Maydon is a beautiful place, Faye thought. It’s paradise.
Maydon, the smallish island Faye lived in, was gorgeous. It was full of lush, emerald jungle trees, beautiful fog in the mornings. Red, gold, pink, and blue sunsets painted the skies every night. The golden sands were soft on your feet when you walked, as Faye did now. Brightly colored flowers peeked out from the undergrowth, and the animals were elusive and not at all dangerous.
The years passed by slowly here for Faye, locked away from the world. She had never seen another soul in this place, and that was how most dryads lived now. With the fall of the humans and the splitting of the mainland continents into a vast maze of islands, lots of dryads were stranded. Some islands were full of dryads, which were not so different from humans in terms of looks. They aged slowly and were immortal. And they weren’t as foolish and easily corrupted, though some were. They didn’t hate and bigot as the humans did.
They looked like humans, and since humans look different, dryads did too. They could shapeshift into one chosen thing, and had one special talent. It wasn’t too powerful, but a certain special thing native to them. And the one thing that differentiated dryads and humans was that dryads all had the same tattoo on the inside of their wrist, visible to only other dryads and the humans that they trusted enough to die for. But no dryad had ever mistaken a human for one of their own, and vice versa.
Faye, for example, looked very much like a human. She had straight brown hair and sea green eyes. She’d gotten them from her mother and she hadn’t seen her in a couple hundred years.
And she could shapeshift into a bright yellow canary, because Faye saw beauty in birds as no one else did. She loved the delicacy in which they perched and soared. She loved the way they were shaped and how they chirped in the mornings. She dressed like the birds, wearing pink or black or green. Faye moved like one too, gracefully and with an air of cheerfulness. Her sister used to say she moved like two things, a bird, or a fairy.
And her talent was painting. She loved painting more than she loved anything else. She painted the trees and the sky and the water. She was lucky she had been caught on this island, instead of somewhere cold and distant, when the split happened. It was predicted, as a result of the failure of the humans, and so dryads had time to prepare. And it was slow and fast and simple. One day, the mainland was connected. The next, everyone was on their own island, alone in a vast empty sea the color of her mother’s eyes.
Faye looked out at the ocean now, wishing she could paint the way the morning sun shone on the water. She could see pelicans floating on the waves, bobbing up and down. The air smelled of salt, and Faye got her salt from the ocean, taking a huge tub of seawater and leaving it in the sun, to harvest the salt when the water evaporated.
It was peaceful. And she saw it everyday, but it made it no less so. Dryads were incredibly patient. They did well alone. Which of course, made it surprising when another dryad collapsed on the still-wet sand next to the water, coughing and spluttering, disturbing the tranquility of being alone.
Faye leapt up, her hands sinking into the sand as she sprang to her feet. “Hello?” she said tentatively, approaching the half-drowned dryad. It was a girl, with black hair and wide brown eyes. She stared up at Faye, and Faye noticed the dark shadows under her eyes.
“What happened?” Faye asked. She cautiously sat down next to the girl. She was probably around 900, about the same age as Faye.
“I was exiled. I come from Arndown.” Arndown was a main island full of dryads. The girl dragged herself next to Faye.
“Why were you exiled?”
The girl pursed her lips. “Some bull about treason. All I know is that I can’t go back, and they questioned me when I went to a party and punched a noble. Didn’t realize he was royal. What’s your name?”
“I’m Faye Nightingale. What about you?” Clearly, this girl had a very different upbringing. But there were different dryad families, after all. Faye couldn’t even imagine swearing, it was as if her mother could hear her, though she was dead, along with the rest of her family. The girl had gotten as close as you could get without cursing.
“I’m Florence Mourningleaf.” the almost-swearer said. Faye couldn’t get over it. It was as if bad words just rolled off her tongue. Faye found herself wishing Florence would swear, so she could join in. The thought made her smile.
Florence scowled. “I know, my name is crap. The name Florence means blossoming, and my last name is Mourningleaf. It’s crap.”
“No, I wasn’t laughing at your name. I was smiling because I wanted you to curse so I could join in.” Faye admitted, rubbing her thumbnail.
Florence snickered. “I’ll keep that in mind. Do you want to know how I got here?”
“Of course.” Faye said politely, training her soft eyes on Florence’s clever brown ones.
“Well, I made a raft and set sail. I got caught in a bad storm and got knocked out. I woke up, and I could see here, so I swam. Now I’m exhausted. And I can’t go home. I didn’t even get to say goodbye.”
Faye touched Florence’s shoulder. She was tall, and curvy, but in that moment, Faye could see the sadness in her eyes and she seemed frail. Like a wounded bird. Faye just wanted to squeeze her. There was another urge, but it confused Faye.
“Let’s go to my bungalow. I can help you.” Faye said, standing up.
Two Months Later
Faye stood on the beach, sticking the wooden legs of an easel in the sand. She was going to paint the sunset for Florence’s birthday.
She never knew how much she benefited from another person. She could wake up and share her thoughts over tea. And she’d refreshed Florence so she was healthy and not half-dead. Faye knew now that she was feisty only when scared and vulnerable, but she was still sarcastic now. Faye grinned when she thought of Florence’s earnest face as she taught her how to properly swear.
It’d been a couple of months since that day on the beach, and Faye was happier than she ever remembered being. Today she wore a soft blue cotton dress that went to her knees, and she’d tied an apron over it so she wouldn’t splatter her paint on the dress.
The sunset was happening now, so she launched into action, painting with vigor. Squeeze, mix, stroke. Squeeze, mix, stroke.
When the sun had disappeared, Faye had finished. She lit a lantern and stared at the painting. It was the most beautiful one she had ever done, and the paint was already dry. She lifted up the canvas and hurried back to the bungalow. Faye and Florence would have dinner now, and after dinner Florence would play the lute, her talent, and Faye would present her with the painting.
It didn’t go exactly like that.
When she opened the door, she was greeted with the sight of a stew of wild boar, Florence’s favorite. She grinned when Faye stepped inside, proud of herself. Her eyes asked, Have I pleased you? Do you like it?
Faye couldn’t remember anyone ever asking those things to her with their eyes. She remembered her mother doing that to her father, but never anyone to her. Faye nodded. Her heart calmed down. Every time she saw Florence, it started pounding. It was probably getting used to seeing another person. Faye caught herself staring at Florence’s sage-leaf shaped tattoo on the inside of her wrist, signifying her as a dryad. Sage leaves were symbols of their race.
Her eyes met Florence’s, staring at the trust in them. “Want to eat?” Florence asked.
“Sure.” Faye said. She realized she didn’t talk as formally anymore around her friend. Faye took a bite of stew and made a noise of pleasure. It was fine, but Faye didn’t have the nerve to say she didn’t like onions. But she didn’t want to hurt Florence’s feelings. “It’s good.”
Florence beamed. Wow, that’s a pretty smile. Faye was shocked. Since when did she think things like that?
After dinner, Florence stared pensively at her lute. “I don’t think I’ll play tonight.” she said.
Faye reached for the painting. “Here. Happy Birthday.”
Florence took it and stared. “It’s beautiful. Thank you.” she sounded touched. “It looks like a painting we had hanging at my old house.”
Florence had changed when she talked about her old home. She used to go silent and stare in the distance with blank, sad eyes. Now she didn’t. She said her old home. She thinks this place is home. With you. The thought made Faye incredibly happy. To her own surprise, she kissed Florence on the head. They scarcely touched or showed affection, and when they did, it was just a brief hug.
Faye blushed. “I’m sorry-it’s just-I was happy for you and I was happy that you consider Maydon your home now.”
“It’s hard not to. It’s beautiful. And you’re here.” Florence grinned, turning to hang up the painting above the fireplace. She drew the curtains shut and sat on the sofa, grabbing a pillow. She hugged it to her chest and motioned for Faye to join her.
“Because I’m here?” Faye said softly, staring into Florence’s beautiful brown eyes.
“Yeah. My old...friend...was a jerk. She ratted me out. I was drunk when I punched him, though. She was too.” Florence said. Normally, she would have laughed after she said something like that, and Faye would have too, but they didn’t. Florence picked up a lock of Faye’s hair and played with it before dropping it.
Faye’s breathing hitched. She tried to calm down by focusing on something else. Why had Florence hesitated just moments earlier? “Why did you hesitate when you said ‘My old…?” Faye asked like an idiot.
“She was in love with me.” Florence said simply. “Well, she had been until those last few days. She thought I was plotting to overthrow her family. The boy I accidentally punched was her brother.”
Faye looked away at the painting she’d done for Florence. Oh man. Oh my God. “Were you in love with her?” Faye whispered.
Florence replied. “Not exactly. Sure, I had a crush on her, but it wasn’t love. I’ve had lots of crushes though. On boys and girls.”
Faye’s cheeks were flaming. Should I say it? I should ask if I can kiss her. No, what if you’re reading her wrong? Thoughts raced through her head as she battled with herself. Suddenly, one thought burst up into the spotlight.
What if you’re not?
It scared her more than anything else ever had or would. Florence sighed. “I’m going to go read in the library. See you later.”
Faye, you’re losing your chance. She’s going to read in the library and go to sleep in her separate bedroom. Not that you have to sleep in the same bed. But you’re not going to get another moment like this anytime soon.
Florence stood up and walked for the door, her long legs taking long, easy strides. Faye found herself staring at her thighs, her hips. Desire shot through her. Her breathing became fast.
Faye shot up and stood on the carpet. “Wait.” she croaked.
Florence stopped and turned around, confusion etched all over her face. She hovered in the doorway, one hand on the door frame, the other hanging at her side.
Faye itched to paint it, the beauty she saw.
“What is it?” Florence asked, looking oblivious to Faye’s hungry stares. She was oblivious.
Faye was silent. But she forced herself to say it, before Florence walked away. “Can I kiss you?” said Faye, quietly and nervously, her voice quavering.
Florence looked shocked. Oh no. She doesn’t want to. Now you’ve ruined it. Of course you don’t know how to interact, how to read people-
A single word interrupted Faye’s thought, lifted her head up to stare at Florence.
Florence crossed the room back towards Faye, and grabbed her hands. “I don’t know how.” Faye admitted shakily. “I’ve never kissed anyone before.”
Florence smiled, and kissed Faye, wrapping her arms around her waist. Faye was happy, happier than she’d ever been.
When they broke apart, Florence’s eyes were shining, beautiful stars, lighting up the darkness Faye had lived in for almost her whole life.
Faye's eyes were shining too.
*Author’s note: I wanted to write at least one LGBTQ+ story, and I haven’t been able to do it, only mention it in passing. (All She Had Were the Stars) It’s not that I didn’t want to. It’s just I couldn’t, being straight and I didn’t want to offend anyone. I also wasn't ready yet. But here it is! Happy Pride Month!* 🏳️🌈🏳️🌈🏳️🌈
*This is for my sister, a proud bisexual 🌺*