"You think there's really a songbird that thinks it dies every time the sun goes down, Arden-Lea?" Roe asks me, their eyes shut tightly against the roaring sunrise before us. "No." I say, watching Roe carefully while shielding my eyes. Their expression, previously hopeful, falls flat and bursts open, like a water balloon on a sharp nail. "I mean," I add hurriedly, "I don't think so, but if there is one, then it's surely quite relieved right now." A small smile spreads over Roe's face, like butter on warm toast, and Roe turns onto their side to look at me, their shoulder length auburn waves moving as they do so. "I like to think so. The world is much dreamier that way." I raise my eyebrows. "You're a hopeless romantic." I note. Roe turns back onto their side and shuts their eyes. "You are too." They reply. "Yes," I admit, "but I'm much more dignified about it." Roe stretches their arms out up to the sky, palms up. "What's so undignified about wanting to see the dreamlike in the world, Arden-Lea?" They inquire.
"You don't need to say my name every time your sentence ends with a question mark." I mutter, but I secretly like how they say my name, though I'll never admit it. I mimic their movement, and both our hands are up beneath the cloud-spread sky. Roe whistles sharply. "I know, but I want to." I begin to smile despite myself. "It's pretty." They add, and with that, a melted butter smile spreads over my face, too. That's the power of Roe Cedar; the power to bring melted butter smiles to peoples faces, to plant honeysuckle kisses on your cheek- or at least that's how I imagine their kisses to be. And as per usual, they're right. Arden-Lea Arai is a pretty name, probably the one good thing my father gave me before he dumped me in this orphanage. I'm told my mother died in childbirth. My father didn't want me anyway, and dumped me on the steps of the orphanage in a wicker basket. Roe, on the other hand, has no idea about their parents-and doesn't care for that matter. Roe was found in a back alley, and brought here, and that's all they know. They're quite content living their life the way it is, and I'm just as happy with them in my life.
We laid there for a bit, waiting until the sun had fully ascended into the warm cradle of the sky's embrace before we headed back inside for breakfast. We spent the day doing our chores and homework, and we played a bit of soccer before supper with the younger children. Roe is good at soccer, like they are at most things. I'm not bad either, but I mostly sit on the sidelines, serve as a referee, and comfort the sobbing children as they point fingers at each other, only to play together the next morning as if nothing had happened. I watch with mild amusement as Roe pretends to lose the ball to Maia, a little girl with bouncy golden ringlets, and she shrieks giddily before zigzagging off between the children. Roe and I exchange a wry smile, and they wink before jogging off to go steal the ball from another unfortunate ten year old.
Late that night, I'm climbing out the window to go watch the stars down at the pond with Roe-like we always do. My black tresses-braided in two messy plaits, trail behind me as I leap barefoot down the soft grassy hill quietly. I've never been able to sneak up on Roe- their ears are too keen for that. My white cotton night gown-a hand me down from the nuns, of course, seems suddenly much more fine, like a ballgown, in the pale moonlight. Then again, whenever Roe looks at you, it wouldn't have mattered whether you were wearing a potato sack or an outfit made of the world's most luxurious fabric, for if Roe happens to look at you for a period of time longer than 7 seconds, you'll feel a crazy little blush spread over you and engulf you in a feeling more expensive than all the world's riches. Roe hears me when I'm just a hair away from poking them in the shoulder, and I sigh in frustration. "I almost had it." I huff. Roe smirks in response. "But you didn't." They laugh merrily. "Oh shut up!" I throw grass halfheartedly, and some of it lands in the water.
"The stars look beautiful tonight." I note. Roe turns their head to look at me. "They always look beautiful, but there is something magical about the stars tonight." They declare. I wrinkle my nose, but stay silent, watching Roe's face. Roe has a face that can only be described as an old pearl. Sure, there are other oysters out there with other pearls that might be just as beautiful or even more so, but this pearl is made even more precious by time, and you've grown too attached to it to bear to replace it or change it in any way. Roe is perfect; sweet and sarcastic, attractive and smart, a little arrogant, but that's all part of the charm. It's for that reason alone; Roe being perfect, that as our brown eyes drew us together and our lips brushed one another, when our dark irises no longer gleamed with moonlight but with an orange, engulfing fire, Roe got up and ran. Roe promised me with a kiss upon my cheek, that they would be back. "I love you, Arden-Lea," they whispered. And then they ran into the home that burned. Roe never watched another sunrise with me.
Now, seven years later, as I gaze up at a mournful dark sky with a few tiny stars speckled here and there, and a painfully beautiful full moon reflected perfectly in that same pond of still water, I feel the same as when the orphanage burned down. Numb, confused, scared. I know that as a seventeen year old, I should have been able to help, back then. I was supposed to be just as brave as Roe; brave enough to be worthy of their affection, brave enough to help the thirty other children I called my siblings. But I wasn't. I had watched as Roe ran in and ran out and ran in and out and all I could do was stand there petrified. At some point, I vaguely remember crying children clutching at me and hugging and screaming, and buckets of water had somehow been thrown into the mix. I remember watching the doorway desperately and seeing Roe's frame stumble towards the door's opening before the door slammed shut and everything exploded. I turn my head to look over my shoulder at the burnt remnants of the orphanage and shiver through the tears.
A sudden breeze sweeps past me, and I jolt, whipping back around to face the moon reflected on the surface of the black, star speckled water, and am greeted by a lightly brushed honeysuckle kiss on my cheek. I freeze, and then I smile a teary smile up at the moon, one of melted butter on warm toast.