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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.

Chapter Text

Misty ignores the ache in her calves, the fire in her thighs, continuing to push the pedals on her bicycle faster and faster until she is skidding to a halt on the sidewalk in front of Cordelia’s home.

She’s out of breath, but in a good way, and her bike is abandoned very much in the way so she can rush forward to the front door. As always, she smiles upon sight of the mustard yellow, the same color that makes the house standout amongst all the others against the repetition of the street.

Knocking wildly in the door, she bounces from one foot to another and strains her ears to listen for movement inside. It comes, but not in the same gait that she recognises. So, she isn’t shocked when Fiona opens the door instead of her friend.

“Is Cordelia there?”

The older woman has arms folded across her chest, this scathing look along dark eyes that are similar to Cordelia’s yet so different. She turns away from them, instead watches the flowers wilted by the rain, and waits ever so patiently.

Fiona turns on her heel, yelling down the hall. “Cordelia!”

The shrill call hangs painfully on her ears, but all pain subsides as she hears the flutter of footsteps, spies a flash of long, blonde hair and a gentle smile. She bounces again, energized merely by the sight of her. “That girl is here again.”

“Her name is Misty, mom.” Cordelia rolls her eyes, a clear disdain in her tone that Misty is grateful to have never been on the receiving end of.

Fiona glares at her daughter, then sends said pointed pupils over to the girl stood in the doorway. The same one who smiles sheepishly and sways back and forth on knobbly knees.

“Come on,” Cordelia reaches out for her.

“Shoes.”

Halting in the threshold, Misty stares down at muddied sneakers and lazily tugs them off her feet. They are thrown with the neat pile of others, hers askew and laces tangled in this indecipherable knot.

Not that she cares, seeing as Cordelia’s leading her down the hall towards the safe confines of her bedroom. Away from Fiona, from judging stares, and she relishes in the feel of sitting cross legged on the girl’s bed.

“Your mom is in a bad mood.”

Cordelia grumbles out her discontent. “She’s always in a bad mood.”

Smirking, she follows the lines of embroidered flowers on the bed sheets and then lifts a soft gaze.

“Why did you come here in such a hurry?”

Misty shrugs. “Wanted to see you.”

As ever, Cordelia wears incredulity even if she shouldn’t be surprised. It’s no secret. The sun wakes, then not long after Misty wakes; following that is deciding her day and, mainly, seeking the things that bring her happiness.

Most of the time, that leads her to this house, knocking on that yellow door and eagerly awaiting her friend.

Cordelia sighs, almost content, though still shrugging away the dregs of her own sleep. “Yeah, don’t know why I asked.”

Misty brushes past that and then stares longingly to the window. Soon, her feet follow the call of her heart and she stands on her tiptoes at the glass, nose practically touching it. “What do you wanna do today?”

When she turns, she finds Cordelia watching with a raised brow. She stands near her desk, idly straightening the textbooks on there. “I was supposed to be studying.”

A groan slices through her body with no surrender. “Again?”

“You can sit with me while I do.”

“But it’s borin’.”

As emphatically as she speaks, just like always, it has no effect. “School is boring, Misty.”

“Hm.” She tightens her mouth and wrinkles her nose, and is forever grateful that her parents don’t make her do any of that dumb sort of stuff. Not when mother earth is a far better mentor than the misleading school rooms.

This is announced to her friend, followed by a reception of gentle, bubbling laughter.

“Come on Delia, it’s Saturday.” With a bounce in her legs, she flounces over to the girl and pushes textbooks out of the way in stubbornness. “Let’s go do somethin’ fun.”

Here, she reaches out to hold at her arms. To tug almost childishly and plead with fluttering eyelashes.

Cordelia weakens at the assault. “I. . .”

“We could go for a hike. Or to the lake – Judy made us sandwiches.”

“Misty, my bike is broken – ”

Her face falls. “You still ain’t got it fixed?”

“I’ve been meaning to. . .” Convincing as she might be to others, to Fiona maybe, Cordelia can’t swindle Misty like that. Not when she spots the tell tale signs of a fable.

“Cordelia, you’re killin’ me here.”

She holds her arms in return, sighing, apologetic. “I’ve been busy.”

“I know.” Misty huffs, embracing the swarm of petulance inside. Busy with school, and extra credit, and stuff that holds little to zero interest for Misty.

She earns a hard stare.

Shifting in the spot, Misty rolls her eyes. “Don’t you look at me like that.”

Cordelia giggles delightfully, like some airy bird. “Like what?”

Where she doesn’t have the time to expand on an answer, she simply takes hold of Cordelia’s hand once more. “Let’s go for just a little while.”

“It’s never just a little while with you,” comes the reply, teasing, a finger prodding into her chest where she wears a baggy, plaid shirt that had once belonged to her dad. “It’s the whole day.”

Misty’s smile widens. “So?”

And that leaves Cordelia at a loss once more, clearly torn between her incessant need to be this perfect, little student, and another desire that has her too sending a yearning look outside.

Yet, she’s far too keen to hang out with her. After all, the other days Cordelia is cooped up in that school building – she wants her to taste the freedom of the flowers, feel the stronghold of a warm wind. She wants Cordelia to do that with her.

Once again, she goes for the pleading features.

It works a treat, dissolving the conflict that Cordelia displays. “Um, I suppose.”

“I’ll make ya a deal,” Misty grins, “you can bring your textbooks and still read ‘em, but please can we do something?”

She watches as Cordelia rolls her eyes. “Fine, fine. Nothing that is going to get them dirty, though. My mom will kill me if that happens.”

“I promise.” Misty smiles, all but bouncing over the idea of having succeeded.

Cordelia is already gathering some supplies, pens and papers, and hefty looking books that make Misty’s brain hurt. She catches Misty watching, then gives a shy smile. “I wish you came to school sometimes, you know, Misty.”

The girl pulls a face, as though Cordelia talks about a place of torture rather than that of education.

“Oh, don’t look at me like that – you’d enjoy it.”

Misty peers to the math textbook, squinting eyes at the lines and equations that make no sense to her. “Doubt it.”

“But what about the future?” Cordelia suddenly poses, quieter. Thoughtful; that way that she gets, where she’s thinking about any and every possible problem and trying to fix them from her little perch.

Misty shrugs. “What about it?”

“Don’t you want a job?”

She narrows her eyes, offering an almost storm in those blue spheres. “I don’t wanna do nothin’ that is borin’, or stupid, and I don’t wanna be stuck at some desk all day long – what’s the point of that?”

Cordelia opens her mouth, surely poised with some generic idea. The same ones that Judy tells her they brainwash all the other kids with, and she wonders if she could rattle those very thoughts from her friend’s brain. Especially as she starts talking about things like financial security.

They’re on their way outside now, shoulder to shoulder. Even if said conversations are only present for just a few moments, Misty has had enough – she begs that those very idea don’t leech into her own brain. “Money don’t matter,” she says honestly.

“But -”

She shakes her head at just how silly her friend is being, then reaches to pick up her abandoned bike. “Are you ever gonna get yours fixed?” Misty grumbles as they walk toward the beach, the repetitive sound of the circling bike chain clinking in her brain.

Cordelia pouts. “I will, I promise.”

She nods, seeing as it’s all she can do, and leads the way. Their afternoon is spent on the expansive beach, Cordelia grumbling about how the sporadic rain attempts to ruin her books. While she sits and reaches, Misty plays with the sand, the rocks, and every so often turns up to glance over at her studying friend.

Cordelia pauses, craning her neck so she can glance her way. “Everything okay?” she questions softly.

To the very girl who hadn’t noticed she has been staring. She sits straighter, pressing the nearby shell into her palm. “Uh huh.”

...

“Ah, thought I’d find you here.”

Cordelia had been silent on her approach, but now sits leaning her chin on her flattened arms at the hatch of the treehouse.

Upon seeing her, a smile instantly springs to Misty’s lips. She had been sketching and doodling idly, but now her focus is drawn away. “Hey,” she glances outside where the darkening sky indicates the passing time. “You were there awfully late.”

“Yeah, it went on forever.”

Misty thinks of her afternoon spent alone, her frown only lasting a few seconds as Cordelia comes to sit neatly on the beanbag opposite her. “Did ya have fun?”

“Yeah, it was okay – giving tours to new students and things like that. . .” She adds a few slow nods, “but I forget how weird it is being at school after hours.”

That summons a grin from Misty, “yeah, I’ll bet.”

“Have you been here this whole time?”

“Hm,” she shrugs, “a lil’ while – had to sneak past Fiona.” Instantly, Cordelia is grinning, though it plummets at the next, rather tiny, confession, “it ain’t the same here without ya.”

The girl in front of her pauses, absorbing those words slowly.

Rather than address it directly, she shifts on the noisy seat and glances over to the abandoned sheets of paper. “What’s this?”

“Just drawin’s.”

She might disregard them, her eyes drawn to movement and life rather than the still imagines made by the graphite. Cordelia, however, studies them with this admirable smile. “They’re always so pretty.”

Her sweet tone finds Misty, wiggles into her heart. “You think so?”

“Yeah, you could totally go to art school, you know?”

Misty grimaces. “I don’t wanna go to school.”

Already, she is sitting straighter, higher. She commands the room, and by extension Misty, in a way that the Cajun could never understand. “It’s different to normal school, Misty.”

“I’m okay.”

Something flashes through her eyes, “you’d like it.”

“I already like it – I don’t wanna ruin it by havin’ to study.” She gives her a glance, that look; one that is knowing and withering, and tells Cordelia to leave the subject.

She listens, with a sigh. Misty is already distracted with the world outside. As she is many a night, much to the annoyance of Cordelia. While she wants to float away, it appears Cordelia can’t function without the sturdy ground beneath her.

Sensing that she’s fighting a losing battle, Cordelia comes to stand beside Misty and chooses to admire the outside with her.

She shrugs an arm around her shoulder, squeezing the fleshly part of Misty’s upper arm. “You want to do something?”

The smile on Misty’s face grows unsurely at first. “Now?” She tilts her eyes down toward Cordelia, “ain’t it late for you?”

It so is.

But Cordelia shrugs, forcibly nonchalant. “It’s fine – I feel like we haven’t hung out in forever.”

“That’s ‘cause you have been awful busy.”

“Never too busy for you.”

Her heart skips a beat, or two, and she shakes away the feeling. Their eyes meet, the weight of Cordelia's touch grows as though gravity has increased tenfold.

“Yeah, yeah – so why have I been up here by myself for the past three hours?”

She makes a huff. “It was a school thing, you wouldn’t understand.”

Maybe she doesn’t, maybe it’s a surreal world beyond the grasps of her thoughts, but she does understand the twist of her gut, a dormant dread.

The instigator – the mention of school – draws this invisible wedge between them. Misty would kick it out the way if she could. “Wanna go for a walk?”

Her friend gives her a look. “It’s dark?”

“What? You scared?” She giggles, and returns Cordelia’s slung over arm in her own half hug.

“No.”

“I’ll keep ya safe. Plus, nothin’ out there could be as scary of Fiona.”

She gets a hum of agreement, feels the pull of a hand that leads her toward the door of the treehouse. For a moment, she squints at their joined hands, feels her feelings as she so strongly does, and wonders when it started feeling like her body was on fire every time she touched Cordelia.

...

The new set of photographs sits pinned on her wall in a map of nature and friendships. Misty smiles over at them, tilting one with her pointer finger. It doesn’t make it quite straight, but she thinks she likes it that way.

She steps back, stumbles on a mess of clothes that tangle like vines around her bare feet. Kicked out of the way, they fly across the room and join some sketchpads that sit on opened pages.

Eyes flicker over from the photograph of her and Cordelia, the one they she'd begged Albert to take. He had, of course; anything for his daughter. They both grin at the camera, Misty scuffed from a fall on her bike but beaming nonetheless. The backdrop is their living room, the colorful stripes of curtain that sit in the doorway, the floral couch beside it. Misty blends right into side decor, yet Cordelia stands out like the sun. Always has, always will. She exudes a warmth that Misty sees captured in the very image, and she begs for it to keep the embers of her soul flickering.

But they struggle.

Crackling amidst an eclipse, they yearn for heat and light; they find very little of either. With a huff, Misty works her way over to the window.

Legs thrown effortlessly over the pane, she dangles them out over the street above and lets wind tickle her toes. As delightful as that might feel, sensations don’t equip her enough for this dull ache. Chronic, sometimes. In the absence of her friend. Okay, maybe more than sometimes.

Maybe more often than not. All the time, kind of. Even when Cordelia might be there. . .

Weird, huh? To feel this tug, this compulsion, that no one can explain. It’s the human connection, Judy says – an anchoring that everyone needs.

Unfortunately, her anchor is attached to a girl that’s all the way across town at the house of a decidedly less kind person. Madison, to be exact. A girl of false pretences and even faker personality.

Misty sighs, wondering if she should have accepted her invitation to go along with them. Through Cordelia, or course; not from Madison.

But she has some pride, plus she isn’t going to entertain a friendship where it’s not meant to be. Too much force is a bad thing, right? Messes with the goals of the universe and all that. What will be, will be. For her, that means a night sans her best friend.

It doesn’t stop her appreciation of the dwindling light. She almost stops to reach for her camera before deciding that the sight is better for her eyes and not the device. For they seem to capture its astounding beauty all that clearer, and she commits such things to her memory.

Her lips spread wider.

...

“You stole that from your parents?”

As ever, Cordelia is the sight of fret; unsure and nervously darting eyes around as though the cops are going to appear at any moment.

Misty rolls the thick joint between her fingers and flashes a smile toward her friend. “Stole is a strong word,” she giggles, “but they won’t mind, I’m sure. ‘Sides, they do it all the time.”

“Misty.”

She eyes her. Well, more of a smolder, heat that crackles and grows the longer it focuses on the girl in front of her. When her eyes can no longer contain said warmth, it spreads without control through the rest of her body. Delightful, wonderful, a little scary.

Her lips widen, in spite of the fear. Like someone stood right on the edge of the most fierce storm to admire its bold beauty. “Cordelia.”

The mere counter of her name said back is enough to have Cordelia in full blown panic mode. She checks the window again of the treehouse, ever so skittish. “You can’t smoke it here.”

Misty rolls her neck back in her seat, a languid display where eyes soften as though she’s already smoked the item in her hand. “Why not?”

“Because. . .”

Her brows rise in question.

Cordelia rushes forward, reaching out hands that find purchase on Misty. They grip her with such enthusiasm (translation; horror) that Misty has to pluck them off finger by finger.

Air rushes into her lungs like a baleen whale dragging in a mouthful of heavy waters. “You ain’t gonna get in trouble,” she insists. Her parents don’t; why would they? Besides, they’re hidden away in the treehouse, where the inly prying eyes are those of the stars above.

And they’re her friends. No way would they betray her like that.

Cordelia still frets, and then paces a little, and tries to muster all and any excuse as to why this is a terrible idea. “Live a little.” Misty grumbles at her, smiling as she does it. Maybe it’s the beginning of something enticing, and she hopes Cordelia will be.

She flashes this smile that has worked on her before, that leaves her friend with little choice but to yield. Today, she has a stronghold, a barrier that one dazzling smile has varying effects in.

Misty falters at the sight of Cordelia crossing arms over her chest in a suffocatingly tight manner. Enough to have puffs of air squeezed from within in a painful sounding breath. “I. . .” she slowly brushes her toes back and forth over the shaggy rug, “I shouldn’t.”

“You sure?”

She nods.

Her stomach sinks a little; she’s been so keen on the thought of them doing this together. Just like her parents. If her spirits are drooping, she doesn’t let it show. She does, however, jump onto her feet, gather what things she’d excitedly brought, and make for the door. Just there, she pauses, under the appraisal of Cordelia’s unsure glances.

She’s the clear sign of guilt, apologetic dark eyes.

Those are ignored as she hoists the hatch open in one swift move and begins the descent that is nothing more than muscle memory. About half way down, she notices the distinct lack of noise, of a shadow, and hops back up a couple of rungs to blink at her friend. “You stayin’ here?”

She’s taken aback, maybe. What had she been thinking? Cordelia is so strange sometimes, so lost in her thoughts and this hypothetical world. Yanked once more into reality, she blinks and tries to make her brain catch up with her mouth. “Um. . .”

There’s a delay apparently.

Misty feels her mouth tug into a smile. “Well, if you ever decide, I’m goin’ down to the swamps.”

She dips down ever so quickly then, a groundhog dropping with zeal in wake of a predator. Only, she isn’t frightened. And her quick movements are shows of giddiness. That, in turn, stems from knowing.

‘Cause just as much as Cordelia sometimes confuses her, other times she is so utterly predictable that Misty could write down her daily habits without a moment’s pause.

Just as she’s headed for her bike, focused ears catch sounds nearby. Not the rustling of trees, or a neighbor dragging out their trashcan, even the hum of an engine. In the midst of it all, there is the rhythmic patter of Cordelia’s half jog after her.

“Wait.”

Arms wrap around Misty from behind, slowing her (purposely fast) pace. She grins and eases into a saunter, and enjoys the touch of her friend.

A squeal follows as a ticklish spot is found, perhaps louder than she’d intended. Lights of the house turn on, a shrill “Cordelia” breaking the barrier of the window.

“Oh no.” Cordelia says, nervous and electrified at once. “Come on, let’s go.”

They rush along the path and out onto the main street, where the late evening once again finds them. Still, the gentle cold is a soft embrace to the skin. It pinches shyly, not quite committed, and it isn’t the only reason that Misty’s cheeks are mirroring the pink of a rose.

They run, and giggle some more, and in their hurry she encourages Cordelia to balance herself on the front of her bike.

Sitting precariously on the handlebars, her friend produces noises and words of pure nerves, a wobble to her voice. “Don’t ya trust me?” Misty says over her shoulder, pedalling easily, even with the added weight on the bars, the way she has to hold her hands right at the very edges of the rubber.

It feels good, it is good. The way Cordelia has to lean toward her, spine curved, hands holding on to whatever she can. Misty tilts forward, just able to see the street over the crease of Cordelia’s hair. Not that she particularly cares where they’re going; she’d stay like this for an eternity.

The two of them, finding wind in their hair, their baggy clothes, searching for a refreshing boost where it ordinarily eludes them. But she inches forward, catches a whiff of hair that she tells herself she can’t help doing. Cordelia is, after all, sat right in front of her. Practically flush to her chest, and chuckling, and offering wonderful noises every time Misty makes a particularly sharp turn.

Misty feels free for a few minutes, a part of the freedom that nature so often encompasses. She is the vines that scale the enormous trees of the amazon, the roots that navigate soil and earth in search of water. She is water, cutting and shaping the landscape even when the earth tries to dictate its movement. True liberation.

And then, then, the pressure of a hand finds hers. Soft, like Cordelia’s always is. Seeking balance, a sense of sturdy even as the bike picks up speed.

Suddenly, she is none of those things. A houseplant, maybe, unwatered and denied light, a stagnant bowl of water to quench its thirst. The very thing stripping her of that sensation is the pestering feelings within.

She wants to curl arms around Cordelia, to drag her closer, to kiss and worship along the skin of her neck that sits temptingly close. Misty pedals faster, with more purpose. Even if just to force her frustrations elsewhere.

And Cordelia has no idea. She keeps her smiling, she laughs as Misty is inundated with too much.

Nothing that can’t be unshackled with the lighting of the stolen joint, the sweet inhalations that follow. She coughs a little, throat sticky from the night air.

Cordelia, now a respectable distance away, furrows her brows and watches her. She holds out the item and exhales a puff of smoke from her nose like some ancient dragon. “I still can’t tempt you?”

“You know that stuff isn’t good for you.”

On the contrary, Misty feels wonderful.

With a noticeable lack of tightness in her chest, the seventeen year old lies down happily in the thicker blades of grass. Here, she's content to be consumed by the nature. Mud beneath her fingernails, seeds and petals within the tendrils of unruly hair. The only thing that keeps her afloat is when Cordelia nudges her with her foot and tilts her head.

“Are you okay?”

She closes her eyes, drifting, seeking another drag of the joint. This time, her lungs don’t react as readily. Smoke is embraced like a welcome friend that hugs the entirety of her body.

Another nudge follows, this time on the fleshy part of her arm. “Misty, are you listening to me?”

Squinting an eye open, she gives a lazy grin. “You should try this.” Smoke is accidentally aimed Cordelia’s way where she wafts at it with her hand. “It’s real good.”

“It stinks.”

Misty begins to lose herself again. Though she knows the ground beneath her is solid, she wouldn’t be surprised if the earth rumbled and shifted to accept her relaxed muscles within. They are, after all, seeds from this world, and one day she’ll be right back in the ground where she stemmed from. Her smile grows, frets and worries leeched from her skin and banished out of this very realm. “Hmmmm.’ The noise comes of its own choice, but she doesn’t fight it. In fact, a series of smaller and more drawn out hums follow like a fading echo.

Beside her, the grass moves and bows down to the weight of something – Cordelia – who has come to sit beside her. Legs held awkwardly in her arms, she watches Misty with the weirdness to her eyes.

Below, Misty gazes up at the moving sky that holds all the wonders of the worlds. A strong navy, blackened around the edges, with the chaotic splatter of stars. Twisting her neck to stare at Cordelia in very much the same way, she finds a more regimented set up of twinkling there. Either way, she smiles. “Did you know you got stars in your eyes?”

“What?”

They widen, and question, before her lips quirk into a wavy and thoughtful line.

Merely the sight of it has Misty grinning, lazily turning over to her side so a hand can weakly squeeze at Cordelia’s. “Don’t worry. You always look so worried.”

“I. . .I don’t. . .”

“Life ain’t nothin’ to worry about, Delia.”

Aimed to be reassuring, they must come off as something else, seeing as there’s a sudden split in Cordelia’s expression. A wakening of something that would make Misty shudder if her brain wasn’t clouded by this happy fog.

She tries to fight that statement again, to insist that she’s the carefree, life loving individual, ready to embrace spontaneity like an old friend.

Misty bursts out in laughter. In no way holding malice ‘cause well, that’s not her Cordelia, is it? The worrier, the planner, a lateral thinker who has the next six months planned in her head. Yes, no taunting, no judgement. Just, laughter. For the sake of it.

Cordelia turns her head away and wears the cloak of sadness.

She may be lost to the vapors she’s inhaled, but Misty doesn’t miss that. Tugging herself upwards in a clumsy display, she grasps onto Cordelia. “No, no – don’t be sad.”

That is affirmed or denied, and Misty can only blink wide pupils in her direction. “Please don’t be sad,” she confirms, wearing this tiny frown of her own.

“You think I’m. . .”

She does allow the moment to stare, to maybe be given the insight of exactly where Cordelia’s thought process is. But she senses something negative in the side lines, something that certainly isn’t true.

“I think you’re wonderful.” She blurts out in honest confession.

To her relief, it brings a smile back to Cordelia’s lips once more. Relief passes in a hurry and leaves another pressing desire. I want to kiss you.

“What?”

Misty blinks and gapes with an adoring (albeit lazy) smile. Even then, she sobers slightly at the way those eyes are staring back. The stars have diminished in them, burned out.

Her muscles have stiffened, the spindly bones poking through white skin of her hands. “What did you say?”

Maybe due to the haze of the marijuana, any few inhibitions she has say a fond farewell and leave her with no consideration of the consequences.

She stares at those lips again, tempting. “I wanna kiss you.” Misty says out loud and hears it in an echo, and how strange it must sound to Cordelia. Her friend, the traditional and proper little soul that she is. It has drawn creases along her brow, wrinkles beneath her eyes.

And the ridiculousness of it dawns on her, that she’s just told her best friend something altogether friendship changing. “You got stars,” she repeats, “like they’re trapped in your eyes.” She wants to delve in and release them in all their celestial chaos.

Cordelia heaves in a breath, like they have suddenly ran out of oxygen. And the exhale is shaky, and long; she’s watching Misty in a bewildered manner, shocked.

But words do come. “Jesus Christ, how strong is that stuff?”

Misty tries to lift her neck up from the soft grass, but that proves a difficult task. She pouts and wiggles, and laughs at her own attempts. Holding a hand over her strained tummy, she blinks at Cordelia. “It’s not the pot, Delia.”

Her croaked reply hangs heavily on the lack of wind.

Cordelia stays eerily still, paralyzed by her own tremendous weight of thoughts. Maybe Misty ought to consider some of the more severe restraints of her actions. She’s no idiot. She knows what liking girls means, what others think.

When has she ever cared what people think?

Well, maybe one person in particular. “Kiss me,” she asks, voice soft and lips pouting, and far too much feeling in her tone.

“Misty – ”

“It don’t gotta mean anything,” she insists, just like she had done a couple of years ago, just like she can convince herself if she tries hard enough. Doe like eyes rest of Cordelia, and her beauty, and she swallows the lump in her throat. “We can just kiss ‘cause it feels nice, ya know?”

“I – ”

Where there’s been the floating of the drug, fear now clasps at her. The grass surrounding her warm skin moves and grows, and attaches her body to the ground. She can’t move, she can’t struggle; all she can do is give her attention to the girl leaning above her. “Delia.”

A hand finds hers, and that gives her the strength, the release of the velcro grass. She bolts upright, or so it feels. Pupils harden, so wide and blown that the moonlight scars her retinas.

But Cordelia is there, whispering out her name. She senses her hesitation, her obvious fear. “No one’s gotta know.” Misty promises, a half smile. A tepid assurance, ‘cause maybe she’d want the whole world to know.

Cordelia bites her lip, an action not missed that those surveying eyes. And she darts her gaze about like the trees could betray them. Yet nature wouldn’t do that, not to Misty. They build a fortress of protection enough them, enough for Cordelia to ask in a tremble. “Are you sure?”

She nods, head tilting to one side and admiring Cordelia from this new angle. In each one, she’s just as pretty, as striking.

And then it happens quicker than she’s prepared for, the way that Cordelia surges forward. She attaches her lips all too quickly in a now or never move. Misty, even if her reactions are somewhat delayed, does jerk upwards when the kiss finally registers.

It isn’t like their first kiss; a quick peck, a rash decision. She takes her time, and so does Cordelia, and before she knows it they are spreading mouths wider, tongues in an intricate dance that she didn’t know she knew the moves to.

Misty sighs into Cordelia’s mouth, eyes closed lazily, head still trapped in a mist like the very hidden height of a mountain. There’s fog and surprise. Yet, a startling amount of clarity. Yes, that’s right. She’s sure, oh so sure, that this feels utterly perfect.

...

As she walks Cordelia back to her mouth, with pouted lips, knotted tresses of hair and the memories of her kisses locked in her lips, she notices how quiet the girl is.

“You okay?”

Misty tilts her head, continuing to push her bike alongside the middle of the pair, as though trying to maintain some distance. Despite the fact that they very much just made out in the middle of the swamps.

In fact, Cordelia still has a few tendrily remnants of Spanish moss residing in her hair.

Cordelia startles, and blinks. Pulled from her thoughts, she purses her lips and nods too emphatically.

At the sight of that, Misty sighs. It never is a good sign, really, Cordelia’s need to keep everything under control. No matter how many times Misty insists that life is at the whim of forces beyond them.

“What’s in that head of yours?”

“Nothing.”

Misty comes to a complete halt, sneakers hitting the cracked asphalt beneath. Where nature tries to fight back against civilization by poking stray leaves through the dingy gray.

She smiles, just for a moment, and tries to keep it afloat as she watches Cordelia. “When you’re quiet, it means something ain’t right.”

Staring down at the same freedom searching plants as Misty, Cordelia isn’t entranced by them. Instead, she frowns at their rebellion with a sad sagging of her shoulders.

“Do you think we’re gonna get in trouble?”

The younger blonde does a double take.

“For the pot?” she gives pause, then rolls her eyes softly. “I told you, it’ll be fi – ”

“No, not that.”

Her stomach somersaults, and not in a good way. Like someone has just strapped her to some grumbling rocket and abandoned her just before the take off.

She gulps.

Both lifting their necks, eyes meet. Scared in different ways.

“The kissin’?” Misty begins, ever so trepid.

Cordelia sighs and nods. “I just – we could get in trouble, right? We shouldn’t have done that.”

It sounds silly, but despite the dark of the early hour, Misty had been shrouded in light. Cordelia’s light, only intensified as they’d joined in their kisses not that long ago. Well, light vanishes, a broken eclipse.

And Misty feels weirdly empty.

Only Cordelia could have the power to fill and shatter her heart in the same night. “I – no one will know, I told you.”

Their staring competition continues in all its intensity.

The night watches on with no sign of diminishing interest. “It was just a little fun,” Misty shrugs, nervously flicking her tongue between her lips.

Maybe she believes her, maybe she doesn’t.

Her worries are all too clear. “But. . .you won't tell anyone? That we kissed.”

Her teeth tighten, and her head shakes, and the world becomes a little bleaker. “No,” she whispers, “no one.”

But Misty knows that they did. Maybe that’s enough for now.

She walks Cordelia the rest of the way home, pulled into a hug that she reciprocated despite the heaviness in her chest. The closeness makes her feel sick, so she’s grateful for the solitude on the bike ride home.

And, for the first time in her life, she is consumed with thoughts and ideas, and futures dwelled on. The whole thing is exhausting, a drain on her mind, and so she sneaks into her parents stash in the stupidly early hours of twilight.

Snuck past their sleeping figures, she returns to the safety of her room. With legs dangling from the window, she lights the smaller joint, inhales as deep as she dares, and loses herself.

...

And forget they both do. (Well, Misty doesn’t, but she’s waiting for the right time to bring it up).

Life just goes on, and they won’t let something like that come between their friendship. Besides, she hates to dwell. What could have been doesn’t matter, right? All that matters is what is.

That is their friendship, strong but tested. Just as the boards of the treehouse rattle in wake of the oncoming hurricane. Terse winds try their very best to dislodge nail from boards, glass from within its tight hold.

As Misty awes at the strength of nature, even a storm that dominates further away and the coast and not necessarily over them, she finds that Cordelia has a different approach.

“Misty, we shouldn’t be in here. What if something breaks, or the tree falls, or – ”

“The hurricane ain’t comin’ near us.”

She kicks the nearby bucket with her toes, putting it directly under the spray of two drops rather than the initial one. Eyes glance up, spot the infiltration, but there’s nothing to do with rain still rocking the tree on its foundations.

“It could.”

“Will you just relax?”

Standing, she uses hands to guide Cordelia over to the bean bag chairs. The girl huffs, not too keen about being manhandled, but she does then soften her sights over in Misty’s direction.

Her friend is already busying herself with work. Here, she reaches for Cordelia’s hair brush and starts combing through those straight locks. “Sorry, I’m not being very good company, am I?”

Misty, in her concentration, remains silent for a second.

Which earns this tight exhale from Cordelia.

“It’s okay – I know that you get like this.” She says, teasing. Her pointer finger pokes at Cordelia’s side, and she relishes in their proximity. Inching closer, she kneels with legs parted and sitting either side of Cordelia’s hips. “You want your hair like the other day?’

Cordelia twists, even if she messes Misty’s flow, and smiles back at her friend. “Sure. Then maybe I can do yours.”

“What? Like all the girls at your school?” her nose scrunches up, unsure.

She imagined them all; their colorful make up, overly primped hair. Sure, it’s nice for the for social hours at school, but Misty has no need for that. Plus make up isn’t exactly the most practical when it comes to days spent in the throes of nature. The usual make up she wears is mud and moss stains to her pale skin.

But then, Cordelia can be convincing sometimes, and suddenly she’s there. Playing with Misty’s hair, tutting at it with a giggle amidst all of it.

“I love your hair.” She announces. The rain lightens, the dripping less frequent.

On the side, Misty’s radio that she'd brought in place of her camera today plays out for both to hear. The song is crackly, no doubt a result of the storm, but the aerial at least picks up something.

“Oh, I love this song.”

Cordelia twists the dial up, crackles or not, and hums along to the tune. Right over Misty's shoulder, a pleasant set of noises where she closes her eyes for a few moments and just embraces them.

Thin fingers shift and organise Misty’s girls, taking great care with them. She gathers the hair at the top, gently pulling it back and tying it with a bright pink scrunchie. As she words, hums evolve into words. “I think we’re alone now, there doesn’t seem to be any one around.”

“Are you giving me hair like Madison?” Misty asks in shrewd observation, lips puckered.

Holding onto either side of her face, Cordelia tilts her head backwards. Here, Misty is at the mercy of tumbling into her eyes and skipping a heart beat or two. Cordelia is intensely giddy, “it will suit you.”

“I don’t – ”

“Come on, you can take it out if you don’t like it.” She laughs once more, picks where the song has jumped a few lines. “Trying to get away into the night, then you put your arms and around me and we tumble to the ground and say. . .”

Her head bobs, finding a duet with the beat, and her smile widens as the radio continues to play out the words.

She sings, eyes scrunching closed with her enthusiasm briefly. It’s not the first time that the walls of these greenhouse have enjoyed music.

It’s the first time that Misty thinks she could throw up in here from the pressure in her chest.

I think we’re alone now,” Cordelia finishes happily, “the beating of our hearts in the only sound.”

Try as she might, Misty can’t hear the heart of her friend, not even so close. The main, and most probably, reason for that, involves how her own thumps with such downright vigor that even a marching band couldn’t compete.

She is dragged from her cross legged position to where there is an array of makeup in the corner. It sits atop old comics and board games like clumps of lichens, and Cordelia eagerly reaches for the eyeshadow.

Misty, on the other hand, eyes it suspiciously. “It’s yellow.” She points out after having found her vocabulary again in wake of the song. (thankfully, the next song doesn’t make her have as much of a pain in her chest).

Cordelia giggles. Eyes shine even in their dim surroundings, with string lights haphazardly strewn across the wall and a small generator Misty had lugged up here. “Yes, it is yellow.” She responds, teasing. Most definitely. Then, she spots Misty’s expression. “You have to trust me more, you’ll look really pretty, I promise.”

She hums in response, and doesn’t flinch as Cordelia inches in so, so close in her concentration. “Close your eyes,” she orders in a tender tone. Outside, the storm tries another battery that tests the hinges of the window.

Holding her breath, Misty does just that. Her world becomes dark, nothing. Save for the way Cordelia holds her steady by her chin and sweeps the bright yellow make up across her eyelids. They twitch, unfamiliar to such a feeling.

One done, then she moves to the other. With one sense stolen, Misty strains to compensate elsewhere. Over the pelt of heavy rain, the radio, (her own heartbeat), there is Cordelia. Slow and steady breaths, regular, predictable. Each anticipated exhale and inhale is the certainty of the next sunrise. Chin lifted, Misty lets herself be guided as Cordelia admires her work.

Another item is shook, and a lid loudly popped open.

Upon the feel of a cold brush, she recoils back, only to be lured forward again like a snake charmed at Cordelia’s soft cadence. “It’s only eyeliner,” she says, perhaps taking satisfaction in the fact that for once it isn’t her on the wrong side of uptight.

Misty nods, squinting one eye open just to be sure.

“Do you not trust me?” Cordelia asks, still rooted in the spot. Still smiling, and still holding Misty’s heart in her hands. Unknowingly.

“’Course I do.”

Just to prove it, she slams eyes closed once more and lets Cordelia work away diligently. As she does, she grumbles at how long it takes to get the eye liner to match, then hums to the radio that bit more.

Just one step of makeup suddenly starts turning into more, and Misty can’t tell Cordelia no to the blush or the mascara, even if it feels kinda weird and heavy on her features.

Rattling catches her attention, and she slithers eyes open again.

“Hey, no peeking!”

Misty smirks, plummeted into darkness again. “Fine, fine. I ain’t lookin’.”

“You better not be,” comes her warning, with a strange tug on the tone that has Misty squirming a little on the spot.

There’s a weirdly long pause.

With a lift of her brow, Misty breaks the quiet. “What is takin’ you so long?” she grins.

“Oh.” Why does she sound caught by surprise? “Nothing.” The telltale sound of movement stirs the vibrations within her ear.

A warm hand finds its place on her chin once more the grip tighter. “Just the lipstick now.”

“I – ”

“Shhh, don’t talk.”

Duly put in her place, she does as asked and quickly has lipstick pressed against her dry lips, dragged back and forth in sure movements. “Press your lips together.” Again, that request is fulfilled, and she waits. As the lipstick seems to cling to her sensitive skin in an unfamiliar feel.

She waits some more as wind whistles, and the radio sings, and treehouse shakes. With her eyes closed, Misty embraces the pause, even as it extends longer than it should. Maybe she should say something, ask Cordelia if she’s finished, but then words evaporate on her now dry lips.

And that arid nature spreads the length of her throat until a painful gulp follows.

Does Cordelia spot it? So near, still with Misty’s chin cradled between her pointer finger and thumb. Does she see that way Misty trembles at her proximity?

That tremble doesn’t quite translate into her words. “. . .is sitting here in silence some weird make up thing I don’t know about?”

Here, she can’t help herself from looking, seizing the opportunity to gather Cordelia’s reaction. But those soft brown irises aren’t checking for Misty’s own stray blue ones.

In fact, they’re not peering upwards at all; it takes her of a few seconds to piece together the fact that Cordelia is staring downwards toward her lips with this startling intensity that Misty wants to harness and keep in a mason jar. She doesn’t speak, just to take it in, to dissect and question its nature, and to relish in that fact that it’s the way her parents stare at one another.

Blood races around her body, bringing a sizzling heat. Juxtaposed by the cold of the rain, the lack of touch anywhere else.

Misty believes, just for a second, ‘cause that’s the thing that she’s best at.

Until she can’t take the staring any longer, not without initiating something else. But Cordelia’s reaction last time plays in the back of her mind.

She drowns her wants inside and parts her lips. “Delia?”

As though released from some trance, Cordelia jerks back into life. Muscles animated by awkwardness, throat cleared, and eyes averted. “Sorry.” She rubs at her cheeks as though tired. “Just got lost in my thoughts.”

Her response is a timid half smile, “don’t worry ‘bout it.”

And that’s where she expects it to die out, that little moment. Disappearing as the wispy smoke of a dampened flame does.

Strangely, the consistency she’s used to in Cordelia wavers. Her friend peers at her again, convicted, intent. “I wish I was as pretty as you.” She announces sadly, even if her lips twitch with an undecided smile.

Surprise sits evident in Misty’s response, her tight. “What?”

“You. . .you’re so pretty.”

She blinks at her.

“Don’t you know that?”

“I – guess I never really think about that kinda stuff.” Misty decides after a beat, ever so thick. True, she never considers her own beauty, but she knows beauty. The core of it, the earth and its inhabitants, from the majestic creatures down to the most simple of life. All beautiful, in their own way, just like Cordelia is. As unique as each flower, as the gulleys and ravines carved out by time and chance.

They don’t know their own splendor, either.

She's just about to share a returning compliment, to make some corny statement about Cordelia being one of the most beautiful things she’s ever photographed.

The thing to remove the electricity in the air is neither of their words, but another great gust against the treehouse, a clunk against the roof. Following is another leak, right above their heads, that steadily lowers between the pair and splashes Cordelia’s face. She wipes them away with a frown. “Shoot.” Despairing eyes glance upwards at the hole.

It has them soon headed back into Cordelia’s home, sturdier by all means. Misty catches sight of herself in the mirror, halting. The full face of neat makeup looks strange when fashioned with her dirty dungarees, like two entire different outfits.

But Cordelia only chuckles at her fascination and leads her to the bed by the hand. The radio had made the journey with them, now sitting in the window ledge where it sings out sad love songs (Misty resists the urge to swat it to the floor).

But Cordelia sings along with this smile and the many emotions of a teenager. She even goes as far as almost yelling some of the lyrics, a bold move from Cordelia Goode, the great stifler of her own emotions. Misty watches this with laughter, encourages it by singing, too. Jumping about the room, on the bed, and harnessing a sight and feel of their joined energies.

There may be a storm outside, but there’s wholly a commotion within those walls.

Legs aching, lungs heaving, she drops down to the mattress and lies flat on her back. Hair is frenzied, puffy, but still in some sort of form.

Next to her, Cordelia pants dizzily. Those pupils unfocused and glazed over, but in a wonderful way, a tempting way.

Where she’d fought earlier, Misty lacks the strength right now. She admires Cordelia, leant in her pillow that smells so stiflingly of her perfume that she could get high on those fumes. When she’d landed, there’d be a small space between them, and now she closes it with the clammy itch of nerves within.

Cordelia rolls her head to the side, then lifts a limp hand and plays with the ends of Misty's hair. “So pretty.” She laughs, somehow shy and confident at the same time.

Their eyes meet. “You’re full o’ compliments today.”

“Hmm.”

Within, the fire burns stronger than ever, a hearth that warms her (and hopefully Cordelia) as they ride out the storm in her bedroom. “You should stay here tonight.” Cordelia decides, as sure as ever.

Misty’s stomach twists. It isn’t the first time she’s stayed over at Cordelia’s, but something feels different this time.

“Your mom won’t mind?”

“Don’t care.”

“Oh,” Misty smirks, “you’re such a rebel, Delia.”

She gives a sharp exhale, laughs once more, then grows all the more sincere. “You’ll stay then?”

Misty's lips twist into a loving smile. “Sure.”

That smile is returned, the two settling into more comfortable positions, and a relaxed night welcomed.

...

As it goes, Misty feels anything but relaxed sleeping beside Cordelia.

With soft noises in her ear, she awes for longer than she should, and she wishes that she’d brought her camera to immortalize that sight.

As it is, she had to rely on her own eyes to do the job.

...

Music calls out to her before she even gets through the front door, and Misty smiles faintly at the melody.

Shoes are shrugged off without undoing the laces, and the chilling vibe of the notes welcomes her like it always does. “Somewhere, a queen is weeping.”

As it so often does, her parent’s music drags her back in time via memories. Pleasant ones, of dense woods, hot days, the gentle summer’s breath on her skin. A different place every few weeks, new people. So many people; a different kind of people. Just like her parents, not quite rooted in this dwelling, not really.

And her? Well, she's still not sure which world her feet lie in. Maybe one sits either side of the threshold.

She’s got time, she thinks. What will be will be.

In her hand is her camera, a fresh batch of photographs that all the local birdwatching fans will go nuts for. Sadly, that only seems to be her and her downstairs neighbor, Mr Jenkins. Either way, she’ll share then with him soon.

Somewhere, a king has no wife.”

Along with these lines, Albert's baritone voice accompanies as a dear friend and fills the small apartment.

Misty heads through the aging curtains to the living room and smiles at the sight of her parents. Upon seeing her, they light up too.

“Hey sweetheart.” Judy lifts up a hand, beckoning her closer. Misty takes it gently and is drawn like a leaf on the wind to the woman. Judy’s movements are slow, lazy, and when Misty sniffs up she catches a familiar scent in the air. Hands play with her hair. “Did you have a good day with your friends?”

“Oh yeah, Zoe showed me how to make a mix tape.” She excitedly pulls the item from her pocket, the messy and illegible scrawl of her own hand witting on it.

Her father continues his duet with the record player beside them, and Misty leans further into Judy’s side. “Well, that sounds swell.”

She shrugs. “It was good.” Her fingers toy with the camera, wondering just how all of her imagines turned out; if they’re anything as good as what she remembers the world being on that particular day.

“What about your other friend?”

Twisting her neck, and features, in her mother’s direction, she stares dumbly for a second. “Huh?”

Judy pats her lips with a chuckle, soft eyes on her daughter. “Cordelia.” She says, with more meaning than Misty cares to decipher. Plus, her mom is kinda high, so what sense is she gonna make anyway?

But the landline rings before a nervous little Misty withdraw any kind of answer. All three of them stare, slightly confused – it’s very rare for the item to call out.

Showing just the right about of bewilderment, Albert heads out to the kitchen where the noisy phone hangs on the wall. “Alright man, chill out. I’m comin’.” The two women watch him leave, both lost in a trance of their own thoughts.

Well, for a few moments. Misty curls up legs beneath her, a loose sock rolling from the heel of her foot. “What else did you do?”

“Oh,” she smiles, “just hung out, took some photos – it was nice, the river was high today.” What she fails to mention is that they actually went to some diner and had the greasiest burgers she’s ever seen in her life. Well, one of two burgers she’s ever had. Even now, her stomach grumbles a little in disagreement, and the weird tasting cheese lingers in her mouth. She swallows said taste and flutters lashes over at Judy, who smiles and then cups under her chin.

She basks in the light that lives in her mother’s eyes; it keeps her afloat even when things seem all that too much confusing. Like how she’d shyly kissed Cordelia again this afternoon. It’d happened just at the peak of the sun’s arch, just the two of them; patiently waiting amongst the foliage for passing birds.

Close, so close. They always are, aren’t they? Lured to one another, compelled, or so she tries to reason with herself.

Fearful as she had been, she’d spotted Cordelia’s glances from the corner of her eye. Just as Misty had been so intent on any potential avian, Cordelia had watched her with matching fervor.

Here, the clench in her chest made itself known, a tummy full of nerves. Cordelia does that, makes her so nervous, so excited. She stifled that excitement in hopes of not appearing too obvious.

In hindsight, the question that she’d asked next had given away all and any of her intentions. “I – um, do you think it’d be okay if we. . .if I kissed you again?”

Cordelia’s eyes were something hard to decipher, like she had been waiting a painfully long time to hear that and, yet, as though it was a surprise to her, too.

She’d hesitated, peering to the dry grass beneath, plucking at individual blades.

Misty had gone in all timid, but then summoned courage. Or maybe, stupidity. Delusion, in fact. “It don’t gotta mean anythin’.” She rolled her eyes, playing it nonchalant. “It’s just a kiss.” A third kiss, and she wants more. More, more, more.

Then, finally, a quiet affirming nod had come, a demure, “okay,” creeping from Cordelia’s lips.

They’d wasted no time after that, and Misty still remembers the taste of Cordelia’s lips – cherry red. Sweet, intoxicating, a true summer’s kiss that had swept her in serenity.

Cordelia’s words as she’d walked her home still echo about her mind.

“You’re right, it is fun.”

“Hm, told you.”

A long, pensive pause. “And it doesn’t mean anything? It won’t. . .it’s not going to come between our friendship?”

Her heart weighed down, she’d shrugged and admired their joined shadows. “No way, nothin’ is ever gonna come between us.”

They’d briefly held hands then, different to the way Judy’s fingers curl around hers now. A different kind of tender.

She sighs away the weight on her chest, eyes focusing on the figure returning to the room. Peeved is the only way to describe him. “Your brother called.” He speaks softly to Judy, moving over to hush the music.

The touch on Misty hardens, earning a frown from the girl. “Again?”

“Uncle Max?” Misty jumps in excitedly. She’s met the man save only a handful of times, but he’s the only reason that she has such an extensive collection of cameras. Maybe it’s guilt for never visiting his sister, or perhaps it’s the fact that he “has more money than he knows what to do with” but Misty certainly isn’t going to complain. There’s nothing more that she loves than capturing the world through the lens.

Her parents exchange a glance, somewhat close to annoyed. A rare emotion to be seen in the two.

“What did he want, honey?”

“He’s goin’ to come see us.” Albert drawls out slowly, rubbing a hand over his thick moustache. “Said it’s important.”

Judy frowns, troubled, though eager to rid those layers of potential stress. The first thing she works on is keeping any worry from Misty’s sights. “Come on, darling, why don’t you go water the plants?”

With a fluttering of eyes, she tilts her head. “Mom?”

“The plants, Misty.”

The very way the syllables appear is so unlike Judy; a lack of softness, of tranquillity. Not her mother, nor are the worry lines along her normally smooth forehead.

But. . .but she’s always been taught to question things, even her own flesh and blood. And so, she remains in place. “Tell me.”

“Later.” A hand brushes down the curve of her cheek, “now go on, dear. Go work your magic.”

She sighs, making it all too obvious that she’s not happy about being left out of the loop. This time, however, she does relent. She retreats, slowly. Oh so slowly. Just at the door, she turns and sees her mother rushing over to the cabinet in the corner. What she pulls out is a small vial and a jar of sugar cubes, enough to let Misty seep with confusion.

It renders her still, watching the clattering of her mother, and a cloud passes over her. Loitering, it threatens with rain – Misty waits, unprepared but willing to ride out the deluge.

A throat clears. “Misty.”

“What are you doin’?” She blurts out.

“It just helps me relax, angel.” Judy explains, dropping some of the harmless looking liquid onto one of the cubes with a great amount of practise.

Chewing on her lower lip, Misty’s intense gaze remains on the two adults. She holds her chin higher, rolling on the balls of her feet. “Can I try some?”

“No.”

Her tongue wrap around the word as though foreign. “No?” She eyes it again, that sugar cube, just as it swallowed by her mother. More questions than answers appears. In her stubbornness, she remains and pouts her lips, eyes squinted closer with a challenge toward her caregivers.

Albert pads over to her barefoot, and brushes a hand through his long hair. Curled, just like hers. It then sits on her shoulder and begins to lead her out, “c’mon, you want something to eat, petal? We picked some berries this morning.”

She gives a grunt of annoyance, twists her head again, but Judy is retreating to their bedroom, the flowers call out to be watered and she instead listens to her father's mindless chatter over a buffet of fruits and homemade bread.

If she wasn’t confused already, she certainly is now.

....

“Then, she got all weird – like, she couldn’t even talk back. At first I thought she was asleep, but she made some strange noises. . .only for a few seconds. I dunno, it was kinda scary.”

Confessing such a thing to Cordelia has butterflies in her stomach. Not the soft ones, but the angry, tornadoing ones that make her seem not quite right.

She stretches out legs and glances at her friend. “Weird, huh?”

Cordelia appears far from impressed, so much so that Misty can sense on incoming lecture. She always regrets telling her, almost.

But it never arrives. Halted by some barricade, it fades just as the gray clouds do. They’re sat in the treehouse, with its temporary fixes from the storm; those being hastily hammered boards to cover over the many, many holes. It still smells of a musty damp, Cordelia’s childhood games effectively ruined by old water, but the shell of it remains intact.

“Hmmm, pretty weird. Is she okay?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Cordelia noticeably swallows. “Are you okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I be?”

Even as she asks that, initially rhetoric, question, she opens the room to further probing. That comes in the form of Cordelia coming to lay by her side. Serious, adorably so, and pragmatic and puzzle solving, when maybe she thinks maybe she just needs company rather than therapy.

“You look worried.”

Eyebrows poke up, “I do, huh?”

“Yeah,” she teases, leaning forward on her forearms and then smirking. “Look at all these wrinkles on your face.” Cordelia points between her brow, beneath her eyes, around the corners of her mouth, “So, so many.” She giggles, hand lingering. Her recently manicured hands are crazily soft, and Misty leans into them.

Even if she wants to melt within the touch, she won’t let any of that taunting slide. Not a single ounce of it. “You can’t tell me I look stressed.”

“I’m over my worrying now.” Cordelia scoffs. “School is finished, remember?” That’s right, officially over, and Misty is more than excited at the idea that her friend will no longer be bound to that building during the day.

Still. . .“You'll find something else to worry over.” She nudges her side.

“Shut up.”

Smirking, Misty shakes her head. “No.”

“Be quiet, Misty Day. I won’t have you tease me like that.”

On her back in the reclined position, she stares up at Cordelia like one would sit back and appreciate the stars. Lungs deflate with a sigh, muscles relaxed in spite of the previously heavy conversation.

Then, she dares just once more. “Make me.”

Pupils narrow, intensify, and she thinks maybe she’s gone a step too far when there is the passing of something temporary over Cordelia’s features.

But it disappears, as do the inhibitions, apparently. The next thing she knows, Cordelia is pushing herself up, palms bearing the weight of her upper body. She sneaks in, nearer, until breath tickles the other’s lips. Foreplay, really. A giddying sensation that has Misty’s heart in her throat and the excitement fizzing away in every crevice.

The kiss is imminent, a promise, pushing through the horizon and ready to crash land on Misty's lips. She’s more than braced for the impact. In fact, she’s rather impatient for it and, when Cordelia takes those few seconds too long, she cradles the back of her head.

Tresses of smooth hair catch between her fingertips, and only brings Cordelia nearer. Bridges the gap, connects what ought to be connected, and sends Misty into a bliss just like the one her own mother had found.

She sighs against those lips; happy, contented. This is her paradise, her serenity. When she closes her eyes and deepens the kiss with a fuzzy, and wonderful, ache in her chest, all seems right in the world.

It can’t last forever, and it doesn’t. Just as always, the kisses are taken away. The retreat with Cordelia’s form who rolls over onto her side and gazes away from Misty. Every so often, she does grace her with a tiny peek, all the while Misty is pressing lips together and trying to mimic that wonderful pressure from moments ago.

Maybe, just maybe, she can convince herself that Cordelia is doing that same. That she daydreams about it, that it haunts her thoughts without fail. Would be nice, right? To think that these feelings are mutual.

“You kiss so differently to Hank.”

Maybe not.

It takes a few seconds, but those words do settle. They weigh on Misty, steal the air from her lungs, glue to muscles to the wooden planks beneath her.

She’s still, paralyzed, and thwarted by confusion. “Hank?”

“Yes,” Cordelia sighs, “wait, didn’t I tell you?” Her crestfallen, and slow, shake of her head answers that question.

Now, Misty’s heart beats, but not in the chimes of adoration. No, hefty bells of warning call out, a bellow of grand proportions. Why hadn’t she headed them before? Well, she hadn’t heard them, or chose not to, either way.

Their signal is too loud to ignore now, the pain in her chest inescapable.

The realization that not only has she lied to Cordelia, but she’s also lied to herself. It doesn’t have to mean anything, she’d insisted. Maybe it does, maybe it means a lot. Too much to say.

Unfortunately, it appears that those kisses don’t mean as much to Cordelia. With every passing second as the girl gushes over a descriptive story of some guy, Misty experiences the slow and excruciating dismantling of her heart.