Written by Gwendolyn Lopez
Art by mododeolhar
The sky’s pretty tonight. I wish you could see it—the way it washes over the city like a tidal wave, the way it leaves nothing untouched. It’s that blue-black, obsidian-deep kind of color, the one you like the most. The same color of that bracelet you gave me back when we were kids. It’s so dark and the city underneath is so bright, and God, I wish you were here.
I’m writing in an old school notebook of mine, with this awful neon pink marker I found in the pocket of some hoodie left on a roof—I know, I know, terrible to steal from other people, but when you’re on the run, there isn’t much of a choice. The pen’s quite nice, actually. Really glittery and smooth. Just glides over these old sixth grade math equations.
Oh my God—this is such a bad idea. I really, really should not be writing any of this down. But my head is so full, and it is so lonely and frightening to live like this, with my heart constantly in my throat and no one to keep me company. Even if it’s fake, I’d like to give myself the pleasure of talking to you one more time. Even if it’s the last thing I do.
I still can’t believe I’m in this situation. I can’t believe that things could go so horribly wrong, and that everyone would turn on me like this. It wasn’t too long ago that the two of us were racing through these very streets I called home. Visiting that old bakery with those tarts you really like, shouting so loudly in the libraries we both got sacked, leaning over the edge of city roofs and staring the fall right in the eye—where did it all go wrong?
I don’t know, I don’t know. I so desperately wish you could be here to save me, Epione. But unfortunately, it seems as though the wretched are left with no one but themselves.
I need a plan. I can’t just keep on hopping from rooftop to rooftop, barely squeezing past the authorities, relying on stolen scraps. They’ll find me eventually, and anyway, it’s all so awful here without you. I think staying in this place will break me more than what could happen if I’m caught.
So I’m going back to the grove. Back to where it all began.
I’m starting to think this is a bad idea, Epione. Turns out tensions between the city and the grove are higher than they ever were. They’re looking for even more people like me, people who betrayed the trust of the city and have allied themselves with the grove. The mayor has issued orders to execute collaborators on sight. I doubt that he would care about anything I’d have to say—even if it’s the truth. Even if I barely had anything to do with the grove in the first place.
I hardly remember the last time I saw the grove. I know that you’re much more connected to it than I am—down to the very roots. You used to talk to me about it often, how being in the grove felt like walking on clouds, with the wind in your hair and the sun shining dappled everywhere. I don’t think I ever told you this, but you always smiled when you spoke about the grove. It was like the clouds parting on a rainy day, like a rainbow. It was like the pot of gold at the end.
I never knew much about the grove, even if it’s where I came from. I was never really like you in that way. I didn’t crave the plants and spirits like they were air; I didn’t suffocate in city smog. I didn’t clasp my hands together and pray to be free—I already was. Or so I thought, I guess. Everything’s so ironic now, so sour and rotten in my mouth. I wish I could leave it all behind.
But, whatever. My biggest worry right now is actually getting to the grove. Hopefully I’ll be safe there, and the bounty over my head will disappear. Hopefully, once I’m there, I won’t be considered a traitor.
I’ve managed to meet these other people, and I’m fairly certain our interests are aligned. For all I know, they’re planning to turn on me the second I leave the city. Either way, I’m smuggling with them on some transport that’ll pass by the grove. Maybe I’ll see you there. I don’t know.
It’s so late. And it’s so dark here, Epione. It’s so dark.
Oh, God. I don’t have much time. But I am so full of guilt and injustice—I just want to be tipped over and spilled onto the ground. Because this is all my fault, and yet it isn’t at all.
This is my confession, my last will and testament, even though I have nothing left to give. Epione, I hope you’re out there somewhere. I hope that you’re okay.
I was never collaborating with the grove. That part’s true, no matter how many accusations were thrown at me, no matter how many fingers were pointed or how many guns were shot. I knew, even from the start—those early days when I would scrounge and cry and scream after being cast out—I knew that I was innocent. But I learned how to slink into the shadows and remain unseen—I learned, and maybe that’s what made me dangerous.
And then I came back here. Back to this wonderful grove, to the place that had birthed me. The same place that I was torn away from before I even had the concept of what loss was, before I could stand, before I could breathe the atmosphere and etch it in my bones. Oh, God, the paper’s getting all wrinkly, and my nose is all snotty and my eyes are watering. I don’t dare to make a sound—I can hear the city authorities skulking about. I don’t want them to find me before I’m done.
I should’ve known. You should’ve told me, Epione. I can’t describe it—this anger and betrayal, this longing and fear. I want to tear you to pieces, but only if I could see your face one more time. I’m mixed up and tossed around like a pair of dice. My God, Epione, why didn’t you tell me?
Why didn’t you tell me it was you all along? Why didn’t you tell me that you were the collaborator—that you placed the blame on me?
That’s all it was, wasn’t it? A little hoax. You’d race back to that precious little grove of yours, hold it tenderly in your hands, and release it into the skies. Into the city skies. God, that’s all it was, wasn’t it? And here I was, thinking that after all these years, maybe we were friends—maybe we were inseparable.
I just hate it all so much. I hate living this life of walking on the tightrope, scared that the tiniest misstep will drop me into the abyss. I hate feeling like my entire life has been shredded, burnt to a crisp. I hate that I may be dead soon, and there will be nothing I can do about it.
And I’ll be dead in that precious grove of yours.
I… must admit. It’s true that everything’s different here, in a more magical way. It’s like someone enchanted the ground and weaved it into a palace. All green and bright and welcoming. Maybe I should find it nice, but all I can think is that it will all be ruined soon, that the city will burn it down after they find me, and that there is always nothing I can do. They will come, and there will be ruin, only ruin.
I’m so sorry, Epione. I’m sorry you couldn’t tell me. I’m sorry you had to blame it all on me. I’m sorry that even now, surrounded by the allure of the grove, I want nothing more than to be back on a city rooftop, gazing at the flickering lights below. This is me, and this is the end, and I’m forever the traitor.
They’re coming closer now. My fingers are smeared with this ugly pink. The bracelet you gave me is still on my wrist.
I think this is it. But I will write one last thing before I go: when those rotten city guards pick me up by the scruff and snuff out my life, I’ll smile and laugh like there’s no tomorrow. There is no better way to go.
And Epione, wherever you are, I hope you are smiling too.