“What’s wrong with a promotion?” Levi wondered out loud, his eyes narrowed.
“It’s in Washington.” Simon sighed, removing his glasses and rubbing the palms of his hands against his eyes.
“When I confronted them about it they said we wouldn’t be moving until the summer, after I finished my semester of school and after the baby came. Why didn’t they tell me, though?! It’s as if they already made up their minds! It’s not fair.” He kept complaining, but my thoughts were still going over and over the word Washington.
Keira and Paul wanted an open adoption; I wanted an open adoption. I wanted to watch the baby being raised in a happy, loving family. That couldn’t happen if I was in Wisconsin and they were in Washington.
My eyes kept blinking, my chest feeling tight as the baby flipped and kicked in my stomach. This wasn’t part of the plan.
* * *
“Well, this is the most depressing damn party I’ve ever seen,” Lance complained as he walked down the stairs from his apartment. Everyone was lying on the floor not talking as the music played on the loudspeakers. “Seriously, people. You suck at partying.”
“We’re depressed,” Simon explained.
“You’re too young to be depressed, unless you have gonorrhea. That shit is a buzz kill.” Lance snickered, until he realized none of us were laughing with him. “Come on, guys! Gonorrhea jokes are always good!”
No one replied.
“Okay. Well, since you are all so teenage-angst right now, how about we move to the rooftop for the awesome game that Daisy has set up for you.”
“No thanks,” Simon said.
“Too depressed,” I agreed.
Lance crossed his arms and narrowed his eyes. “Now listen, you little buttheads, Daisy went out of her way to create this next activity for you all, and you are going to walk your lazy bums up to the rooftop, maybe get a little frostbite, and have fun.” We all stared blankly at him before he raised his voice. “NOW!”
* * *
Set up on the rooftop were two guitars, a huge canvas, and baskets with water balloons. There were four markers sitting beside the baskets, and for the life of me I couldn’t figure out what was happening. Daisy was standing with her bright-as-always smile. “All right, you guys. In honor of Levi and Aria’s epic night of art, Lance and I thought it would be cool to have you explode in color. The balloons are filled with different paint colors, and the markers are for you to write down things that you’re feeling. Everything. The good, the bad, and the ugly parts. That’s what will make it beautiful. Plus, there will be music, brought to you by Lance and yours truly.” She walked over to the guitar and picked it up while Lance grabbed the other one. “Get messy.”
The four of us went for the paint balloons and started writing down the words that we were feeling in that moment. Words that we loved. Words that we hated. Words, words, words.
Simon wrote Washington and threw it at the canvas, making the balloon burst with a vibrant blue. Even though he hated Washington, the way the paint exploded on the canvas made him smile. “That’s actually really freaking cool.”
Words that were written and exploded against the canvas:
All the colors bled against the canvas, splattered paint everywhere. By the end of our masterpiece, the four of us had learned to laugh again as our hands managed to become covered in paint. Levi ran his fingers against my cheeks, painting my face with purple. I giggled and dressed his cheeks with greens. He picked up the last balloon and stood close to me. So close that I was certain he was going to kiss me, but he didn’t. Instead, he took his marker and wrote one word on the final balloon.
There were over six hundred thousand words in the Oxford Dictionary. That meant there were six hundred thousand definitions of different words with a million and one meanings. Some words were silly while others were heartbreaking. Some words were happy while others were angry. So many different letters came together in different ways to form those different words, those unique meanings.
So many words, but at the end of the day there was only one word that stood out among the rest. One word that somehow meant both heaven and hell, the sunny days and the rainy days, the good, the bad, and the ugly. It was the one word that made sense when everything else around you was messy, painful, and unapologetic.
With a smile, I wrapped my pinkie around his and said, “I love you.”
It might not have been right for us to feel the way we did, but it was our feelings, our way. My heart exploded when his lips met my forehead, and I listened to him whisper, “I love you, too.”
The next day Keira and Paul sat in our living room explaining to Mom, Dad, and me how the job offer wasn’t something they’d planned. “I didn’t even know I was up for the promotion,” Paul said quietly. “And I’m so sorry you found out that way, Aria. Simon shouldn’t have told you.”
I shrugged. “I would’ve found out regardless, I guess.”
Keira placed her hands in her lap, giving me a wary smile. “I know this isn’t what we agreed on, and if it’s not something you’re comfortable with, Paul will pass on the promotion.”
“Yeah, one hundred percent.” Paul agreed. “Even though it would make us ten times more financially stable, bringing us out of years of debt and struggle.”