The mother had finished the dress just in time. It was green as envy and light as a dream, embroidered with white and pink songbirds wheeling in flight. Phe admired herself in the mirror, twisting her wheat-colored curls into a knot near the base of her skull. Marvelous, she thought, tilting her golden head to catch the evening light. I am marvelous.
Her date was waiting patiently at the bottom of the stairs, watching the mother searching desperately for her phone. Looking up, he grinned and bowed deeply. They’d dressed him in a light grey suit with a green tie to match her dress, but Phe had chosen him for his soft, porcelain face and eyes the light, innocent blue of robin’s eggs.
“You look nice,” he said in smooth, well-practiced syllables. He slipped a green corsage around her wrist, and Phe pressed her mouth against his, savoring the scent of vanilla, acorns, and spring rain. The kiss left a rosy red mark, which burned bright and livid against his pale pink lips. Now he smelled faintly of her own perfume – hyacinth and honeysuckle.
“What did we agree your name was again?” she asked, allowing him to open the front door and lead her to the party bus parked outside. Phe turned and posed for the mother’s delight, allowing her to take a few pictures before dismissing her with an imperial wave.
“Dennis,” the boy said, rather proudly.
Phe giggled. “Ha! Not my choice, darling, I’m sure. Are you going to open the door for me?”
Dennis jumped to obey, guiding Phe into a teenager’s paradise. Boys and girls in sparkling dresses, bedazzled jackets, sleek rompers, and pastel blazers danced in the center of the bus, their faces blushing from the kiss of an illicit communal flask. Phe accepted a glass of champagne and twirled her way through the merrymakers, kissing every boy and girl lovingly on the lips. Dennis trotted behind her, dancing with her when she wished or retreating to a seat when she chose some other companion. His gaze followed her – bewildered and enamored – a little lost robin enchanted by the pretty green grass snake.
They arrived at the site thirty minutes later. Phe grinned at her own perfect handiwork – the white tent gleaming like a temple surrounded by a ring of paper lanterns and stringed lights. Phe ran lightly from the bus to the tent, her feet leaving barely an impression in the soft grass. Flinging aside the tent flaps, she grabbed a dark-haired girl in a pale pink tuxedo and spun her onto the dance floor.
After that, there was only the thrill of movement and the glimmer of fireflies and the music of stolen kisses. Every breath was perfumed with honeysuckle and gardenia. Phe floated above it all, high on springtime, drunk on new life. Hours danced by like the millennia. When she finally stopped for breath, her hair had fallen from its knot and cascaded down her back and shoulders in a waterfall of gold. She caught a glimpse of Dennis, pressed close between two green-haired boys dressed in blue. Her kiss still stood out livid against his pale lips, but his face was a mask of feverish ecstasy.
“There’s somewhere better we could be,” a voice said by her ear. Phe spun around, and a hand caught her waist, twirling her in a graceful spin. The boy was a stranger in her eyes — tall, bone pale, dressed in graveyard black. She liked the hard angles of his smile and the cruel melody of his laugh. She liked his eyes — cold and pale as promises. “Come with me?” he asked, dipping her back until her hair brushed the grass.
“No, thank you,” she gasped, coming upright again. “I’m very happy here.”
The boy smiled his diamond-sharp smile, backing away slowly. “No, you’re not.”
Phe hesitated, looking for Dennis. Seeing him still trapped between his two green-haired admirers, as well as a long-legged newcomer clad in a few provocative strips of scarlet fabric, she followed the stranger out into the road. Two white halos illuminated the boy’s outline. A black limo — sleek as a coffin — pulled alongside Phe, and the boy stepped inside. Phe followed again, collapsing against the inky black leather. Sliding close to her, the boy reached into his pocket and pulled out a corsage. Phe accepted it, slipping the green one-off and allowing it to fall to the floor. The pale boy’s corsage held a single silver wire lily, decorated with white opals and emeralds.
“Where are we going?” Phe asked, realizing that the limo had already driven some distance from the dance.
“You mean, where have we gone?” the boy answered, tapping the roof sharply with a gold-tipped cane Phe hadn’t noticed before. The limo rolled to a halt, and Phe slipped into the cool night air. She gasped, startled and impressed by the magnificent white stone mansion, set on a hill overlooking the city. The boy placed a hand at the small of her back and guided her into the home’s gardens. Phe inhaled deeply, trying to free herself from the heady aroma of cypress, fir, and spiced fruits. Masked revelers drifted by her, dazzling in their jeweled gowns and metallic suits. Someone pressed a drink into her hand. Then another. Then another. The boy walked her to the center of a courtyard and led her through a strangely hypnotic dance. The music hummed and throbbed in her ears like a spell, weakening her knees and chilling her skin.
“Take me home,” Phe demanded, pressing herself closer to the boy’s chest. “I want to go home.”
“So, go home,” the boy said.
Phe winced, his voice shattering against her ears. “I will. I am. I have.” She knew the words were nonsense, but she couldn’t remember her lines. The music and the spiced night air thrummed in her blood and bones. She could sense everything--ever blade of grass, every songbird, every firefly, every old man, every teenage girl. She saw their short lives, their fated deaths and all the wondrous, mysterious, glorious time spent in between. She couldn’t catch it, couldn’t snare it, couldn’t steal it. Only here, caught in this boy’s arms and dancing through a menagerie of Spring madness, she could almost taste it. Life and death and time.
The boy placed his dead cold hands on her cheeks. “Your tears are diamonds,” he hissed. He kissed her, lingering. “Your lips are rubies, my heart, my love. Your hair is fine gold.” He kissed her again, taking her hands this time and pressing something into her palms. Phe looked down to see what the boy had given her. Three red capsules – red as pomegranate seeds – burned brightly against her skin.
“These will help,” the boy crooned, lifting the pills to her mouth. “You’ll feel better afterward. I promise.”
Phe opened her lips and swallowed the pills. They dissolved in her mouth, and reality exploded. She was a firework display, a rocket, a thunderstorm, a supernova. She was all light and color and destruction. Always. To the end. Then again. Phe’s head snapped up. The gardens disappeared. A dazzling, dizzying oblivion collapsed around her, wrapped her in its arms, danced with her.
“My Lady,” the King rumbled, helping her to her feet.
“Hades,” the Queen greeted. She rolled her shoulders, and her green dress lengthened into a golden gown, embroidered with hyacinth and honeysuckle. She tapped her forehead, and a crown as black as earth encircled her brow, lifting her golden curls into an elegant knot. “Role-playing is fun,” she murmured, settling herself on her black throne. “But just once, my love, just once, I wish you gave me the choice.”
“Spring always chooses, my darling, my delight,” the King answered, taking his seat beside her and lifting her hand to his lips. “Spring chooses to follow Winter. She always has.”
“She always will,” Persephone promised, and smiled.