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Phantasms

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The sunshine was nearly as sweet as the citrus flesh that burst between her teeth. Robin nimbly skinned another orange slice, a buoyancy arising within her that went unhindered by any superficial detail, such as the pulpy blood which dried on her knuckles, or the filmy skins between her teeth. A reassured bliss, one convinced that it could not be blemished. Her euphoria bled from a pool of harmony so deeply attuned within her that it could hardly be brushed by a physical hand.

It was sweet, so sweet. Her heart sang through its pipes, synthesizing to the songs which ghosted by in the bulleting cars that carried them. Each one crooned to her, every mournful chord resonated within her chest. They were hers. The world itself was suddenly hers, or so she thought.

Although it may be more accurate to say that she had discovered her own world, for this type of happiness wasn't one that many people found. She had taken one unsuspecting step and stumbled down the rabbit hole, face first, with arms outstretched into the darkness. And within this world she'd found, the pavement sparkled silver. The sky humbled itself to the horizon, and the girl frequently stretched forth her neck to give it a kiss. Her reach was limitless, or perhaps the world had shrunk to her size.

Beautiful, beautiful; the word recanted in her mind at all hours. Every insignificant clover on the ground was suddenly beautiful. Every chip of granite alongside the road, wrapping the sunlight around itself to feign a pearl, was beautiful. The trees, the baseball fields she passed, the lime green can shoved into a bush. Such gifts! How had it never occurred to her before?

And the most sacred gift, of course, were the two eyes that blossomed behind her own, whenever she let her eyelids drop. They shamed the word "beautiful;" those eyes were sheer poetry. Cracked like a frozen, golden sap, they visited her in her dreams, pulsing with such clarity that it were as though they floated directly in front of her. As though she could gingerly set her fingers on the hips of the one she loved and brush the girl's lips with a kiss.

Her path twisted into the last stretch, a strip of Earth that laced the busy avenue. Her content sigh was snatched in the garbage disposal of street sounds around her as her destination appeared - a nondescript, utterly ordinary bus stop which had come to mean everything to her. It was a stop far out of her way, a convoluted route to school which was taken by her classmates only when the normal route was down for maintenance, which was how she'd chanced upon the hazel-eyed passenger named Anna.

Since, she'd strode mile after mile just to catch that bus, tossing flimsy excuses when asked why she chose to take such an inconvenient route, when her own stop was just a few streets from her house. She claimed that she enjoyed the walk, or that she needed the exercise. Elements that could ruin the fantasy that she so desperately wanted to call reality, such as logic or the judgment of others, were kept zealously distanced. The truth was guarded scrupulously within her heart, a treasure she would allow none to touch or destroy.

Finally arriving at the stop, the girl slid to the concrete, spine centered on the rusted pole of the sign. She watched patiently down the street. Instead of Anna, however, a tall, lanky boy with a mop of girlish hair ambled toward the bus stop. His eyes fell upon Robin as he approached.

"Miss me?" Andre greeted sarcastically.

She shrugged at the question, eyes focused on the path behind him. Her resentment, as always, was tangible. Andre was an object of Anna's affection, albeit one which shamelessly rejected her time after time, sparing no subtlety for his distaste of her. Despite his innocence, however, Anna's flirtation toward him debilitated Robin's fantasies; he was an uncomfortable reminder of reality.

He glanced over his shoulder, following her gaze. "Waiting for Anna?"

She cast him a disdainful glance. "I'm waiting for the bus."

He nodded, settling next to her on the sidewalk. After a few moments he said, "I doubt she's coming today, anyway."

"Why?"

"She always skips."

"She wouldn't skip the first day of the semester."

He shrugged. "Since when does it matter to her? She must have missed a full month last semester, all together." He toyed with a chip of gravel on the ground before tossing it into the street. "Girl's a loser."

"Shut up, Andre," Robin snapped, fingers curling tensely around the strap of her backpack.

"You know it's true."

"You're just an imbecile. You have no idea what you're talking about."

He squinted at her with weighted, reflective blue eyes. His gaze harbored no anger or even agitation, but instead a quiet, pained longing. Whether it caused more pain to Andre or herself, Robin wasn't sure. But this very expression was another reason why she couldn't bear his presence; it was an identical expression to the one which she reserved for Anna, and it complicated not just the external situation, but her own inner turmoil. She didn't wish to hurt anyone in the way that her adoration towards Anna hurt her, but she simply couldn't reciprocate the affection infused in his features. Andre was kind; he would have made a suitable partner in the way that a particular bracelet may have made a nice accessory. But Anna transcended the label of a token. Robin wanted to inhale her breath like a hallucinogen, to fall asleep in the black pool within her eyes. She knew, with a sad but submissive regard, that Andre could simply never offer her that; he was not Anna.

Their eyes locked for several seconds before he said, as though she had been thinking aloud, "You could really do so much better, you know."

Alarm flared within her, followed closely by indignation. "Better than what?"

"Better than Anna."

"I don't know what you're getting at. Anna's just a friend."

He chuckled. "Yeah, you've got that right."

She bristled, not so much at his words, but at the truth they held. Even the term "friend" was a vague and inaccurate measurement of their relationship. Whether they were something more or something less, Robin could never tell. At times it seemed as though the affection she harbored towards Anna was reciprocated, and perhaps even exceeded. Yet at other times she felt like an ignored, obsolete toy. She sat in the corner of the bus seat with a well of uncertainty deep in her stomach, calves whining from the miles they'd carried, unsure of whether to continue pouring herself out, or to save herself, with the knowledge that what she gave up would never be replenished.

Yet, never did the thought slink into her mind with any degree of possibility that she should cease coming. Whether it be due to the fact that she felt something genuinely extraordinary towards the girl, or that she was enamored with a brief infatuation, she was not certain. The latter was more probable; the sting Robin felt towards Anna was a little too deep, a little too soon, a little too unreasonable, to have the consistency of love. It was fleeting and red and probably, if given the chance to blossom properly, would have proved to be hollow. But it lured her mind away from her own monochromatic world, sliced through her bones like a serated knife, and despite every sign that she should not, she continued to gratefully offer herself.

The minutes trodded by with the clouds, and her eyes grew tighter as she searched for the girl's slight figure in the distance, disappointment striking her as the bus came into sight instead. Andre was mercifully silent.

Robin boarded in a slight daze, confused and dismayed, still unconvinced that Anna would miss the first day of the semester. Something was wrong; she felt it, undubiously. Her subconscious kindly guided her through the crowd, muting the mismatched conversations, and seated her beside one of the students whom she frequently sat next to through association; a friend of Anna's.

"Where is Anna?" were the first disembodied words from Robin's mouth. The name sounded foreign. Typically kept safely in her head, a gift locked away from anyone who may desire to ruin it, the name seemed more like that of an imaginary friend than of someone with whom she was so deeply enchanted.

The girl she sat next to gave her only a cursory glance before replying, "Oh, Anna transferred."

"Transferred?" Robin repeated. Her voice was no longer disembodied; it was far too real for her to stand.

"Yeah, she's been planning on transferring to a university for a while now. I'm not sure which one, but she left some time over Christmas. Didn't she mention it to you?"

She stared into the girl's eyes, suddenly feeling insignificant and foolish. Of course she hadn't mentioned it to Robin; what did Robin mean to her, anyway? "No. . . . She never told me."

"Well, yeah, she transferred. I think she was . . ."

Robin's ears filled with water, pulsing rhythmically. Nothing more this girl could have possibly said would hold any significance. The only words that had meant a thing were the ones which had already been spoken, the irreversible obliteration of everything she'd constructed her tentative hopes upon, her phantasms of futures; her Anna.

She stared forward, out the window to the sky which Anna was likely gazing at, as well. The bus seemed like nothing more than a hollow vessel, one upon which she didn't belong. The voices collaging around her were so painfully irrelevant. She caught Andre's eyes smoldering her, mute and sympathetic, perhaps even concerned; absently, she mused what a stormy shade of blue they were, as though they fell from a hurricane. Like she could slip into the eye of the storm and hide. A feeble substitute for the ones still searing the cornea of her mind's eye, but a substitute nonetheless. As she reached above her head to tug the cord, she wondered if she could ever persuade her dreams to harbor those eyes, after the golden irises wilted and dried.




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