A Shadow's Light
The skies were a fluorescent grey, and the clouds a frizzy heap of clumped static. The once bright leaves of the summertime trees had been disgraced to gaunt shades of shadows, and the flowers reduced to the field of weeds that devoured them from its surroundings. The birds that circled Mineral Town from a high proximity continued to sing, but their chirps were diminished to sorrowful gawks, bringing pain to the village residents' aching ears. The grass splayed among the town's angles and edges ran an endless, crinkled yellow, and even the cobblestone paths bore grave colours. A mixture of disdain settled among the air, and untouched bleakness swelled the sky.
Had Mineral Town not been wrought with its inhabitants, the day would not have been overlooked.
"Eeeew, look how ugly today is," Stu forwardly pointed out, his eyes ascending with a lazy glaze. "All the clouds are in the way of the sun."
Elli looked up from her desk, annoyed. "Well, of course you can't really see the sun. It's way after six." She eyed her paperwork once more, trying to tune out his voice.
"Elli, I'm bored…" Stu whined after a few eventless seconds.
"Good for—why don't you go over to May's house, Stu?" Elli suggested, half-bothering to mask her scorn.
She'd recently been promoted to a full-time doctor's aid, and additional paperwork was one of the many more duties to be fulfilled. Though it was a holiday, the night of the fireworks, to be exact; she was still trapped inside the sterile white walls of the clinic, working. Alas, her grandmother had fallen asleep after incoherent mumbling, and lay dormant in her rocking chair. Stu, being Elli's little brother, had to tag along with her so he wouldn't rouse her. For now, he was only worsening his sister's mood.
"May is sick," Stu answered. "Uncle Barley never lets her out when she's sick." There was a nagging tone in his voice that brought splinters to her brain.
She craned her neck over her desk to leer at him. "Then why don't you sit still and keep quiet while I finish working?" she spoke, trying as hard as she could to refrain from cursing. Then she snapped back to her uncomfortable wooden chair, hunching over and scribbling words in cursive so tight and small no one would be able to read them.
However, Stu noted his sister's crankiness, and shut his mouth. He sank back on the waiting couch that so many sick patients had sat on before, dangling his feet silently.
It hadn't always been like this. Elli was usually really, really nice, and rarely angry. She was kind, caring, and best of all, always played with Stu. Ever since her promotion, she had started working harder and harder and coming home later and later. Now, she was barely ever home to tuck her little brother in, and when she was, she refused to; Stu's company being his grandmother, Ellen, who was very ill, disabled, and asleep half the time.
Stu knew it wasn't his grandmother's fault that she was so sick, but he was unsure of whether or not it was Elli's fault that she had been becoming such a snappy sister. Was she changing…forever? He didn't know if he would be able to take that.
"Okay, Stu," Elli sighed after an incredibly long amount of time spent adorning skinny, white papers with the lead of her pencil. "I'm done here. We can close up shop now."
Stu leapt out of the cushy couch without hesitation. His legs had been beginning to cramp. "Okay."
He watched as Elli collected everything and stacked them into three neat piles. Then she collected a single bag and slung it over her shoulder, giving him a nod as she approached him.
"What's that for?" Stu asked as they started for the door, gesturing to his sister's shoulder.
Elli rubbed her eyes with one knuckle, using her other to help carry the weight of the bag. "It's the paperwork I didn't finish. I have to resume doing it when we get back home."
"Oh." He kicked at several rocks that came across him, looking over at Elli from time to time as they walked. She didn't respond, however; she was too busy yawning or rubbing her eyes or temples. When they reached their house at last, Stu reached up to open the door.
They stepped inside quietly, just to be met with Ellen's closed eyes. Her chest rose and fell gently in her cushioned rocking chair, so Elli began to tiptoe to her work desk. Stu, on the other hand, whipped off his shoes and ran as quietly as he could to the window above his bed.
"What are you doing?" Elli began, but her words caught as she realized Stu was peering out into the now-night sky.
His eyes were stretched with amazement, and his fingers were wrapped tightly around the rim of the window glass. Elli stepped up beside him wordlessly, both of them letting out small gasps as colours suddenly shot through the sky. They exploded as they ascended, looking like the iris tails of the blinking gold stars. They filled the dreary air with spirit, the colossus of luminosity skyrocketing to heights untouched. Brightness burst through the air, causing twin pairs of eyes to squint with fascination. The dye of the foreign glow of fireworks faded alas, and at the exact moment Stu and Elli stared into each other's eyes.
"It's pretty," Elli commented quietly after an appreciative pause.
"…Uh huh," Stu replied obnoxiously, not wanting to admit he, too thought the display of light was absolutely gorgeous in his eyes.
"It's too bad they only come once a year. I would love to see it everyday…"
"No, I think once a year is good enough," Stu replied, producing a cold pause.
Elli shuffled as she extracted herself from the window. Her eyes wandered to her desk and back. "Well…" She opened her mouth to say more, but Stu cut her off.
"You have to get back to work, I know," he rasped, a little too harshly, the fireworks in his mind peeling off like dry paint. Then he received his own words and shrank back in recoil. "I'm sorry," he said quietly.
Elli seemed gravely silent. "It's okay, Stu," she finally said, with stone engraved in her words. Then she turned around, but not quick enough to disguise the tear that brushed through her lashes. "What am I saying? Of course it's not okay. I've been working so much, that we can never spend time together anymore. We couldn't even get a proper view of the fireworks. Oh, I'm sorry, Stu…"
"It's okay, big sis. Really. I don't like fireworks that much anyway." He tried to shrug, but his shoulders were stiff. "I think I'm going to bed now."
"…Do you want me to tuck you in?"
"No thanks. I'm too old for that now."
Elli seemed to be shocked by his response. But when he gave her a stifled look, her face turned indefinitely hurtful. "Of course. You're growing up now."
Stu was a bit surprised that she had fallen for his lie so quickly, but he realized she meant the words all the same. He was growing up. And he was going to have to act his age, too. "Goodnight, sis."
Finally she turned away. "Goodnight, Stu."
He changed into his pajamas and got ready for bed, but not before heading over to his calendar, realizing Elli was watching him in the corner of her eye. He ticked off the words "FIREWORKS FESTIVAL" marked in bright red and then dropped into bed, pulling his covers on so tight his muscles twitched.
"Wow. You've got to admit, that was really pretty," Karen commented, causing several townspeople to look over at her. She was usually a sarcastic, dryly negative person, but after viewing something so beautiful, her mood seemed to have shifted.
She turned to face her date, Jack. "Isn't it?" she urged.
Jack grinned. "Not as pretty as you are," he flirted, causing Karen to glower at him. She ended up laughing edgily and punctuating it by punching him in the arm.
Rick watched from a secluded corner of the beach, feeling particularly cold. He barely acknowledged the fireworks. The only thing he could see was Karen, and the man that resembled her prince. He shuddered with lost pride. That should have been me.
"Aren't they cute?" Popuri, Rick's pink-haired sister, squealed from her location on the beach, turning to face her boyfriend, Kai, exuberantly.
Kai was a full-time traveler, and only resided in Mineral Town during the summertime. Now, it was summer 24, so he only had six more days remaining until he left. Popuri was trying to spend as much time with him as she possibly could.
Kai caught onto Jack's macho method of making girls happy instantly. He replied with a sincere, "Not as cute as you are."
This caused Popuri to giggle girlishly and give him a bonecrushing hug. Once Kai re-admonished his circulation, he flashed Jack a mocking thumbs-up. It seemed like Jack could never score any PDA, except punches. So far, after two full weeks of dating, Karen hadn't even given him a private (or public) hug, kiss, or snuggle. She hadn't even held his hand. It made him feel pathetic, yet it set his heights higher.
Mary, however, peeked shyly out from underneath a multicoloured umbrella, blushing and turning away when her gaze caught Gray's. She fiddled with the hem of her blue dress, only wishing she could've watched the fireworks with Gray. She was too shy to ask him, and he was too shy to ask her. At least, she thought he liked her. It was becoming evidently obvious.
Ever since she was little, she'd loved to read books of all kinds— romance being among them. After all the happy endings she'd sucked in, she had begun to wonder: weren't couples supposed to end being… different? Weren't opposites supposed to attract?
Mary loved reading; Gray loved reading. Mary was incredibly shy; Gray was incredibly shy. Mary was particularly introverted, as was Gray. All along she thought she and Gray were both the red ends of the magnet.
Little did she know how different they truly were.
Ann, who was standing at the edge of the dock cheering, paused to glance around. "Oh, they stopped already?" she questioned, dumbstruck. She looked at Cliff from afar. He blushed deeply. "Hey Cliff, what are you doing all the way over there? Can you even see from that far?"
"I… uhmm…" Opting to turn away, he was unable to tune out Ann's obnoxious voice.
"Come here! Join me!" Ann called excitedly. "The fireworks may be over, but you shouldn't stand alone!"
Cliff opened his mouth to speak again, but only small mumbles exited him. Then his cheeks hued a furious pink and he rushed back into town, Ann looking incredulous from behind.
"Well, fine, I was just suggesting that you could come join me…" she snapped to herself, turning and folding her arms. "Sheesh. Men!"
Claire, who was watching from a nearby bench that separated Kai's shop, the Snack Shack, from Zack's house, giggled.
"You'll understand them one day, Ann," she said, smiling understandingly.
Ann scowled in disagreement. "As if. They're like aliens from another planet. Sometimes, I don't even think they're from this era. Hah! Imagine that. You know, one day…"
Claire giggled again as she listened to Ann rant, but her friend's tirade faded as her blue eyes flickered to a lone presence at the edge of the beach. Her eyes softened sympathetically at the sight of Rick, who was eyeing Karen with the slightest hurt in his bespectacled face.
"…You know, in the end, I suppose guys kind of are like us girls too," Ann suddenly concluded, causing Claire to look up at her with a startled gasp. "What? Did I surprise you?" She scanned the beach until her eye caught Rick sharply. "Oooh, Claire has a crush."
"Do not," Claire fired back. "I just feel sorry for him. He really likes Karen."
Ann shrugged, dismissing a word of empathy. "Well, his fault for not making a move on her. Jack got her first. And Karen likes Jack. So he should get over it."
For lack of anything to say, Claire gave her another light chuckle, sinking back to admire the glitter of the lost fireworks that sprinkled through the night, forgetting about Rick and Karen altogether.
The festivities slowly died down as the stigmatists of the village staggered away, vision greatly obscured by the aftereffects of the fireworks. Everyone was chattering as they scrambled sleepily into their homes, and in a matter of minutes the lights died and beds occupied. The glow of the fireworks seemed to sustain angelically against the moonlight, and rays spawned upon the midnight waves. It seemed to be the only light in the entire village.
However, far to the north of town, just west of the clinic and east of the library, a single incandescent lightbulb swayed in the ceiling of a nurse's home. She slouched over her desk, the wooden chair making pressmarks into her spine, a pencil scrawling furiously into a lined paper beneath her. Then she shot back, suppressing a great sigh, using her knuckles to rub against her tired eyes.