Faster than Light

Faster than Light

A Story by Emily

In the dark of my room, I type out the final touches to the last work assignment of the week. I sit back into my pillows and sigh. Lit only by the dim glow of my laptop, the reflection in its screen shows my sharply-angled face bone-white against the black of my surroundings. My eyes look huge with no dark lenses to cover them. I almost lose my concentration staring aimlessly into the laptop when one of my roommates knocks on my door. The hinges squeak open and a brunette head peaks in.

“Hey, Auden. Are you done with your work for the day?” Clara asks expectantly.

“Yes, I just finished. What’s up?”

“Well,” she begins, drawing out the word, “We have a little surprise for you. Come on out to the living room. I promise it’ll be fun!” Her head bobs side to side slightly, and her voluminous ringlets bounce as she speaks. Even with only her head showing, Clara still manages to infect everyone around her with giddiness.

“Okay, I’ll bite.” I turn off my laptop and set it aside, then grab my round sunglasses�" a necessary accessory to manage my extreme light sensitivity.

“Oh, you don’t need those!” Clara exclaims. She waggles her finger at me before I ask why, then giggles a little in spite of herself. “I can’t wait to see the look on your face.”

When I walk into the living room, my face breaks open into a awestruck grin. A game of Candyland glows on the coffee table, and the two remaining roommates beam at me, obviously proud of everything they put together.

“We found different kinds of glow-in-the-dark paint and covered the board with it. And all the pieces too. We figured you’d like to see things without your glasses,” Jill explains. Her calloused hand rests on the back of the couch, her thin fingers topped with pink fluorescent nails. I have never seen her wear nail polish before. She is most often clad in a heavy work shirt and jeans, her close-cropped hair hidden behind a baseball hat. But tonight, she wears a polo shirt and sweats, and her unkempt auburn hair remains hatless. Clara nudges me out of the way to join her girlfriend, giving Jill a quick kiss on the cheek before nestling into her side. I sit on the sofa facing them. Derek is adorned with glow-stick jewelry, from his purple headband to the rainbow bracelets lighting his wrists. He claps his hand on my shoulder, giving me a warm smile. I feel my cheeks flush the lightest of pinks.

“I want to be the pink piece!” Clara declares. “But I don’t want to move.” Instead, Jill grabs both the pink and green pawns and places them at the start. Derek chooses the yellow piece, I get the blue piece, and we begin to play. At first, I am unlucky and lag behind the others, but after I pay a visit to Queen Frostine, I jump ahead of the pack.

“This really takes me back to kindergarten, man. My little sister and I played this all the time,” Derek says while plopping his piece on on the track near the Molasses Swamp. Jill picks up a card, nodding.

“Yeah, it’s�"ugh�"a real classic,” she says, grunting when Clara readjusts to rest her head on Jill’s lap. “Comfortable there, honeybun?”

“Am now,” Clara replies, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

“I never played Candyland until I was almost 14,” I offer. “But it’s still pretty nostalgic for me.”

“What?” Clara exclaims, rising slightly from Jill’s lap.

“I bet your parents only wanted educational games for you,” Jill says.

“Yes, actually. And they thought that Candyland was kind of dumb. I had better things to do, apparently.” I lean back into the couch, thinking about everything my parents did for me, to make me feel as normal as possible.   

It was my first and only day of proper school. My parents had enrolled me in the first grade, though I was probably too old for it, and I definitely stuck out in the class of pudgy six-year-olds. After the class settled in, the teacher called roll, pausing when she matched my name to my face.

“Auden?” I raised my bony hand just above my head, just like my mom told me to before dropping me off.

“Oh, hello!” the teacher said before continuing with the roll. After the final name, she walked over to where I sat cross-legged and beckoned me to follow her to the front of class. I twisted my face into a look of apprehension, but followed.

“Attention class! Before we start our lessons today, I want to introduce our out-of-this-world student! Her name is Auden, and she came from a planet far away. She might look a bit different than you and me, but I know she’s just as friendly and fun as any of you.” The teacher went to pat my head, but recoiled when she discovered that my “hair” was a bundle of bristly, whisker-like projections.

“Why do you look like that?” A voice called from the group of children, then another, and another.

“You’re the same color as my dog!”

“Do you know Buzz Lightyear?” I fidgeted a little in response, unsure of how to answer any of the questions.

“Okay, that’s enough. We don’t want to overwhelm her,” the teacher said, “You can ask her some questions at lunch.” A few hours of finger painting and writing practice later, we were all let out into the playground and began to swarm the swings, slides, and monkey bars. I stayed back, watching the others clamber around the playset. Then a boy with red hair poked me.

“Why do you look so weird?”

“I don’t know.” He poked me again, prompting a flush of grey across my face. I drew back from him, deeper into the corner of the lunch patio.

“You’re so slimy!” He shouted, shaking his hand in disgust.

“I’m not slimy! That’s my sunscreen!” I felt my skin darken in fear, and my shoulders flushed yellow in anger. “Go away!”

“You’re just a lizard freak! A big, bug-eye, lizard freak!” He kept on taunting me, and all I could do was cry and press my hands against my cheeks that swirled with unnatural colors. My shoulders burned yellow and gray, and even the fabric of my butterfly t-shirt couldn’t hide my flushed skin. That day, I came home with dark blue bruises down my face�"  I had pressed my hands into my cheeks too hard to try and hide my blushing. After, my parents decided that the world “isn’t ready for someone as special and interesting” as me.

“Hey Auden, it’s your turn!” Clara reminds me. I shake my head a little, trying to clear my thoughts.

“Yeah, all right,” I mutter while picking up a card. I catch Derek watching me, his eyebrows knitted together.

“You okay? You are enjoying this, right?”  His eyes betray a deeper concern. Something in the gold flecks of his brown eyes, or in the slight fidgeting of his foot on the carpet that tells me he wants to know more, not just about the game. But what else he could be asking for, I had no clue.

“Yeah, of course! This is really fun,” I say. I turn to the girls across from me. “Thank you guys, this is so thoughtful and creative. I really appreciate it, and I’m sorry if it doesn’t come off that way.” Out of the corner of my eye, Derek looks away for a quick moment before returning his gaze to me. His lips part and for a split second it looks like he wants to say something, but decides against it.

“Oh, we know honey. You don’t have to say it, we’ve known you long enough,” Jill replies. “But love you for making it crystal clear.” She reaches over the board game and touches my knee in a gesture of reassurance, squishing Clara’s face a little in the process.

“Hey. Babe. Can we keep playing now?”

“Yes dear, whatever you say dear,” Jill says. She picks a card and moves ahead a few spaces, dangerously close to the finish line.  She makes her little character dance on the square with glee, then hands a card to her girlfriend. Clara nudges her piece forward two spaces, landing in the same square as mine.

“Fancy meeting you here!” she says, putting on the air of a wealthy, middle-aged country club member.

“Oh yes darling, the coincidence is quite sublime! Yes yes, indeed!” I reply, giggles escaping my mouth.    

“Jeeves!” Clara shouts, snapping her fingers at Derek, “Get us some refreshments! We are well and truly parched!” I look at him apologetically, but mouth the word please so he knows that I really do want something to drink. In an act of magnanimity, he bows deeply to me, his purple glow stick halo drooping down to his brows.

“Of course, ladies, right away ladies,” he says with a fake British accent before strolling to the kitchen.

“Wow,” Jill begins, “he bowed to you and everything. You have quite the hold on him.” Jill raises her eyebrows at me and darts her eyes between me and Derek’s back. I grow pink at the implication.

“I�" It’s not like that. At all! He just likes me as a roommate.”

“A roommate, huh? Very interesting, Auden.” Clara chimes in, sitting up completely.

“Shut up! That’s not what I meant and you know it!” I lower my voice so Derek won’t hear the conversation, but my intensity remains high. “I don’t even know what you guys see between us.” I can feel myself turn pink down my neck and on my shoulders. No one can buy what I was saying, not even myself. Clara and Jill share a knowing look but say nothing. Derek returns with two sodas and sits back down.

“What’s up with your blush, Auden?” I could do nothing but point a thin finger towards Clara and Jill half-heartedly.  “I hope you two weren’t too mean. I’ll fight you, I’m not afraid of a two-against-one fight.”

“That really will not be necessary,” I say while picking up a card and moving my piece one measly place ahead. Derek picks a card and ends up losing a spot and his next turn. Jill’s turn secures her win, and she wiggles on the couch to celebrate.

“Another game?” Derek asks.

“Let’s play another game,” a woman told me before extracting a deck of cards from her bag. She adjusted her polo shirt and sat down on the floor of my childhood bedroom. Behind her, my father leaned against the doorframe. My mother sat on my bed behind me, watching like a hawk. Of course, I had not yet learned to call them that yet. As far as I could tell, these two tall, unnaturally soft-looking creatures had appeared after the most horrifying trip of my life a few months ago. Then they spoke in tongues to me until I understood some of it. The woman had now set out card with various shapes and colors on them in a grid.

“I want you to match the colors together, okay?” She said, gesturing accordingly. “I’ll start.” She picked up a card in the top corner, then another from the middle. “These are both red. Now you try.”

I studied the cards for a minute. The woman in the polo shirt took notes on a clipboard. I chose a yellow triangle, then a yellow circle.

“Excellent!” the woman exclaimed. I heard my mother breathe a sigh of relief behind me. A few minutes later, and all the cards were paired off and the woman moved next to me to begin the next part of her visit. She poked and prodded every inch of me, turning me around to examine me at every angle. She ran a hand across my scalp, making me flinch.

“Oh wow, this is super interesting. This isn’t hair.” She continued to meddle with it. I began to whimper and shed tears.

“You better look at something else now,” my father said. “We’ve learned that she gets very uncomfortable when her hair is touched at all.” He glanced at me and crossed his arms, a move which I later learned meant the discussion was over.

“That’s fine. I was almost done anyway. We need to go over my analysis.” She got up, fixed her slacks, and left my room. My mother trailed behind. My father came over to give me a reassuring touch on the shoulder, then left me to console myself. I wept silently on the floor, wondering what would become of me and if I would ever see my true parents again. The ones that looked as sharp and pale and different as me. The conversation and noise of cups clinking against tables drew my curiosity after a while and I tiptoed to the dining room to watch the adults. Later, when I grew my vocabulary, I remembered this day and pieced their words together.

“It is hard to say because of the language barrier, but I think cognitively she is on par with a human 5 or 6 year old. Physically, her species is incredibly interesting. Does she have to wear sunglasses all the time?” The woman in the polo took a sip from her mug.

“Yes, unless it’s nighttime and there aren’t any house lights on,” my mother replied.

“But I think she has much more visual acuity than a human does. I wonder what her home world is like. It must be dark fairly often if her eyes can’t handle light that well. But astrobiology is not my strong suit. You’ll have to have other people look at her.”

“Later on, of course,” my father replied. “She still has to acclimate to Earth and to us a little bit.”

“I disagree. Why wait? The information and promise she represents is too precious to sit on. And besides, if she gets used to us, the knowledge we could get about children’s culture and traditions on her home world might be lost.” My mother, always the scientist first.

“Well, wait. We don’t want to traumatize her with all this new and scary stimuli. It’s important to think about her well-being and the scientific opportunity.” My father set his cup down hard. “We know she can speak. Until we understand her, it’s not much use to donate her to science.”

“I’m not saying that and you know it,” mother said as she rose from her seat. The woman in the polo shirt put up her hand to stop any further discussion.

“Clearly it’s a tough conversation you two have to have. I’ll leave you to it.” She rose and began walking towards me. I tried to hide myself behind the wall, but she glanced down and gasped when she saw my tear-stained face. Then she walked away.

My mother won the argument that day. After a while, visits to or from various colleagues of my parents were a common occurrence. No one seemed to understand me, even after I learned English. I was examined and studied, noted and written about in scientific journals until everyone was blue in the face, literally in my case. I learned a lot about humans from them.

“Well, since no one’s saying yes, I’m gonna put this away,” Jill says.

“I’ll help,” I reply, tossing the instructions into the box. We get up and go to the hall closet.

“You really think Derek likes me like that? I don’t know how he could.” I whisper to Jill.

“Oh, please. You see how he looks at you. You let him get the closest to you out of all of us. You guys were practically fused at the thigh on the couch.” Jill gets on her tiptoes to reach the board game shelf.

“But isn’t that seen as normal friend behavior?” I twiddle my fingers and glance towards the living room to make sure no one can hear me.

“Perhaps each on their own. But I know that you’ve been friends with me and Derek for a long time now. You stopped blushing a while ago with me. You still glow when you’re with him.” Jill smirks and closes the closet door. “You are sweet and honest and lovely to be around. Don’t doubt yourself, Auden. Just go for it.”

I bite my bottom lip in thought. I trust Jill’s opinion, and I know she is the most level-headed one in our group. But to take her advice this time is such a big leap. Even after all this time, I still don’t know if I am ready for it.

I peer through the doorway and admire Derek while he makes small talk with Clara. He runs his hand through  his sleek, inky black locks. Everyone in the house makes fun of him for his surfer wardrobe, but I like his outfits in secret.

“I need to think about this. I’m going to the bathroom,” I tell Jill and head down the hall. Once I get there, I lean over the sink, staring at my reflection in the darkened room. I just stare at my own face. I try to see it without judgement. It is a practiced effort. I sigh and run the water to wash my face, remembering the last time I took a leap quite like this.

My parents had been homeschooling me for most of my life. When I became a teenager, they wanted me to socialize more and experience other types of people. They weren’t going to put me in public school, so I enrolled in a city-run drawing class instead. I sat down at the corner easel and watched the other students file in. Then I saw the most beautiful boy I had ever seen before.

He strode in surveying the room with his deep amber eyes. His dreadlocks were pulled back by a black headband and his lips looked plush and beautiful�" a perfect accentuation to the rest of his fine features. He weaved his ways through the easels, broad shoulders twisting out of the way, and sat down next to me.

“Hey. I’m Elijah,” he said. I waved my hand in response, too stunned to utter sound.

The next few Thursday nights were spent drawing fruits and admiring the way he craned his neck to see our reference, or the curves of his profile while he concentrated on his easel, or the squareness of his fingernails. I was startled each time he talked to me, but he seemed to enjoy my awkward demeanor, and even complimented the strangeness of my looks. Out of the whole class, he was the only one to pay attention to me, and he was creative and charming and smart. His beautiful was unearthly in a way that complemented my unearthly, unsightly self.

My parents encouraged me to move forward, so I did. Elijah under the sunset light with ice cream smeared across his face could have moved me to tears of joy. The Thursday after we held hands in class anytime we weren’t drawing. The next Thursday, he had moved his easel to the front of the class and all I could see was his square back refusing to turn away and show me his face.

Mom did her best to comfort me on the ride home, but her words couldn’t find their way to my heart. I retreated into my room to cry. After a while, my dad knocked on the door.

“Hey, sweetie. How are you holding up?” One look at my grief-stricken face told him everything he needed to know. He sat down across from me on my bed.

“I don't get. I just�" I don’t get it all. He said nothing to me! He just started ignoring me.” I dropped my head into hands.

“What he did was incredibly selfish and mean. That’s his issue, not yours. It’s not your fault,” Dad said.

“How could it not be?”

“You can’t control what he does, or change how he feels. All you can do is be you, and since he can’t handle it, he doesn’t matter anymore.”

“I’m never going to love again,” I said, sniffling.

“You can’t choose to never love again,” Dad stated, more force in his voice than I had expected. I looked up.

“What do you mean?”

"Supergirl, there's only one thing that travels faster than light. And that's love." He paused to wipe a tear off my cheek swirling with colors. "When Mom and I first found you, you were a screaming, glowing, albino mess. Something in me changed that day. I knew before I knew that I loved you for who you are. You aren't a science experiment, and you aren't some freak of nature. You are not human either. But that does not make you any less beautiful, any less intelligent, or any less worthy of anything you desire."

"But," I began, sounding sad and uncertain, "I was a science experiment."

Dad dropped his gaze to the floor. He inhaled and exhaled like he was breathing through a straw. His fingers moved with no purpose except to try and reduce his regret and disappointment within himself.

"That's true. I can't defend that in any way that would ease your pain." He exhaled again, too loud in the tense quiet of my room.

"I understand why it happened. I just wish it wasn't something that others use to hurt me." My memory flashes back to people I thought were friends, and the insults they threw. Dad nods in acknowledgement.

"Your mother and I knew when we decided to raise you that your life would be harder in incomparable ways. Evidently, we had no idea how much harder it would be. But you can and you will find people who love you and accept you as the wonderful being you are. When you do, you might not understand it at first. It is a feeling I wish you were more accustomed to. Still, inexplicably you will know that you belong."

I absorbed his words and mulled them over in my head. I nodded to myself, an almost imperceptible movement. I knew he spoke these words from the heart, but it was hard to understand their true meaning.

“I have a hard question for you,” Dad spoke in an even gentler tone than the last. “Did you feel that you belonged with him? Or did you just wish that you did?” His words still struck me hard, and I began to cry again, a pitiful weeping sound. Dad stroked my shoulder until I stopped.

“I think you know the answer.” He got up and left my room, closing the door with care.

I finish washing my face and dry myself with a hand towel. I open the bathroom door to be greeted by light-hearted shouts.

“There she is!” Clara cheered.

“The woman of the hour! You really took a while in the bathroom there,” Derek says, and after I sit back down next to him he hands me a deck of Uno cards. “We waited for you to come back to start playing. And you’re the only one who knows how to shuffle well.”

“I am honored,” I say, bowing my head a little in gratitude and taking the cards. I shuffle the cards and deal.

“Don’t give me a bad hand!” Clara chides. I smile and shake my head.

“You’re getting what you get, and that’s that!” I pick up my hand and play my first card. We go around a few times, until I notice Clara grinning like a demon before her turn.

“Jill, look at your girlfriend. She’s plotting something, I am sure of it.” I squint my eyes at Clara, waiting for her to strike.

“Take that!” She shouts. She plants a +4 wild card down onto the pile, cackling with joy. “I choose green!”

“I’ve been betrayed,” I groan, drawing four more cards and adding them to my hand.

“That’s not worse than the time you told me you’d never played blackjack and cheated me out of twenty bucks!”

“I hadn’t! I’m just good at math!” I try to look as innocent as the girl across from me.

“Math is the devil’s subject!” Clara retorts.

“No, you’re the devil’s subject!” Jill interrupts, a grin curving across her face. She kisses Clara’s cheek and then motions for Derek to take his turn. He puts down a reverse card, allowing me to play again. I put down my card, a green two, and glance towards Derek. He smiles, the iridescent colors from his glow stick accessories reflecting soft light in his teeth. I smirk and look away. The blend of colors against his skin resembles what I might display.

Clara goes again, quieted by the reversal of turn order. After a moment, I mutter “At least it wasn’t as bad as when Clara put makeup on me and tried to sic me on the public.”

A chorus of “Oh my God!” from the girls and laughter ensues. Derek looks at us with confusion etched in his face. Clara pulls out her phone.

“Hold on, I think I have a picture,” she says while scrolling through her camera roll. Jill wheezes, leaning on the arm of the couch for support.

“I really didn’t do a bad job, it was just so,” Clara pauses, searching for the right word. “It was just too human-like and not Auden-like enough. It was like an over-edited version of herself.”

“Here it is!” Clara exclaims and shoves her phone into Derek’s face. His jaw drops and his eyebrows raise. His eyes dart from the phone to me, then back again. He bursts out in laughter, a jolly guffaw that shakes his whole body. I stare at him, the picture of happiness. I remember how Clara so deftly turned me into something soft and tan, powdered and contoured. Something pretty, but not something like me. Once he regains his composure, he apologizes profusely.

“I swear though, that is so wild!” He bubbles into another fit of laughter, then calms down again.

“Seriously, for real, Auden. You don’t have to put on a face for anyone to be a good person. In fact, please don’t put on a face.”

I giggle a little. “I promise I won’t.”  

© 2018 Emily

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Added on June 21, 2018
Last Updated on June 21, 2018




Hey, I'm Emily. I go to Los Angeles Valley College, and I write poetry and some short stories. In my free time, I draw, play video games, and play with my dogs Zeke and Roscoe. Zeke is a Great Dane/Bo.. more..

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