Author's Note: Several things. One, the characters belong to Squaresoft and the story is copyrighted to me. If you want it, although I wonder why, just e-mail me. Two, for the complaint from last chapter about author inserting their own music taste. Yeah, I know what you mean, but that really isn’t *my* music taste I put in there. I have some Gothic friends and they all seemed to like those bands, so I figure, well, why not? Three, the picture I described is inspired by an image done by Maxim. If you love Squall and Seifer, whether individually or them together, I highly recommend you to visit her site, http://www04.u-page.so-net.ne.jp/gd5/ksmt/deep-forest/, because she is amazingly talented. I didn’t actually steal any of her copyrighted things because my image is simply *inspired* by her stuff, not *is* her stuff. Four, I have no intention to diss New Haven. I have never been there and only chose it because it fit the story well since Yale’s there. So if you’re like, ‘hey, it’s not like you implied in your story at all’, well, you’re probably right. Plus, most of the story’s actions take place in this unnamed town *near* New Haven anyway. Five, Big Thanks for all the people who reviewed this story. Very very appreciate it. Phew, that was a load of stuff. I’m done.
“You’re kidding me!”
“Oh my goodness, you are so . . . wow. No wonder!!”
A light laugh. “Beyond that. Man, I didn’t know he’s so . . . hot.”
“Yeah, that caught me by surprise, too. I figured he is but not . . . to this extent.”
“Would you two ladies mind?” The tattooed boy in the next room yelled. “Somebody’s tryin’ to actually do work here.”
“This *is* work, Zell,” Quistis turned from her computer. “It’s work that actually *pays.* Plus, if we’re really bothering you, go to another room.”
Zell mumbled something indecipherable and returned to his chemistry book. He continued working for a few more minutes, but his girlfriend’s and friend’s giggles got the better of him. He slammed the book shut, stood up on his Reebok sneakers, and walked out the living room.
“What is all this? Lemme see!” Zell leaned on Selphie’s shoulder and tried to peek at the computer screen. “Whoa. Is that . . .?”
“Yep,” Selphie smiled widely. “That’s Squall.”
“What about me now?”
Squall came downstairs to get a drink. It was already six o’clock and he had to be at Fujin’s in thirty minutes. Seifer and Quistis were also going to this sorority social, as did Zell and Selphie. Irvine had gone to Hartford for an away tournament the day before. He was scheduled to return on Sunday.
Zell and Selphie visited the house frequently now. Zell was a hyperactive blond with 8 years of Tae Kwan Doe under his belt. He had an intricate design tattooed on his face from Orlando, his hometown, done as a dare from one of his friends. Zell’s never-ending energy was matched only by Selphie, a green-eyed brunette with a cute flip haircut. She was on the cheerleading team, and did tap dancing for fun. They’re both crazy about their major, Chemistry. Fujin’s nickname for them was quite appropriate.
“Nothing. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.” Selphie hummed quickly.
Squall gave the group a look. “Yeah, that’s quite convincing. What is that?”
“It’s just a picture.” Quistis replied.
“And?” Squall deliberately ignored the hint.
Quistis finally scoffed. “Fine. Fine. If you’re so persistent to find out, this is the picture that I sent to [Magma] that will be put on this month’s issue. And, yes, it’s you. And no, you didn’t really know about it. But that’s all been said before.”
She rolled back her chair to reveal the computer screen. Squall walked closer, and examined the 2-D image of himself on the Photoshop file. His eyes slightly squinted.
He was sitting on the window’s ledge, against the afternoon light. A spool of canvas lay between his legs; it looked like he was in the process of unrolling it. His brush dangled between his lips like a cigarette. A pair of trim pants and a half-open dress shirt covered his body, showing off the well-toned muscles on his chest and arms. His hair actually wasn’t that disheveled as usual, and his expression was relaxed, as if simply living the moment. But what’s extraordinary about this photograph was the lighting and manipulations ascribed to Quistis and modern technology.
The entire photo was shaded to the point of absence of all colors except for one. A tinted black-and-white photo. The tinge reminded one of those aged fine books, minus the yellow and add a bit of red, like Mississippi river clay. All of his standard goth makeup were gone. His face wasn’t pale due to the shaded touch. His eyes were missing the circles of eyeshadow; the only thing left was the dark lines immediately surrounded, accentuating the brightness of his liquid orbs. His lips were pale, absolutely devoid of the ebony lipstick. He looked almost ordinary.
And he looked *good.*
“Whoa!” a new voice sounded astonished behind the curious group. “I didn’t think it possible, but is this actually goth boy degothified?”
“Oh, shut up, Seifer,” Selphie rolled her eyes. “This looks great and you know it!”
“Well,” Seifer examined the image. “Good job on Quis’ part, true.”
Squall sighed, annoyed. “Okay, excuse me, I have to go pick up someone.” He shuffled through the other four students and headed toward the door. He felt slightly uncomfortable with the others scrutinizing him like that. It was uncomfortable to begin with for people other than himself to see him with minimal makeup. They haven’t since he was thirteen. And the fact now strangers were going to see a picture of the “real” him was not consoling.
He sighed deeply again. This wasn’t in the bargain. Quistis didn’t specify any manipulations, but she didn’t say none, either. It’s too late now. He could only give consent.
When did she take this anyway? He wondered. She took so many random pictures nowadays it’s hard to keep track. He absentmindedly swiped at the corner of his eyes. The silver-infused dark grey liner was getting into his tear glands. That never felt pleasant. Even less than the binding leather pants he had on.
And the slight bulge in the pocket of his overcoat. A 35mm handgun nicknamed Lionheart. It’s illegal to bring it on campus, of course, but he couldn’t give a shit. He would be ending up in downtown New Haven perhaps an hour later, so the short stop on the third floor in Timber Hall would have to be overlooked. He wasn’t about to risk his life just because a five- minute pause designated a no firearm rule.
Squall turned onto the lamp-lit street, the chill October air forced him to wrap the overcoat tighter around himself. Gazing ahead, he put on the helmet and climbed on the motorcycle. Stepping fully on the gas, the slim figure zoomed down the street toward the twilight.
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