“You should definitely wear the red dress. Sexy.”
“Sexy?” I mumble, confused. My best friend holds the dress up.
“Red is notoriously romantic,” Cassidy explains. “Perfect for a date.”
“Right,” I just nod and take the dress from her. Cassidy and I have been friends for twenty-something years, and no one probably knows me better. Which always makes what’s about to happen absolutely hilarious to me. It takes three seconds for her doe eyes to widen, two more seconds for her hand to fly to her mouth, and a fifth of a second for the horrified expression to take over her face.
“Shit,” she starts to say, but I throw out a self-deprecating joke that will end up making it all better, and as usual, there’s no foul. Sometimes the biggest things are the easiest to forget.
I wiggle into the dress quickly, do a once-over in my full-length mirror, and flash Cassidy a winning smile. She gives me an encouraging squeal of excitement and then I’m out the door of our shared flat, enjoying the cool air raking across my cheeks as I walk towards the place I’m meeting up with my date.
His name is Lucas and I only met him a week ago. He came up to me in a coffee shop and told me I had the most beautiful eyes he’d ever seen. It’s not the first time I’ve heard it. My eyes are a weird shade of gray-blue, people tell me. Almost purple sometimes. Lucas started to tell me as much, when I had to deliver my daily-used, let-down trope to him.
It’s not hard to say anymore. With age comes the stark realization that seasons may change, but people don’t. The reaction will always be what it is, no matter who it is. I’m used to it. Questions ensue. Was I born this way? Did I develop this “atrocity” at some point in childhood due to an unspeakable trauma? Does it make me sad to never have enjoyed the natural ombre of a sunset?
I always find it so fascinating just how much people rely on color. Food, skin, sky, beauty, repugnance, creativity, validation, morality. Color is a crutch, a tool, a chain, a plane, a cage, an escape. Moods are formed and impacted by the bright yellow of the sun or the mysterious nature of a deep shade of plum on an accent wall in an office. Sexy correlates with red. So does speed and violence. Feminine wears pink, masculine blue. Decisions and choices are made on color. His cerulean eyes make him gorgeous, worthy, but another’s brown irises deem them forgettable, average. Her bright magenta lipstick means she’s bold, sensual, looking for sex. The mashup of greens mean he just got back from war. Color is all, color is in everything. Color is even used to describe other colors. My grandmother, many times over, will try to explain to me the hues of the holidays.
“Oh, well, it’s not quite a juniper tree this year, dear, it’s more of a fir color,” she’ll be yammering on about the new Christmas tree. “Juniper is like a deep green, while fir is a little lighter, with tinges of soft blue mixed with the green, you know? Like if topaz and emerald had a baby, you know?”
No, I don’t know.
“Will you look at this ring your grandfather got me this year? Have you ever seen a more gorgeous Opal stone? Oh, oh, opal is a myriad of colors, darling, it reflects all of them. Lots of lighter ones, like pink and purple and blue and orange, you know?”
No, I don’t know. But I nod and smile.
Color is curious to me. And it is forever elusive.
A rare form of this monochromacy plastered itself to my sight when I was born. So, I’ve never actually seen any of the descriptive hues I mentioned before. But it’s like with anything. You hear it enough, you know it. You watch people speak about it, you see how it makes them feel. What it does to them on the inside. It’s like reading or memorizing a song. It sticks if you let it.
Lucas hadn’t actually pummeled me with all the inquiries I normally get when I’d told him about my little color vision deficiency, and this had taken me aback. And it had intrigued me. Hence, why I had agreed to go on a date with him. Then came another surprise—our off-the-charts chemistry.
“Lucas,” I say, dropping my gaze to my forefinger as I slowly run it around the rim of my wine glass. Here it comes. This is not the first date with Lucas—it’s the second. And it’s taken me a good hour to work up the nerve to deliver this spiel to him. But even though I actually am pretty crazy about Lucas already, it won’t work. It never does. That’s why I don’t date. That’s why I’m stupid for ever having gone on a first, let alone now a second date with him.
“Thank you for the wine,” I say, doing the polite smile thing when I raise my eyes back to his. His stare is intense and it is beautiful. I can tell this without color. I can tell a lot without color. Sometimes I feel this makes me a superhero. But most of the time, it just makes me feel alone.
“Whoa, whoa,” Lucas holds up his hand and cocks his head slightly, studying me with a squint. “What are you doing here, Violet?”
Yes. I do realize the irony of my name. It never escapes me.
“Look, I like you,” I sigh. “I really do. But truthfully, there’s no point in keeping this going.”
“What are you even talking about?” his face is full of both bewilderment and amusement.
“It won’t work out,” I say, matter-of-factly.
“Why not? Mutual adoration usually makes a good recipe for a relationship that works out.”
“I don’t know about adoration,” I smile slightly. “But no, it’s not enough. We see things differently, Lucas. Literally. That clashes eventually. It’s miserable. I’d rather walk away before you hate me.”
He is quiet for a long while before finally speaking again.
“Tell you what,” he leans forward on the hightop bar table and lowers his voice like he’s letting me in on a big secret. “I want to show you something. If you want to jet out after, I won’t stop you. Deal?” He’s instantly piqued my interest, so I agree. Thirty minutes later, we’re walking down the sidewalk, living within each other’s alchemy. Maybe more so me, knowing this is it, and there will never be an ‘us’ after this night.
“Do you ever get tired of hearing about colors?” Lucas asks me abruptly then, curiously.
“Honestly, not really,” I admit. “But people do tend to forget pretty quickly that when they’re telling a story about a chartreuse couch, I can feel the context, but I’ve never actually seen chartreuse.”
“Chartreuse, huh?” he replies, grinning crookedly. “That’s quite a hue to pick for an example.”
“I like the word,” I shrug, returning a cheesy smile. “It’s kind of beautiful to say, isn’t it? Plus, it’s something of its own beast—like an anti-color color. I first discovered it in a Judy Blume novel when I was, like, oh, twelve or so, I think. The color of a boy’s jacket. A boy the main character had a massive crush on. She used the word so many times to describe his jacket and for whatever reason, I just ate it up like candy. The word was too smart for everyone else to understand her, but she knew what she meant. I knew what she meant.”
“It’s your own fault, you know,” he points out. “That people forget you can’t see colors.”
“How is that?” I chuckle.
“Because you may not see color, but you just said as much yourself—you feel color,” he replies, and his eyes catch mine. “And that’s the very thing that color evokes in the first place, isn’t it? It makes you feel something.”
“So, I guess I just process that whole experience backwards,” I nod. I find myself getting hot in the cheeks, flustered by his words. Fleeting somersaults in my stomach.
“Ah, I think maybe the rest of us have it backwards,” he says, his voice soft. He stops walking and I crash into him. He smells like rain and earth and probably the color of something monumental, like a sea change. Like chartreuse, maybe.
“We’re here,” he tells me, and he pulls keys out of his coat pocket to unlock the metal door we’re now standing in front of.
It’s a dark studio we walk into, and when he flips the nearest light switch, the illumination is still dim. Romantic, even. It smells like paint, and I immediately see the big easels and canvases and scattered supplies of an artist.
“Is this your place?” I ask him, surprised. He gives me a sideways smile and nods.
“You didn’t tell me you’re an artist,” I look around, amazed at it all. “I thought you just did graphic design.”
“I dip my toes in a lot of different things,” he informs me, and I’m pinching myself on the inside now. Liking him even more in this moment is not something I expected. Lucas pulls a smock from a hook on the wall and hands it to me.
“What’s this for?” I ask, taking it.
“Put that on,” he directs. “And give me five. I’ll be right back.” He disappears around the corner and I stand there for a moment, still. I stare at the smock in my hand and frown. I’m unsure if he’s trying to be funny or not. He obviously can’t think I’m going to be painting, can he?
Lucas returns as I finish tying the smock around my waist, and he’s rolling a three-tiered cart in one hand and clutching a small stool in the other. He walks over to a blank, poster-sized canvas propped on an easel and sets the stool down in front of the one already there. He turns to me and beckons me over.
“Lucas,” I say slowly, walking to him. “What are we doing?” He holds out his hand to me.
“Please, sit,” he requests, pointing to the front stool. I sit, and he gathers some things from the cart.
“We are going to paint,” he announces, and then takes a seat on the stool behind me. His hands make their way around to mine, fingers meeting as his right hand holds a brush and his left holds a small palette with a glob of paint on it.
“What are we painting?” I ask.
“What’s your favorite place in all the world?” is his response. I don’t have to think on it.
“Snoqualmie Pass,” I answer him immediately. “It’s in the mountains in Washington state. Lakes, trees, the crispest air you’ve ever tasted.” I can practically feel him in thought behind me.
“Mountains and lakes and trees,” he murmurs against my ear. “That’s what we’ll paint.”
A tremble runs through me, and I’m instantly shy about it because I know he felt it. He takes my right hand and dips it in some paint from the palette. He leans forward and I mimic, and there is something otherworldly about the feeling of the brush run against the canvas. We are wordless, the whole world quiet with us, besides the sound of the brush strokes. The smell of the paint is strong, but inviting. I close my eyes for a moment, take in an extra breath. I think of the air in the mountains. This paint is not the same, but it evokes the exact rush to my senses. I open my eyes again and see the outline of peaks on the canvas, and Lucas dips the brush in the glob of paint on the palette again.
My breathing comes faster, coinciding with the new rhythm of my heartbeat, as my hand in his becomes one, creating lines and shades on the canvas. He is slow with each line, purposeful with how much paint he gathers on the brush at a time. He is gentle as he keeps his grasp on my hand and the brush, leading us both into this world of his fervent proclivity. Our fingers occasionally slide briefly into the wet of the paint, leaving fast-drying stains of what we are creating. When Lucas finally pulls us away from the canvas, he sets the brush and palette down on the cart and moves his hand from mine, running his fingers lightly up my arm. I glance down, smiling at the trail of paint he’s left on my skin. I am also surprised to see the chill bumps along the flesh, my arm hair standing on end.
His lips graze the side of my neck, and his hands wrap around my body, clasping his fingers together in front of my stomach. I lean into him, turning my head sideways to feel his breath on my cheek now.
“Look at you,” he whispers. “You’re not a bad artist for someone who only uses black and white.” I giggle softly at the joke.
“That was,” I start to say, try to catch my breath. “That felt…”
“Amazing,” he finishes with the simplest adjective.
“Amazing,” I echo, leaning my back into his chest even further.
“Why did you only use one color,” I ask him then, referring to the singular glob of paint on the palette. “Just because I couldn’t tell the difference?”
“No,” he replied, tenderly. “And you’re wrong, Violet. You did tell the difference.”
“I don’t understand,” I shake my head.
“It’s chartreuse,” his lips moved against my ear. “Everything you just felt. Everything we just felt—”
“It was chartreuse,” I finish, breathlessly.
He releases his arms from around me and I nearly fall backwards as he gets up from his stool. He walks around to stand in front of me, holding his hands out to me. I take them and stand up with him, and his arms are around me again, pulling me close.
Lucas grabs me with his eyes again, and I know as I’m locked there, that this won’t be a cut-and-run like I planned after all.
He kisses me then. Beautiful, complicated, real.
It feels like chartreuse.