Nathan closes his eyes. He is far from where he used to be. The sun back there lent his face the colour of sand. Now he stares out, pale, from the mirror and wonders will his eyes lose their blue, too. Everything in this place seems washed-out, scribbled over with a variety of different shades of grey. He misses the life he was happy living. He misses the colours.
He ties his shoelace and breathes air that tastes of metal and fire. He greets each morning with a resolution to make the best of how things are, but by the time he's opened the door and walked across the gravel to the gate, this resolve has morphed back into crushing despair.
The friends he's made see the shell of who he was. They see the gold of his hair and his camouflage of freckles and hold him up, marvel at him, wait by his feet, eager for scraps of stories. He has words. Plenty of them. He has enough words to build a suspension bridge all the way back to the place he loved, stopping off on the moon for a game of hopscotch along the way. But he knows they are only words. They have no power here, other than to tempt a circle of onlookers to listen, to want to know him. He tries to enjoy this, knowing it won't last, knowing he'll only be new for so long, and then he'll just be Nathan.
There is a girl who lets him kiss her. The first time, she told him his skin was rough, that he felt like leaves left out in the sun too long. He tried not to take this badly. She didn't mean it to sound like it did. She was just voicing her analyses out loud. He is well aware he is little more than her science project. He doesn't really mind. She is pretty, and she lets him kiss her. In this new grey world these two facts in themselves count as a huge splash of colour.
He knows he's lucky to have been accepted. There are others who have lived here all their lives who are still considered outcasts. They sit at tables punctuated with empty seats, cracking all the wrong jokes. They definitely don't get to kiss the girls. He could so easily have ended up an outsider. He has this shred to be happy about, at least. It just isn't really anywhere near enough to cancel out how immensely cheated he feels, having to leave his better life behind. He doesn't want to “get over it”, because that would mean giving up who he is. And for what? To become another grey bundle of flesh and bones, sitting blank on buses, walking briskly in the rain.
Nathan leans against a birch and thinks to himself: even the trees are dying here, fading themselves away to pale grey-green. He'd heard this was a green and pleasant land. He feels he's been grossly misinformed. All he sees is a cloud-encroached cityscape taking its final painful breaths, and trying to suck out the life from all who dwell in her. He can feel it happening to him, and it makes him want to pull his t-shirt up to cover his mouth and then make a run for it, and keep on running until he can breathe real air again.
The girl who lets him kiss her is telling him about something they are going to do later. It seems to involve sitting around and not much else. There will be kissing, she assures him, but this isn't the reason he nods his head and says: yes, yes I'm there. The reason he agrees to go is he has nothing better to do.