I walk toward the entrance to the atrium to meet Nasha—though I shouldn’t think of her as Nasha anymore. There is excitement in her eyes, and I smile at her. Her head is smooth and slightly glistening from traces of the scented oil. We bow to each other.
A bell rings. It’s time.
She goes first because she was born first, and as she leaves I think: Good-bye, Nasha. I wonder what name she has selected for herself.
I wait long minutes until my attendant nods at me, and then I step through the door into the atrium. I see my parents waiting on the far side of the pool, the light of the rising sun behind them casting their faces into shadow. There is no one else in the room. I take a deep breath. My hands are trembling.
I enter the pool. The water is blessedly warm, and as I descend the tiled steps my robes swirl out around me, floating on the surface. The pool is slightly deeper than I am tall. I must walk across the length of it, ducking my head underwater at the center point, and then walk up the steps on the far side. When I’m in the middle, I suck in a breath of air and plunge beneath. The water slides over my head. I pause. I hold my breath, suspended in this moment between the past and the future, and I hear my heartbeat.
This is me.
The water streams over my face as I emerge from the pool. My robes are weighted with water, wet against my skin. I smell the scent of the oiclass="underline" warm and sweet, almost like burnt sugar. My parents are waiting for me. They hold out their hands. Aba is crying, and Ada looks as if he might start at any minute too. Ama’s eyes are shining. I reach out for them. They take my hands in theirs, and I open myself to them.
This is me: my heart beating, my lungs breathing, my eyes hot with tears, and I am so grateful that they have brought me into this world, that they are here for me.
In unison, they say the name I have selected for myself: “Amber Gray.”
I smile so big I feel like my face might crack. “Amber Gray,” I repeat out loud, and then they fold me into their arms and I feel all of their emotions: a giant pile of love, warm and buoyant and beautiful.
I think I’m going to dye my hair black.
About the Author
Malinda Lo is the author of several young adult novels, including Ash, a retelling of the Cinderella story with a lesbian twist, which was a finalist for the William C. Morris YA Debut Award, the Andre Norton Award, and the Lambda Literary Award. She is also the author of Adaptation and Inheritance. Before she became a novelist, she was an economics major, an editorial assistant, a graduate student, and an entertainment reporter. She lives in Northern California with her partner and their dog. Malinda invites you to visit her at www.malindalo.com.
Also by Malinda Lo