It’s high here. That’s what she thought. Everything was an all-encompassing blackness and there was no way to tell how high or low she was. But she knew. Inside her mind, she knew. She felt the elevation as an old friend who’d turned obsessive captor and she couldn’t see a way down in the darkness that held her. When she dared to question why she was held so tightly, there was only silence. A silence that could be understood as both avoidance and a simple “because it’s safe here” It was here she stayed where only her gaze could cross the distance to the flicker of light that called out to her. This light she often watched in its stationary position unable to reach out to it despite knowing that she needed it. Somehow. Someway. She needed to connect to that light. It was the only way she could come down…
“You alright, Dani?”
Dani blinked from her daze and turned to her dad, his heterochromatic eyes focused on her in concern. He touched her hand gently, pulling her to focus. She offered him a bit of a smile as she reached out almost childishly to flick one of his brunette curls. Mathew Bennet chuckled a bit but squeezed her hand. She glanced at their joined flash, so contrasted in tone and tilting her head at the way he did not let go. He was worried. Obviously. Though for good reason considering it only just dawned on her that her breakfast was untouched and she was due for school soon. Dani quite carefully slid her hand from her dad’s while picking up her fork and poking at her eggs. She cleared her throat and began to eat, sating the hunger that for a moment she’d completely forgotten. In her peripheral, her dad visibly relaxed. They ate quietly, but she couldn’t avoid the small looks he slid her every now and then when he thought she wasn’t paying attention. Of course, she was; she always was. Silently, Dani counted the seconds before he decided to broach the subject of her daydreaming.
“Penny for them?” He asked.
Dani shrugged. “I was just thinking.”
“I’d be more concerned if you weren’t. Is it that boy you’re always on about?” he asked a bit playfully.
“Yeah, it is, actually. I spoke to him the other day.”
He frowned a bit, that worry seeping back into his admittedly more relaxed expression. He was always less tense when they discussed her school life. “Did you now? How did it go? Did you get on okay?”
“I gave him my notebook to take a look at. After that, I’m not sure.”
“Your notebook? The one with all your writing in it?”
“No, no, I made a new one specifically to give him. I still have the original in my bag.”
“Ah,” he breathed out. “That’s good. You should be more careful though. You don’t want anyone stealing your ideas.”
“That’s why I handwrote and dated it,” she said pushing a fork full of eggs into her mouth. “I don’t think he’d do something like that though.”
He gave her a meaningful look. “You never know, Dani. No matter how much you think you know about them, they can still let them down. Be careful.” He pushed his hands under his chin and he gave her all of his attention, a sternness in his eyes. “Speaking of, have you finally stopped doing that as well?”
“Observing this boy. Following him about?”
Danika nodded as though it were never a clear cause for concern. “Yeah. I don’t see the problem. I know what I need to know. Now I’m waiting.”
She caught the words he didn’t want to say just at the corner of his mouth and knew he was relieved she’d given up on what he’d deemed “unacceptable” behavior. Of course, she understood that sort of thing could easily get her into trouble, but… well she simply knew that if Nate hadn’t done anything about her observations by now, then he hadn’t planned to. Of course, explaining this to her dad didn’t quite garner the same reasonable reaction when she told him — she told him everything. She had to…
“So… what’s the plan if he says no?”
Dani arched her brow at him. What an unnecessary question. “Then I leave him alone. It’s no big deal.”
And she would, obviously. There would be no point in pursuing someone who wouldn’t work with her… who wouldn’t fit… However, Nate was an artist and so was she. He could appreciate what she’d done, even if he thought she herself was a nuisance, and they could go from there. At least she hoped so.
“I just… I think it would be better if he said yes. I don’t need him to create with me, It just would be nice if he did.”
Her dad was silent for a moment, a frown on his face as pellucid gaze bore into her despite not being able to breach the surface of her. Dani knew he couldn’t, so those long meaningful looks were often… superficial for her. Outwardly, she knew someone would say oh there goes a good father who knows his daughter without words… but, Dani knew he looked at her like that because he was trying to connect what he knew and what she knew. Two things that had long ago disconnected when the bridge between them collapse. So, she would look back and wait for him to come to the conclusion she’d come to a year ago.
His thin lips smiled, warming his pale face and bringing a smile to hers. There… he’d found something to latch on to.
“It’s always more satisfying to create with someone who shares your vision, isn’t it?”
“Exactly,” she nodded in a sort of “well-done” tone.
His smile brightened and he waited for her to continue as she always did.
“I won’t assume he’ll say yes… In fact, I’m almost certain he’ll say no, even though it would make more sense for him to say yes. People tend not to think logically, you know that. It’s just… I want…”
It was then he touched her shoulder and made her look his way, not realizing her gaze had drifted. “You don’t want to get your hopes up. I understand, Dani. You don’t have to explain that much to me.”
Dani nodded and gave a half smile. “Sorry…”
“It’s fine. Finish up. We’ll talk about it after you get your results.”
A silence fell between them. Dani knew there was more there, clouding up the space that her dad was holding back. She bit her lip and began messing with her plait. Like always, he was watching her. An inconspicuous action that was loud all the same and a bit nerve-wracking. His lips parted.
“Do you want me to…?”
“Yes, please? I hate it when you don’t say anything!” she snapped, though she immediately looked away. “Sorry…”
“Hey, now. It’s alright, Dani. It’s just…if he does say yes, I want you to let me meet him–“
“Dad, he’s not a boyfriend!”
“I know this. It’s just for my own peace of mind, I’m hoping you don’t start dating until you get to university. But if he’s someone you want to share a lot with, don’t I deserve to meet him?”
Dani shifted uncomfortably, unable to argue. “Please don’t worry. I can do this on my own.”
“When have I ever been worried?”
“Well, you haven’t been recently at least…” she muttered.
He rolled his eyes and conceded to that point. “I promise. I just want to get to know him when the time comes. Go on then.”
Such a simple affair that is made so much more intimate when shared in closed space. Shared between entities made separate by distance, becoming so close in such intricate familiarity and yet it feels as though… this is the first time you’ve drawn breath and this is the first time I’ve exhaled…
Danika wrote in her notebook as the teacher scribbled some equations on the board that honestly held no interest for her. They were directly from the book and so she could afford not to pay as close attention as she normally did. It was a habit developed over time and with heavy practice. She maximized just how much she was able to create without sacrificing her education. It made sense to her, though her dad felt like it was more important to keep up with her academics more. It didn’t matter much; she could multitask. Even now, her attention split three ways: the writing, the lesson droning in her ear, and the boy in her peripheral.
Nate had come to school. He’d sat through three of their shared classes without so much of a word or glance her way. As promised, she gave him no more attention. She did not follow him about; she did not watch him closely, though she suspected he didn’t even notice the change. The few glimpses she’d dared to steal of him were those of a haggard boy who obviously had not slept well. Out of wonder, she couldn’t quite pin down if it had been the “incident’s” fault the other day or if it was her own. Either way, the gray circles under his eyes were definitely telling of a loss of rest that could only have been attributed to by the yesterday’s events. She silently hoped she hadn’t stressed him further with her interference.
Lost in the small bit of musing over him, Dani jerked when she felt something nudge her rib and she smeared a line out of place in her notebook. She inhaled through her nose and quickly tore out the page, setting it to the side to be recopied. Afterward, assessing that the teacher wasn’t paying attention, she glanced at the source of the disturbance finding Nate looking at her. Nate was looking at her. Nate was looking at her.
Her eyes shifted away from him for a moment with the skip of a heartbeat. It took a moment to get over the shock that he was actually looking directly at her. Still, she managed to look to him again with furrowed brows. He pushed a piece of folded paper her way that was very thick, weighted. His dark eyes watched her to the point of scrutiny and she felt a little uncomfortable in that gaze. Though, that was fair. She’d been watching him this long; she could bear a bit of her own medicine. Turning back to her desk, she opened the folded paper and found a whole new sketch, uncolored, but just as beautiful and intricate as most of Nate’s work. She began to meddle at the hairs on her nape as she took in the graphite smudges and etched lines creating work she hadn’t seen before. The corner of her mouth quirked just so as her eyes fall on the small sticky note posted on the top of it.
Gaze flicked to the teacher a moment and she put the picture carefully into her notebook next to a clean page and picked out a fresh pen from her case. No color in the image left a certain vagueness that allowed her mind to wander and as she put nib to paper and began to write, the words trickled down into her wrist and through her fingertips. By the time the bell rang, she’d completed two pages of neatly scribed lines front and back and passed them to him as she rose. Of course, she didn’t wait for him. This was where they separated, where she could not see him and she could not see her.
Her heart fluttered the entire way to her next class.
Dani would easily deny sitting in the last class of the day – AP History as they called it – didn’t have her on pins and needles. The apprehension and anticipation of seeing Nate after school, because she knew that’s where she was taking this, was of no consequence to her. It wasn’t at the forefront of her mind as she listened intently to the fall of Holy Rome and the rise of the “modern world.” That’s what she would say without hesitation if asked because it would be silly to be nervous about something she’d planned for…
Well, halfway planned for it. She, of course, hadn’t exactly expected him to have wanted… well to have wanted her to “show him” so abruptly in class. She hadn’t had time to prepare, to think, to concretely decide on what the image made her see.
However… the words…
They’d practically torn their way out her pen. She’d given him raw work, just as he had given her. Despite the anxiousness she refused to admit to, the thought of this – thought that it had been so easy gave her stomach a different flutter that she couldn’t describe and even worse, could not understand. Yet, she welcomed that feeling.
The bell rang, however, she didn’t rush. She took her time and placed each item in her satchel in perfect order. She got up and walked out of the classroom with her head kept low. Expertly navigating the crowded hall, she managed not to touch anyone or draw unnecessary and unwelcomed attention to herself. While she was not bothered by anyone, Dani went out of her way to keep the space between very empty. Sliding her way to her locker, she unlocked it and began to change out the text books she didn’t need.
“Hey, you uh, Dani?”
“Bennet,” she said softly as she closed her locker to find the Art Club president, Ashley Lancaster, and her vice president Lucinda Clark. Danika flicked her eyes between both of them, gaze lingering on the fair-haired Lucinda before lowering. “What is it then?”
“Yeah, whatever,” Ashely waved dismissively. “Do you know why he quit Art Club.”
Dani narrowed her eyes. “I wouldn’t know.”
“He was with you yesterday,” Lucinda accused. “I saw you.”
“Doesn’t mean I know anything, does it?”
Ashley sighed. “Look, the year is almost over, if he needs quit its fine but it would’ve been appreciated if he said something.”
Dani said nothing, shying away from Lucinda’s invasive gaze. “Well, I suppose you’ll have to take that up with him. Excuse me.”
She tried to leave, but Ashley grabbed her arm. She jerked away immediately and glared in alarm.
“You’re not coming to the meeting?”
Danika shook her head. Lucinda scoffed before Ashley could say anything.
“Why would she… she was only there for Nate. Weren’t you?”
Dani kept her gaze averted and pushed pass them. Her heart was hammering in her chest, loud and almost unbearable. She went to the girl’s bathroom and hid in the stall, standing up straight and tipping her head upward a bit. Deep breaths. In. Out. Everything was okay. Nothing happened. Of course, it didn’t. Neither of them was the one and it was silly to get worked up about it.
The pattering of her heart eased and she stepped out of the stall, clearing her throat.
Focus… Nate. He wouldn’t look for her. Obviously, he wouldn’t. So that meant he would be waiting somewhere.
Step by step, the grass crunching beneath her feet, Dani approached the grassy knoll near the football field. There was no hesitation in her when she caught sight of him. Seeing him like this, in broad daylight while the football team began their practice, was strange… especially being able to get this close. Without a word, she came to stand beside him and placed her bag near her feet. He didn’t say anything and she didn’t either. He was preoccupied with a sketch… or painting… ah, pastels. Dani tilted her head slightly when she saw the pages of her handwriting pinned carefully to the side of the image he was creating.
Flicking brown eyes between him and the image, Dani lowered herself into the grass and shifted around a bit to get comfortable. Nate didn’t say anything as he reached down between them to grab another color of pastel. Dani removed her writing notebook from her bag, flipped to the page she’d been working on in class, and clicked her pen softly, her eyes watching him before focusing on the page. Ink stained the page as she etched sentences on to the blank expanse as he filled his with smeared colors.
“Your writing is incredible,” he said suddenly. “Like completely amazing.”
The scratching ceased.
“You don’t have to stop. I just… wanted to say that.”
Dani didn’t look his way, eyes focused carefully on the slightly slanted loops of her script. She continued to write and they sat in silence. Strangely, the anticipation and fear she’d felt earlier were absent as time droned on and they worked on their respective items. However, Dani found it hard to concentrate on the putting words to paper as his words echoed in her head. Of course, she’d been complimented before. Told what she did was brilliant and had been called gifted for her prose. However, hearing him say it… was different. It felt like he shouldn’t have said it so soon.
The sun soon flirted with the horizon and the football team was calling it a day. Dani hadn’t noticed how quickly the time had gone. Being in that odd limbo of focused and distracted had thrown her off quite a bit. She closed her notebook and looked at Nate who appeared to be just finishing up. The loose leaves of her writing had been placed at his side with the pack of pastels on top of it to keep it stationary. He hadn’t stopped yet and Dani didn’t say anything. In fact, she quite boldly watched him.
Aesthetically, Nate was pleasing. It actually confused her that Lucinda didn’t want him for anything other than his talent since she thought that any girl would want the handsome, talented boyfriend. Nate certainly was that. Raven tinted hair that offered a silvery shine in the lighting trimmed about his head in a tasseled but fashionable style. Of course, with the distinct lack shine from product, Dani could deduce that Nate most likely just rolled out of bed that way with no real regard for how it looked. His skin was such a lovely shade as well. Not quite pale but… a healthy absence of color that seemed to shadow well in the dying light. Dani could see just the slightest bit of peach tinging it if she stared long enough and she had… multiple times. He had a strong profile as well, his nose slightly angular and his lips a bit plush and pink. So much time spent studying that profile yet her interest always trailed back to his hair. It seemed very thick yet appeared like it would be soft in allowed to touch. The girls in Art Club always talked about it… as well as a few from class. Nate wasn’t popular, but he wasn’t completely overlooked either. She wondered if he realized that…
“You’re doing that thing again,” he said suddenly.
Dani averted her eyes. “Sorry. It’s just that it’s gotten late.”
“I know. You got a curfew.”
Dani shook her head. “No.”
“Okay then,” he said with finality, putting the last pastel back in its case. He turned large pad towards her and drew her attention again.
Dani’s eyes widened slightly, her lips parting and her hand went to the knocker at the end of her plait as she took in the cool colors forming a smeared heaven against an empty darkness. It was rough, slightly rushed in its strokes, but the purples, blues, and soft greens brought an ethereal feeling of standing alone. An entire universe reflected onto a plane where two dark shapes stood in what she knew was awe and yet at the same time a sort of hunger. Or was that perhaps her own feelings filtering into her reaction.
He was looking at her again.
Dani lowered her gaze a bit, her fingers itching to pick up her pen, but when she reached for it, Nate spoke up.
“I thought real hard on this… You’ve been writing like this, writing all of this really amazing stuff, since you came here. Your notebook had all the dates from, like, when you showed up here last year. You’ve been following my art all this time so, why didn’t you say something?”
Dani lifted her gaze to his for a moment, then looked out to the field. “I wasn’t sure you were what I was looking for. That is, I wasn’t interested enough. Um, I didn’t have enough information so it didn’t make sense to approach you.”
“You were shy.” She could hear the smile in his voice.
Dani shrunk back a bit, keeping her gaze away.
“Bingo.” He sighed. “I don’t mind talking to you and… I’m sorry for how I acted yesterday. Like, really, I’m sorry and I’m not just saying it cause we have something in common now. It was wrong how I treated you. I don’t mind you much, but you went about all this so weird.”
Dani agreed. Even her dad had told her it wasn’t a nice thing to do, but neither of them understood that she had to be sure. That she had to be precise that she wouldn’t waste her time. It was important.
“So, since I don’t mind…”
“You…” Dani’s gaze was drawn to him again. “You agree?”
“Not quite,” he said holding up a finger. “If we’re gonna be friends, we need to do it the right way. Okay?”
“The right way?” she parroted in confusion.
Nate offered his hand to her, extended between them politely. “I’m Nathaniel Yi, you can call me Nate.”
Dani stared at his hand awkwardly, drawing back a bit as she went over every detail of this interaction wondering if at any point she’d missed that he might be toying with her. No one was around, in fact, she could hear most of the other students left starting up their cars and the like. So, this couldn’t be an elaborate prank if they were both alone. And…
His hand was unwavering and remained extended. His eyes remained on her, never faltering.
Dani bit her lip, meeting his gaze hesitantly and breathing in through her nose to calm the sudden hard tattoo in her chest. “I’m Danika Bennet. You can call me Dani if you like.”
Their hands met.
Dani tensed as the world fell dark around them and Nate’s hand squeezed hers in alarm. He looked around at the sudden absence of color and light. Dani panicked and jerked her hand from his. The world returned to them and Nate jerked his head this way and that before his eyes settled on her.
“The hell was that?!”
Dani shook her head, her body trembling. No, why was she upset. Why was she losing it? She’d planned for this. Planned for years. Planned for it the moment…
She knew what would happen if she chose right. She knew this was coming and she planned to be calm, to be alright with it, but…
Prepared did not mean ready…
“Danika! What was… Danika? Are you alright?”
Panting, her heart felt heavy and it hurt as it knocked against her chest as if it meant to escape. She shook her head and stood up immediately, roughly grabbing her bag as an afterthought but forgetting the notebook she’d been working on as she bolted.
Dani had never been very fast, but when fear struck her she could run consistently and she did. She ran all the way back to the school, aiming to circle around and hit the path home. She needed to get away. She didn’t know why she thought she was ready. She didn’t know why she thought she was okay enough to go back there. Perhaps it’s because she hadn’t expected it to be barren. No, that was stupid. Of course, it would be, Nate wasn’t her… But still, knowing that it was barren! Knowing that it was nothing more than a great abyss now like it had been when it started. Knowing that everything she’d created with… God, it was all gone and she’d never be able to get it back.
Her face streaked with tears, she trotted and slowed as her breaths became hiccupping sobs.
Prepared didn’t mean ready…
His hand touched the crook of her arm, warm and sure and the world fell away to darkness again making his grip loosen. She literally screamed and jerked away, unable to speak through the panic that gripped her heart in a way it had not in a long time. She whipped around to look at him and he looked just as frightened and confused as she felt…
He was gripping her notebook in his hand.
“I… I’m sorry. I can’t… not yet!” Dani said, reaching for the notebook.
Of course, being separate people, Dani couldn’t fathom what made Nate pull the notebook just out of her reach. What made him so abruptly wrap his arm around her. What made him pull her in so close that she was crushed against his taller form, head pressed into his chest where she could hear the soft, but quick, thudding of his heart. Darkness surrounded them again and she tried to get away, but he tightened his hold.
“Hey, come on, it’s okay,” he said kindly, though the breathiness of his tone and that tattoo of his heart spoke of his own anxiety.
Idiot. Trapping her like this only made it worse. Only made it…
Only it didn’t. In fact, Dani sagged against him and he went down easily with her. She trembled but didn’t fight. She knew he was looking at her, but she kept her eyes shut tight.
“W-what is this?” he asked in a whisper, looking around.
Dani gently, but firmly pushed back from him and disconnected them. The school returned and she could feel the grass beneath them again. He didn’t try to touch her again, only looked around frantically as trying to discern what had happened. She didn’t blame him. The first time had scared her as well, but she’d had someone to guide her… someone who created beautiful things in that darkness until it no longer frightened her. It was all gone now…
“Danika… what was that?” Nate asked, unable to give her room, unable to let her be for just a moment.
Why couldn’t he just wait… Why couldn’t he just…
“Nate! There you are!”
Dani glanced over her shoulder as Ashley and a few of the other members of the Art Club approached them. Lucinda was among them. The girl glanced at Dani for a moment, her eyes narrowing before resting on Nate almost accusingly. Dani wiped her eyes quickly and pushed herself up and grabbed her bag.
“Wait, what were you two doing? What’s going on here,” Ashley asked in concern, having caught sight of Dani’s tear stained face.
Dani didn’t answer, taking this opportunity to escape. She quickly ran off, ignoring Nate calling her name and asking her to wait. She was certain he would’ve followed her, but she was also certain that the club wouldn’t let him.
Once she’d made it far enough away, far enough to not be easily caught, Dani’s energy drained almost immediately and she had to stop to lean against a light pole. She stood there taking the moment that Nate had not given her. Head tilted back just so and chest expanding then slowly releasing. Eyes closed. Take as much time as needed. No one was there. No one would interfere. In the wake of deep meditative breaths, the tremble in her eased to nothing and she slid down to the ground to sit.
This wasn’t how she planned it and by god, she’d planned for all the variables.
All except one.
She hadn’t planned for there to be nothing. She hadn’t planned for there to just be a big plane of nothing.
“Mom… everything we made… all of it… it’s gone. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to come down now…”
To Episode Three (Coming Soon)
Author Notes: How bout that for a Monday Update!!!!
This was a long time in the making but getting Danika’s characterizations just right took a lot of time and I didn’t want to rush her chapter just because of regular posting. Hope you kept occupied while you waited for me to complete this monster. We’re getting into the “fantasy” element of it all and I hope it’s to your liking. I’m keeping this to 3rd person limited for each chapter to focus on Dani and Nate as individuals. Plus I’m finding I really enjoy writing that way. If you’ve kept up I truly thank you for your patience and your grit. Episode three won’t take as long, promise.
Tell me what you think. Like, Follow, Share if you’re into it! And see you next episode!
-Harli V Park-
P.S. Sorry for any typos and/or grammar mistakes! XD Not like this has been across an editor’s desk.