When I see his face, I know I’m in trouble.
Incandescent smile, with almost too many teeth. Wide-set eyes downturned at the corners, glossy-bright. Scrappy build, muscles ropy from hoisting around 25-kilo bags of soil.
He blinks, like my face is a light his eyes need to adjust to.
He smells like coconut sunscreen and mulch. And he is stubbornly staying black-and-white.
“Your eyes…” He squints. “They’re even more beautiful in color.”
“Thank you,” I say, and tuck a frizzled lock of hair behind my ear. Momma told me my eyes were the color of sea glass, just like Dad’s. To me, they were the same pale gray as dishwater.
“My name’s Roan,” the boy says, and holds out a hand. His palm is thick with calluses, his nails crusted with dirt. I rub my eyes, and look to see if color is blooming in his irises.
But his eyes remain slate gray. A spatter of freckles highlights the apples of his cheeks, where the sun kissed him.
“I’m Gemma.” I point down at my name tag. “It’s my first day.”
“Gemma.” He searches my face. “I should tell you, the second I saw you, I saw the green of your eyes. Did it happen for you?”
Momma had promised me my Technicolor moment would come. The moment I’d meet the One, and my world would explode with flashes of color like overexposed film.
Boys who made my heart skitter. Girls who sent a flush creeping up my face. None of them had exploded with color. Not yet.
I dig my nails into my wrist, willing myself to see the color of Roan’s checkered shirt, the hue of his eyes. Surely, concentration would saturate my world with every shade of the rainbow.
“It’s not happening,” I say, and his face ashes over. “I’m sorry.”
“Don’t worry.” He has one pronounced dimple; his smile is crooked. There’s a piece of gray grass tangled in his nest of hair, but I don’t tell him. “Have you ever worked at a plant nursery before? I can show you the ropes.”
The whole day he guides me around, explains how to water the ferns, tells me which bushes are particularly temperamental.
But he spends half his time gaping at the flowers.
“I wish you could see.” He grazes the petal of a petunia with a careful finger. “I always heard about the Technicolor moment. But no one told me this could happen. That it could be unrequited.”
Roan drives me home in his rusty silver pickup truck, asks me rapid-fire questions. Tells me about his parents, who had their Technicolor moment at a house party.
“My mom’s first comment to my dad was that his shoes didn’t match his belt.” Roan chuckles. “But then, they fell out of love, and they Faded. Back to black and white. Maybe that’s even sadder than my unrequited Technicolor moment.”
When I get home, Momma’s waiting at the kitchen table, painting her long nails. Momma’s skin is onyx, her cheekbones just as sharp. Dad’s is alabaster-pale. Mine lies somewhere in the middle. A rare gem, Momma always said.
“How was your first day?” she asks, her tongue poking out like it did when she was focused. I wonder what color her polish is today. They’re all still a spectrum of gray in my eyes.
“I met a boy,” I say. She glances up from her manicure, eyebrows quirked. I shake my head. “He had his moment, when he saw me. I really like him. But it’s all still gray to me.”
“Oh, sweetie. Be patient,” she says, and pats the chair beside her. “Don’t rush into things. Not unless the person makes the sunset glow in orange and violet. Not until they flood your vision with color. These things take time. You deserve the best, my precious gem.”
Easy for her to say. She’d seen Dad’s eyes, glowing phosphorescent green across her high school cafeteria and known he was the One.
What if my world stays black and white forever? What if my heart is tar-black, incapable of love?
The next day, rain drizzles down from fat clouds, mist goosebumps my arms. It’s the kind of day that would be gray, even for the lucky Technicolor lovers.
Roan smiles at me when I arrive at the nursery. Even if he’s still monochrome, he makes my stomach swoop acrobatic. As we work, repotting and chatting and digging and laughing, I forget to worry about color.
He drives me home again that night, the rain falling in sheets and flooding the bed of his truck. His hands patter against the steering wheel. He’s the kind of guy who talks with wild hand gestures; his movements are a richer language than his words.
“So.” He glances at me, a hopeful gleam in his eyes. “No Technicolor yet?”
He doesn’t notice the curve in the road, and by the time he does, the rain makes it too slick for him to adjust. Tinnitus fills my head; the smell of burnt rubber and dust stings my nostrils.
Roan’s hair glimmers with broken glass, a sparkling crown. He moans. His neck pulses slippery with blood.
“You’re okay,” I say, but my voice wilts. My airbag pins me against my seat, and I unclip my seatbelt to help him.
I press my hands to his jugular, stem the flow of blood. The deep red sears my eyes. It’s blinding, too beautiful.
“Roan,” I whisper. “It happened.”
His lips are the dusky rose color of the sunsets Momma always described. He smiles.