"But maybe that's how lovers know they're meant to love; they see the same blue. And they both know it."
It is summer, and the two of you are on the playground swings at the park near Hero's house. Hero's not as strong as you are, and she gets tired easily, so you're a little higher up than she is. You don't want her to feel left behind, though, so you slow yourself down until you're both swinging in tandem, just swaying back and forth slowly. Your legs move with Hero's in a steady rhythm, perfectly in-sync.
(You think if you reached over and took her hand right now, you'd feel Hero's heart beating in time with yours against her wrist.)
"Hero?" you ask suddenly.
"Why is the sky blue?"
Hero purses her mouth into her thinking face. She always thinks about the things you ask her before answering, instead of just brushing your questions off like so many of the grownups you know. That's probably why she's your best friend.
"I think the sky is blue because it's sad," she says finally.
"Why would the sky be sad?"
(You're sad sometimes when people are angry at you or Hero is sick, but the sky has the whole world to look at every day.)
Hero hums as she thinks some more. "I don't know. I'll ask Mum and Mumma. They know a lot of things."
Mum and mumma? "You have two mummies?"
"Yes." Hero frowns. "I thought you knew already."
"No, I didn't. I thought everyone just had one mummy and one daddy."
She shakes her head. "I have two mummies and no daddies."
When you still look at little perplexed, she continues. "Mum and Mumma always say that marriage is between people who love each other and want to stay together forever, and it doesn't always have to be a girl and a boy. It just usually is."
What she says makes sense, so you nod.
The next minute passes in amiable silence, with both of you looking down at your dangling feet.
People who love each other and want to stay together forever…
You nudge Hero's foot. She looks up at you, and you clear your throat.
"If girls can get married to girls, then… does that mean we… can get married? When we're older?"
Hero's eyes widen.
"Of course we can!" she exclaims, and you grin.
(How the sky can stand to be so sad all the time when the world is so bright?)
It is Saturday morning. You are in Hero's backyard, sitting under a canopy and absentmindedly plucking at blades of grass. Hero sits beside you, hands still.
It rained all last night, and it's still drizzling now, the raindrops pattering gently on the cloth over your head.
(Hero says that it rains when the sky is crying. Which means that the sky's tears keep the ocean full. The sky's tears make the flowers grow.)
"Can I braid your hair?" Hero asks, and you nod.
(The sky must be the most selfless creature in the world.)
Hero hums as she combs your hair with her fingers. She is exceedingly gentle, and it doesn't hurt at all- not that anything Hero does could hurt, at least not intentionally.
After she's finished combing, Hero continues on to braiding. Her fingers move, over left, over right, over left, over right, whisper-soft against your hair. Your scalp tingles with every gentle pull, and the back of your neck prickles pleasantly wherever Hero's knuckles brush your skin.
(It's lovely, so lovely that you think you just could stay here in the rain forever. As long as Hero is close to you and daisies are blooming all around.)
Your hair isn't long, so it doesn't take much time before Hero finishes braiding. She ties the bottom and scoots back, frowning as she scrutinizes her handiwork.
"I think we should add some more color," Hero says, and gestures at the daisies. "Help me?"
"Of course," you reply with a grin, and begin to gather up flowers.
(Hero's mummies taught both of you how to do flower crowns a month or so ago, and you loved making them.)
The daisies are fragile beneath your fingers, the petals silky and the stems firm, but still delicate. You work carefully, braiding three stems together, and then adding another daisy. Hero sits next to you. Her leg, so much warmer than the grass beneath you, presses against yours. There are no sounds here besides the wind, the fading rain, the rustling flowers, and you and Hero's breathing. It feels like the two of you are in a whole other world together, a world where it is quiet and peaceful and right.
(You want this feeling to last forever, but it can't, of course.)
The two of you finish your flower crowns at about the same time. You place yours on Hero's head, and she places hers on your head with all the grace of a newly-crowned princess. But as her hands move away from your hair, a few daisies fall off.
Hero looks down at the flowers in your lap, dismayed, and then back up at your flower crown.
"Oh, gosh, I'm so sorry!"
"It's okay!" you reply, but she still looks upset, and you don't ever want to see Hero Duke upset, especially when it's not her fault.
"Hey, Hero, look!"
Picking up a few of the fallen daisies, you wrap them around her left ring finger, tying the stems together. "It's a wedding ring!"
Hero brightens considerably at that.
"That's sopretty, Ursula! Can you show me how?"
"It's just like this…"
Mimicking your movements, Hero picks up three flowers, takes your right hand, and ties the daisies together on your ring finger.
"We match now," she says, delighted.
(All real wedding rings go on the left hand, but you don't think Hero needs to know that she's done it wrong.)
The rain has stopped completely now, and a rainbow is stretching its way across the horizon. Hero pauses to look at it.
"Ursula," she says, "What do you think rainbows mean?"
You think about rainbows, how they always come after rain and how bright and colorful they are.
"Rainbows are when the sky is laughing, when what's making them cry has gone away, and now they're happy and relieved."
Hero smiles, takes your flower ring hand in hers and leans her head against your shoulder. She looks back out at the rainbow with brighter eyes than before.
"That sounds lovely."
(The sky turns blue immediately after a rainbow. So no matter what, it's going to end up sad again.)
"It does sound lovely."
(But then, that's another thing Hero doesn't need to know.)
It is your first ever sleepover at Hero's house instead of yours. You've brought a sleeping bag, but Hero tells you that there's no need to use it- she wouldn't make her best friend sleep on the ground. Hero's bed is big enough for two people to fit on it, her blanket's enough to cover the both of you, and there's a sink next to hers in the bathroom for you to use. It's almost like everything in her house has stepped aside, just to make room for you.
(Even so, you can't help feeling like an intruder.)
After dinner with Hero's brother and mums, the two of you head to the living room. She grabs a box of crayons and two sheets of paper.
"Let's draw something!"
You sit down and try to sketch out you and Hero on the couch as accurately as you can. Your art skills are rather lacking, but you can still try, at least. After all, first sleepover here- it's important, and you want to remember this moment exactly as it is.
About ten minutes into this endeavor, you look over at Hero's paper to see what she has.
Hero's drawn a rainbow that arches over an orange grass field, on which two smiling girls in white dresses are standing. The flowers in the field are gold and silver, the clouds are purple, and the sun shines green. Most strangely, the sky is yellow.
You point at the sky in her drawing, confused. "Why are the colors all wrong?"
"It's not wrong," Hero says, "It's just another world where the sky is happy."
A world where the sky is happy… "What do you think that would be like?"
She looks down at her paper. "I think it would be nice."
You don't know what makes you tell Hero, "We should get married on that world," but she smiles and points to the girls holding hands under the rainbow.
"We already are," she whispers, like it's a secret for just the two of you, and you feel something flutter in your chest.
It is sunset. You are lying on the grass with Hero, looking up at the pink-streaked sky. The evening is peaceful, but your mind is restless.
Hero points out interestingly-shaped clouds to you and you try to pay attention to her words.
(This is the difference between you and Hero, you think. You look up at the clouds and see just clouds, but Hero sees sailboats and tigers and castles and fairies.)
Hero is pointing out a cloud that she thinks looks like a dragon when you finally speak.
"You… you know that LGBTQA meeting that we went to with Balthazar? Last week?"
Hero's expression turns suddenly serious. She props her head up on her arm to look at you more closely. "Yeah?"
Her gaze is unsettling. You take a deep breath. "I… well… after the meeting, I did some research and… and… I think… I think… I… might… be... asexual?" There. I said it.
You swallow and continue. "It's just, at… at the meeting, w-when they were talking about what asexuality was, I… I realized that a lot of that applied to me… Like, I can tell when someone's supposed to be attractive, but I don't… I don't really feel any actual attraction to them? I've- I've had crushes before, but I've only ever felt romantic attraction to them, not… not like…"
You trail off, choosing to instead look over at Hero to gauge her reaction. Her face is still, and she isn't looking directly at you, but she doesn't look incredulous or disgusted, at least.
You take another breath and try to keep your eyes on Hero's face. "I-Is… is that okay with you?"
Hero looks up immediately.
"Oh! Of course!" she exclaims, and her smile doesn't look forced. "Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something as well. About the meeting. It's- I think… I'm... pansexual. Probably. Maybe."
Your eyes widen slightly before you nod. "Oh! Well… I… I support you. And I'm really glad you've figured yourself out."
You nod (again) and pray for the tension in the air to dissipate soon.
And then Hero laughs, tentative at first, then bolder. And then you laugh too, just because you are so, so relieved. Hero believes you. Hero is fine with you. Hero isn't going to leave you. Hero isn't straight either. The two of you will be fine. It's okay. Everything is okay. Everything is going to be okay.
(Overhead, the sun is starting to set.)
A minute passes, and you're still laughing. You can't seem to stop laughing- great, big, gasping laughs that make your sides ache and your throat hurt and your eyes well up in tears- and Hero's still laughing too. It's getting darker outside but you're both just rolling around on the grass with relief and hysteria coursing through your veins. It is absolutely ridiculous.
The laughs eventually die down into giggles, and then into hiccups, and then into silence, punctuated with sharp intakes for breath.
"Okay," Hero gasps, wiping tears of mirth from her eyes, "you're asexual and I'm panromantic pansexual, and everything is fine, right?"
You nod and stifle another laugh.
The next day, Hero asks if you know your romantic orientation yet, and you reply with "homoromantic, probably". And then, just because you can, you add, "so we can still get married later like you promised."
Hero nods, mock-serious. "Definitely."
(You laugh at that, and pretend it doesn't hurt.)
It is lunchtime, and Messina's school formal is in a week.
The group of people you eat lunch with has shrunk considerably ever since the Year 13s and Meg went off to college or work, or some combination of the two. It's just you and Hero now, and occasionally Dogberry and Verges. They're not here today, though.
Smoothing down your skirt, you wait for Hero at the lunch table. You're far too nervous to eat, but you force yourself to take a few bites of your sandwich anyway.
You try reasoning with yourself a little. If Hero rejects you, the two of you stay friends and nothing changes. After all, you're pretty sure Hero wouldn't think any differently of you or act any differently around you. And if Hero says yes, you will be incandescently happy.
(There is nothing for you to lose.)
Hero arrives from class with backpack, lunchbox, and tea-filled thermos in tow. She smiles at you as she sits down.
(But there is something to lose, and that something is hope. If you never ask, there is always a possibility that Hero feels the same way; she just hasn't said so yet.)
"Hey," you say, hoping that your voice sounds normal.
"Hey," she replies.
(The point remaining is that part of you is quite willing to live in the land of "almost"s and "maybe"s if it keeps you from the "no"s. And another part of you wants to climb to the top of The Hill right now and shout "I love Hero Duke!" for all the world to hear, consequences be damned.)
Hero is talking, something about a project she has due next week. You try to listen to every word she says, because everything Hero Duke says is important in some way, but you're having trouble thinking about anything else other than what you're going to ask her.
(Or maybe you shouldn't ask her at all. Who knows?)
But then Hero mentions formal, and really, it's now or never.
"Would you like to go to formal with me?"
You'd expected the words to explode out of you after they've spent so much time living right below the surface of your skin. Like lightning, or carbon dioxide trapped in a soda bottle.
But the words aren't jarring or abrupt. They're a simple, straightforward question, asked clearly and calmly.
(Which isn't to say you're not nervous.)
Hero is staring at you with wide, unblinking eyes. You have no idea what she's thinking.
(It's cold today. You should've checked the weather forecast. It's cold and it's windy and you wish you had a jacket to hold onto right now.)
(The sky is grey today, as if it, too, is holding its breath and hoping.)
(You think it is going to rain soon.)
"W-when you say go with you, do you mean as friends or…"
(It feels like the moment right before the storm, where everyone's on edge, just waiting for that one thing.)
(And the thunder breaks.)
"Oh," Hero breathes, and now there's something akin to wonder in her expression, and she's smiling, and her eyes are shining, and she looks absolutely radiant.
(Hero's eyes are blue, like the sky when it's sad, but she's not sad, you don't think so. Maybe the sky isn't, either.)
For just one second, you no longer feel the cold.
"Yes, of course," Hero says, still smiling, her eyes fixed on yours, "I'll go to formal with you."
The first drop of rain falls and lands in your hair.
It is you and Hero's first year in uni. The two of you share a small apartment near campus. You eat at cafés and cook dinners together, and you walk to classes together in the mornings. It's all quite nice.
Finals are coming up soon, and both of you are staying up late tonight to study. A maximum of one mutual all-nighter a week has been your agreement- after all, sleep is important. It's been a long night so far. You've already made it through two cups of coffee and six cookies, and Hero's had one and a half mugs of tea and seven cookies. You're both rather exhausted.
Hero flips to the next flashcard. "What's an open faced focusable spot?" she asks you, somehow able to still sound cheerful when it's five thirty in the morning.
(You are not good at staying up late. At all.)
You fight to keep your eyes open. "Um, it's like a large, hard beam of light…? That comes from a bare lamp… without a lens, so it's harder to control it."
Hero nods. "What else?"
"It's… less… expensive?"
Hero nods again and turns to the last flashcard in the deck. "What are the three types of floodlights?"
This one you know immediately, thank god. "Metal halide, high-pressure sodium, and mercury vapor."
Hero grins and gives you a quick peck on the forehead. "Good job! Now all you have to do is review the vocabulary you missed and reread chapter 6!"
She rises from the table and heads off to the stove to refill her tea. You take another sip of your coffee and yawn.
By the time you've finished with your work, you are barely awake. Even so, you don't go to bed; you linger in the kitchen and wait for Hero to finish designing a wedding dress on her CAD program.
After some frowning and key-pressing, Hero presses "save" and closes her laptop.
"All done for today," she says, and you let out a sigh of relief.
The two of you head back to your bedroom, Hero with a supporting hand on your hip. You don't bother changing into pajamas, just collapse on the bed and wrap a blanket around yourself. Hero walks to the bathroom to wipe her makeup off and brush her teeth.
You drift off when Hero's in the bathroom, and then, gentle footsteps, creaking bed, rustling blanket, warm arms…
"I r-really liked your wedding dress, Hero, it was really pretty," you mumble into the crook of your girlfriend's neck.
Hero laughs and strokes your hair gently. "Thank you."
"We sh-should get married soon..."
(Outside the window, the sun is rising.)
Hero presses her lips to the top of your head and laughs again. "We really should."
It is summer, and the two of you are back in Auckland for a visit.
You find Hero at the playground the two of you used to play at when you were younger, sitting on a swing. You sit down next to her and try to figure out what you're going to say.
(If this was a movie, Hero's makeup would be perfect in this scene. And so would yours.)
Hero speaks before you do.
"I still can't believe we've graduated already."
(If this was a movie, Hero would be leaning forward right now, head turned towards you.)
(And there'd be a shot of the both of your feet resting on the ground, just to show how much you've grown since the beginning of the film.)
Hero sighs and looks at the ground. "So much is going to change."
(If this was a movie, the beginning of the film would probably be when you and Hero were both middle school age, which, really, isn't at all where your story started.)
You think about the future laid out before the two of you and nod. "Yeah, it is. But we still have our apartment, and you still have your job, and I still have my short film to work on…"
(You don't think you'd like this story much if it was a movie.)
Hero smiles and pats your cheek. "And I've still got you."
(Because if this was a movie, they'd probably cut all the important bits out.)
"That too," you say. "So really, it won't be that different."
"I suppose not."
(A movie would only focus on the huge shifts in your relationship, not the little, day-to-day things that really make up the two of you.)
You look up at the sky and then back at Hero, beautiful Hero who you love so dearly, and try to sort your thoughts out.
(Like baking together, or taking walks, or chatting at school, or a million other days that would be labeled "insignificant" by a screenwriter.)
"We never did figure out why the sky was so sad all the time…" You pause. "Or if the sky was sad at all."
(A movie might show a montage of those things, maybe, and you love montages, but they never give a complete sense of anything.)
Hero looks up, the confusion obvious on her face, before understanding chases it away.
(A movie would probably also have a different conversation here, too, and that would have been wrong.)
"You're right," she says, the musing look in her eyes genuine, and this is why you love Hero Duke so much, because no one else cares if the sky is sad or not because it's the sky, but Hero does, because Hero cares about everything.
(If this was a movie, the camera would be focused the sky right now.)
"I don't think it is. Sad, I mean."
Hero considers your words for a second and then nods. "Me neither."
(And you and Hero's voices would be prerecorded and edited into this clip.)
"I guess the sky speaks a different language than us, then. Who decided the color blue meant sadness, anyway?"
(And if this was a movie, there would definitely be a soft piano track playing in the background now.)
Hero shrugs, but it's not an "I don't care" shrug.
"Probably someone who didn't understand."
(Maybe something from the 2005 Pride and Prejudice soundtrack, the one with Keira Knightley.)
"So, the sky is happy then, when it's blue?"
(It's a lovely soundtrack.)
You don't know why the question matters so much to you when you have a much more important question to ask Hero now, but it does.
Her voice is clear and sure now. "Yes."
(And the camera would have panned to the sky.)
And then, because you're tired of waiting and wondering-
(If this was a movie, this would be a much more romantic proposal-)
"Hero, you know all the times I asked you to marry me and you said yes?"
(Much, much more romantic.)
(If this was a movie, it would be night, and there would be violins in the background, and fireworks and wine glasses.)
You swallow. "Did… did you mean it?"
(And there'd be stars shining, too, brilliant CGI stars.)
Hero hums in thought. "Well, not every time, of course, but… some of them, definitely."
(And the two of you would probably be in Paris, or some other ridiculously fancy place, not an old swingset.)
Something warm courses through you at Hero's response, but everything hasn't been resolved just yet.
(And a movie proposal would be on an anniversary or a holiday of some sort, definitely not just any day.)
"Well…" you squeeze your eyes shut and take a breath. "Do… do you still mean it, then?"
(A movie proposal would be special.)
Hero looks up at you in shock, lips slightly parted, a question in her eyes.
(And a movie proposal would be absolutely wrong.)
You clench the swing chains, the metal cold against your skin, and hope.
(Because in the end there is no ring, no getting down on one knee, no candlelight or rose petals or florid outpourings of love.)
"Ursula…" Hero breathes, a slow smile spreading across her face, "Are you proposing to me?"
(Because in the end, it comes down to just this: two girls. Two girls who love each other and want to stay together forever.)
You nod, and Hero tells you "yes," her eyes impossibly bright, and the sky is blue and happy and Hero is smiling and you are smiling too and it is all so, so lovely.