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Blue Moon MAG
The boy looked out into the crowd of people. In the darkness, he saw only their silhouettes, these humanoid figures. They were like shadows, moving their arms and hips and legs in tune to some upbeat pop song. Sometimes, the flashing party lights would give him a glimpse of expressions he wasn’t used to seeing. Giddy smiles and laughter and not a hint of sadness. Was it so fun to lose yourself in a crowd? Maybe he was just jealous of their uninhibited, anarchic energy.
“Losing yourself must feel refreshing,” he said. His lips moved, and he was sure he spoke, but he couldn’t hear his own voice. His words had been breathed into the world. Still, they only existed in his mind if no one heard them. What was he even doing here? He would much rather be studying for his engineering final in the library. He had only come on the whim of his roommate who’d disappeared five minutes into the party.
He sat alone at a corner table. He tried to make himself inconspicuous to people walking by, thumbing his smartphone over and over so that he looked busy. This way, no one would take pity on him. Not that he didn’t want pity either. It was a strange duality. Of course he wanted an enjoyable conversation with someone – who liked being lonely? But he would never know their true intentions. Was it a true interest in him or some kind of charity?
Perplexed, he was staring into his cup when he heard the rustling of clothes from across the table. The boy lowered his arm and glanced up. A girl was sitting across from him now, looking straight into his eyes. The shadows covered her face, revealing only her long hair. Their shoes touched underneath the table and the boy shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“Sorry,” he said. The music was loud as ever but he could hear himself this time.
“I was at this one party in high school,” she said, propping her elbows on the table and leaning forward.
The boy gave a small nod, not knowing what to say.
She shifted her gaze away.
“Got absolutely wasted. Started puking left and right, and I’d just had a Cookout tray. My friends had to carry me out. I don’t even remember how I made it to my bed. Do you know how embarrassing it was?”
“Can’t imagine it,” he said.
“Of course you can’t! I bet you never got drunk a day in your life,” she said, laughing. Her voice was sharp and sweet, like the small kick of cinnamon in syrup.
He shrugged, taking a sip of his flat, warm Pepsi.
“Hey, lemme see what you’re drinking.” The girl leaned over and snatched his cup. He watched as she placed her pink lips against plastic, now just a contour across her face. Some of the liquid dribbled down her chin, her throat, disappearing underneath her short, white blouse.
“Really?” she said, coughing. No wonder your expression’s like a dead fish.”
“Don’t wanna end up like you did at your high school party.”
She slid the drink back across the table, shaking her head – maybe to clear the taste.
“We’ve got a wise one here, don’t we?”
“Sure, I guess. Just wiser than you.”
The girl bolted up. She stumbled a bit before finding her balance. She strolled over to his side, dragging her chair, plopping down right next to him. She leaned close, too close, her nose almost touching his cheek.
“You’re kinda cute, huh?” she said, laughing again, her shoulder bumping into his.
“You definitely aren’t. Hey, are you okay?”
“Do you really say that to girls you’ve just met? That’s just, like, mean.”
“Well, you did say I looked like a dead fish. I’ve gotta retaliate in some way.”
“Ooh.” She tapped her head with a slim finger, smiling wildly. “You got me there, smartie.”
The boy looked around the room. It felt larger now that he was talking to someone, even if that somebody was very drunk. He found the music more distant, now that his mind could focus on a conversation.
“Why are you so drunk anyway?” he said. “Boyfriend break up with you?”
The girl drank from her cup. She threw her head back until the cup was empty. He saw her throat moving up and down and then, stillness. Her shoulder brushed against his. She didn’t say anything for a long while.
“Something like that.” Her voice was so small. As if she was talking to the waves by the ocean.
Like someone sitting on the edge of a pier, legs dangling over the ocean, talking to the waves.
“Sorry,” the boy said. “Shouldn’t have said that.”
She shook her head and looked at him again, smiling gently. It was the first time he had gotten a good look at her face. Dark eyeliner. Long, blonde hair. Two silver hoops in her earlobes. A long nose and thin lips. He couldn’t see the color of her eyes, but he imagined they might be a deep brown.
She seemed the outgoing, popular type. He guessed she was taking a break from dancing, or maybe just too drunk to dance anymore. Otherwise she would not be sitting in a corner, talking to someone like him. But she looked familiar.
“Aren’t you the guy,” she said slowly, drawing the words out.
“That guy. You sit across from me in the library, I think, every Tuesday and Thursday, studying your bio-something-textbook and cussing so loud I hear you through my headphones.”
“I’m that loud?” He scrunched his face apologetically.
So that was where he had seen her before. It never crossed his mind that she would remember something so insignificant. Their eyes had met a few times before, but he had always looked away very quickly.
That small alcove, the smell of old dusty books and carpets and wooden tables. The sounds of pages flipping, the rapid fire clicking of laptop keyboards – the printers beeping. Thinking about it calmed him even as the music blared and people yelled and made out and danced on each other.
The girl from the library looked at him expectantly, raising her eyebrows.
“I’m surprised you remember at all. It took me a second,” he said.
“You made a bit of an impression. My headphones are supposed to be noise-cancelling.”
“I’ll have you know I’m signing up for a public speaking class.”
“That’s just pure evil. Killing my eardrums is enough, now you want to torture an entire classroom?” They laughed together like old friends.
What was this emotion lodged in the back of his throat? Some kind of warmth welling up. He never wanted to acknowledge these things, always happening in the worst possible situations. Always an impossible attraction that left him feeling blue, like the moon on cold nights. He knew how things would end. And still, he continued this ritual of conversation, like it was programmed into his mind. Was he so lonely?
“Hey.” The girl tugged at his shirt. “Wanna head outside? My head’s splitting from all this noise.”
Don’t, he thought.
“Okay,” he said.
They walked side by side to the curb and sat down on the grass. He still felt the moisture and heat from inside sticking to his skin, but the chilly breeze slowly blew it away. The girl leaned against him, and the warmth from her breath spread through his entire body like a ripple.
“Are you cold?” he asked.
“I’m fine like this,” she said.
They sat for a while without talking. The stars were dull in the sky. A street light flickered like a summer firefly. The music from inside the house was distant, like echoes from another world. The girl’s hair was smooth and soft and smelled of strawberries.
“Have you been out west before?” she asked.
“Just once. Visited the Grand Canyon with my family.”
“So you’ve seen the stars?”
“I went on a road trip with some friends in the summer. Clearing my head before the semester, you know? From California to North Carolina in an old Buick. It was awful.” She rubbed her hands together to warm them.
“We camped out in Yellowstone. This beautiful spot with no one else. There was a small waterfall and a bridge and these bright yellow wildflowers. We hung up hammocks against the trees and sang all night. And we looked at the stars. I never realized there were so many. It’s like someone spilled glitter on a blackboard. Everywhere you look, you find more and more. It was so beautiful and I started crying. You think that’s strange?”
“It’s normal to act how you feel.”
“But it was the first time in ages that I actually felt something, not just acting out an emotion that I’m supposed to. Does that make any sense at all?”
“Of course it does.”
“It really felt like I was free from everything that night. It was like the universe expanded right in front of me and the future was limitless.”
The boy laughed quietly.
“Sorry, I’m rambling,” she mumbled.
“I don’t mind it,” he said. And it was true. She had this beautiful way of talking, of painting a picture using words.
“You’re very nice,” she said, a smile in her voice. She shifted beside him. Her head was on his shoulder now.
“Are you flirting with me right now?”
“Sure. If you say so. Don’t – don’t say we’re dating though. Yet.”
They laughed together. The boy put his arm around her and they leaned against each other.
“Hey, did you know that we might be time travelers?” he said.
“What do you mean?”
“All those stars you saw in Yellowstone. And even tonight.”
“The light from even one star takes years for us to see. It’s like we’re observing the past. Kinda cool, huh?”
“Wow,” she said. She looked up into the sky, now a deep indigo. She raised her hand and spread her fingers and stared intensely. He studied the girl’s expression in the moonlight – her lips in a line and her eyebrows knit together. He wanted to ask about what had happened to her, but he was scared that her voice might become so fragile again.
“The moon’s really blue,” she said.
“It really is.”
“It’s a full moon tonight.”
“It’s weird,” the boy said.
“I always feel like the moon’s only blue when it’s cold.”
“You might be onto something,” she said.
“So you are cold!”
“Just a little.”
“Do you want to head inside?”
He wanted to stay there longer, on the curb next to the dirty driveway and the dewy grass and the slick asphalt. He was trying to quantify the way he felt. He wanted it to stay and take hold in his heart and maybe next time he would know what to do – find the right formula for a genuine connection. He’d never expected this. He’d thought he would get out a little and introduce himself to a few of his roommate’s friends and call an Uber back to his room before midnight.
He thought that maybe he should try this time, make it work. He already knew. He knew that the girl wanted something interesting to show up in her life. But, he knew he wasn’t what she was looking for. She would be disappointed the longer their conversation dragged on. He knew how it would end. Gone through it before. He knew that numbers would be exchanged, messages sent, and in a few weeks’ time, nothing. He knew that when she woke up in the morning, he would be just another boy she met at a party.
“So you decided to talk to me just because you’d seen me a few times at the library,” he said.
“I already told you that you looked interesting!” she said. Her voice floated from below. “You don’t seem very happy to see me.”
“Do you do this often?” the boy said.
She didn’t say anything. The silence flattened, like a paintbrush in the chilly air.
“I see,” he said.
They walked back to his room and they talked until the stars began to fade. She fell asleep beside him.
He laid awake in the cramped space, looking up at the small dots lining the ceiling. They were lying on the same bed and he could feel her warmth and yet, he felt loneliness welling up inside him. He was sure she felt the same.
• • •
He woke to the sound of tears. A soft sound, much like snowfall. The girl’s breaths were ragged and sharp and full of sadness. He wanted to stand and put his arms around her and stroke her hair and tell her everything would be okay, but he knew he wasn’t the one she wanted to hear that from.
He was still and listened to the girl cry until she couldn’t anymore. He heard the sniffling stop and her breathing return to normal. He heard rustling and the sound of footsteps. The weight at the end of the bed disappeared. He listened as the door to his room squeaked softly. He heard the lock click as it closed. The sound rang throughout his room as if it were empty.
He lay there for a long while. Maybe she would come back. She had gone to the bathroom. She was getting water. Or a snack. Or anything else other than leaving him alone.
Eventually, the boy got up, still in last night’s clothes. His shirt smelled of her perfume. He pulled a water bottle from the fridge and drank it. He ate a granola bar as he made his bed.
When he was done, he pulled his chair next to the window and looked out at the morning sky, wisps of clouds like stretched cotton spanning as far as he could see. He looked and looked until he finally found it. A hint of the moon, hidden and faded like the design on an old t-shirt.
He watched as its light slowly sank into the sea of brilliant blue.