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“Can I ask you a question?” An amused chuckle escaped his lips and I curiously turned to find out the cause. A few moments ago the odd sight would have stopped me cold, ridding my mind of my prior intentions. The surroundings were endlessly shifting to portray memories obtained from our brains, something hardly even imaginable back home. Even with some time to ease into the idea, I still paused for a minute in awe. The sky was changing from a paisley coral and white, like bathroom wallpaper in a house by the beach- one of Hale’s memories presumably. It was rearranging to create a messy mix of neon colors. I continued to gaze just long enough to decipher the picture. This memory was mine, from last summer. I bought a whole box of popsicles and laid out under the shade of the one tree in our yard. I tore open the box with eager fingers and then proceeded to eat half of each pop; the other half was rejected onto a paper plate, melting down to nothing but a puddle of color. I smiled at the memory until my initial intention came back to mind.” What’s so funny?”
He took no notice in the extremely delayed question, answering as if he laughed a second ago instead of five minutes before.” Nothing really… it’s just that for the past however many hours we’ve been here you’ve been asking me questions.”
I attempted to hide my face by looking down at my feet, which need a pedicure, as he turned to look at me. “Don’t be. I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just, you’ve asked me dozens of questions today and you’ve never needed permission before. I just found it sort entertaining. This is the only place where I don’t… sense your words before you say them.”
“Oh?” Even though it made perfect sense, as much as any of this realm does, I was left wondering if he could only “sense” my words, or my thoughts as well. When you’re observed for fifteen years you must be pretty easy to read because one look and he answered my unspoken question. “Don’t worry, your thoughts are your own.” Relief swept through me. The idea that he could hear my thoughts after witnessing all of my embarrassing moments was, frankly, making me nauseous with humility.
“You nicely asked for my consent to ask me something so I am saying yes. What did you want to know?”
“Um…” His mock formality added a few more disoriented moments until I remembered my question. “Oh yeah. Why Hale? I mean Hales isn’t like your average ‘Robert’ or ‘Will’. Did your parents have a reason behind it? Or did they just like it?”
He smiled, leaving me to believe that either I surprised him again or I sounded like an idiot. Until those words were out of my head and into the air I hadn’t even thought about Hale’s creation. Did he even have parents? “It doesn’t really work that way here in… wherever we are. Our parents don’t chose our names, we name our selves. It’s almost like a coming of age thing. For the most part we name ourselves after things we don’t have.”
“But it-“ My interruption was cut short.
“Things we don’t have naturally. When we’re not in the meadows we don’t have hail. We don’t have a lot of things that you do at home. Even in the meadows we don’t really have hail. You might see it in the sky, but it will never touch the ground.
“Most of us who do chose something we don’t have decide to change the spelling. Similarly to the way two girls might have the same name but each spells it differently. Like A-L-L-I and A-L-L-Y, I went with H-A-L-E not H-A-I-L.”
‘”But why Hale? If there are so many things your world is deprived of, how did you chose Hale?”
“To answer that you need to know how things work where I… exist.” I tried not to take notice in his direct avoidance of the word “live”, but it still bothered me a little. If he’s not dead, doesn’t that make him living? Shaking the subject I nodded my head to let him know I was listening and silently telling him to carry on. “We are created by a man and a woman, like anyone else, but not in the… traditional way. It is hard to explain without ever witnessing or taking part myself, but from what I’ve been told, it’s a very spiritual event. There isn’t praying or voodoo chanting or anything like that, it’s more like meditating. You feel an invisible connection, like magnets are pulling you to your partner while your feet are planted where you stand. Those ‘magnets’ are pulling out characteristics from each parent, the same way DNA distributes traits to an offspring. And then somehow you’re child appears in-between the two. It isn’t a ‘poof’ baby appears type thing, it takes a while and what each person sees during the creation is different. It works very closely to the way the meadows work, but instead of just showing your memories, it shows your wants, your fears, thoughts going through your head, colors, and visuals you would swear you’ve never seen before. Once the creation is over, the outcome is just like any human infant. It needs to be cared for until it is able to develop. The difference for us is that the developmental time takes only about a year in your time- the brain development that is. Our bodies mature to about the size of a two year old. It’s quite a funny picture really. We’re much closer to little people in this stage.” I smiled at his politeness as he avoided saying “midget”. “ We may be the size of a two year old, but our brains are as developed as a fully grown adult.”
“How does this have anything to do with your name?” Hale sent me a sideways glance that caused my stomach to do all types of flips and turns. “I was getting to that.” I couldn’t help but smile when his voice turned from its usual rich, smooth tone to mock annoyance. I grinned playfully and my heart skipped a beat when my smile was returned on his perfect face.
“As I was saying, our one year olds here are perfectly capable of learning advanced concepts. From age one till three we are trained. As in human society, we too have certain occupations, apart from the obvious. We have a government-ish group of people, and we have our educators. The educators are responsible for teaching the new ones how to shadow. They aren’t assigned to a human yet, but rather an array of different objects. They start with objects like beds, posters, and cabinets, things that are stationary for the most part. Here they learn the “science” behind shadows, learning how to arrange themselves with different light patterns. The lessons then advance to objects like hairbrushes, mugs, and chairs, things that are constantly moving. This is key to cultivating our sixth sense. If this sense isn’t mastered, there is no way that student could shadow something as complex as a human.”
I still wasn’t quite getting how my question was being answered but instead of interrupting again I continued to listen with absolutely no need to fake interest.
“When we graduate from our studies, we still haven’t matured any further physically, that doesn’t happen until later. This is when we are introduced as shadows and given our assignments. Usually a male is paired with a male and same thing for females, but back then there were issues creating a male dominated population. That is how I, clearly masculine-“
“Clearly.” Hale accented his raised eyebrows with a horribly cute half smile at my tease. This, of course, irrupted a stupid looking ear-to-ear grin on my part. With a slight smile and playful shake of his head, Hale continued his story.
“Anyway, that is how I ended up with you-“
“Clearly. On that day we are allowed to choose our name.”
“And you chose Hale because…?”
Hale taped my noise with his index finger as he teased, “You are a sassy one.” I smiled at his comment, trying with every bit of power I could muster to refrain from closing the small distance between us with a kiss. I knew that if I kissed him I wouldn’t be able to stop, and I really wanted to hear the end of the story.
“Well, didn’t you know you were born in the middle of a hail storm?”
“I don’t really remember that far back.”
“Touché. Neither to I really.”
“What do you mean? Don’t you remember your training and everything?”
“No, not really. Once we chose our name, and our human is born, our bodies morph to match the same developmental stage as our assignment. Everything previously known becomes instinctual. I picked Hale because I wanted to remember something about that day.”
“That’s really interesting. Are you done?”
“Am I done? With my story?”
“Yes, with your story.”
“Oh, I thought you were enjoying it.”
“Wait, no, that’s not what I meant. I really did enjoy it and I’m actually kind of really touched that your name has to do with me, in away. The only thing is I think that if I try to keep my self from kissing your for two more seconds I might die.”
“In that case. Yes, I am completely done.” Hale had his arms around my waist in an eight of a millisecond, drawing myself to him. His lips explored my jaw until they found their way to my more than eager lips. My mind went completely void of thought after I allowed Hale’s lips to part mine. Suddenly I had a dire need to get closer to Hale. My body was aching to get closer, searching for a way to intertwine our two bodies into one. I must have put in more force than I realized because Hale toppled backwards, myself included, to the soft grass below. Either that or Hale was as embarrassingly incoherent as I was at the moment. Without a beat Hale’s hand met my waist as he shimmied me around so his body was now on top of mine. I gently tugged at his hair while he cupped my face; still doing anything I could to get closer to him. My breath came out ragged as his lips crossed the expanse of my jaw and gently tugged at my ear. I put a hand on his cheek, now flushed pink, and pushed his face until our lips met once again. Hale drew back slightly, his hot breath driving me crazy. I let the tip of my tongue glide across his bottom lip before once again pressing my lips back to his, letting them part in sync with Hale’s.
I’m not sure how long we stayed like this, tangled in each other’s limbs. I could spend all day kissing Hale, probably longer if I tried. I had no need for anything else when I had Hale’s strong arms enveloping me. Lying here, I felt complete.