a life that she yearns after, an existence far superior than the mundanity of living pay check to pay check. Just how her parents afforded these experiences confuses Cordelia; owning a second hand instrument store can’t exactly rake in an awful lot of cash.

But stranger things have happened and, as it is, she doesn’t really care about that aspect. The more Misty talks, with all but stars in her eyes, the more she finds the temptation of this life sweeping her up.

She wants it, just like Misty does. She wants fun and adventure, to be inundated with that deep bellied laughter that hurts, to have ridiculous stories about a world unknown.

Catching Mistry’s gaze, she sees it mirrored in those sapphire eyes. As blue as the sky above them, as gentle as ever. So much held in them, promise and hope, a burning blue fire of passion for this world.

It makes her stomach churn, the sight of it; like she’s standing on the edge of a towering height and deciding if she should jump into waiting waters.

As much as she wants to, the fear of the unknown blockades thoughts, claws at dreams.

But then Misty is smiling at her, oh so assured, and she hopes one day she can be the same.

...

Her fears, turns out, maybe aren’t just saved for the precarious threads of the future. She feels silly, pink faced, as her friends literally have to drag her into the movie theatre.

The main reason for her fear is the fact that they decide on not only sneaking in the back (“guys, we’re not supposed to!”) but how they insist on also watching some horror movie that is definitely out of their age range.

Cordelia lets a hand hover over her quivering little tummy and clings onto Madison’s arm as they tiptoe to the most hidden seats. “We’re gonna get in trouble.”

“Will you be quiet?”

Her lips snap closed, and moments later she is shoved into a seat. The sticky material adds to her discomfort, the prying eyes their way make her heart soar with dread, but then Madison is glaring at her again.

“You’re gonna ruin it for all of us, Cordy.”

Peering around at the three others girls, she sighs and hangs her head. “Sorry, I’m just – ”

“Shh.”

“Fine, fine.” Now that she’s been unceremoniously silenced, she sits with teeth grinding so hard against one another that she might need some serious dental work after this.

The fear of being found out keeps her quiet, slumped down as far as she’ll go against that itchy seat.

She can’t enjoy a single point of the movie for the fear of someone catching them out. Beside her, Madison chews obnoxiously on gum, and on the other side she can hear the rustling of candy that they’d also snuck in.

All in all, she feels out of place. Intimidated by the settings, a feat that she keeps completely to herself and watches the movie with squinted eyes.

The gore certainly isn’t for her – the dumb slasher movie has her squirming the entire way through. That isn’t what holds her attention. In fact, the very thing that does is strange to her. How all of a sudden she cares, watches every moment of the kissing scene like studying for some test. She gulps as it grows altogether more intimate, an idea too far for the fourteen year old.

She blushes upon spying exposed flesh, private parts, and maybe she is the prude that every says she is. Cordelia imagines Misty laughing, rolling her eyes. “It’s only natural,” her friend would say, and oh, how she wishes Misty could be hear now.

Needless to say, she shares the entire ordeal with Misty when not hours later in their treehouse. “I’m never doing that again!”

Misty perches her chin on the back of her hand and smirks. “Didn’t it feel a little bit excitin'?”

“No.”

“Well, it sounds fun to me.” She says, far too nonchalant for Cordelia to understand.

She draws in a huff that fills the small room. Outside, there is a calm breeze that seeps in through the floorboards. Its chill is welcome, a relief from the heat they both produce.

Misty sits across from her, bare knees knocking together every so often as she awaits an answer.

“If they ever do that again, I’m making you come.”

“Like Madison would want that.” Misty smiles wryly.

“Misty.”

“She don’t like me.”

It draws a deep frown from the girl. “I don’t care. You’re my friend, and if I have to sit through two hours of murder and guts and people making out, then you do too.”

Misty eyes flash mischievously. “Makin’ out? How ever did you cope?”

“Shut up.”

Despite her attempt at annoyance, she’s already giggling. It’s just a reflex around Misty, a natural state, and she’s glad to shed the stress of the movies from her tense set of muscles.

“You should see your face any time someone mentions kissin’.” Her nose is wrinkled in amusement, lips curled up in a pretty sight. “It’s real funny.”

“Misty – ”

“Come on, it’s no big deal.”

This gives her the need to halt immediately, to gape at her friend. “Wait, have you ever kissed anyone?”

Misty’s eyes flash wider, maybe caught out. Her gaze doesn’t relent though, and she merely embraces the coyness in her tone. For once, she offers mystery in her words, and it has Cordelia hanging on ever last syllable. “I might have.”

“Who?”

She shakes her head, wearing her amusement with pride. “What does it matter to you?”

If anything, that lures her in as any good bait should, maybe as Misty fully intended. And she inches closer, shuffling on the shaggy rug until they are far too close. “Tell me.” She rattles Misty’s arm and summons giggles from her.

“Jeez, Delia.” She playfully pushes back, letting her fingers remain on Cordelia’s arm. “It was just a kiss.”

A simple kiss or not, she finds a pushing desire to know anything and everything about it. Misty is her best friend, after all, plus the tug of teenage curiosity has her rather desperate for answers. “Tell me.”

The whining words wonders. “Just. . .someone when I was a kid.”

“Oh, so not like a real kiss?”

“How do you know that?” She pokes up a brow. “You ain’t ever had a kiss.” It’s not said in a nasty way, just stating the facts.

Cordelia pouts, finding her tongue dipped in more intrigue and desperate for information. “But you were young.”

“A kiss is still a kiss. An’ you’re makin’ a big deal out of it.” She decides, “you’ve been readin’ too many of your romance books.”

“Hey.”

“People kiss ‘cause it feels good, Delia. It don’t gotta be some big display of love.” That, again, is spoken as a matter of fact. A wisdom in Misty that sometimes surprises her; a totally different take to relationships than she’s ever been taught by fiction or school or her friends.

“But – ”

Misty shifts with this flurry of movement, no longer in a gentle reclining position but now on her knees in front of Cordelia. Wearing something close to a smirk, she comes closer, pushing into Cordelia’s personal bubble.

She plants a hand on either of her shoulders, those palms all too heavy on the muscles. Cordelia can feel every twitch of her fingers, each minute movement. With lips contorting into a frown, she tilts her head at the girl and dares speak. “Misty, what are you – ”

That question gets caught between their joined lips, an unexpected kiss. One that has her eyes scrunched closed, air sealed tightly in her lungs. Because Misty is kissing her; her friend, a girl, and it feels kinda weird but at the same time she does nothing to put an end to the action.

Inside this aged wood of the treehouse, the kiss remains hidden, a secret. Glued to her lips and determined to remain there, especially as Misty pulls away only to leave a lingering tingle on her mouth.

The curly haired blonde hadn’t seemed affected at first, until something passes over her face and is quickly blinked away. “See?” she announces, maybe not intending her voice to sound so strained. “Just a kiss. They’re s’posed to feel good.”

She nods dumbly, still drowning in shock. Misty just kissed her.

Maybe she says that out loud, seeing as the girl laughs, wearing a guise of mirth over what could be something else. Then, comes her signature line. “It’s only natural.”

Cordelia nods again.

And it shouldn’t surprise her; Misty had always been open about this kind of stuff. Yet it does. Her body feels kinda weird, under a cloud of uncertainty, and she wonders if this is always what it feels like to be kissed.

Misty brushes over the whole incident like it’s nothing, even if Cordelia tries not to notice how the pace of her breathing has changed.

She reaches for the radio, smiling timidly over at Cordelia. “Come on, let’s listen to music.” Notes soon sound over the wind, fill the space where Cordelia is succumbing to her world of overthinking.

Misty doesn’t seem bothered, so why should she? Except, maybe she’s so focused on her own world, that she doesn’t notice the change in Misty. The confusion in her eyes, the way that she stares at Cordelia’s lips like she wants to dive straight back in.

If she noticed them, maybe things would be different. But she doesn’t, and so fate takes another turn.