His light is the brightest of all. Though he doesn’t see it, it shines brighter than the sun. It gathers around him, flocking to his presence like invisible spirits. When he smiles, the light escapes through his eyes, a glistening halo of sunshine around his face. He is surrounded by people trying to be as bright as him, but his light is gentle, constant, without the force all the others use.

He uses it to illuminate people in praise, but some of it will always rest inside him. The light makes him a leader. It makes him different. It is his secret. The light is beautiful.
The shadows are her friends. No matter what people come and go, the shadows remain, waiting beside her. They cover her face with their inky hands when she looks down, so nobody can tell what she is thinking. They hide her from human eyes, yet they let her see everything. The shadows let her watch the world.

They protect her. They shade her from being seen by the world’s cruel eyes. They surround her like a cloak of indifference as she watches the world’s eternal happiness, forever wondering what hatred lies beneath. They are her shield. The shadows are beautiful.

He pauses his banter with his friends, distracted mid-sentence. They’ve been in the same class all month, but it’s as though she’s only just appeared. There she is, alone at the back of the classroom, eyes to her desk. A girl made of shadows, watching. Waiting. He stares at her, the room disintegrating, dissolving, until only she remains. He takes in her impossibly dark hair, her loose outfit, her shy posture, her hidden eyes, as though he has mere moments to look at her.

Everything about her wants to be unseen. But he sees her. He even sees little flecks of bright green through the darkness covering her eyes, emerald lights, desperate to be free of the shadows around her.  He wishes he could see more than a glimpse of the forest in her eyes. She is beautiful.

She feels her shadows quivering around her, shuddering with the inexplicable feeling of being watched. She freezes, encased in anxiety, wondering how to react. After a million thoughts and four seconds, she looks up. She sees him. And he sees her. They both widen their eyes in surprise. He can see right through her shadows. His brilliant light, his face, gently pull the dark veils away from her.

She looks at him in hopeless wonder, awestruck at the way the midday sunlight catches on his golden hair, the way ocean horizons reflect in his blue eyes, the way he stands at the front of the room, every fold in his uniform motionless, the way his friends look at him with undisguised curiosity and jealousy.

He is beautiful. He shakes his head, closes his eyes, his perfect lips twisting into a disbelieving smile. She paints this image in her mind, wanting to remember him, frozen in this moment, forever. She thought her shadows were supposed to protect her. But how can they, if she misses moments like this every day?

Their two worlds collide in the space of a heartbeat. The light and shadow gently step aside, letting their true selves finally show through. Ocean-blue eyes stare deep into forest-green ones, their wonderstruck stares melting into shy smiles.

Two perfect dreamers, the girl made of shadows and the boy made of light, bringing each other back to reality at last. They remember the rest of the world once again, the whitewashed walls of their English class, their staring classmates, the excited whispers of unfolding gossip, the midday heat pulsing through the windows. And he comes closer.

Each step is like a shouted intention as he crosses the room. Walking ten metres takes ten years, an eternity of stunned silence and watching eyes. She notices something new about him with every centimetre closer to her he gets, his walk, his strides, his smile. Finally, finally, he reaches her, standing over her desk like an angel, half-obscured by the light from the window and the light from his eyes. Her breath catches in her throat as he sits at the empty desk beside her.

His smile still hasn’t faded. They stare into each other’s souls, the small gap between their desks feeling like an echoing, gaping chasm. He begins to wonder if he is dreaming, if at any moment he will wake up and this girl will be gone. But he knows that nobody could dream up the stories inside her eyes. So, he speaks, his voice a melody on the wind that only she can hear.

“Hey. My name is Leo. What’s yours?” he asks softly, gently. His voice is like a galaxy of stars. Her mind takes this simple name and plays it on repeat, keeps it close to her heart. Leo. And she responds in a whisper, the shadows keeping her from speaking gradually leaving her, roaming free in search of the light.

“I’m Stella.” she replies. It’s only two words, but it’s enough. Enough for him to know how little she has spoken her name aloud. How she has kept it within her mind, the brightest star among her sky of shadows. And he feels like the most special person alive, all because of two words.
The bell rings, a jarring clang calling the room to action.

The class stampedes out the door, a herd of beasts ready to shout rumours from the hilltops. But Stella and Leo don’t run. Instead, they stand, leaving their shadows and light behind, and walk, hand in hand, outside.
They are beautiful.