Secondary Colors

June 1st

Julia is dreaming.

She’s always dreaming.

Frothy ocean waves roll over her fingers as they sink into the sand, lifting her up into a seated position. The tides collapse against the shore, splashing and receding in their endless Sisyphean task. The saltwater stains the hem of her vibrant orange dress.

This scene is familiar to Julia. This island, this set-piece, is one that she’s been visiting all year. She always remembers her dreams and she always remembers this one.

The beach is tranquil. The soft crashing of waves would have been enough to lull her to sleep had she not already been dreaming.

She prefers the rainforest further up the coastline, the endless swaths of trees. She’s spent nights walking through the thick groves and running her fingers across the bark.

Julia rises to her feet, feeling the sand mold under her toes as she paces along the beach. The sun hangs hot and heavy over her, bearing down on her skin and casting her mindscape in hazy orange tones.

Julia looks into the distance, and it wavers. The shimmer of heat distorts the image until she cannot tell at all what waits beyond the horizon. Only a drop of deep, violet purple against the scope of orange.

The shimmer of color draws closer to her. It takes shape, bending into a human-like silhouette.

It comes closer still. Waves lap at their ankles as they wade towards Julia. The figure steps out of the shallow water, the hem of their deep purple dress trailing behind them. Their hair, soaked with seawater, is beginning to dry where it lays against freckled skin.

They tug a strand of seaweed out of their hair and laugh, flashing bright white teeth. The sound is like chiming bells, a symphony of sweetness, honey-coated happiness under the golden sun.

Julia takes a step forward, her feet leaving imprints in the wet sand. The figure looks over and meets her gaze for the first time.

Julia’s never met anyone else in her dreams before. She’s been the sole occupant of this island for years, mapping its geography and carving out a place for herself in the sand.

She doesn’t know what to make of this newcomer.

The stranger holds out a hand. “I’m Katie,” she says, palm outstretched. Julia takes it.


“Julia,” the stranger stretches the word out in her mouth, holding it for a moment. “It’s nice to meet you.”


Julia attempts to dig her feet deeper into the sand, but the grains shift under her, sending her off-balance.

“Am I still dreaming?” Julia asks.

Katie reaches out for her, fingers closing around her forearm. She pinches it. The sensation on her arm is numb.

Katie grins. “Are you?”

“But if this is a dream, then who are you?”

“Who do you think I am?”

“That isn’t an answer.”

“Do you need an answer? Or do you think you need one?”

“I-I don’t know.”

“Then don’t ask.”

Julia oozes sap all over the sand, her bark stripped down by Katie’s words. It’s sticky, coating her fingers and dripping.

She feels exposed.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” she asks.

“That sounds wonderful.”

Katie grabs her hand and tugs her towards the ocean. The waves crash against them as they spin, circling each other like planets in orbit. Julia stumbles against the tug of the tide and Katie catches her. The fabric of their dresses tangles together, silk and chiffon and cotton. The colors shift between orange and purple under the setting sun.

Julia’s hands run along Katie’s skin and come back stained, violet undertones next to deep blue veins. The ocean under them reflects the orange of the sky and they sink into it. They float on their backs and look up at the sun above them.

Julia relaxes into the tides, letting them carry her offshore. Katie’s fingers entangle with her own and the two continue to circle, pulled towards the center where they meet.

Julia’s eyes close, warmth staining her eyelids as she drifts away.

June 5th

Julia is dreaming. 

Katie’s fingers are still entwined in hers when she comes to, floating on her back and staring up at the sky.

She squeezes her hand and feels Katie jolt to next to her.

Julia doesn’t know whether to say good morning or good afternoon. The sun still hangs above them, suspended by that invisible string. It dangles like a pendulum, swaying to the thump of Julia’s heart.

“Welcome back,” Julia says, flipping off her back and treading the water. They’re so far away from shore that the beach is nothing but a wavering line of the horizon, a swath of yellow amidst the bleeding orange.

Katie flips over after her, shaking her hair out. It tangles against her head. She ducks under the waves and when she resurfaces, she brushes her hair out over her shoulders. It falls down her back in rivulets.

She smiles at Julia, wide and toothy.

“We should head back to shore,” Julia says.

“Or we could stay out here.”

“But what if we get tired?”

“This is a dream, isn’t it? You won’t get tired unless you want to. And besides, there’s so much more out here than on the island.”

“Like what?”

Katie’s grin grows wider. “Let me show you.”

She treads the waves in broad strokes. It makes the movement seem effortless. She moves through the water like she learned to swim before she walked, graceful before all else.

Julia struggles to match her strokes, falling behind as the waves push and pull at her form.

Katie leads her around the island, towards the cliffs. The waves thrash against rocks, an endless battle fought in salt spray and slow erosion.

“We should turn back,” Julia spits out, coughing on saltwater.

“Relax!” Katie shouts back. “It’s only a little further.”

She takes her closer to the cliffs. The two of them slip past the fray and under a rock outcropping. It opens into a cave, lit up by cracks of moonlight between the rocks and a deep purple glow beneath the still waves. The water is peaceful here, lapping against the stone in a gentle caress.

Beneath them, swimming in dizzying circles, are thousands of luminescent jellyfish. They emit a purple glow, the same as the color painting Katie’s dress. Julia can’t seem to tear her eyes away from the sight, drawn to the ethereal sheen on the water’s surface.

Katie laughs, spinning circles in the waves, surrounded by the pulsating jellyfish.

Julia swims towards her and the two of them spin together, lines blurring as colors shift around them.

“It’s beautiful,” Julia whispers, pressing the side of her head against Katie’s collarbone.

“I knew you’d like it.”

The world spins around them, the dream falling apart in blasts of colorful confusion. Julia has never felt more at home than here, spinning in the eye of the storm.


June 12th

Julia is dreaming.

She’s alone this time, sprawled out across the sand. The sun bears down on her, a stark contrast to the moonlight of the jellyfish pool.

She rises, stretching out her limbs and wringing the saltwater from her hair. It falls down to the sand in drops. She’s had enough of the ocean for the moment.

She treks up towards the forest, swaddling herself in the endless swaths of trees. Sunlight comes through the leaves in pinpricks, casting shadows on her bare feet. She runs her fingers across the bark of the trees and revels in the sudden twinge of pain when the rough edges catch against her skin. The sensation makes her feel alive.

She finds herself in her favorite orchard, surrounded on all sides by orange trees. Fruit hangs from their boughs, low enough that she barely needs to stretch to pick them. The oranges are vibrant, technicolor peels that match her dress.

Standing across from her is Katie.

Her hair is still wet, dripping down her back like waves. She raises her hand in a silent wave and her fingers move to the tune of the wind.

Julia finds herself drawn to her.

They meet in the middle of the orchard, underneath a canopy of oranges.

“Do you want some fruit?” Julia asks, her hands fidgeting with her skirts.

“That sounds lovely.”

Julia picks the fruits, creates a makeshift basket with her dress, and cradles the oranges in it. They blend into the fabric like blueberries folded into muffin dough.

The two collapse in the middle of the orchard, settling in the soft grass. Julia takes one of the oranges and rolls it between her hands, thumbs settling atop the fruit. She punctures the skin with her thumbnail. The juice settles in the bed of her nail and stains her skin orange.

She peels the orange and discards the scraps in the grass between them. She splits it into two, handing one of the pieces to Katie. The other girl takes it and bites into it, juice dribbling over her teeth and onto her chin.

Julia bites her piece, her teeth cutting through the flesh of the fruit. She holds it on her tongue then swallows.

She looks up.

Katie leans closer to her now, weight resting on her forearms.

“This is a nice dream, Jules.”

Julia can’t help it, her face flushes red at the nickname. “Thank you.”

“Why do you dream of orchards?”

Julia rolls over onto her back, staring up at the slivers of the sky that cut through the leaves. “They’re nice. Peaceful. You always know what to expect. In orchards, they follow the harvest cycle. You know when there will be fruit and when there will be leaves and when there will be nothing but bark. It’s stable.”

Julia’s fingers inch in the dirt next to her, curling into harmless fists. “You know that the trees here aren’t going to go anywhere because they all have roots. They’re tied down. Sometimes,” she laughs to herself, then starts again. “Sometimes I dig my hands into the dirt and pretend that I’m a tree. Is that silly?”

“This is a dream,” Katie says. “Nothing is silly here.”

She pauses, hands inching in the dirt next to Julia’s. Their fingers brush as they dig, pinky fingers tensing at the motion.

“Don’t you ever get bored, dreaming the same thing every night?” Katie asks.

“I don’t think I could. It’s nice to know that no matter what’s happening in my real world, this island will always be waiting here for me.” 

“What’s happening in your real world?”

Julia takes a breath, letting the air rejuvenate her. It tastes like soil on her tongue. “So much is changing so fast. Some days it feels like I’m leaving my old life behind for this new beginning. This island is the last piece of it that I have left.”

“Change isn’t always bad, you know.”

“I know,” Julia echoes, taking Katie’s hand in hers and holding it tight. Their palms are both stained with dirt but she doesn’t care.

June 15th

Julia is dreaming.

They’re back at the beach. Katie’s fingers are still entwined in hers.

She pulls Julia to her feet by their conjoined hands. Julia stumbles, uncertain in her footing on the slipping sand. Her bones ache for her to lie back down on the beach, slipping deeper and deeper into herself until all she can see is orange. She could sleep for days out there under the sun, letting the warmth of it on her eyelids turn her lethargic.

“Where are we going?” she asks, blinking sleep out of her eyes.

Katie pulls her further along the shoreline, up to where the beach turns to stepwise cliffs. “I wanted to show you something.”

The two climb the twisting route up the cliffs, circling each other in switchback steps. Katie doesn’t let go of her hand, even after it’s clear that Julia isn’t going to turn away.

She follows her, up and up, until they stand at the tallest point of the island. The two hover over the precipice. Below them rests the swirling sea, waves crashing in kaleidoscopes. Their collision against the base of the cliffs echoes. The sound rings in Julia’s ears.

“Why did you bring me here?” Julia asks, shouting over the bellow of the wind.

Katie sits down on the edge, leaning over the cliffs. “Look,” she calls out. The wind whips her hair around her face in tendrils, as fluid as the tentacles of the dancing jellyfish.

Julia eases herself down next to her and looks out at sea, trying to catch what part of the horizon caught Katie’s fancy.

“I don’t know what I’m supposed to be looking at.”

“The waves.”

The waves crash against the cliffs, again and again, in their endless cycle of death and rebirth. Julia sits and watches.

“You said that change scares you. But it shouldn’t. The ocean is always changing, can’t you see it?” Katie says, waving out at the shoreline. “The ocean is the depths far offshore and the waves crashing against these cliffs and the tidepools it leaves behind. The ocean can sink ships or coddle wildlife. It’s dangerous and it’s beautiful, and neither of those things diminishes the fact that it’s also the other.”

“I don’t see what this has to do with change.”

“Do you call the ocean something different because it takes a different shape?”


“That’s right. Because even while the ocean changes, it’s still the ocean. Just like you. No matter how much you change, no matter how much you leave behind, you’re still Julia. Is a tree called a different name because it grows?”


“You’re still a seedling. A tidepool. You need change to become the tallest tree of the deepest ocean. You need change as much as you need air.”

“What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Don’t you need change?”

“Oh, Julia. I’m always changing. Because I change each time I dream, and I dream every day.”

“Do you ever dream of me?”

“Every night.”

Julia leans closer to her. Katie stares back at her, stars reflected in her eyes and on her freckles. Julia runs her fingers across them, tracing the constellations on her cheeks. They shift under her fingers, creating new formations as she cups her face.

“Is this alright?” she whispers.

“Yes,” Katie responds.

Julia captures her lips with her own. Katie tastes like seawater and oranges, salt and sugar, all mixed together. She tastes like new beginnings and opportunities. Julia kisses her greedily, swallowing down all the stars in the sky. Now that she knows what awaits her past the horizon, she starves for more.

Behind them, the sun dips. The horizon flips on its axis, the moon and the stars hanging by invisible threads. They glow bright, pinpricks and cutouts placed in the purple cloth of the sky.

It consumes them, washing them in a deep violet.

Julia sighs against Katie’s lips and lets the horizon swallow her whole.

June 16th

Julia is dreaming.

Her hands are empty.

Julia reaches out for Katie but meets only open air. She digs her hands into the sand of the beach, grounding herself.

Katie was with her. Katie’s always with her.

Katie’s gone.

Julia stands up. The beach is empty. There are no trees behind her, there are no cliffs to her right, there are no pools of jellyfish to her left.

She’s all alone.

She was so close. She had her, she held her in her hands.

Now even the dream is slipping through her fingers.

The tide is receding, leaving behind wide washes of sand. The sand slips through her fingers the same as an hourglass, the march of time refusing to halt, even in her dreams.

Julia cries out to an unforgiving sky, begging the stars for solace. They refuse to listen to her, blinking out one by one.

Alone, she wanders the bed left behind by the sea. Bits of the ocean litter the ground, shells and kelp and sand dollars beneath her feet.

The ocean is always changing, but it leaves these parts of itself behind each time it pushes and pulls.

Does she have to leave behind Katie too?

The sand vanishes behind her as she walks, venturing further out into the shoal. Her feet sink into the sand as she continues searching, hoping.

She’s spent years roaming the sand, but the best moments were by far the ones she spent with Katie by her side.

She doesn’t want to let go.

She’s been a part of the dream since the beginning of this summer. But only this summer.

Was she ever real? Or only another figment of her imagination, just like this island?

Julia doesn’t know.

Julia doesn’t know how to dream without her.

The sand falls from out beneath her feet. Julia falls with it.

Alone, suspended in a starless sky, Julia floats.

Katie’s gone, and with her goes the ocean, taking another form. Maybe, it’s time for Julia to change to.

And maybe the first step to change is letting go.

It’s time for her to dream of something new.

Kaitlyn Gress

Kaitlyn Gress is a high school student in Colorado who has always been passionate about writing. Through her work, she seeks to explore her own voice and experiences, as well as create thought-provoking and entertaining stories. She has previously been published in Creative Communications: A Celebration of Poets.

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