• tab Michael and Jake were still brain dead, so Shane tried to say something. As he gathered his own coherent thoughts, he looked into Zhaqalen’s brown eyes, dark and light swimming together like molten lava. He ran his hand through his hair- a nervous habit he hadn’t done in a while.
    tab “Hey.” Shane mentally face palmed himself for his brilliant word usage. He tried again. “My name is Shane, I live next door. These are my friends Michael and Jake.”
    tab Zhaqalen smiled again, and Shane almost died. Jake and Mike just had goofy grins on their faces. “It’s nice to meet all of you. Would you like to come in? We can talk in the back while they work.” She gestured to the Moving vans and people in their Band-Aid colored uniforms. All Shane could see were walking Band-Aids. They all nodded.
    tab Zhaqalen stood back, and Shane stepped in first. The entryway was identical to his own, with white marble floors and a winding staircase to the left. The only thing different was the furniture piled up high in corners, and the vibrant carpets hanging on the walls. And he did mean vibrant. The first one he saw was a mixture of brilliant reds, deep purples, glimmering greens, and stark golds. It jumped off the wall to assault his eyes, but not in a bad way. Zhaqalen continued to lead them through the house, until they reached the French double doors that he recognized immediately. She pushed open the doors, and they stepped outside.
    tab The sunset was beautiful, the colors now glowing like fireworks. Yellow mingled with strands of hot pink, while red and orange settled around the sun. Blue was a distant backdrop, like a canvas you forgot was under a brilliant painting. Shane watched as Zhaqalen paused, facing the setting sun. The light reflected off her dark bronze skin, making it shine faintly. Her raven black hair hung down to her waist, and it reflected everything in blue shimmers.
    tab Jake and Mike sat down on a patio bench, and Shane sat on a chair next to them. As Zhaqalen sat down, she arranged the skirt of her dress, which Shane just now noticed. It was strapless and long, flowing a little below her knees. It was a summer dress, and it was a rich purple. She looked good in purple, it made her hair seem blacker and her skin look smoother. She looked good, period. Again, Shane felt that twisting in his chest, and it made him nervous.
    tab “So, do you three go to Dark Fall High school?” She asked, settled and eyes friendly.
    tab “Yeah,” Jake answered, stark pale against the orange of his curls. “We’re juniors.”
    tab “Really? I am too.” Zhaqalen looked relieved. She got a small, almost guilty smile on her lips. “I’m actually quite nervous, starting a new school in the middle of the year and all.”
    tab “No need to worry,” Michael said, his million dollar grin flashing on. “We’ll talk you through it. And don’t let the principal scare you, the students and teachers are actually pretty nice.”
    tab “Thanks.” She smiled again, and touched her bangs, which always brought Shane’s attention to her eyes. Now they were a lighter brown, and the black overtones were gone, replaced with golden streaks. “Oh, I have a question. See, at my old school, I was in advanced classes, and my advisor told me that they’d try to get me placed here, too. But he wasn’t quite sure how your school works.” The end of that last sentence turned into a question, her face so worried. School must be important to her.
    tab “Just talk to Shane here,” Jake said, his face regaining color. “He’s in all advanced classes. He’s the brains of this group.”
    tab “And I’m the looks,” Mike said, raising his eyebrows jokingly.
    tab “Nah, you’re the funny one.”
    tab Zhaqalen laughed, her head tilted back and her hair falling over her shoulders.
    tab “The classes will be no problem,” Shane said, a smile on his face. “Just come with me to the office when school starts up and we can get it set up.”
    tab “Okay, that would be great. My brother would be so upset if I had to relearn everything from last year,” She said. Her whole family must have education high on their list.
    tab “Oh crap.” Mike said. “It’s seven already!” His voice was surprised and disappointed.
    tab “We should probably get going,” Jake said, standing up. He stretched and rubbed his face, tired.
    tab Shane stood up, too, unwilling to leave. He could sit and stare at her all night and not get tired. “It’s been nice talking to you, Zhaqalen. I guess we’ll see you later.”
    tab Zhaqalen got up too, a grateful grin on her face. “Thanks for answering my questions. It was nice to meet you, Shane. Michael, Jake.”
    tab As they left, Mike and Jake were grinning from ear to ear. Shane unlocked his front door, and they filed in.
    tab “D A M N,” Mike said.
    tab “You said it, man.” Jake dropped his bag by the door.
    tab As Shane took off his jacket, he looked up at the hallway that was identical to Zhaqalen’s; same marble floors, pristine walls, and crystal chandeliers. Everything reflected her house, but it seemed... Bland. He missed the colors. He missed her.